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Complete game sparks Nolan's turnaround season

by Lindsay Kramer /

Brandon Nolan has posted 15 goals so far this season and is six goals ahead of his previous season's stats.
For most of his life, Albany left wing Brandon Nolan has had a coach in his ear.

Growing up as the son of former Sabres and current Islanders coach Ted Nolan, he couldn’t avoid it. It was certainly a benefit, helping Brandon, 24, to an extended run in the AHL. Now, a different pair of coaching voices may push him even farther.

In his fifth pro year, Nolan is enjoying a bust-out season. He has 15 goals and 16 assists for the Rats, totals that far exceed anything he’s posted in the AHL. When asked where the turnaround this season starts, he nodded at the no-nonsense, fire-lighting techniques of Albany head coach Tom Rowe and assistant Geordie Kinnear.

“Both coaches have taught me how to play a complete game,’’ Nolan said. “I’m a slow developer. I think it took two good coaches to show me how to play the game. Tom was a little tough on me early on, when I was taking nights off. Lately, I’ve been competing hard every night. It’s pretty much a make-it or break-it year for me.’’

This is the type of effort that Rowe envisioned from Nolan when he watched him play as an opponent in Bridgeport last season. Then it became a matter of turning over Nolan’s engine. It didn’t take much -- Nolan still points to one healthy scratch earlier this season as his personal accelerant.

“We liked his energy every time we played Bridgeport last year. What we didn’t know was how high a skill level he has,’’ Rowe said. “We just needed him to compete harder. He deserves the credit.’’

These days, Nolan has all kinds of energy. In a span of 11 days, from Jan. 3-13, he was recalled by Carolina three times. He played a total of five games in five days with the Hurricanes and Rats combined from Jan. 9-13.

The back-and-forth hasn’t slowed him a bit. He started the week on an eight-game points streak (5- 7) for Albany. That’s where the big-picture advice from his father comes in.

“Just (have) energy, going up. Not too many guys get to go up that many times in a year,’’ Brandon said. “When you’re up there, you’re up there day-by-day. You work hard when you’re up, try to stay there. Yeah, I’m tired. But it’s hockey. You get up for it naturally.’’

The Comeback Kid -- The AHL season is barely half over, but already the comeback story of the year has been locked up.

Providence goalie Jordan Sigalet returned to action last weekend for the first time since Nov. 16, when he collapsed during a game due to complications from Multiple Sclerosis. Sigalet stopped all 18 shots he faced in 36:05 of relief work vs. Worcester on Jan. 11, and made 16 saves in a 3-1 win over Springfield on Jan. 13.

“Every day I step on the ice reminds me how lucky I am to do what I do,’’ Sigalet said. “It was a thrill stepping out there the other night. I kind of had shivers going down my spine.’’

Sigalet isn’t sure what triggered the relapse, but said he should have seen it coming on because he had been feeling tired. He doesn’t remember much about it, because when his head struck the ice it knocked him unconscious. It took him weeks to fully regain the strength in his legs.

“Everyone was positive and hopeful. But it could have gone either way,’’ he said of his return. “I was obviously worried at first. There was days where I had doubts I was going to get better.’’

Sigalet said he feels much better than he did in the weeks leading up to his episode, but he knows he can’t rule out more complications someday.

“It’s obviously going to be in the back of your mind. You can think the worst about everything, but it’s not going to do you any good,’’ he said. “It (a relapse) can happen anywhere. It’s too bad it happened on the ice in front of so many people.’’

Think outdoors -- The afterglow of the popular NHL Winter Classic has at least a handful of AHL officials wondering whether some of that success might be transferred to their league on a much smaller scale.

AHL President Dave Andrews said he’s heard some owners are tossing around exploring the feasibility of an outdoor game in their markets in a “very preliminary way.’’ Andrews said such an event might work in places like Winnipeg, Toronto, Hamilton, Hershey and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. An outdoor game could be tried at a minor-league baseball park or a college football field. The expectations would have to be dialed down several notches from the NHL’s experience, though, since there would likely be no national television carrier, far fewer fans and much lower ticket prices.

“There’s some guys looking it. I think there is a lot of places that could pull it off,’’ Andrews said. “I think it’s been mentioned a couple of times. I have never looked into what the costs actually are. For us, you are not going to have the same bite on national television. So what you’re asking yourself is what the impact would be on a local market. There’re a lot of things to be considered.’’

In his market, Syracuse owner Howard Dolgon estimated that an outdoor game could pull in 30,000 people if done right.

“It’s a thought. It is intriguing, to say the least,’’ Dolgon said. “It may not make sense expense-wise.’’

Around the AHL -- Red-hot Aeros goalie Nolan Schaefer’s shutout streak ended at 151:36 against San Antonio on Jan. 11. But that marked just the second-longest such streak for Schaefer this season. He posted a run of 160:19 in December. … In his last 18 starts, Schaefer has a .940 save percentage and a 1.63 goals-against average. … Dimitri Patzold’s blanking of Providence on Jan. 11 represented the first shutout in the two-year history of the Worcester Sharks. … From the embarrassment of riches department: Chicago forward Alexandre Giroux collected three goals and four points in two games last week after appearing in just two of the team’s previous nine games because of the AHL’s veteran rule. … After not scoring in his first 20 career AHL games, rookie Mark Letestu has five goals in his last five contests for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. … It was a week of milestones for Albany captain Keith Aucoin. He scored his first career NHL goal on Jan. 10 against the New Jersey Devils, and then produced his second Jan. 12 vs. Colorado. He also played in his 500th professional game for Carolina in its road win over Boston on Jan. 8. On Jan. 13, he assisted on Brandon Nolan’s goal against Syracuse for his 500th career pro point. …. Twelve of the Grand Rapids Griffins’ last 16 games and 15 of their last 20 contests have been decided by a single goal. … In four games last week, Philadelphia took a total of 25 first-period shots (6, 8, 3 and 8) for an average of 6.25 shots per period. In the third period over the same four games, the Phantoms took a total of 52 shots (8, 16, 17, 11) for an average of 13 shots per period.


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