February 06, 2012 1:23 PM
He wasn’t sure when the opportunity would arise, but now that it’s here, Sean Dolan is making the most of it.
There are no indications that Dolan, a rookie center now 13 games into the professional tryout contract he signed with the Checkers as an emergency replacement on Jan. 6, is about to leave the lineup anytime soon. Coach Jeff Daniels confirmed that on Monday, even after the Carolina Hurricanes’ reassignment of Riley Nash gave the team four other players who can and have played at his position this season.
That Daniels can say that with such certainty even after the emergency has long since subsided – the team has already sent veteran center Cedric McNicoll to the Florida Everblades to make room, with Chris Durno the only center still on the injury list – shows what kind of impact Dolan has made in a short amount of time since arriving from the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays.
“He deserves to be in the lineup,” said Daniels of Dolan, who has 5 points (2g, 3a) in his first set of AHL games. “He’s a big kid with a good skating stride that can win battles. He’s settled in a role now where he’s a big penalty killer for us and he’s chipped in few points too. He's been a big part of the success we've had in the last month."
Though he admits to the step up in the quality of leagues, Dolan’s rapid adjustment, combined with his blend of size (6-foot-3, 199 pounds) and surprisingly good speed to go with it makes one wonder why he wasn’t drafted by an NHL team – even as a late-round flier – or in the AHL to begin with. He certainly has the determination, as he chose the ECHL over opportunities to play in Europe following his four-year career at the University of Wisconsin in the hope that someone would take notice.
That plan seems to have worked.
“I knew I’d have an opportunity to get called up by any team, and that was my goal,” said Dolan, who had 20 points (7g, 13a) in 32 games to tie for the Stingrays’ scoring lead at the time of his departure. “My goal is to ultimately play in the NHL, and I wanted to stay here and work my way up one league at a time.
“The first half of the year I was working hard and doing extra stuff after practice to make sure I was ready for it if it happened. When it did, I was so excited I can’t really even explain it.”
It took just the right combination of circumstances to get to that point, with the Checkers missing Brett Sutter (NHL recall), Nash, Durno and McNicoll (injury) as they prepared to hit the road for games against Milwaukee and Chicago. Needing to find a player on short notice, Daniels began his usual process of making phone calls to agents.
“His was a name that kept coming up,” said Daniels of Dolan. “For us, it was the right place at the right time.”
Dolan, who will turn 24 on Saturday, certainly has experience playing with good players. A handful of his teammates at Wisconsin, a group that includes Hurricanes’ defenseman Jamie McBain as well as Derek Stepan, Craig Smith, Jake Gardiner, Ryan McDonagh and Kyle Turris, to name a few, already rank among the best young players in the NHL. When he went to the NCAA national championship game during his junior season of 2009-10, the team’s top six defensemen were all NHL prospects that had been drafted no later than the fourth round. Three of them – Gardiner, McDonagh and Detroit’s Brendan Smith, were first-round picks.
That made his team’s loss to Boston College all the more difficult to swallow, particularly now that he’s teammates with the goalie who beat him, another successful ECHL promotion by the name of John Muse.
Asked if he and Muse talk about that game, Dolan made an important distinction.
“I don’t talk about it,” he said.
Despite solidifying his spot at present, Dolan remains uncertain about what the future might hold. The Checkers have a few options, including signing him to another tryout agreement when his current deal expires after 25 games or signing him to a proper AHL contract that would prevent another team from doing it first.
Though he’s been complimentary of Dolan’s play from day one, Daniels wouldn’t hint which way he was leaning. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s discovered and signed a player under comparable conditions, with former Checkers captain Bryan Rodney going from a tryout contract with Albany to signing his fourth NHL contract with Anaheim last summer.
Dolan, who hopes to follow a similar path, doesn’t have any kind of inkling how this situation may play out. That makes things not much different than they were when he first joined the team last month.
“I still have to go in with that mentality that I have to be the hardest working guy on the ice every day,” he said. “I’m just trying to take it day by day to earn that spot. It’s been a great ride so far.”