Back in the fall, Curtis Valk had a plan – to make the Utica Comets' final cut.
60-plus games later, the diminutive forward is enjoying his most productive of three professional seasons.
Grit and determination remain key ingredients to Valk's success.
Q: Last season you skated in one dozen games for the Comets. This year, you're at 60-plus games. What's the reason for the turnaround?
A: That was my goal this year, to not only stick with the Comets but make a significant contribution. I was coming off of an injury.
Q: Heading into this past weekend, you had missed only one game. Were you injured or a healthy scratch?
A: Healthy scratch. That came early in the season. I think it came in the third game of the season, or so. I've been lucky not to have missed being in the line-up. I am healthy and have a lot of confidence.
Q: Back in training camp, could you have foreseen the offensive success you have been enjoying all season long?
A: I have a lot of confidence in what I do. I've been a scorer at every level that I've played. If I'm not (scoring), then I'm not helping the team.
Q: The knee injury you experienced two years ago must have rocked your confidence somewhat?
A: It felt like forever until I could play again. I missed hockey for 11 months. It's never easy sitting out. All I thought about was getting healthy and then being called up to Utica. (In January 2015 while skating for the Kalamazoo Wings, then the Vancouver Canucks' ECHL affiliate, Valk suffered a knee-to-knee collision/injury. Prior to surgery, Valk was leading the Wings in points; averaging one per game.)
Q: Does the success you're having this season seem sweeter, since you overcame the injury?
A: I play the same way now, as when I hurt my knee. If I try to change my game, or think about getting hurt, then I probably would be injured again. I play my game the way I have always – hard. I'm a little guy (5'9" 170 lbs.). You just have to keep believing in yourself.
Q: Is there anyone who you look to in hockey as a role model?
A: Tyler Ennis (center-Buffalo Sabres). I'm from Medicine Hat (Alberta), and Tyler played juniors there. I met him when I was 15-years-old. Tyler set the way for me to believe that I can play at the highest level. He plays so hard and is so skilled. (Ennis is 5'9 160lbs.)
Q: Fantasy time. If you center a line with any player who ever played the game, who are you on the ice with?
A: Sidney Crosby and Wayne Gretzky. They are the two best ever in hockey.
Q: When you are home in the off-season, what do you brag to locals about Utica?
A: Food. There are good restaurants everywhere. When I first came here (Utica), I was living in a hotel. I got out and found many places to try.
Q: If you were reading a scouting report on your game, what do you see?
A: Smaller, skilled forward with a lot of tenacity in his game. I'm an intelligent player and I think my way around the ice. That's what makes me successful.
Interview conducted by Don Laible