The path to the NHL has required more than a few stops for Juraj
Kolnik, but he may have found some permanence with the Florida Panthers.
100-point scorer in the QMJHL, Kolnik struggled for recognition among a
newly-built Islanders squad that boasted superstars Michael Peca and Alexei
Yashin. He excelled with Bridgeport of
the AHL, scoring 18 goals and 30 assists in 67 games, then added seven goals
and 14 assists in 20 playoff contests.
The Islanders traded the winger to Florida in October 2002.
experienced a difficult, yet eventually rewarding season that year. Kolnik’s girlfriend, Karine Levesque, gave
birth to their son, Samuel, in August.
Two weeks later, the newborn experienced several episodes where he would
stop breathing. Doctors determined
Samuel suffered from laryngomalacia, a condition where the larynx flops over
the airway because it was too soft.
left the hospital in January, a relieved Kolnik saw his game improve. He finished with his best minor-pro season,
scoring a career-high 25 goals.
season, Kolnik has continued to excel.
Before his last call-up, Kolnik ranked second on San Antonio in points
with 14 in 15 games. In 17 games
Florida, he has chipped in three goals and two assists.
Future recently caught up with Kolnik to talk about his most recent stint in
must be nice to be back in the NHL again.
Kolnik: It feels good. Finally I’m
getting an opportunity to play some games and more than 10, 11 minutes.
During the preseason, you were sent down to San Antonio, but both (former
Panthers Coach) Mike Keenan and (General Manager) Rick Dudley commented on how
you had a good attitude about the situation.
Can you take us through that?
got a lot of young guys. Even now, we still have too many forwards here. We had
too many forwards in training camp. I’m a young guy with a two way contract, so
it worked out (that I was sent down). It isn’t because I had a bad training
camp. It was easier for them to send me down. They told me I would get my
chance and finally the chance came. Hopefully I am going to use that chance and
do everything to stay up here for the rest of the season.
you think a lot of young players don’t take into consideration that a good attitude
can be helpful?
got to keep your head up all the time. You have to be ready every game, work
hard every practice, show the coaches you’re ready to play.
there anything the Panthers wanted you to work on in San Antonio? Any aspect of
your game that needed fine tuning?
they just sent me down and told me ‘play your game, do your best down there and
you’re going to be the first call-up.’
would you describe your game? It seems like you’re very much a two-way player.
it’s all part of the game. The forecheck, hitting, and of course the chance to
score some goals. I don’t mind putting
the puck in the net.
about the team in San Antonio? They’ve
done very well this year.
are a bunch of great guys, a couple of leaders, too. (Goaltender) Travis Scott is outstanding. They’ve done good so
You’ve been on some pretty good AHL teams — Bridgeport went to the finals a
few years ago. Could you compare San Antonio to any of those teams?
was a couple of years ago. We went to the championship and we lost to Chicago.
You can’t compare it. You can’t compare
Bridgeport against San Antonio because the Islanders they used to have the guys
together for a long time. Last year was the first year for San Antonio. There
were a bunch of guys (Panthers prospects) playing everywhere, but now they’re
together in San Antonio.
Having played together for a while now, do you see the team forming though?
team was playing a different system. For example, you had four guys in Chicago,
five in Bridgeport. It’s a lot easier
to play (with other prospects) when you have your own system. All 22 guys play the same system now. It’s a lot easier.
loss of Steve Ludzik hurt the team at all? How did the team react to that?
really. The new coach, Scotty Allen, is doing very good. Actually, he’s doing
the same exact thing Ludzik was doing.
It doesn’t seem different because the team keeps doing well. They keep
HF: I noticed
there was a week in November where you were called up, sent down and called up
again in a matter of a week. Kind of a
wild travel schedule, don’t you think?
first time I was called up we were playing in Grand Rapids. I flew from Grand
Rapids to… where was that?
Washington? No, Atlanta. But I didn’t get a chance to play and was sent
down the next day. I travelled back to
San Antonio and then they called me like five days later.
do you deal with that? Doesn’t it wear
all part of hockey. You just have to be ready for it. It’s not easy because my
girl is waiting with our baby. She
keeps asking, ‘What’s going to happen?’ And I say that I don’t know, it’s just
part of hockey.
do you adjust to the change of speed of the game between the AHL and the NHL?
JK: The NHL
is a lot faster. You just have to work hard every day, work after practice,
ride a bike, do exercises to keep yourself in shape.
has your role been with Florida since coming up?
been getting experience. Everything is faster. Even the practices are faster
than San Antonio.
you enjoy playing on such a young team?
Or do you prefer a more veteran lineup?
JK: For me,
it’s better to play on a younger team. It gives me a better chance to play than
on a veteran team. For example, I was with the Islanders. I had a chance to
play about 30 games a season because we had a young team. The second year, they
got Peca, Yashin, so the young guys got sent down to Bridgeport.
about the European makeup of the team?
JK: I don’t
even know how many Europeans we have down here. But it’s fun. It’s a more
European style of play on the team. You can see the guys don’t shoot the puck,
they like to pass the puck. We bring some European style down here.
and (Tampa Bay Lightning forward) Brad Richards are good friends from juniors.
Have you talked to him recently?
JK: I haven’t heard from Brad in a while. I phoned him twice and left a message. Hopefully if I stay up here, I’ll get to play him at some point. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to see him.
HF: Are you going to put a hit on him?
JK: (laughing) Yeah. I’ll give him something, a push from behind, tell him ‘Heads up!’