After slow start, Kolanos hits his stride
Discussing his recent offensive resurgence, Krys Kolanos lets slip that he's made a few subtle tweaks to his game.
Faced with the inevitable follow-up question – "What might those adjustments be?" – the Abbotsford Heat left winger clams up in a hurry, like a chef guarding a secret recipe.
"Oh, I can't tell you that," he says with a chuckle. "Sorry."
The exchange, relayed to Heat head coach Troy Ward in a later conversation, causes him to break into a wide grin. Ward and Kolanos have a working relationship that dates back to the 2008-09 season, when Ward was an assistant coach with the AHL's Houston Aeros and Kolanos was playing there. He knows as well as anyone that for the 31-year-old Calgary native takes the art of putting the puck in the net awfully seriously.
"He's as serious as they come," Ward said. "You could interview 10 NHL guys, and they wouldn't be as serious as him.
"His agenda of why he's scoring now is a whole different agenda than mine. Mine's pretty black-and-white – I think he's got more time and space because he's moving. But I'll let him take care of his game how he needs to take care of it."
During the 2011-12 campaign, Kolanos's dramatic career resurrection was the defining storyline of the Heat's season.
A first-round draft pick by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2000, Kolanos was regularly sidetracked by injuries. In 2010-11, he sat out the entire season following microfracture hip surgery.
But he came into Heat training camp on a tryout contract, made the team, and eventually earned an NHL deal from the Calgary Flames en route to racking up 61 points (30 goals, 31 assists) in just 47 games. His points-per-game output of 1.30 was second-best in the entire AHL, and he also suited up for 13 games with the Flames.
Kolanos's second season in Abby didn't start as well.
He was a healthy scratch for eight of the Heat's first 18 games of the season – partially a product of the team's veteran logjam. Abbotsford has six players with more than 320 games of pro hockey experience, but can only dress five on a given night.
But it also spoke to Ward's dissatisfaction with Kolanos's play, a notion which he voiced in a Nov. 29 interview.
"If you're not going to take care of the things that you need to do to play hard for our organization, then you're not going to play," Ward explained at the time.
On the surface, Kolanos's numbers weren't awful – he had eight points in 10 games, nothing to sneeze at. But he wasn't as deadly an offensive threat on a shift-to-shift basis as he'd been the year before, and his shots-on-goal totals bore that theory out. Normally a high-volume shooter, Kolanos was averaging 3.0 shots per game in the early going, down from 5.1 last season.
Kolanos's struggles continued into December, as he managed just one goal over the first six games of the month. His plus/minus rating sunk to a low ebb of -5 just before Christmas – a sharp reversal for a player who led the team at +20 last season.
The tide began to turn for Kolanos during a Dec. 22 road game vs. the Rockford IceHogs. He registered a season-high seven shots and scored both Heat goals in a 3-2 loss – his first multi-point game of the season. That performance was a springboard for a four-game point streak, and he posted four goals and two assists during that span.
"I feel like I'm starting to get a slight rhythm, and that's been the key," said Kolanos, who has averaged 5.2 shots over his last six games. "That just comes with more reps, more flow.
"And it's a key that I've been getting a lot of pucks from my linemates. Maybe that was my Christmas present from Santa, getting lots of pucks coming my way."
Kolanos may have been reluctant to talk in great detail about how he's tweaked his game, but Ward has his own theories.
"The biggest change for him is, he's skating the game really well," the Heat bench boss analyzed. "He's actually moving and pushing the pace. He's been given chances to score, and he's been able to do what he usually does because he's pushing the pace so much."
"He's now being a puncher vs. a counter-puncher. He's not shadow-boxing anymore – he's punching."
As for the criticism that Ward directed his way last month, Kolanos called his coach "a top-shelf motivator."
"One of his best things as a teacher is as a motivator," he said. "He finds ways to do that."
Ward, for his part, said that his call for Kolanos to play harder didn't have anything to do with being more physical.
"He's a real good listener, and he heard what I asked for," Ward said, "but it took a little while to come out.
"Sometimes 'hard' is misconstrued for more physical play, like you need to get a bunch of checks of have a fight or do things in a hard nature. Krys is never a guy who uses his shoulder to make money – he uses his head and his hands.
"The 'hard' with him was just staying over pucks and managing the puck better, not giving it away so easily. Because he's now skating, he's got more separation. He can actually leave people in the dust, and because of that, he doesn't feel like somebody's always hanging on him and he has to make a poor decision."