Before their flight south, a maintenance job awaited.
Not on their own airplane, though. Instead, it was for themselves.
A 5-2 defeat on Wednesday night to the Arizona Coyotes, who previously lost seven of eight games and still linger in the basement of the Western Conference, brought on the call to deliver adjustments the following Thursday morning at Kraken Community Iceplex for an approximate 40 minute skate. The Kraken gained a new forward – Austin Czarnik – and another healthy body – Jamie Oleksiak – back in the main group.
Shortly before the team’s afternoon flight to southern California for a one-off road trip to visit the Anaheim Ducks, the message of reformation was all about the everlasting “C-word”: compete.
“Our play with the puck – it’s a huge key for us,” said Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol. “We expected that to be a little bit sloppy coming off the break. It was.”
“But the competitive pieces of our game that have been a staple of our game weren’t consistent enough. We have to get back to that.”
GRANATO NAMED CANUCKS ASSISTANT GM
Right as the Kraken prepared to take the ice for practice, a behind-the-scenes shake-up led to a Hall-of-Famer and part of the Kraken brain trust to discover a new opportunity.
Cammi Granato, blazing a trail as the first female scout in NHL history hired by the Kraken in 2019, continued to climb the hockey executive ranks on Thursday when she was named and introduced as assistant general manager of the Vancouver Canucks.
Granato, a gold medalist for the United States at the ‘98 Olympic Games in Nagano and a Hockey Hall of Fame inductee 12 years ago, will join Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford’s staff along with general manager Patrik Allvin, and new assistant general managers and Émilie Castonguay and Derek Clancey.
Heavily involved with Kraken general manager Ron Francis’ department from game coverage to reports and database management, she said the job materialized in a period over a week, and the anticipation to return to work nearby her home in Vancouver, shared with husband and NHL television analyst Ray Ferraro, brought plenty of excitement.
“I didn’t sleep a lot this week thinking about taking the job,” said Granato.
"Cammi is a tremendous leader and has earned the respect of the hockey world,” said Rutherford in a statement. “She has a great mind for the game and experience and influence at all levels.”
According to the Canucks, the role will entail Granato’s supervision of their player development and both amateur and pro scouting departments, an opportunity that was paved from her time in the Kraken boardroom and handling game assignments.
“I think it helped immersing myself, learning the league, the players, database, sitting in on scouting meetings with the management team, listening, and learning,” said Granato. “One of things I said – I haven’t don’t this job before but I have great people surrounding me, have great experience in the game – and definitely the experience with Seattle has helped me prepare.”
Granato, the all-time leading scorer in U.S. women’s hockey history, was among the first two female selections in Hockey Hall of Fame history in 2010 along with Angela James.
She also developed experience as an author as recently as eight days ago, releasing the children’s book “I Can Play Too,” and became the second female named to the Hall of Fame’s selection committee, after Cassie Campbell-Pascall.
CZARNIK ZIPS INTO ACTION
After donning a crisp, navy blue number 27 jersey, forward Austin Czarnik completed a process that took a wait for nine days:
Simply getting back on the ice.
A high energy, physical forward with a touch of offense and special teams experience, Czarnik competed in his first practice with the Kraken on Thursday, taking reps on the right wing primarily with Ryan Donato and Alex Wennberg. In between on-ice trips: the All-Star break, waivers (two days ago where he said he found out the developing news via Twitter), a welcome-to-the-organization phone call from general manager Ron Francis, and over a six hour drive from New York to Michigan.
The native of Detroit – who had a pretty good reason to pack the car:
“I had to drop off baby stuff to my wife,” said Czarnik.
From there, Czarnik flew into Seattle, hitched a rental car, and went straight to Climate Pledge Arena in time for last night’s game against the Coyotes – present enough to become assimilated, but needing more time to understand Kraken structure.
“Tomorrow they’ll go over systems – they’re not trying to overwhelm me too much,” said Czarnik.
“Defensively, I’ve got that figured out pretty well – neutral zone, breakouts, and what they want to do. The key part is face-offs and positioning. If I can understand those it’ll be a good day tomorrow.”
They’re not too far off, he said, from his time with the Boston Bruins organization where he has crossed paths with assistant coach Jay Leach, Ryan Donato, and Jeremy Lauzon – the system that delivered his “first chance,” an undrafted free agent out of the Miami (OH) RedHawks college program before making his debut with 13 points in 49 games, five years ago with the Bruins.
This year, the versatile Czarnik who has seen time across numerous line roles – from scorer to third line – had five points in 11 games with the Islanders along with 15 points in only 20 games during AHL reassignment to Bridgeport.
Hakstol aid Czarnik is available to play Friday in Anaheim, and the exact spot where he’ll be used is still to be determined.
“He has ability to play with other more skilled players, and there’s also a possibility he may draw in on a fourth line role where he’s got to be responsible,” said Hakstol. “We’ve talked about some of those possibilities, but no decisions have been made.”
Czarnik immediately pointed to Leach’s guidance as a roadmap for success.
“He was awesome,” said Czarnik. “I’m excited I got the opportunity. I haven’t played a lot in last year and a half and just given this opportunity is huge – guys who know how I can play, it’s good for me. I’m excited.”
JAMIE OLEKSIAK GETTING CLOSER
The Big Rig’s return appears to be shifting to a higher gear.
Jamie Oleksiak, missing in action for the last seven games with a non-COVID illness and lower body ailment, made another significant step to getting his burly, six-foot-seven frame back on the Kraken blueline. Oleksiak, last appearing Jan. 17 with the Kraken 3-2 shootout win over Chicago, took reps on defense with Haydn Fleury after participating in morning skate Wednesday, but not yet cleared to play.
“He’s definitely close,” said Hakstol.
“I want to have a conversation after practice with him today, and see where he’s at, but if not absolutely ready he’s very close.”
The question is how close?
“I’m just taking it day by day,” said Oleksiak, calling Thursday’s practice, “game speed.” “
“(We’ll) see what tomorrow brings, I don’t want to rush it. Take my time.”
Only Adam Larsson has played more minutes at five-on-five: Oleksiak is second on the Kraken at 17:55 per game, taking more time in the last few weeks to manage absence anxiety while recovering from injury.
“You miss that camaraderie,” said Oleksiak. “It’s nice to be around the boys and play the game again, having fun, and getting back as soon as possible.”
KRAKEN AT PRACTICE, FEB. 10: