This September at Dallas Stars training camp, for the first time in his professional hockey career, Krahn will have the chance to compete for an NHL roster spot.
As a 28-year-old former first-round draft choice (ninth overall to Calgary in 2000), the significance of this should not be understated, as Krahn has overcome numerous obstacles, including several knee surgeries, to get to this point.
After leading the Stars’ top minor league affiliate, the AHL’s Texas Stars, to the Calder Cup Finals in June, Krahn signed a one-year, two-way contract extension to remain with the organization.
He will battle recently-signed free agent Andrew Raycroft for the NHL backup slot behind Kari Lehtonen
“It’s exciting,” said Krahn, whose only career NHL action came in a 20-minute relief outing for Dallas back in 2008-09. “This is going to be my third year in the organization. I think they gave me a chance after my knee surgery and they’ve just been so good to me, they’ve offered me an opportunity every year and this year’s no different. There’s I think even more of an opportunity now to prove to them I can do it and to prove to them I’m committed. It’s up to me. I was pretty excited to get the deal done and I’m looking forward to training camp.”
Initially, the Stars planned on having Krahn battle it out with his Texas crease-mate, Matt Climie, for the Dallas backup job, but Climie opted to leave the organization as a free agent, so they brought in Raycroft to provide added depth, as well as healthy competition for ice time.
“Matt Climie decided to explore other options, so we made the decision that we wanted to get a veteran backup in here, with Austin or with our club,” Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk said regarding the Raycroft signing on July 1. “Our number one goal is to have competition for our backup role here and that’s what we’ve created - not just in training camp, but throughout the year.”
“We didn’t re-sign Climie, so I think the opportunity is equally as good between Raycroft and Krahn with who’s going to grab that backup position,” added Dallas goaltending coach Mike Valley. “That competition becomes so important because it just makes each guy push that much harder.”
While Raycroft has considerably more NHL experience, Krahn certainly impressed Dallas management with an outstanding season in Texas, posting a 17-4-0 regular season record, with five shutouts, a sparkling 1.83 goals-against average and a stellar .945 save percentage. Krahn’s GAA and SP numbers would have each led the AHL if he had played enough games to qualify for the league’s season-ending list, but an injury in late November cost him 40 games before he returned in March.
He resumed his role as number one goaltender for the AHL playoffs, leading Texas into the second round before suffering a concussion in Game 6 of that series. Climie stepped up in his place and helped guide the club into the Calder Cup Finals.
“It was a heart-breaker, very frustrating,” Krahn said of having to sit out during the post-season, although he did finally return for the final contest, a 4-0 defeat in Game 6 in Hershey. “Playoffs are the most fun time of year and nobody wants to be on the sidelines when that stuff happens. It was a hard pill to swallow, I had a tough time actually physically watching the games. When I was on the ice, I’d be calm and relaxed, but when I was watching, I would be nervous, I could barely watch - my heart was beating about 100 miles an hour, not good for trying to get over a concussion. It was tough, but I’m happy that at least I got into it in the championship final. I would have liked to have won, but it gives more fuel, more motivation to start the season.”
Krahn ended the post-season with a 7-4-0 record, a 2.48 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage. Typically, he credited much of his success to his teammates, but acknowledged that the overall experience of a long playoff run was exciting.
“It was great,” said Krahn, whose last significant post-season action came in junior hockey when he led Seattle to the WHL’s Conference Finals back in 2003. “From a team standpoint, we were a very defensive team - you look at our back end, we had Andrew Hutchinson, who you had here last year, Garrett Stafford, Maxime Fortunus
, Dan Jancevski, guys like that, who were our core on the back end, who really made my job and Climes’ job easier. You stop the first shot and they’re clearing rebounds out, it makes the game a lot simpler for a goaltender. And our forwards battled hard, too, they blocked a lot of shots - guys like Aaron Gagnon, Warren Peters, guys who paid a price to block shots and get in the way on the penalty kill are crucial components to any team.
“It was a lot of fun down there. The atmosphere was great, the players - it was fun to go to the rink every day, because most of the games were close games during the regular season, and I think that brought us closer together, and during the playoffs, we just went one step further and kept finding ways to win.”
While he hasn’t had any troubles lately with the knee that derailed the earlier part of his career, Krahn, who hasn’t played over 25 games in a season since 2005-06 and has hit that milestone just twice in seven pro seasons, is determined to stay out of the trainer’s room in 2010-11.
“This year, looking forward, I have to get my body in top shape and give my body every chance to stay healthy,” said the 6-foot-4, 232-pound native of Winkler, Manitoba. “Last year it was tough to miss that time. You don’t like to be on the sidelines, you want to contribute, you want to win every night, you want to be that guy in net. When I was in there, it was good and when I was out, it was frustrating, but you dealt with it and moved on. You just get mentally tougher as the years go on and this year, I don’t want to say that it can’t happen, but I’m going to give myself every opportunity to stay healthy.”
Even though he didn’t quite accomplish that goal this past season, his performance when he did suit up helped validate his hard work and elevated his self-confidence to new heights.
“This was really the first year, coupled with the previous year, where I just was able to really keep building that confidence,” Krahn said, “and find myself as a goaltender and how I wanted to play and what type of mentality I needed. And to get those pressure games in the playoffs, too - double overtime and even losing 4-0 to Hershey in Game 6 - you want to win those games, but every game is a chance to gain more experience and learn what it’s all about. And I’ll tell you, as a person, it helped me put things in perspective and control what I can control and really just try to establish the confidence that my teammates and my coaches need to have in me.”
Krahn seems to have earned that confidence from club management. And although many observers may give the advantage in the competition for the Dallas backup spot to Raycroft, with his 250-plus games of NHL experience, don’t count out Krahn.
“I don’t think anybody should be handed anything,” Nieuwendyk said. “And Andrew, I talked to him earlier, he wants that job, so I think that’s healthy. It’s going to push Brent Krahn to be better.”
“We have no doubt that a guy like Brent Krahn can do something like that,” Valley said. “But obviously, Raycroft has had some success in the NHL, and having that experience becomes such a valuable thing.”
He may not be the favorite to emerge with the job, but Krahn at least has the chance to seize it and that’s all he ever wanted.