WILKES-BARRE — The Penguins training camp roster features plenty of players from the usual places - New England, Michigan, Minnesota and across Canada.
But there are three players who got their start in hockey in some rather unlikely locales, including the Bronx, Las Vegas and Anchorage, Alaska.
So how do players born and raised in cities where hockey isn’t on the radar get their start in the sport?
They take advantage of any opportunity they can find.
Tom Mele, who was born in the Bronx, was blunt when asked what kind of hockey opportunities there were in New York City.
“None,” he said. “We played roller hockey growing up and there were no outdoor rinks.”
But there was ice to be found, and most players — Mele included — played in “house” leagues at the local indoor rink.
It wasn’t until he was 16 years old that Mele, 31, decided he needed to figure a route to pursue to become a pro hockey player. That’s when he headed north, to Ontario, to join the Hawkesbury Hawks, a junior team in the Canadian Junior Hockey League.
“Coming from (the Bronx), you have to carve your own path,” Mele said. “I’m proud of where I came from. I know it’s not a hockey hotbed but I think that’s what makes it special.”
More than 4,300 miles away from the Bronx, Hunter Fejes established his hockey roots in Anchorage, a place where the climate fits the game but is often overlooked as a hotbed for the sport.
Fejes, 23, isn’t the first Anchorage resident to don a Penguins jersey. He joins Tim Wallace, who spent six years (2006-2011) in the Pittsburgh organization. Anchorage has produced other NHL players, such as Scott Gomez, Brandon Dubinsky and Joseph Crab — and Fejes hopes to add his name to the list one day.
“Those guys are hockey legends in Alaska, and I grew up watching and learning from them,” Fejes said, adding he took boxing lessons with Wallace years ago and still works out with him during the summer.
“There were quite a few hockey opportunities for me growing up in Anchorage. My parents had season tickets to the Alaska Aces and I grew up watching them. It was hockey and it didn’t matter what level it was.”
Back in the mainland, Gage Quinney, 22, began his hockey dreams in Las Vegas, a place he ended up thanks to his father’s pro career. Ken Quinney was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques in 1984 and his 16-year pro career landed him in numerous cities across the United States and Canada.
He liked Las Vegas the best, and spent four seasons playing for the Thunder in the IHL. That’s when Gage was born in 1995, and even though his father’s career took him to other locales, the family maintained roots in Las Vegas.
While hockey in Las Vegas is a big deal currently with the establishment of the NHL’s Golden Knights this season, Quinney said opportunities to play the game when he was a kid were limited.
“Las Vegas wasn’t much of a hockey world. There was one local rink we would skate at — my dad with me and my brother — and that was really it,” Quinney said.
It wasn’t until the Las Vegas Wranglers were formed in the ECHL in 2003 that hockey in the city began to take off, according to Quinney. Now that the NHL has moved into the city, Quinney expects the sports to grow significantly like it has in other warm-weather locales.
“They’ve already built a couple of new rinks in Vegas and more kids are starting to play because it’s all sponsored by the Golden Knights,” he said. “It will take off once the season gets going.”
Speaking of Vegas, where the temperature routinely tops 100 degrees in the summer, how was the ice at the rink where Quinney played?
“It was just OK. It’s so hot outside that it’s hard to keep it cold,” he said. “Now, with all the new technology, it all sets perfectly.”
• G Sean Maguire left Monday’s practice early. Head coach Clark Donatelli said it was a precautionary move and didn’t expect a serious injury.
• Pittsburgh signed forward Sam Miletic to a three-year entry-level contract on Monday. Miletic, 20, has played in two NHL preseason games with the Penguins this year, scoring the opening goal in Pittsburgh’s win in Columbus on Sept. 22. He also played in all three Prospect Challenge contests in Buffalo in early September, tallying two points (1G-1A) in the opening game against Boston. Miletic also skated in Pittsburgh’s prospect development camp in July.
Last year, the 6-foot, 196-pound Miletic led the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League with 37 goals in 65 games.