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Hot start has Danis on even keel in Hamilton

by Lindsay Kramer /

Hamilton Bulldogs' goaltender Yann Danis has a 1.12 goals against average and .955 save pct. through three starts.

Any goalie will tell you success depends so much upon taking the correct angles. Hamilton goalie Yann Danis is trying a different one this season.

He saw himself as the stopper-in-waiting for the Bulldogs last season. That didn’t work so well. So now he’s simply popping up as an afterthought, lying in wait and waiting his chance.

“I would say there’s probably more pressure going in knowing you’re the No. 1 guy. When you’re the underdog, the pressure is not as big. If I look at it from the organization’s point of view, I know I’m not in their plans.’’

If that’s so, Danis, 26, looks ready to create a sparkling last impression. Expected to be part of the background scenery behind top prospect Jaroslav Halak, Danis has started the season as hot as any goalie in the AHL. Through his first three starts he rocked with a 1.12 goals-against and a .955 save percentage.

“It’s hard to explain. I just came in and tried not to put too much pressure on myself,’’ said Danis, whose 141 games played is a Bulldogs goalie record. “I’ve played this game for so long. I’ve been successful most of the time.’’

A brief exception to that last season was costly to him professionally. Danis came into the season ready to be the minutes-eater, and the Bulldogs were willing to serve him up. But when he stumbled through his first six games of the season (3.88, .878) that opened the door for newcomer Halak to burst in from virtually nowhere.

Halak made the league his own almost immediately, with six shutouts, a 2.00 goals-against and a .932 save percentage in 28 games. The downtrodden Danis took the leftovers, finishing at 2.81, .905 in 44 games.

“Last year was obviously not the way I wanted to start the year,’’ Danis said. “The way I started the year gave Jaro a chance to show what he could do. It was hard watching him play. It’s definitely something I didn’t want to see happening again.’’

Remarkably it did, in the very same year and at the hands of a completely different phenom. When the AHL playoffs started, Montreal didn’t assign Halak to the Bulldogs. Danis was thinking the postseason ride was going to start under his watch.

Nah. The Canadiens had this kid named Carey Price. They brought him in from juniors for a little playoff seasoning, and Price wound up taking the Bulldogs to the Calder Cup.

When Price beat out Halak in Montreal this preseason, it again started the chain of events that toppled onto Danis. Halak was sent to Hamilton to give himself and the team a shot at an encore from last year.

Early signs are that Danis plans on playing more than a supporting role in this performance, or, at the very least, doing well enough to hook on as an unrestricted free agent with another cast next season.

“I’m No. 4 in their organization. Not that I think I’m a No. 4 guy. I know I can be a No. 1,’’ he said. “I’m hoping to get as much ice time as possible and take the best out of it. It’s always easier when you have a good start and you build confidence.’’

Healy the foundation -- As franchise foundations go, Lake Erie wing Eric Healey still looks every bit the part even at age 32.

A couple of missing front teeth. A square jaw that rests upon a blocky, 6-foot, 205-pound body. A proven scoring touch that produced a career-high 75 points for Springfield last season. Several seasons of playoff appearances.

Early on, though, his greatest contribution to the Monsters could be a wildcard factor completely outside that scouting report -- the perspective to withstand a little rain.

Healey didn’t plan on that, of course, but he got it anyways with a Falcons team last year that finished with the second-fewest points (59) in the AHL. The fledgling Monsters started this season 0-6 before beating Syracuse on Oct. 20.

“I just try to lift the young guys through this,’’ Healey said. “It’s not easy for a young guy to come to the rink when things aren’t going good. The best thing is there’s always tomorrow. Last year and now, it makes you a better person in the end. Things aren’t always easy in this world. It’s the way you handle yourself when you go through such a stretch.’’

Lake Erie coach Joe Sacco praised Healey’s contributions off the ice.

