Note:This article appeared in Volume 8, Issue8 of Breakaway
There are plenty of well-traveled players around the American Hockey League. Few in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins locker room may be as diversely traveled as goaltender Scott Munroe. Alabama and the Tatarstan Republic of Russia are not most common stops during the course of a hockey career, but they are a part of Munroe’s journey to Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan is as natural as any other Canadian city for a young man to start playing out his hockey dreams. A town of about 35,000 located in the southern portion of the province, it is also the home of former National Hockey League netminder, Chico Resch.
Munroe’s career would begin just a half hour down Route 39 with the Notre Dame Hounds of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. His second season with the Hounds was an breakout yet that saw him awarded the Harold J. Jones Trophy as the league’s outstanding goaltender. With his junior eligibility nearing its end, Munroe wanted to take advantage of his new notoriety to earn a scholarship with a school state-side. Though there were talks with some the bigger names, a veritable unknown in college hockey landscape came out as the frontrunner.
“I wanted to capitalize on the strong season. [University of Huntsville]-Alabama called out of the blue and offered to fly me down there. I went down, played golf with some the guys, saw the campus, saw the arena, saw a good opportunity to play right away and I took it.”
Having returned to the Division I level just three years prior, the Chargers were a young program looking to grow. The team’s win-loss record may not have always been pretty for Munroe during those early years, but his selection as College Hockey America’s co-Player of the Year his senior season and playing against some of the top teams in the country provided Munroe with some signature moments.
“When we would play an Ohio State or a Maine, we always seemed to give up a lot of shots. Fortunately for me, I was able to perform well against those schools. I think that gave me some credibility with the scouts that I could play well against these bigger names in hockey.”
That credibility had several teams calling after his four-year career at Alabama-Huntsville, but ultimately he signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Flyers. Three years with their then-AHL affiliate, the Philadelphia Phantoms saw him go 64-46-8, make his NHL debut and also take part in the longest AHL game ever played. He was the winning goaltender on April 24, 2008 when the Phantoms defeated the Albany River Rats, 3-2, in the fifth overtime after 142:58 of hockey.
Munroe sought a new opportunity following his final year with Philadelphia and signed with the New York Islanders for the 2009-10 season. With a three-goalie rotation ahead of him in New York and finding himself also one of three goaltenders fighting for playing time with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Munroe decided to change tacks.
“When things didn’t work out [in New York], I started to put the feelers out overseas. Shortly after the season ended, Kizhnekasmk Neftekhimik called me and I thought ‘Let’s do this.’ It will be a new experience and a new challenge.”
What could have been viewed a step down in his hopes of making it to the NHL actually proved to be a step forward for Munroe. Munroe headed to Russia to find a league filled with talent. The Kontinental Hockey League is a haven for ex-NHL players and some of the most skilled European players in the sport. Though there were some cultural adjustments that he had to make – his team’s training regiment and techniques were akin to the Balboa camp in Rocky IV – Munroe hit his stride in the second half of the season and finished on an upswing.
Despite a mutual want by both parties to re-sign after the season, an agreement couldn’t be reached. Scott and his wife Jade returned to their home in Connecticut to figure out the next steps, and while they enjoyed their time in Russia, a return trip across the Atlantic was not in the plans for the Munroes.
“We weren’t quite emotionally ready to try another league [in Europe]. We thought if we have a chance to stay in North America, let’s do that. And that’s when the Penguins called.”
Munroe signed with Pittsburgh knowing he would be asked to back-up reigning AHL Goaltender of the year, Brad Thiessen and playing time might be hard to come by. Yet Munroe was in net for the Penguins’ second game of the season and managed to make quite the debut… …with a catch.
He stopped all 23 shots through overtime fired by Connecticut, but Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was equally stymied by Whale goalie Chad Johnson. Connecticut took the ensuing shootout for a 1-0 win and Munroe was a statistical anomaly – a goaltender with a shutout, but no wins.
Soon thereafter, the Penguins and Thiessen went on a string of eight straight wins and Munroe wouldn’t see another start until November 15 against Binghamton. That night he was able to get the victory to go along with the shutout, turning aside 25 shots in a 3-0 win for the Pens.
Munroe went on to go 5-2-1 in his next eight starts and has found himself among the AHL leaders in goals against average.
“Brad went through that great stretch and you definitely go with the hot hand. When you have a good game, [John] Hynes will reward you with another one. I’ve been able to have some success, get a little more playing time and find a groove.”
Munroe’s path may have taken a circuitous route to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but Penguins fans can appreciate the journey he’s taken. With his recent success, they can appreciate his current destination even more.