WATERLOO — It is roughly a seven-hour road trip from Young Arena in Waterloo to Kearney, Neb.
That kind of time allows for a lot of conversation to be had between travelers, and that certainly was the case for Waterloo Black Hawks head coach P.K. O’Handley, his director of scouting and player personnel Shane Fukushima and current Black Hawk captain Jack Drury en route to the USHL/NHL Top Prospects game earlier this month.
During this time, O’Handley had one pressing question for Drury.
“I asked him, ‘Jack, do you remember what you said when we drafted you,’ O’Handley questioned. “He said, ‘yeah.’ I told him so do I and there are two people that I can remember having the same conversation with, one was Brandon Montour and the other is you so you are in good company.’”
Waterloo took Drury, who leads the Black Hawks and is fifth in the United States Hockey League with 31 points, (10 goals, 21 assists), 28th overall in the second round of the 2016 Phase I of the USHL draft.
“I got the call from him during the draft, and I told him, ‘Coach, taking me is the best decision you could’ve made because I’m going to outwork anyone you’ve ever taken,’” Drury recalled.
What has stuck with O’Handley about that first conversation he had with Drury is 20 months after it, the 17-year old from Winnetka, Ill., has lived up to his word.
“He told me he’d be the hardest working guy we’ve ever had and that has been true,” O’Handley said. “We have had a lot of strong character guys here. We have had a lot of guys who have worked extremely hard, and I say this will all the respect in the world to the many great players who have come through this program, I’m not sure that I’ve had a guy like this one.”
As one of the youngest players in the league last year, Drury, the son of eight-year NHL veteran Ted Drury, and the nephew of U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer, Chris Drury, played a fourth-line role for a Black Hawk squad that advanced to the Western Conference finals.
Drury spent five years of his young life, until he was almost eight, in Germany while his dad finished his professional career playing for German pro teams in Kassel, Krefeld and Hamburg. He displayed a strong 200-foot, two-way game during that rookie season. Drury focused on defense first, chipping in offensively when he could and when the need arose, dropping his gloves in defense of a teammate.
“Every once in a while it pops in your mind or people ask about it,” Drury said of his famous father and uncle. “But I’m trying to create my own path separate from what my family has done. When I was younger it was nice to get help from them, but now I’m trying to create my own name for myself instead of just being a relative of the Drury’s.”
To be compared to a guy like Montour, additionally, is humbling to Drury who will follow his father and play collegiately at Harvard.
“Obviously, they’ve had some incredible players here — Pavelski (Joe), Boeser (Brock), Montour and you can go down the list,” Drury said. “To be put in that category, although it is just in conversation, is pretty cool.
“I look at it as motivation to keep working my butt off and hope I can be where they are one day.”
Drury’s rookie season drew the attention of USA Hockey who named him to their Ivan Hlinka Memorial roster where Drury captained a team that went 2-2 in the Czech Republic as he lead them in scoring with two goals and three assists. He followed that with a silver medal performance with O’Handley and Team USA at the World Junior A Challenge in December.
Drury also participated earlier this month with teammates Ben Copeland, Jared Moe and Matej Blumel at the USHL/NHL Top Prospects game in Kearney, Neb., as part of that aforementioned road trip.
And just recently, Drury was named the 60th best North American skater by NHL Central Scouting and has been given a B-rating by the same service which indicates the service believes Drury will be taken somewhere between the second and third rounds of the NHL draft at the American Airlines Center in Dallas in June.
“It is pretty cool,” Drury said of the Central Scouting Service rating. “It builds your confidence. But really, it is all outside noise right now. My focus is on helping this team win the Anderson Cup and Clark Cup. When that stuff happens I will deal with it, but my main focus is helping this team win games and making sure we are in a great spot for the playoffs.”
Drury is backing up his words, too.
He currently had a USHL best 15-game point streak snapped, while the Black Hawks sit just three points of the Western Conference and Anderson Cup lead.
“He is finding his confidence offensively which is good to see,” O’Handley said. “His intangibles of communications and work away from the puck have allowed him to get pucks in scoring situations and also be able to distribute pucks.
“Jack is real comfortable in who he is as a responsible two-way player. He has never lost that. So to sum it up in one word, he is confident and no one has given him that confidence. He has earned it.”