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Tuesday morning, James Melindy was getting ready to drive home from Moncton, N.B., after his third Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season with the Wildcats ended last week.
By Thursday morning, however, the Goulds native was even further from home getting ready for his first practice with the American Hockey League’s Portland Pirates.
“It’s one step closer to my dream,” says the 20-year-old, drafted by the Pirates’ NHL affiliate, the Phoenix Coyotes, 88th overall in last June’s NHL entry draft.
“I didn’t have quite the year I wanted to and we had a strong team that was put out in the first round of the playoffs, so that was a bit of a disappointment in itself. So I couldn’t be happier to have this opportunity.”
Melindy admits he struggled in the early stages of his Q-league season. In hindsight, he says the thought of being an NHL prospect led him to try “to do too much.”
“Sometimes doing more is worse than doing less.”
In 67 games, the six-foot-two, 200-plus-pound Melindy registered four goals and 24 points, while posting a career-best plus-13 and piling up a career-high 90 penalty minutes.
“After Christmas and in the later end of the season, I was getting back to the way I needed to play in order to be successful in the league and also to get a chance at pro hockey.
“I ended on a strong note.”
His strong finish is probably what drew the attention of Coyotes assistant GM Brad Treliving, also the general manager for the Pirates organization which already features one Newfoundlander — assistant coach John Slaney, now in his second year as Portland’s defensive coach following a pro career that spanned two decades.
Melindy was supposed to take part in the Coyotes’ prospect development camp last summer, but he only got on the ice once due to his gear being lost by an airline. In a lot of ways, his end-of-season audition is his first chance make a true first impression.
“They’ve seen me play throughout the year, but now it’s first hand for a lot of the guys in the organization to see what I can do. It’s a great opportunity to prove what I’ve got to offer.”
Melindy still hasn’t signed a entry-level contract, and will compete on an amateur tryout contract with the Pirates for the remainder of the season.
“You can’t really think about contracts, it’s in the back of your mind, but you’ve got to keep playing your game to try to earn yourself a pro contract. Hopefully I can do that with the time I spent in Portland.”
But if he goes unsigned through the summer and is sent back to Moncton following the ’Yotes rookie camp this fall, Melindy is content to play through his overage year.
“I really want to turn pro. I think with a big summer of training, I’m confident I can do that. But if I’m sent back to junior, if they want me to go back and develop more and be ready for the next year, I can’t take it as an insult.”
In Portland, Melindy has been reunited with former Wildcats defenceman Brandon Gormley, now in his rookie year in the AHL. Melindy says his former teammate has been a role model of his through junior. He’s looking forward to reconnecting — and having someone to drive him around the unfamiliar Maine city.
“To have a familiar face makes it that much easier. It might make the adjustment to pro hockey a little bit easier.”
Melindy wasn’t in the Pirates’ lineup for Friday’s night’s game against the Manchester Monarchs and he has no idea if he will be in for Sunday’s homegame against the Springfield Falcons. With the Pirates headed to Newfoundland for a two-game date with the St. John’s IceCaps next Tuesday and Wednesday, there’s a chance his pro hockey debut could take place in front of a hometown crowd.
Melindy, who left home at 15 to attend Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, Sask., hasn’t played a game of competitive hockey in Newfoundland in over five years, so the chance to suit up in front of friends and family at Mile One Centre would be “very special.”
“It’s cool thinking I could be playing back in Newfoundland next week,” he says. “But first and foremost, I just want to get in the lineup. So I’m just going to try to prepare myself as best I can for when or if I get in.”