EVERETT — Justyn Gurney could have taken the path of least resistance. But that’s not his style.
No one would have blamed Gurney, a 19-year-old Everett Silvertips forward, if he decided to head back to Junior ‘A’ in the British Columbia Hockey League. After all, while playing for the Surrey Eagles, he was a regular contributor before being picked up by the Silvertips last year.
The step up in competition last season in Everett meant a steep decline in ice time. Gurney labored mostly on the fourth line and didn’t dress for any of the Silvertips’ 10 playoffs games last year.
The thought of walking away from Everett never crossed his mind, and a summer of training and maturation has paid off for Gurney, who has assumed a top nine forward role for Everett this season.
“I could have taken the easy way out and gone back to Junior A and stuff like that,” Gurney said, “but the WHL has been my biggest dream since I was a kid. It’s been a tough run for me in this league for sure. I’ve been up and down, I’ve been scratched, so I know what the feeling is like.”
The Delta, British Columbia, native said clawing his way up to more prominent roles has been a common occurrence throughout his career. He said he remembers being selected for the second or ‘B’ teams frequently in youth hockey, only to make it to the first team the next year.
Gurney always stayed optimistic and it has paid off through multiple setbacks in his hockey career.
The left winger was originally drafted by the Calgary Hitmen in the 2015 Western Hockey League bantam draft and broke in as a 16-year-old and played 31 games. But after playing just 54 games for the Hitmen in his 17-year-old season, Gurney was traded to Regina for a sixth-round pick.
Gurney didn’t last long with the Pats and was released after playing only one game. While he was with the Surrey Eagles, where he rediscovered his love for hockey, he was eventually placed on Everett’s protected list and later called up on Jan. 2, with Everett needing forward depth.
The 6-foot-2, 194-pound forward chipped in two assists in his first game in Everett last season, but he rarely found the scoresheet, with one goal and four assists in 29 games.
Through 15 games this season, Gurney has two goals, including a key insurance goal in Saturday’s win against Kamloops, to increase his career WHL goal total by 50 percent. Gurney’s two goals this season have already matched a career high and he’s on pace for roughly nine goals this season.
While Silvertips head coach Dennis Williams is optimistic Gurney will chip in more goals this year, it’s not something that will raise or lower his playing time. It’s more contingent on being tenacious on the forecheck, strong along the walls and responsible in the defensive zone, he said.
“He’s kind of found his niche,” Williams said. “As I’ve said to him before, his niche is different and that’s what I’ve told him. Everyone wants to score goals, that’s why we play the game. Whether you’re a forward or a (defenseman), that’s the fun part. I think what you’ve seen is his ice time isn’t affected much by his point or goal production, but he gets rewarded because he’s playing the game right by going hard to the net and staying out of the box.
“We’ve been using him on the penalty kill this year and I can say that last year, we probably didn’t even think about it once. He came back from a good summer of work and is doing a better job of not taking a ton of undisciplined penalties.”
Gurney has stuck on a line with Max Patterson and Dawson Butt for most of the season, which is interchangeable as Everett’s second or third line. The line provides energy and physicality, with all players above 6-foot and a possessing a mean streak.
It’s only fitting the most stable year of Gurney’s career has included a trade in the background. The Trail Smoke Eaters acquired his rights in a trade this season, which means if Gurney goes back to the BCHL, he’ll play for Trail.
“It’s pretty weird, no one even talked to me or anything,” Gurney said.
Gurney isn’t losing sleep over it, though. He’s right where he wants to be.
“I’m just fortunate to get an opportunity this year,” Gurney said. “I’ve been in this league since I was 16 and this is the first year ever playing above fourth line. So playing third line and second line this year, getting more opportunity, playing the odd penalty kill. … I’m getting a lot of ice time lately and it’s just feeding my game. I’m just getting more and more confidence every day in practice, just keep building there and I think I’m having a really good year for myself. I’m just trying to keep things calm, low key and day-by-day. Just take all eyes off me and keep working.”
Josh Horton covers the Silvertips for the Herald. Follow him on Twitter, @JoshHortonEDH
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