When you really dig into it, the parallels between Krys Kolanos and Adrian Foster are quite striking.
Both players were first-round NHL draft choices who were sidetracked by injuries early in their careers. Kolanos, the 19th overall selection by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2000, was derailed by concussion issues; Foster, taken 28th overall by the New Jersey Devils in 2001, played just 39 regular season games over the course of four Western Hockey League campaigns due to nagging abdominal issues, and later endured his own concussion battle.
Both players went on to journeyman careers that included stints overseas, and both crossed paths with current Abbotsford Heat head coach Troy Ward with the AHL’s Houston Aeros.
And as of Monday, when Foster signed a professional tryout (PTO) contract with the Heat, both can say they’ve reunited with Ward in Abbotsford. Kolanos, of course, carved out an improbable comeback story over the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, parlaying a training camp tryout into a contract from the Heat and an eventual 13-game stint with the Calgary Flames. He’s the Heat’s all-time leading goal-scorer with 48.
Foster, a 31-year-old Lethbridge native summoned from the ECHL’s San Francisco Bulls after Heat centre Markus Granlund was recalled by the Flames, can only hope to replicate Kolanos’s out-of-nowhere impact with the Heat. But reflecting on his AHL opportunity following Tuesday’s practice, he was less focused on individual goals and more concerned with fitting in with a high-flying group which currently sits first in the AHL’s Western Conference.
“The team’s obviously doing really well, so they don’t need anyone to come in and save them or anything,” noted Foster, who practiced in Granlund’s spot between Sven Baertschi and Brett Olson on Tuesday. “I’m just coming in and filling a spot. I’m a veteran who can give little leadership . . . and just be a good support for all the guys. I’m excited, and we’ll see how it goes.”
Foster notched 15 goals and 23 assists in 70 games for the Aeros in 2007-08, when Ward served an assistant coach and assistant GM.
“I wanted to bring a guy who I felt was hungry and really wanted to prove himself,” Ward explained, noting that Foster had waited for an AHL deal to materialize over the past two off-seasons and into the fall before eventually settling on ECHL employment.
“Everyone was basically telling him it was over. But he went to Idaho (the ECHL’s Steelheads) and had a point a game (last season), and this year he went to San Fran and had a point a game there (5-12-17 in 15 games).”
Foster said he inquired about a spot in Abbotsford earlier this fall, but the Flames were content to move forward with a youthful forward corps at the AHL level. Since then, injuries on both the NHL and AHL rosters have opened an opportunity.
A big part of trying to catch on with the Heat, Foster said, had to do with his respect for Ward.
“We always had a really good relationship,” he said. “He has a lot of attention to detail, and from the second I got here, you can see the professionalism. You get that expectation to win and that winning culture, and he’s obviously brought that here.
“They’ve got a young team and they’ve got a winning team, and they’re obviously doing something right.”
NEMISZ A ‘CLASS ACT’: WARD
Longtime Heat forward Greg Nemisz, traded to the Carolina Hurricanes late Monday afternoon in exchange for Kevin Westgarth, caught a 6 a.m. flight out of town on Tuesday en route to Charlotte, N.C., where he’ll join the AHL’s Checkers.
But before he left, he made a 4:15 a.m. stop at Ward’s office.
“He came in and met with me, said our good-byes,” said Ward, who gets an incredibly early start to most workdays. “I was happy about that. He’s a class act.”
Nemisz, the 25th overall selection in 2008 by the Flames, departs as a former first-round draft choice who never lived up to that lofty billing. But it’s easy to forget the promise he showed his first two pro seasons with the Heat – he posted 14 goals, 19 assists and 33 points in 68 games as a rookie, and 13-16-29 in 51 games in 2011-12. During that span, he earned his way into 15 NHL games.
Last season, things went off the rails for Nemisz – he suffered a lower-body injury just before training camp and was sidelined two months, then struggled mightily after returning. He ended up with just 10 points in 51 games.
Nemisz nearly equaled his output from last season in his first 32 games of the 2013-14 campaign, notching five goals and four assists prior to the trade.
“I thought last year was devastating for him in the organization,” Ward said, referring to Nemisz’s injury-marred 2012-13. “This year, they decided to sign him back, and I actually thought he was doing a ton better than he did last year. But in this business, if you want something, you’ve got to give up something, and he was the piece that made it work for Carolina.”
GRANLUND, BREEN BACK
The Heat received some mid-week reinforcements, as Granlund and defenceman Chris Breen were sent down by the Flames.
Granlund, a highly skilled rookie centre who has 24 points in 29 games with the Heat, didn’t end up making his NHL debut during his four-day sojourn in Calgary.
The 6’7″ Breen, meanwhile, spent the past month with the Flames and has suited up for five NHL games this season. He’s also gotten into 10 games with Abbotsford during a pair of conditioning stints earlier in the fall, and has three assists and a +7 rating in those contests.
BULLDOGS THIS WEEKEND
The Heat host the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Montreal Canadiens’ affiliate, in a Friday-Saturday set this week. Opening faceoff is at 7 p.m. both nights at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.