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Lukowich enjoys chance to give back to Stars

by Lindsay Kramer

"I'm in a great place right now. I have no problems being in this league. It's my turn to give back. Dallas gave me an opportunity to be in the league. It's an excellent situation for me. I ask for the young guys' opinions as well. It's a two-way street. It's a give-and-take relationship."
-- Brad Lukowich

Texas Stars defenseman Brad Lukowich considers his current effort a case of returning a favor to the Dallas organization.

The rest of the AHL wishes the veteran wasn't so magnanimous.

Lukowich is a Canuck in Texas, under contract to the Vancouver Canucks, but loaned out to the Stars' affiliate. It's a natural marriage between a player who made his NHL debut with the Dallas Stars in 1997-08 and a new AHL team that's laying the foundation of a cinder-block defense.

Through its first 14 games Texas paced the West Division with a 10-2-0 record and had surrendered a league-low 1.57 goals per game.

"That's one thing you can say about our defense. They are consistent every single night," Lukowich said. "We're not afraid to play 1-0, 2-1 games. We go out and do our thing. Let's go out and play our game, make the other team change theirs. I tell them play defense first, play your position."

It figures it would take an old-school player to help make a throwback brand of hockey work. Lukowich, 33, is making his first foray into the AHL after a 640-game NHL career and two Stanley Cups. His only other extended minor-league action came with the Michigan K-Wings of the International Hockey League in the 1990s.

"I'm in a great place right now. I have no problems being in this league," he said. "It's my turn to give back. Dallas gave me an opportunity to be in the league. It's an excellent situation for me. I ask for the young guys' opinions as well. It's a two-way street. It's a give-and-take relationship."

The sometimes scoring-challenged Stars play from their own end out by necessity, though Lukowich said coach Glen Gulutzan's systems feed the strength of a defensive corps whose top six might be as good as it gets in the AHL. Lukowich said he's most impressed by Gulutzan's ability to make his points in a constructive manner and with his teammates' accountability and discipline in resisting the lures of potentially risky offensive inclinations.

"The eagerness of young guys to win and learn, it just motivates everybody," said Lukowich, who has a goal, six assists and a plus-3 rating through 12 games. "They don't let (mistakes) fester. The way we play down here is the way you have to do it to move on to the next level."
Things looking up for Keller -- Binghamton Senators forward Ryan Keller understands what some people might think after looking at the numbers from his last season in the AHL, in 2006-07.

Heck, Keller will beat you to the punch himself.

"They are not flattering. They are not going to impress anybody," he said.

Keller might be a little too hard on himself. He recorded 9 goals and 8 assists in 38 games with Grand Rapids, then went 5-9-14 in 22 games with Syracuse. Those aren't exactly shameful numbers.

They also aren't close to what Keller was used to in juniors, when he put up 73 points in 67 games for Saskatoon in 2004-05. So he decided he needed some time away.

The latest version of Keller sure looks good to the Senators. After spending a couple seasons in Finland to get more playing time and open some eyes, Keller, 25, landed a two-way deal with Ottawa and has stormed back into the AHL with 8 goals and 6 assists through Binghamton's first 14 games.

A revelation? Not to Keller.

"Before I went over to Finland, I wasn't given much respect as far as my skills. I didn't feel those first two years (pro) were any indication of how successful I could be," he said. "I was sick of watching players who I felt were no better than I was getting the opportunities. It was motivating. You want to show (other teams) they made a mistake in not giving you more of an opportunity. I'm not at all surprised at the way things are going."
From foe to friend -- As a former enemy agitator, forward Ryan Bayda remembers what it's like to skate into Wilkes-Barre/Scranton wearing the wrong color jersey.

"As a visitor, it's a tough rink to play on," he said. "I'm probably not liked much in many of the arenas. Once you are on their side, they come around pretty quickly."

Considering Bayda doesn't have a lot of experience in turning foes into new friends, you'd think it'd take him a little time to work his way into Pens' fans hearts. But posting 7 goals and an assist in 11 games has a way of speeding up the process.

After spending seven of his first eight pro seasons in the Carolina organization, Bayda, 28, went to Pittsburgh's camp on a tryout deal this year. He looked so at home right away that the Pens offered him a two-way deal to stick around in the organization.

Bayda's abrasiveness on the ice and his typical point-per-game contributions have made him a vital offensive spark for a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton team that's otherwise struggling in that department. Only three teams are scoring fewer than the Pens' 2.42 goals per game.

"It's a little bit weird at first when you realize you are not going back to somewhere where you are comfortable," he said of leaving Carolina. "But it doesn't take long to adjust. We have a good core group of guys here, who welcome me. It's up to the (new) players to come in here and play the way they play. I'm definitely enjoying being on this side (of the team) than the other side."
Around the AHL -- The 54-year-old Rochester Americans tied a franchise record by recording their 11th straight win on Nov. 10, a 4-1 decision against Hamilton. ... Grand Rapids capped off the first perfect six-game home stand in franchise history with a 5-4 victory against the Chicago Wolves on Nov. 6. Overall, the Griffins have won seven straight for the first time since March 5-31, 2006. ... Grand Rapids is the only AHL team that has neither scored nor allowed a shorthanded goal this season. ... Springfield goalie Devan Dubnyk has made 30-plus saves in eight straight games. ...The Wolves saw a franchise record penalty killing streak come to a halt vs. Milwaukee on Nov. 4, when they allowed their first power-play goal in seven games. ... The 14,702 fans that attended the Hamilton-Binghamton game at Bell Centre in Montreal on Nov. 5 was the second-highest attendance for a Bulldogs home game. The record is 15,119 set on March 26, 2004 at Copps Coliseum against the St. John's Maple Leafs. ...Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush and his wife, former First Lady Barbara Bush, were among the 8,433 in attendance for Military Appreciation Night at the Toyota Center in Houston on Nov. 6. ... Peoria's 4-3 shootout win at Milwaukee on Nov. 5 was its first triumph at the Bradley Center since March 16, 2007, snapping a nine-game skid (0-9-0-0). ... Texas has played 14-consecutive games within its home state to begin its inaugural season. The Stars venture outside the Lone Star State for the first time this week for games in Peoria and Rockford.

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