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Minnesota Wild centre Krys Kolanos during the pre-game skate on Nov. 8, 2008. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)
Minnesota Wild centre Krys Kolanos during the pre-game skate on Nov. 8, 2008. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Allan Maki

Krys Kolanos takes the long and winding road back to NHL Add to ...

This is not all the way back, not quite yet. But it’s close, and that has Krys Kolanos feeling good again. Feeling like he did 10 years ago before the injuries began to pile up, before his career became a litany of European and minor-league stops, before he had to take an entire year off at 30 to have hip surgery.

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And let’s not forget the concussions. Kolanos had two that were so bad he could barely walk around the block without feeling sick. The first one cost him a chunk of the 2001-02 NHL season, his first in the league. The second cost him all but two games of his sophomore year.

But now he’s back, happy, healthy and eager to play for his hometown team, the Calgary Flames, who summoned Kolanos from their minor-league affiliate Wednesday and could use him Friday against the Chicago Blackhawks.

For someone who has taken hockey’s long and arduous road, this is as good as life has been in some time.

“I’ve had something burning inside me,” Kolanos said. “I knew I had some unfinished business at the NHL level. I’ve always been hungry to prove that and show that. I’m a believer in the big guy upstairs helping me through this. I always knew if I stayed with it, I’d be all right.”

It started wonderfully and should have stayed all right a lot longer. At the 2000 NHL entry draft, Kolanos was the Phoenix Coyotes’ first-round pick, a strapping kid with a scorer’s touch who played at Boston College. In his rookie season with Phoenix, he played 57 games and racked up 22 points.

But one night against the Buffalo Sabres, Kolanos was run into the boards from behind and, as his dad Rick, a Calgary chiropractor, said, “The brakes were put on his career.” Although he finished his rookie season, he was quickly sidelined the following preseason after taking a routine body check. Kolanos sought every opinion he could and rested until the darkness began to lift.

“Touch wood, I haven’t had issues since 2002,” Kolanos said. “Fortunately, I came from a chiropractic family. My sister Stephanie is a chiropractor now, too. I’ve always been able to stay ahead of it [through]maintenance. It’s a complex issue but I think it’s great there’s a lot more awareness [about concussions in hockey]”

While Kolanos was able to play again in the NHL, it wasn’t the same. The Coyotes shipped him to the Edmonton Oilers. From there it was down to the AHL and five teams in five years, including a stint in the Swiss A league. There was that brief 21-game span with the Minnesota Wild in 2008-09, and then it was back to the minors, where Kolanos decided if he was ever going to return to the NHL, he’d have to get his ailing hip fixed.

“The doctor described it as the femur had overgrown and ripped the cartilage,” Kolanos said. “I had a microfracture hip procedure done. After that, it was rehabbing and training.”

The Abbotsford Heat, the Flames’ farm team, took Kolanos in last September on a pro tryout agreement. That meant he had to earn an AHL contract. He did, and this past weekend he played in the AHL all-star game, a 40-point man through 34 games.

On Wednesday, the Flames announced they’d signed him to a two-year, two-way deal. Calgary general manager Jay Feaster described it this way: “Krys has been one of our best players in Abbotsford and done everything we’ve asked of him to earn this opportunity.”

That he was getting to play for the team he cheered on as a kid only made it sweeter.

“Throughout my whole career people have always asked me, ‘Have you wanted to play in Calgary?’ I’ve always said, ‘I’d love to be a Flame,’” Kolanos said. “After my [hip]surgery, getting the opportunity, [Abbotsford coach]Troy Ward having confidence in me, it’s all coming to fruition. It couldn’t be more special.”

It could, of course. Kolanos could burrow his way into the Flames’ lineup and stay. He could contribute defensively, score a key goal or two. He believes he can still make an impact because he loves the game.

After all those troubling years, it’s good to see the game can love him, too.

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