by Al Alven || AHL On The Beat Archive
As far as Stefan Legein is concerned, there’s no reason to look back now.
"No more living in the past or being worried about what happened before," said the 21-year-old Adirondack Phantoms forward. "I’m all about the here and now, and nothing else.
"All that stuff before… It’s over."
The "stuff" in question began prior to the 2008-09 season when Legein, then a touted prospect in the Columbus Blue Jackets’ system, shocked the hockey world by abruptly announcing his retirement.
Legein was just about to begin his pro career with the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL when he made the decision. He had been the Jackets’ second round draft selection in 2007 (37th overall) after a stand-out junior career with the OHL’s Mississauga/Niagara IceDogs.
He was also a pivotal member of Team Canada’s gold medal-winning squad at the 2008 World Junior Championships in the Czech Republic. Among his teammates on the national team were current Flyer Claude Giroux and New York Islanders rookie phenom John Tavares.
"I’m sure my [decision to retire] caught a lot of people off guard," he explained. "Especially in Columbus. But I just felt I needed to step away. We all know our own limitations, if we’re honest with ourselves.
"I had nothing left to give the game at the time, simple as that. I could have faked it, but I’d never want to do that."
After a few months on the sidelines and a great deal of soul searching, Legein determined that he was ready to return. Columbus welcomed him back, and he was assigned to Syracuse in January.
"I missed it," he said. "Missed it badly. But, I had and still have no regrets for stepping back and getting things in order when I did. It’s something I felt I had to do."
Legein’s abbreviated 2008-09 season was largely forgettable, as he posted just one goal and four PIMs in 26 games, but he was happy to be back on the ice and in the company of his new teammates.
Still, while the Blue Jackets organization was understanding of his situation, he felt that the stigma of his decision to temporarily walk away was lingering.
"The organization was very supportive, but I think there were trust issues there," he said. "And I can understand that, to a degree. I think the situation was blown out of proportion a bit, but I could sense a change coming."
Just six games into this season, Legein was informed that he had been traded to the Flyers in exchange for defensive prospect Michael Ratchuk. Legein had been off to a decent start for Syracuse, having notched two goals and an assist in the early going.
He and Ratchuk switched places, with Legein joining the Phantoms in Glens Falls, N.Y.
"I wasn’t surprised by the move at all, but I was thrilled to be wanted by the Flyers," Legein said. "For me, it was a completely fresh start, which I welcomed. But it was also great to be coming to such a strong and respected organization."
With the young Phantoms team struggling offensively and hampered by a persistent stream of recalls to the Flyers, Legein’s acquisition provided an immediate shot in the arm.
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Since arriving, the Oakville, Ont., native has led the team in scoring, with 12 goals in 22 games in an Adirondack uniform. Including his two scores in Syracuse, his 14 goals are one off the league lead.
Equally important has been Legein’s all-around play.
"Stefan has a terrific work ethic, and he’s the type of player you can count on to bring the same level of intensity every night," said Phantoms head coach Greg Gilbert, who also coached Legein for two seasons in Mississauga. "You always know what you’re going to get out of him.
"He’s scored consistently and had some big games for us offensively so far. But, he probably doesn’t get enough credit for how well he plays away from the puck. He’s been very strong defensively, too."
That versatility is something Legein takes great pride in.
"It’s always fun to score, but some nights I’m asked to play more of a shutdown role," he said. "And, you know, I love that, shadowing the other team’s top scorer. In a way, there’s even less pressure: you don’t have to even show up on the score sheet to have a great game.
"It’s very rewarding. Whatever the role, I’d embrace it. Having played for Coach Gilbert before, that made it a very easy transition for me coming in here. I knew his system and what to expect, in general."
Overall, it’s been a bumpy ride for the Phantoms this season. The team presently sits in sixth place in the seven-team East Division, with a record of 13-13-2-0, although they are just three points out of a playoff position and hve played the fewest games (28) of any team in the league.
"We’ve had our struggles, but we also feel we’re still coming together and getting better with every game," Legein said. "It takes time, and patience. Because of the [recalls], Coach Gilbert has had to reshuffle the lineup constantly. I’ve played with just about every combo of forwards on the team, but that’s also helped us all develop chemistry with each other.
"One night, I’m playing with [Jon] Matsumoto and [Patrick] Maroon. The next night, I’m with Jared Ross and Andreas Nodl, then back to Matsumoto’s line. But it’s been a great experience coming here with a great group of guys.
"I feel like this is some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing hockey, even though I’ve only been here for about two months. One thing I want everyone to know is that I never lost my passion for this game. This is what I do, and I love every minute of it."
Of course, every player’s goal is to eventually make it to the NHL, and Legein is no different.
"As I said, he has a great work ethic. He really puts in the time and is dedicated to getting better," said Gilbert. "With that kind of drive and his talent, sure, he has the chance to make himself into an NHL player. He’s still young, and this is his first full pro season, so it’s going to take some time."
Added Legin: "For sure, that’s something I’m always working toward. I know I need to get a little stronger, continue to refine my game. It would be great to play with Claude [Giroux] again. I also played briefly with Dan Carcillo in Mississauga and against James van Riemsdyk at the World Juniors.
"That’s my long term goal, to impress the Flyers enough and get a chance. But for now, I’m focused on helping the Phantoms in any way I can and getting us into contention for the Calder Cup."