“We brought a guy like Eric Healey in here to stabilize our lineup,’’ Sacco said. “He cares about guys in the room. We have a lot of new faces in the lineup. As you go through difficult times as a team, it’s human nature to feel alone. And you try too hard.’’

A younger Healey might have found himself in that position this season. He was off to a decent enough start, with two goals and an assist in his first seven games. But that complementary effort and a 1-6 start aren’t going to move tickets in Cleveland, where the Barons, Lake Erie’s predecessor, struggled to hit the 100s in the gate count.

“You have to win to have people come,’’ Healey said. “I do feel pressure. But I think it’s healthy pressure. I like to be the guy called upon to win games. The only way we can dictate fan support is if we can win.’’

Roller coaster ride for Konopka -- Almost all the variables of his profession touched Syracuse forward Zenon Konopka during a seven-week stretch in September and October. Will I play again? When can I play again? Who will I play for? What will be my responsibilities when I do play?

Those were the issues that swept through the life of the fiery forward, who may be as indispensable to his team as any player in the league.

Konopka had surgery at the end of last season to repair a broken right hand. The plate and screws that were inserted during the operation bugged him all summer, so in early September he decided to have them taken out. That delayed his return by another month, sprouting doubts about whether he’d come back at full force.

Columbus sent him to work out with the Crunch, but he wasn’t really part of that team because he hadn’t been placed on NHL waivers yet. After he was medically cleared the Blue Jackets put him through that procedure on Oct. 17, raising the solid possibility that another team might claim him in the allowed 24-hour window.

Konopka practiced with Syracuse on the morning of the 18th, even though he might have already been taken by another organization. But he passed waivers and was assigned to Syracuse. On the 19th, he was named team captain and made his season debut.

“It’s been a roller coaster the last seven weeks,’’ Konopka said. “It kind of hit me slowly after the game. There’s so many different things (in your mind). It’s emotionally, obviously, draining. I’m happy to be here. I’m happy with life. It just seems like everything is falling into place.’’

Around the AHL -- The AHL suspended Lake Erie defenseman Dale Purinton 25 games for hitting Iowa forward Marius Holtet in the head during a game on Oct. 17. … Grand Rapids has drawn a capacity crowd (10,834) for every home opener in the franchise’s 12-year history, including all seven seasons in the AHL. ... Albany snapped a five-year winless streak against Manchester with a 5-2 victory on Oct. 19; the River Rats had been 0-11-2-1 against the Monarchs since their previous victory on Dec. 6, 2002. ... Chicago is off to a 4-0-0-0 start for the first time in club history. ... Norfolk saw 12 different skaters record at least one point in its 5-1 win over Binghamton on Friday. … In a first-period fight vs. Providence on Oct. 20, Philadelphia’s Triston Grant sustained a cut over his right eye, and blood on his customary No. 12 jersey forced him to wear No. 24 in the second period while the jersey was washed. Grant returned to No. 12 in the third period. It’s the second time in the last two seasons Grant has had to switch numbers during a game - last year, his No. 12 ripped down the front in a fight, and he completed the game in No. 25. … Goalie Mike McKenna won back-to-back shootouts for Portland over the weekend, stopping all 10 combined attempts by Manchester and Springfield. ... Quad City defenseman Tim Hambly has scored three goals in five games this season, matching his output from 2006-07 when he played 67 games. … The AHL has ruled forward Jesse Boulerice ineligible until Dec. 16. Boulerice was suspended 25 games by the NHL on Oct. 12 for delivering a cross-check to the face of Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler in a NHL game, and was assigned by the Flyers to the Phantoms on Oct. 17. … Chicago Wolves Executive Vice President of Business Operations Adam Fox is leaving the team to become the chief operating officer for the Chicago Sky of the WNBA. A member of the Wolves organization since its inception in 1994, the 40-year-old Fox was on board for all three championships: the 1998 and 2000 IHL Turner Cups and the 2002 AHL Calder Cup.


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