The general plan in the mind of Abbotsford Heat center Krys Kolanos
on the night of Oct. 28 was to make his mark on a game against Grand Rapids.
After sitting out from the sport for more than 21 months with a hip injury, you'd like people to notice that you're back.
"I was just dialed into the game," Kolanos said. "I knew I wanted to pick up at an even higher level than when I left off."
So much time had passed since he last played, it might have been hard to remember where that bar was set. Kolanos reminded them. He produced a hat trick and a helper in his return against the Griffins, then added a goal and two assists two nights later against Hamilton.
"That fire is still inside of me. The biggest thing I take away is you love something and want it bad enough, go after it. And embrace the process, too. It’s a long time, a lot of sweat equity."
-- Krys Kolanos on missing more than 21 months after hip surgery
"I knew I was physically and mentally really prepared. The only thing I was nervous about was how fast I was going to get back into the pace of the game," said Kolanos, who was named the AHL's player of the week for his dramatics. "Practice is one thing. Pace is another. I was able to adapt right away. I almost feel humbled by the experience.”
Kolanos, 30, refers to that emotion a lot when reviewing the past couple of years, a stretch when his career was threatened but his faith in himself and his comeback didn't waver.
The No. 19 pick by Phoenix in the 2000 Entry Draft, Kolanos last took a real shift on Jan. 16, 2010, with Adirondack of the AHL. A gnawing pain in his left hip was growing worse, and an examination revealed a degenerative condition that was tearing up the cartilage and labrum.
He needed surgery to repair it, and his prognosis was open-ended. As in, Kolanos would probably be back, but we don't know when.
"It'd feel good, then I wouldn't be able to play," he said of the original problem. "[The operation] was something that had to be done if I wanted to be able to play at a high level."
Kolanos rehabbed in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he has a home. He said he endured at least two sessions of training or therapy a day, sometimes totaling five hours at a time.
"For me, it was probably even more regimented. It's something I wanted to do right, and I only wanted to do once," he said. "I wanted to make sure [the hip] was better than before. I love the game so much. I love to compete. During parts of my career, injury has hampered me. As a player, I feel I have unfinished business. And I love to win. Those things drove me."
Kolanos made sure his mind kept in step with his body. He went to Coyotes contests, peering down at the type of competition he hoped still awaited him.
"I wanted to do [go to games] to stay with it as well, keep learning, keep pushing the limits." he said. "A big part of my game is the cerebral side. I'm always trying to learn new stuff. The best way to do it is watch it. You learn player tendencies. You learn and watch systems."
Kolanos, who has played in 136 career NHL games, said he never questioned that his rehab would progress to the point that a team, some team, somewhere, would give him another chance.
"That never came into play. I knew going into it I had to stay really patient and embrace the process," he said. "I took the approach that I was going to commit fully to it. I knew that there'd be opportunity out there. I knew if I prepared myself the way I could, the doors would open when the time was right."
Kolanos wasn't exactly bargaining from a position of strength, but he tried to call his shot to the extent he could. He said he had some offers for AHL deals, but opted to take a tryout contract from Abbotsford so that he retained some flexibility. His early sales pitch for something more substantial has been a persuasive one, with five goals and four assists in his first four games.
"There was definitely a lot of suitors out there," Kolanos said. "But I knew it was important to do something short-term to show I was really ready. I didn't come back without having getting back to where I've been as an NHL player (as a goal). I set the bar high, and go for it."
Kolanos' reward for staring in his first game back was a dose of reality, AHL style. After the game against Grand Rapids, his celebration consisted of sitting on a bus for six hours during the ride to Hamilton.
After a pair of contests there, he and the Heat had an early-morning flight out of Toronto to Abbotsford, with a two-hour layover in Calgary tossed in for good measure. The time change from east to west pumped three more hours into a day that already seemed to last a week.
Welcome back to the grind of minor-league hockey. It couldn't come soon enough for Kolanos.
"I just roll with it. That fire is still inside of me," he said. "The biggest thing I take away (from his comeback) is you love something and want it bad enough, go after it. And embrace the process, too. It's a long time, a lot of sweat equity.”