Former OHL Star Finds Opportunity in ECHL
By Chris Toman, Contributing Editor
Toronto, Canada (Sports Network) - Thomas Kiriakou was prepared to walk away from the game he loves.
The former Ontario Hockey League, and Canadian Interuniversity Sport, star had all but decided it was time to hang up the skates and close a chapter on a part of his life that had produced a number of memorable moments.
All it took was one summer night with San Jose Sharks' budding-star Logan Couture to make him reconsider what he wanted. And for Kiriakou, that meant spending more time at the rink.
"My intentions were to step away from the game of hockey after last season," said Kiriakou, a former member of the Ottawa 67's of the OHL. "But after I went to the NHL Awards with Logan Couture, I got that fire in my belly again and I knew I had to play."
Kiriakou's next step was finding a team to play for, and one phone call changed everything for the Richmond Hill, Ont. native.
The 23-year-old was sitting at his cousin's condo in Toronto when he decided to gauge the level of interest he could generate in the ECHL. There was one man he was particularly interested in contacting.
Rewind back two years, when Kiriakou had his first chance to turn pro, and there was Las Vegas Wranglers head coach Ryan Mougenel ready to bring Kiriakou on board. But at the time, Kiriakou wanted to pursue an education and felt he lacked the maturity to play in the ECHL, so he decided to enroll at the University of Guelph and play CIS hockey for the Gryphons.
After a successful two-year career at Guelph, in which Kiriakou was named the 2009-10 Ontario University Athletic Rookie of the Year, and was selected to the Men's Hockey West All-Star Second Team last season, he was set to contact Mougenel to see if the Wranglers' head coach had any interest in him now. He wasn't optimistic.
"I was actually nervous talking to him because I had originally turned him down two years ago," said Kiriakou. "I didn't think he would want me again, but thankfully he did. I knew it would be a perfect fit for me.
"The OHL and CIS prepared me a lot for this," explained Kiriakou. "It not only made me mature as a person, but it also gave me more confidence in myself as a player. Not too many people give the CIS credit. It's a great league, I had a lot of ex-OHL players on my Guelph Gryphon team. You have guys that are 21- to-25 years of age. It's faster and the guys are stronger. I loved every minute playing there."
Kiriakou feels that his experience playing competitive hockey in the OHL, and CIS, will make him a reliable player for Vegas. He describes himself as a two- way center that can play well at both ends of the rink.
"If Vegas needs me in a defensive role, I'm great on faceoffs and penalty killing," said Kiriakou. "And if they need me to put up points, I can do that too."
Kiriakou wasted no time this summer preparing for the challenges that lay ahead.
He engaged in vigorous workouts daily in order to enter training camp in the best shape possible. His trainers have him up earlier than he would be if he was attending classes at Guelph, and while Dwayne Roberts helps him with his strength, conditioning and agility, Justin Peca is just as important, as he's in charge of Kiriakou's on-ice workouts.
"He [Roberts] helps me with where I need to be as an athlete," said Kiriakou.
Kiriakou understands the shape he needs to be in, and time he needs to put in to reach the NHL, his ultimate goal. And despite playing a different position, there is one player who inspires him to stay hungry.
"A great example for me is Tim Thomas," Kiriakou said of the Boston Bruins' goaltender. "This is a guy who didn't stop working and believing in himself. Now look at the career he's had."
What Kiriakou is referring to is the long journey it took Thomas to reach the NHL, which included stints in the NCAA, ECHL, AHL and stops overseas to play in Europe before getting a chance in net with the Bruins.
Kiriakou knows that if he gets to the NHL the process he went through won't be considered textbook either, but his experience has allowed him to accomplish two things he will never forget.
"I'm most proud of going to the Memorial Cup [the OHL finals] as a rookie for the Ottawa 67's and winning Bronze for Team Canada at the World University Games in Turkey this past year," said Kiriakou.
He's determined to one-up those accomplishments, and his journey to do so begins next month in Las Vegas.
09/14 13:05:40 ET