The way rookie goalie Loic Lacasse
began his career with the Hamilton Bulldogs this season, there was serious doubt about how long it would last.
Lacasse debuted for the Bulldogs on Jan. 2 and gave up two goals on the first three shots he saw in the first 1:54 of the game. He watched three get past him in the first period overall.
''I just tried to keep my composure, keep playing," he said. "I didn't have a lot to lose. It was a pretty hard start. After that, it turned out to be a pretty good game.''
Yes it did, from a Hamilton perspective, in large part because of Lacasse's hunker-down attitude. He didn't allow any more goals, and Hamilton rallied for a 4-3 win.
It was a pattern of perseverance Lacasse would repeat several times this month.
After a recall from Cincinnati of the ECHL in late December, Lacasse has been a dose of booster fuel in the Bulldogs' climb up the North Division standings. He has won five straight for Hamilton and is 6-1 with a 2.07 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage in eight AHL games.
''I think we all are (surprised). He's been pretty calm in the net,'' said Hamilton coach Don Lever.
It was easy to keep the expectations low for Lacasse, a 2004 sixth-round pick by Montreal, with the way his season started. A knee injury limited him to five games with Cincinnati, and in the games he played he was an unspectacular 2-1-0-1 with a 4.10 GAA and .874 save percentage.
''I wasn't really ready to come back to play," said Lacasse. "Then Hamilton called me up. I wasn't expecting anything."
There must be something about the medicinal effects of playing in the AHL. Or maybe it's just healing by necessity. Three days after Lacasse was promoted, Hamilton starter Marc Denis
was called up to Montreal. Ready or not, Lacasse was handed first crack at stopping the puck.
''I just had to take my chance, and I took it,'' he said. ''I'm living a dream right now. The American Hockey League is not the NHL, but it's nice to be here. I'm having a blast right now.''
The roll slammed into a wall Wednesday, at least for now. Denis has returned to Hamilton to gulp down loads of minutes, and Lacasse was sent back to Cincinnati.
But he knows he's given the Bulldogs cause to remember him, which is a lot more than could be said after his first 20 minutes playing in a Hamilton sweater.
''I guess that's all I did. I showed them I was able to play at that level,'' he said. ''All I have to do is show I can be consistent. Hopefully they are happy about the six wins I was able to have with them.''
Numbers back Syvret
-- Philadelphia Phantoms defenseman Danny Syvret
is a self-admitted stats geek. He loves following the numbers posted by other players in the AHL and NHL.
There's one statistic that he knows neither he nor any other player will be able to research, however.
''There's no category for ugly goals,'' he said. ''They all fall into the same category.''
This is relevant in Syvret's case because he claims if there was such a stat he might be pushing to be a leader in it. Philadelphia could care less. It just appreciates that he's atop the league in a more traditional and important category -- points for a blueliner.
Syvret paces that group with 41 points (6-35). It's already 21 points more than his previous AHL high, 20 with Hamilton in 2005-06 and Grand Rapids in 2006-07. The goals tally matches his haul from his first three AHL seasons combined.
Syvret, 23, attributes the outburst to a more developed sense of offensive aggressiveness, both in jumping into plays and then shooting.
"I'm living a dream right now. The American Hockey League is not the NHL, but it's nice to be here. I'm having a blast right now."
-- Loic Lacasse
''Nothing can go wrong when you throw the puck on the net,'' he said. ''I'm trying to create offense. I think it's just more responsibility than anything. The coaches have a lot of trust in me. I'm just being relied on more. I'm just trying to go out and have fun. I don't know what the change is. I don't mind it, though.''
Wolves add power
-- The Chicago Wolves, the defending Calder Cup champs, either are moving ahead or falling behind.
Lately, the team's power play has struggled so much that it's been in danger of falling out of the race all together. A pair of aggressive strikes by parent club Atlanta changed that.
On Jan. 13, the Thrashers traded forward Junior Lessard
to the Islanders in exchange for playmaking defenseman Brett Skinner
. A day later, the Wolves received Clay Wilson
, one of the best offensive defenseman in the AHL, when the Thrashers traded away Jason Williams
On Jan. 16, their first game in the Wolves lineup together, Skinner scored a power-play goal and Wilson added a man-up assist in a 3-2 win against Rockford. The next night, each chipped in with a power-play assist in a 4-3 triumph against Quad City.
''We've had a lot of personnel moves. Every year you have a different set of people who come in, different talent sets. You find a way to make it work,'' Wolves GM Kevin Cheveldayoff
said of rebuilding the power play. ''Part of the philosophy of the Thrashers is to surround the key prospects with players who will help them be successful. The fact that you put these players in a situation where winning is very important helps teach them the important aspects of being a pro hockey player.''
Around the AHL
-- Hershey forward Alexandre Giroux
set an AHL record for the longest goal-scoring streak with a goal in his 15th consecutive game in the Bears' 3-2 shootout win against Worcester on Jan. 18. The streak began Nov. 26, 2008, and is considered to be intact despite being interrupted by five separate recalls by the parent Washington Capitals
. Giroux broke the record held by Moncton forward Brett Hull
during the 1986-87 season. ... Syracuse Crunch rookie forward Stefan Legein
, who made major news when he retired last summer, returned to the Crunch lineup Jan. 17 but then broke his finger in a game the next night. He will be out 4-6 weeks. ... Hamilton inducted ex-GM Scott Howson, former public-address announcer Bill Sturrup and former leading scorer Brian Swanson
as the first members of the Bulldogs' Wall of Fame prior to its game against Lake Erie on Jan. 16. … Philadelphia goaltender Scott Munroe
had not allowed a goal in his first 129:29 of action against Albany this season before Michael Ryan
scored at 9:29 of the opening period Jan. 18. ... When Portland scored three goals in the third to turn a 3-2 deficit into a 5-3 win at Providence on Jan. 16, it broke a Bruins streak of 86 consecutive wins after taking a lead into the third, dating back to a 3-2 shootout loss to Hartford on March 26, 2006. ... A Rockford power-play goal Jan. 19 ended Grand Rapids' penalty-killing streak at 43 straight, two shy of the franchise record. The Griffins’ went a team-record 11 games without giving up a power-play tally. ... Grand Rapids' six overtime losses have tied a franchise record set in 2006-07. ... Lake Erie goalie Tyler Weiman
's shutout of Quad City on Jan. 14 gave the Monsters back-to-back shutout wins for the first time in franchise history.