After playing almost 400 professional games, Andrew Carroll decided it was time to start thinking about his future after hockey.
So he spent the past season away from the game and attended the University of Minnesota, where he received his master’s degree in sport performance and exercise science.
At the end of this summer, he put out some feelers for college coaching positions, but nothing panned out. So when first-year Idaho coach Neil Graham reached out to Carroll, he decided it was time to pull on a Steelheads sweater again.
Carroll, a 6-foot, 200-pound forward, has played alongside Graham and Idaho assistant Gord Baldwin, who is in his first year of coaching. Carroll said his relationship with the two coaches will allow him to watch them go about their business while he goes about his.
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“I talked to Neil a little bit about picking his brain,” Carroll said.
So, whether it’s an official title or not, Carroll will have the role of a player/coach for the Steelheads this season, which begins at 7:10 p.m. Friday at CenturyLink Arena against Rapid City.
Graham said Carroll — who at age 30 is the oldest player on the roster — has already been setting an example for younger players in training camp.
“His leadership in the room, I can’t speak enough about it,” Graham said. “It’s been awesome for some of these 20-year-olds to come in and see a veteran player like that doing things the right way. It’s going to be contagious.”
And as for the year away from the game?
“With most players, I might be a little worried,” Graham said. “But Andrew’s a no-brainer with his on-ice and off-ice work ethic. … He played in both exhibition games because I was trying to get him as many minutes as I could since he’s been off for so long.
“He stepped right in and looked like the Andrew Carroll from three years ago.”
And the Carroll from three years ago could be a force in the ECHL. Carroll, who has also played extensively in the AHL, was a key player for the Steelheads as they advanced to the Western Conference Finals in 2013. He had 31 points in 36 regular-season games and scored the game-winning goal in the series-clinching win over Colorado in the first round of the postseason.
Along the way, he provided leadership and grit.
“He’s a north-south player and he goes hard to the net,” Graham said. “He’s a tough, hard-nosed guy.”
Carroll said he takes pride in keeping his body in shape, but he admits he has some work ahead before he’s playing at his best.
“The timing wasn’t quite there in the two exhibition games,” he said. “Neil can say all he wants to make me feel good, but I was rusty, I’ll tell you that.”
In the two preseason wins against Utah, Carroll had an assist and a 1-plus rating.
Now he’s excited to see how productive he can be in the regular season.
“I don’t feel 30,” he said. “I miss the competition and opening weekend is huge, so maybe it will put a little fire back in the belly.”