Adam Cracknell is a right wing with the Dallas Stars of the National Hockey League, having appeared in 69 games during the 2016-17 season, and 203 total NHL games in his career. Prior to his NHL debut, he spent time in the ECHL with the Las Vegas Wranglers. Cracknell played 92 regular season games with the Wranglers throughout the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons and 8 during the 2007 Kelly Cup Playoffs. He played 21 games during the 2008 Kelly Cup Playoffs , reaching the Kelly Cup Finals with the team. In this exclusive Q&A, he shares his experience as a competitor for the Kelly Cup.
ECHL: When you made it to the Kelly Cup Playoffs with the Las Vegas Wranglers, what emotions do you remember having and how did you manage them?
AC: 2007 was my first playoffs professionally because my first year I didn't play -I had a broken ankle. So the following year, we had such a good team throughout the season - we always had high expectations making it to the Finals and obviously winning the Kelly Cup. But, I had a really good season personally with the team and just the excitement of playing in the playoffs, it's always kind of a different breed of hockey. The excitement and the pressure kind of mounts up every series, so we had some very exciting games. But when you get to the Finals - no matter the level you're at - there's a lot of nervousness and excitement - especially when you have a chance to win the championship. So with that pressure that we had on ourselves to win it, and the excitement that we had around our team in Las Vegas, it was a lot of fun. We ended up playing Cincinnati who had a very good team out East and we had never played a team out East before all season, so you're playing a team that you've never even played against. They had a great team, it was a great series, but unfortunately we didn't come out on top. I learned a lot about the kind of pressure and the excitement and how much you have to elevate your game personally to win a championship. It's an exciting time to be a part of. We were on the other end of the heartbreak, but I still learned a lot of good lessons about adversity and just how close a team comes together during the playoffs.
ECHL: In 2008 when the Wranglers made it to the Kelly Cup Finals, what do you remember about that team specifically, what was the group in the locker room like?
AC: I think we had a really special group. There's still guys I still keep in touch with - I bet you I probably still talk to over half of that team - we all stay connected. We had such a great mix of guys where we had older guys that had been there before and experience at all levels, and we had young exciting players that we all kind of came up together and that team really never broke apart all season. It was just such a group that wanted to be friends with each other, we came together all season. We had such a successful season, I think we had such a good bond off the ice too that we knew we had a special group and hoped that we could make it to the Finals. I think that's where when we got into situations of adversity through the playoffs, we all kind of bonded together, and knew if everyone just did their role we would be successful. A lot of our games we had different kind of 'heroes' throughout the game, whether it was top scoring goals or big goaltending. Guys sacrificed a lot for each other on the ice and it showed how much we cared about each other.
ECHL: Once you get to the Kelly Cup Playoffs, it’s a separate entity and you need to raise your game both individually and as a team. You certainly did so individually as well, tied for most goals in the 2008 Kelly Cup Playoffs with nine. How did you task yourself with elevating your game and getting to the next level?
AC: I think if you want to make it to the next level, the American Hockey League, which I was trying to do, I had to show the Calgary organization that I was a player that could be relied on and put in hard situations. I wanted to follow up a tough season of not playing that many games. The excitement of playing in the Playoffs is where a player can really show their true character and how effective they can be. I had great linemates, great teammates to help support me - I didn't do anything by myself. We were all trying to do it together and I benefitted from having a good Playoffs, it helped me get to the next level and play in the American Hockey League the next year. I didn't do it alone and definitely just playing in the Playoffs was an exciting time and to get rewarded like that was a great benefit for me personally.
ECHL: Was there anything that surprised you or was unexpected about playing in the Kelly Cup Playoffs and the Finals as well too?
AC: I think it was just the excitement around Las Vegas about our team. I think we were averaging maybe about 7,500 fans per game, people were just excited. Even on our send off to Cincinnati we had a big fan base sending us off, and I had never experienced anything like that. I never got to play in a Memorial Cup or any kind of Finals before, so just seeing how excited people were was new to me. Then when we got to Cincinnati (for the 2008 Kelly Cup Finals), they had 10,000 fans - so it was just the atmosphere and the buzz around there - it was really crazy. Unfortunately we did lose but just to see and be a part of some of that - it was really exciting and something I'd like to get to in the future especially playing in the NHL now. To see teams still playing now it kind of hurts but at the same time it's fun to watch and hopefully we’ll get back to that exciting part of the season again.
ECHL: As someone who played in the Kelly Cup Playoffs twice, reached the Kelly Cup Finals, and now you over 200 games of NHL experience under your belt, what advice would you give to the players who are still playing in the Kelly Cup Playoffs?
AC: I think it just comes down to hard work. For myself, the ECHL was a stepping stone. It was a great development league for me. As a younger player you learn how to be a professional and take care of yourself off the ice, especially at such a young age. You have to learn quick and I used it as a stepping stone. I always worked everyday - I was trying to make it to the NHL and I knew the American Hockey League was my next step. I learned a lot off the ice from the older guys and just taking advice in and learning from every experience you have that is a negative - and obviously learn from the positive what works and what doesn't. I always had a goal…I mean every summer I prepared to make the American Hockey League and then once I got there my next step was to make the NHL. I always worked everyday like I was trying to make it so when I got that opportunity to play in the NHL and got that first call-up, I knew everything I went through, from injuries to making it to the Kelly Cup Finals to finally making the American League, was all worth it. So every day I approached where I wanted to make that next goal, I worked towards it.