Each month, Mile High Sports Magazine sits down with an important figure in Colorado sports. For February, Terry Frei spoke with Denver Pioneers junior forward Troy Terry. Here is the full version of what Troy had to say about growing up in Colorado and being named to the U.S. Olympic Team.
By Terry Frei
University of Denver junior forward Troy Terry, a homegrown talent for the defending NCAA champions from Highlands Ranch whose shootout heroics helped the U.S. win the World Junior Championships a year ago in Toronto and Montreal, is among the handful of collegiate players named to the USA Olympic hockey team for the February 9-25 Winter Games at PyeongChang, South Korea.
For the first Winter Games since 1994, the NHL isn’t shutting down and allowing its players to represent their home nations. The U.S. squad mainly will be Americans playing in Europe, and will be coached by a face familiar to Coloradans – two-time Avalanche head coach Tony Granato, taking a break from his current duties as head coach at Wisconsin.
I spoke with Terry after a Pioneers’ practice at Magness Arena.
Q: Let’s go through how you got here. How did you take up hockey in Highlands Ranch?
Troy Terry: I began playing roller hockey in Aurora. I ended up getting kind of good at it. They decided to have me try ice hockey with the Littleton Hawks. I was probably 7, and I struggled a bit my first couple of years. But from then on, I came up through the ranks. I started with the Mite group and went through squirts. Then I went to the Colorado Thunderbirds [from 2008 to 2014]. Angelo Ricci does such a great job with them.
Q: What other sports were you doing when you were fooling around with roller hockey and then were starting in ice hockey?
Troy Terry: Flag football, I wasn’t very good at. Tee-ball, I wasn’t very good at. So I was pretty much forced to play hockey because I wasn’t very good at the other ones. In fourth or fifth grade, I started playing lacrosse, and I was pretty good at it. I played that for probably three years and the time kind of conflicted with hockey season, so I had to stop playing that. I thought lacrosse was a great sport to play, too.
Q: You’ve said you went to Avalanche and DU games and were a fan. How old were you then?
Troy Terry: My dad first was just flipping through the channels and stopped on an Avs game for a while and I was drawn to it. I was probably 4 or 5, and that’s what got me into roller hockey. I remember my parents brought me to one Avs game, and I got this little plastic Avs stick and I’d play around the house with it. That was kind of where it all began. I used to pick up the programs for the Avs games and my parents would cover up the names and I could name whoever it was, just by their faces. I got super into it. Probably when I was a Squirt, was when I started coming to DU games. You can’t go to too many Avs’ games because of the price and everything. These games were easy to come to, and all my friends went to them, so we all went together. That’s when I started getting season tickets and became a Pioneer.
Q: Who were your favorite Pioneer players then?
Troy Terry: Guys like Gabe Gauthier and Connor James, and even through [Ryan] Caldwell and [Tyler] Bozak. I had season tickets, so I followed all those guys and watched all the way through until I went to the National Team Development Program, pretty much. Especially those CC and North Dakota games, those were fun to go to.
Q: How about your favorite Avalanche players?
Troy Terry: Joe Sakic was definitely my favorite, and Peter Forsberg. When I was a Mite with the Littleton Hawks, I actually played with Joe Sakic’s kid [Mitchell] during the 04-05 NHL lockout, so he was around a lot. He came out on the ice with us a lot and it couldn’t have worked out better. I went over to his house a couple of times. I doubt if he remembers it, but he put goalie pads on and I shot on him in the driveway. It was really cool.
Q: Did you score?
Troy Terry: I don’t think so. He was too competitive for that. There was a net, actually, that was a ways away. He would make a save and drop his gloves and he would try and fire the puck to the net 200 feet away. So that’s how he would score. It was really cool.
Q: If my math is correct, you were 11 when you went to the Thunderbirds, Angelo Ricci’s AAA program. Why’d you go there and how’d your progression go there?
Troy Terry: My two years of Squirt, I started to realize I could be pretty good at hockey. My dad decided to make the change and started taking it very seriously. Back then they didn’t have U-11 Thunderbirds and I think they do now. It was just the U-12. I went and tried out my first year and I was able to make it as an 11-year-old and I came back for my second year and just moved up from there. I wanted to just try the whole AAA thing and see where it took me, and I’m glad I did. My U-16 year, we made it to the national championship and we lost to Team Wisconsin in the fourth overtime of the national championship game. I’ve been very fortunate to win some team championships and that one still haunts me a little bit. We were very close. We had some really good teams.
Q: It jumps out on your bio that you only played one game in the United States Hockey League, the major feeder to NCAA hockey. What was that all about?
Troy Terry: I was drafted by the Indiana Ice and so I went and tried out that year and didn’t make it. I came back and played for Angelo. I was having a really good year and probably late December, they called me up and I went there for a week and got to play in a game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where the Pacers play. It’s nice to see the pace at the next level and get ready for it. It was a pretty drama-filled summer. The Ice folded after that year, so there was a dispersal draft of all their draft picks and I was picked by Lincoln. I went to camp at Lincoln and made the team, but then I ended up getting an offer to go to the National Team [Development Program in Ann Arbor, Michigan].
Q: Why’d you go there and how important was it in your development?
Troy Terry: They do a great job of selling it and they’ve had so many great players go through there that are playing in the NHL, so it’s a chance to play at international events and play against the other countries with the best kids. I had to play a different role there. We had guys like Auston Matthews, Matthew Tkachuk, Colin White and Clayton Keller. We had a really great forward group. I never touched the ice for the power play. It was just penalty kill and fourth line minutes. Truthfully, I think it helped me a lot because it kind of taught me to play the game that way. When I came here, my role changed and now I know how to play both sides of it. If I hadn’t gone there and kind of got my foot in the door with USA Hockey, I don ‘t k now if I make the [WJC] team last year. It’s just nice to get that experience.
