Griffins center Krys Kolanos is keeping a positive attitude as he tries to prove that he belongs in the NHL
Story and photo by Mark Newman
Hockey is not generally considered a cerebral game like baseball, chess or even checkers.
The sport is too fast to be slowed by conventional thinking; there’s little time for contemplation. So much energy is expended in 45 seconds on the ice that one barely has time to catch his breath on the bench between shifts.
Yet intelligence is important to make decisions, to execute plays, to stay focused, and to understand the game. Some would argue that the mind could not have conceived of a more intriguing sport than hockey.
And so, having a good head is crucial – important enough that the hockey gods deemed helmets necessary to protect it from injury. Which is where the story of Krys Kolanos virtually begins and once nearly ended.
For better or for worse, Kolanos’ professional career has been defined by what happened on Jan. 19, 2002, during his rookie season with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Kolanos was a highly touted player out of Boston College, where he scored the winning overtime goal in the 2001 NCAA championship game, giving his school its first title in 52 years.
Recognizing his hockey smarts, Phoenix selected Kolanos in the first round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. He was a player of palpable potential. He was chosen to play in the NHL YoungStars Game, but could not due to his mishap, an injury that he still carries in his head, even if its effects have long since faded.
The Calgary native will never forget the late, hit-from-behind check from Buffalo’s Vaclav Varada. He saw the replays. It was ugly. But you don’t need ESPN to remind you of any details after you’ve kissed the glass and been knocked cold.
Kolanos suffered a Grade 3 concussion, the most severe on the scale. He endured all of the classic symptoms. Headaches. Nausea. And worse.
He missed 22 games before returning late in the season. He suffered another concussion in an exhibition game the next fall, which knocked him out of all but the final two games of the season that followed.
Post-concussion syndrome has been a career-ending fate for a number of NHL players: Pat LaFontaine, Jeff Beukeboom, Geoff Courtnall, Adam Deadmarsh, and, most recently, Keith Primeau.
Kolanos was bound and determined not to be counted among that statistic.
“The toughest thing was having to take a step back due to the injury,” Kolanos said. “It was a setback, but something that only made me stronger in the long run.”
Kolanos’ professional career had gotten off to a great start. He scored his first NHL goal in the second game of the season. He was the NHL’s Rookie of the Month for November and was fourth in rookie goal scoring when he got hurt. He led all rookies with five game-winning goals.
Playing for the first time in two months after his initial concussion, Kolanos beat Patrick Roy on a penalty shot to help defeat the Colorado Avalanche and advance the Coyotes toward a playoff spot.
“The best thing about that year is that we made the playoffs, which doesn’t happen very often in Phoenix,” Kolanos said. “Just to be able to contribute to the team’s success was awesome.”
Suffering his second concussion was a big blow. Not only couldn’t he skate because of the headaches, he couldn’t even ride a stationary bike. “It was pretty violent there for awhile,” he recalled.
The road to recovery was a bumpy one. He was willing to try everything to shake the cobwebs from inside his head. He received regular chiropractic treatments, acupuncture and craniosacral therapy.
He finally turned the corner after visiting Colorado Springs chiropractor Mike Leary, inventor of Active Release Techniques (ART), which involves hands-on manipulation of soft tissue.
“That, coupled with time, rest and everything else I was doing, made a difference,” says Kolanos, whose father, Richard, is a Calgary-based chiropractor. “It was quite something that I was able to come back from it.”
Kolanos has played the last three seasons without incident. Still, he faces the questions that seem to linger. Most significantly, is he still capable of living up to the promise of his rookie NHL season?
For his part, Kolanos doesn’t concern himself with what others think. “The only person I have anything to prove to is myself,” he said. “I have my own high expectations. Very high. Let me stress that again. Very high.”
Kolanos is a believer in mind over matter. He found inspiration in a book called Power vs. Force by David R. Hawkins that talks about attractor energy patterns, advanced theoretical physics, kinesiology, God and the universe.
Before you scoff, the book jacket includes praise from no less than Lee Iacocca, Sam Walton and Mother Teresa. Self-help advocate Wayne Dyer said it was the most important book he’d read in 10 years.
Read the reviews on Amazon.com and you’ll find more than one person who has said the book changed their life.
“It’s really interesting stuff,” said Kolanos, who had the book passed onto him by a family friend. “I think it’s good to keep the mind sharp.”
Negativity has no place in Kolanos’ world and he’s adamant about keeping his head on straight, whether he’s playing for the Griffins or the Red Wings.
“I know I’m a high draft pick and that I’ve played most of my career in the NHL, but I’m here to perform and to contribute to the team’s success in a lot of different ways – on the ice and off.”
Last season was not an easy year for Kolanos, who spent the previous year, the NHL lockout season, in Finland and Germany.
Starting the 2005-06 season in Phoenix, he was claimed on waivers by the Edmonton Oilers in November. Five weeks later, he was reclaimed by Phoenix, who then assigned him to the AHL’s San Antonio.
Less than 10 days later, Kolanos was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes, who sent him to Lowell. Eventually, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who assigned him to Wilkes-Barre.
Kolanos admits that playing for so many teams was a learning experience in more ways than one.
If nothing else, he became an expert on how different teams run their bench. “The great thing was that I was able to learn from a variety of different coaches,” he said.
He also learned what it takes to fit in.
“When you jump around from team to team, you’re always the new guy. You’re coming into a new system and a new philosophy and you don’t have the chemistry that you do with guys who have been together all year.
“But I was able to adapt. I think that was one of the best things I could take away from having moved around all year. I was able to prove myself everywhere I went and I was able to contribute to the teams’ success.”
Even so, he looks forward to being able to settle in one place for awhile.
“It’s nice to have support within the same organization instead of getting traded,” he said. “Having people in my corner here with the Red Wings organization is something big.”
Kolanos signed with Detroit as a free agent last July. He is looking forward to showing the Red Wings that they made the right decision.
“Being able to help out a team’s success is always a thrill,” Kolanos said. “I see a group of great guys in Grand Rapids and how we operate as a team will be a big part of our success.”
Kolanos insisted that he’s not thinking about the past, only the future. That is where his head is at now.
“You go through times where things don’t always go your way,” he said after a recent practice. “You have to keep pushing the envelope and do what you can to get to where you want to be.”