Last weekend, Steelheads defenseman Zack Kamrass wasn’t on the ice with the Steelheads. Instead he was with the AHL’s Texas Star enjoying his second call-up of the month. And while players always strive to compete at the highest level, there was a silver lining when Kamrass was told he was coming back to the ECHL.
He was going to be right on-time to go home. Home to Atlanta, that is.
“The goal is always to play at the highest level possible, but it’s always a day at a time,” said Kamrass. “Once I found out I was coming back, that’s when you looked at the circles on the calendar and you smile a bit and get excited.”
The Idaho Steelheads made just their second regular season visit ever to Atlanta to face the Gladiators, an opportunity for the defenseman who was born and raised in Atlanta to play in front of his family and friends.
Kamrass left home for hockey when he was still in high school, meaning he hadn’t played a meaningful hockey game in Atlanta since he was 14 years old. When Kamrass saw the schedule at the beginning of the year, he knew he was going to have a large fan section at Infinite Energy Arena.
“My mom and step-dad purchased 25 tickets so they could bring some of my family. And for my mom, some of her co-workers had never seen a hockey game live so they came too,” said Kamrass. “My dad and my grandparents came, my aunt and uncle and some buddies I grew up playing with. It was really fun and a neat experience and I can see how some of the guys who come from big cities in the other leagues are so excited to go home and play in front of a hometown crowd.”
Kamrass had 50 people in the stands for the weekend and he gave them a good show. Even as a professional, it can be tempting for a player who knows he has a special audience not to give the fans a little something extra.
“There’s a bit more energy. I wasn’t trying to get outside of my game, but you get an extra little burst now and then,” he said. “I kind of resorted back to when I was a little kid and you just have fun and let the game play out.”
When Kamrass laid a booming hip check in the corner of the Idaho zone on Friday night that led directly to Branden Troock’s insurance goal to make it a 3-0 game, Kamrass knew two fans in particular who were smiling.
“My mom and dad love the hip checks,” he said with a laugh. “It’s kind of a lost art but it’s something where I try to set up the angle right and if it’s there I’ll take it. It was nice to see it unfold that way and have it lead to a goal.”
“They’re so supportive. It was cool, I felt like a little kid again.”
While playing in front of family, friends, and former teammates was the first thing on Kamrass’ mind, that family-time didn’t end at the rink. For a man who usually doesn’t make it home to Georgia until the summers, this was a perfectly timed trip on the schedule for Kamrass to pay a visit to one of his biggest fans.
“It was pretty special because my grandpa’s birthday was this weekend,” said Kamrass, whose grandfather turned 87 years old. “It was nice a couple of years ago that he was able to come up to school and watch me play because that was what he wanted for his birthday present.
“So I got to come home and see my parents and visit, and it was different because usually I’m only home in the summers. It’s a little different playing a road game at home but it was a cool experience and I’m glad I got to do it.”
Atlanta felt like home for all of the Steelheads, a group that looked plenty comfortable in sweeping all three games from the Gladiators. Kamrass said winning always makes the experience of the “road game at home” even better, but there’s another reason the Steelheads would love to visit Atlanta again.
“Oh boy, mom’s banana bread muffins,” said Kamrass. “The boys housed ‘em.”