CEDAR PARK, Texas -- Derek Meech's long and winding hockey road this season has brought him back to familiar territory.
After his move to the KHL for Dynamo Minsk was cut short over disagreement about what to do about health concerns, he landed with the AHL's Texas Stars at the end of December. He now finds himself facing many of his old teammates on the St. John's IceCaps in the league's championship series, which began Sunday night at the Cedar Park Center.
"It's been sort of weird playing against a couple of franchises that I was part of for the playoffs," he said. Earlier in the Calder Cup playoffs, Meech's Stars eliminated another of his former teams, the Grand Rapids Griffins.
The 30-year-old Winnipegger has long had a heart issue that's been treated and given him no trouble, but it led to his departure from the KHL.
"I came home and wanted to make sure health-wise I was OK," he said Sunday. "I did testing while I was in Russia and they have a different system there. They were really on the cautious side, which I appreciated, and they did everything very thoroughly. They even suggested me coming back to see a doctor in Winnipeg.
"I kind of knew what was going to happen; it's something I've dealt with in the past. So it was a little unfortunate that I ended up leaving but you've got to take care of yourself."
Making certain again about his condition and being sure he was ready to return to the ice took about a month in Winnipeg, and then he got the itch to keep playing.
"I got the clear to play so I wasn't going to sit around all year and twiddle my thumbs at home," he laughed. "I talked to my agent and you put a line out there and see what interest there is. Luckily Scott White here (the Stars' GM) had some interest and they were pretty enthusiastic about it."
The former member of the Jets then cleared AHL waivers and played the final 36 games of the AHL season for Texas, contributing two goals and 17 points. His experience has been invaluable in the playoffs.
"So far it's been a great experience," he said. "You think some doors are shut and then they kind of open back up again."
Heading into the Calder Cup final, the St. John's IceCaps best plus-minus player in the playoff is really no surprise.
Defenceman Zach Redmond, plus-10 in the first three rounds, has ample experience in the NHL. It's 18 games total, plus an intense recovery from a life-threatening skate-blade cut to his leg.
The third-year-pro said Sunday he's long forgotten how dire the situation was and that he's focused on winning four more games.
"I think another summer will definitely benefit me but it's good enough now to where I don't notice anything," Redmond said. "I think summer will help but at this point there's seven games left so it doesn't matter."
The seventh-round pick of the 2008 draft was asked about the cohesiveness of the IceCaps, who have been balanced, consistent force in these playoffs.
"I know that everyone looks forward to coming to the rink every day," he said. "It's our job, yeah, but we also have fun with it. I don't think there's a guy you would look at and say he doesn't fit. Everybody on the team, guys that are playing and guys that aren't, no one's whining about not playing and there's no complaining.
"We have four lines we can stick out there against anybody and feel comfortable. I think the same goes with the defencemen. I don't know much about Texas and we'll see if they roll four lines but that really helped us in the last couple of rounds."