At age 36, forward Derek Armstrong
is at the stage where he can start appreciating some of the more refined things in life.
Classical music is not among them. The symphony tune you hear when his cell phone rings is more nuisance than preference.
"I don't know how to change it. I'm too old to change it around," he said. "It was on the phone when I got it. I'm 36, man. The young guys on the team have to teach me to (get rid of it)."
If Armstrong plays with Peoria this season, those life lessons likely will flow both ways.
The veteran of 471 NHL games has signed a two-way deal with St. Louis, his first such contract since the start of this decade with the New York Rangers
and Hartford. He's seen regular action with the Kings the last several years, producing 5 goals and 4 assists in 56 games for Los Angeles in 2008-09.
Armstrong was a dominant AHL player during his era. In 318 career AHL games, he posted 338 points, won the Calder Cup with Hartford in 1999-2000 and earned league MVP honors in 2000-01. But, save for two games with Manchester in 2002-03, he hasn't skated in the AHL since then.
Armstrong hopes a re-connection with Blues coach Andy Murray helps him pull a career U-turn and keeps him an AHL stranger a little longer. Murray coached Armstrong in Los Angeles.
"I'm young at heart," Armstrong said. "It is tough (in the marketplace). If I go to Peoria, I go to Peoria. I don't play for the money. I'm a hockey player. My ability is still there. I can play a first-line center. I can fight. The economy is tough right now. I'm fortunate to have the opportunity (to play) I've had for a long time."
Armstrong's chance this season will come with fewer peripheral perks than he's enjoyed in the past. The Wolf Pack team that won the Calder Cup was a rollicking group, one that captured national attention to the extent that it filmed a shaving commercial. In Los Angeles, Armstrong skated on the fringe of the entertainment scene by appearing on several outlets ranging from Carson Daly's TV show to "The Price is Right."
"That stuff was fun," Armstrong said. "I just like hockey. Whatever comes with that comes with that. I just did that stuff because I'm not shy around people."
You think? Even when Armstrong is not actually available, he still leaves them laughing. He's learned enough about his cell phone to record his own personal voice-mail message. It's him crooning the lyrics "I am Arm man, leave a message at the beep," to the heavy Black Sabbath classic, "Iron Man."
"I just like to sing," he said.
What's in a name?
-- Slightly different spelling, exactly the same pronunciation. There is no getting around that to the ear, at least, rookie forward Bryan Leitch
shares the same name as Hall of Fame defenseman Brian Leetch
It really hasn't bothered Leitch as a hockey player. As a fan, though, it tore him apart.
Leitch, who has signed an AHL/ECHL contract with Milwaukee, grew up in a suburb of Vancouver as a huge Canucks fan. The potential shining moment of Leitch's fanhood was shredded when Leetch's Rangers beat the Canucks in the 1994 Stanley Cup Final.
"I'm sure he's a very nice person. But he ruined my life in 1994," Leitch said. "I'm still a little scarred."
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound prospect seems to have rebounded quite nicely. A generation later, Leitch has a shot to make a name for himself for something else besides, well, his name.
"It is tough (in the marketplace). If I go to Peoria, I go to Peoria. I don't play for the money. I'm a hockey player. My ability is still there. I can play a first-line center. I can fight. The economy is tough right now. I'm fortunate to have the opportunity (to play) I've had for a long time."
-- Derek Armstrong
Leitch began that process at Quinnipiac, where he paced the NCAA in both scoring (59 points) and assists (47) as a senior in 2008-09. In four years at Quinnipiac he collected 53 goals and 116 assists in 157 career games.
It was an ironic setting. Quinnipiac is located in Hamden, Conn., a short drive from where Leech grew up in nearby Cheshire. Folks around those parts all knew Leetch, naturally, and often were sparked to reminiscing by the stardom of Leitch.
"You see all the old guys (say), 'Oh, I remember when I went to high school with him,'" Leitch said. "It's quite a small world."
In a hockey sense, it took Leitch a little while to navigate it. He said he was lightly regarded coming out of junior, and that Quinnipiac was the only school that showed an interest in him. He made sure to milk that school for four years of hockey and a degree in history before going on the pro market.
It gave him something of a late start on this level -- he's 25 -- but could provide a valuable maturity edge playing against other newcomers.
"I developed late, I guess," Leitch said. "I highly doubt I'm going to lead the AHL or ECHL in scoring this year. Hopefully I can score a goal or two this year. Milwaukee is a great place to play. Wisconsin, they love their hockey there. Hopefully I can find some snipers in Milwaukee and I can pass them the puck."
Movin' on up
-- Forward Matt Beaudoin
's new hockey home is just about 165 miles away from the one where he ended last season.
In his world, this is known as progress.
Beaudoin, 25, has signed an AHL deal with the new Texas Stars, located near Austin. He finished last season with Houston, the fourth of four teams he skated with in 2008-09. In 2007-08, he played for five teams. There isn't the guarantee of any more stability this season, although he has a bit of an anchor because this is the first time he's started a season with a regular AHL pact.
"I'm hoping to stick around here all year, have a full season, be part of the team for once," Beaudoin said. "It's for me to prove what I can do. If I can do a good job, I hope they keep me around."
Beaudoin should have an ally in Stars coach Glen Gulutzan, who was his coach with Las Vegas of the ECHL. He also has some self-esteem, pumped by 17 points in 20 playoff games with the Aeros last season, after posting just 19 in 41 regular-season games with that team.
"It's always a good boost for your confidence to score at that level. I went into the summer knowing I was an American Hockey League player," he said. "I've always been a goal-scorer wherever I've been. That's what the team in Austin is counting on me for."
Working OT pays
-- A lot of overtime work last season helped Albany River Rats defenseman Benn Olson
earn the chance for some more regular pay in 2009-10.
As a rookie project last year, Olson logged many an extra session skating and doing stick work with Rats assistant coach Geordie Kinnear
. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Olson believes Kinnear, a former defensive defenseman, may have seen a bit of himself in the raw but rugged blueliner. Olson put up 140 penalty minutes to go along with 4 assists in his 36 games in Albany, earning him a new AHL/ECHL pact this season.
"He took a liking to me. It paid off," Olson said. "He played the same way I do. He was a tough guy, always sticking up for teammates. I feel a lot more confident. I was pretty nervous going into camp (last year). There are a lot of big guys in the league. Now I've seen them. I'm ready to go."