By Travis Betts
Jon Landry almost gave up his dream of playing hockey.
In 2011, the defenseman had just finished his MBA in Glasgow, Scotland, where he had been playing with the Braehead Clan of the Elite Ice Hockey League. To that point, his playing career included Division III college, being cut from AHL and ECHL rosters and finally, a trip to Europe with the hope of extending his playing days while developing skills for a post-hockey career.
With his window seemingly closed, Landry’s lifelong goal of playing in the National Hockey League never seemed more far-fetched.
“I was very close,” Landry said, when asked if he’d ever considered hanging up his skates. “There were definitely some long summers where I didn’t know where I was going to play and I was contemplating giving it up. A lot of my friends and colleagues who I went to school with were all working in the business world. So I definitely felt the pressure.”
Less than two years later, the 29 year old Landry has a stall in the dressing room at Islanders Iceworks next to star center John Tavares. The Islanders signed the blueliner to a two-way contract last summer, and after a solid first half with AHL Bridgeport, Landry was called up for training camp this week. Looking around at the faces in the room Monday, the realization set in.
“I’ve watched these guys play for a number of years,” Landry said. “Obviously I’m older than a lot of these guys too, so it’s a pretty cool feeling to be out here. I definitely had chills when I found out I was being called up. It got the heart pounding a little bit more than normal.”
Landry played forward at Bowdoin College, a Division III school in Brunswick, ME, from 2002-2006. He was in the team’s top-3 in scoring during all four seasons, including a senior year in which he led the team in goals (16), assists (22) and points (38). It was the humble, but proud, beginning to Landry’s playing career.
“Even though it was Division III hockey, the New England Small College Association is really a good league,” Landry said. “We were always competing for a bid in the national tournament. The teams definitely don’t have the depth that the Division I teams would, but I think we could have given a lot of Division I teams a run.”
Following his senior season, Landry appeared in two games just a few miles down the road with the AHL’s Portland Pirates, but didn’t stick on the roster. The next season, he played two games for the Augusta Lynx of the ECHL, the league below the AHL. Once again he didn’t stick, playing the majority of the season with the Central Hockey League’s Arizona Sundogs, a minor league affiliate of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Even though his career had taken two steps back in one year’s time, Landry’s ambition remained.
“You never give up on that goal of playing in the NHL,” Landry said. “I think one of the hardest things about being undrafted is trying to crack the American Hockey League and get your foot into the door there. But I was cut from a couple of AHL teams, and even from the ECHL.”
From there, Landry’s long and winding road started to include some successes along the way. The Montreal, QC native remained with the Sundogs through the 2009-10 season, where he was part of their 2008 championship-winning team.
“That was one of the best times of my life,” Landry said. “I’ll always cherish that moment. Any time you win in any league, it’s a great accomplishment. We were a really close, tight-knit group. I stayed in Arizona after that, thinking I would get an opportunity to move up the ranks with them.”
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. By that point, Landry had made a transition from forward to defense, but his hopes of making it back to the AHL were fading and he needed a fresh start. Midway through the 2009-10 season, Landry was offered a role with the Cologne Sharks in Germany’s top league.
“I just couldn’t pass that opportunity up,” Landry said of playing in the German Elite League. “I had been contemplating whether or not to give up hockey at that point. Then another opportunity came up in Scotland. There was a deal with the team. They would help me complete my MBA while I was playing over there. I decided to continue on that route and give hockey one last shot.”
On the ice, Landry shined brightly with the Braehead Clan of the Elite Ice Hockey League, which was comprised of 10 teams around Great Britain. He posted 58 points (18 goals, 40 assists) in 54 games, 16 more points than he did in his top season in the CHL. Off the ice, Landry earned his post-graduate degree and readied himself for a future in the business world.
“I had my schooling at that point, so I didn’t really have any worries about what I was going to do afterward. I just knew that if I got my opportunity that I could play. So I put in the extra effort off the ice.”
And then a funny thing happened. In the summer of 2011, Landry was offered a contract with the Colorado Eagles of the ECHL. After a solid half-season (30 points in 35 games), Landry was signed to a tryout contract by the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, where he played the remainder of the season. He scored 20 points (two goals, 18 assists) in 34 games with the Sound Tigers, and the Islanders signed him to his first NHL contract in July 2012.
“I think I put myself in the right realm to play hockey and be in a good situation,” Landry said of going back to the ECHL. “I knew that I could do well, and that then a call-up would be inevitable. So I set out that goal and I was able to see it through. I got a mid-season look in the AHL and was able to run with it.”
In 2012-13, Landry leads Sound Tigers defensemen in goals (6), assists (14) and points (20) through 37 games, and was among the six AHLers called up to the Islanders Sunday. Seven years after turning pro, Landry finally made it to his first NHL camp.
“We had such a great talent pool in Bridgeport that I was a little shocked, but honored to get the call,” Landry said.
Colin McDonald, Landry’s teammate in Bridgeport, sits across the dressing room from Landry this week. The 28-year-old McDonald, who has played for seven different teams since 2009, believes that this week is a huge – and well deserved – opportunity for both of them.
“There’s a lot of guys here who have taken the same path that we have,” McDonald said. “They understand and respect that. That’s why we feel comfortable here. They know what we’ve been through, what we’ve gone through.”
McDonald added that Landry’s veteran presence in the Bridgeport locker room, as well as his performance on the ice, is the reason the blueliner was named an alternate captain for the Sound Tigers.
“He’s been our top defenseman pretty consistently all year,” McDonald said. There’s a lot of guys who have more American League experience than he does, but what makes him a leader is the path that he’s taken, and the guys respect him for that. Obviously he’s grinded it out in lots of different leagues the past couple of years. Not many guys have done that. I was very happy for him when I found out he was coming up with us. It couldn’t happen to a better guy.”
Perhaps the biggest reason Landry received that call was that during the NHL’s work stoppage, Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano spent a lot of games scouting the Sound Tigers firsthand and checking on the progress of Islanders prospects. When it came time to select camp invitees, Landry made the short list.
“There’s no question that he’s earned the opportunity to come to our training camp,” Capuano said. “I just think that Jon’s a guy who has paid his dues. He has good vision, intelligence and hockey sense. He does a lot of good little things.”
Landry is among 10 defensemen, including Joe Finley, who the Islanders claimed off waivers Monday from Buffalo, competing for a top-6 role on the Islanders blue line. While competition for those spots is stiff, Landry knows he’s closer than ever to achieving that lifelong goal.
"I think about playing that first shift of that first game,” Landry said. “If that ever comes down the road, it would definitely be a dream come true.”
No matter how this week shakes out for Landry, you don’t need an MBA to realize he’s a long way from hanging up his skates.