After a career that has taken him to seven games of a Stanley Cup final series, victory in the Calder Cup and a tour around several of Europe’s biggest leagues, a 40-year-old hockey player could be forgiven for feeling he had seen it, done it, and got the medals to prove it.
But as Jason Krog, the Rouen Dragons’ Canadian forward, prepares for this week’s 2016 IIHF Continental Cup Final, the old excitement is still there. A game-winning goal in the final of the French Cup at the renewed Bercy arena in Paris in front of over 10,000 fans, snapping a 2-2 tie deep in the third period, added more hardware to the collection. Now he’s looking forward to a chance to add to that this weekend, just days after sinking Grenoble.
“I’m still competitive, I love the game,” Krog said after the cup final. “My body still feels good, hopefully, and if I’m having fun I’m going to do it. If I still have the urge to play and if I still want it, I’ll keep going. I’m taking it year by year and we’ll just see. It could be that this is my last year, who knows?”
Rouen is bidding to bring four trophies to Normandy this season – in addition to the cup win and the European challenge, the Dragons have a French League Cup final against Gap in Meribel on 16 February and are handily placed for the Ligue Magnus play-offs. But this weekend’s Continental Cup is the top priority.
“The Continental Cup is another chance to win something for the club, but more than that we’re representing French hockey,” Krog said. “That’s a big deal. We had a tough grind to get to the finals when we played teams from Belarus, Poland and Ukraine, so we know the Polish team [GKS Tychy] is really good. You see good hockey from Denmark in the World Juniors and World Championship so I’m sure the Herning Blue Fox will be tough. And we’ve got Asiago from Italy, who are usually pretty solid as well so it’ll be a good challenge.”
Three games in three days against strong European opposition is a tough ask, but Rouen will once again enjoy home advantage, just as in the previous group stage. And the home fans are loud and proud. Decked out in their team’s yellow colours, many covered in shiny golden tinsel as the New Year party merged into the cup final celebration, they turn the Ile Lacroix rink into a passionate hockey outpost in Normandy.
That’s a big boost for the team, as is the experience of Krog and several other veterans on the Rouen roster. Experienced French internationals Sacha and Yorick Treille joined the club in the summer, while Krog’s fellow Canadian imports Joel Perrault and goalie Dany Sabourin bring a touch of NHL experience to the team.
“Aside from myself there’s a good group of veterans here,” Krog added. “In North America we were used to playing three in three quite often, so we know it’s about managing our bodies, about nutrition. The biggest thing is the mental grind to get up for each game but I think we have good energy in our locker room and the coach will do a good job of getting us rested after Tuesday’s game against Strasbourg.”
Goalie Sabourin, once of the Pittsburgh Penguins, has a reputation for raising his game on the big occasion. In the previous stage of the Continental Cup he put up 94.1% over three games and in Sunday’s French Cup final he was impressive as Grenoble threatened to come back in the second period.
“Our goalie played huge on the night,” Krog said “Dany’s been great for us and it seems like the bigger the game the better he plays. We’ve got a lot of guys on our team who seem to step up when the game’s important. That’s a good sign and hopefully it carries on.”
Krog is in his first season in France after a career that saw him play on Anaheim’s 2003 Stanley Cup Final roster and win the Calder Cup with the Chicago Wolves in 2008. He’s also sampled life at Austrian, Swiss, Finnish and KHL clubs, but is impressed with what he’s seen of French hockey and is looking forward to even more in the future.
“It’s a solid level here,” he said. “You can see the way they’ve played in things like the Continental Cup and how France does in the Worlds. They have some solid players, they’re putting guys into North America and other big European leagues.
“I think 2017 will be great for France. [Hosting the World Championship] will put them on the map, not just in terms of international exposure but also more interest here in France. We’ve got a beautiful stadium here in Paris, and in this league there should be a Paris team as well as teams from the other big cities.”
He and his family are also enjoying a bit of joie de vivre as they settle into life in Rouen.
“We’re brushing up on our French, we have an apartment in a nice are of Rouen,” Krog said. “It’s great to get out and walk around the city. There are some beautiful restaurants, nice cathedrals, the whole thing. We’ve done some travelling around Normandy and Paris and so on which has been great. It’s a fantastic learning experience and we’re just trying to take it all in.”