A young kid grows up in the hockey-crazed city of Billings, Mont., plays junior league hockey as a teenager in Cody, Wyo., and signs a deal with a NHL club before he’s of legal drinking age.
OK, so maybe its not quite as known as Romeo & Juliet, but there’s a lot to love about the story Jake Doty is living.
Doty, 20, played with the Yellowstone Quake from 2008-10 and signed a three-year contract with the National Hockey League’s St. Louis Blues Sept. 26, becoming the first former Quake to ever ink a deal with the NHL.
“I loved my time in Cody, it was very good for me,” Doty said over the phone Wednesday.
Quake president Bob Bole said Doty was and will continue to be a bright spot for the organization, specifically in terms of recruiting and promoting youth hockey in Cody.
“We’re excited and delighted for both him and what it will do for the Quake,” Bole said. “‘Proud’ doesn’t even come close.”
Former Quake head coach Sean Hogan coached Doty during the 2009-10 season and said Doty always stood out.
“We knew right away with Jake that he was a pretty special player,” said Hogan, now the head coach for the University of Arizona hockey team. “You could just tell from early on he was going to be able to take hockey a long ways.”
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound player’s ascension from playing Tier 3 junior league hockey to being a phone call away from the highest level of professional hockey on Earth is the product of years of determined effort.
“Honestly, it just is hard work,” Doty said. “You got to work on your skills every single day. You have to treat it like your job.”
Hockey has essentially been Doty’s career ever since his dad sat him down in their living room and asked the high schooler if he wanted to play hockey regularly, in the hopes of some day playing professionally.
Doty was in the gym the next morning, which happened to be the Fourth of July. While other high schoolers were enjoying their holiday, the dedication to fitness and strength started for the tough power forward.
“I’ve really buckled down and trained really hard and worked on my skating and worked on every little niche of my game,” Doty said. “I basically sacrificed my summers as a teenager.”
Doty even lived with his trainer for two years.
Former Quake assistant coach Ryan Theros, who is now a performance coach in Eden Prairie, Minn., knew that if Doty were to become a pro, he’d have to train like a pro.
Theros, who trains NHL and some of the nation’s top collegiate hockey players, took Doty in for two years to ensure that hockey was the No. 1 focus.
The two would spend nights in Minnesota talking about Doty’s NHL aspirations.
“We would talk about it every night, and what he needed to do to get there,” Theros said.
Doty knows Theros’ help pushed him to where he is now.
“I can’t thank Ryan and Lindsey (Ryan’s fiance) enough,” Doty said. “They sacrificed (so much) for me.”
Theros worked many hours in improving Doty’s skating ability, a skill that Theros said becomes more important as players move up the ranks.
“Once you get to the next level you can definitely pick out the good skaters,” Theros said. “The ones that aren’t working on their skating ability aren’t playing at the next level.”
Starting with youth hockey in Billings, Doty has always been aiming for the next stage of hockey.
He arrived in Cody as a 16-year-old playing with kids three, four years his senior. He then joined the ranks of the Western Hockey League, first with the Seattle Thunderbirds and now the Medicine Hat Tigers of Alberta, Canada.
“Jumping from the Quake to the WHL was a huge step,” Doty said. “The level of competition, the buildings you play in ... everything is at least a couple steps above. Making that jump was something I had to get used to.”
The reality of playing in the NHL actually hit Doty a week prior to signing his contract, when he suited up and played in a preseason game against the Tampa Bay Lightning Sept. 18 in Florida.
“When it first hit me was when we got on the charter plane,” Doty said. “It was just one of the nicest things I’ve ever seen. It was like ‘OK, this is what these guys do basically every day.’”
Doty didn’t try to hide his excitement, which he expressed on his Twitter account (dotes_28) Sept. 17.
“Very excited to be playing in my first NHL preseason game tomorrow night! #stlblues #nerves,” Doty tweeted.
Those nerves didn’t last long.
“Once I got a couple shifts under my belt I was fine,” Doty said.
Doty’s name appears three times in the game’s box score. Once under the Blues’ roster, followed by a collection of zeroes (no goals, no assists, no shots on goal) and then twice in the penalty summary, where he accumulated seven minutes in the box for a roughing minor and a fighting major.
Doty is no stranger to the rough stuff, and in fact, is banking on making a career out of his rugged style of play.
“Some guys have a problem playing like that — I don’t,” Doty said. “I know in order to make it that’s how I’m going to have to play.”
He will have to adapt to some of the larger opponents he’ll face in the NHL, like Lightning winger Mike Angelidis, 28, who dropped the gloves with Doty in the third period of Tampa’s 4-3 shootout win.
I’ve never really fought a man before,” Doty said, laughing. “He was strong and he was no stranger to fighting either.”
Not to say that Doty didn’t hold his own.
“I think I did pretty well and it was fun,” Doty said. “I think it was a good way to make my mark in my first game.”
St. Louis’ veterans took notice of Doty and made sure to let the rookie know they appreciated his willingness to scrap.
“I think every single one of them tapped me on the shin pads or patted me on the shoulders and said, ‘Good job,’” Doty said.
It might be a year or two before Doty gets a shot to join the Blues full time.
“Got a ways to go still,” Doty said. “It’s going to take a good season here and a long summer of training.”
If all goes well Doty, an assistant captain with the Tigers, will be added to the 2014-15 roster of the Chicago Wolves, the Blues’ American Hockey League affiliate, and at that point could be called up to St. Louis at any moment.
“If the Blues want me, they’ll call me,” Doty said. “It’s kind of pro or bust.”
Hogan said it’s only a matter of time for the hard-working, blue-collar Doty.
“I have no doubt in my mind he’ll be an NHL player at some point,” he said.