by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
Just about every strand of Springfield rookie forward Liam Reddox’s short red hair was let down at the start of 2008.
On New Year’s Eve, he joined his teammates and their girlfriends at a sushi restaurant in Hartford. Then the modest revelry moved to a bar, a turn of events that Reddox would have just as soon skipped.
On Jan. 1 he practiced, rented a movie and took a nap. Rock on, rook!
“That was my first time out all year,” Reddox said. “I try to stay away from that. I’m not a big partier, anyway. I’d rather be sitting on the couch, doing nothing. I like leaving it out there when I’m (on the ice). I’d rather not feel (bad) when I go out there the next day for practice.”
Reddox may be a tad low-key for a 21-year-old up-and-coming hockey player, but he has reason to conserve his energy. He’s worn himself out mentally and physically kicking his own behind, and there’s so much more booting left to do.
Reddox, who was a potential ECHL washout at this time last year, is a virtually out-of-nowhere surprise for the Falcons this season. The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder has ratted his way to 23 points (9-14) this season, a total that places him eighth among league rookies and that is just three shy of the amount he produced in 70 games for Stockton last season.
“Good things are going to happen when you work hard. I model my game around that,” Reddox said. “For sure, I’m very confident in my abilities. I think I have all the tools. It’s just continuing to work hard to make that next jump.”
The son of a Scottish father and an English mother, Reddox grew up in Whitby, Ont., with nary an accent. That’s all the better for his straight-talking messages to come through loud and clear.
Reddox turns that hose mostly on himself. To hear him tell it, he wasn’t able to come as far as he has this season until he realized that he basically wasted almost all of last season.
Reddox, a fourth-round pick by Edmonton in 2004, figured he’d at least have a solid shot at the AHL last season. He figured wrong, getting slapped with an immediate assignment to the ECHL.
“I was a bit down getting sent to Stockton,” he said. “But that was a lack of maturity. I still could have got called up pretty fast. But I didn’t look at it that way.”
How did he look at it? Reddox beats you to that answer like he’s racing for a loose puck.
To start with, there was no reason to play defense against him. His lack of confidence was already blanketing whatever skills he had.
“I had some pucks in the scoring areas where I’d get it on the stick and I knew I wasn’t going to score. I told myself I wasn’t going to score,” he said.
Sure, many young players lack a little self-esteem. What made Reddox’s problem so toxic was a complete lack of desire to build it back up.
“At first, I thought he was waiting for someone to make it happen for him, instead of making it happen for himself. Throughout the first 50 games, he left you wanting more. He showed signs of that player that was within,” said Stockton coach Chris Cichocki.
“Through minor hockey I had it easy. Last year was a wakeup call for me,” Reddox said. “I really didn’t want to be there. I wasn’t playing, and I wasn’t playing well when I was playing. It was just a disruptive period of pro hockey.”
The nightmare ended as most do – with a few blinks and the realization that it doesn’t have to be real. Reddox got over his self-pity and decided he had to salvage something from the second half of the season.
“There’s no point in kidding myself. I was fed up, feeling like junk. I told myself I had to get out of this,” he said.
It took awhile, of course. Despite his improved play at the end of last season, his real testing ground didn’t come until the summer. He spent the off-season in Whitby, working out in a gym run by Adam Foote. Occasionally, Foote was there. More often, Reddox toiled by himself, five or six days a week, 2-3 hours a day.
And what was he thinking during those solitary hours?
“Don’t go back to the Coast,” he said.
Reddox can sweat all he wants these days, but not about that. A grittier, stronger Reddox was at least a factor in Oilers camp. He lasted until one of the final cuts, and even earned a one-game recall this season.
His skating and game sense were still givens. His new resolve to grind his way to scoring areas put an ugly, valuable polish on his game.
“Last year, I didn’t know what to think. This year, I knew I was ready. My whole level of competitiveness was 100 times better,” Reddox said.
“He works so hard. He can play in every situation. He’s better and better all the time,” said Falcons coach Kelly Buchberger. “He’s made a lot of headway this year. Liam is a player who can bring it all. One-on-one battles in the O-zone, the majority of the time he can outwork the defenseman and get to the net.”
Sometimes that’s a straight path; more often there’s detours. The one thing about Reddox is that he’s learned how to work a Plan B to get where he really wants to go in his career.
“I think it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster to be honest with you. You hear it all the time about hockey being a mental game, but it definitely is,” he said. “Having a positive attitude every day is the biggest thing. If things aren’t going as well as I like, I just work harder. Go back to basics.”
Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com.