By Len Bardsley
The Times of Trenton
Les Haggett has never had to look far to pick up some good life lessons when it comes to minor league hockey.
Haggett knows he has been blessed with great opportunities starting last season when he signed with the Titans after completing his college career at Brown.
Haggett was immediately paired with his former Brown teammate Brent Robinson and one of the most respected leaders in the ECHL in Rick Kowalsky.
You could say Haggett took advantage of his golden chance, becoming an integral part of the Titans? run to the Kelly Cup title as a second-line center.
Haggett never thought he would leave Cloud Nine after that season, winning a championship, graduating from Brown and then the next chapter, hopefully signing an American Hockey League contract to play for Mike Haviland and the Norfolk Admirals.
Life is good, but not quite that perfect for Haggett.
The 25-year-old from Norwood, N.Y., didn’t make the Admirals and was sent to their ECHL affiliate the Greenville Grrrowl.
Haggett is now one of the top scorers for the Grrrowl and ranks fourth among ECHL rookies with 37 assists and is tied for eighth in scoring with 48 points in 57 games.
Haggett and the Grrrowl will face the Titans at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Sovereign Bank Arena.Haggett used what he gained from being around Kowalsky to get over the disappointment of not making it to the AHL.
“A lot of guys don’t make it to the AHL right away,” said Haggett. “They get frustrated. You are always checking on-line to see who is getting called up and wondering why it is not you and it effects your game. I asked him (Kowalsky) why he was not in the AHL. He was happy with where he was. I try to think back how he handled things so I got in the right mindset. I was too worried about things beyond my control.”
Haggett started to focus on what he could control, his play and helping the Grrrowl put together a winning season.
“Haviland told me at the end of the year because I came out of college at 24 I will have to prove myself all over again,” said Haggett. “That is what I am trying to do I guess.”
Haggett still knows how lucky he has been with a championship already under his belt and now the chance to play for a winning team with talented linemates like Brock Radunske and John Snowden. Haggett’s line has combined for 60 goals and 76 assists.
“That was one of the best stretches of my life on and off the ice,” said Haggett of the Titans’ Kelly Cup run. “He (Haviland) gave me the opportunity and things went real well. Winning the playoffs and graduating I was on quite the high. It showed me what it takes to win a championship.”
The Grrrowl’s Colin Pepperall, who won the Kelly Cup with the Grrrowl in 2002, knows how valuable Haggett’s experience is and how much it helps the Grrrowl.
“He is a great character kid,” said Pepperall of Haggett. “He comes out every night and works hard. It always helps when you see what it takes to win. You have that confidence you bring to a new team.”
Though he is only two years older than Haggett, Pepperall provides the former Titan with another example of someone who is well prepared on and off the ice.
Pepperall, who is in his eighth season in the ECHL, has been spending as much time as possible at a firehouse in the Greenville area when not on the ice preparing for a possible career when he hangs up the skates.
“He is a great guy and an unbelievable player,” said Haggett of Pepperall. “We have similar styles of play. At this level you are not really sure how long you are going to be around and seeing what he does with his off time. He goes to the firehouse a couple times a week when he can. That has motivated me to search for things I want to do when I decide to hang them up.”
Pepperall has been close to calling it quits and fully pursuing his desire to become a firefighter, but it is the chance to win another championship, while watching players such as Haggett develop that bring him back.
“A big part of it (coming back) being an older guy and watching the young kids turn into great hockey players,” said Pepperall. “Winning that first championship is an unbelievable feeling, seeing that talent gets you excited to come back to the rink excited it can happen again for you.”