Like the other dozen players trying out for the Abbotsford Heat on Friday at Matsqui Recreation Centre, Krys Kolanos was hoping to beat the odds and earn a contract.
Unlike the others, Kolanos has 136 NHL games on his resumé. (The others, combined, have eight.)
But he’s also coming off a major hip surgery that sidelined him for the past a year and a half, and in light of all he’s been through, simply being back on the ice in a competitive setting meant a lot to the 30-year-old Calgary native.
“It was great to get a hard workout in, and start off everything on the right foot,” Kolanos said with a grin, following an hour-long practice led by the Heat coaching staff. “Today was really good.
“I have high expectations for myself as a player, and I believe I can be a real impact depth player in North America still. That fire is still burning in me. That’s why I’m here.”
Kolanos, a centre, accrued the bulk of his NHL games with the Phoenix Coyotes between 2001 and 2004. He’s bounced around plenty in the years since, with stops in Finland, Germany and Switzerland; eight AHL cities; and brief NHL stints with the Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers in 2005-06.
The last season Kolanos was fully healthy, 2008-09, he proved he could still be an impact player. He lit it up with the AHL’s Houston Aeros, racking up 51 points in 45 games, and earned his way into 21 NHL contests with the Minnesota Wild, Houston’s parent club.
But it was during the 2009-10 campaign, with the AHL’s Adirondack Phantoms, that Kolanos began experiencing sharp, severe pain in his hip flexor and groin.
“It was an overgrown labral head with a couple impingements on a bone,” he explained. “Over time, it just tore everything up in there.”
Kolanos underwent microfracture surgery, then sat out the entire 2010-11 season in order to ensure the hip was properly healed and rehabbed.
Heat head coach Troy Ward knew Kolanos – he was an assistant coach with Houston during the centre’s season there – and he extended an invitation to Heat training camp.
“So far, touch wood, everything is good,” Kolanos said, speaking of his health. “I love the game, I love to win, I hate to lose. I’m still relatively young and hungry.
“It feels great to be out there, hungry and really wanting it. That’s what feels good.”
HOMETOWN BOY EMMERSON HOPES TO MAKE IMPRESSION
The NHL parent Calgary Flames assigned 15 players to the Heat on Wednesday, and they arrived in town on Thursday evening.
But Ward elected to give those players some time off on Friday, to give them some time to cope with being cut from the NHL club.
“I thought they needed maybe a mental health day,” Ward explained. “They’re okay physically.”
The other benefit to giving the recent NHL campers the day off was, it allowed the tryout players an opportunity to gain a certain amount of familiarity with their surroundings and with the Heat coaching staff.
“If tomorrow would have been the first day for the tryout guys, it would have been very unfair for those guys,” Ward said.
“You never know in this business. As we told them today, if the opportunity’s not there this week or next week, maybe it’s two weeks from now, maybe it’s a month from now. But the only way that opportunity is probably going to arise is if we know you and we have trust in you after the week we spend together.”
The tryout group includes forwards Kolanos, Riley Emmerson, and Joshua Turnbull; defencemen J.P. Cote, Jeff May, Mitch Versteeg, Trevor Glass, Nick Tuzzolino, Patrick Cullity, Philippe Seydoux and Cam Brodie; and goalies Andrew Engelage and David Brown.
Emmerson is an Abbotsford Minor Hockey Association product who is in his second training camp with the Heat. The 6’8″ enforcer has a contract with the ECHL’s Utah Grizzlies this season, but he’s hoping to earn a promotion to his hometown AHL club.
“It’s my goal to earn a contract out of camp – I guess that’s every guy’s goal here,” Emmerson said with a chuckle. “I’m hoping to make an impression, do what I do, and earn a role.”
HEAT PREPARING TO PLAY UBC
On Sunday night, the Heat travel to Surrey for an exhibition game against the UBC Thunderbirds (6:05 p.m., South Surrey Arena).
It’s the Heat’s lone pre-season game. The past two years, Abbotsford had played an exhibition series with the Manitoba Moose – the Moose traveled to the Fraser Valley in 2009, and the Heat reciprocated last fall by visiting Winnipeg.
But with the Moose relocating to St. John’s, Nfld. over the summer, and the Vancouver Canucks striking up a new AHL affiliation to the Chicago Wolves, the Heat were unable to line up anything this fall that didn’t come with a huge travel burden.
In future years, Ward said, he’d like to arrange a pre-season game against the Canucks prospects before they’re sent down to the AHL.
“It’s not ideal,” Ward said, referring to the Heat’s relative dearth of exhibition games. “The trick for our staff is to establish game speed in practice, which we’ll start tomorrow.”