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Baby Penguins' new brain trust up for the challenge

Friday, 05.29.2009 / 12:23 PM / AHL Update

By Lindsay Kramer - Correspondent

"I know I'm surrounded by very good people. What they've achieved in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton the last couple years is extremely special. It's not as if I have to change things a lot. I just go in there and keep doing what we've been doing."
-- Jason Botterill

As frequent opponents in college and the pros, Jason Botterill and Todd Reirden went at each other from different perspectives.

Botterill was a power forward who, by his own admission, used to flip the puck on net and hope that it deflected off someone and into the goal. Reirden was a big, offensive defenseman with a booming shot.

After their playing days were over, however, they both turned out to be whiz kids off the ice. Now, their shared vision has been locked onto keeping Wilkes-Barre/Scranton one of the best franchises in the American Hockey League.

Botterill, 33, has been promoted to assistant GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins, a job that entails running the farm team. Reirden, 37, had the ''interim'' removed from his head coaching title at W-B/S and was rewarded with a two-year deal.

''I know I'm surrounded by very good people. What they've achieved in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton the last couple years is extremely special,'' said Botterill, who was promoted from director of hockey administration for Pittsburgh. ''It's not as if I have to change things a lot. I just go in there and keep doing what we've been doing.''

Focused progress has been the hallmark of both men the past couple of seasons.

As a player, Reirden was a walk-on at Bowling Green who was virtually neglected by the NHL until New Jersey took him in the 12th round of the 1990 Entry Draft. He went on to a long pro career that included 183 NHL games.

A little more than a year ago, Reirden was a content assistant coach at his alma mater. He was invited to work as a volunteer assistant coach for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton during the team's playoff run to the AHL finals last year.

He got an assistant's job with that team in August when head coach Todd Richards took a post in San Jose, and then was named interim head coach when Dan Bylsma was promoted to Pittsburgh on Feb. 18.

"It's been something I certainly didn't dream up. Things change quickly in professional sports,'' Reirden said. "It's been crazy. It's a great model, I think, for anything in life, that if you do things long enough, things will go your way. My philosophy has always been come to work every day, you never know who is evaluating you.''

Botterill was forced to retire from playing after the 2004-05 season because of concussion problems. He went back to his alma mater, Michigan, to earn his MBA and then assumed a wide variety of responsibilities under former assistant GM Chuck Fletcher, who last week was named GM of the Minnesota Wild.

''It's definitely happened fast,'' Botterill said of his ascension. ''The great thing with working with Chuck was he didn't put up any walls. It was all hybrid positions. I feel they've prepared me very well for this role.''

Botterill also knows where he might be able to find a fill-in on the point in a pinch. Reirden is up working with the Penguins during the playoffs, and his new boss remains impressed with the heaviness of his shot.

''He was a guy our coach told us to focus in on. We've talked about that a lot the last year we've worked together,'' Botterill said. ''He still gets out there, twirls around a little bit with the black aces. He's still got it.''

Laing's miraculous recovery -- Hershey coach Bob Woods looks past medicine and to a geographical explanation for how forward Quintin Laing was able to return earlier than expected from a badly injured spleen.

''He's a Saskatchewan boy,'' said Woods, who hails from the province as well. ''That's how we work out there. It takes a lot to keep him down.''

Without a doubt, but a more compelling answer is that Laing, 29, just doesn't want to miss out on any more fun in what's been a trying season.

Pittsburgh Penguins Eastern Conference Champs GearThe Bears have reached the Calder Cup Finals against Manitoba, in large part because of the goal and two assists that Laing posted in the series-clinching Game 5 win against Providence in the Eastern Conference Finals. That effort came two games after Laing returned from the spleen injury, which originally was expected to cost him the year.

''You want to be on the ice and be a part of it. When you are in the stands, watching the guys winning, you don't have the same emotion,'' he said.

Laing suffered a knee injury playing against Syracuse on Feb. 16 that kept him out a month, but that was just a distasteful prelude. In his first game back, playing for the Washington Capitals, he took a hit that lacerated his spleen in three places. Laing spent four days in the hospital and the injury was originally diagnosed as a season-ender, but that was later revised downward to a couple of months.

But first, of course, the Bears had to do their part by winning a couple of series. Laing gave Woods the thumbs up during the Game 4 morning skate he was in the lineup that night against Providence.

''I think the adrenaline of game day had something to do with it,'' Laing said. ''The first period, I don't think I went out of my way to hit too many guys, just because of the conditioning factor. It takes the wind out of you.''

Now that he's back on the ice, Laing hopes his timing is a little better than it's been the past couple years. He joined the Bears in 2006-07, the year after the team won the Calder Cup, and lost in the finals in his first season with Hershey. He played in 39 games with the Capitals last year and might have been on his way to a lot more this season if not for the injury.

''To come back and play in the finals, it's pretty fine with me right now,'' he said.

Wotton still able to "C" -- The player who exemplifies the notion of leading by actions rather than words will be back to let his play do all his talking for at least one more season.

Bridgeport has signed captain Mark Wotton to an AHL contract for the 2009-10 season. That will continue a stretch of more than a decade in which the defenseman has worn a ''C.'' He held the job for the Syracuse Crunch from 1995-99 and for Utah of the International Hockey League for four seasons after that.

That's a remarkable tribute to any player, but especially one who once was as lightly regarded as Wotton, 35. Vancouver took him in the 10th round, No. 237, in the 1992 Entry Draft. He has quite a career tale to tell, except that the painfully low-key Wotton has never been too interested in talking about himself.

''I haven't changed a whole lot. Leadership is just doing whatever for your teammates,'' Wotton said. ''There's lots of role models. I can't consider myself one of those.''

Bridgeport coach Jack Capuano disagrees with his player on that issue, pointing to Wotton's ability to scratch out a long career as an example for other unheralded players.

''First of all, he understands the game. He understands what coaches look for,'' Capuano said. ''He has the ability, since he's been around so long, to share his experiences with those guys. He has seen everything you can see in the game.''

Around the AHL -- Hershey forward Alexandre Giroux has scored 69 goals since opening night, the second-most in AHL history for a single regular-season and postseason combined. Stephan Lebeau netted 71 for the Sherbrooke Canadiens in 1988-89…Hershey's Game 3 trip to Providence on May 22 marked the team's first game outside of Pennsylvania since April 3, a span of 49 days and 17 games. That included playoff series wins vs. Philadelphia and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The road trip turned out to be no problem -- the Bears won 6-4 after going winless in their last eight trips to Providence (0-7-1) since a 4-0 victory on March 16, 2001…Manitoba goalie Cory Schneider is 13-1 in playoff games decided in regulation and 0-6 in those that go to overtime…By beating Manitoba in Game 5 of their series on May 22, the Houston Aeros became just the 14th team of the 114 who fell behind 3-0 in a Calder Cup playoff series to force a Game 6…In that Game 5, Houston starting goalie Anton Khudobin had to leave the game after regulation because of an injury. Nolan Schaefer started the extra period and he earned the win without facing a shot on goal…Houston is the fifth team in league history to win back-to-back overtime games while facing elimination…Three goaltenders posted more wins this postseason than they did during the 2008-09 regular season: Hershey’s Michal Neuvirth (12 playoffs, nine regular season), and Houston’s Khudobin (eight playoffs, three regular season) and Matt Climie (one playoffs, zero regular season).

Quote of the Day

It seems like I'm kind of making it a little difficult on myself here the last two games.

— Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane after tying the record for longest point streak by an American-born player with an assist on Duncan Keith's goal with 26.6 seconds left against the Anaheim Ducks Friday
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