Q&A with Craig Kowalski

By Holly Gunning

Craig Kowalski finished his four-year career with Northern Michigan University with a 68-49-12 record and 12 career shutouts. In 2003-04 he had a 17-14-4 record with a 2.71 GAA and a career-best .918 save percentage. The Carolina Hurricanes signed their 235th overall pick in the 2000 Entry Draft to a two-year contract this summer and placed him with their ECHL affiliate, the Florida Everblades. The 5’8, 190-pound 23-year-old went 7-4-0 with the team through 12 games, with a 2.74 GAA and .909 save percentage.

Hockey’s Future spoke to Kowalski after Tuesday’s game in Gwinnett in which he stopped 46 of 48 shots and even had an assist.

HF: How do you think your season is going so far?
CK: We started off slow, but we’ve won six in a row here, so those times are letting up. We’re 4-0 on the road and now we go home for five in a row so hopefully we can do some damage before Christmas.

HF: How do you think you’ve done personally?
CK: Just like the team, I started a little slow. My first season in pro hockey and it’s a little different than college, a lot more demanding. Lately I’ve just been playing well and hopefully it continues.

HF: Can you talk about the adjustment more, what specifically is different?
CK: It’s a lot faster, it’s a lot more demanding with more games. Twice as many games in the same amount of time so you’ve got to take care of your body a lot better. Up here anyone can score on you. You’ve got two and three lines that can score. Everyone out here is a good player and everyone can score.

HF: You had a great career in college, were captain, and now you’re a rookie again. What’s that like for you?
CK: It sucks! (laughing) You go from not having to do anything off the ice to having to do a lot of little things like packing the bus and picking up pucks and stuff like that. I’m looking forward to the second year to start! But everyone has to go through it and you just take your lumps and do what you have to do.

HF: I guess the weather is a lot better going from Northern Michigan to Florida.
CK: Yeah, they’ve got about two feet of snow there and we’re still playing golf. Yeah, Fort Myers is a beautiful place, we’ve got great fans, great organization that wants to do anything to win and I’m very happy being there.

HF: Florida has some of the worst travel in the league (no close neighbors), what has this current trip consisted of?
CK: On this one it will be a week tomorrow that we’ve been gone. We’ve been to three places. We’ve already been on a two-week road trip out to California and Boise. It evens out though because we go home for two weeks now and then we go on the road for a week and a half. It evens out, but you’ve got to do what you have to do.

HF: You have four players from Michigan on the team, did you play against each other at all when you were young?
CK: Yeah, all of us know each other, me and Damian Surma grew up together playing against each other since we were 10 years old. Kris Vernarsky and Jared Newman I met them in juniors. Yeah, we’re all from Michigan and all right around each other too, within a half hour of each other. It’s great to have guys you know on the team.

HF: You’re partners with Rob Zepp this year, how is that going?
CK: Good. No matter who is in net I think we give the team a chance to win. When he played at Plymouth, I played at Compuware so I got to meet him before coming here too, so we knew each other and knew how each other played. I think we complement each other well.

HF: Do you keep up with your alma mater much?
CK: As much as I can, phone calls once every couple weeks. Get on the computer, see how the guys are doing. They’re having a pretty good year. Hope they can keep going and win some championships.

HF: You played with Nathan Oystrick at Northern, what is he like to have in front of you?
CK: Oh, he’s a great defenseman. He’s going to be a very good player. He’s going to play in Chicago (AHL) either next year or the year after for who knows how long and then he’s going to be with Atlanta, there’s no doubt about it. He’s tough as nails, he’s a great leader, he’s captain this year and will be captain next year. He’s the leader on that team, hands down and he’s going to be a great player.

HF: Who has coached you on your goaltending technique over the years?
CK: I really haven’t had a lot of guys. I had a guy in college my sophomore and junior years, Brian Renfrew at Michigan State. He did a great job with me the two years he was there. He was pretty much the only guy the last couple of years, anyway. In juniors we didn’t really have anybody. So that’s about it.

HF: What would you say that you’re working on in your game?
CK: I’ve got to get in shape a little better. I’m a little big for a goalie. But that will take care of itself hopefully. There’s minor things, just technique, you can always get better on that. Rebound control, playing the puck, just making better decisions.

Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.