Whether it be Dubuque Fighting Saints head coach/general manager Jim Montgomery or his Kelowna Rockets counterpart, Bruce Hamilton, they’ve both had something to say about Zemgus Girgensons’ future.
Girgensons, who is in his second season in Dubuque, also had something to say about his future: It doesn’t involve going to the Kelowna Rockets or any other team in the Canadian Hockey League.
“You know, first of all I don’t see my future in the CHL,” Girgensons said after his team’s 4-1 win in Fargo. “I talked with other CHL teams that were interested in me. I thought about The Q (The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) and the Quebec Remparts, but (Kelowna) drafted me and didn’t say anything to me about it. After that, I felt they disrespected me a little bit. They pushed it a little bit onto my adviser and I don’t think he really liked it.”
The 17-year-old Latvian forward came into the season as the top NHL Draft-eligible prospect in the United States Hockey League.He had five points (3 goals, 2 assists) over the weekend and has 13 points (6 goals, 7 assists), one point shy of the league lead.
NHL.com recently added Girgenson’s photo to it’s main 2012 NHL Draft Page, something usually reserved for players expected to be selected in the first round.
Girgensons attracted attention scoring 49 points (21 goals, 28 assists) in 51 games last season on a line with now-Northeastern forward Vinny Saponari (Winnipeg) and current Boston College forward John Gaudreau (Calgary) en route to helping the Fighting Saints win the Clark Cup Championship in the franchise’s first season.
He was drafted in June by the Rockets during the CHL Import Draft with the 45th overall pick. It led to Girgensons’ future coming into question over the summer following comments made by Hamilton in DubNation, a blog covering the Western Hockey League.
“His agents think (Dubuque) is where he should be playing and he’s very loyal to that program. But I know as soon as he’s drafted, the NHL team’s not going to want him in Dubuque and they’re not going to want him going to the University of Vermont, either,” Hamilton said. “We’ll have a real good opportunity to have him here for sure next year, and potentially after Christmas this year. When the Latvian team plays in the world juniors, we’ll be very aggressive again there.”
Hamilton’s comments were noticed this summer considering the number of high-profile players opting out of the USHL/college hockey path to choose Major Junior.
The remarks weren’t too well-received by Montgomery, who played college hockey at the University of Maine.
Here is what Montgomery told Slightly Chilled a few months ago:
“First of all, I was wondering how he could be tampering with a player that plays with another junior team in the middle of the season. I was also wondering about his ethics and why would you want to try and approach someone trying to win a gold medal for his nation. Being a Canadian, he should know how important it is to win a gold medal. If junior hockey is coming to this type of level where you’re going to bother someone while they’re trying to win a gold medal for his country speaks volumes about the integrity of some of the people in junior hockey. I know for a fact that (Girgensons) hasn’t spoken to an adviser and (Girgensons’ adviser) hasn’t spoken to the kid either. He’s defending his draft pick and that’s why he’s putting a positive spin on it as possible. Really, he’s making himself look like he’s unethical.”
Girgensons said he was aware of Hamilton’s comments and didn’t agree with them.
“I don’t think it was a great move by them,” Girgensons said about Hamilton’s comments. “If they had said ‘We support his decision to go to Vermont’, that would have been fine but they said I should not go there. They disrespected my thoughts and I felt like they didn’t even trust me.”
In addition to being drafted by Kelowna, Girgensons was taken in the second round of the KHL Junior Draft by HC CSKA Moscow.
“The KHL came out of nowhere,” Girgensons said. “That was not even close that I’d go there. I keep my plans straight. I don’t have a Plan B because it would distract me from Plan A. The plan has always been to go to Vermont. That’s been Plan A. There’s never been a Plan B.”
Girgensons was named Dubuque’s captain to start the season and he said it is a role he’s really enjoying.
He said learning under Saponari and T.J. Schlueter, who is now at Ferris State, really helped him prepare for what it would take to be a leader.
Montgomery said during the summer Girgensons’ work ethic and his mental approach to the game are just a few of the qualities, which makes him an integral part of Fighting Saints. He said Girgensons’ work ethic is similar to former NHL star Rod Brind’Amour and the way he thinks about the game is similar to another former NHL star in Paul Kariya, who Mongtomery played with at Maine.
All of these things – plus Girgensons’ offensive numbers – have helped Dubuque to a 7-2 record, which is tied for the best in the Eastern Conference and the USHL along with the Green Bay Gamblers.
“We won the cup last year and I noticed what Vinny and T.J. did last year,” Girgensons said. “I just want to keep things going like they did, let guys do their thing, put the team first and good things should come from that.”