Layten Liffrig could’ve found it easy to hang his head and feel sorry for himself.
That’s not the way the former Mankato East standout hockey player operates, though.
When Liffrig was released by the Minnesota Magicians of the North American Hockey League two weeks ago, his initial thought was to reach out to Chris Ratzloff.
Ratzloff, the third-year head coach of the North American 3 Hockey League’s Rochester Grizzlies was more than happy to take Liffrig’s call. And to hear conviction, not resignation, in Liffrig’s voice.
“There has been none of that,” Ratzloff said. “Absolutely he understood right away that he’s here for a purpose and it’s going to be up to him how long he’s here, I think.
“He just said ‘hey, I just want to play’ and frankly that’s the hardest thing for a player in that situation to say sometimes. But good for him to recognize that he wants this and he wants to be here and play here.”
Liffrig hasn’t been with the Grizzlies long, but if he continues to put forth the effort he’s shown through two weeks of practice and two games in a Rochester uniform, Ratzloff is correct, Liffrig won’t be here long. He’ll be back in the NAHL.
“You have to come in and work hard every day, prove yourself,” Liffrig said. “It doesn’t matter what level you’re at, you have to work and hopefully get better every day.
“It’s a great organization and I’ve loved to be here so far, loved everything about it -- the coaches, the players, everything. … You can’t come in with a negative attitude if you expect to move back up again. You have to work hard to improve.”
Liffrig is a natural scorer, something that he showed in his first two games in a Grizzlies sweater. He had a goal and three assists in his Rochester debut last Friday, a 9-1 Grizzlies win against St. Louis.
The next night he added a goal and two assists in a 5-1 win, giving him seven points in his first two NA3HL games. That strong weekend, playing on a line with high-scoring Connor Mahony and Austin Meers, helped Liffrig earn NA3HL Central Division First Star of the Week honors.
“I have to play a lot faster and a lot more body, more physical,” Liffrig said of the areas of his game he hopes to improve upon while in Rochester. “(Junior hockey) is a way heavier game and I need to work on those things.”
Ratzloff said it only took Liffrig about two or three practices to become 100 percent comfortable with what he is being asked to do with the Grizzlies -- not only be a scorer and point producer, but play a heavier game.
“Coming here, it’s not just about developing, it’s about getting confidence in your game,” Ratzloff said of Liffrig, who had 25 goals and 59 points in just 18 games last year as as senior at Mankato East.
And on the heels of a seven-point weekend, Rochester’s coaches were pleased with the effort and energy Liffrig brought to practice this week, especially early in the week.
“Mondays are our hard days where we compete hard and every drill, everything we do, is physical,” Ratzloff said. “I told Layten on Monday, ‘these are your days. You need to be good on these days because that’s what you want to improve on.’
“He knew Monday would be a tough day and … by halfway through the practice he was into it. He was checking bodies, hitting guys, battling. That’s great to see because he knows he needs to add that to his game. The quicker he does, the quicker he’s out of here.”
An added layer of physicality shown consistently in his game could make it difficult for NAHL coaches to leave Liffrig at the NA3 level. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound center/wing already knows how to score. He finished his high school career with 91 goals and 100 assists in four seasons. Last weekend, his line combined for six goals and 16 total points in two games.
“Everybody here competes,” he said. “You have to work hard every day to prove yourself. I just want to play the game the right way and hopefully move back up (to the NAHL) as quickly as I can.”