by Maggie Walters || AHL On The Beat Archive
On Dec. 8, 2009, Tomas Kana arrived at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage, Alaska, ready to practice, just as he always did.
This morning, however, when he stepped into the locker room, he found his equipment had mysteriously been packed.
With no coaches around to offer an explanation, Kana was left wondering where he and his equipment were heading.
“When I saw my stuff was packed and the coach wasn’t there yet I was trying to figure out what was going on,” said Kana. “Eventually they sat me down and told me I had been traded and was going to Syracuse.”
The next 48 hours were a whirlwind for Kana, as he immediately left the rink, packed his things and jumped on a red-eye flight to the continental United States. Kana arrived in Syracuse almost 24 hours later, exhausted from traveling, but with no time to rest.
“I came right from the airport to the pre-game skate,” said Kana. “We had a game that night, everything happened so quick and so fast.”
Kana, 22, welcomed the abrupt change and chance to get a fresh start in a new organization. Originally drafted by St. Louis with the 31st overall pick in the 2006 NHL entry draft, Kana quickly found himself buried in the Blues organization.
Kana registered just one point in 18 games with the AHL’s Peoria Rivermen and spent most of the season with the club’s ECHL affiliate, the Alaska Aces, in 2008-09. Through the 2008-09 and beginning of 2009-10 seasons, Kana scored just six goals in 41 games.
“I was so happy I got traded because St. Louis never gave me a chance,” said Kana. “I thought I would have a chance here with Columbus.”
Kana has certainly made the most of his second chance in the AHL by making a remarkable first impression with the Crunch. He went from a player that seemed to be an afterthought in a trade that brought Brendan Bell to the Crunch in exchange for Pascal Pelletier, to a consistent offensive contributor.
Kana made the transition appear seamless by scoring six goals in his first 11 games in a Crunch uniform. Kana has continued on a steady scoring pace in 42 appearances with the Crunch, by registering 25 points, coming from 13 goals and 12 assists.
“I’m just trying my best,” said Kana. “It’s the last year of my contract here in the United States and I want to stay a couple more years. I try to play like every game is my last this season.”
Growing up in Opava, Czech Republic, Kana began playing hockey at the age of 8 after his dad got him into the sport. He played professionally in the Czech Republic for the Vitkovice HC for three seasons before coming to the North America for a brief stint with the Aces in 2007-08. Kana then returned to the Czech Republic, making short stops playing for Vitkovice HC and Slovan HC.
At 19 years old, Kana made the choice to permanently come to the United States to play hockey. Driven by his desire to play in the NHL, Kana knows playing in the AHL is a step in right direction.
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“I thought I’d be playing in the NHL, but it’s a good experience to play here and learn English,” said Kana. “I think the best hockey is played here in the United States so it’s a good way to learn.”
Kana made the move to the United States and began the 2008-09 season with Peoria, later being reassigned to Alaska from Peoria by St. Louis. Kana was in his third season with the Aces when he was acquired by Columbus.
Coming to North America to play hockey was a big adjustment for Kana both on and off the ice. When he first came to the States he knew only a few phrases of English, like “I’m hungry” or “I want to do (this or that).”
It’s been a learning experience on the ice as well for Kana, who says they play a different style game here in the North America.
“I have to change my hockey style,” said Kana. “I’m working on being much tougher, Czech hockey isn’t as physical.”
With Kana looking to add more grit to his game, he couldn’t have found a better role-model and roommate than Crunch enforcer Jon Mirasty. Mirasty, who rents the spare bedroom of his apartment out to Kana, has been giving him tips on how to be a more agitating, physical player.
In addition to helping Kana “toughen up,” Mirasty has also been what Kana calls a “huge help” in adjusting and getting settled in Syracuse, making him feel more at home.
While Mirasty has taken Kana under his wing and served as a mentor off the ice, Kana has had a number of role-models on the ice as well. As one of only two rookies on the current Syracuse Crunch squad, Kana frequently found himself playing on the top line with more experienced forwards, many with NHL experience. Playing alongside Crunch veterans like Bates Battaglia, Derek MacKenzie and Alexandre Picard elevated Kana’s game and provided an example of how to excel with the Crunch.
“They really helped me, it’s why I am where I am right now,” said Kana. “Playing with them is the best thing that’s happened to me in the last few years.”
It’s often said that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, but Tomas Kana lucked out and got just that when he was acquired by Columbus. The first impression Kana has left on the Crunch has been an impressive one, allowing him to leave behind the memory of his previous time in the AHL and focus on his fresh start here in Syracuse.
If the past few months have been any indication, Kana has found a comfortable fit with the Crunch and has a bright future ahead of him in the AHL.