ADRIAN, Mich.--Former Adrian College defenseman Chris Leone (Dearborn Heights, Mich./ Kalamazoo K-Wings, NAHL) has signed a contract to play professional hockey with the Greenville (S.C.) Swamp Rabbits of the East Coast Hockey League. Greenville is currently affiliated with the New York Rangers of the National Hockey League and the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League.
Leone made his pro debut in the Swamp Rabbits' 3-1 home loss at the hands of Kalamazoo. He recorded two shots on goal and had an even plus/minus. He registered his first point at the pro level with an assist on the game-winning goal to help Greenville edge the Atlanta Gladiators, 3-2, on Friday. Then the following day, he notched two points on a goal and an assist in Atlanta.
"This opportunity to play professional hockey means a lot to me. All of the hard work, the sacrifices not only I have made but that my family made for me when I was growing up so I could pursue my dream, it's just very rewarding," Leone stated. "I'm grateful for the opportunity that Greenville has given me, and I'm looking forward to take advantage and prove that I can be a difference maker in the league."
Leone is assigned to uniform No. 32 and not his customary No. 5. "I picked number 5 growing up because Nicklas Lidstrom was my favorite player and being from Detroit, I got to watch his incredible career game-in, game-out so, of course, as a kid I wanted to be like my favorite player."
Leone bolsters the Greenville blueline after coming off his best season at the collegiate level, earning 2015-16 CCM Division III All-America First Team accolades from the American Hockey Coaches' Association.
"I'm really happy for Leo. His hard work over the past four years is paying off," said Adrian coach Adam Krug '12, who just completed his second year at the helm. "He was a huge part of our success this year and I hope his hard work benefits himself and the Swamp Rabbits.
"This is a great situation for Chris to take advantage of and break into the ECHL and show that he can play at that level. (Adrian assistant coach) Chase Fuchs, Chris's teammates, and I all wish him nothing but the best."
Leone is quick to credit the Adrian Brotherhood that got him ready to extend his hockey career.
"My teammates helped me the most this past season in preparing me to play at the next level. I was fortunate enough to play with a really special group at Adrian College my senior year. Whether it was on or off the ice, there were always guys who wanted to do the 'extra' to get better and to improve themselves to better the team. Staying on the ice after or before practice to work on skills or getting an extra workout in was the norm on our team. We were always honest with each other and guys held each other accountable."
He continued, "For me, this helped tremendously because I knew if I wanted to play pro, I had to do all the extra stuff. I'm not a guy who can just lace up my skates and be a stand-out guy. I have to put in loads of work, so to be a part of a team with guys who have that mindset, of course, elevates my game as well as theirs."
Leone also is grateful for the lessons he has learned from his coaches along the way.
"My coaches have also had an impact as I have had many great coaches in my playing career thus far. It really started, ironically, with Kyle Krug (the father of Adrian College coach, Adam). I played for him on my U-16 year for Belle Tire and we were fortunate enough to win a national championship that year. That's when I first learned about discipline and how to be mentally tough which has helped me to this day. That was my most memorable year in youth hockey, so many good players and great teammates and coaches.
"Chris Coury was also influential to me as a player growing up, helping me develop my game in my last few years before junior hockey," said Leone.
"Then fast forward to this current year as my college coaches (Krug and Fuchs) really believed in my game and allowed me to have the success that I had this season. Coming off of shoulder surgery this past summer, I had to work twice as hard to get healthy and be prepared for the role I was going to play. I would be lying if I said there were no bumps in the road along the way, but my coaches and teammates believed in me and it contributed to my individual success this season and I'm grateful for that."
Leone, an alternate captain for the Bulldogs, turned in his best season as a senior. He posted 11 goals and 16 assists for 27 total points to earn a spot on the CCM/ACHA All-America First Team for the first time in his career. That easily bested his previous career highs of six goals, 13 assists and 18 points.
Leone was a five-time selection to the D3hockey.com Men's Team of the Week and voted the most valuable player of the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association Harris Cup Championship, as the Bulldogs captured their second title in a row with a 4-1 victory over then-No. 1 St. Norbert College.
His conference ranks included a first-place tie with five game-winning goals, second with seven power play goals, second in defensemen scoring (27 points), third with 14 power-play points, and 16th in overall NCHA scoring. As a result, Leone was named to the All-NCHA Team.
In his 109 NCAA career with the Bulldogs, he racked up 24+47=71 scoring totals.
Leone, who returned to the Adrian campus this week, is resuming his studies and will graduate this spring with a degree in business management and a minor in economics.
A dozen Adrian players have signed professional contracts to play at the next level since the program was established for the 2007-08 campaign.
"At Adrian College, we recruit hockey players that want to excel in the classroom, the community, and strive to be professional hockey players. Chris is another example of the product we have in the Bulldog hockey program," Krug said.
#ACStrong #AdrianBulldogs #GoDawgs