Philip Zielonka's timely arrival with the Coquitlam Express coincided with an exodus of sorts.
After just a couple of games as a member of the B.C.
Hockey League, the 19-yearold winger from Montreal saw his new club lose three key members of its offence.
It was just more of the same for head coach Jon Calvano, who had earlier lost two of his top-four defencemen due to injury, followed by an assortment of injuries and absences.
In a new place and with new linemates, Zielonka was plugged into a major role with the Express - and delivered.
Although the team has struggled with a piecemeal lineup to start November, the Salisbury Prep product has demonstrated sure hands and an eye for the offensive zone in racking up eight goals and eight assists over just 10 games in the junior A loop.
He's made the transition to his new home, and how.
"It's a different league, a lot more offensive but I think it suits me better," said Zielonka. "I've adapted pretty well so far."
In Sunday's 7-5 loss to the Vernon Vipers, the left-handed shooter scored once and set up three others in a rare shootout.
One-time Port Moody minor product Adam Tambellini led Vernon with three goals and three assists. Coquitlam, meanwhile, cashed in five times on just 19 shots - but had as close to a full roster, at least among forwards, as it has dressed in six weeks.
It came on the heels of a 5-1 defeat in Chilliwack, and puts the club's losing streak at five games.
Still, as more players prepare to make their return, Zielonka's contributions and skill level should continue to help turn the train around.
"He's a threat out there," said Calvano of the winger.
"Philip's a natural finisher, a natural goal scorer and someone's who contributed offensively in every game - he's picked up a point in every game except his first one."
Considering his own rough start to the 2012-13 season, Zielonka is thankful to be here.
After finishing his second season at Salisbury Prep in Connecticut, where he was teammates with current Express players Marc Biega and Zach Pryzbek, Zielonka chose to go to Omaha of the U.S. junior A league.
He was the club's first-round draft pick and was looking forward to a new situation, but a pre-season injury set him back.
Omaha struggled out of the gate and Zielonka was unable to help, registering no points in five games, while anchored by a minus-nine.
But a player who was recruited and signed to play next year at Harvard University had numerous suitors.
Calvano, who had hoped to sign the winger to join Biega and Pryzbek during the summer, quickly snapped him up and handed him an Express jersey.
The chemistry, playing with winger John Siemer and centres Alex Kerfoot and Justin Georgeson, has been impressive.
But cementing his success was the fact that he knew the coach knew what he could do, and gave him the chance to do it.
"That's a huge part of it, when a coach has confidence in you, you become a completely different player," said Zielonka. "That's what happened with me - my game elevated completely and I'm playing a lot better under Jon and under his system."
With the return of Kerfoot, Pryzbek and centre Brandon Morley from the World Junior A Challenge tournament, the roster is getting closer to what Calvano had intended when he signed his 22 cards in September.
Biega and fellow top-four blueliner Cameron Marks appear on the verge of joining the roster. Jason Bird, who was injured in the first game of the season, and forwards Jace Hennig, Sam Majka and Malcolm McKinney are still sidelined.
Having Biega in the lineup will be a great boost to the club and give Zielonka a childhood friend to bounce ideas off of.
"He's an unbelievable teammate, he was our captain last year in Salsbury so he's got great leadership qualities," Zielonka said of Biega. "He's an all-around great player and a great teammate - he was my roommate for two years also so I know him very well."
Missing 10 players has taxed everyone, including a defence that had begun the year among the stingiest in the league.
It has been the offence, however, that lately has struggled - making Zielonka's regular contributions all the more important.
"When he first came in there was the pressure and stress of fitting in and making an impact, but he's never flinched from the challenge," noted Calvano. "He wants to learn, he's like a sponge at practice. We've been fortunate to have [the Florida
Panthers'] Mike Santorelli skate with us at practice, and he and Philip have taken a real liking to each other. He's learning things and asking questions, always eager to learn something more about how to play the game."
Choosing Coquitlam has proven to be a great choice for the sniper, and one that should benefit his next destination as a member of the Harvard Crimson in hockey's NCAA Div. 1.
"That was the easiest decision of my life. It was the best decision, the happiest decision. They told me when I went there for my visit and before I left I said yes."
The focus is now on ending the recent skid and get the 11-11-1 Express back in the hunt for a top-two spot in the Mainland Division.
Coquitlam hosts the West Kelowna Warriors on Friday, 7 p.m. at the Poirier Sports Centre for what is also Vancouver Canucks Alumni Night.
A number of retired NHLers will be in the house - including Darcy Rota, Harold Snepts, Dennis Kearns, Doug Halward, John Garrett, Jack McIlhargey and Dennis Ververgaert.
The Canucks Alumni will be there to support Eagle Ridge Hospital Foundation fundraising, with fans having an opportunity to win $10,000, an autographed Ryan Kesler jersey, and a $250 gift basket.
On Saturday, Coquitlam will head to the Okanagan to play the Warriors.