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Mink likes the fit in Hershey

by Lindsay Kramer

29-year-old forward Graham Mink will be back  with the Hershey Bears next season, the team he helped win the Calder Cup three seasons ago.
Graham Mink wanted to anchor himself both personally and professionally this summer.

He sealed both deals last week, in processes that seemed to fly by. On June 21, he got married. And on July 2, after just a few hours of negotiating, he agreed to a free-agent deal that brought him back to Hershey.

"I don't know which one was easier. But the wedding was fast," Mink said. "It's a good thing you have a photographer, a lot of pictures. My church ceremony was 20 minutes, but it felt like 30 seconds, a shift of hockey. It (the deal with Hershey) was pretty quick, too. Knowing what kind of player I am, I know where I wanted to be. It was the same thing with my relationship."

Both his wife, Cristina, and the Bears hope for long honeymoon periods. The edge he has with Hershey is that the team and Mink have been married before.

Mink, a power forward right wing, was an integral part of the Bears' team that won the Calder Cup in 2005-06, contributing 21 points in 21 playoff games. He then left the organization for San Jose, and played the past two seasons with affiliate Worcester. Despite being productive there (63 and 55 points, respectively) he never made it up to the Sharks.

"I took a shot. Unfortunately, there wasn't an opportunity," Mink said. "I enjoyed my time with them. Really, none of the players in Worcester got much of a chance (in San Jose) the last two years. It (going back to Hershey) crosses your mind. After we won, they went to the finals the next year. Every player wants to be a part of that."

Mink, 29, gets a rare professional second chance with the Bears, and as an added bonus, Mink's old coach with Hershey, Bruce Boudreau, is now the man calling the shots for the Capitals. It always helps to have friends in high places.

That link could be the only familiar one that Mink sees when he returns to Hershey. Well, there is one other thing -- there is still the expectation of championship runs, which is all the motivation Mink needed to come back in the first place.

"They bring in the players to have a chance to (win). I wanted to be a part of that," Mink said. "There's pressure on you. That's one of the reasons I'm excited to go back. Whether it will be (like) two years ago, it remains to be seen."

Payne promoted at Peoria --
The promotion was probably something of a formality, but at this point in the offseason, Peoria doesn't need any more drama.

So when it came time to pin down the new head coach of the Rivermen Tuesday, Davis Payne was the logical choice.

Payne, who spent last season as a Peoria assistant, was the acting boss anyways after Dave Baseggio was fired after the season. And he had likely been on the radar for the top spot since he interviewed in the search that led to Baseggio's hiring two years ago.

The move is the latest in a run that's seen SCP Worldwide, principal owner and operator of the St. Louis Blues, purchase the Rivermen from long-time owners Bruce Saurs and Anne Griffith; the resignation of team president Bart Rogers, according to the Peoria Journal Star newspaper; and the Dallas Stars' decision to place a handful of prospects in Peoria this season.

"It's been kind of a crazy month," said Payne, 37. "You have to deal with it and move on. It's all about building relationships. There will be a short adjustment period, but I'd like to think we're all accustomed to that."

 Payne, of course, insists that he was prepared for the head coaching slot a couple seasons ago, but the work he put in after falling short of that only solidifies his position now. He was the ECHL Coach of the Year with Alaska in 2006-07 and then worked at Baseggio's side last year.

"I think every year is a learning experience," Payne said. "I felt ready for it then. However, it's been a couple of seasons to know management better, and then last year it's being right on the inside. I gained that experience, now I'll go forward with it. From my standpoint, it will be seamless and smooth. I think it's just the ins and outs of how the whole process works, the decisions of management, making sure we're making those decisions with a common mind."

Konopka signs on --
New Tampa Bay coach Barry Melrose added another impressive coup to his motivational skills resume last week.

He got center Zenon Konopka to trade his Syracuse Crunch jersey for a chance -– and nothing more -– at making the Lightning roster.

Konopka, captain of the Crunch, agreed to a two-year deal with the Lightning organization last week. Konopka was waffling to the very end. Columbus was offering a deal that would have paid him $265,000 in Syracuse next year, compared to $100,000 if he plays with Lightning affiliate Norfolk. Plus, Konopka's tell-it-like-it-is personality backed up by a prickly, pain-ignoring playing style, had him headed for his own statue in front of the Onondaga County War Memorial.

But Melrose played the right cards in a phone call to his potential recruit.

"It was just the way he talked about the third and fourth line," Konopka said. "He had the hockey talk, (wanting) guys that are tough to play against."

That played right to Konopka's wheelhouse, as did Tampa Bay making the second season of his deal one-way. Konopka, 27, felt his career had ground to something of a halt since playing in 23 games for Anaheim 2005-06. In a season and a half with the Crunch he earned just nine games with Columbus, despite often carrying Syracuse as one of its best players.

"It wasn't about money. I think I was regressing in Columbus," Konopka said. "It (leaving Syracuse) was the toughest thing I ever had to do in hockey. At the end of the day, I felt at 27 I had to take my best opportunity to play in the NHL. Columbus came with one heck of an offer as well. I need to not have any regrets later in life."
Can't beat 'em, join 'em --
Manitoba assistant coach Brad Berry had an odd welcome when he first saw new Moose goalie Karl Goehring this summer.

"He ran over jokingly, like he was going to beat me up," Goehring said.

There were two reasons for that response. First, Berry and Goehring have a long-standing relationship going back to the days when Berry coached him at North Dakota. Secondly, Goehring was probably the single biggest reason why the Moose's season didn't last beyond the first round of the AHL playoffs.

Goehring was a near-impenetrable wall for the Syracuse Crunch in that team's six-game series win over Manitoba in an opening-round series. Syracuse won each of its games in overtime, and Goehring was the definition of clutch.

Players always say that the postseason is when they earn contracts for the following year, and Goehring was a prime example this summer. After proving himself on a series of tryout deals with the Crunch last season, the Moose saw enough of him in the playoffs to give him a regular AHL deal.

"That's the great thing about playoffs. Opponents have a chance to see you too," Goehring said. "It's definitely interesting going to a team that you just had a huge battle with. When you are competing with each other, you gain respect for each other."
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