The Calder Cup Playoffs have a rejuvenating impact on Manitoba center Jason Krog
, making everything seem and feel new again even though he's pretty much seen and done it all.
"'The playoffs are the most fun time of the year for me. Any time you get to play a couple months after the season ends, you enjoy it," he said. "Any time you get a chance to win something, it brings you back to your roots. It's that hunger you felt when you were younger. It's more about your will to win."
At age 33, Krog surely has that. He paces the Moose with 13 points in 12 playoff games, helping Manitoba steam into the Western Conference finals against Houston. That production has furthered his reputation as one of the AHL's all-time great clutch players, ranking him fifth in career playoff points (98), tied for 13th in goals (34) and third in assists (64).
But as great as those numbers are, that type of glory isn't what keeps Krog plugging away in North America. He won a Calder Cup with the Wolves last season and had a deal worked out to play in Russia this year. He opted out of that only to get a last-chance NHL run with Vancouver.
That worked out to the tune of just four games with the Canucks, leaving him to play 74 with Manitoba (30-56). Despite over-the-top production in the AHL, Krog hasn't been an NHL regular since 2003-04 with Anaheim.
"I was hoping I'd get to play in the NHL (this season). That didn't work out too good," he said. "I'm not going to worry about (why not). The more you think about it, the more it hurts your game. I'm still having fun playing hockey."
Krog leaves the definite impression that he'll have a new address next year, though. He stops just short of saying he'll be in the market for a European contract this summer. He even puts a light spin on the issue, saying maybe he'll team up with former Chicago teammate Darren Haydar
, who played with Grand Rapids this season, for an overseas package deal.
"We talked a little bit. But we will probably wait until the end of the season, see what each of us has in mind," Krog said. "I'd probably be leaning toward Europe. Maybe my time (here) has passed. There's so many guys in the same boat. You can't feel sorry about it."
Rare double wedding in Providence
-- Two players on the Providence Bruins entered into holy matrimony with their long-time girlfriends this season. First-year coach Rob Murray
, a pro since 1987-88, had never seen or heard of timing like that.
If there's a page in the coaching manual about how to handle these types of challenges, Murray couldn't find it. So he wished the guys good luck and made sure their schedules fit in with the requirements of the team.
"It's an oddity. But I'm using that as an example as to what thing's on your plate occasionally," said Murray, an assistant for the P-Bruins for the previous five years. "You play a sport, you play a game, but they are real people, too. A lot of those things cropped up that as an assistant you don't really have a hand in. You try to be fair to the player. Somewhere along the line, you hope it pays back in dividends."
The returns have been well worth the handful of head-scratchers.
Murray has steered the Bruins into the Atlantic Division finals against Worcester. He was the only full-season rookie head coach among the AHL's elite eight (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's Todd Reirden
took over late in the season).
The ride is progressing with one eye cautiously glancing in the rear-view mirror. Murray was an assistant on the Bruins team last year that led the AHL in points but was ousted in the second round of the playoffs.
"I got asked a question earlier in the playoffs about expectations. There was expectations last year we didn't live up to. This year, there is still that expectation," he said. "Everything is in place. It's just a matter of guys going out and executing it. But that's not to say you don't get nervous. Over the past days all nervousness subsides. You allow what got you there to get you through."
Aeros not lacking in leadership
"I was hoping I'd get to play in the NHL (this season). That didn't work out too good. I'm not going to worry about (why not). The more you think about it, the more it hurts your game. I'm still having fun playing hockey." -- Jason Krog
-- Houston captain Clayton Stoner
admits he wasn't a huge fan when the Aeros, following the lead of parent club Minnesota, decided to rotate captains through the course of the regular season.
Halfway into the AHL's playoffs, he understood the method behind the madness. Houston won two Game 7s on the road this postseason -- becoming just the third team to do that in the same playoffs -- and it struck Stoner that one reason for the accomplishment was the shared leadership.
Besides Stoner, other Aeros who wore the "C" this season were Bryan Lundbohm
, Corey Locke
, Brandon Rogers
, Krys Kolanos
and Ryan Hamilton
(who was later traded to Toronto).
Before the playoffs, the team was asked to vote for a postseason captain. Stoner and Rogers tied, so the coaching staff gave it to Stoner.
"More guys know how to lead. It's not just me in that room," said Stoner, a defenseman. "I don't see myself as any more a leader than any other guys. It (rotating) was obviously a good thing for them to do. It's worked out well for them."
Stoner said the Aeros' immunity from Game 7 nerves was a factor in his teammates seeing an opportunity for success instead of failure. Stoner showed the way in that area by posting the game-winner in the team's 5-2 win at Milwaukee on May 13.
"The feeling you get in the dressing room is more an excitement," he said. "Everyone plays their best. Instead of getting nervous and sitting back, we go out and play our best hockey. I don't think of the negative things that could happen. I just think about the possibilities."
Around the AHL
-- Manitoba entered Game 4 of the Western Conference finals on a 10-game winning streak, and nine players have scored a game-winning goal during that stretch. ... The nickname of the new AHL team in Abbotsford, B.C., next year will be "Heat." Abbotsford is affiliated with the Calgary Flames
. ... Rochester Amerks icon Jody Gage, first a star player and then the general manager of that franchise, has been relieved of those latter duties. Gage had been with the team on the ice and in the front office for 24 years. ... Montreal signed defenseman Andre Benoit
to a one-year, two-way contract for the 2009-10 season. Benoit, who spent last season playing for Sodertalje SK in the Swedish Elite League, was a member of the 2007 Hamilton squad that won the Calder Cup. ... Houston's 87 points earned this season are the fewest by an eventual conference finalist since Wilkes-Barre reached the Calder Cup finals after finishing with 86 points in 2003-04. ... Rookie Oskar Osala
notched both of Hershey's goals in a Game 1 loss to Providence on May 16. Prior to that game, Osala had not registered a multiple-goal effort since scoring twice on Nov. 26 in a 4-1 win against Binghamton. ... Columbus re-signed Syracuse Crunch coach Ross Yates and assistant Trent Cull
. The 2009-10 season will be Yates' 10th in Syracuse, six as an assistant and four as a head coach. Cull will be entering his fourth season as a Crunch assistant. ... Financial problems have caused a rift between Anaheim and its farm team, the Iowa Chops. Ducks General Manager Bob Murray
told the Des Moines Register that the Ducks severed ties with the Chops because they are owed a significant amount of money.