Jeff Kyrzakos' playoff experience will come in handy for the Arizona Sundogs this year. Kyrzakos, 28, was playoff MVP when his Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs won the Central Hockey League's Ray Miron President's Cup in 2011. To make matters more interesting, his winning coach, Scott Muskut, recently took the Sundogs' reins.
Both men were available because the Mudbugs' owners dissolved the team right after they brought home the trophy, so they didn't get a chance to defend the title.
"It was surprising that it happened right after winning a championship, but yet not, because we knew things weren't going well," Kyrzakos said.
Kyrzakos signed with the Sundogs last fall after a season with the Rapid City Rush.
"I knew they were committed to putting together a winning team. It was an easy decision to come here," Kyrzakos said, pointing out it's his second stint in Arizona. Early in his professional career, he played two seasons for the ECHL's Phoenix Roadrunners.
He was happy to return, and even happier now that he's reunited with "Muskie."
"I knew what he brought to the ice," Kyrzakos said.
He called that championship season a "special spring."
"It was 9-1/2 weeks of grueling, grueling hockey," he said. "You kind of get in the zone with the same routine; it becomes robotic. We were so focused, when the final horn sounded and we had won, it took a while to sink in."
Rather reticent for a hockey player, Kyrzakos modestly said being named MVP was just "icing on the cake."
Kyrzakos compiled a perfect 3-0 coaching record while serving as Sundogs interim player/coach for three games, along with captain Jason Morgan.
"It was a perfect storm here at the time and I just tried to weather the storm," he said before adding with a shy grin, "It was fun. The guys responded so well and played really hard."
He's been playing hockey since age three, growing up in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, a town nearly as young as Prescott Valley (incorporated 1978), formed in 1974.
His parents, Mike and Patti, put him in skates as a two-year-old, just like older siblings, brother Josh, and sister Jaimie.
After junior hockey he played a year of college at Western Michigan University before opting to enter the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (Owen Sound Attack) something he said few players do.
"I have no regrets," he said of turning pro early. "Competitiveness drives you always."
He said he's had his fair share of injuries, but it's all part of the business. Summer allows for healing and a break from competition, but not from training.
"Summer is harder work than winter sometimes," he said. "When not playing hockey, I have to be pretty diligent in the gym."
He explained that the body breaks down and loses mass over the long hockey season.
"It's cyclical - the same process every year. You have to build up again in the off-season."
He does allow himself some time for fun. Golf is his favorite activity outside hockey, but he likes to travel, too.
Family time in the backyard with parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts is important. So is Major League Baseball.
"I love the Toronto Blue Jays," he said. "I go to their games."
Although he played baseball and lacrosse as a kid, he didn't like the running aspect.
The ice skates' gliding motion was more to his liking, and he plans to continue it for a while, possibly as a coach when his playing days end.
"When I do walk away, I'm not sure it will be the game I'll miss, but the camaraderie with my teammates. We have a little bit of fun," Kyrzakos said.
He knows hockey is a non-traditional sport for Arizona, but is certain once people come to the arena, they'll come back for more.
"It provides entertainment value for a full 60 minutes," he said, comparing it to another favorite American sport. "I love to watch football, but there's really only a few minutes of action."