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Defenseman Geoff Kinrade quickly earns spot with Tampa Bay Lightning

Geoff Kinrade played 17:32 for the Lightning less than three weeks after signing an amateur tryout contract with Norfolk.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Geoff Kinrade played 17:32 for the Lightning less than three weeks after signing an amateur tryout contract with Norfolk.

TAMPA — Geoff Kinrade said he took two shifts against Capitals star Alex Ovechkin.

"Stopped him on two rushes," the Lightning defenseman said. "But I made sure I gave him a lot of respect."

Talk about a dream scenario. On March 20, Kinrade, undrafted out of Michigan Tech, signed an amateur tryout contract with AHL Norfolk. Thursday, he signed an amateur tryout contract with the Lightning and made his NHL debut.

From college to eight games in the minors to the NHL in 20 days. Talk about a whirlwind.

"I try not to think about it," Kinrade said. "When it's all over this summer, I'll look back and see what happened."

What happened is Kinrade, the 50th Lightning player to suit up this season, including an NHL-record 22 defensemen, got 17:32 of ice time, blocked two shots and had a hit and a shot.

"He wasn't that bad," coach Rick Tocchet said. "He moved the puck. He was pretty mobile. I'm kind of proud of him. That's a very hard position that he did, and I think he passed the grade for us. He did a good job."

How did Kinrade, 23, get on such a fast track?

Blame the injury bug.

With Matt Lashoff the latest defenseman on the shelf, with a lower body injury sustained Tuesday against the Penguins, and David Koci moving back to forward because of Ryan Malone's broken right hand, the Lightning filled the two blue-line spots with Kevin Quick, also up from Norfolk, and Kinrade.

Why Kinrade? Ty Wishart is away from the team on personal business, Ds Brent Henley and Scott Jackson are hurt, and Mike Lundin would have to clear waivers, a chance Tampa Bay did not want to take.

And Kinrade, 6 feet, 207 pounds from Nelson, British Columbia, played well for Norfolk with a goal, four points and a plus-3. He had 14 goals and 61 points in 150 games for Michigan Tech.

"His skating is good, and he turns and tracks the puck well," Norfolk GM Mike Butters said. "He's smart. He's not afraid to jump into the play."

As per NHL rules, Kinrade's contract is for one game. The Lightning will wait before making decisions about Saturday's season finale in Atlanta.

Contract minutia: Why not sign Kinrade to a longer-term deal? Signing the Canadian to an NHL contract would mean securing a work visa, which takes two weeks, assistant GM Claude Loiselle said.

Koharski's last stand: Don Koharski refereed his final game, ending a 32-year career in which he worked 2,139 games, including playoffs and 163 as a linesman.

He said he is tired of the travel and will transition to a position under head of NHL officiating Stephen Walkom training and mentoring younger referees.

His best advice?

"Short memory, good sense of humor and a thick skin."

Koharski, 53, who lives in Dade City, said he had 120 family and friends at the game. He probably is best known for a 1988 incident in which Devils coach Jim Schoenfeld, whom Koharski now regards as a friend, yelled at the then-admittedly overweight ref to "have another doughnut."

"It's going to be tough," Koharski said of leaving the ice. "It's been my life."

Odds and ends: Tampa Bay, 3-10-2 with a tie, has lost eight straight home finales. … Marty St. Louis' assist gave him 50 and 80 points. … The Lightning had 11 players sidelined by injury.

Defenseman Geoff Kinrade quickly earns spot with Tampa Bay Lightning 04/09/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 10, 2009 6:50am]
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