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Loaded Pittsburgh a surprising choice for Sterling

by Lindsay Kramer
Where some players see a traffic jam, Brett Sterling imagines an opportunity.

He's already tried out what might have been perceived as a fast lane to the NHL, but that didn't work out so well. So now his view of career advancement has taken a 180-degree turn, and it points him toward Pittsburgh.

The free-agent forward signed a two-way deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization when the market opened. He picked Pittsburgh ahead of interest from Edmonton, St. Louis, Phoenix and Florida -- organizations that would appear to offer many more openings for talented depth players.

But Sterling, 26, has tested that philosophy before, and in his case, has found it lacking.  He was a superb finisher for four seasons with the AHL Chicago Wolves, producing 144 goals and 119 assists in 254 games. But the exchange rate on that sort of sustained excellence was a mere 19 games with the Thrashers.

Given the chance to sample something new, Sterling figured he couldn't do any worse making the counter-intuitive move of trying to squeeze himself through a tighter window of opportunity with the talented Pens.

"When you are a young guy and you haven't been in the lineup (of the parent team), sometimes you are the first one to get sent down because they have to prove they are doing everything they can to win," Sterling said. "It makes it tough at times. When you do have so many talented players, you have a lot of money committed to a handful of guys. It means you have to find guys who can contribute at certain positions for less money. Whether it comes to fruition or not, it could backfire on me. You just never know until you do it. It was time to do it and try something new."

Sterling's 5-foot-7, 175-pound frame likely has been the largest checkmark on the minus side of his scouting report. But he said the Penguins were candid and specific with him in defining his role. If the organization needs a fourth-liner, it has other options in the minors. If Pittsburgh wants to shake things up with an instant scoring jolt on the wing, he'll be the one with the ringing cell phone.

"What do the numbers mean if I can produce?" he said of his build. "If I didn't think I could play in the NHL, I'd probably go over to Europe. If for some reason I don't produce, well, then they've given me my opportunity."
Change in plans fine by LeNeveu -- Goalie David LeNeveu returns from a season in Austria with a very different look -- a winner.

After previous AHL stops in Springfield, Utah, San Antonio, Hartford and Iowa, that's a refreshing change. He figures it also probably was the reason Columbus signed him last week.

Through his first six professional seasons, LeNeveu had just four postseason games to his credit, in 2007-08 with Hartford. But last season LeNeveu appeared in 67 games for Salzburg of the Austrian League, posting a 2.58 goals-against average, a .906 save percentage and two shutouts. He was 6-2 with a 2.17 GAA in nine playoff games to lead Salzburg to the Austrian league championship.

LeNeveu, 27, planned to stay overseas for another season to fatten his resume, but when the Blue Jackets showed enthusiasm he came home.

"We moved a year ahead of our plan, which was a nice surprise. When you win a championship, no matter where you play, teams want winning players," LeNeveu said. "You have to do something special to win. That was the biggest thing. We won everything we entered into last year. It boosts your career, it boosts your confidence."

LeNeveu, who owns an 87-116-21 record, 2.82 GAA and .909 save percentage in 231 career AHL games, said his game now should be a little more refined technically.

"I was surprised at the amount of skill that was over there in all the leagues," he said. "I didn't realize how many great players are over there pushing for jobs in the NHL. They are a little more patient (with the puck) there. They will pass it a couple of times before taking a shot on net. You really have to be aware of what's going on in front of you. Any time you are exposed to a different type of play, you are always going to get better."

Locke happy to be 'home' -- Corey Locke's signing with the Ottawa organization gives him the carrot of possibly returning to the scene of some of his greatest hockey glory.

Locke, 26, played three seasons (2001-04) with the Ottawa 67s of the OHL. During his time with the 67s, he won the Red Tilson Trophy as the OHL's most outstanding player in 2003 and '04, and was named the Canadian Hockey League's most outstanding player in 2003. In 186 OHL games, all with Ottawa, Locke had 132 goals and 312 points.

That doesn't count for much in his pursuit of a job with the Senators, but successful memories of the area can't hurt.

"I've had a great history in Ottawa before. That drew me back a bit," he said. "I'm familiar with the city. There is everything to do there. I've bounced around a little bit. I felt this was a good time to come back. They made me feel like they'd give me an opportunity. It might not be right away."

"When you do have so many talented players, you have a lot of money committed to a handful of guys. It means you have to find guys who can contribute at certain positions for less money. Whether it comes to fruition or not, it could backfire on me. You just never know until you do it. It was time to do it and try something new."
-- Brett Sterling

Locke is as patient as he is dangerous with the puck. He's skated in 466 AHL games in six seasons with the Hartford Wolf Pack, Hamilton Bulldogs and Houston Aeros, registering 141 goals and 252 assists. He also has played in the AHL All-Star Classic four times. Yet one of the most consistently productive AHL players of the last several seasons has been marooned there -- he has played just three NHL games with the Rangers and one with the Canadiens.

The potential bright side now is that Ottawa hinted it's willing to hang in there with Locke by giving him a two-year deal.

"If it doesn't happen right away, I know at least there's time for it to happen," he said. "That makes me feel pretty comfortable. With them stepping up to do that, it showed they really wanted me. They do have depth. But things can change. When I talked to them, I had a good feeling."

News and notes -- The AHL ironed out several details at its league meeting last week.

* The Board of Governors extended league president David Andrews' deal through June 2015. Andrews assumed the AHL presidency in 1994 and the 2010-11 season will be his 17th in charge. Only Jack Butterfield (28 seasons) served longer as league boss.
That's a longevity record Andrews, 61, said he won't be approaching.

"I don't think that's in the cards," Andrews said. "One contract has led to another, and there's always been a sufficient challenge. There's always been projects to keep me interested. It seems like an awful long time. But it doesn't seem that long to me."

Under Andrews' direction, the AHL has become the sole primary developmental league for all 30 NHL teams, and will be at an all-time high of 30 active squads beginning this fall.

* Syracuse Crunch owner Howard Dolgon was named the winner of the James C. Hendy Memorial Award as the outstanding executive for 2009-10. Dolgon was a driving force behind the record-setting Mirabito Outdoor Classic, the first outdoor game in AHL history.

* Tom Mitchell was honored with the Thomas Ebright Award in recognition of career contributions to the AHL. Mitchell has become synonymous with AHL hockey in Binghamton as the general managing partner of the Binghamton Whalers (1985-90), Binghamton Rangers (1990-97) and since 2002, the Binghamton Senators, overseeing the business operations of one of the league’s most traditional markets.

* The Chicago Wolves and P.K. Subban of the Hamilton Bulldogs were named the 2009-10 winners of the President's Awards, given to an AHL organization for excellence in all areas off the ice, and to an AHL player in recognition of his outstanding accomplishments in the past year.

* David Butova, an AHL linesmen since 1978, was named the recipient of the Michael Condon Memorial Award for outstanding contributions by an on-ice official. Butova has officiated four Calder Cup Finals and one AHL All-Star Game.

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