was pretty sure he was of sound body when he reported to Utah last week.
Grizzlies coach Kevin Colley
wanted to test out the netminder's psyche. So he gave the rookie a straightforward directive when Koskinen joined the team for games in Stockton.
"When I got here, the coach said the only thing he expects of me is to win hockey games, so it's pretty simple," Koskinen said.
So far, both Koskinen's hip and head are doing just fine.
Koskinen jumped back into the fray after missing almost the entire season recovering from hip surgery to backstop the Grizzlies to two vital wins over Stockton on March 19 and 21. Koskinen, 21, stopped 73 of 77 shots and gave up just four goals total. He went to 3-0 after beating Bakersfield March 24. The 6-foot-6 prospect is coming up huge for a Utah team starving for every last point in a playoff race.
"It was tough. But I feel so good,"' said Koskinen, the 31st pick of the 2009 Entry Draft by the New York Islanders
. "A little bit of pressure is always better than nothing."
Koskinen, hard to miss in any circumstance, is in the right place for that. He figures to merit a few more starts with the Grizzlies before maybe getting another shot in Bridgeport.
That's where he began the season, playing in two games before the Islanders decided to fix what had been a lingering hip issue. The Finland native rehabbed with the Sound Tigers, while Utah battled Alaska and Victoria for places two through four in the West Division.
When Utah picked him up on a swing through Stockton, Colley and assistant coach Pat Curcio debated how much they should dump on the newcomer.
"I think Kevin and I spent the whole trip from Idaho (where Utah had just left) to Stockton worrying about it," Curcio said. "But sometimes you have to take a risk."
Koskinen has lowered the odds significantly. He said after a few cobwebs initially clung to his mask, he felt relatively refreshed just 20 minutes into his return to action.
"I felt a little bit rusty. I felt it like one period. But after that, it was OK," he said. "I knew there was a chance I could play this year after surgery. But you never know after surgery like that. It was a big relief for me. It feels like normal."
Curcio and Colley are believers. They asked Koskinen how he felt after his first game. He said he was still rounding into shape. They just smiled.
"We said, if that's you feeling rusty, we're in pretty good shape here," Curcio said.
Putting on a show
-- Living in the land of lights and glitz, Las Vegas Wranglers forward Adam Miller
knows the importance of putting on a show. So he laid it on a little thick on a recent trip to read to schoolchildren.
"They laughed at me," he said. "I was just making it over-exciting for them. In the locker room and off the ice, I'm always laughing. I'm a cheery guy."
His mood is matched by Wranglers fans dazzled by the offensive show he's staging nightly.
The speedy second-year pro is fifth in the ECHL with 81 points (31-50). That's almost double the 44 he produced for Las Vegas last season.
"I use my speed in a smart way, where I'm using it without the puck," said Miller, 25. "I'm not just carrying it up and down the ice. Speed without the puck is more important. I'm just learning how to play the game properly. The ice sheet really isn't that big. You have to find ice for yourself."
Miller's show has several repeat customers in the form of a large branch of his family that's settled in Las Vegas. His grandparents, father, sister, cousin, aunt and uncle all live there.
"They actually take pretty good care of the guys on the team, having them over for dinner," Miller said. "It all works out for me and the guys on the team."
His numbers aside, Miller has learned that even the most appreciative audience clamors for more. After that school appearance, he opened the session up for questions. The young fans asked Miller if he ever drops the gloves.
"I should have brought the fighter (with him)," Miller said. "I said, no, right now I'm just trying to score goals for the team."
Pressure start for Gill
-- Kalamazoo did its best to make rookie goalie Riley Gill feel right at home in his first pro start March 20 vs. Wheeling.
The K-Wings put him in net for a game with some big stakes and made sure a lot of pucks came his way.
"When I got here, the coach said the only thing he expects of me is to win hockey games, so it's pretty simple."
-- Mikko Koskinen
Gill took it from there, denying 36 shots to defeat the Nailers 2-1 for a pair of points that moved Kalamazoo into first place in the North Division at the time. The clutch effort was a carryover from his tenure at Western Michigan University, which is also in Kalamazoo.
This season, Gill had games of 42 and 47 saves against Miami of Ohio (ranked No. 1), 43 saves vs. Michigan, 41 saves in his final home performance against Ferris State (ranked No. 14) and tied a career-high with 54 saves, second-best in school history, in a victory over Notre Dame.
"Any time you play well against a good team, it's a moral victory for us," Gill said of his college days. "You just try to use the big-game confidence you built throughout the year. I came to a first-place team, and I can't ask for anything more."
He could hope for a little more support than he's used to. Gill ended his tenure at WMU with the highest save percentage (.915), most shutouts (eight) and second-lowest goals against average (2.94) in school history. He also holds the single-season school record for save percentage (.923), set this year. But the Broncos sent him out on the down note of a 7-17-6 mark this season.
"When you get all those shots in college, it makes you stay in the game more," he said. "It gets that sweat going. Coming to a first-place team like Kalamazoo is a little different. You just face one shot at a time. Hopefully, I can make a couple big saves and the team feeds off me."
Around the ECHL
-- Elmira's 6-2 loss to Reading on March 19 was only the Jackals' second by more than three goals this season, with the other coming on Dec. 12 in Toledo. In both games, the Jackals allowed at least four straight goals to close out the contest. ... Oren Eizenman
's goal against Utah on March 20 gave Stockton five different 20-goal scorers (Eizenman, Colin Hemingway
, Matt Robinson, Chris D'Alvise and James Bates) for the first time in club history. ... Bakersfield is one win shy of tying the team record for home wins (24, set in 2005-06). It has three home games remaining. ... Defenseman Jordan Collins became the 12th Condors player this season to record his first professional goal with a tally vs. Victoria on March 20. ... Bakersfield's Andrew Ianiero
became the fourth player in Condors history to reach 100 career goals in a 5-1 loss to Victoria on March 19. ... Idaho's Mark Derlago
(39-48) has tied Steelheads’ ECHL single-season points record of 87. ... Elmira's Tyler Donati
has 104 points this year, making him the first Jackal in the team's 10-year history to reach 100 points in a season. He is the 64th player in ECHL history to hit the century mark. ... The Jackals have scored 258 goals this season and are two away from tying the team record. ... Reading has five players who have scored 20 or more goals (Ben Gordon
, Andrew Sarauer
, Olivier Labelle
, Stefano Giliati
and Ryan Cruthers
). Only once in the nine-year history of the team have the Royals fielded five players with 20 or more tallies, in 2003-04.