As he nears his 34th birthday, Triston Grant knows he's on the back end of his hockey career.
That doesn't mean he hasn't anything left to accomplish.
"I love the game. I’m getting close to the transition that it means a lot to me to help the younger guys develop," the Quad-City Mallards captain said. "I’ve made a lot of mistakes but a lot of good decisions as well so I’m just trying to pass on my knowledge."
Grant made his debut as Mallards captain last week, taking over the leadership role after joining the team on Dec. 20. His career has seen plenty of highs and lows, providing a young team full of prospects another voice of experience.
"You know when you meet a leader," head coach Phil Axtell said. "You know when you meet someone that's been there, been through it."
Grant was drafted in the ninth round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers and made his NHL debut with the Flyers on Oct. 26, 2006. He played eight games with the Flyers that season but spent most of that year in the AHL. He had one more stint in the NHL in 2009, playing three games with the Nashville Predators.
Overall he's played 13 seasons as a professional, which included winning an AHL Calder Cup championship in 2013 with the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Axtell's attention was turned to Grant early in the season by Brayden Low and Josh MacDonald, who played with Grant last year with the Rapid City Rush.
"We needed a player like him," Axtell said. "We needed another player that does things like a pro."
Grant started last season with the Wichita Thunder but spent most of the year with Rapid City after a November trade. He played in 48 total games, scoring six goals and adding five assists with 104 penalty minutes.
After a career spent mainly in the AHL, coming down to the ECHL was a tough pill to swallow for Grant, and he started this season unsigned, working for his parents' upholstery business in his hometown of Neepawa, Manitoba.
"It was good for me to step away from the game for a while," he said. "Just (doing) blue-collar work, which I’ve always been raised on so it’s always been in my blood, but at the end of the day I wasn’t playing hockey. This opportunity came along and I would have been stupid not to take advantage of it."
Having spent nearly eight months away from the game, Grant had to quickly work to get in shape and make his signing a worthwhile investment, not just for the Mallards, but also for himself.
So far he's done that. He scored a goal in his first game with the team and through 10 games has three goals and one assist. Perhaps more importantly, he's also sporting an even plus-minus rating, key for a team that has struggled defensively all year.
Despite being with the Mallards for a month, it became clear early on that Grant's focus was turning more from his own future to helping progress the careers of his teammates.
"It’s good for me down here. Realistically, chances are getting back to the American League, it’s not going to happen, but for me now it’s almost just as important to pass along my knowledge and help these guys develop into good pros," he said. "They’re only a couple of good habits away from moving up to the next level. If I could help those guys develop good habits or help them move on, help them become better players in general, and if I can be a part of that, that means just as much to me as getting back up to the AHL."
That's the kind of attitude that the Mallards need, especially during a rough stretch that included a 13-game losing streak.
"I think, with Grant being the captain, he's obviously one guy you don't want to piss off," defenseman Kyle Follmer said. "We didn't have that before him. ... I think it was big for Phil to come in and say 'These are our leaders, this is how it's going to be, and let's just go play how we want to play.'"
During the adversity of last week, in which Axtell didn't make a road trip and owner Jordan Melville held individual meetings with each member of the team, Grant helped provide a stabilizing presence, earning the 'C' that was bestowed to him over the weekend.
"I was just trying to be the voice of reason more than anything," Grant said. "Obviously it’s really easy to get frustrated and make decisions when the team’s losing. Guys were in a tough spot, everybody wants to win and wants to be better, and I think the guys were pushed into a bit of a corner, staff as well, and people under stress sometimes make poor decisions, and I think everyone’s agreed to that. They hadn’t addressed the situation to the best of their abilities.
"I know it’s frustrating, the losing streaks and being a young player, there’s a lot going on, a lot of adjusting, so I think it fit well with me stepping in and doing that because I’ve been through those situations before and I’m a little more mature through time spent with the guys. I think it was a good fit, and I’m definitely honored to be a part of it."