|Philadelphia Phantoms forward Jared Ross is on
pace for his best season with 42 points in 43 games.
So he kept pushing through a three-in-three stretch Jan. 11-13, despite some uncharacteristic sluggishness.
"I kind of felt pretty fatigued in those games. That's very unlike me," he said. "I didn't think anything was going on. It was the middle of the year. I thought I was drained."
Actually, there was a whole lot more going on.
When the Phantoms' bus pulled into Syracuse on Jan. 15, Ross hung out in the hotel for only an hour before a lingering pain in his stomach became intolerable. He was rushed to a local hospital, where he underwent an emergency appendectomy.
The procedure went well, although it cost Ross more than three weeks of playing time. With that nagging problem resolved, he's swerved back into the surprising role as the leader of Philadelphia's offense.
Ross, 25, paces the Phantoms with 42 points (14-28) in 43 games. That output far exceeds anything he showed in his first two seasons as a pro, most of which were spent with the Chicago Wolves. He posted 37 points in 62 games with Chicago two seasons ago and 15 in 41 last year before his trade to Philly.
Those are the types of numbers that are easily lost amid a Wolves offense that's the most star-studded in the AHL.
"Chicago is a great place to play. But you get there, it's so hard," Ross said. "I always felt I could be successful in this league given the right opportunity. I didn't think I'd be able to lead the team (in scoring). I definitely like being in that situation."
Ross was already something of a trailblazer the moment he put his first skate on AHL ice. The native of Huntsville, Ala., said he's the first person from his state to reach this level.
As incongruous as it seems for a hockey product to roll out of "Roll Tide” country, on another level it makes all the sense in the world. His uncle, Tom Ross, was a big-time scorer at Michigan State in the early 1970s. His dad, Doug, played for the United States in the 1976 Olympics and was Jared's head coach at the University of Alabama-Huntsville.
"I just always loved playing. I always had access to ice down there because he was the coach," Jared said. "My size (5-foot-9, 171 pounds) probably prevented me from playing football. I never really cared about football. That's a sin (in Alabama)."
Ross' home state will probably give him a pass if he keeps up his renewed pace. He contributed an assist in his first game back Feb. 6, two helpers in his second game and a pair of goals in his third.
Apparently, the removal of a cranky appendix does wonders for your jump.
"I hate being out of games. I've been excited to be back," he said. "My first game back, I felt a lot different than before I got hurt. Having the appendix fixed has given me more energy."
Get to know Szczechura -- Norfolk center Paul Szczechura's last name is pronounced Shah-hur-a.
Some might have had an alternative pronunciation when he was included in the Dan Jancevski-Junior Lessard swap between the Admirals and Iowa earlier this season:
"Oh, exactly. I wasn't having the best year," Szczechura said. "I was definitely under the radar. I'm sure I was thrown into the deal. I think a lot of people didn't even know I was traded."
They should now.
After finding just two goals and three assists in 29 games for Iowa, the second-year pro has seven goals and seven assists in 11 games for Norfolk. Consider the improvement just a case of two hockey guys keeping their word.
After not playing much for the Stars, Szczechura wondered how he'd find the ice for the Admirals. Don't worry about it, said Norfolk coach Steve Stirling. Play well, and you'll get your time.
"I was kind of playing on the bubble (in Iowa). I wanted to get a fresh start here," Szczechura said. "He (Stirling) just told me; 'I'm going to give you a ton of chances to start. If you do your part, I'll take care of mine.' I've been playing pretty well. I've been getting a lot of ice time."
No matter what Szczechura does with it from here on out, his challenging last name will always be linked with "The Greatest” in the game. Szczechura is from Brantford, Ontario, the same hometown as Wayne Gretzky. Walter Gretzky, Wayne's father, was an assistant coach on one of Szczechura's youth teams.
"When you went out of town (for a game), people would pay more attention to the team because Walter was on the bench," Szczechura recalled. "He was pretty quiet, but he always had a few jokes here and there. He was a pretty good story-teller."
Second chances -- A couple formerly heralded college prospects are trying to rebound from some personal problems by making an in-season transition to the AHL.
Center Brock Trotter, who left the University of Denver because of what he termed "personal issues," has signed a three-year contract with Montreal and is starting with Hamilton. Trotter, a red-shirt sophomore, paced that school in scoring with 40 points last year and was leading again with 31 this season.
Trotter said he could have returned to the team, but probably not until next season.
"It's obviously a big step from college to pro hockey. I'm taking it all in stride here," Trotter said. "Everywhere you go, you're going to have pressure. Every player knows that. Once I'm out on the ice, I'm going to play my game and do the things I'm good at."
In Norfolk, defenseman Kevin Quick has joined the team after being dismissed from the University of Michigan. Quick, 19, is a 2006 third-round pick by Tampa Bay. He was booted from the Wolverines because he made unauthorized charges on a teammate's credit card.
"I've got to face that I made a bad decision that cost me a scholarship," Quick told the Newport News (Va.) Daily Press. "I know there will be questions and I'm not going to lie. But Tampa's giving me a second chance and I'm grateful for it."
Around the AHL -- Behind goaltenders Drew MacIntyre and Cory Schneider, Manitoba has allowed two goals or fewer in nine of its last 10 games. … Since the Nov. 22 coaching changes that saw Bruce Boudreau promoted to the Washington Capitals and Bob Woods elevated from assistant to head coach in Hershey, the Bears are 20-10-0-4 (.647) and the Capitals are 21-11-4 (.639). ... Before being shut out in five of their last 19 games, Grand Rapids had played 72 consecutive regular season contests without being blanked, including the first 33 games this season. … The AHL has suspended Bridgeport forward Kip Brennan for 15 games as a result of him delivering a hit to the head of Portland Pirates forward Geoff Peters during a game on Feb. 9. … Hartford's Andrew Hutchinson scored three goals in a 7-5 win over Providence on Feb. 8, becoming the first Wolf Pack defenseman ever to record a hat trick. The Pack also set team records for power-play goals in a period (five), fastest five goals (4:52) and most shots allowed in a period (28), and tied club marks for power-play goals in a game (five), goals in a period (five) and fastest three goals (1:43). … The two coaches in the Philadelphia-Springfield contest on Feb. 8, the Phantoms' Craig Berube and Springfield's Kelly Buchberger, had a combined 5,446 penalty minutes in their NHL careers. … Albany needs a new home away from home. Including last year's playoffs, the River Rats have lost five straight in the nearby Glens Falls Civic Center. … Albany improved its stature on the ice in another area earlier this week when it signed 6-foot-6 defenseman Milan Maslonka to a professional tryout agreement. The second-year pro from Slovakia has seven points and a team-leading 210 penalty minutes in 39 games for Youngstown of the CHL.