During his first two years in the junior ranks, Gage Quinney languished in a role that didn’t fit.
As a young forward with the Prince Albert Raiders in the Western Hockey League, Quinney was expected to play a defensive, shutdown role first, and focus on generating goals second. In two seasons in the defensive role, Quinney scored a total of 14 goals in 90 games.
It wasn’t until a midseason switch brought him to the Kelowna Rockets that Quinney’s offensive side revealed itself — an attribute that remains on display today.
“Kelowna was an offensive team and I didn’t have to play a shutdown role. That helped me put up points,” Quinney said. “It was more of a natural fit. I like to make plays.”
In 43 games with Kelowna, Quinney produced 38 points and continued the scoring pace the following season when he joined Kamploops, registered 27 goals and 50 points in 48 games.
Even last season with Wheeling — Quinney’s first as a pro — he scored at nearly a point-per-game pace with 44 points in 45 contests.
So the fact that Quinney promptly scored in the first three games of his AHL career this season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton isn’t a surprise.
Head coach Clark Donatelli could see it coming. He pointed out Quinney’s success in Pittsburgh’s training camp this year when he scored twice in the intra-squad championship.
“He can play,” Donatelli said. “He’s deceptively fast and can make plays.”
Quinney, who had three goals and five points in his first three games, is quick to credit his linemates for his success. With Garrett Wilson and Daniel Sprong as his wings, Quinney is certainly benefitting from playing with a proven veteran and perhaps the most dangerous goal scorer in the AHL.
“Wilson is a veteran guy who has really helped me quite a bit and worked with me. Sprong can shoot from anywhere and it goes in,” Quinney said. “Playing with those two guys has really helped.”
Not that Quinney needs much assistance on the ice.
Wilson said the 22-year old rookie has a quiet demeanor but a high hockey IQ. At the beginning, Wilson said, he frequently offered instruction and advice to Quinney. But as Quinney gains experience, Wilson finds he needs less help on the ice.
“He’s catching the hang of it pretty quick. He’s a really smart player,” Wilson said. “Just an easy guy to play with.”
While certainly benefiting from his linemates, Quinney has done his fair share to earn his path to the AHL. Born and raised in Las Vegas, hockey opportunities were limited for Quinney even though his father, Ken, played professionally. He ventured to the WHL to pursue his career and went undrafted despite his scoring success.
Not being drafted is something that motivates Quinney.
“To be un-drafted and passed up on kind of puts a chip on your shoulder. You want to prove to everybody that you were worth taking a chance on,” he said.
With his offensive game clicking, Quinney said one area he wants to improve is his faceoff success. Donatelli hasn’t hesitated to leave Quinney on the ice to take important draws in the offensive zone and said the young center is doing better.
Part of the reason for his faceoff improvement, Quinney said, is the work he put in with assistant coaches Riley Armstrong (in Wheeling) and Tim Army.
“Every draw to me is important. Anything could happen off that draw,” he said.
And with Quinney’s offensive ability, anything can happen when he steps on the ice for a shift.
“I adjusted last year at Wheeling playing with older guys,” he said. “I think I’m getting there.”