By Don Stewart
READING, Pa. – Greg Hogeboom was Iron Man. He never missed a game in four sea-sons at Miami of Ohio, skating in 156 straight.
So when the 6-foot forward tore a wrist ligament just 14 games into his first pro season last winter, not only was it uncharacteristic, it was frustrating.
“I had pretty high expectations of myself,” he said. “It was pretty disappointing.”
A fifth-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in the 2002 NHL entry draft, Hogeboom had gone straight from college to the AHL. But after missing almost all of last year, he was assigned to Reading, where the Kings hope he can return to pre-injury form.
An easy-going Toronto native, Hogeboom admits he has a way to go. His timing is off. He still needs to work on his hands. His consistency hasn’t come around.
Still, considering he’s played one official game since undergoing wrist surgery in December, and only 18 since leaving Miami at the end of the 2003-04 season, Hogeboom could be doing worse.
He’s rated as the Kings’ 14th-best prospect by Hockey’s Future, which projects that he’ll be in the NHL by the end of next season. For now, Hogeboom is a scoring weapon with nuclear potential for an already well-armed Royals attack.
Before he was named head coach at Reading in August, Karl Taylor had worked with Hogeboom at Los Angeles’ rookie development camp the past two summers. He likes Hogeboom’s speed on the outside, his penalty-kill prowess and his heavy shot.
“He’s a guy who (the Kings) have high hopes for,” Taylor said. “I thought he struggled the first night; I think he would say the same thing.
“Consistency is what we need to get out of Greg. Get him going, game in and game out. Get him to be a solid performer and a front-line guy at this level so he can move on into the next league, hopefully.”
In Saturday’s 3-2 opening-night win at Johnstown, Taylor had Hogeboom lined up with captain Doug Christiansen and former Miami teammate Mike Kompon. It was the third Reading line to take the ice, though Taylor considers each of his lines a “first line” due to his team’s depth.
It wasn’t a memorable debut for ‘Hogey,’ who took two shots while finishing even in the plus-minus category.
“I’m pretty good some nights, and some nights I’m pretty bad,” Hogeboom said. “I just gotta get an even keel and do it every night.”
One consistent in his life has been hockey, which he began playing at age 5. He developed into an impressive enough player to be drafted by the Ontario Hockey League, but Hogeboom skipped juniors to attend college.
During his junior year at Miami, he led the nation in power-play goals. As a senior, he helped the Redhawks to just the third NCAA Tournament appearance in program history.
Hogeboom became a well-known face on campus, though he was far from the most recognizable guy around. That distinction when to future Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who happened to attend Miami at the same time as Hogeboom.
“He was a pretty good guy,” Hogeboom said. “You kind of get to know all the other athletes a little bit. I wouldn’t call us best friends, but we knew each other pretty well.”
Though last season’s wrist injury stunted his development, Hogeboom hopes to one day give Miami another top-level pro athlete.
“Injuries are something that slows you down,” he said. “I have no doubts that I can get back to where I was and keep improving and hopefully take it to the next level.”