At a recent Manchester Monarchs practice, the best skater on the ice at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H., was a 31-year-old with 281 career NHL games on his résumé. He moved with power and fluidity.
"It's like he's on a cushion of air," said Mark Morris, head coach of the AHL team. "The way he skates, he reminds me of Todd Marchant when I had him. Just an effortless stride."
But the skater in question, Freddy Meyer, wasn't grinding among the other players; he was monitoring the action as a first-year assistant coach. The whistle around Meyer's neck indicated his transition from dressing room to coaches' office. Just a year ago, Meyer was playing in Sweden. The native of Sanbornville, N.H., was under the employ of Modo. But he dressed in only 31 games before incurring a season-ending concussion. After consulting with doctors and his family, Meyer decided that his latest head injury would be the final one of his playing career.
By Meyer's estimate, it was his third concussion. He had no desire to experience a fourth. "I just didn't feel like myself," said Meyer, whose symptoms included nausea and sensitivity to light. "I think I was pretty lucky not to have some of the other darker symptoms out there that people have suffered through.
"That was in the decision to walk away, too. I was worried about the next one, whether my symptoms would be worse, or the duration would be longer. I'm hoping I made the right decision to walk away."
Meyer's final NHL game was on Feb. 3, 2011. He was playing for Atlanta at Philips Arena against Calgary. On his last shift, Meyer found himself face-down at center ice. He had collapsed, the victim of his second career concussion. Play stopped as trainers, doctors, and teammates rushed to his side. Meyer skated off the ice with assistance from a team doctor, but never played another NHL game.
"Each concussion, I had symptoms for 4-5 months afterwards," Meyer said. "In speaking to doctors, there's no exact science with concussions yet, but usually the duration gets longer and longer for each concussion. It's a tough injury to live through. I just decided it was the best thing to walk away and preserve my brain as much as possible."
Meyer's playing days are over, but he should consider himself one of the lucky ones. The four-year Boston University standout is healthy and happy with the next segment of his life. Meyer and wife Lindsey have two boys, Freddy and Carter, and recently moved into a home in Winchester.
Meyer wasn't sure what he would do after retiring. Early in the summer, he spoke with Kings assistant general manager Ron Hextall. They were familiar from Meyer's days in the Flyers organization, where Hextall was director of player personnel. Meyer informed Hextall of his retirement and his interest in a hockey job.
On July 18, Manchester assistant Scott Pellerin was named head coach of the Bridgeport team in the AHL. On Aug. 28, Meyer became Morris's assistant.
"He has no problems asking the most obvious question or the most detailed question," Morris said. "He seems to be comfortable in his own skin. I like those characteristics in a person. He's not afraid to admit his insecurities. But he's also not afraid to speak his mind. He's a guy that things didn't come easy to. He's a smaller-framed guy, but he's got a heart of a big man."
"He wouldn't have gotten to the level that he got to by taking any shortcuts. He's not afraid to work. He puts his time in. I know he looks forward to every day that he's here. He's full of spunk and enthusiasm."
It's hard for a player to acknowledge that his career is over. It's not easy to be tough on players when, if health allowed, you could be cracking jokes alongside them in the dressing room or on the bench.
But Meyer has moved on. He isn't bitter about the way his career ended. He is now teaching young defensemen such as Slava Voynov, Jake Muzzin, and Thomas Hickey about the intricacies of the position: skating stride, stick positioning, turning to retrieve the puck.
Meyer acknowledges that there is no replacement for the rush that in-game competition provides. The pleasure he will now receive from hockey is helping others reach the level he enjoyed.
One of Meyer's jobs is to help the Monarchs get "up top," as AHLers refer to the NHL. Maybe one day, Meyer will be back up top, too.
U-TURN TO AHL
King cleared for ice time
For more than a month, Dwight King believed he was locked out like the rest of his mates. The Los Angeles forward had signed a two-year, one-way contract July 16. Once the lockout started, King remained at his offseason home base in Saskatchewan, working out in hopes of a prompt resolution. Last month, the NHL team learned that King was eligible to play for the Monarchs because he was on their Clear Day roster last March. Each AHL club must submit a 22-man Clear Day roster of players eligible for the playoffs. When King was informed that he could report to Manchester if he wanted, the 23-year-old accepted. He signed an AHL contract and returned to the city where he played for most of his first three pro seasons.
"If you're playing, you're going to get better," King said. "I played three-quarters of the year here last year, so I'm not that far removed. I know a lot of guys and the coaching staff. I felt it was a good fit. They welcomed me back very nicely."
