Nic Dowd's road to Xcel Energy Center for his NHL debut last night almost ended in St. Louis eight years ago.
That's when the NAHL's St. Louis Bandits traded the 18-year-old to the Wenatchee Wild. Dowd was despondent. After all, he didn't even want to be in the NAHL in the first place. He had tried out for the USHL, the premier junior hockey league in the US, and hadn't made the cut. And now, after being a frequent scratch in St. Louis, it seemed like the NAHL didn't really want him either.
And where in the world was Wenatchee? Dowd thought about quitting. After all, he had received a top-notch college prep education at Culver Military Academy. But being an Eagle was proving to be a double-edged sword for the youngster. "At that time, coming from Culver, there were so many kids I was surrounded with that had made and were drafted by USHL teams...When everybody does that, it's tough."
That's when Culver '84 alum Lloyd Donnelly stepped in. "I had found out that he was being traded to Wenatchee, and I just called him to let him know how great Wenatchee was."
Donnelly had met Dowd the previous year at Culver, and hadn't forgotten the charismatic young man who "looked you in the eye, shook your hand, always had a smile on his face, and...had 'it.'
"[I] told him he just had to keep on chasing his dream and he was a great player.
"I told him, 'Get in your car and drive to Wenatchee because if you don’t, I will get in my car and drive you there myself.'"
Dowd counts this conversation as a turning point in his career. "[Donnelly] said, I should give it a chance, I should go out to Wenatchee and see what it was." So he got in the car with his Dad, and they drove from St. Louis to Wenatchee, the self-styled "Apple Capital of the World" about three hours east of Seattle. "I went out there, and I fell in love with the place, the arena, the billet family."
After totaling 49 points in 43 games and leading the expansion Wild to the Robertson Cup championship game, Dowd never looked back. That spring, he committed to St. Cloud State. That summer, he became the first Alabama native ever drafted by an NHL team, as the Los Angeles Kings plucked him in the seventh round. And the following season, he was once again a point-per-game player—this time, for the USHL's Indiana Ice.
But Dowd hasn't forgotten Wenatchee, "I got cut from [the USHL], and it was the best thing that ever happened to me."
From Huntsville to Culver to St. Louis to Wenatchee to Indianapolis to St. Cloud to Manchester to Ontario, Dowd has certainly taken the long way to Los Angeles. And frankly, the odds are against a 25-year-old seventh-rounder making much of an NHL impact; he's already defied probabilities by even making it this far. But would you bet against the long shot who's always come through?
The man who saw Dowd at his lowest certainly won't. Donnelly is now part of the O2K Worldwide Management Group, which naturally, counts the newest King as one of their clients. "I would never bet against Nic, as he always seems to find a way."