Spend any amount of time around Krys Kolanos, and it quickly becomes clear he’s not your average hockey player.
For one thing, he’s better than most – the 30-year-old Calgary native has been a scoring machine for the Abbotsford Heat this season, racking up 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 16 games.
In conversation, one also gets the impression that Kolanos is a unique individual.
For instance, after a discourse on how he’s focused on rounding out his game – “playing both sides of the puck at a super-high standard,” he says – it’s posited to Kolanos that obviously, getting back to the NHL is the ultimate goal of all that toil.
“I don’t try to look too far ahead,” he responds. “I’m trying to have a great today, and string another one together tomorrow.”
Such determination to live in the moment is an interesting departure, particularly in the goal-oriented world of sports, where enjoying the process is often sacrificed in the name of achieving results.
Kolanos’s shaggy locks, combined with his live-in-the-moment philosophy, might evoke The Dude, the iconic character played by Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski. But the overly mellow stereotype doesn’t fit him – he’s an intensely focused individual who is completely consumed with hockey.
“He doesn’t have a lot of external needs or desires in life,” Heat head coach Troy Ward said, analyzing his star sniper. “He doesn’t have a wife and he doesn’t have kids, and he doesn’t think about anything but scoring goals and playing hockey – whether it’s through nutrition, taking care of his body, all the things he does to prepare to go on the ice. He’s just a very focused and determined person.”
BATTLING THROUGH INJURIES
Kolanos’s passion for the game has been tested on several occasions – his journey through the pro hockey world, in some ways, has been defined by devastating injuries.
A first-round draft choice (19th overall) by the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2000 NHL entry draft, Kolanos showed great promise during his days at Boston College – he scored the game-winning goal in overtime of the NCAA championship game in 2001.
He got off to a terrific start to his NHL career, earning rookie of the month honours in November 2001. But midway through that season, he sustained a severe concussion on a hit from behind by Vaclav Varada of the Buffalo Sabres.
That cost him nearly all of the rest of the 2001-02 season, and he missed all but two games of the ’02-’03 campaign after taking a second knock to the head in a preseason game.
Kolanos recovered in time to experience a major career highlight in the spring of 2003, as he was a member of the Canadian entry that won gold at the IIHF World Championships. That star-studded Canada squad also featured such NHL luminaries as Roberto Luongo, Patrick Marleau, Jay Bouwmeester and Dany Heatley.
But he bounced around plenty in the years since, with stops in Finland, Germany and Switzerland; eight AHL cities; and brief NHL stints with the Coyotes, Edmonton Oilers and Minnesota Wild.
During the 2009-10 season, with the AHL’s Adirondack Phantoms, the injury bug bit Kolanos again. This time, he began experiencing sharp pain in his hip and groin. Turned out, an impingement in his hip joint was causing friction and tearing up the cartilage. Kolanos underwent microfracture surgery, then sat out the entire 2010-11 season in order to ensure the hip was properly rehabbed and healed.
This fall, Kolanos began his comeback by attending Heat training camp on a tryout basis, and he signed a professional tryout (PTO) contract on Oct. 12.
His debut was delayed by lingering lower-body issues, but he made a triumphant return against the Grand Rapids Griffins on Oct. 28, notching a hat trick and an assist in a 5-1 Abbotsford win.
Kolanos has had a transformative impact on the Heat – in nine games without him in the lineup, the Heat scored an average of 1.67 goals per game. In 16 games with him, they average 3.06.
“I feel like I’m rebuilding and getting back to the high standard I want to be at,” said Kolanos, who signed an AHL contract with Abbotsford for the balance of the season on Nov. 14. “I feel like I have unfinished business with these top two leagues (NHL and AHL), and I have a huge love and passion for the game. That’s what’s brought me here.”
CHEMISTRY WITH COACH WARD
Kolanos’s approach to the game hasn’t always been embraced. In Adirondack, prior to the surgery, he found himself deep in head coach Greg Gilbert’s doghouse – the latter questioning his willingness to play hard.
While he didn’t jive with Gilbert, Kolanos has a kindred spirit in Heat bench boss Ward. Kolanos might march to the beat of his own drummer, but that doesn’t faze Ward in the least.
“He’s like a lot of very special people in any industry – he has a high focus level,” Ward said. “That’s probably why he’s considered different. But I don’t look at him as different. I look at him as special.
“People use the word high-maintenance, but they’re only considered high-maintenance in that area because they’re special. I have a lot of other guys I don’t consider high-maintenance, but they ain’t very . . . special.
“I’d rather have special. I find his focus refreshing, I find his professionalism very refreshing. Those are things I embrace.”
The Kolanos-Ward partnership has been a productive one – they also crossed paths during the 2008-09 season, when Ward was an assistant coach with the Houston Aeros. Kolanos produced eye-popping numbers in Houston that season (31-20-51 in just 45 games), and when you factor in his stint with the Heat, he boasts impressive per-game averages of 0.69 goals and 1.20 points while playing on Ward-coached teams.
It’s the product of a philosophical harmony, Kolanos believes.
“I’m in the moment, trying to string together a bunch of great todays,” he reiterated. “And he (Ward) is of that philosophy too. It’s something I learned from him back when I played for him a few years ago.
“I definitely think I’ve been misunderstood in some places. But the key is, any person who’s taken the time to get to know me and get to know what kind of character guy I am, my passion and love for the game and how I go after it, those are the situations where there’s been championships and high success for the team.”
Add up all the injuries and coulda-shoulda-wouldas, and it might be easy to feel sorry for Kolanos. But that’s not where his head is at. The dude abides.
“I have to say, I’m a big believer that I’m super-blessed, and I thank the good Lord for all of this,” he said. “I’ve been blessed to be in good situations and surrounded by good people.
“And I’m back in that type of situation – with great people, great teammates, great coaches. I’ve been really lucky.”