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Goepfert readies for his chance in ECHL

by Lindsay Kramer
Bobby Goepfert insists he has a smile on his face when he's working. It's just that you can't see it because he keeps his head down and goes about his business.

As a 5-foot-10 goalie who has been underestimated all his career, that's probably the wisest strategy.

"Nobody really believes in smaller guys. It hasn't been easy. That's for sure," he said. "I don't know how I would handle it if it was easy."

Goepfert should feel as comfortable as an old catching glove in the Charlotte Checkers system. He's traveled a long way to probably sit in a traffic jam there. Goepfert, 27, has signed an AHL/ECHL deal with the Checkers after playing last year in Germany. Right now, that drops him into the five-hole on the Carolina Hurricanes' impressive depth chart, behind Cam Ward, Justin Peters, Mike Murphy and Justin Pogge. Ward is on an NHL deal while the last three have NHL/AHL pacts.

"I'm not going to show up in training camp, push guys out of the net, ruffle feathers," Goepfert said. "It (returning from Germany) was more about opportunity than anything. I feel like Europe is always going to be there. I understand my role. I'm the fifth guy. I'm preparing for my chance, whether it comes in October or February."

The waiting game has worked for Goepfert in the past. He was a Hobey Baker Award finalist for St. Cloud State in 2007 and was the starting goaltender for the United States at the 2003 World Juniors, where he led the tournament with a .937 save percentage. But at the pro level he got only 33 games with Augusta of the ECHL in 2007-08 and the next year saw three games for Hershey and one with Portland of the AHL and 13 with South Carolina of the ECHL.

"Well, my North American experience has been kind of rough. Coming out of college, I thought there'd be brighter stuff on the horizon," he said. "Every year in the North American game there's new younger guys. It washes older guys out. It's kind of frustrating. At times, it's disappointing. But it's also motivating. It fires you up, gets you angry, (saying), 'Why can't I catch a break?"'
Nailers give kids a chance -- A couple prospects who proved to be the best young players in other leagues are getting a chance to show how that promise transfers to the ECHL, courtesy of the Wheeling Nailers.

New coach Stan Drulia's latest signing is center Darryl Smith, who was the Central Hockey League's Rookie of the Year for Laredo in 2009. Smith carries a lot of momentum through the start of his pro career in Laredo, with 35 goals and 71 points last year and 36 goals and 70 points two seasons ago. Smith potted a hat trick in his first pro game, on Oct. 17, 2008.

In the fall of 2009, Smith participated in the Atlanta Thrashers' prospect camp, scoring 1 goal and adding 2 assists in four games. Both of his assists were on goals tallied by Evander Kane of the Thrashers.

"I was given every opportunity to succeed in Laredo. The adjustment period didn't take too long," said Smith, 23. "The ECHL will probably be a little quicker. I think it will be a different game, but I'm not too sure how different."

Wheeling had already pocketed 2010 IHL Rookie of the Year Mikael Bedard, another forward, who went 35-38 with Drulia's Port Huron squad.

"They both work hard," Drulia said. "There's not a whole lot of difference between the leagues. Speed is the biggest thing. Both these guys can skate."
On the comeback trail -- Adam Keefe's rehab work is off to a swimming start in beautiful Laguna Beach, Calif., and, in a sense, will continue with a stretch in Toledo this season that's just as important.

Keefe, a forward, has signed a free-agent pact with the Walleye. Last season, shoulder and bicep injuries he suffered in a preseason fight while playing for the Panthers limited him to 24 games with Toledo. It also detoured what had been predominantly an AHL career to that point. Keefe, 26, has skated in 176 games in the AHL among Manitoba, Grand Rapids, and San Antonio.

The scrapper took an ECHL deal with the Walleye this season, certainly no mere consolation prize because Keefe has a warm spot for the city. Toledo is where Keefe began his pro career in 2005-06.

While the effort he's putting into his training is a large part of his comeback, Keefe thinks that another run under Toledo coach Nick Vitucci will also go a long ways toward putting his career back in the right groove.

"Nick plays me there, and plays me a lot. I haven't given up by any means on my career. But the point I'm at, I want to play a lot," Keefe said. "The atmosphere is crazy there, and makes you want to play hockey. That's where I want to be, that's where I want to play. I want to win this year. I want to put a winning team on the ice."

Wild Condors -- Bakersfield has landed an affiliation with the Minnesota Wild.

The Wild becomes the second NHL affiliate in Condors' history. In the past two seasons, 22 players have moved up from the Condors to the AHL or NHL, and in 2009-10 five Condors suited up in both Bakersfield and the NHL, all with Anaheim, last season's Condors affiliate.

In other ECHL news:

* Mark Wallace has been named new general manager of Reading. Wallace was the director of sales for the Sovereign Center and Royals for the past three years. Wallace replaces Gordon Kaye, the GM for the last five seasons, who left for a position as executive director and general manager of the Rockford (Illinois) Area Venues and Entertainment board.

* Wheeling broadcaster Bob Rotruck will be joining the Adirondack Phantoms in that same capacity. The Phantoms are the AHL affiliate for the Philadelphia Flyers and are owned by Nailers co-Presidents Rob and Jim Brooks. Rotruck becomes the third Wheeling broadcaster to advance to the AHL. Dave Goucher was with the Wheeling Thunderbirds in 1993-94, moved up to the Providence Bruins and now calls games for the Boston Bruins. Brendan Burke, who worked for Wheeling from 2006-08, is entering his third season as the voice of the Peoria Rivermen.

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