At the start of the season, Grand Rapids forward Evan McGrath
gave teammate Jakub Kindl
a black Rolling Stones baseball cap. The hat is a little worn by now, but Kindl keeps yanking it onto his head.
Kindl, a second-year defenseman, isn't really a big fan of the group. But it comes in handy with his sometimes unruly hairstyle.
''Every day I walk into the rink, my hair looks like a mess,'' Kindl said. ''I didn't want to look a mess.''
Kindl can appreciate how tidying up just a little bit can make all the difference in the perception of others.
In an organization where defensive talent is stacked up like planes on a runway, Kindl at last looks ready to take off. His 29 points (5-24) in 55 games are 12 more than he produced in 75 games last season. And just as encouraging, his minus-15, while still in need of a little grooming, is a major improvement from his unsightly minus-34 last season.
''Of course I would like to clean it up a little bit," said Kindl, the 19th pick in the 2005 Entry Draft. "You're a defenseman. I would rather change my points to be pluses. Everything last year I did felt like it went wrong. I didn't have a good year.''
To be fair, the same could be said for the Griffins team as a whole, as the squad missed the playoffs. Kindl turned Grand Rapids' bad luck into his good fortune, as he spent the Red Wings' Stanley Cup run with the team.
''I learned lots, even though I was (just) practicing, see the guys, how they prepare. They are working their (behinds) off in the gym,'' said Kindl, 22. ''The best players are in the NHL. It makes sense why some of the guys are playing in the NHL and why some aren't. That's probably why I am here.''
First-year Griffins coach Curt Fraser
said when he took over, he heard lots of questions about Kindl's play last season. All he's seen so far are answers.
''Right from the opening faceoff (in the prospects tournament) in Traverse City, I heard things about him (but) I never saw any of it,'' Fraser said. ''Through the year so far he's improved in every area. He's been our best defenseman breaking out of our end, he's got good speed. The kid is playing hard on the ice. He can do everything. Now he has to do everything real well.''
Kindl and Fraser agree that the current depth chart likely has Jonathan Ericsson
as the Grand Rapids defenseman at the front of the line for a promotion to Detroit. After that, it looks like Kindl isn't going to let anyone else get past him.
''This year it's a different story," said Kindl. "You get the feeling you are having a better year, things are going better. You hope you get your first NHL shot. They have a pretty deep lineup. It's hard to find a spot up there. You have to learn how to play down here, maybe you'll get a shot.''
Three hurt in bus crash
-- A bus carrying the Albany River Rats skidded off the Massachusetts Turnpike early Thursday morning, causing several serious injuries.
"We started rolling and ended up on the side on the guard rail," coach Jeff Daniels
told the Albany Times Union.
The bus landed on its side and a portion of the vehicle came to rest on the highway. Inside, players were thrown from their seats. Some were bleeding. State Police would later say at least three of the injuries appeared serious.
Daniels described a chaotic scene as players and staff scrambled out of the bus through broken windows and the hatch on the roof.
Other motorists who came upon the 3:30 a.m. crash scene stopped on the shoulders and started directing traffic to keep other vehicles from smashing into the disabled bus.
The AHL team gathered in the median, waiting for emergency crews to arrive on the scene. "We were very fortunate and lucky," Daniels said.
The bus, heading west on the Massachusetts Turnpike, was driving in snowy weather, returning to the Capital Region after a game Wednesday night in Lowell, Mass.
According to the Albany Times Union, three people suffered serious injuries in the wreck, and four people were admitted to Berkshire Medical Center.
While police describe the worst injuries as serious, Daniels said they did not appear to be life threatening.
"We were very fortunate and lucky," Daniels said.
The seriously injured people are a mix of players and team employees, Rats coach Jeff Daniels
said, but declined to identify any of them until families can be contacted.
The team was returning from Lowell when the bus hit bad weather in the Berkshire Mountains and rolled, Daniels said. It struck a guardrail, coming to rest on its side and partially on the highway. The discovery of the disabled bus prompted other motorists to stop their vehicles on the highway and then try to slow approaching traffic, Daniels said.
Some of the seriously injured suffered lacerations during the accident.
"They've been great looking after us," Daniels said from the hospital this morning. "The shock is starting to wear off."
The bus was heading back to Albany after playing in Lowell, Mass. Wednesday night. It overturned just east of Lee.
The coach and the rest of the team are still at the hospital this morning.
Owen Newkirk, the team's broadcaster and communications director who was reached by phone at the hospital, said he had a slight concussion but otherwise was all right. He said he crawled through a window to escape the wreckage.
Most of the team is headed back to the Times Union Center from Pittsfield and should arrive shortly.
