Taste of NHL has Stollery ready for more

by Doug Plagens || AHL On The Beat Archive

Ready to call it a night, Lake Erie Monsters defenseman Karl Stollery was in his Rockford hotel room on Jan. 10 following a game against the IceHogs. Stollery and the Monsters were playing three games in three nights — until some news altered the weekend schedule of the second-year defenseman.

Stollery would still be playing three-in-three, but the middle game wasn’t to be with the Monsters in Rockford. Due to an immediate need for a defenseman, Stollery got the call to the Colorado Avalanche, and would make his NHL debut with the team the next night in Minnesota against the Wild.

“Considering the longer road I’ve had to take to get to where I am now, it was really rewarding,” said Stollery, who was back to his spot in the Monsters lineup in Milwaukee in time for warm-ups a night after his NHL debut. “Hopefully all the hard work is starting to pay off. It was a pretty exciting time for me, and hopefully I can keep working to get back.

“It was a whirlwind, for sure… Kind of an unusual weekend to go from Rockford, to Minneapolis, to Milwaukee. But it was very exciting, and I wouldn’t change any of it.”

Despite the short notice, Stollery’s father Keith was able to attend his NHL debut.

“He was actually driving back home to Alberta from Cleveland from watching a couple games, so he was in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, when I told him,” said Stollery. “He was able to find a flight out of Regina to Minnesota.

“He has always been very supportive of me, and my whole family has. Just to see all the hard work they’ve put in starting to pay off is very exciting.”

Stollery, one of the Monsters’ most solid and consistent players since he debuted for the club on an amateur tryout contract for nine games at the end of 2011-12, was undrafted and spent four seasons at Merrimack College before ultimately signing an AHL contract before 2012-13 and an NHL contract before 2013-14.

His hard work in all aspects of the game has always been noticed by his coaches.

“If you go back to two years ago, he came in at a pretty crucial point in the season for us,” said David Oliver, the Colorado Avalanche’s director of AHL operations. “He put up seven points in nine games, and you could see some things in him that I thought were special. He obviously put the work in during the offseason that year, came [into 2012-13] on an AHL deal, and made a huge impact on our lineup.”

Last season, Stollery led Monsters defensemen in points with 34, and finished second on the team with 29 assists in 72 games during his first full professional season. At plus-11, he was also second on the Monsters in plus/minus rating. His dependable play earned him a very favorable reputation.

“Last year, he came in as a bit of an unknown, and we were really pleased with him,” said second-year head coach Dean Chynoweth. “When Patrick [Roy] and Joe [Sakic] took over, we talked about who our top ‘D’ were down here, and Karl’s name kept coming up in that.”

Another coach who has enjoyed seeing Stollery’s progress is Monsters assistant Randy Ladouceur, a former NHL defenseman with 931 regular-season games played who is in his first season on Lake Erie’s coaching staff.

“He has been really valuable to us,” said Ladouceur. “I didn’t know much about Karl coming in, being new to the organization myself, but you quickly come to appreciate the things that he does. His compete level is as good as anybody’s that I’ve had the pleasure of coaching. He does it all for us: playing the power play, the penalty kill, playing against the best lines on the other team.

“I was really happy that he had the opportunity to go up [to the NHL]. That’s a reward for all the hard work that he has put in. It should help Karl’s game going forward as well, knowing that he’s a little bit closer to where he wants to be.”

Beyond the games, Stollery’s adjustment to the professional hockey life over the last two-plus seasons has put him in the position to succeed. During his time with the Avalanche this season and during training camp, he took note of how veteran NHL players carried themselves on and off the ice. Stollery, listed at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, has never been one of the biggest players on the ice, but his work ethic is something he could always control.

“I was always kind of a smaller kid,” said Stollery. “I was never making all the best teams as a young player, so I knew growing up that I was just going to have to work harder than everyone else. Not just in the games, but in practice, off the ice and in the gym as well. That’s just something that I’ve focused on all the way up, knowing that’s what it was going to take to make it.”

“When I talk to the players, there are two ways to go about playing hockey and living. You either play to live, or you live to play,” Oliver said. “Karl Stollery, he lives to play the game. Everything he does off-ice is factored in. He knows you can’t take a night off because you never know who’s watching or you never know when that break might come where you’re going to get a chance to get the opportunity.

“He does everything he needs to do to give himself that chance. We’re really proud of his effort, the time that he puts in, and the way that he lives his life to play the game.”

Stollery has appeared in two games in the NHL this season, and his taste of the game’s highest level has left him wanting to get back for more.

“The great thing about Karl is he has a quiet confidence about him,” said Chynoweth. “He’s a tremendous individual who does the work and wants to be there. He doesn’t want to leave any rock unturned in the sense of being prepared and doing everything in his power from the fitness side to the eating and sleep side to give himself the best opportunity. That’s what he’s been doing.”

“Just getting that taste of it, and seeing what it’s like to be in the NHL and play there,” said Stollery, “it just makes you want to get back there.”