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Hamilton showing signs of improvement with Aeros

by Lindsay Kramer

Houston Aeros second-year forward Ryan Hamilton played a key role in his team clinching a spot in the AHL playoffs.
It's not to say that Houston second-year left wing Ryan Hamilton was cold or anything, but at midseason, the only people who wanted to interview him were family.

And that's exactly what his sister, Melissa, did.

Melissa works in game-day operations for the Toronto Marlies, and was waiting with a gag for Ryan when the Aeros visited Feb. 10. Ryan was set up with a request to do a television interview, and when the camera started rolling, the interviewer bowed out in favor of Melissa.

She brought along some younger photos of him to air, and then proceeded to tell childhood stories about her stunned brother.

"I had no clue about it. It caught me off-guard," Ryan said. "It made me nervous because she had some dirt on me. But I had some dirt on her. I saw (the piece) after. It was pretty good."

The way that Hamilton started playing soon after the pseudo-interview, the folks with microphones should be lining up to talk to him for real.

Hamilton puttered through the end of February with eight goals and 17 assists. Since the start of March, a more aggressive Hamilton has 12 goals and one assist. He has three two-goal games in his last eight games.

The goals have mostly been of the clutch variety, as the Aeros just crossed the finish line to clinch a playoff spot. His 38 points are 22 more than he recorded as a Houston rookie last season.

"Sometimes you just get in that zone where the puck is going where it didn't used to be," he said. "My role has changed dramatically from what it was last year. Being a rookie last year, I was in and out of the lineup. I worked really hard in the summertime, wanted to have a strong, solid year. The whole purpose of the offseason is you want to have a better season than last."

It hasn't necessarily been a prettier one. Most of the 6-foot-2, 219-pound Hamilton's goals have come via some elbow grease around the net. Then again, that style puts him right at home in his team's lineup.

"Our team is a hard-working team. Like a lot of guys, I think if you put in the effort, the results will come," Hamilton said. "It (his improvement) is surprising, but you try to have confidence in yourself that you can get the job done."

Weber fits in with Sabres -- Rochester rookie defenseman Mike Weber knew he had no room for error when he was called up to Buffalo this season.

So his strategy was to make hardly any of them, even when the same couldn't be said of his teammates.

Weber's development was one of the bright spots in the dark seasons of both Rochester and the Sabres. Although plopping a young, defensive defenseman into the middle of a struggling Buffalo squad might not seem like an ideal recipe for success, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Weber excelled with a plus-12 rating with the Sabres in 16 contests.

"When you get called up, you're not expected to play like a rookie. You're expected to play like a pro," said Weber, a second-round pick in 2006. "You don't want to make the rookie mistakes. You have to act like you belong. You get called up for a reason. I didn't feel out of place at all."

That's partly because Weber saw himself in the NHL long before anyone else even dared. As a youngster growing up in Pittsburgh, he wrote an essay for school about how he was going to be a pro hockey player someday. The teacher pulled him aside and told him he had to think more realistically.

Who's the oracle now?

"When you're playing against the top players in the world, it's pretty tough," Weber said. "You line up against (Alex) Kovalev, you're like, 'That's Kovalev.' I have to put him in the boards. I have to stop him. Hockey is a game of confidence. Once I got the confidence, it took off from there."
No, it's not a crank call -- For all of the progress that Wilkes-Barre/Scranton forward Connor James has made this season, there's one thing he's a little slow to pick up on.

Every time his phone rings, and Pittsburgh's front office is on the other end, he's still surprised when the Penguins tell him they need him again. After six recalls, you'd think James would figure out that when he sees that Pittsburgh area code on his caller ID, they are not just checking in to talk about the weather.

"It's a surprise every time," he said. "You are never expecting it. You never know it's going to be you. We have a lot of great players in Wilkes-Barre."

But few are as consistent as James, 25. He has 37 points (9-28) in 61 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, an effort that's a career-best clip and that has earned him 13 games with Pittsburgh.

Before impressing the Penguins so much this year, his only NHL experience came in two contests with the Kings in 2005-06.
James' repeat engagements in Pittsburgh are a testament to the type of energy he brings to a lineup. His offensive numbers are good, but he's not Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's game-breaker.

When Pittsburgh needs him, it's for a caffeine jolt of his speed and buzz.

"They (Pittsburgh) are not scared to call guys up. If you work hard, Pittsburgh will reward that," James said. "They definitely give younger guys an opportunity. I didn't really know how long I'd be there (on each call-up), but it's definitely a great experience. As long as you get called up, you have to be happy, right?”
Around the AHL -- Albany's Michael Leighton has been named the winner of the Aldege "Baz" Bastien Memorial Award as the AHL's outstanding goaltender for the 2007-08 season. Leighton, 26, becomes the first goaltender in Albany's 15-year history to receive the award. He leads the AHL in save percentage (.932), shutouts (seven), saves (1,606) and is tied for the lead in shootout wins (fives). ... Binghamton's Denis Hamel has been selected the winner of the Yanick Dupre Memorial Award as the American Specialty/AHL Man of the Year. The award is presented annually to an AHL player for his outstanding contributions to his local community and charitable organizations. ... Providence's Jordan Sigalet has been named the winner of the Fred T. Hunt Memorial Award as the AHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of sportsmanship, determination and dedication to hockey. ... Syracuse, winners of 12 in a row, tied a franchise record with 10 goals against Rochester on April 6. The Crunch set a franchise record for goals in a period with six in the third in that game. ... Lowell coach Kurt Kleinendorst has been named an assistant coach of the U.S. Men's National Team that will compete in the 2008 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship, May 2-18, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Quebec City, Quebec. Kleinendorst, who was a member of the 1981 U.S. Men's National Team and also played for Team USA during its 1984 pre-Olympic tour, is making his first coaching appearance for the United States. ... Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's 4-3 overtime win against Hershey on April 6 was the 24th road victory of the season for the club, establishing a single-season record. ... Hershey's Alexandre Giroux is the first AHL player with four consecutive 30-goal seasons since Chris Jensen did it for the Bears and the Portland Pirates from 1991-95. ... Grand Rapids has drawn 30,439 fans for its three home games since it was eliminated from playoff contention on March 26, playing before consecutive sellout crowds and an average audience of 10,146, or 94 percent of Van Andel Arena's capacity. ... Albany leads the AHL with 60 players on its roster this season and has set a franchise record for most players on the roster in one year. ... Providence and Quad City have each won 11 shootouts this season, tying the league record. ... Hartford is 22-2-0-1 this season against the AHL's three Massachusetts-based teams (Lowell, Springfield, Worcester), none of whom are playoff bound. ... Cal O'Reilly's assist on Josh Langfeld's goal April 2 was No. 60 of the season, making him the first Milwaukee player since Tony Hrkac in 1996-97 to top the 60-assist plateau.

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