By both choice and force, new Kalamazoo forward Kory Karlander is beginning to see that do-nothing summers are overrated.
Ideally, he likes to use the time to enjoy his three children. Or he continues the wise course at age 38 of preparing for life after hockey by building up his lawn care service in Grand Rapids.
"I'd much rather be enjoying the outside than inside," Karlander said. "I've had to be real hands on. It's another challenge."
That sort of labor is a real vacation compared to what's become another of Karlander's summertime constants - rehab. For each of the past three summers, he's put his free hours toward dealing with and recovering from bad injuries.
This year, it's been surgery to patch up a shattered pinky. Last summer it was a shoulder ailment. Two year ago he needed a procedure to fix his wrist.
The upside is that he's been able to gut out all those injuries during the season and keep playing. The tradeoff is lazy, hazy days filled with pain and checkups.
"It's been a challenging three summers. It's taken a chunk out of my summer training," Karlander said. "I've made a pretty decent living for 15 years, the majority of it playing hockey. I'm excited and fired up about playing this season."
This summer's carrot is especially ripe. Karlander's return to the K-Wings gives him a chance to wind down his career in full-circle mode. Karlander, who spent the past two seasons playing for Odessa of the CHL, has played in Kalamazoo in five of his previous 15 seasons. He has represented Kalamazoo in every league it has participated in, including the original IHL, the UHL, the revamped IHL and now the ECHL.
"From a player's standpoint, it's important for a team to show they're interested and pursue you," Karlander said. "Of course I expect to go back and do well. But I think I'd be a little careless if I thought it'd be the same as it was before. I'm just keeping an open mind and expecting it (the league as a whole) will be young, fresh talent. Just talking about it gets me excited."
Vernarsky rejoins Drulia -- Stan Drulia is bringing one of his favorite players along in his journey from head coach of Port Huron of the IHL to Wheeling in the ECHL. But he warns that security blanket, veteran center Kris Vernarsky, not to expect a free ride. Drulia recently rattled off a list of job requirements that included playing a shutdown role, blocking shots and wasting opposing power plays.
"We need guys who can step into bigger roles when called upon," Drulia said. "Vern can play 20 minutes or he can play 40 minutes."
That latter figure might be an exaggeration, but only by a little.
Vernarsky, recently signed as a free agent, is a linchpin of Drulia's new tenure with the Nailers. He has played 529 professional games spanning eight seasons in the NHL, AHL, ECHL, UHL and IHL. His last three seasons in that last league came with Drulia's Port Huron squad.
"I thought we built up a pretty good relationship," said Vernarsky, 28. "I know what his demands are, how he pushes us. I know how much to push on him. It helps a lot to know the coach, know the strategies."
Vernarsky's name is scribbled all over the record books of the most recent incarnation of the IHL. He was 12th with 191 career games, 17th with 50 career goals, 11th with 103 career assists and 13th with 153 career points.
But those turned into nothing more than memories when the IHL folded after last season. Vernarsky was left in a long unemployment line, sending out feelers, but getting nothing coming back his way. When Drulia got the Nailers job, he repaid all of Vernarsky's production in Port Huron by offering him an ECHL deal.
"I really didn't have anything," Vernarsky said. "It was kind of nerve-wracking. I'm going to treat this as my last opportunity to get my name out there. The route that it took, that's the way it came about. Knowing the coach is in your corner, it always helps you out."
Sauter's turn in Idaho -- Idaho, a team that reached the Kelly Cup finals last year before losing to Cincinnati, hopes to take that last step to success under a new coach who is used to getting the job done.
The Steelheads have turned to Hardy Sauter to replace Derek Laxdal behind the bench. Sauter comes to Idaho after spending the last three seasons with the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League. He was an assistant coach in 2008 when the Chiefs won the Memorial Cup and spent the past two seasons as the team’s head coach, compiling a record of 91-45-8 and reaching the WHL playoffs in each season.
"I guess you never know if you're ready for it until you are submerged in it. The pressure is there to repeat (as a finalist) as absolute worst, and win the finals as the absolute best," said Sauter, 39. "I think there's got to be a little bit of a carryover (from juniors). If you've won for a period of time, I think you're going to keep winning. If I do my homework in the summer, bring in some good people and good players, success will follow."
Sauter becomes the fifth head coach in organization history, following Dave Langevin (1997-98), Clint Malarchuk (1998-2000), John Olver (2000-2005) and Laxdal (2005-2010).
Isles join Kalamazoo -- The New York Islanders, who came aboard only two weeks ago, now look like they will be the sole affiliate of Kalamazoo in 2010-11.
The K-Wings were prepared to keep the Sharks on as a dual affiliate. But San Jose announced earlier this week that it is jumping to a deal with Stockton for economic and geographic reasons. Stockton and San Jose are a little more than 80 miles apart.
Meanwhile, Stockton will continue to be the farm team of the Edmonton Oilers and the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL. Stockton and Edmonton have worked as affiliates since 2006-07. The Thunder has advanced to the Kelly Cup playoffs four straight seasons.
Kelly Cup champion Cincinnati will have a new NHL parent club, too. The Cyclones have signed on to work with the Florida Panthers.
There's no such shuffling in South Carolina, though. The Stingrays have renewed their affiliation with the Washington Capitals and the Hershey Bears for 2010-11 season. The deal marks the sixth consecutive campaign of the partnership.