It didn’t take long for Trail native Travis St. Denis to come up with his top three things ‘To do’ when he returns to the Silver City every summer to help out at Champions Hockey School.
“Go golfing, go to the Colander … and stop at Tim Horton’s,” St. Denis said with a pause. “Because we don’t have them in the States.”
A professional hockey player with the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Bridgeport Sound Tigers in Connecticut, St. Denis’ third year with the Tigers came to a close in April when Bridgeport lost a best-of-five series in five games to the Hershey Bears.
St. Denis played in every one of Bridgeport’s 75 games this year, and while the postseason wasn’t as long as he would have liked, St. Denis always enjoys his return home.
“It’s great to see all my family, all my friends, it’s always special coming back to Trail and seeing everyone, especially after a long season,” said St. Denis.
The 26-year-old center is entering his second year of a two-year contract with the Tigers NHL affiliate New York Islanders. The former Trail Smoke Eater led the Tigers in scoring in 2018 with 23 goals and 44 points, and almost matched that total in 2019 with 17 goals and 43 points.
“I thought I had a really good year, the first year in my two-year contract,” said St. Denis. “It’s a contract year coming up for me so I definitely have to step up and have a big year, but overall it’s been good so far, I’ve met a lot of good guys and been on some good teams, so it’s been good.”
St. Denis has found success at every level of hockey, leading the BCHL Penticton Vees to an RBC Cup championship in 2012, and helping Quinnipiac University to the NCAA Frozen Four final in two of his four years in Hamden.
A gifted playmaker and scorer, St. Denis plays with an edge his five-foot-seven frame belies. He racked up 105-penalty minutes last season, second most on the team, while finishing fourth in points-scored and led the team in game-winning goals, 5, overtime goals, and unassisted goals, and second in power-play goals, 8.
“It’s just the way I play I guess. A little bit of a chippy player, and I like to score goals, so I kind of do both. Definitely a little more chippiness this year.”
The AHL grind is intense, and St. Denis uses that edge to compete, but says staying healthy through 75 games and avoiding injury has been key to his success.
“The hard part is taking care of my body as I get older,” said St. Denis. “I found that out the last couple years, especially with the increase in games compared to college, you definitely need to take care of your body a lot more and watch your diet.”
Like every player in the AHL, St. Denis has his sights set on taking the next step. Bridgeport defenceman Devon Toews made the jump to the Islanders last season, and former NHL regulars Chris Bourque, Josh Ho-Sang, and Steve Bernier will be looking to move up on the wings. St. Denis was the Tigers top centre the past two years and he’ll compete for a starting spot heading into New York’s Main Camp in September, with the intention of staying in Long Island.
“I’m just going to do my best there (at camp),” said St. Denis. “My mentality going in is to make the opening night roster, and if not, I’ll go have a good camp in Bridgeport and hopefully get a lot of playing time this year, and hopefully get a call up.”
Until then, St. Denis is enjoying his time in Trail helping out at Champions Hockey School alongside 2019 NCAA grads Jake Lucchini, Craig Martin, and Scott Davidson, who are just embarking on their own pro careers.
Lucchini graduated from Michigan Tech and finished his season with the AHL Wilkes Barre-Scranton Penguins, while Quinnipiac grads, Martin and Davidson, recently inked deals with the Adirondack Thunder and South Carolina Stingrays, respectively, of the ECHL.
They all join up with former Smoke Eater or Nitehawk teammates like Jeremy Lucchini, Riley Brandt, Dallas Calvin, Tallon Kramer, Arie Postmus, and Luke Bertolucci in their return to Trail every summer to help Terry Jones and twins, Connor and Kellen, run the camp – a testament to the close knit community and the bond created through sport.
“I think it’s just the way kids like us were brought up in Trail,” added St. Denis. “We love coming back in the summer, and we enjoy doing the hockey school for the kids and seeing the kids develop each year and how much they mature. It’s fun for us to see that progress.”