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Brine's penchant for giving makes Amerks successful

by Lindsay Kramer /
Rochester Americans center David Brine is one of those players who makes his teammates better.

Sometimes, a lot better.

Brine, a third-line center, has been something of good luck charm for his linemates this season. Four of them -- Kenndal McArdle, Victor Oreskovich, Michal Repik and Shawn Matthias -- have been recalled by the Florida Panthers this season.

"I think these guys earned it themselves. They are good hockey players," Brine said.

True enough, but their promotions also highlight how Brine has improved his game enough to make them stand out.

Brine's subtle contributions are an easy to overlook factor in the Amerks' reversal from one of the worst teams in the AHL last season to one of the best this year. The additions of quality veterans like Clay Wilson, Mike York, Graham Mink, Jeff Taffe and Chris Taylor were instant fixes.

But the gradual development of Brine, 24, is a vital part of the team's new winning chemistry. His 9 goals in 23 games are one more than he had in 79 contests for the Amerks last season and his much-improved skating - always a concern in his game - has allowed him to keep pace with his up-and-coming linemates.

Brine has worked with a skating coach the past two off-seasons and last summer he also picked up a personal trainer.

"Skating has always been a knock on me. Everywhere I've gone, they've said my skating isn't good enough," Brine said. "I definitely see an improvement. Every year you play pro, you have to get better. Going into this year, I felt good about my game."

Brine, in his third full season with the Amerks, luxuriates in the successful aura around his team in general. The newcomers, while helpful, had little sense of how deep into despair the once-proud Amerks had dipped except for when their old teams feasted in Rochester.

"It was pretty tough to go out there every night. Other teams had a lot of veterans," Brine said. "The record wasn't really there. You just have to hope greener pastures are coming. I can definitely appreciate where we are now. Everybody is happier when you are winning."

Players usually say that's a glow that puts everyone in a positive light. Brine got a sip of the NHL two years ago when the Panthers looked at him for nine games. The procession of linemates from Rochester to Florida would seem likely to eventually circle around and include a spot for the new and improved Brine, even if he's not as flashy as those who preceded him.

"I understand I'm at my best when I'm grinding. When I get that role, it's a challenge, it helps keep me focused," he said. "You can't think about (his own recall). They have certain holes they want to fill up there. You have to focus on what you are."

Well worth the wait -- Wilkes-Barre/Scranton goalie Adam Berkhoel envisioned spending a lot less time in Wheeling of the ECHL to start the season than he actually did.

The extra seasoning turned out to be well worth the wait.

Berkhoel, making his first AHL start of the season, stepped in goal for the Penguins like he'd never been away and threw a shutout at the Syracuse Crunch on Dec. 9.

Berkhoel was returning from a rehab run in Wheeling that he thought would last a couple weeks, but that instead lingered for two months. Berkhoel had a pair of surgeries on his left knee last summer, and the operations cut into his off-season work and kept him out of training camp.

That slowed his debut with the Nailers, and Berkhoel is the first to admit that he had done nothing to deserve an earlier promotion. He went 4-4-1, .881, 3.54 in Wheeling.

"Every year you play pro, you have to get better. Going into this year, I felt good about my game." -- David Brine

"It just took a lot longer than I thought," said Berkhoel, 28. "It was just consistency. I couldn't put back-to-back games together. That's one of the main concerns of myself. Medically, I was fine. Being down there that long was frustrating. In the end, it all worked out to get back here."

Berkhoel's emergence gives Wilkes-Barre/Scranton another layer of comfort in goal, to go along with established starter John Curry. Berkhoel was re-signed by the Pens after going 15-11-2, .910, 2.53 for that team last year.

"When you bring someone back from the ECHL, and they are not 100 percent, you are not doing them any favors. If you don't give them a chance to recover, they won't, for the most part," Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach Todd Reirden said of Berkhoel's extended rehab. "We signed Adam back for a reason. He had a great year last year for us. It's been a tough few months for him. To his credit, he stayed sharp."

MacLean makes his point -- First-year Lowell Devils coach John MacLean has taken a direct approach toward injecting some offense into the formerly low-scoring Devils.

That's direct, as in putting the cards on the table for the players who should be the best on his team.

Example A is veteran center Tim Sestito. For some reason, Sestito said he felt a little too deferential at the start of the season. In practice, he began over-passing. MacLean cornered him for a chat about a topic on which MacLean qualifies as an expert - scoring.

"He just pulled me aside and told me I'm getting all my points from shooting, not passing," Sestito said. "He told me I have to be a shooter. I'm not skilled enough to be passing up shots to make pretty plays. I'm just trying to find a spot where I can get my shot off."

At 25, Sestito has been around long enough to know sound advice when he hears it. In his last two seasons, with Springfield, he produced a combined total of 12 goals. Through his first 18 games with Lowell, the third-liner unearthed 9 for a Devils squad that ranks third in the AHL in scoring (3.40 goals per game). Before this season, Lowell had never finished above 22nd in the AHL in scoring.

Sestito's effort has been worth nine games with New Jersey this season, after getting just one career NHL game entering this year.

"When I was (in New Jersey), I wasn't nervous at all. I started to feel like I belonged," Sestito said. "I think after my second or third game, I settled down. You realize there's more time than you think you've got out there, you realize everybody plays the same way. I made plays. Once you make one, you feel like you can make another."

Around the AHL -- The AHL has announced the four people selected for induction into its Hall of Fame as the Class of 2010: Former league executive Macgregor Kilpatrick, three-time Calder Cup champ coach John Paddock, former goalie Marcel Paillé and 804-point scorer Bill Sweeney. ... Adirodack defenseman Danny Syvret shaved it as close as possible with his game-winning tally vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Dec. 13. His marker with 0.1 left was the difference in a 3-2 Phantoms win. His only other goal this season came at Springfield on Dec. 6 when he found the back of the net with 1.6 seconds remaining in overtime. ... Hartford had won 13-straight games over Albany prior to a 2-1 shootout loss to the River Rats on Dec. 13. ... The River Rats have allowed one goal or less in their last six games. ... Portland is 6-1-1-1 in its last nine road games after starting the year 1-8-1-0 away from the Cumberland County Civic Center. ... Syracuse forward Bates Battaglia produced a pair of goals vs. Binghamton on Dec. 12, the first time that a Crunch player has scored more than once in a game this season. ... Lake Erie tied a franchise record for most tallies in a game in its 7-3 victory over Chicago on Dec. 13. ... Hamilton goalie Cedrick Desjardins has stopped 95 of 96 shots over his last four starts. ... Kris Newbury’s 29 penalty minutes during the second period of a contest against Milwaukee on Dec. 12 matched a Griffins all-time high for PIM in a single frame. ... Eleven different players scored the game-winning goal in Peoria’s first 11 regulation victories. ... Lowell's five power-play goals and Cory Murphy's four assists in a 6-1 win over Springfield on Dec. 15 both tied team records. ...Texas' 5-2 loss to Houston Dec. 15 gave the Stars their first two-game losing streak this season.

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