|San Antonio Rampage forward David Spina is off to a fast start in the AHL Playoffs, scoring two goals in his first three postseason games.
Yet that’s precisely what calmed the nerves of San Antonio left wing David Spina as he sat in his Toronto hotel room hours before Game 2 against the Toronto Marlies on April 18. A man’s quest to turn his life around by visiting China’s Shaolin Temple, the ancient home of the fighting monks, was Spina’s latest gulp aimed at his never-ending thirst for expanding horizons.
"I heard it was a good read,” Spina said. “I like to read before a game to calm myself down. Every book I read has a mental-edge approach, a good message or work ethic, or hard dedication pays off. Sometimes I’ll bring three or four books with me on the road.’’
Few feature more compelling storylines than the one he’s writing for himself.
In his first season in the organization, Spina, 24, posted a career-high 50 points (21-29) for the Rampage. That includes a run of eight goals and six assists in his last 10 games. He also scored two goals in the Rampage’s first three playoff games.
That’s the type of heartwarming tale that can unfold when a player comes home. Spina grew up in Mesa, Ariz., as a fan of the Coyotes, who are now San Antonio’s parent club. Developing hockey skills in the desert is pretty much as unlikely as it sounds.
There was just one rink that had a travel team, and as a result, Spina’s youth team traveled quite far to play its games. And Arizona wasn’t exactly a nurturing environment for prospective hockey players.
"I think now you can grow up anywhere dreaming of playing pro hockey,” he said. “It was an infatuation of mine. A lot of people out there struggled with that idea. It wasn’t even a question to me.’’
Spina played four seasons at Boston College, then bounced around the minor leagues, spending time with Utah and Springfield in the AHL, sandwiched around ECHL stops with South Carolina and Johnstown. The one thing all those teams had in common was they missed the playoffs. His postseason chances didn’t seem much brighter when he signed with the down-trodden Rampage last summer. But he sure felt like a winner when he pulled on that Phoenix jersey in training camp.
"You always expect a little more out of every situation,’’ Spina said of jumping to San Antonio. Growing up in Phoenix, I was pumped to have an opportunity to go to camp in Phoenix, put on a Coyotes sweater, even if it was just a practice jersey.’’
Once that fleeting moment passed, Spina turned his sights toward making the Rampage successful. His offensive output allowed the fifth-place West Division team to grab the crossover spot in the North for its first postseason berth since its inaugural 2002-03 campaign.
Now what kind of inspirational tome could be written about that?
"I guess the message would be good things come to those who wait,’’ Spina said. “It’s been a year where I had to prove myself. I have no problem with that. I couldn’t have asked for the year to end any stronger.’’
Fresh start emboldened Platt – One of the reasons forward Geoff Platt welcomed a trade from Syracuse to Portland earlier this season was that he needed to go somewhere to re-establish his confidence.
Consider this one of those cliché deals where everyone turns up a winner. The Crunch got a pair of great defensemen in Clay Wilson and Aaron Rome, while Platt was reminded what it feels like to be a dominating scorer again.
Platt, a third-year pro, had four goals and three assists through 15 games with Syracuse. In 60 games with the Pirates, he contributed 28 goals and 30 assists, and he added two goals and three assists through Portland’s first five postseason games.
That’s the type of finisher Platt looked like in his first two seasons with Syracuse, when he totaled 58 goals. But after playing in 41 games with the Blue Jackets in those two seasons, the unsettled Platt was an early send-down this preseason, never catching on as a potential prospect in the eyes of the new management.
"I’ve been given a big responsibility here,” Platt said. “I was given a new opportunity, and a fresh set of eyes looking at me every night (in Portland). “It was fun coming to a place where there was a high-powered offense.’’
Platt has been caught in a swirl of scoring and winning. As much as he enjoyed Columbus, which gave him his start as a free agent, that organization never has made the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With the Pirates, he at least got to soak in the secondary rays from parent club Anaheim’s Stanley Cup win last season.
"It was fun coming to a place where there was a high-powered offense." -- Geoff Platt"It really flows through the guys in the locker room,” said Platt, who played five games for the Ducks this season. “It seems like winning is expected. “And if you don’t win, it’s a serious lapse. You have that patch of Anaheim on your sleeve. You know what they expect of you. It’s in the air, more than anything.’’
There’s nothing to say that Platt wouldn’t have been a winner had he stayed where he was. The Crunch was the AHL’s hottest team the last month of the season, rallying for 15 straight wins and the second-place spot in the North.
But Platt knows there is no assurance that winning formula would have been cooked up had he remained part of the ingredients.
"Syracuse wasn’t the team they are now when I was there,’’ he said. “I think the change for me is great.’’
Baseggio still looking for answers – While Dave Baseggio still was wondering why he was fired from his job as coach of Peoria two days after the fact last week, the mystery didn’t run so deep to anyone looking at the stats.
Parent club St. Louis just didn’t give him enough to work with, especially in goal. The two netminders who played the most games for the Rivermen, Marek Schwarz and Chris Beckford-Tseu, each had save percentages of under .900 this season. That’s a reflection of their performance as well as the quality of talent around them. In a tough Western Division, that’s just not going to cut it.
Baseggio, clearly stunned by the Blues’ decision, didn’t want to single out any one factor in his team’s demise. But he sounded like he believed he clearly deserved to finish out the third year of his contract.
"Obviously, there were high expectations here this year,” said Baseggio, who was 75-66-19 in two seasons running the Rivermen. “They weren’t met (and) somebody has to pay the price. I didn’t get any indication they were that unhappy with me. I think some young guys got better. I think I helped get some guys to the NHL.’’
Baseggio has an offer to stay with the organization as a scout, an option he’s still too dazed to ponder right now.
"Hopefully in the next little while my head will clear a bit and I can move on to the next challenge,’’ he said. “My head is still spinning a little bit. I have to do some soul-searching.’’
News and notes – Each of the first three playoff games between Syracuse and Manitoba has gone to overtime. That extends the teams’ playoff streak to five straight overtime contests, including the final two in a series between them in 2005-06 … Albany’s 4-1 win at Philadelphia in Game 3 of their playoff series April 20 snapped a 14-game home playoff winning streak that the Phantoms put together going back to May 7, 2004 … Albany defenseman Bryan Rodney, who scored four goals in 42 regular-season games for the Rats, had three through the first four games of his team’s series against the Phantoms … Albany goaltender Michael Leighton faced exactly 39 shots in each of the first three games of that series and allowed a total of three goals. Philadelphia outshot the River Rats by a combined margin of 118-68 in those three games, but was outscored 8-4 … Houston’s 1-0 win against Rockford in Game 2 of their playoff series on April 19 lasted 86 minutes, 57 seconds, the longest scoreless tie in AHL history. It surpassed the 86:04 of hockey played in Hershey’s 1-0 win over Buffalo during the 1943 postseason … Dating to the 2005 postseason with Cincinnati, Hershey goaltender Frederic Cassivi had played 2,750 minutes, 42 seconds of consecutive playoff hockey (not counting time pulled for an extra attacker) before being replaced by Daren Machesney during Game 2 against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on April 19. That includes going the distance in all 40 of the Bears’ playoff games in 2006 and 2007 … Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Dennis Bonvie has played in 99 Calder Cup playoff games; only nine players have ever reached 100 … Providence needed three overtime games to eliminate Manchester in their first-round series. The Bruins are only the fourth team to win three overtime games in a single series, joining the 1956 Cleveland Barons (against Pittsburgh), the 2001 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (against Hershey), and the 2004 Penguins (against Bridgeport).