The River Rats are scheduled to play Friday night at the Times Union Center against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. It's unclear if the game will be played.
Building Turris' confidence
-- The Coyotes are giving hotshot forward Kyle Turris
a taste of the American Hockey League so he can feel good about his game again, according to Phoenix Assistant General Manager Brad Treliving.
At this rate, Turris will be downright ecstatic very soon.
Turris, the third pick of the 2007 Entry Draft, has landed in the AHL like a boulder splashing into a wading pool. In his first three games with San Antonio, he produced 4 goals and 3 assists.
Treliving said Turris is getting a taste of the AHL simply because his minutes in Phoenix were slipping a bit. In 50 games there, he had 6 goals and 10 assists.
''With young players, the only way they progress is playing in a lot of situations -- a lot," Treliving said. "This is not a situation where Kyle played poorly at all. This is a player who will be a centerpiece of what we're doing. The skill is undeniable.''
"The best players are in the NHL. It makes sense why some of the guys are playing in the NHL and why some aren't. That's probably why I am here."
-- Jakub Kindl
For his part, Turris doesn't seem too bothered by what looks like a very brief change in competition.
''Everybody works hard (in the AHL) because they want to make the next step,'' he said. ''I just came down with my eyes open. I'm trying to learn what I can.''
Bell goes off for Deveaux
-- Marlies forward Andre Deveaux
has 9 goals in 18 games this season. John Anderson
deserves an unofficial assist on all of them.
Anderson, now the coach of the Atlanta Thrashers
, coached Deveaux with the Chicago Wolves last season. For most of the 6-foot-4 Deveaux's career to that point, he had been a third-line enforcer. Early last year, Anderson pulled him into his office and told him not to be afraid to try and score every now and then.
''He said, 'You're not in trouble. You haven't done anything wrong,''' Deveaux said of the one-on-one chat. ''I remember him saying, 'You don't have to play like a robot. It's OK to try things, as long as you try them at the right time.'''
And the right time is now. There was too much offensive talent on the Wolves for Deveaux to break out as a scorer on that team. After signing with the Marlies as a free agent last summer, Deveaux, 24, knew it was the right time and the right place to peek out of his hockey cocoon.
His goals total is the highest of his five-year AHL career, and in far fewer games. The reason why he's played so few contests with the Marlies is that he got 20 games with the Maple Leafs, his first NHL taste.
''I think a lot of it has to do with confidence," Deveaux said. "In juniors, that held me back. I think I can get some points. I want to explore that part of my game, too. This is my fifth year (pro). I feel like I've earned it a little bit.''
Around the AHL
-- Manitoba entered the week 12-0-0-2 in its last 14 road games, one shy of the single-season AHL record for most consecutive road games with a point. ... Hamilton signed left wing Steve Gainey
to an AHL contract for the remainder of the season. Gainey, son of Montreal GM Bob Gainey, has 4 points in 17 games with the Bulldogs this year. ... Bulldogs goalie Marc Denis
earned his fifth shutout of the season Feb. 11 against Norfolk. That's one behind the Hamilton record for most shutouts in a season, set by Jaroslav Halak
in 2006-07. ... The Wolves have named defenseman Jamie Rivers
captain for the rest of the season. The 33-year-old blueliner becomes the sixth player and second defenseman in franchise history to don the "C," following Steve Maltais
(1994-1996 and 1997-2005), Troy Murray
(1996-97), Kevin Dahl
(2000-01), Derek MacKenzie
(2005-06) and Darren Haydar
(2007-08). ... Hershey's Keith Aucoin
hit the 500-point mark for his AHL career Feb. 14, the 74th player in history to reach that milestone. ... The Phantoms will wear a Broad Street Bullies-themed specialty jersey when the club hosts Portland on Feb. 20. ... Lowell took 26 shots in the third period of a 7-6 shootout loss to Portland on Feb. 15, scoring twice in the final 24 seconds to force overtime. ... Michael Ryan
set a River Rats season mark by scoring just 1:24 into the first period of a win at Binghamton on Feb. 11. That record lasted only three days, until Dwight Helminen
lit the lamp 19 seconds after the opening faceoff against Lowell. ... In 21 AHL games between Feb. 14 and 15, 147 goals were scored for an average of seven per game during that two-day span. Three teams -- Lowell, Quad City and Houston -- reached the seven-goal plateau Feb. 14, and Portland registered a 7-6 shootout win against Lowell in the highest-scoring contest Feb. 15. ... Entering the week, Portland's Tim Kennedy
had scored 7 goals in his last seven games following a 28-game drought. ... Grand Rapids plays three games in three days at home this weekend. The only other time in franchise history the team pulled that off was Jan. 20-22, 2000, when the Griffins skated in the IHL.