"I'm always thinking. That comes from my father. If you don't bring this game home a bit, then you're not trying to improve yourself. I lay in the bed, wide awake, I roll over and write in my book. If there's one thing bugging me and I get it out of my head, then I'm out cold (sleeping)."
-- Sam Ftorek, son of coach Robbie Ftorek
Ftorek, 34, keeps a running journal of all the thoughts and ideas gathered from his playing career. Since this is his 12th year pro, you can imagine how detailed it is. He keeps it on a table by his bed, all the easier to grab when he wakes from a deep sleep with something new to jot down.
Part of the near-constant stream of thought arises from Ftorek's desire to be a coach someday. Part of it is hereditary. Ftorek's dad, Robbie, is a former NHL and AHL coach who now runs the show for the Erie Otters of the OHL.
"I'm always thinking. That comes from my father," Sam said. "If you don't bring this game home a bit, then you're not trying to improve yourself. I lay in the bed, wide awake, I roll over and write in my book. If there's one thing bugging me and I get it out of my head, then I'm out cold (sleeping)."
While the start of Ftorek's coaching career could be a few years away, his desire to help teammates improve is one reason why he's back in the ECHL in his mid-30s. Ftorek played overseas and in the IHL in 2007-08, then turned in a solid 20 goals and 45 assists for Amarillo of the CHL last season.
While he still was productive, something gnawed at Ftorek. Too many of his former teammates during the past two seasons saw hockey as a job. Ftorek wanted to be around players whose first priority was to get better. He saw the chance to join the K-Wings as providing precisely that type of opportunity.
"I see hockey as hard work, and a lot of work, but I don't see it as a job," he said. "I like to be with guys who are eager to get to a destination. If you are happy where you are, you are less coachable. I like to see the young guys who are there early, trying to get better. That way, I have to get there early, too."
Ftorek, Kalamazoo's captain, practices the exact same philosophy that he preaches when it comes to career advancement. While coaching is a logical next step someday, Ftorek figures he sets the best example now by being prepared to squeeze out whatever's left of his playing career.
"If you're not getting better, you're getting worse. I want to be at the top of my game. I want to be prepared as if I get called up the next weekend," he said. "It may never happen, but if it does, I don't want to look like an idiot."
Stuart reels in job with Steelheads -- The fishing is good these days on the Boise River. Just ask Idaho defenseman Mike Stuart, who enjoys the bonanza of rainbow and brown trout that swim in the river right through the heart of downtown, about five minutes from his apartment.
"There's some good fly-fishing in town. I'm doing really well," he said. "I'm getting some good numbers. It's pretty neat that there's a spot that close."
From a Steelheads perspective, the club is lucky Stuart still was casting about for a job in mid-October. He's been one of the team's best blueliners, a large reason why Idaho was perfect through its first five games.
Stuart, 29, played his last two seasons in Austria. When he chose to come back to North America, he discovered that the other part of that equation -- a job offer -- was missing. He went to camp with AHL Providence, but was ushered out the revolving door there.
"I was trying to be patient. It was a pretty demanding situation, as far as staying calm," he said. "You could see the way things were going to unfold, with the way the economy was. It wasn't like a panic. It was more a motivation to do a little extra in case the call came."
Stuart hardly needed any of that once the deal with Idaho came through. After signing with the Steelheads, he made a 22-hour drive from Minneapolis just in time to play in a three-in-three set Oct. 16-18.
Assist-oriented, not goal-oriented -- The points still are coming from center Brad Schell, a development that is to be expected for the greatest scorer in Gwinnett history.
The impressive part of his game this season is the degree to which he's helping others find the back of the net.
Schell, always a good playmaker, has gone selfless to the extent that each of his first 8 points has come in the form of a helper. He's the only player in the ECHL with more than 6 points to have no goals.
"The name of my game is a playmaking centerman who sees the ice well," said Schell, 25. "On the other hand, I like scoring goals. I wish I had some. I have to stay patient. Part of it is I have to bear down when I do have chances."
Schell's early spurt has helped further separate him from the rest of the point-producers in team history. He now has 315 points as a Gladiator, 61 ahead of the next-closest player on the franchise scoring list.
"The records and stuff, you can look at that when you are done with your career," he said. "It's not something you think about now."
Around the ECHL -- Elmira, Idaho and Kalamazoo all have started the season 5-0. The longest winning streak to begin an ECHL season is eight games, by Dayton from Oct. 19-Nov. 4, 1994, and Trenton from Oct. 12-26, 2001. ... A tradition will continue Oct. 31, as the K-Wings host the Toledo Walleye during the sixth annual Orange Ice Game. Designed to celebrate Halloween, this season will be the first that the contest actually will be played on that holiday. ... South Carolina's Dain Prewitt, Jake Hauswirth and Joe Finley each scored their first professional goal in a win against Gwinnett on Oct. 24. ... Gwinnett has played three straight games that went beyond the third period, all against South Carolina. ... Reading's 7-3 win against Toledo on Oct. 23 marked the 17th time in franchise history that the Royals have scored seven or more goals in a game. ... Toledo has increased its shots total in each of its five games this season, from 19 to 25 to 30 to 35 to 44. Over those five contests, Toledo scored 14 goals by 11 players. ... Cincinnati is the only team in the ECHL yet to yield a power-play goal, with a perfect 16-for-16 mark on the penalty kill. ... Florida's Malcolm Cameron coached his 500th professional regular-season game, Oct. 28 against South Carolina. ... Five of Bakersfield's 14 goals (36 percent) have come from defensemen this season, and three of the top seven scorers on the team are blueliners. Last season, only 12 percent of the Condors' goals came from defensemen and not one finished in the top seven on the team.