Faces of Pittsburgh

Local Kid Makes It Big

By ALYSSA BENSON
ambst55@mail.rmu.edu

It is every athlete’s dream to play a Division I sport and make it to the professional level, all while making the big bucks for doing what they love. This common dream rarely comes to fruition, but when it does, it’s special.

For Pittsburgh-born and raised hockey player, Denny Urban, that rarity just became reality.

Growing up, Denny played for teams around the Pittsburgh area, and played for the Ohio Junior Blue Jackets prior to signing with Robert Morris University (RMU) to play Division I ice hockey for the Colonials.

While some may believe that playing locally could pile on added pressure, RMU Head Coach Derek Schooley believes it helped him.

“I think it was probably a benefit for him. He was familiar with the area, familiar with the surroundings and familiar with being in Pittsburgh,” said Coach Schooley. “It also helped with his family being able to come watch him play and his relatives and friends. I don’t think there was any extra pressure, but was actually more of a convenience thing.”

While Coach Schooley thought it was convenient, Denny himself looked at it as an exciting opportunity, and says he wouldn’t have it any other way.

During his freshman season at RMU, Denny made appearances in 30 games, tallying six goals and fifteen assists for a total of 21 points, which earned him fifth place on the team in total points, an honorable achievement for a freshman.  

In addition to earning a place in the top five for point totals, Coach Schooley also named Denny  Rookie of the Year. Even though Denny received honors from his team, College Hockey America (CHA) also recognized his sensational play in his rookie season.

Denny was named to the CHA All Rookie Team at the end of the season, and was honored twice that season as the CHA Rookie of the Week.

As a sophomore, Denny earned CHA Defensive Player of the Week awards twice, and was also named RMU Hockey’s Defensive Player of the Year. Denny ended the year as the highest scoring defenseman in the CHA conference, which helped him earn an invitation to the Pittsburgh Penguins NHL camp, a prestigious honor for an undrafted player.

Denny tied the RMU single season record for goals by a defenseman in his junior season, which also earned him bragging rights as the first defenseman to score ten or more goals in a season.

Although Denny’s accomplishments within his first three seasons were plentiful, he saved his best year for last. Prior to his senior season, Denny was named an assistant captain for the team, which allowed him to show his leadership on and off the ice.

During the season, Denny tallied eight goals and 32 assists for a record-breaking total of 40 points, and led the team in the +/- category with a +14, something that would be difficult to replace the following season.

“I don’t think you can replace a player that had 40 points especially on defense,” said Coach Schooley. “I mean there’s only been 5 of them in NCAA hockey in the last five years, so it’s going to be difficult.”

Just a few hours after his college hockey career ended, Denny’s agent received a call from the Reading Royals of the East Coast Hockey League. The Royals informed his agent that the team was interested in signing Denny to an amateur try-out contract for the remainder of the season.

“We all expected Denny to go somewhere right after the season was over," said former RMU teammate Brendan Jamison. “We just didn't know where he was going to go.”

Just like that Denny went from not knowing what was going to happen to his hockey career to being a professional hockey player in the ECHL.

“It was kind of bittersweet because I was still upset that we just lost to Mercyhurst and my college career was over, but was happy at the same time because I had a chance to fulfill my childhood dream to play professional hockey," he shared.

Since arriving in Reading, Denny has played in 14 games, tallying three goals and six assists for nine total points. Most recently, Denny has also been named to the Royals playoff roster.

“The transition hasn’t been that bad going from college hockey to the ECHL. The guys are a bit faster, more controlled with the puck and play position hockey,” said Denny. “It took a little bit to adjust to the professional game, but [it] wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”

In addition to playing hockey, practicing and traveling, Denny is also finishing up his senior year at RMU. He was lucky enough to have a light class schedule this semester, and also have professors who are willing to help him out so he can pursue his dream.

“My professors have been emailing me my assignments that I usually complete and send back to them,” said Denny. “Almost every day after practice I work on my assignments to help get me ahead so that on game days I don’t have to worry about doing school work and can just focus on playing.”

While Denny is preparing for the playoffs with the Royals, Coach Schooley and Denny’s former teammates continue to keep an eye on his play, hoping to see his successes continue.

“Obviously you want to see players fulfill their dreams,” said Coach Schooley. “I’m glad Denny is doing well, and hopefully he can continue to climb the ladder to the American Hockey League and then who knows where he’ll go from there.”