When Chad Kolarik was called into the coach's office and learned he had just been traded by the New York Rangers to the Pittsburgh organization last month, it was a shock.
Kolarik was leading the Connecticut Whale in scoring and had just been named to the AHL All-Star Game before he was moved.
While the trade was a jolt, it was nothing like the adversity that Kolarik faced at the start of the season.
During training camp in 2011, Kolarik sustained a knee injury. Resulting surgery put him on the shelf for a year, and he entered the 2012-2013 season healthy but full of uncertainty.
Was his knee ready for game action?
Would it affect his speed and mobility on the ice?
Would it hold up?
While Kolarik, 27, faced a physical challenge while rehabbing for a year, the mental battle began at the start of the season.
At the beginning you're always worried about your knee for like the first 20 games. You wonder about things like if it will hold up and if you can put all your weight on it, Kolarik said. Anytime you miss an extended period – a full year, it's tough.
The mental stress showed, initially.
Kolarik, who had topped the 20-goal mark in his last three AHL seasons, struggled to put points on the board. He registered just two goals and seven points in the first 13 games with the Whale.
It wore on me, Kolarik said. But my coach had faith in me and kept putting me out there.
That faith paid off. As the season progressed, Kolarik's worries about his knee subsided and his production jumped. He finished the month of November with six goals in four games and currently has 17 tallies and 36 points on the season.
As the games wore on you realize it's fine. You know you worked hard, rehabbed well and you're good to go, Kolarik said.
Now he's good to go as a Penguin.
On his first shift with his new team. a Jan. 25 road game in Rochester, Kolarik notched a goal. Heading into this weekend he is currently 14th in the AHL in scoring – tied with five other players – and Kolarik's arrival gives the Penguins a bonafide goal-scorer and top line threat.
It's the type of production that Kolarik is used to during his four AHL seasons, and it's what the Penguins expected.
Head coach John Hynes, who coached Kolarik with the U.S. National Team Development Program from 2002-2004, said consistency has long been a key to his game.
If you look at his track record back to junior, through college and into pros, he's been a very consistent performer, Hynes said. He's a very competitive player and he has talent. That breeds consistency.
As a Penguin, Kolarik also has a bit more motivation as well. His parents, Steve and Kathy Kolarik, live in Hazleton. The Abington native also has plenty of friends in the area, and they will be filling seats at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
I'm sure my mom won't miss a game, Kolarik said.
At 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, Kolarik said his game centers more around point production than the physical play of a grinder.
I have to chip in where I can, and where I can is by putting pucks in the net and points on the board, he said.
So far Kolarik has had two brief stays in the NHL – two games with Columbus and four with the New York Rangers.
He's hoping to add to the total with a call-up to Pittsburgh.
I'm excited to be here. They traded for me so they obviously see something, Kolarik said. I don't know where I fit in, but I'm just going to play well down here and let all that take care of itself.