July 13, 2013

Chris Kontos

Chris Kontos was a well travelled 12-year pro hockey player. He spent parts of eight seasons in the NHL, parts of five seasons in Europe and two stints with the Canadian National Team.

But he will always be remembered for the spring of 1989.

Kontos began his road to the NHL with the OHL's Sudbury Wolves and Toronto Marlboros. His 42-goal, 104-point season in 1981-82 prompted the New York Rangers to select him 15th overall in the 1982 Entry Draft.

Despite his lofty draft selection, Kontos struggled to achieve even a regular role in the NHL. He spent parts of five seasons in the Rangers organization, splitting his playing time between the parent club, the Tulsa Oilers of the CHL, the New Haven Nighthawks of the AHL, and Ilves Tampere of the Finish Elite League. He scored just 12 goals and 16 assists in 78 games over those 5 years before being traded to Pittsburgh for veteran Ron Duguay. By this point and time Kontos had already been all but dismissed as yet another first round draft bust.

Things didn't change much in Pittsburgh either. He collected 25 points in 67 games over parts of two seasons with the Penguins before a trade took Chris to the west coast and the Los Angeles Kings.

Chris' career finally started to take off in Los Angeles. After initially reporting to the Kings farm team in New Haven where he exploded for 8 goals and 16 assists in just 16 games, Chris was called up to the Kings late in the season where he continued his explosive play. He finished the season with 6 games in the NHL, scoring 2 goals and 10 assists for 12 points. He added 1 goal in 4 playoff games while showing some late season magic with Wayne Gretzky.

Kontos made a name for himself during the 1989 post-season. After playing the majority of the year with EHC Kloten in Switzerland after a contract dispute, Chris re-joined Los Angeles and put on a goal-scoring clinic in the ’89 playoffs as he notched nine goals - 6 on the power play - in 11 post-season games as Wayne Gretzky's favorite target! He basically came out of nowhere to become the talk of the entire National Hockey League!

Kontos remembers his playoff run.

"Once you get into a mode when you score, you just know you are going to get out there and score," Kontos said. "The net looks like a soccer goal and everything slows down and it such a nice feeling. But it is so tough to keep that feeling all the time."

"I cherish the fact that I was in the limelight for quite a while and I was being recognized for something that was positive and was good and no matter what, nobody will ever be able to take it away from me and a lot of people remember it. I am always thankful of that. It was a time to shine and it was fortunate I did what I did."

After that incredible run it was thought that Chris had finally blossomed and even higher expectations were placed upon him. However things didn't work out well for Chris. Injuries shortened his 1989-90 season, most of which was spent back in the minors. He only played 6 games with the Kings that year, plus 5 more in the playoffs.

Chris was released by the Kings following the season, and signed with the Phoenix Roadrunners of the IHL for the 1990-91 campaign and the Canadian National Team for the 1991-92 season.

Kontos signed as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Lightning for their inaugural season in 1992-93 and he set career-highs that year with 27 goals, 24 assists and 51 points in 66 games. But a closer look shows that Kontos was on another hot streak at the beginning of the season. He scored 4 goals in the Bolts first ever game! He went on to score the majority of his 27 goals in the first 25 or 30 games, and finished the year quietly.

Kontos found himself in another contract dispute following that season. He was offered a two-year contract for $450,000 by the Bolts in 1993. He turns it down, as he felt he was worth more. He exercised an escape clause in his contract to become a restricted free agent in order to get more money. However there was no takers interested in the one dimensional, streaky power play expert, at least not at his asking price.

Kontos played the 1993-94 season with Canada's national and Olympic teams, helping Canada win the 1994 Olympic silver medal. He later spent a year in Sweden, two years in the International League (with the Florida Panthers organization) and one year in Germany before getting into television. He never played another game in the NHL or came close to earning the money the Lightning offered him.

Kontos retired with 54 goals and 123 points in 230 regular season NHL games. Chris also added 11 goals in 20 playoff contests. He will be best remembered for his two streaky scoring displays - in the 1989 playoffs along side Wayne Gretzky and the beginning of the 1992 season with the Lightning. However he will also be remembered as a first round bust who received bad advice from his agent to hold out after each hot streak.

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