In its 15 year history, the RMU Men’s Hockey team has featured numerous Pittsburgh-area hockey products on its roster- many of whom have been vital to the program’s success. Zac Lynch is the program’s second all-time leading scorer, Colin South and Brendan Jamison are former captains, and these are just a few of the noteworthy ones. Later this week, Denny Urban, a Pittsburgh native and member of the class of 2011, will receive one of the greatest honors possible for a student-athlete.
As the program’s all-time leading scorer among defensemen and eighth overall, Urban is one of the best players to come through the Colonials program. He earned all-conference honors in each of his seasons, was voted best defenseman his senior year and was a key part of some big wins. He’s gone on to continue to have a role in the hockey world as a player and now official. All of these accomplishments will surely be mentioned by RMU on Friday, when he will be inducted into the RMU Athletics Hall of Fame.
Urban grew up in Whitehall, playing for local teams like the Mt. Lebanon Hornets, Amateur Penguins and Pittsburgh Hornets. Like many youth hockey players he started out playing forward, until he was one day asked to make a switch to help out the team. Around the age of 13 George Ferguson, his coach and a former NHL player with nearly 800 games of experience, approached him about making the switch back to defense. He obliged, and that wound up being the catalysts for his illustrious career.
“We had some guys make the team as a defenseman and then ultimately back out as far as travel was too much for them,” Urban explained in a phone interview with PHD. “So coach Ferguson came up to me and my dad and talked about how I’d get more ice time and more playing time if I moved back to defense which I ultimately agreed on and haven’t looked back since.”
As a defenseman, Urban continued to climb up the ranks, playing his first year of juniors in the NAHL for the Mahoning Valley Phantoms. He produced 30 points in 57 games, which was enough to garner significant USHL attention. He was drafted in the first round, ninth overall, by the Omaha Lancers. The defender went on to produce 18 points in 42 games between the Lancers and the Ohio Junior Blue Jackets.
Next came the college commitment process. Admittedly, the small local school with just three years under its belt wasn’t a household name to Urban at first. However, Coach Derek Schooley was able to sell him on the opportunity and he chose to attend RMU.
“I didn’t know too much about it,” he admitted. “It was a new program, but when Coach Schooley ultimately had a bunch of conversations with myself about the program and admitted that they were a young and new program so I would be able to come in and have a chance to play as a freshman; that was something that really peaked my interest. There were a couple other schools that were interested but they couldn’t really guarantee anything and knowing that if I went to Robert Morris that I’d have a really good shot at playing all four years instead of going to let’s say a bigger name school and maybe playing junior and senior year (sold me).”
The opportunity to play all four years was a present for the young man, and Urban made the most of it. He appeared in at least 30 games during each of his four years, totaling 136 over his four seasons as a Colonial. He also produced at a very high level during this time, with 28 goals and 84 assists for 112 points during his career. This total ranks eighth in program history and most among defensemen.
The adjustment from junior hockey to college hockey is often difficult. Even players with elite potential can struggle to play at the required level early on in their careers. It can be even more difficult for defensemen, who are now playing with a whole new crop of players in a style that can be much more intense than juniors. To add another element, Urban would be considered an under-sized defenseman at 5 feet 10 inches. Urban defied all of these odds, producing 21 points as a freshman.
He was pretty much thrown right into the fire from the time he stepped on campus. However, the chance to play early and often at the collegiate level is something that he thinks was significant in his ability to be so successful during his entire career.
“Coming from junior hockey into college hockey the guys are bigger, stronger, (and) faster, so coming in early and being able to experience that type of game as a freshman helped me to develop my skillset to be able to play in that league,” he discussed. “Learning how to defend, how to make plays and how fast you have to do things is what ultimately helped lead to my success in my four years.”
Urban wasn’t the only member of the team to adjust quickly as a freshman.. His classmate, forward Nathan Longpre scored 24 points as a rookie and continued to be successful during the remainder of his career. He finished with 138 points and left as the program’s leading scorer at the time. He has since been surpassed three times, but nonetheless had a remarkable RMU career.
Longpre and Urban were both key contributors for the Colonials over their four years, and Urban is thankful that they were able to spend so much time playing together.
“Nathan and I were roommates for all four years at college and we still communicate to this day,” he said. “Having another guy with as much success as Nathan had with me for all four years helped the program and helped myself individually be so successful because you know you had someone that changed the game with the type of play that Nathan had.”
Those two put up impressive individual numbers during their careers, but also helped the program reach new heights. The first of these noteworthy accomplishments were winning the Frontier Classic in Alaska- including a victory over No. 8 Boston University. In their junior year the team had one of the most significant weekends in program history- a sweep of No. 1 Miami during a home-and-home series.
Urban had a goal and three assists on the weekend.
