Certain rituals at any level of adult hockey are strictly adhered to. Murky coffee being one of them. In styrofoam cups.
Not Jamaica Blue Mountain, dubbed the Champagne of Coffees, understand. Or even a Venti Salted Caramel Mocha, heavy on the whip, from Starbucks.
Nope. Just a good ol’ batten-down-the-hatches industrial strength generic brew, eating insidiously away at the styrofoam cup. Or a stomach lining.
“My first cup of coffee – ever – would’ve been in my first year pro, in Providence Rhode Island,” Brent Krahn, older and wiser, is recalling. “I was 21 or 22. I got called up by the Lowell Lock Monsters and would be facing off against Tim Thomas and the Bruins.
“I’m nervous. So I see all the veterans sitting there in the rink, chatting, and everybody’s got a coffee. All I wanted to do was fit in. Be one of them. I’d never even made a cup of coffee in my life.
“So I go over, screwing around with the beans and then all the boys were complaining about how crappy the coffee was.
“Well, I’d made it.”
The former Calgary Hitmen star, drafted ninth overall by the Calgary Flames in the 2000 draft, spent eight winters in the professional ranks, stopping pucks while headquartered in Las Vegas, Lowell, Mass., Omaha, Neb., Moline, Ill., Rosemount, Ill., and Cedar Park, Tx.
During his pursuit of the big-league dream, the Winnipeg-born Krahn would play a grand total of one NHL full period, modelling the livery of the Dallas Stars, on February 9, 2009, in relief of starter Marty Turco.
Krahn retired following the 2010-2011 campaign.
“When I was done playing, the first job I got was working on the rigs and there was always a coffee pot there, too. Sitting around, minus-40, talking with the guys. Just like you’re sitting in the dressing room. Everything’s done over coffee, right?
The way into a professional life after the game was, as is often the case, a bit of hit-and-miss for Krahn.
“The years I was in the Flames’ organization, they’d hold the charity golf tournament every year, of course,” he says. “Living in Calgary, as a prospect, I’d go golfing with all these oil executives and we’d get to to talking. ‘When your career is over, you should get into oil and gas.’ That sort of thing. When the time came, then, I thought it’d be a pretty simple transition because I knew a handful of guys in the business.
“Just move from one career to the next. Simple, right?
“Didn’t work out that way. All the ‘friends’ I thought I’d made while I was golfing weren’t friends at all, but contacts. It was lip-service. A rude awakening for me.
“I came to the realization that nothing was going to be handed to me.”
One day over breakfast, friend and sports radio talk-show host Robb Kerr suggested Krahn should join the Calgary Flames’ alumni group.
“Well, I thought that was reserved for players who actually played in the National Hockey League,” Krahn admits. “I mean, I’d played one period.
“He told me: ‘No, talk to Joel Otto, talk to Colin Patterson. Even if you played one game, one period, it’s open to you.’ So I took him up on that.”
Through the alumni connection, Brent Gogel and Archie Henderson suggested the possibility of Krahn going to work on the oil rigs. Former Flames winger Ron Stern then reached out, asking if Krahn wouldn’t mind working a service rig rather than a drilling rig.
“I had no idea what the difference was between the two,” he confesses, “so I thought: ‘Sure. Why not? Let’s go.’
“So they hired me on at Precision Drilling, I went for my orientation, got all my tickets and drove up to Red Deer, where the rig manager picked me up.
“I’ll never forget it – We’re driving in this big pick-up truck, lift kit, all that stuff, he looks at me and says: ‘The standards are pretty low. You just have to make it past 36 hours. That’s how long the last guy lasted. So if you go more than 36 hours, you won’t be the worst roughneck we’ve ever had.’
“We get to Rocky Mountain House, he dumps me off at the hotel and there’s a western-Chinese buffet there. I go in that night to grab a bite to eat and literally the lady at the counter shakes her head and tells me: ‘Just take off the top. Don’t grab the bottom.’
“Oh great, I’m going to be sick first day on the job …
“I remember being up at 5 o’clock that morning, hopping in the truck with the guys, the smell of diesel. It was cold, January. We drove 45 minutes to the site.
“I ended up doing that for three, four months.”
On a 21-days-work/six off rotation.
As fate would have it, Ron Stern then moving to Denver to head up U.S. sales for Precision, opened up a position here.
Krahn filled the sales rep job.
“At first, I had no idea what I was going to do. I was pushed out of hockey. Yes, I had a big signing bonus but that basically kept me going for 10 years in the minors. But I couldn’t retire off it.
“The actual first job I had after hockey was working in a buddy’s warehouse on a forklift. Just to get out and do something.”
Among the most personable in-town hockey personalities, naturally, Krahn has worked in the media, too, doing radio talk show work for different spells on The Fan 960.
“I love it,” he says. “I still go on periodically, when they need someone.
“I have a blast. You know me, I like to talk. Just going back and forth with the guys in the studio or on the air, on the phone is like being in the dressing room sometimes. Especially if you’re having a bad day. You don’t get a break. People are always on top of you, whether they’re giving you a hard time or making jokes at your expense, bringing you out of whatever funk you’re in.
“Being on the morning show has always been a lot of fun, bantering back and forth. There are times I’ve had to catch myself, though, because it’s like being on a bar stool across from someone, BSing, and the language could be a little much. You’ve got to keep it clean. But I do enjoy myself a ton.”
That gift of the gab, that natural ease of conversation, wasn’t readily apparent at the rink during Krahn’s early days pro.
“It takes awhile to be comfortable with it. I was so focused on just hockey, had a young family at the time. Married at 23, first kid at 24, second kid right away.
“Yes, I got along with my teammates and I was easy-going but I didn’t have this jovial sense of humour until, oh, 26 or so, after I’d grown up a little, after I moved out of the Flames organization and into the Dallas organization. In Austin, it slowly started to come; felt natural.
“I’d always been trying too hard, wanting the veterans to like me, the coaches. I kept quiet; to myself.
“But at the end of the day, all that matters is if you stop the puck or not.
“So guys that I played with back then see me today and go ‘You’re a different guy now …’
“I mean, I didn’t change, exactly. ‘Change’ would be too strong a word.”
Some things, like some people, just never change. Such as the eternal rink ritual of a cup of java, no matter how late a fella became indoctrinated to its murky charms.
“Well, you could probably replace the water in Gull Lake with the amount of coffee I’ve drunk during my career since I started back that day in Providence, ” jokes Krahn.
Next April will mark his nine-year anniversary at Precision.
“I love my job because of the people I interact with. Ron Stern and Paul Kruse and I talk about this: It’s not close to hockey, you don’t get the rushes, the highs and the lows, but selling something, earning the job, earning someone’s trust, is what I have to compare now with winning a game or making a save.
“There is that competitiveness that lives in sales.
“The fact that’s in the oil-patch which is so prolific in the province of Alberta and has done a lot of great things for the country makes that even better.”