Everything comes a little easier for Matt Lashoff these days.
The defenseman and East Greenbush native returned in January from a 2 1⁄2-year Eurasian Odyssey, in which he played in the top Swiss league, the top Swedish league and the top Russian league — the KHL.
He signed a contract with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the AHL affiliate of the New York Islanders, on Jan. 12. He has found it less a chore to do, well, chores. But his trip overseas also gave him a new perspective on his game and allowed him time to write more music — which helps his second career as a musician.
“It’s been weird after being over there. No matter how Americanized and English-speaking some of these cities are — and obviously, I was in the other extreme, too, being in Siberia in Russia — it was like a culture shock coming home,” Lashoff said. “Everything’s easy.
“You can go to the grocery store and you don’t have to look at your phone to figure out what exactly it is you’re buying. For me, I had to study up on my Russian every time I went to the grocery store, ask where things are, get directions. The first couple days [in Bridgeport], I was holed up in my apartment playing music, like I had done for the last couple years over there. Then I’m like, ‘Wait, I can go out. Things are easier than they were a couple weeks ago.’ It’s a very unique experience. It’s a huge life experience when you realize how good things are, and you don’t take things for granted anymore.”
Lashoff was a first-round draft pick in 2005, picked 22nd overall by the Boston Bruins. He played 12 games with Boston in his first full season as a pro and has played 74 games in the NHL between the Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs. In those games, he has a goal, 15 assists, 59 penalty minutes and a minus-15 defensive rating. Including the nine games he’s played with Bridgeport this season, in 321 AHL games, he has 43 goals, 112 assists, 445 penalty minutes and a minus-5 rating. He also has 23 AHL postseason games under his belt (0-8-8, 20 PIM, minus-3).
He was with the Toronto Marlies in the 2011-12 season when he blew out his knee and required surgery. He got back in time for their playoff run to the Calder Cup finals.
At the end of that run, Lashoff was looking forward to unrestricted free agency, as any player does, with the chance to shop himself around for the best contract or best chance at getting back to the NHL. Then the NHL lockout hit, and he was left with the decision of signing an AHL deal somewhere (and those were harder to find with AHL teams swamped with some of their parent clubs’ young talent), waiting until the lockout ended to sign a two-way NHL deal or going overseas to play right away.
He opted for right away, and got a deal with Zurich in the Switzerland National League A, coached by Marc Crawford, who coached the Colorado Avalanche to a Stanley Cup win in 1996 and spent 15 seasons as an NHL head coach.
Lashoff said Crawford works his players hard, so he wasn’t always his favorite person, but he was a good coach who helped Lashoff see the game from different angles.
“If I ever end up coaching, or even now, I can relate back to that,” Lashoff said. “I’m not saying he was screaming at me every single day, it was the way he approached certain situations and the way he pushed me in a way that wasn’t always just yelling. It may have been looking at a certain situation a different way or not saying it the same way every other guy has said it. For me, that different perspective has been huge, and something I’ve been able to take and use to help other guys out.”
Lashoff played the 2013-14 season with Leksands IF of the Swedish Hockey League. Then he started this season in the KHL with Novokuznetsk Metallurg in Siberia.
Joining the KHL was a tough choice for Lashoff, who left behind his wife, 3-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter for what he expected to be nine months. But KHL contracts had been lucrative. First, he tried training camp with the Montreal Canadiens, but that didn’t work out, and he took a deal in the KHL over a return to the minors.
The team didn’t turn out to be a good fit for Lashoff, though, and the Russian economy taking a turn for the worse wasn’t encouraging, so talks aimed at bringing him back to the States began.
“I started looking, and I was lucky enough to get this deal back home with a team that’s close to home,” he said. “They’re looking to give me a good opportunity with a great organization that’s close to home, and it looks like they’re going to give me the opportunity to keep pushing forward.”
He came from a team at or near the bottom of the standings in Russia to Bridgeport, a team at the bottom of the Eastern Conference in the AHL, 14 points out of the last playoff spot with 23 games to play. However, the 28-year-old sees it as a chance to share his experience from home and abroad with a young team and see if they can make a late push.
“I’ve taken it as my role as an older guy to teach these young guys some things, keep working on my game, and keeping in mind the end goal, which is always to get back to the NHL,” he said. “For me, it’s about the process now. Our team is struggling a little bit right now, and guys are tending to get a little bit frustrated and not have the most positive of emotions coming into the rink, so that’s a good test for the older guys, to be able to keep the guys on the straight and narrow, get our team to turn this around.”