These were some of the early, big victories in program history, establishing an impressive reputation that the Colonials would always put up a fight no matter how big or intimidating the opponent was. That mindset was evident in the locker room, and has lived on in the form of big wins over ranked teams ever since.
“As a team we knew that we were good and we had that opportunity to play the number one ranked team and a “big” school so to say in the college hockey world, (so) when we swept them it wasn’t something that we were all shocked about,” he reflected. “We knew that we could do it, and we knew that people were going to realize that Robert Morris is a good university and a good school and a good hockey team.”
Although the Colonials had growing pains as a new program, the culture of winning began during the tenure of the class of 2011. The tide began to turn, and the Colonials produced an 18-win season during Urban’s senior year, one in which he served as an alternate captain. It was the first winning season in program history and the program has continued to be successful.
“I think it had to do with the senior class, we were there for a while, but we had a good junior class behind us,” he shared. “Between those two classes we had a lot of game experience and that game experience transitioned over to that year to have the first winning season. I think the guys knew what it takes to win in that league and we proved it.”
It’s clear that Urban had an extremely successful RMU career. He earned a spot on the all-rookie team, then a spot on the all-conference first team the next three seasons, including being named the conference’s best defender as a senior.
“@Denny_urban was one of the most elusive, smooth, and talented offensive blueline D-Men I have ever played with/seen,” Kushneriuk tweeted. “Nobody in the CHA or AHA could create shooting lanes like he did. Well deserved Urbs!!!”
This week, Urban will officially receive formal recognition for his success as a member of the RMU Men’s Ice Hockey Team from the university. He will be inducted into the RMU Athletics Hall of Fame along with four other individuals and one team. He will be the third men’s hockey player to receive this honor, joining Chris Margott and Longpre.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” Urban remarked. “Being inducted into any hall of fame is something that is a prized possession. I think for me it just goes back to show that the time that I lost say in high school with my friends actually paid off. That (honor) will be something that will be with me for the rest of my life and further on.”
On top of the individual meaning, this recognition is a little more special since he will be joining his former roommate and longtime friend in the Hall of Fame.
“With the four years we spent together and helped out the program, to have Nathan in the Hall of Fame with myself is something that I know we both greatly appreciate,” he said.
While his hockey impact was certainly felt at RMU, that is not where Urban’s impact stopped in the hockey world. Like many successful alums, he went on to have an impressive professional hockey career, including stops in the ECHL (Reading, Kalamazoo), AHL (Worcester, San Antonio, Springfield), NHL training camp (Florida) and the DEL in Germany (Straubing).
Over this time, he continued his offensive prowess, totaling 143 points in 265 pro games. While he had many great memories and experiences in each of these stops, his last stop definitely meant a lot to him.
“I think they were all pretty great,” he shared. “I guess if I had to pick (one) it would probably be my last year in Germany. Knowing that I was kind of close to the end of my playing career, to be able to go overseas and to be able to meet new players from different countries and being able to live in a different country and travel the world with my wife was something that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.”
His career as a player came to an end in 2015, but after a year away from the game, Urban decided he was ready for something new. Having spent so much of his life playing hockey, there was a definite void without it. After a conversation with a former Colonial teammate, he was ready for his next step: officiating the game.
“I had a conversation with Furman South and the rest is history, I got into it,” he reflected.
Furman South, a member of the class of 2012, is now an NHL referee. He was one of the early beneficiaries of the NHL’s officials combine and has since risen through the ranks. Brandon Blandina and John Rey are other RMU Hockey alums that followed in his footsteps and are pursuing careers as officials as well.
After that conversation with South, before the 2017-18 campaign, Urban attended the combine in Buffalo. This year, he’s officiating at a variety of levels, including the PIHL, Midgets, and the ECHL. The experience has been good for him so far.
“It’s been fun,” he remarked. “It’s good to get back into the game and to be kind of back into the lifestyle of being a hockey player. Getting to go to the rink and into the locker room with a different team, there could be one other guy up to three other guys in that locker room. Just being able to get back into the game I spent so much time in and to help out on the other end of it has been something that I’ve really enjoyed.”
Urban has made an impact during each stop of his hockey career. Nearly 8 years after he graduated from RMU, he’s continued to have success in the hockey world. As he looks back, his time at RMU is something that he definitely doesn’t take for granted. Being inducted into the RMU Hall of Fame is now something that will cement his place among the university’s best.
“I’m extremely grateful,” he expressed. “Being able to get the opportunity to stay relatively close to my home and having the opportunity to earn a degree from an accredited university and being able to have the chance to continue my hockey career and play for four years is something that I am really thankful for and glad I got the opportunity to do.”
Editor’s Note: Urban will be formally inducted into the RMU Hall of Fame on Friday, February 8th during the Hall of Fame dinner at the Sheraton Pittsburgh Airport. He and the other four individual inductees and one team will be recognized during halftime of the men’s basketball game on Saturday.