BOSTON - After the Coyotes open their longest road trip of the season against the Bruins here tonight, they will stay in town and practice at Boston College's hockey rink — where center Krys Kolanos starred as a Golden Eagle and scored the game-winning, overtime goal in the 2001 NCAA Championship game.
But Kolanos won't be here to relive memories. He was sent nearby Springfield, Mass., late Friday after the Coyotes reassigned the struggling Kolanos to the Falcons of the American Hockey League.
Phoenix coach Bob Francis, who benched Kolanos, 22, last month for one game and cut his ice time to less than nine minutes in Thursday's 6-4 win over Los Angeles, said the move was made for the good of the team — and Kolanos, who missed 80 of 82 games last season with post-concussive syndrome and has failed to regain the form that made him one of the league's most exciting rookies early in the 2001-02 season.
Kolanos played the first minor league game of his career Saturday in Springfield against the Wilkes-Barre Penguins.
“We want him to get his game back to where he once had it and it's not happening right now'' said Francis, who joined general manager Mike Barnett in breaking the news to Kolanos on Saturday. “He's going to need big minutes, he's going to need playing time and we're not in a position now where we can get him those minutes at the expense of the team. We hope he handles this in the proper manner.''
Kolanos, who jumped straight from Boston College to the NHL, scored 10 goals in his first 39 games and led all rookies with six-game winning goals before he was sent head-first into the boards by Buffalo's Vaclav Varada on Jan. 19, 2002. Kolanos missed 22 games that season and 102 of the next 115 games with a concussion and post-concussive syndrome.
He played the final two games of last season, played for Canada and won a gold medal at the 2003 World Championships and reported to training camp this season looking fit, fast and sound. But he has only two goals and two assists in 22 games and has been one of Phoenix's most unreliable defensive forwards (minus-5).
Barnett said all parties agree the injury is in the past, but think missing a year and a half of hockey had a major impact on Kolanos' struggles.
“I don't see fear (of contact) out there, but I see indecisiveness and at the NHL, that milli-second of hesitation puts you on the wrong side of the puck," Barnett said. "He needs to be proactive, and so far he's been far too reactive.''
Kolanos wasn't available for comment Saturday, but has disagreed with the assessment of his play in the past. After being benched Oct. 25 in San Jose, Calif., he said, “I feel like a caged tiger, ready to pounce'' and pleaded for top-six forward minutes and linemates. “Personally, I'd like a better chance to make an impact."
Despite scoring the game-tying goal against Vancouver the next night, Kolanos continued to struggle and a brief audition as second-line center didn't help. The minors were the next step.
“We've played him 15 minutes a game for the last two weeks, but if you're not beginning something to the table, it's tough to continue to justify doing that.'' Francis said. “ Krys is obviously very effective when he has the puck, but he has to get himself in the positions where he has it more often.''
Barnett and Francis pointed to captain Shane Doan as an example for Kolanos to follow. After playing more than 100 games in Phoenix, Doan was shipped to Springfield during the 1997-98 season to develop his offensive game. Doan scored 21 goals and collected 42 points in 39 games and was brought back — for good — late in the season,
“Shane was playing the third and fourth line like Krys, underachieving as a grinding, checking forward,'' Barnett said.
“Now he's as good a power forward as there is in the league, a bonafide 25-30 goal scorer. We hope the same medicine works for Krys. He can do the same if he rediscovers his game.''