King wasn't expected back in Manchester. Los Angeles recalled the grinding forward last Feb. 10, and he never returned to New Hampshire. King appeared in 27 regular-season games, collecting five goals and nine assists while averaging 14:38 of ice time. He dressed for all 20 playoff games and scored five goals, trailing only Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Jeff Carter on the club.
But any job is better than being out of work and missing paychecks. King is back with old roommates Jake Muzzin and Jordan Nolan. Hopefully, King will soon participate in the Stanley Cup ceremony in Los Angeles that has been on hold for more than two weeks.
Idleness isn’t part of routine
Claude Julien concluded his playing career following the 1991-92 season. That year, the Bruins coach appeared in 48 games for the AHL's Moncton Hawks. Upon his retirement, Julien realized that playing granted him a schedule and structure that proved elusive — until he kicked off his coaching career in 1996. It may be the same unhinged feeling NHLers are currently experiencing as they wait for the lockout's conclusion. "It's something they may want to keep in mind," Julien said. "My first year after I retired from playing, I remember vividly. All of a sudden, September comes around. You're used to going back and playing hockey. All of a sudden, you're not. That first year being retired is really, really tough. You're so used to being at the rink every day. After all those years of having a routine, it changes suddenly."
Back to school
Former UMass-Lowell netminder Dwayne Roloson will return to his alma mater approximately once a month during the lockout. Roloson is serving as a volunteer assistant coach, and accompanied the team on a two-game swing against Denver and Colorado College last month. Roloson's next visit to campus is scheduled for Nov. 13-14. The 43-year-old remains hopeful for NHL employment at the lockout's conclusion. Anders Lindback and Mathieu Garon project to be the tandem for Tampa Bay, Roloson's last NHL club.
Caron meeting his goals
Through six games, Jordan Caron led Providence with four goals, including three in a 4-3 win over Manchester Oct. 19. Caron's primary task in his AHL stint was to assert a greater offensive presence. He will need to produce more if he wants a regular NHL job. "Jordan's doing exactly what he was asked to do," said Julien. "He scored three goals against Manchester by being around the front of the net, picking up loose pucks. He had another off a tip-in. He's got good net-front presence. We need a big guy to do those things for our team."
Momentum in Carolina
Through nine games, the Charlotte Checkers, Carolina's AHL affiliate, were 6-2-1 to lead the Western Conference. Justin Faulk, one of the game's best young defensemen, led Charlotte in scoring with two goals and nine assists. He's had help from Drayson Bowman, Zach Boychuk, and Zac Dalpe, who have shuttled between Raleigh and Charlotte in previous seasons. If the young players can gain traction and complement Carolina's veterans (Eric and Jordan Staal, Tuomo Ruutu, Tim Gleason, Cam Ward), watch out for the Hurricanes once the lockout lifts.
During his last year of playing (with Moncton of the AHL), Julien had some company in the future coaching ranks. According to hockeydb.com, Julien's teammates included ex-Providence coach Rob Murray (Alaska of the ECHL), Ken Gernander (Connecticut of the AHL), and Dallas Eakins (Toronto of the AHL) . . . From the world of make-believe, EA Sports continues its season-long simulation via "NHL 13," the latest iteration of its trademark video game. At last check, Corey Crawford (1.73) and James Reimer (1.75) had the league's lowest goals-against averages. Fantasy indeed . . . One area where NHL teams haven't skimped during the lockout is video scouting. They are using video to keep tabs on prospects in preparation for the 2013 draft. In theory, with more eyeballs trained on draft-eligible youngsters, there should be fewer misses when general managers call out names next June. Then again, Minnesota selected Benoit Pouliot fourth overall in the 2005 draft coming out of the previous lockout . . . The Islanders aren't the only ones happy about moving to Brooklyn's Barclays Center in 2015-16. Opposing players around the league regularly cite the visitors' dressing room at Nassau Coliseum as the worst in the NHL . . . So far, NHL players have missed two paychecks. Among the Bruins, only Marc Savard (concussion) has received his regular pay. Nathan Horton and Adam McQuaid, who had their 2011-12 season shortened because of concussions, were cleared prior to the lockout . . . If there is anything positive about the lockout, it's that the frosty situation has not affected the game's people. On Oct. 26, players including Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane participated in a charity game that raised more than $325,000 for the Ronald McDonald House. Two days later, Julien helped coach the Winthrop Squirt B youth hockey team to a 3-2 win over Watertown. Parent Thomas Bailey on Julien: "He exceeded all expectations." . . . The most redundant phrase we've heard during the lockout: "hockey-related revenue." Well, duh. And every day, there is less and less of it.