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BriseBois hopes to bring stability in Norfolk

by Lindsay Kramer /
The way the turnstile has spun on the Norfolk general manager's position the past few years, the job is primed for someone who is all in.

Hello, Julien BriseBois. The 33-year-old recently was named assistant GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning. One of his responsibilities is running the Admirals.

That job used to come with a merry-go-round ticket. In a reflection of the Lightning's management instability, the Admirals have had three general managers the past three seasons.

The sample platter stops here, according to BriseBois. He didn't ditch nine seasons of serious career-building in Montreal -- his hometown team -- for a less-successful Tampa Bay-Norfolk tandem just to make a cameo appearance in his new position.

"You only have one home. It's hard to leave it," BriseBois said. "It was a very difficult decision. I'm leaving behind my home, my (extended) family, a fabulous organization. But I was kind of at a crossroads. Usually the most challenging decision is the most rewarding. I knew that eventually it would come to this at some point in my career."

BriseBois, who most recently was GM of Montreal's AHL affiliate in Hamilton, said he felt he had to break free from the Canadiens to improve his odds of career advancement. With Tampa Bay, he joins a cast of similarly adventurous souls who have the look of long-termers on the project. New Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman didn't snip his career-long Detroit ties for a short-term stopover, and new Lightning coach Guy Boucher -- who worked with BriseBois with the Bulldogs last season -- isn't going to step into his first NHL coaching job with anything but unbridled commitment.

"I plan on being here for a while. We're going to work to establish a culture that will be instituted in Tampa and seep all the way to Norfolk," BriseBois said. "The second step will be to ensure a certain presence in Norfolk, so that they (the players) don't feel like they are being sent to the AHL and forgotten. They are not getting one message one year and then another message the next. When they know what's expected of them, most players want to succeed."
Nelson happy with change in plans -- Todd Nelson's five-year plan has been tossed into a jumble.

Somehow, he'll figure out a way to make it work.

Nelson became a first-time AHL coach when he was hired to coach the new Oklahoma City franchise last week.

He saw all of this coming, just not in this order.

Five years ago, Nelson was coach of Muskegon of the UHL. He laid out a five-year agenda that ideally went like this: two years as an AHL assistant, two as an AHL coach and then on to the NHL.

Nelson started down the traditional path with a pair of seasons as an assistant under John Anderson with the Chicago Wolves. But when Anderson was promoted to the NHL-parent Atlanta Thrashers, he took Nelson along as an assistant. When both were let go after the 2009-10 season, Nelson circled back to get a chance to run his own AHL team.

"I did it a bit differently. I knew this year was very critical to get back to being a head coach," said Nelson, 41. "I didn't want to be labeled as an assistant coach. I fell into a great situation here in Oklahoma City. I'm very happy it worked out this way. I think the fans are going to really embrace this team."
Nelson could expedite that process by following his own precedent. He's won three championships as a coach -- two in Muskegon and one in Chicago. Edmonton's previous farm teams, based in Springfield, usually needed binoculars to see the playoff race.

"It's a fresh franchise here. It's our job to put a good product on the ice," he said. "It'd be great to be here for five years, you know what I'm saying? But things always change."

That reality streamed through Nelson's mind as he shopped for housing in the area earlier this week. Buying something was out of the question; a more flexible option was the way to go.

"I just think it's good to rent, the first year anyway, see what happens," he said. "But I think it's probably going to be a pretty good situation here in Oklahoma City."
Willsie looking to finally be part of Hershey's winning tradition -- Brian Willsie just missed all the fun during his first swing through Hershey. With any luck, he might be a key part of the plan to keep it going.

Willsie, a right wing, recently signed a two-way deal with Washington. His depth-player role likely will give him time with the Bears.

Willsie, 32, broke in with Hershey at the start of his career, when the Bears were affiliated with Colorado. In 1996-97, when Willsie was still in junior hockey, he came up at the end of his season and practiced with a Bears team that won the Calder Cup.

"It was fun to be a part of it, winning," he said. "I guess I was still in the junior mode, thinking it (the pros) was a world away. It wasn't even sinking in yet that I would play in that league."

"I plan on being here for a while. We're going to work to establish a culture that will be instituted in Tampa and seep all the way to Norfolk." -- Julien BriseBois

Willsie wound up as a Bears fixture, scoring 86 goals for the team between 1998 and 2003. He's also played in 380 NHL games, scoring 52 goals and 108 points with the Capitals, Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche.

That action took him out of the loop for the Bears' subsequent Calder Cup wins in 2005-06, 2008-09 and 2009-10. With Hershey losing stalwarts Alexandre Giroux (Edmonton), Kyle Wilson (Columbus) and Chris Bourque (KHL), chances for a historic three-peat would seem to be melting away.

But Willsie sees the transfusion of his new/old blood as the type of transition that can keep Hershey a perennial contender. A sprinkling of talent remains from those last two title teams, mixed with veteran additions like him, who want to put up some banners of their own.

"To (keep winning), you have to bring in new guys who haven't won before, maybe have that hunger," he said. "That's part of the smart turnover. That expectation to win, that's a huge thing. If it works, and I can finish my career there, it's nice, and nice to return there."
Sauer hopes new deal is start of good fortune -- When it comes to athletics, Mike Sauer has a lot of family standards to live up to. He hopes his new contract with the New York Rangers is the spark that helps him keep pace.

Sauer, 22, inked a one-year, two-way deal with New York that perhaps will allow his young career to start gathering some momentum. He played a full season with Hartford as a rookie in 2007-08 but suffered a bad knee injury in the playoffs.

Recovery from that ailment carried into the 2008-09 season; although he bounced back strong enough to play his first three NHL games. He played 42 games for the Wolf Pack last season before a shoulder injury cost him the last 32 games.

The new deal with New York was expected, but it was an encouraging reminder that he remains in the Rangers' big-picture plans.

"I knew I'd be fine coming back with my shoulder. I've had injuries in the past. I've responded well to them," Sauer said. "It's been up and down through it all. You have to go with it. I feel like I've had enough of those other pitfalls. I feel like I'm due for a good break."

Sauer hopes it's contagious. His older brother, Kurt, plays for Phoenix but skated in only one game last season because of a concussion. Mike has another older brother, Kent, who is a former pro hockey player and yet another, Craig, who played in the NFL. His father, Curt, played pro baseball.

Since Mike is the only one still starting out his pro career, he has the chance to earn bragging rights as the family's best athlete.

"That wouldn't be bad," he said of surpassing his brothers. "There'd be something with that. But they all worked (hard). Sometimes you need a break here and there. We all had our matter of strengths. Everybody is happy for me. The advantage of being the youngest is seeing your brothers go through all that stuff."

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