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At long last, Foster is able to show his stuff

by Lindsay Kramer

Former Devils' first-round pick, Adrian Foster, now plays for the Wild's AHL affiliate team the Houston Aeros.
The short video clip that the Houston Aeros watched after practice earlier this week was meant to be inspirational.

In forward Adrian Foster's case, it was autobiographical.

The message was that the brick walls that often pop up in life aren't meant to keep you from things. Rather, they are a test of what you are willing to break through to reach your goals.

In Foster's case, that translated to a run of injuries that limited him to a mere 122 games in his first five seasons as a pro.

"I think maybe that was the answer for me. Stick with it, and keep your focus on the goal," he said. "When things aren't going well, maybe it's a test to see if you can outlast it."

Finally, Foster is passing the test. The former first-round pick of New Jersey has skated in 59 games for the Aeros this season, producing 14 goals and 20 assists.

This stretch of relative prosperity comes after a string of seasons in which he was slowed by concussion and abdominal problems.

"I'd be lying if I said there wasn't tough times," he said. "I know I missed a ton of opportunities. Being a first-rounder, those guys get shots. I missed my shots because I was injured. I'm working my butt off to get more shots."

That effort started with leaving the Devils organization to join Houston as a free agent. With the Aeros, Foster has been switched from center to wing, a position he never played before.

The one-time scoring prospect is also learning third- and fourth-line work, along with putting in sweat on the penalty kill.

"I always knew I could do what I'm doing now. I haven't scratched the surface yet," he said. "My window is closing because I was injured. Most players aren't prospects at 26. But I've missed so much time, maybe I am still a prospect. I'm having to prove myself and stay healthy over a period of time before a team is going to give me a shot."
Hamilton bolsters Rats' offense -- As one of the best AHL snipers of his generation, Albany right wing Jeff Hamilton hardly needs any help scoring goals.

But that's exactly what he got to pot his first of the season for the River Rats on March 2. In a game against Philadelphia, a rip by teammate Joey Mormina ticked off his leg and into the net.

"I just told him 'Nice pass,"' Hamilton said.

The Rats should be OK with letting Hamilton pick up a garbage goal here and there. For much of the rest of the season, he could very well be picking up the entire Albany offense.

Hamilton's addition to lava-hot Albany could be one of the most significant moves for any of the playoff-drive teams. The Rats are 9-1 in their last 10; getting Hamilton during that stretch only makes them more dangerous.

Albany's good fortune comes courtesy of Carolina, which sent the 136-game NHL vet down late last month when his playing time there dwindled. It was an expected move for both parties -- Hamilton is in the first year of a two-year, one-way deal with the Hurricanes.

"I never thought I'd be back (in the AHL)," said Hamilton, 30. "You never know how things are going to work out."

In this instance, you kind of have a clue. In his last AHL action, 2005-06, he blew up for 24 goals and 25 assists in just 39 games for Bridgeport. In his first seven games for the Rats, the second-place team in the East, he came up with two goals and six assists.

"I feel comfortable right away. That (scoring) is what they expected from me," Hamilton said. "I don't care what league you're in. It's not fun not playing. I definitely haven't played my last game in the NHL. I'm going to make sure that isn't going to happen."
Foster good judge of talent -- In just his second season as a pro, Toronto Marlies forward Alex Foster is already showing a knack for a future career as a personnel director.

Before this season started, he looked at the Marlies' roster and saw a couple of new, veteran forwards ahead of him, David Ling and Simon Gamache. Hmmm, Foster noted, those guys are pretty good. Toronto didn't bring them in to sit in the stands.

"I didn't know where I was going to fit," Foster said. "I knew that the organization liked giving time to older guys as well as the younger guys. I knew they (Ling and Gamache) weren't going to come in and let some second-year kid come in and take their time, unless he earned that."

So Foster, 23, went about doing exactly that.

Foster's 36 points (13-23) represent the surprise offensive output of the season for the North Division-leading Marlies. Last season, as a rookie, he managed just 17 points in 57 games for Toronto and spent nine games in the ECHL.

Marlies coach Greg Gilbert said part of the jump is a factor of Foster getting the college game out of his system. Foster played two seasons at Bowling Green, which was all well and good except that Gilbert said he became too caught up in the open-ice weaving of that level. Foster, Gilbert said, needed to return to hockey school and learn the nuances of stop-and-start play and ice management.

Foster's view is that his improvement is primarily a factor of realizing how seriously he had to take his training and preparation.

"I guess I've just brought it to a new level," he said. "Working smart instead of working hard. Those are things hopefully you learn sooner rather than later. In my head, this is what I've wanted. This is what I'm shooting for."
Andrew Murray
Around the AHL -- This is what players mean by taking advantage of their opportunities. Third-year Syracuse forward Andrew Murray had never skated in the NHL before his recall to Columbus earlier this season. The third-line grinder played so well that 26 games later he's earned a three-year pact with the Blue Jackets. … Albany goaltender Michael Leighton played his 15,000th career AHL minute in the second period of a 2-1 win over Binghamton on March 8. He needs one more win to hit 125 for his AHL career. … Milwaukee's 3-0 win against Hamilton on March 11 was the 700th home victory in Admirals franchise history. ... Manchester coach Mark Morris can't get enough hockey, especially when it comes to his family. On March 8, his Monarchs lost to Providence in Manchester. The next morning, Morris got up early and made the five-hour drive to Utica, N.Y., to watch his son, Kevin, play forward for Massena High School in the New York State Division 1 title game. After enjoying a Massena win, Mark hopped in his car and headed back to Manchester because his team had practice on the morning of March 10. ... With his win against the IceHogs on March 8, Milwaukee's Pekka Rinne picked up his 30th victory of the season and became just the second goaltender in Admirals history to post two 30-win seasons. Rich Sirois is the other netminder to pull it off, when he did it in back-to-back seasons in 1981-82 and 1982-83. … Houston is 17-5-1-1 this season against opponents outside its West Division. The Aeros have registered 46 consecutive successful penalty kills over their last 10 games… The Crunch honored the 1972-73 Eastern Hockey League champ Syracuse Blazers with a banner raising ceremony prior to a game vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on March 8. One of the Blazers in attendance was Al Rycroft, whose son, Mark, now plays for Syracuse. In a nice touch, Mark was able to wear his father's old No. 11 because Crunch captain Zenon Konopka, who normally wears that number, switched with him. ... Lake Erie's Brad Richardson recorded four points (1-3) in the third period of the Monsters' 5-3 win over Grand Rapids on March 8. … Toronto's David Ling has six goals in six games against his former team Syracuse this season, and six goals in 48 games against the rest of the AHL. … The five-player trade between the New York Rangers and Phoenix Coyotes on Feb. 26 paid off for the Hartford Wolf Pack on March 8, as Josh Gratton scored the winning goal and David LeNeveu made 31 saves in a 2-1 win at San Antonio. Gratton and LeNeveu were both playing in San Antonio when they were acquired by the Rangers, along with Fredrik Sjostrom, in exchange for Marcel Hossa and Al Montoya just prior to the NHL's trade deadline.

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