A couple years ago, forward Darryl Bootland was the type of player that Scott Arniel and his Manitoba Moose loved to hate.
At the start of this season, Arniel pulled Bootland aside and promised him he would turn him into that type of player again. The only difference was that Bootland would work his tactics on behalf of Manitoba, not against it.
So far, Bootland has done his best to make Arniel a man of his word. The 6-foot-2, 199-pound Bootland is crafting a career turnaround on his new team. He has 4 goals and 2 assists in eight games with Manitoba after totaling just 4 goals and 13 assists in 63 games for Bridgeport and Portland last year.
"When I first got here, I had a good talk with Arniel. He told me he could get me back to the player I used to be," Bootland said. "He laid it out there, what he wanted to see."
That standard can be found in the cold, hard numbers of Bootland's bio. Just a few years ago, he was one of the best power forwards in the league for Grand Rapids, and a big-time nemesis of the Moose. In 2005-06 he produced 56 points and 390 penalty minutes for the Griffins. In 2006-07, he added 31 points and 222 PIM in 68 games.
Those efforts made him an attractive commodity as a free agent, and last year he signed with the Islanders. But he hurt his wrist early, saw his ice time dip, played in just four games with the Islanders and was traded from Bridgeport to Portland.
Overall, his value dropped so much that he landed in Manitoba on a tryout deal.
"I think that's kind of helped, not having the security of what's going to happen," said Bootland, 27. "You have to come in and work as hard as you can."
Arniel could obviously figure out that Bootland had quickly turned into a reclamation project. But as long as the newcomer got that message in Manitoba, he didn't particularly care how or why.
"I don't know 100 percent what happened. I just know he'd fallen," Arniel said. "I told him, he wants to resurrect himself, he's going to come in here, abide by what we do. He has something a lot of teams look for. He's been a real good example."
"I obviously think I can put up points. I mean, two points a game is a little ridiculous in the American Hockey League. But a point a game, I don't think that's unrealistic."
Arniel said he's seen snippets of the player who so used to irritate Manitoba and other teams two years ago. Bootland's reward for returning to that kind of pain-in-the-butt play has been a spot on Manitoba's top line with Jason Krog and Jason Jaffray.
"I think as a whole, you hope you can get back to it (the old form). I feel like I'm getting there," Bootland said. "It's going to be a long road." Minard a target
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton had a two-day team-building trip to the Poconos earlier this week.
Activities included rock climbing, mountain bike riding and a competitive scavenger hunt. Forward Chris Minard's group finished last in that activity, and Minard isn't taking that lightly.
"We're a good team. The other guys were cheating," he said. "They were hiding all the scavenger things. We couldn't find them. We were the honest team."
It's easy to empathize with Minard's playful teammates. Bending the rules might be the only way to slow down Minard these days.
Minard paces the AHL in goals (13) and is second in points (20). He has scored in all 11 games he's played with the Penguins, and has posted three points in a game three times this year.
As the right wing on a line with Jeff Taffe (9-9) and Janne Pesonen (2-11), Minard is the ace on what could be the hottest trio in the AHL.
"It's nice to get off to a good start. We're just playing well together as a line," said Minard, 26. "I definitely didn't expect to be putting up numbers like this. As you do, you get more confidence and your mindset becomes, I can put up points like this every night."
Minard has been able to do that for a while. A helpful difference this season is he gets to do it at the same address as last year.
Since turning pro in 2002-03, Minard has played with eight teams in four leagues. He joined Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season and this year affords him the rare chance to play back-to-back seasons in the same city.
That's the kind of familiarity that creates real bonding, as well as some serious productivity.
"You're with a team for one year, the next year you feel comfortable with everybody. You know what the organization expects of you," he said. "I obviously think I can put up points. I mean, two points a game is a little ridiculous in the American Hockey League. But a point a game, I don't think that's unrealistic."
Nothing short of a little rule-breaking on the part of the opponents should prevent Minard from expecting otherwise. Taking it to the Maxim
At a modest 5-foot-11, 192 pounds, Maxim Noreau was easily overlooked at the 2007 Entry Draft.
Check out a Houston Aeros game this season, and he's hard to miss. The Minnesota Wild certainly took notice of him.
Noreau is listed as a defenseman, a position he's played all his life, but for the past few games his offensive skill set has been employed at forward. Players switching positions isn't that notable, except that lately the versatile Noreau is being used at both in the same games.
Coach Kevin Constantine gives him the heads up before the game that he might swing back and forth, and Noreau takes it from there.
"It's hard mentally to play both forward and defense," Noreau said. "But I just have to fight through it. That's what's going to get me the most ice time."
Noreau's move up front was in part dictated by the recalls of forwards Krys Kolanos and Cal Clutterbuck to Minnesota. Constantine might slide Noreau back to the blue line if an Aeros defenseman is hurt or in the penalty box.
Noreau is also a point man on the power play and a defenseman on the penalty kill. Through it all, his offensive potential remains on an upswing. He has 5 points in 13 games for Houston after posting just 16 in 50 last season.
Noreau sees himself as a defenseman in the long term, and during the summer Minnesota gave him a future to dream about. One year after every NHL team passed on him, the Wild rewarded him with an entry-level pact.
"I'm not asking any questions. I'm just showing up at the rink and doing what they ask me to do," Noreau said. "It's good to have a coach who has confidence in you and will throw you out in any situation." Around the AHL
-- When Springfield goalie Devan Dubnyk blanked Worcester 2-0 on Nov. 11, it was the Falcons' first shutout since Dec. 9, 2006. ... Dubnyk stopped 46 pucks in that contest. Worcester has unleashed 98 shots total in its last two games, both losses. ... Bridgeport's Rob Hennigar, a University of New Brunswick graduate, returned to the Canadian Maritimes for the first time as a pro and scored twice in the Sound Tigers' 4-3 shootout loss to Binghamton in Prince Edward Island Nov. 11. ... Of the top 11 scorers in the AHL entering the week, only Hamilton's Matt D'Agostini (tied for sixth with 16 points) plays in the Western Conference. ... Syracuse Crunch forward Nikita Filatov scored a goal five seconds into the second period against Manitoba on Nov. 8. That's one second off the AHL mark for the fastest goal to start a period, a four-tick feat that's been accomplished by three players. ... Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's Bill Thomas' scored a shorthanded goal against Hershey on Oct. 8. That was the Penguins' fourth shorty of the year, matching the team's total for all of last season. ... Wilkes-Barre/Scranton goalie Adam Berkhoel's mastery against Lowell continued with a 4-0 win Nov. 7. Berkhoel has faced Lowell twice this season, and blanked them both times. His 46 saves in the first meeting Oct. 22 was a career high. ... Worcester has allowed four shorthanded goals in the first 12 games this season after permitting just 7 in 80 games last year. ... Manitoba goalie Cory Schneider
has allowed 10 goals in his eight starts (7-1-0, 1.25, .945). ... Philadelphia won its 500th game in franchise history Nov. 5, joining Hershey, Rochester, Providence, Portland, and Albany as active teams in that club. ... Chicago, which scored a league-best 107 power-play goals in 2007-08, is just 3-for-69 (4.3 percent) this season, and has tallied more shorthanded goals (four) than power play markers. ... Albany netminder Justin Peters faced 59 shots against Providence on Nov. 8, the most shots faced by a goaltender in the AHL this season. Peters set a career single-game high with 55 saves, also the highest individual AHL mark to date in 2008-09.