By Paul White
The Virginian Pilot
© Mar. 7, 2008
NORFOLK, Va. – Don’t worry, fisticuff fans. There’s still plenty of fight in David Koci, who played in the ECHL for Wheeling each of his first two seasons.
But while he’s still one of the game’s top enforcers – and because of it one of the most popular players from Norfolk’s 2006-07 team – the Admirals have turned to Koci for a surprisingly basic reason.
To play hockey.
At least for now, the days of deploying Koci as a heat-seeking missile off the bench are gone. With the team’s core of defensemen depleted by injuries and NHL call-ups, the Admirals need their 6-foot-6 bruiser on the ice, not in the penalty box.
“It’s totally different than I’m used to,” said Koci, who will make his 2007-08 Scope debut with the Admirals on Friday against Philadelphia. “I was getting 3-4 minutes in the NHL, and even last year. But it’s good. I like being out there.”
A defenseman throughout most of his pro career, Koci had been moved to forward in hopes of enhancing his NHL prospects. But since being acquired on loan from Chicago last week, Koci has returned to the backline and been skating a regular shift for the shorthanded Admirals.
“The first game he told me he was a little nervous, and that’s understandable because he hadn’t played there in a year and a half,’ “ Admirals coach Steve Stirling said. “But by the third game, you could tell he was starting to feel more comfortable. And (Wednesday), he played well.”
Stirling added that Koci’s new role requires him to “pick and choose” his spots for taking penalties. But old habits die hard. In his first game with the Admirals, Koci went toe-to-toe with Josh Gratton, who played in the ECHL each of his first two years, and finished the night with a game-high nine penalty minutes.
“The more I play, it’s actually easier to get into fights,” he said. “And I still have to play my game.”
Since then, however, Koci racked up just two minor penalties in his next three games – both Wednesday night in Worcester – and neither impacted the Admirals negatively in a 4-0 victory.
“He’s everything I heard,” Stirling said. “He’s a professional, a real honest kid, an honest player. And he’s a team-first guy, which of course is fine by me.”
Of course, Koci knows he still distinguishes himself with his fists. So while he understands the need for more discretion, he said that anyone looking for a kinder, gentler Koci tonight will likely be disappointed. Said Koci: “I still have to do what I have to do.”