Catching Up With ... Jason Krog
Former UNH Star Tries to Overcome Adversity for a Shot in the NHL
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Brian Holzinger ... Brendan Morrison ... Chris Drury. These are names of recent Hobey Baker Award winners to make a major impact in the NHL. Drury went so far as to win the 1998-99 Calder Trophy and NHL Rookie of the Year.
So, when Jason Krog won the award in 1999, he had every reason to believe he was next. Signing a lucrative free-agent contract with the New York Islanders did nothing to squash the notion. Things were finally coming easier. The days of getting cut from his junior teams, of having his abilities questioned, were a distant memory. He was ready for the pros. Do a little work in the AHL, and get to the NHL.
But things have never come easy for Krog, especially not now. Beset by injuries the last two seasons, Krog has not been able to get over the hump. This season, he has again battled injuries, while going up and down between Bridgeport (AHL) and Long Island.
The 26-year-old knows the clock is ticking, but he believes there's still time to make an impact in the NHL.
"My mindset is better now," said Krog, who has 21 points in 19 AHL games this season, entering the weekend. "It was more frustrating the first year. You start learning not to get too high, or too low.
"I got a chance to play in some pretty big games there. That sort of experience is invaluable."
Jason Krog of the New York Islanders, on his UNH experience
"They [the Islanders] want me to come down here and put up numbers, and help this team out. The organization is going in the right direction. They've turned a corner, and that's good to be a part of. Things are more set up. Before, you didn't know what was going on."
In one sense, the Islanders' new-found success makes things more difficult for Krog. Not possessed with the blazing speed of, say, Jason Blake, it's hard to find time as a key role player — and he isn't going to crack the Isles' vastly-improved top lines at this point.
On the other hand, it's simply nice for Krog to be in a stable situation for a change. In his first pro season, he split AHL time between Providence and Lowell. Last season, he was in Lowell until Isles GM Mike Milbury — fed up with that arrangement — pulled all of his prospects out and moved them to Springfield.
"There were guys spread through three teams," says Krog. "It was a crazy time. I got a call one afternoon for everyone to meet at the rink, and they told us we were going to Springfield."
Now, finally, the Islanders have an affiliate of their own — owned by one-time Islanders owner Roy Boe, no less — and the team is playing well.
Krog's biggest "problem" is, he isn't great in any one area. Without great speed or size, he is competing for spots against other NHL skill guys who may also have size or speed.
"He's played well enough when he's been there," says his Bridgeport coach, Steve Stirling. "But it's hard to get in the lineup, especially now with [Alexei] Yashin and [Michael] Peca there.
"To stay [in the NHL], you have to be able to play stronger. In the NHL, you are always competing hard, every night."
It should be noted, there are areas where everyone agrees Krog stands out ... his hands, and his ice sense. Former UNH teammate Eric Boguniecki once compared Krog to Adam Oates for his "unbelievable vision."
"He just has to keep working," says Stirling. "He's very skilled. He's got tremendous hands, and a great head for the game.
"Jason is a high-class guy. He has that intangible. He makes up for a lot of his deficiencies."
Those intangibles have always served Krog well.
Not blessed with blazing speed, or "NHL size," Krog has had to scratch for everything. Even in youth hockey, when he was twice cut by junior teams, Krog was never a player that stood out. When he was recruited by the University of New Hampshire, his coach even doubted him.
His freshman season, he only scored four goals in 34 games.
Through a lot of hard work, he became a collegiate superstar. He scored 85 points his senior year in 41 games, and led his team to the NCAA final.
It's hard for Krog not to compare his career path with that of Drury. The two were Hockey East stars together — Drury at Boston University — and played many memorable games against each other.
"He's definitely someone I look up to as a player," says Krog. "I don't think I'm far off ... If I can stay healthy. But we're different styles."
Krog still draws on his collegiate experiences. That is where he had tremendous success, personally and team-wise.
"I got a chance to play in some pretty big games there," says Krog. "That sort of experience is invaluable."
Krog was awarded the Hobey the day before he played in the NCAA national championship game against Maine, an overachieving team, and a bitter conference rival, to boot. In an epic goaltender's dual, UNH had a bucket-ful of great chances to win its first national championship, only to lose in overtime.
It's a game Krog still laments.
"Yeah, the odd time it comes up," he says. "A bounce here, a bounce there, we could've won.
"The Hobey is nice, but I'd trade it in for a national championship."
Now, however, he has other priorities. Ask him if he'd rather have that national championship or a 30-goal season in the NHL, and he agonizes over the thought.
"Ooh, that's a tough one," says Krog, before realizing his current predicament. "Right now, I'd have to say the 30 goals."