That was the message that the Toronto Maple Leafs organization was looking to send Kris Newbury — with perhaps some more colorful language — when they moved him down to the ECHL’s Pensacola Ice Pilots during the 2004-05 season.
By his own standards, the gritty forward had come off a mediocre first professional season — spent entirely in the AHL with St. John’s — considering he’d raised the bar by averaging 98 points and 145 penalty minutes over his final two seasons with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting. The PIM’s were there in his first season with the Baby Leafs (153), but the production wasn’t (20 points).
With the NHL lockout forcing several players down to the AHL to begin with and his second pro campaign going on a similar path, in retrospect, Newbury admits that he made their choice to teach him a lesson a little bit easier for them than he might have liked.
"I think it was a matter of maybe being too comfortable in my second year and thinking I was already on the team because I’d already played a year," Newbury told ECHL.com.
"I think it was a little bit of them sending a message to me, that I needed to work hard in the (ECHL) and work my way back up here and make sure I work hard from that point on."
If nothing else, it was a bit of a culture shock. Newbury was going from a cold and snowy environment in Newfoundland to Florida, where the temperatures were a bit more tropical. But it wasn’t as glamorous as it might have seemed, with Newbury’s trip south coming shortly after the Pensacola area had endured a hurricane.
"My wife and son were down there, so it was basically our first vacation," Newbury recalled.
"It was nice weather, stuff like that. That really sticks in my mind. Just meeting new guys and then it might have been against Florida I played, that might have been my first game. But there was so much stuff going on in the town that I was worried about getting to the rink with clutter everywhere."
After a six points in six games performance with the Ice Pilots, Newbury was eventually brought back to the AHL, which is where he’s spent the majority of his 10-year pro career.
"It was very satisfying to get back," he said. "You still have to work hard and show coaches that you can stick; everybody has to do that, it doesn’t matter who you are. That’s what I base my hockey on anyways, hard work."
Eventually, that hard work paid off. Newbury got an early Christmas gift in 2006, making his NHL debut on December 23 at the Air Canada Centre against the Washington Capitals. He posted four points in a 15-game stay with the Maple Leafs, and having had the chance to look back on it all, says going through getting sent down to the ECHL made getting to the top level of the game all the more gratifying.
"It was a nice way to cap off a good story," he said. "For me, it was just working hard in every league you can, and then finally getting a chance to play in the best league in the world. Nothing came easy for me, I had to work for everything, so it was good."
Newbury got a much longer look with Toronto the following season, earning 28 NHL games. But after only skating in one game with the Maple Leafs in 2008-09, it was clear that it was time for a change of scenery. The Brampton, Ontario native inked a deal with another Original Six team, the Detroit Red Wings, and described his experience with a more veteran group as "eye-opening."
"Just to see the older guys and how they carry themselves and what they do to get ready for games, that was important," he said. "Just to see how good their skill level really is. TV doesn’t do it much justice, when you get to see it in practice and stuff, it’s definitely a lot more eye-opening to see the skill level they have."
Newbury spent the majority of his lone season in the Red Wings organization with their AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids, but did manage to play four games with the legendary "Winged Wheel" on his sweater.
He was given an opportunity by Detroit, said Newbury, but simply wasn’t consistent enough. But the New York Rangers were willing to take a shot on the hard-nosed veteran, and acquired him late in the
"We were in Grand Rapids having lunch, getting ready to go on the bus to I think it was Peoria," recalled Newbury of getting traded for the first time.
"I was with Logan Pyett, who I’m actually playing with now in Hartford. The phone rang, and of course, it was the dreaded call that you’d been traded. It was a tough day, most of the guys thought I was kidding when I told them. It was definitely a weird day."
Since then, the 31-year-old has been a mainstay in the organization, and has primarily played the "veteran mentor" role with the Rangers’ developmental squad in Hartford. But he’s also posted back-to-back career highs in points with 62 and 64 over the past two seasons, and has played in 19 NHL games with the Rangers over the past three years, including one this season in which he dropped the gloves with Philadelphia’s Tye McGinn.
However, it’s with the Whale where Newbury’s value is likely the greatest, and he says that with Wade Redden having finally been jettisoned by the organization, the onus to lead by example for a younger group in Connecticut has become much greater.
"I think we’ve got a lot of young kids, and with Redden not being here, I really go out there and work hard in practices and games every day, and hopefully some of that rubs off on the kids and that’s how they learn how to prepare for hockey games and get used to this league," he said.