Leafs’ D’Amigo: A year of discovery

Photo by Graig Abel (tn)

Last year’s hockey season will forever be etched in the mind of Toronto Marlies’ forward Jerry D’Amigo.

The 19-year-old Binghamton, N.Y., resident has experienced a myriad of things, both on and off the ice, from the quiet streets of his hometown to the ‘go-go’ pace of cosmopolitan Toronto.

“Binghamton is like a small town,” D’Amigo said. “Toronto is like the New York City of Canada. It’s definitely a big change.”

But with the Leaf brand attached to his name there is something else he’s never witnessed before: recognition.

“They [people] know your face when you’re walking down the street, it’s pretty cool.  I was at the bank and a guy asked me ‘you’re Jerry D’Amigo, right?’ and I said ‘yeah’ but I go back home and nobody knows me.”

Crazy trip last year

It’s been a pretty wild ride since he left Binghamton in the summer of 2009 and took the 2 ½ hour car ride southwest to Troy, N.Y., to play hockey for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute [RPI].

In his first and only year at RPI, he won the Eastern College Athletic Conference rookie of the year award, amassing 10 goals and 24 assists in 34 games.

From RPI the compass pointed northwest to Saskatchewan and the world junior championships.

As a member of Team USA, D’Amigo’s goal played a key role for the Americans, helping defeat Canada 6-5 in overtime in the goal-medal game.  The hockey nations competed in one of the most exciting games in recent history.

With 15,171 people in attendance, the tension of a high-stakes game and a top-level opponent, the battle was one that brought out the best in him.

“It was a kind of a dream game to play in,” D’Amigo said. “It was unreal. The competition was there and my level of play went up. It was something you dream about.”

D’Amigo was third in tournament scoring with four goals and nine assists in seven games.

The NHL comes calling

Five months later, the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted D’Amigo 158th overall (sixth round) in the 2009 NHL entry draft.

D’Amigo didn’t expect to make the regular-season roster of the Leafs, but he learned a few things in training camp that will provide a litmus test moving forward.

“That was the toughest thing about playing the exhibition games, the pace was faster and if you make a mistake you are sitting on the bench,” he said. “There is room to use your skill but using the smart play is the best way.”

In October, the Leafs sent him down to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies for his first season of pro hockey.

For D’Amigo, the AHL provided the stiffest test yet.

“I think I need to be tougher to play against,” D’Amigo said. “These guys are older, stronger, bigger and faster. It’s a different pace than college or the world juniors.”

When asked about his whirlwind year, the teenager admits it’s been a big adjustment but on he’s used as a learning tool.

“It’s also been a year of me upping my game and setting a pace for myself,” he said. “It’s been a big adjustment playing in the world juniors, then going back to college and leaving college.”

“[There have] definitely been a lot of moves for me but they’re moves I had to make and it’s working out for the best right now.”