A Shot at NHL : It's Up, Down, Down for 2 Ex-College Stars

Associated Press

The professional hockey career of Gino Cavallini has been up and down. Dan Kane's has been down, down, down.

It has been nearly a year since they briefly stole the hockey spotlight. With the fourth overtime period winding down in the early morning of last March 25, Kane's pass left Cavallini alone to score against Minnesota-Duluth, ending the longest hockey playoff game in NCAA history and giving Bowling Green its first-ever Division I hockey title.

A pair of free agents, Kane and Cavallini capitalized on their instant fame and signed with the Calgary Flames rather than complete their college educations.

"It was our steppingstone to the pros because we got such great exposure," Cavallini recalled. "I was ready for a step up. My best chance of ever making the professional ranks was on that team last year. I left college having in my mind that I was going to make it, and I have to live with the decision."

Cavallini sparkled in training camp last fall, but he and Kane were shipped to Moncton of the American Hockey League to gain experience. As linemates and roommates, it seemed like old times--for a while.

"It was very helpful," said Kane, a 5-foot 11-inch, 170-pound center from Clinton, N.Y. "We got to talk a lot about what we'd been through the last couple of years and the changes we went through. It was nice having somebody there.

"Sometimes it was more difficult for me because Gino played all the time and I never played, and it was just the opposite when we were at school. It was hard to come off a team where I was a so-called star (Kane led Bowling Green in scoring last year) and then to turn around and become just an average player."

Kane, Bowling Green's leading scorer his final year, played in 32 games for Moncton, but after the first 12 games only skated two or three shifts a night.

"I guess they felt they had given me my chance early in those games," said Kane, whose father played for the Clinton Comets of the old Eastern Hockey League. "I hadn't been putting the puck in the net, so from that point on they decided to let me watch."

"He had a great career at Bowling Green, but he wasn't doing the job, and he was given every opportunity," Calgary Coach Bob Johnson said. "The guys that are doing the job are rewarded, and Cavallini was the one."

While Kane was sitting, Cavallini was scoring. When Calgary called him up in mid-January, Cavallini, a 6-1, 215-pound left wing, was tied for the AHL lead in goals with 27. But although he notched an assist on his first shift with the Flames, in the next 11 games Cavallini was relatively unproductive. Eventually, he was shipped back to Moncton.

"I had a taste of the NHL and I knew what it was all about, what to work for," Cavallini said. "It was more reassuring when they sent me down the second time because I knew I'd be back soon."

With injuries rampant in the NHL this season, Cavallini was recalled in early February after only six games at Moncton. Skating a regular shift, he had a modest two goals and two assists after 17 games with Calgary.

"I feel good, but there's still a lot of injuries," he said. "If I'm still playing once everybody's healthy, then I'll know I've made it."

Meanwhile, Kane is suffering through his worst statistical year in hockey and is playing in places like Peoria, wondering if his career will end in the minor leagues. A demotion to the International Hockey League can have that effect.

"I was rather confused when it first happened," said Kane, who was sent to cellar-dwelling Milwaukee early in January. "I didn't know why. Why would you want to trade a young guy who maybe got off to a slow start?

"But after a few days my friends and family thought it was for the best, and after I got here I think it's for the best, too. I can kind of see more light at the end of the tunnel. I can see more of a chance here for me."

Playing at a lower level can easily dash any glimmer of hope for a young player. But Kane's recollection of that fantastic finish last spring -- when Cavallini's sudden goal made the Falcons champions -- is his secret weapon against the drudgery that accompanies life in the minors.

"A lot of times right now that's what keeps me going," said Kane, who has scored 11 goals and added 16 assists in his first 32 games for Milwaukee. "When I'm down in the dumps I look back on my college days, and it kind of keeps me going.

"I've got a lot of things hanging over my head right now, and I'm sure it's affecting my play. But, hey, this a business, they don't care about personal feelings. . . .

"My father's been all through it. My family's been through it. I'm not going to be like my father and play for 15 years in the minors. I can guarantee that."

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