Go West, young man.
While that phrase is often credited to American author and newspaper editor Horace Greeley, such a journey proved successful for Sean Ambrosie.
After suiting up for Moorhead High School in Minnesota, Ambrosie began his voyage into Canada playing for the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Winnipeg South Blues.
During the 2007-08 season, the American posted 53 points in 62 games, capping off a solid maiden voyage north of the border. But, like most players chasing an NCAA scholarship, Ambrosie continued his westward journey with a trade from the South Blues to the Prince George Spruce Kings in May 2008.
“As soon as I got to Prince George, I could tell it was a little faster pace and a different style of hockey from the Manitoba League and I think that is something that accelerated my development and my career,” Ambrosie said.
He was quickly billed as a playmaker for the Spruce Kings, compiling 20 goals and 39 assists for 59 points in 58 games during the 2008-09 BC Hockey League season.
“My main goal was to prove myself. Anytime you come into a new environment, you don’t know what to expect and for me personally, when I come into a new environment I don’t feel entitled to be a leader on the team. That is something I needed to earn, so when I got there that was something I was focused on, and as the season progressed I felt I (did) that.”
“When I got there, I knew Sam (Muchella) and Zach (Davies) had pretty solid years the season before. But most players on our team that year like Wes McLeod and Kevin Genoe developed throughout the year. At the end of the season, we were able to make that playoff push.”
The Spruce Kings finished 26-25-3-6, clinching fifth-place in the ultra-competitive Interior Division.
The biggest adjustment Ambrosie endured in his only season with the Spruce Kings was the long bus trips to other areas of the province.
“When I was in Winnipeg, most of the games were played in the city or surrounding area. They weren’t too far out of the way, so everyone was able to go their separate ways after coming back into town. In Prince George, we were going on road trips where we stayed in hotels and had that bonding opportunity (that) I didn’t have in Winnipeg.”
“Again, we had so many of these new faces in Prince George, and those relationships were being built throughout the season. By the end of the year, we made some connections and had that push against Penticton.”
While many players would say games against Penticton or Vernon often brought out the best in them, Ambrosie pointed to a couple of smaller market teams that he enjoyed playing against.
“Their rinks weren’t the nicest but I enjoyed playing in Quesnel and Merritt because when I played, they were tougher teams – not the most skilled – but they were good, tough hockey teams. Then you can appreciate the nicer venues like the one Vernon had when they had a full rink and a great atmosphere. Penticton had a nice new rink (at the time), but didn’t have the atmosphere yet.”
The state of hockey
Ambrosie grew up in the hockey-crazy state of Minnesota where he quickly became acclimated with the game. To be frank, finding a fresh sheet of ice was hardly a challenge while attending Moorhead High School.
“In Minnesota, there are plenty of opportunities for any young player who wants to play hockey. I grew up in a town where we had two rinks and ice was available pretty much anytime you wanted to get on, whether it was before school or after. The opportunity was also there and I was lucky enough to have a mother, father, and two older brothers who also loved the game.”
As a kid, Ambrosie initially grew up a Detroit Red Wings fan, idolizing players like Nicklas Lidstrom, but once the Minnesota Wild came to town he quickly changed allegiances.
“I watched the Red Wings teams with Lidstrom, (Steve) Yzerman, and (Sergei) Fedorov, and I really looked up to those players. As I got older, we had season tickets to the Wild where we would go to 20 or 30 games a year and I really looked up to players like Jim Dowd and Marian Gaborik.”
In 2003, the Wild went on a magical playoff run, upsetting the Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks before faltering in the Western Conference Finals against Jean-Sebastian Giguere and the Anaheim Ducks.
Running with the Huskies
After departing the Spruce Kings, Ambrosie attended the University of Connecticut where posted four solid seasons. He remembers UConn making a big push for his services early on in the BCHL season.
“It was always an opportunity that I kept in the back of my head. It’s a well-known school, but more for basketball than it is for hockey. My big thing was that I felt I was still developing as a player and I just wanted the opportunity to play. They kind of just came to me and I felt very comfortable about the program and the people I was going to be surrounded with.”
In his first season of college hockey in 2009-10, Ambrosie racked up 18 points in 37 games for the Huskies as they went 6-19-3 in the Atlantic Hockey Association.
During his sophomore year, Ambrosie’s development took another positive step and he posted 27 points for a UConn team that went 13-12-2. The Huskies then swept Mercyhurst in the Atlantic Hockey quarterfinal series before losing out in the next round to RIT in six games.
“The biggest progression was probably just my confidence. I was given more opportunity being put on the power play and penalty kill and we had a really good freshman class come in that year. Guys like Cole Schneider, Billy Latta, and Jordan Sims came in and really turned our program around.”
In his final two seasons, Ambrosie captained the Huskies and the on-ice success followed. Under David Berard, UConn finished 14-10-3 but ultimately lost out to Mercyhurst in the Atlantic Hockey semifinal.
“What I remember the most, unfortunately, is the poor ending to the season. We had an unbelievable opportunity to go to the national tournament but we ran into some unfortunate circumstances where we had a couple of guys catch the flu. We were hindered by injury and illness that year, which is how our season came to an end.”
With a desire to keep playing, Ambrosie accepted a try-out for the Hartford Wolfpack of the American Hockey League, where he was among the final cuts. Ambrosie was asked by management to head down to the New York Rangers’ ECHL affiliate in Greenville, South Carolina but was subsequently cut and hung up his skates.
Ambrosie, 31, now lives with his wife in New Hampshire, where he is employed by Fidelity Investments.