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Calgary-raised defencemen knocking on NHL’s door after award-winning seasons

Kodie Curran hugs overtime hero Alex Dzielski as the University of Calgary Dinos celebrate a 2-1 overtime win over the University of Manitoba Bisons during CIS hockey playoff action in Calgary, Alta., on Sunday March 2, 2014. It was Game 3 of the Canada West semifinal series, launching them into the finals next weekend in Edmonton. Lyle Aspinall/Calgary Sun/QMI Agency
Kodie Curran hugs overtime hero Alex Dzielski as the University of Calgary Dinos celebrate a 2-1 overtime win over the University of Manitoba Bisons during CIS hockey playoff action in Calgary, Alta., on Sunday March 2, 2014. It was Game 3 of the Canada West semifinal series, launching them into the finals next weekend in Edmonton. Lyle Aspinall/Calgary Sun/QMI Agency

Both were born and raised in Calgary.

Both were saluted as the best blue-liners in their respective leagues this past season.

And although Jake Bean and Kodie Curran have charted much different paths, both are now on the brink of becoming full-time NHLers.

The 21-year-old Bean, a former Calgary Hitmen standout and a first-round selection of the Carolina Hurricanes, just had his name engraved on the Eddie Shore Award as the American Hockey League’s most outstanding defenceman.

Curran skated for five winters with the University of Calgary Dinos. After far-from-the-spotlight stints in Denmark and Norway, he was recognized as the Swedish Hockey League’s top rearguard — and overall MVP — for 2019-20.

Now 30 and with a wife and baby at home, the late-blooming Curran scribbled his signature this week on a two-year, one-way contract with the Anaheim Ducks.

“I think I always believed that it was going to happen,” Curran said. “But I have to say, for people who read this, I was moving on with my life. My end-goal obviously was to play in the NHL, but it was more to provide financially for my family and have success in hockey over in Europe. The NHL was definitely on the back-burner and if it happened, great, but you have to move forward with your own goals and you have to be realistic with what works with your lifestyle.

“I mean, I was 30. For me to think I was going to get an NHL contract was absurd. How many 30-year-olds sign their first NHL deal and it’s a one-way? I don’t know if I’ve heard that story before.”

That is now his story.

Conversations with the Ducks had stretched on.

Curran’s agent assured it was nearly a done deal.

Along with his wife Caitlin and one-year-old daughter Remi, he waited for confirmation.

“My father-in-law ran downstairs in the morning (Monday), we were having a coffee, and he showed me my CapFriendly,” Curran chuckled. “That’s how I found out it was official.”

Despite the age difference, Bean and Curran are actually close pals. They met through years ago through Hitmen trainer Sean Hope-Ross and have been buddies ever since.

Bean has already had a cup of coffee at the highest level. The highly-touted prospect logged two appearances with the Hurricanes in November of 2018.

Carolina’s is stacked with defensive depth, but Bean — twice a member of Canada’s world-junior squad and a Calder Cup champion last spring — is certainly making a case that they’ll need to find a spot for him soon. In his third season in the minors, the Edge School graduate grabbed 10 goals and 48 points in 59 games.

“Compared to last year and the year before, I just feel like I’m just a little more dominant,” Bean said during an interview with Sportsnet 960 The Fan. “I feel like I’m very confident on the ice. I’m confident in my ability to make plays. I feel like, at points in the game, I can take the game over and I can just do more.”

Curran has taken his game … well … all over … in a Derek Ryan-esque path to primetime.

He toiled in the Junior-A ranks for the AJHL’s Calgary Canucks and Spruce Grove Saints and then was recruited to join the Dinos.

After completing his post-secondary career, capped by back-to-back nods as a first-team conference all-star, he split one season between the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack and the ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits before heading overseas.

He won a title — alongside several other Dinos alumni — with Esbjerg Energy in Denmark in 2017. He celebrated another championship a year later as captain of the Storhamar Dragons in Norway.

This, his second season with Rogle BK in Sweden, proved to be his big breakout.

Curran finished second in the league-wide scoring race with a dozen goals and 37 assists in 48 games, piling up nine points more than the next-best blue-liner. (That would be Johannes Kinnvall, who has since signed a future pact with the Calgary Flames).

Although the SHL playoffs were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he was awarded the Golden Helmet as regular-season MVP and also tabbed as the top defenceman on that 14-team loop.

As a kid, Curran’s father — a proud Newfoundlander — would fry bologna for breakfast and carve the letters N-H-L into the meat.

All these years later, whenever the 2020-21 slate gets underway, he should be pencilled in for full-time duties on the Ducks’ back-end.

“When I was standing outside waiting for warm-ups in Denmark, I maybe didn’t think this was going to happen,” said Curran, crediting his commitment to conditioning and countless hours of skills work for his progress, and also thanking his past employers for the chance to showcase himself along the way. “But as a hockey player, it’s kind of in your blood — you’re always trying to believe the best in yourself and you always have hope in yourself. You’re always trying to latch onto some type of hope through a career. There were a couple guys that had signed out of the Danish League way back. I think they were Danes and they were younger guys, but they signed out of that league. So you always try to find that little story to give you hope to really make this possible.

“And I always had something. There was always something. My wife always said to me, ‘For whatever reason, I see you in an NHL jersey.’ My dad would always say to me, ‘This is going to end up … Just keep doing the right things.’ ”

Curran should be wearing that NHL jersey next season.

Bean, too. (It could be sooner since he will undoubtedly be on the Hurricanes’ call-up list for a summer re-start.)

Their routes couldn’t be much different, but the destination is the same.

“To be honest with you, I felt I was ready to make the jump at the end of last year or even before the end of last year,” said Bean, whose father John is president of Calgary Sports & Entertainment Corp., on his radio hit with Sportsnet 960 The Fan. “I think with Carolina’s D core they have, it made it tough for me to do that or have any opportunity to do that. But I was fortunate to have another good season where I developed even more in the American League, so I think I’m definitely ready to make the step.”

As Curran pointed out, the first step is an NHL contract.

The ink is just starting to dry on his.

“I don’t know if I’ve actually sat back and gone, ‘Wow, this is actually real,’ ” he said. “Every time I get a text from a childhood buddy or somebody saying, ‘Hey, really happy this all paid off,’ that’s when it really sets in. I’ve always wanted to be in the best league.”

wgilbertson@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/WesGilbertson

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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