If there's anyone who can understand the trials and tribulations of an athlete's first year as a professional, it's a longtime friend who is experiencing the same transition alongside him.
Rookies Derek Forbort and Nick Shore of the American Hockey League's Manchester Monarchs have a history that dates back to when they were teammates in the United States National Team Development Program, capturing a gold medal at the 2010 World Under-18 Championship.
"The first time we met was with the U-17 National Development Program [in 2008-09], where he played in a tournament with us," Shore said of Forbort. "The next year he joined the team full-time, so I got to know him a lot better."
Rookies Derek Forbort and Nick Shore of the American Hockey League's Manchester Monarchs have a history that dates back to their time in the United States National Team Development Program. (Photo: Steve Babineau)
Following the 2009-10 season, both players began their collegiate careers in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, Shore with the University of Denver and Forbort at the University of North Dakota. Forbort was selected with the 15th pick by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2010 NHL Draft; coincidentally, the same organization took Shore in the third round (No. 82) the subsequent year.
"[In college], we played each other quite a bit, and it was a good rivalry so we competed hard against each other," Forbort said. "We've remained close buddies, so seeing him get drafted by the Kings a year after I did was pretty cool knowing that I'd be getting to play with him down the road."
The camaraderie that began in their junior days followed the two young players down that road.
"After I got drafted, Derek was someone I reached out to because he went through a similar experience being chosen by the same team the year before," Shore said. "He was a really big help in letting me know what to expect heading into my first development camp and things like that."
Both Shore, a center, and Forbort, a defenseman, were assigned by Los Angeles to the Monarchs prior to the start of this season. Heading to Manchester meant placing their development in the hands of Mark Morris, a veteran coach who recently became the first in hockey history with 300 wins at both the collegiate and professional levels.
Morris, who has been coaching the Kings' prospects in Manchester since 2006, has been most impressed by the maturity of two of his youngest players.
"They both have a really calm demeanor and let their actions speak for themselves," Morris said. "They're low-maintenance players and excellent professionals who work hard both on and off the ice. I've found them to be very coachable."
At the season's halfway point, Manchester sits atop the AHL standings with a league-best 56 points. Shore, 21, leads all Monarchs rookies in scoring with 18 points in 33 games, while Forbort, just six months Shore's senior, has notched 12 points with a respectable plus-7 rating in 40 games. Their history of competing together and on opposing teams has allowed each to develop a strong understanding of the other's style on the ice.
"Nick is a really smart player, so it's easy to play with him," Forbort said. "He's good defensively and he makes good plays with the puck, which is something I like to pride myself on as well."
"I think the more you play with someone or even against them, the more you recognize different tendencies that certain players have," Shore said. "Obviously playing with Derek that one year and then against him the past three, you notice certain things that can be used to your advantage."
Off the ice, Shore and Forbort live together along with fellow Monarchs rookie Scott Sabourin, a situation that has proven to be mutually beneficial for all three prospects.
"We're all going through it together for the first time, so it's nice to have those guys there to just deal with the things that come with being a pro," Forbort said.
"It's been a really good experience so far," Shore said. "I think we've all really enjoyed it and are eager to get going with the rest of the season."
That eagerness is exactly what makes for a successful player and teammate, according to Morris.
"They both continue to absorb any type of critique of their game and are quick to try to apply it to their repertoire," Morris said. "Neither player seems to be about themselves -- they're well-liked by everybody that they play with on a daily basis."
Morris knows a thing or two about what it takes for young talent to earn a shot at the next level. Over his eight seasons in Manchester, he has helped many of his players advance to the Kings' full-time roster, including 2012 Stanley Cup champions Jonathan Quick, Slava Voynov, Dwight King, Jordan Nolan, Kyle Clifford and Jonathan Bernier.
"When you have a really good foundation like Nick and Derek do, it's just a matter of time until you really see their games blossom," Morris said. "It's pretty typical of guys that I've seen that have gone on and done well, to show those flashes of brilliance where you can see that they're getting it."
He has no doubt Forbort and Shore could soon join the ranks of his former players in Los Angeles.
"There are good signs that there are big things coming down the road for both of these guys. I'm excited to see them continue to pursue their dreams of making it to the NHL," Morris said.
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