Q: How did your recruitment to DU fit into that timetable?
Troy Terry: My first year of U-16 with Angelo – he obviously has strong ties to DU – I didn’t have any offers. I was 15 and a freshman in high school. The CC Tigers reached out to Angelo and wanted to meet with me. Of course, Angelo told these [DU] guys. CC’s a good program but it was obvious I was always a Pioneer. Once they found out, they brought me in and I got the verbal offer. It took me about eight hours to decide. It was my only offer and it was only place I wanted to go. That was my first offer and I never thought about anywhere else.
Q: Did you ever second-guess not opening it up and seeing what else might be out there?
Troy Terry: Guys talk about where they got offers from, from everywhere. And I’m like, I got one offer and it was to the place I wanted to go. I was happy about it. I actually committed two weeks before [George] Gwozdecky and DU parted ways, so Monty [Jim Montgomery] came in and called me and I instantly knew he was going to be a great coach and this is where I wanted to be still. So there never was any doubt.
Q: Did you get any overtures from major junior?
Troy Terry: I was protected by the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League and they’re an awesome program, too. They let me do my thing. I think they kind of knew I was a Denver Pioneer.
Q: So you came to DU in 2015. How did you think you fit in that freshman year?
Troy Terry: My first year, we had guys like Trevor Moore and Danton Heinen and Dyan Gambrell was so great that year, he stepped right in. I was playing a second-line role and that year was kind of knowing that these guys have been here and they are great hockey players and you take everything in you can, learning from them and Monty. It was just knowing my time was coming. The next year, both Trevor and Danton moved on [to NHL organizations], and it was tough for our team, but I was ready for it. I had a good year that freshman year. It wasn’t as dynamic as my sophomore year or what this year is off to, but it definitely helped me. It was a year when I could sit back and learn and be a student.
Q: So we come to the World Juniors last year. As the Americans won the gold medal, you became famous for your success in the shootouts. But how did you play otherwise and are you OK for being known as “the shootout guy”?
Troy Terry: It’s weird. Everybody knows me as “the shootout guy.” Sometimes it does get a little frustrating … well, frustrating isn’t the right word. But I thought I had a good tournament. Playing for coach Montgomery helped me a lot. I felt I was ahead of some of the other players there with my work habits and coming from here. But I thought I played very good hockey the whole play, through the semis and the finals. The shootout was something I’ll remember and it’s cool to be recognized for that and everything that’s come with it. It’s been awesome. The shootout is cool, but it’s not hockey. I mean, it’s part of the game for sure, but what really helped my confidence was how I played hockey there during the games.
Q: Then came the rest of the dream year, including the NCAA title. Did that top the WJC or…?
Troy Terry: It was different. I had so much pride in both, playing for your country and here. The World Juniors were incredible. But the NCAA title, these are guys you go to school with every day, you’re so close, and it’s such a great locker room. They really are my best friends and my brothers and to be able to do that with them and go to such a big stage, it’s such a cool thing. I watched it happen here in ’04 and ’05, and it brought me a lot of pride to bring that back here. I know it meant a lot to Denver and it meant a lot to me. It was very special to do that with my best friends.
Q: The Anaheim Ducks drafted you in 2015, before your freshman year. Were there major overtures from them after last season?
Troy Terry: It’s always something you have to think about and weigh all your options. It wasn’t anything where I felt like I needed to rush to make a decision or anything. I just sat back and talked with a lot of people. I’m still 20. I have plenty of time. We have such a great coach here in Monty, and I think I still have a lot to learn before I make that jump. That’s why it’s so great to be around a guy like Monty and take this year and soak everything up and learn and be the best Pioneer I can right now. It’s been great for my physical development and I love being a Pioneer.
Q: But looking ahead … Alexander Kerfoot and Will Butcher were drafted college players who stayed all four years. And the teams that drafted them lost their rights when they became unrestricted free agents in August after their senior seasons. It shows why makes sense for NHL teams to make hard runs after their draft choices after their junior years. So I’d expect that the Ducks make a real hard run at you after this season.
Troy Terry: My focus is trying to be the best Pioneer I can. I want to do everything I can to get this team going. When the time comes this summer, like you said, I’ve seen guys like Kerfoot [drafted by New Jersey, now with the Avalanche] and Butcher [drafted by the Avalanche, now with New Jersey] have it work out for them to stay. I’ll have to have conversations about it when the time comes, and I’ll have to think about it when the issue is present.
Q: Full circle. What are your memories of Olympic hockey from when you were growing up?
Troy Terry: Obviously, I grew up watching the movie, “Miracle.” Every kid that plays hockey watches that movie. It’s very cool that they’re back to that format. I know that some people probably are upset that they don’t get to watch NHL players, but I think it will be a very cool tournament. Then I remember watching NHL players in it when I was growing up, at Vancouver and Sochi. The U.S. played a great tournament at Vancouver, and Sidney Crosby scored in overtime in the finals [to win the gold for Canada]. It always was such good hockey. The Olympics are an incredible thing, a sacred athletic event, it’s so fun to watch. To be part of that would be so cool.
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Denver-based journalist Terry Frei writes two commentaries a week about the Avalanche for Mile High Sports. He has been named a state’s sports writer of the year seven times, four times in Colorado (including for 2016) and three times in Oregon. He’s the author of seven books, including the fact-based novel “Olympic Affair” about Colorado’s Glenn Morris, the 1936 Olympic decathlon champion; and “Third Down and a War to Go,” about the 1942 football national champion Wisconsin Badgers and the players’ subsequent World War II heroism. His web site is terryfrei.com and his additional “On the Colorado Scene” commentaries on subjects beyond the Avalanche are at terryfrei/oncolorado.
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