GLENS FALLS — When Matthew Konan walked into the Adirondack Phantoms dressing room for the first time, there were a couple of locker nameplates he instantly recognized.
The 21-year-old defenseman grew up around fellow California native Shane Harper and played junior hockey against Brandon Manning in the Western Hockey League.
Konan, who recently joined the Phantoms after recovering from surgery, will have the chance to get to know the rest of his teammates as the Phantoms spend the next few days on a Canadian road trip.
The rookie, though, may want to stick close to Manning.
Manning’s hip injury last year hindered his ability to get into game shape, but he worked his way into the Phantoms’ line-up in December. By April, the then-rookie had played his way into four National Hockey League games with Philadelphia. This season, he was named one of Adirondack’s alternate captains.
“That’s a good model for me to look at,” Konan said Tuesday, as the team prepared for their road trip to St. John’s, Newfoundland, where they played the IceCaps this weekend. “An example like that, just model my game after that. Just look forward and not let things get you down. Play hard and see what happens.”
That’s been the mantra of Konan’s hockey career to date. He’s a bit of a late-bloomer, going undrafted in each of the past three seasons, but he went from scoring four points in 42
junior hockey games as a rookie to scoring 54 points and a plus-21 rating in 72 games as an over-ager for WHL Medicine Hat last year.
His Tigers teammates included Anaheim Ducks’ top prospect Emerson Etem, now with the Norfolk Admirals, and Hunter Shinkaruk, considered one of the premier forwards eligible for the 2013 NHL Draft.
“I had a strong year last year,” Konan said. “I didn’t get hurt, played lots of minutes. I was doing my thing — playing hard, playing good – just going with it. This summer was kind of a setback having surgery, but I have to get back to that. Just being a strong, good skater, good passer, just all into it. That’s my game.”
His play caught the attention of Philadelphia’s scouting staff and Konan signed with the Flyers in April.
But sports hernia surgery prevented him from fully capitalizing on his summer workouts — a speed bump for the 6-foot-3 Konan, who is looking to pack muscle onto his 182-pound frame.
Konan had hoped to perform that work over the summer — he said junior hockey’s condensed schedule doesn’t really lend itself to heavy in-season workouts — but those plans were put on hold after surgery.
“I feel a lot better than I did a couple weeks ago,” he said. “A couple weeks ago I was in pain. I couldn’t really stride very well. Now I feel great. Just a little discomfort here and there, but I feel a lot better.”
He’s now looking to work his way into the lineup, having not played a competitive hockey game since Medicine Hat bowed out of the WHL playoffs last April. His injury limited his on-ice work in training camp, but Tuesday’s two-hour practice with Adirondack provided enough time to make observations.
“I think it’s a big change,” Konan said of making the transition from major juniors to the pro ranks. “The guys are bigger, faster, stronger. Less ice out there. They’re a lot quicker, smarter. I just have to jump into it. Do my best. Learn a lot, be a sponge, make the transition as good as I can and go from there.”
Konan’s arrival gave the Phantoms nine defensemen for the early portion of Tuesday’s practice. That might seem like a lot to carry, considering AHL teams generally only dress six or seven each game, but Phantoms’ coach Terry Murray said Tuesday he would ideally like to have another for practice purposes.
“When you have five lines and 10 (defensemen) it makes it a really good flow,” Murray said. Though Konan made the trip to keep working toward getting back in game shape, Murray added it was unlikely Konan would skate in the Phantoms’ Friday or Saturday games against the IceCaps.
“He’s a player that hasn’t had really any practice time up until the past couple days,” the coach continued. “He’s just rehabbing, getting going, get his conditioning up and see where that goes.”