By Andy Kent
Naples Daily News
ESTERO, Fla. – Not too many surprises will top the one Florida Everblades goalie Craig Kowalski received Wednesday following the team’s practice and off-ice workout at Germain Arena.
The 25-year-old Michigander was called into head coach Gerry Fleming’s office in the middle of an interview, not quite sure what awaited him. When he emerged Kowalski was brandishing a big and shiny Stanley Cup ring with his name engraved on it near the Carolina Hurricanes logo.
“I knew it was coming, I just didn’t know when. Yeah, it’s awesome,” said Kowalski, who had just gotten back late Tuesday evening after an unplanned trip home to deal with a family emergency.
“Every kid that’s ever played hockey wanted to have that, and now I’ve got one. Winning a championship at any level’s hard, but this is the pinnacle. The whole reason we play hockey is to win that thing and I got to witness it first hand, and hopefully I’ll get to win it someday first hand.”
Kowalski was the emergency third goaltender for the Hurricanes during their run to last year’s championship and practiced with the team every day. Keith Aucoin, another former Everblade, was on the practice squad with him and ex-Blade Chad LaRose was a fourth-line forward.
But on Wednesday, almost four months since Carolina beat Edmonton in Game 7, Kowalski was practicing with the Everblades for the first time. It wasn’t until he arrived at the rink that he was told Fleming had planned an intrasquad scrimmage, so his conditioning and reflexes were about to be put to the test.
“I was a little tired and winded out there, not being on the ice for a week but everything feels good and I’ll be ready to go this weekend,” Kowalski said.