In one sense, it seems like things have never changed. Forward Chris Bourque
is playing for a Hershey Bears team that is again dominating the AHL.
Look closer, Bourque insists. After a stretch of 20 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins
earlier this season, something would be wrong if nothing was different.
"Being up, being in the NHL, it's a totally different level of hockey. When you come back down here, it makes it a little easier," he said. "That's the longest stretch I've had in the NHL. I feel I've learned a lot. You always try to take positives out of that kind of thing. I needed to prove to myself that I could play at that level."
Now, Bourque just has to make believers of the Capitals.
Bourque returned to that organization in December when Washington claimed him on waivers. The Capitals originally lost him on waivers to the Penguins on Sept. 30 when they tried to send him to the Bears.
Bourque, 23, was an integral force on Calder Cup champ Hershey last season, scoring 21 goals and 52 assists. Back with the Bears now, he's in that same groove with 9 goals and 8 assists in 15 games.
"I couldn't really pout about it," Bourque said of a return trip to the minors. "I wasn't bummed out. I came to an organization that knows me, that knows what I bring to the table. I've been playing good hockey. Hopefully, it will get me another shot some time. I'm not content with being here; I'm here for the moment."
It's a moment that Bourque and his teammates are seizing. For the second-straight season, the 72-year-old franchise has established a team record for longest regular-season winning streak. The Bears, who first eclipsed their previous record last year by winning 11-straight games from Nov. 14 to Dec. 7, 2008, topped that mark on Jan. 9 when they collected their 12th consecutive victory, a 3-2 decision at Manitoba. Hershey has outscored opponents 52-22 over the course of that run.
With Hershey fielding much of the same cast that raised hardware over their heads last season, it's going to take a mighty yank to tug the Cup out of the Bears' grip this year.
"When you win, people notice you. We're winners now. You can't take that away from anyone," Bourque said. "Hopefully we put that experience to good use. Right now, we're trying to get into that mindset of playing pretty well in April. When I came back, it felt like I was never away. At the same time, it had a different feel to it. It's sort of like (the movie) 'Groundhog's Day.'"
Right place, right time
-- Although he was just trying to figure things out as he went along, Manchester Monarchs forward Tom Cavanagh
's timing this season turned out to be perfect.
The veteran scored in the first game he played this year, Jan. 9 vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The Monarchs signed Cavanagh, 27, earlier in the month to help with their depth.
Cavanagh has been much more than a fill-in for most of his career, with 159 points in 264 AHL games. But he was available at the time because he was trying to decide when a balky knee was going to let him play again. It's been something of a chronic injury and when he banged it up at the end of last season he knew he had to give it an open-ended rest.
"When I took the time off, I felt like I was retired," Cavanagh said. "But that was a short period. When training camp came around, I knew I wasn't ready to go anywhere. I was just hoping it would heal right, that it would feel better so I could get back on the ice. It was kind of day-to-day how it was feeling."
Finally, about a month ago, Cavanagh decided that his knee was ready to go. He still needed a few weeks of competitive-level training plus some extra grind time in Manchester once the Monarchs brought him in.
"I wasn't bummed out. I came to an organization that knows me, that knows what I bring to the table. I've been playing good hockey. Hopefully, it will get me another shot some time. I'm not content with being here; I'm here for the moment." -- Chris Bourque
"Luckily, I was able to land somewhere," he said. "It's just a matter of getting ready to go. I'm just trying to get my feet underneath me. I'm expecting it will be good for the year."
Edwards powers Rampage
-- The installation of Ray Edwards
as the head coach of San Antonio has put the muscle back into the Rampage's power play.
Under former coach Greg Ireland, the Rampage went 12-for-86 (14 percent) on the power play through 18 games. Through its first 20 games under Edwards, the Rampage was 20-for-72 (27.8 percent) on the power play. In its last nine games entering this week, 12 of San Antonio's 26 tallies (42.6 percent) have come on the man-up unit.
"Mostly they've let us do our own thing a little more, give us a little structure, but give us freedom," forward Brett MacLean
said "They've told us, take what's there, be creative. If you see an opening, go for it. It's nice to have freedom as a player. We've got a lot of skill out there. There isn't one guy controlling the power play."
MacLean has returned the trust in a big way. He has played a role in 14 of the Rampage’s 32 power-play goals this season (43.8 percent) with nine power-play tallies and five assists on that unit. MacLean has 10 points (5-5) in his last 11 games, including a game-winner, two power-play goals and four power-play assists
"I'm just trying to find holes out there, and luckily the guys have been able to find me," he said. "I just go to the net. There're a lot of loose pucks. That's where we need to be to score goals."
Around the AHL
-- Bears rookie netminder Braden Holtby
has won nine-consecutive decisions (1.54, .948) and has allowed two goals or fewer in eight of the nine outings. … Worcester set a franchise record with 55 shots on net in a 4-3 decision over Providence on Jan. 9. Ten of those bids came off the stick of defenseman Danny Groulx
. … Worcester's 6-5 overtime decision over Portland on Jan. 10 marked just the second time in Sharks history that they won a game when trailing by four goals. ... John Grahame
made 37 saves in Adirondack’s 3-1 loss at Providence on Jan. 8, his first appearance at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center since backstopping the Bruins to three consecutive conference finals appearances (1999-2001) including the 1999 Calder Cup championship. … The Phantoms suffered back-to-back losses over the weekend in which they scored just one goal in each contest. So far this season there have been 10 games where Adirondack scored just one goal; they are winless in those contests (0-8-2-0). … Lowell netminder Mike McKenna
stopped all 25 shots he faced in the third period of a 3-2 win over Binghamton on Jan. 9. … Syracuse has won all three of its visits to Norfolk this year, but is 2-14-2-2 in all other road contests. … Through 37 games this season, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Dustin Jeffrey
(12-29-41) has already eclipsed his 63-game rookie-year totals in goals (11), assists (26), and points (37). ... The combined four minutes total in penalties in the Binghamton-Lowell game on Jan. 9 set Binghamton’s all-time record for the fewest penalty minutes overall in one game. … Hartford's 3-1 loss to Albany on Jan. 9 was the first regulation loss for the Wolf Pack in their last 15 meetings with the River Rats (13-1-0-1) dating back to January 2005. … Jan Mursak
’s recent five-game goal streak (Dec. 31-Jan. 8) was the longest by a Grand Rapids player since Donald MacLean
scored in a team-record eight straight games from Feb. 25-March 14, 2006. … Bridgeport held Springfield to no shots in the third period of a 3-2 win over the Falcons on Jan. 9, the first time in franchise history the Sound Tigers kept an opponent shot-less for an entire stanza…Peoria went 4-for-6 on the power play in a 5-1 win over Toronto on Jan. 9, its most man-advantage strikes since going 4-for-9 vs. Grand Rapids on Dec. 26, 2006. … Albany’s 21-15-2-2 record marks the organization’s best first-half since the 1998-99 campaign, when the team went 24-11-1-4.