There are many players who move around the various hockey leagues in North America, including Peter Ambroziak. But the Ottawa native is putting his travels to good use. While he may not have had an extensive career in the NHL, he did gain experience along the road to prepare him for his newest challenge and goal of coaching.
“I am originally from Ottawa and played my minor hockey there. From midget, I went on to the Ottawa 67s and played four years for Brian Kilrea before being drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in 1991. I was in the system there for the better part of three years and then just moved on.”
Peter Ambroziak’s Junior Days
One of Ambroziak’s favorite moments in his career was being selected to play for his hometown 67s. “It was fantastic, a great experience! I hadn’t planned on playing major junior, I had planned on going the NCAA route but they offered me a great package and to pay for my university if I wasn’t drafted. It was the highest level I could play in the area so it was a dream to play for them and to play for Kilrea.”
Under the famous coach, Ambroziak learned what he needed to do in order to further his playing career. “He taught me how to be a pro, how to come to the rink every day to compete and get better. His style was that he expected the best from you whether or not it ended with a win. He just wanted his team to compete hard and that’s what I tried to do during my four years there.”
After three seasons with the 67s, Ambroziak had tallied 51 goals and 117 points and was eligible for the NHL entry draft. “I didn’t really know where I sat heading into the draft. I was told I could go anywhere between the third and sixth round.”
Ambroziak Drafted To The Sabres
Ambroziak eventually heard his name called by the hosts of the draft, the Sabres in the fourth round, 72nd overall. “With the draft in Buffalo, being drafted to the Sabres was a thrill. It is one of those things that you remember for the rest of your life. I had a great experience and was very happy to be drafted.”
For Ambroziak, being selected by Buffalo was a bit of a surprise. “I hadn’t even talked to them before the draft. I had spoken with Detroit and Toronto and knew there was some interest. At the time, in the early 90s, it wasn’t like today they didn’t have the combine and things were a little more low key so it was completely unexpected.”
The following fall, Ambroziak attended his first of three camps with the Sabres. “The first camp was a big learning experience and I did not know what to expect. I stayed there for a few weeks and then went to Rochester before returning to Ottawa. I look back and realize that while it was tough, it showed me what I needed to do to become a pro. The next season my goal was that I wanted to crack the AHL roster, which I did. By the third camp, I really wanted to push for a roster spot. I had made a name for myself in the sense that I was in the system and there was an opportunity.”
Before getting the call to the Sabres, Ambroziak spent three seasons with the Sabres’ AHL affiliate in Rochester. “I loved it in Rochester! I was there for three years and it was another great experience, they have great fans. It was close enough to home that I could travel back to Ottawa and people could come see me. It was nice to be away but also to be able to go home. I had some good coaching there. John Van Boxmeer was the coach and it was another step in learning how to become a pro. There were older guys there too who had NHL experience and could teach you.”
During the 1994-95 season, Ambroziak finally made his NHL debut and remembers when he heard the news. “It was very nerve-racking to make my debut. I remember I got the call from John at about 11 p.m. saying ‘you’re going up the next day to Buffalo and are playing in Quebec City’. I thought it was a joke at first. I went and my first game was at the Colisée playing against guys like Joe Sakic, Wendel Clark and Peter Forsberg it was an incredible experience. I got to play 12 games, in the NHL, and will look back on it fondly. I wish I could have played longer, but am happy that I was able to crack the line up. I look back and say I was lucky but a lot of the hard work I put in paid off.”
Other Leagues And New Experiences
After his time in the NHL, Ambroziak went back to the AHL but also spent time in the International Hockey League (IHL), United Hockey League (UHL), Western Professional Hockey League (WPHL) and finally the Central Hockey League (CHL). It was during his travels in the leagues that Ambroziak started thinking about a new path within the game. “I was in my late 20s and decided I wanted to look at coaching. I wound up in New Mexico, in the WPHL as a player/assistant coach so that I could still play while learning the ropes of coaching.”
To think of a player/coach in the major hockey leagues would seem absurd, but at lower levels it is much more common. “Its prevalent in the Central and East Coast leagues, but it is a tough role. You have to be one of the guys but at the same time the coach relies on you to coach and be a leader. You may not be wearing a captain ‘C’ but you still have to be a leader. I was in charge of booking rooms and meals on the road and, at the same time, on ice stuff like the power play and penalty kill. It was a great way to step into the role of coaching without leaving the playing aspect.”
The WPHL went on to merge with the CHL. While Ambroziak says it was strange at times going into non-traditional hockey markets he still had a good time in the league.
Stepping Behind The Bench
After he hung up the skates as a player, Ambroziak returned to the Ottawa area and joined the Ottawa Senators organization as the Head of Hockey Development at their Bell Sensplex overseeing development programs and the Ottawa Senators summer hockey camps. “I always wanted to come back to Ottawa. I really enjoy the role of teaching kids and doing hockey camps.”
It was this position that helped Ambroziak take another step in his coaching career. While doing one camp he ran into another NHL alumni, Ron Tugnutt, who is the President and
Governor of the Kemptville 73s, a Junior A team in the Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL). “I met Ron at alumni event. I was running a camp and he came to help out. I found out he was running the team (Kemptville). At the time, they had a coach but I said ‘if anything changes, I’d love to get involved’. They happened to make a change this past off season and I called him up he said ‘ lets sit down and talk’ and the rest is history.”
Even though Ambroziak is devoting his attention to what he is doing now, he still has future goals in the sport. “Right now I’m so focused on this and am really enjoying what I am doing. One day if I could further my coaching career and move up to either major junior or pro I would love to do that but right now this is great.”
It just goes to show that even after a playing career, hockey has a powerful impact on those involved, which makes them want to continue on in whatever capacity they can.
An avid sports enthusiast, Darren presently is the Communications and Marketing Coordinator at the Golf Association of Ontario. He has served as a Sports Editor with Etcetera Publications and colour commentator on TV Cogeco’s junior hockey coverage. He has covered a wide range of junior and professional sports including: hockey, golf, baseball and football to name a few.