Blay: Sens’ prospect Darren Kramer a complete package of brain, brawn, leadership and skill

By: Jeff Blay, Executive Editor
@JeffBlay

Spokane Chiefs captain Darren Kramer skates out of the defensive zone in Game 6 of the second-round playoff series against Tri-City. (Gary Peterson)

Darren Kramer’s journey in hockey is a perfect microcosm for the journey his major junior team, the Spokane Chiefs, embarked on this season. With a roster lined primarily with younger players, the fact the Chiefs made it so deep into the second round of the Western League (WHL) playoffs is something not many would have predicted. Nonetheless, with great determination, work ethic and will to succeed, the team certainly earned all the good things that came its way.

Despite being eliminated from the playoffs Wednesday night, dropping a close 3-2 decision to the Tri-City Americans after forcing the series to Game 7, the Chiefs played an exceptional season of hockey and will surely be raring to pick up where they left of in 2012-13.

As for Kramer, who was playing tier two Jr. A hockey for the Grande Prairie Storm just two seasons ago, that same determination, work ethic and will to succeed not only earned him a spot in Spokane last year, but also got him drafted into the NHL. Not to mention, he was named captain of the Chiefs this season as an overaged sophomore – a hefty progression since his days in the AJHL.

“I’ve come a long way,” Kramer told CoincidentalMinors.com. “I look back to when I was 17 and I literally fought and struggled to get a spot on the Jr. A team, then a couple years later I end up in Spokane – a place I had never even heard of until I was listed by the team.

“It’s been real rollercoaster but a great journey at the same time.”

Since gathering 531 penalty minutes over two seasons (2008-2010) with Grande Prairie, a team he also captained, Kramer entered the WHL in a similar role and notched a league-leading 306 penalty minutes and 46 fighting majors along with 14 points in his first season. That caught the attention of NHL scouts and come summer 2011, Kramer was selected by the Ottawa Senators in the sixth round of the NHL Draft.

While the Sens were certainly attracted to Kramer’s physical play, the organization asked him to tone it down in 2011-12, and expressed they viewed Kramer as much more than merely a fighter. With that tidbit of advice in mind in addition to his new role as Chiefs’ captain, Kramer notched 22 goals and 40 points in 71 games, also reducing his penalty minutes to 200 – all the while leading Spokane to a playoff birth.

In his first WHL season, Kramer thrived in the playoffs notching five goals and three assists, and the 6-foot-2, 210-pound native of Peace River, Alta., added another six points to his playoff repertoire through 12 games in 2012. He also played a key role in leading his younger teammates through the playoff pressures.

While it would have been ideal to win Game 7 and make a push for the Western Conference Final, Kramer is still happy with the Chiefs’ season and was impressed with his team’s never-give-up mentality as well as their ability to deal with adversity.

“We were down two games in the first series [against the Vancouver Giants] and a lot of teams tend to shut it down after that, but we kept working hard and we came back and won it,” he reflected. “We face adversity very well; we lost one of our key guys and scoring leaders, Brenden Kichton, with a broken jaw, but other guys have stepped up and it’s a chance for some of the younger guys to show what they can do and they’ve filled the roles very well.”

Kramer used Spokane’s playoff scoring leader and linemate Mike Aviani, who finished the post-season with 16 points (11 coming in the first round against Vancouver) as an example.

“Even with Brendan Gallagher and some of the big names on Vancouver, of all the guys who have played well for us this year, Mikey was the best guy in that series,” Kramer said. “He was a momentum changer, he always has your back, he’s full of skill but full of toughness as well.”

(Aviani also made our list of outstanding CHL playoff performers through the first two rounds.)

Under Kramer’s leadership, the young Chiefs team managed to stay on an even keel and refrain from panic even when trailing in a series.

“Something the older guys preached in the dressing room was never to get too high or too low in the playoffs,” he said. “We play Chief hockey and that’s a physical game, wearing teams down.”

(You can bet that, after a grueling seven-game series, the Tri-City Americans will be rather worn down as they head into the Conference Final against the Portland Winterhawks.)

Amidst Spokane’s playoff run, the Ottawa Senators began a post-season battle of their own against the top-seeded New York Rangers – a series that’s currently tied 2-2. Although Kramer hasn’t been able to catch every game, he still follows the team very closely and has enjoyed watching them excel this season.

“They’re in the rebuilding stage as well, so it’s always nice to see the team that drafted you succeed,” Kramer said of the Sens. “It’s going to be a tough first round for them, but I know the whole city of Ottawa is going to be behind them, so it will definitely be an interesting first round.”

Now finished his final season of major junior eligibility, Kramer will have a chance to follow the Sens through the remainder of the post-season and will attend his second NHL training camp with the club this fall.

Kramer’s inventive side…

While competitive hockey is certainly time consuming, Kramer still finds time to focus on his entrepreneurial endeavors. He’s currently waiting on a patent for an invention he first came up with during his time in the AJHL – a peanut butter jar that screws off at the middle in order to provide easy access to the remaining product at the bottom.

“I’m a guy who liked to eat peanut butter – usually on a bagel – in the dressing room before games and when I kept getting peanut butter all over my hands, the idea just came to mind one day,” Kramer explained.

Although he has yet to get an offer on his invention, Kramer has received some exposure from his video on YouTube (nearly 50,000 views) in addition to connecting with another athlete who came up with a similar idea – Jonas Lalehzadeh, a former NCAA Div. I basketball player for the University of California (UC), Irvine.

Together, the pair of hopes to further promote the jar and one day attract a corporate buyer, although it’s still a work in progress.

“We’re not looking too far ahead because that’s where you go wrong as a company, so we’re just taking it step by step,” Kramer said. “Down the road, we’re obviously wanting to sell the idea to a larger corporation and benefit from that.”

Darren Kramer’s Innovative Jar

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