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Croxton Flies with Falcons as AHL Rookie

RPI Star Gets Assist in Springfield Debut

By Dan Farrand

Albany Times Union, April 6, 2006

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - Kevin Croxton was waiting. His anticipation grew, his body tensed, but the moment passed in silence.

"That was the weirdest part," Croxton said after making his pro debut with the American Hockey League's Springfield Falcons last Friday against the Hartford Wolf Pack at Mass Mutual Center. "Not the uniform or the number, but during the anthem, and not hearing the 'Red' from the crowd was strange."

That was Croxton's wake-up call. That and taking a hard check that left him sprawled out on the ice from Wolf Pack defenseman Dale Purinton on his first AHL shift in the Falcons' 9-3 loss.

"It hurt," the Calgary, Alberta, native said. "There's more selective hitting at this level. Guys don't hit as much, but when they do it hurts."

Croxton said that early in the game, he was just trying to stay out of his own way, but he found his groove when he notched his first career point with an assist on Dan Cavanaugh's goal in the second period.

Croxton created the scoring opportunity by breaking out of his own zone, taking a pass from teammate Zbynek Hrdel at the center face-off circle, drawing both defenders as he crossed the blue line, and dropping a pass to a trailing Cavanaugh who beat Wolf Pack goaltender Robert Gherson on a shot that deflected off a Hartford defenseman.

Croxton, who led RPI with 15 goals and 25 assists in 31 games this season, called it a "garbage assist."

Claude Loiselle, assistant general manager of Springfield's parent club, the Tampa Bay Lightning, didn't see it that way.

"Just from that little play there, you could see his talent," said Loiselle, who signed Croxton to an amateur tryout contract on March 24. "He saw we had control of the puck; he broke to open ice and got the puck on his backhand."

Loiselle - a former Adirondack Red Wing - said Croxton's intelligence, hands, speed, and play-making ability piqued Tampa Bay's interest.

Loiselle was thrilled to see Croxton get on the board early.

"It's terrific, especially at this level," Loiselle said. "The next step is the National Hockey League; you're playing with a lot of good players out there, so getting a quick point can aide a player's confidence."

While Croxton appears to be taking to the professional game on the ice, he is suffering a tougher adjustment off it.

"It can get pretty boring," Croxton said. "Practices only go for about 30 to 45 minutes, an hour at the most, because we have so many games. It can be tough to really get your legs into it."

Croxton's former RPI teammates Kirk MacDonald, Brad Farynuk, Jonathan Ornelas, Jake Morissette and Mathias Lange made the trip to Springfield for last Friday's game.

Croxton's 149 games for the Engineers were the most in school history. His 86 assists leave him ranked 19th and his 143 career points place him 24th on the school's all-time list. His 15 goals and 15 assists in the 2002-03 season made him the first freshman to lead the Engineers in scoring since Joe Juneau in 1987-88.

The senior, despite leaving early, will also still graduate in May, having completed the core requirements for his management degree before this semester.

Croxton will remain with the Falcons until their season ends April 15 against the Portland Pirates. He will then become a free agent and be reevaluated by the Lightning organization.

Loiselle said Croxton could be one of about 30 players invited to the Lightning's rookie development and conditioning camp in Tampa sometime in mid-July. Meanwhile, Croxton is living his dream.

"It's unbelievable to play professional hockey," Croxton said. "Hopefully I can keep it going as long as possible."