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Hughes overcomes injury, fear to play

by Lindsay Kramer /
Of all the goals Albany center Bobby Hughes ever scores, few will hold as much meaning for him as the one he potted with less than a second left against Hershey on Oct. 31.

The immediate importance was that the score, Hughes' first of the season, sent the game into overtime.

From a psychological healing perspective, it was a goal that many thought he never should have tried to score in the first place.

Including several doctors.

"That's probably the biggest I've had for a long time," Hughes said. "It was a weight lifted off my shoulders. Now I can relax and not panic with the puck."

When it comes to that latter emotion, Hughes now has a frame of reference that goes far beyond hockey.

Hughes, 20, took a hit to his nose playing against Philadelphia last Jan 5. When he got a CAT scan for that injury, it was revealed that he has an abnormality in his spinal cord. Hughes was told it was risky for him to play, so he sat out the rest of the season.

During the summer, Hughes got opinions from 7 or 8 doctors. He traveled from Albany to Boston to Los Angeles to Cleveland to Toronto in search of them.

Some said he shouldn't risk it. Others said he would be OK taking the ice again. What frustrated Hughes the most was that each doctor had entirely different reasons for whatever position they took.

"At first, I didn't know what to do," Hughes said. "By the end, a few more leaned toward I could play. Once we learned more about it, it wasn't as big as some of the doctors who didn't want me to play (thought). It took awhile to convince myself (to come back)."

Almost the entire offseason, actually. Hughes worked out during the summer, but couldn't go through any contact. He decided to go to Carolina's camp only a week before it began. It was still several days after that before he got full medical clearance, and he missed the first 3 games of the regular season trying to get back into top shape.

That goal against Hershey was only the most obvious milepost in his comeback. Earlier in the game he got nailed from behind. Fear was the initial emotion, Hughes admitted. When he got a grip and realized everything was still OK, relief took over.

"If I get hurt, it's not going to be because of what I have, but the way I got hit," Hughes said. "I feel great. It's not in the back of my head anymore. Part of the process is not worrying about that. It's more working hard every shift, because you have a grasp on how quickly it can end."
He's my brother -- As the older brother by 3 years, Peter Schaefer used to score many a goal on his sibling, Nolan, a goalie, during their youth pickup games in Yellow Grass, Saskatchewan.

"He taught me quite a few lessons on how to close the 5-hole," Nolan said.

Peter became a good enough player to skate in 556 NHL games before Boston sent him to Providence this season. And Nolan took his schooling well, carving out a long AHL career that now has him guarding the net for Houston. On Oct. 31, the brothers met as opponents for the first time in a real game when the P-Bruins and Aeros faced off.

Nolan went away smiling, as his team won 4-2. Peter put 2 shots on his brother, but was scoreless. Nolan said he and Peter went out for dinner the night before the game but didn't exchange a word on the ice.

"I didn't really like playing against him. I know how skilled he is, the kinds of passes he makes," Nolan said. "And the other thing, being your brother, you want him to do well as he can. At the same time, you have to watch out for yourself and your team."

It was a fraternal weekend in the AHL. On Nov. 1, Manchester forward Kevin Westgarth skated against his older brother, Brett, a defenseman/forward with Worcester, for the first time as pros.
"I feel great. It's not in the back of my head anymore. Part of the process is not worrying about that. It's more working hard every shift, because you have a grasp on how quickly it can end." -- Bobby Hughes
Both Westgarths are physical players, and traded a couple of jabs in their game. But that was as far as things got, mostly because of the mandate their mother, Gilda, gave them.

"Mom said that we couldn't fight when it became evident that we were going to play each other," Kevin said. "She's tougher than the 2 of us put together."

Maybe, but the Sharks and Monarchs meet 7 more times this season.

The Syracuse Crunch could be in for a couple of these types of reunions soon. Forward Tom Sestito's brother, Tim, is the captain of Springfield. The Falcons and Crunch meet Nov. 14. And Crunch defenseman Kris Russell has a twin, Ryan, who plays for Hamilton. Those teams play for the first time this season on Dec. 27.
Backup plan -- The value of a goalie coach typically lies in his ability to teach netminders how to play.

In the case of Hartford backstop Matt Zaba, he got a got a helpful tip from his mentor on how to sit on the bench.

Zaba, a second-year pro, was called up 3 times from Charlotte of the ECHL last year, covering 8 Hartford games. He did not play in any of them.

So this season, as the No. 2 behind Miika Wiikman, Zaba recently sought out New York goalie coach Benoit Allaire for help. He asked Allaire how New York backup Steve Valiquette coped as the caddy to Henrik Lundqvist.

"He basically said try to stay positive as much as you can," Zaba said. "It's going to be a long year if you are bitter. I understand the position I'm in. It's definitely a mental game trying to stay sharp not knowing when the next game will be. I just try to have as much fun as I can."

That became a lot easier on Nov. 1. The good soldier Zaba earned his first AHL win with a 3-1 win against Albany.
Around the AHL -- Houston and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton combined for 3 goals in 41 seconds in a game Nov. 2. That marked the fastest 3 goals scored by 2 teams in the Aeros’ 15-year history. ... The Aeros are 5-0-0-0 against West Division opponents and 1-4-0-0 against the rest of the league. … Portland's offense ranks fourth in the league with an average of 3.75 goals per game despite sitting 19th in the league with just 28.25 shots per contest. ... On Nov. 1, Hartford extended its franchise record for longest winning streak against a single opponent to 12 by knocking off Albany 3-1. … Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's Chris Minard netted a hat trick against Houston on Nov. 2, the third of his Penguins career. That ties him with Michel Ouellet for the franchise record. … The Phantoms' Boyd Kane, who captained both Philadelphia (2005) and Hershey (2006) to Calder Cup championships, netted a hat trick Nov. 1 in Hershey as the Phantoms rallied from a 2-1 deficit to post a 5-2 victory. ... Manitoba, on an 8-game winning streak, has outscored opponents 28-10 during that stretch. ... Quad City has scored the game's first goal a league-high 8 times this season but is only 3-4-1-0 in games where they do so. ... Philadelphia's Danny Syvret recorded exactly 20 points in each of his first three AHL seasons; he is already more than halfway to that mark with 11 points in 10 games this season. ... Iowa has been outscored 27-14 over the first 2 periods so far, but holds a 14-4 edge in the third period and overtime.

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