Younger Zajac, Haczyk get another look
Among the players who will see an opportunity in Albany now that the NHL has drawn several players back to the top league are forwards Kelly Zajac and Bryan Haczyk.
They both were brought up from Trenton for Sunday’s game in Atlantic City, and both registered their first AHL points. Haczyk had an assist, while Zajac had an assist and a goal.
They both returned to Trenton right after the game, then played in an overtime win Wednesday. Both had an assist, Zajac’s coming on the game-winning goal.
After Thursday’s practice with Albany after being recalled following Wednesday’s game with Trenton, they both said they should have the legs to skate well through the weekend’s three-in-three that starts Friday at Glens Falls against the Adirondack Phantoms.
“It’s been pretty crazy,” Haczyk said. “We played Friday-Saturday in Trenton, then got the call-up for Sunday’s game in Atlantic City. Luckily, it’s not to far. Then we went back to Trenton after the game. Back down to stay in Trenton for a couple days and played in a game there, then back up here. It’s been pretty hectic, a lot of traveling, a lot of packing up, but it’s been a lot of fun.
“I’m definitely feeling good, so hopefully, I’ll be flying this weekend.”
“Absolutely. You get amped up for these games,” Zajac said. “You’ve got to make the most of it, because you don’t know if you’re going to stick around here. It’s easy travel. We played yesterday in an 11 [a.m.] game, so it’s a quick turnaround, but we have a day of rest here, then we can get back at it tomorrow and help the team out.”
The momentum they’re both carrying should help them through the weekend, as should the excitement at getting a shot in the American League.
“Your confidence is definitely high, there,” Zajac said. “You’ve got to have confidence to play this game, I think that’s a big part of it. Whatever role we get in tomorrow, if we get in the lineup, whatever they need us to do, we’ll do and try to help the team out.”
Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said he liked what he saw from both players Sunday in the first game for both of them in the AHL this season. It was Haczyk’s second in his career, Zajac’s fourth.
“They add to our team speed or maybe fill some voids of some guys we don’t have right now,” Kowalsky said. “If they’re simple with the puck, they should fit right in and be able to use their speed for us to establish and get our forecheck going, pursue the puck, pressure the puck and force turnovers. When we’re on our game, that’s our game and they should be able to slide right in there.”
Haczyk, a Seacaucus native, said getting his first AHL point in his home state was a special feeling. The odds were against it, looking at the schedule, as there are no AHL teams in the state and the Albany Devils play only four games at Boardwalk Hall.
Though he spent some time with Albany last season, injury kept him from the ice and he played just one game in the league. Still, his time there helped him start creating some chemistry with his teammates.
Now he is getting another chance in the AHL, and he intends to make the most of it.
“It’s exciting,” Haczyk said. “A lot of guys are up in the NHL training camps and it opens up some spots for guys in the East Coast league to come up, like myself. It’s a huge opportunity.
“I know what my game is out there, and regardless of who I’m playing it with, I know I have to keep things simple, chip pucks in and use my speed out wide to get shots on net.”
Zajac, a Union College product, is the youngest of three brothers who play for the Devils. Travis Zajac just signed an eight-year, $46 million contract with New Jersey to keep him from becoming a free agent at the end of this season. Darcy Zajac is a tough role player for Albany, where Kelly is now trying to find a recurring role.
“It’s been surreal,” Kelly Zajac said. “This is my dream, to play for Albany and keep progressing in my hockey career. Being called up is nice. I want to help the team out in any way possible, and getting that first goal got the monkey off my back. I can focus on my game now and just play, and things will happen.
“I’ve just got to get in games and play my style and keep working hard off the ice. I think the harder you work off the ice, the better things transition on the ice. Keep working on the skills. That’s what the game is. If you’ve got the brains, you can build the skills along with it. And just play your game.”
His game starts with speed, so hopefully his excitement at being recalled again can carry him through the weekend, finishing what could become seven games in 10 days.
“My feet are my weapon,” he said. “I’m quick in the corners. If I get in, I can be in the forecheck and muck things up a bit, create some opportunities . . . just keep it simple for guys on my line.”
The weekend starts and ends with games against Adirondack, first in Glens Falls and Sunday in Atlantic City again. Albany will also play a home-home weekend series against the Phantoms the next weekend.
Being a Philadelphia affiliate, Adirondack could have a couple players up from Trenton, pitting Zajac and Haczyk against some of their ECHL teammates.
“It’s not really weird at all,” Zajac said. “It’s a good group of guys down there. That’s what hockey’s about. You build friendships and meet new people. Every guy I met down there is outstanding and has helped me in some way. It’s going to be fun playing against them. You can be friends off the ice, but on the ice, it’s different.”
Kelly said he visited briefly with his brother Travis on Wednesday night before continuing north to Albany, and they spoke a bit about the new contract.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Kelly said. “You can tell, he wants to be a Devil. [New Jersey Devils GM/president/CEO Lou] Lamoriello’s been loyal to him, and he’s been loyal back. He wants to be there, play most of his career there and, hopefully, end it there. He’s excited to be there, and he wants to be there.”
The Albany Devils also recalled left wing Harry Young from Kalamazoo of the ECHL later on Thursday. That will help, since Albany was practicing with just 11 forwards in the morning.
Also, Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record reported on his blog that New Jersey had placed centerman Tim Sestito on waivers, which means he is bound for Albany once he clears.
The players on the ice Thursday morning include: Goalies Jeff Frazee and Keith Kinkaid; Defensemen Jay Leach, Alexander Urbom, Brandon Burlon, Eric Gelinas, Dan Kelly, Corbin McPherson and Raman Hrabarenka; Forwards (wearing red) Joe Whitney, Steve Zalewski, Darcy Zajac and Matt Anderson, (wearing gray) Kelly Zajac and Bryan Haczyk, (wearing white) David Wohlberg, Mike Hoeffel, Phil DeSimone, Chris McKelvie and Mike Sislo.
The AHL released its all-star rosters on Thursday, and Albany was represented by right wing Bobby Butler. Butler, however, likely will be with New Jersey and unable to attend. The AHL, in that event, will select another representative from Albany.
This happened last season, too, when defenseman Matt Taormina was recalled by New Jersey and was unable to participate in the AHL All-Star Game, so the AHL took defenseman Alexander Urbom instead.