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Crunch's Koekkoek Focused on Having Long Playoff Run

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Slater Koekkoek isn't sitting around and waiting for his phone to ring.

Unable to be called up unless there are injuries to the Tampa Bay Lightning's defensive corps, the Crunch defenseman has embraced more of a leadership role with in Syracuse.

With six key North Division games remaining in the regular season, Koekkoek's main focus is taking the Crunch deep into the playoffs.

"Any time a guy comes down here, they're hoping it's not for long," Koekkoek said. "I'm not sitting here and pouting about it. I'm trying to make the most of it. I love the guys down here. We're working hard and hopefully go on a long playoff run."

Koekkoek was surprised and upset when he was sent down to Syracuse in October after making Tampa Bay out of training camp. The Lightning's 10th overall pick in 2012 has been called up a few times, but only for short stints.

Instead of sulking, Koekkoek has continued to work on his overall game.

"I don't think being disappointed is going to get you anywhere," the Winchester, Ontario native said. "Life's too short to be upset. I'm happy to be here with a great group of guys and just keep working hard so I can get back to the NHL."

Although the A has shifted multiple times due to injuries and call-ups, Koekkoek has been designated one of the team's alternate captains, which usually go to the veterans on AHL teams.

"I'm honored to wear it. (Cory Conacher) gets on me about stealing away his A," the third year pro said with a smile. "I just try and keep playing my game. I don't want it to change me by any means. Just keep playing hard, working hard and showing the younger guys what it takes to play here and get to the playoffs."

Koekkoek has two goals and 11 assists in 43 games this season, and 55 points in 178 total AHL games. Over the past three years, the 6-2, 198-pounder has five assists in 41 career games with the Lightning.

For Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx, some of Koekkoek's best assets are his skating and how he plays with composure, but also how he sets a good example with his effort.

"What I notice about Slater is that he's here and he's not only helping the young guys, but he wants to get better as well," Groulx said. "He wants to play in the NHL and he's working at this every day. He's logging a lot of minutes for us. For us, he's been a leader out there and (I'm) very happy with him."

With the chance of an NHL recall looking slim this late in the season, Koekkoek is determined to take the Crunch on a long playoff run.

"That's what I'm here for," Koekkoek said. "We have a solid group of guys here, and I think we can do some damage in the playoffs. We've got six games left here. We've got to bear down and secure a spot. That's my main focus."

Pictured: Crunch defenseman Slater Koekkoek looks to make a pass against the Marlies at the Onondaga County War Memorial Friday.