The San Antonio Rampage piled off their team bus and into the Onondaga County War Memorial in Syracuse for a practice last week. Many players glanced around the old barn as though it's a relic from another era, which, in fact, it is.
But forward Gavin Morgan
went right to the glass and peered out onto the ice, where the Crunch was finishing their skate. Morgan didn't know many of the players, but he had a sense of where some of them were heading.
"I like to look at the younger players, see what they are all about," said Morgan, 33. "They have a lot of miles ahead of them. It's a different game. Nowadays, you have to take it upon yourself to get better. You have to bear down. Now, teams use their systems. When they get their chance, they have to excel at it."
Morgan barely got that opening, with a total of six career NHL games. That didn't stop him from searching for more, in places like Utah, Idaho, Long Beach, Hershey, Hamilton, Peoria, Rockford, Austria and Switzerland. None of those teams ever invested much into Morgan -- he said he's played on 11 one-year deals.
The wandering was supposed to be curbed this season, one that Morgan thinks will be his last. He started with Hershey and then went to Reading of the ECHL -- not a bad letdown because it's just an hour away from the home in Harrisburg he shares with his wife and three children.
But when San Antonio called in late December looking for a little help, Morgan couldn't turn his back on one more long-distance adventure.
"I'm a family guy. For me, it (stinks) to be away from them," he said. "Sometimes you have to do what you have to do for your family."
Morgan is producing another act in his career, with 2 goals and 3 assists in his last six games with the Rampage. When he looks out at the young talent on the verge of pushing him out of the sport, though, he doesn't pine for the chance to turn back the clock.
"To be honest, I don't wish I was that (young) again," he said. "I've had a good career. Coming to the end of it, I look forward to making the next step. I'd like to coach. It (playing) is what you love. But you get to my age, part of you wants to retire. That's the cold, hard facts."
Brent back in high gear
-- When a torn pectoral muscle sidelined Toronto Marlies forward Tim Brent
for the start of the season, he took his consolation prizes where he could find them.
One of those strolled by him in November, when he was passing some of his idle time hunting. Brent was in a deer stand near his home in Cambridge, Ont., when a 250-pound deer came into sight. Brent, who never had bagged anything that big before and probably never will again, took down his target.
"It was nice to have the option (to hunt) again, and not mope around the house," he said. "You want an adrenaline rush, I would definitely recommend taking up hunting. There's not much like it. You see a big deer walking by, it's like scoring an overtime goal."
Brent hasn't pocketed one of those yet in his return to action, but he's been right on target when it comes to helping Toronto produce some offense.
Brent was a man in a hurry to get back to hockey, and his play reflects that. In seven games since starting his regular season Jan. 22, he has 4 goals and 4 assists. That's the sort of haul Toronto envisioned when it signed him as a free agent last summer. Brent went 20-42 for Rockford last season and 18-43 for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton the season before that.
Brent ran into the horrific pectoral injury in the preseason, though, tearing the muscle off his chest bone when he landed the wrong way falling on a faceoff. He said doctors told him it was the type of extreme injury they often see in football players who get their arms caught the wrong way when making a tackle.
Brent was supposed to be out six months; he came back in four.
"It was kind of a long process in the recovery of your strength," Brent said. "I'm still doing things now to get stronger and stronger. You can ride a stationary bike as long as you can. You can skate in practice. Then you go out and hit a guy in the first period. The physicality is one of those things it takes a while to get used to."
Brent's honeymoon period virtually is non-existent. The Marlies' 124 goals is tied for the third-lowest total in the AHL, and Brent's delayed start puts an even greater premium on the chances he's now getting.
"I knew I was going to get some opportunities offensively to help out," Brent said. "That's something I was brought in for. I knew the team needed help scoring. I have basically half a season to prove they made a good decision signing me."
-- Hershey's 4-3 loss to Norfolk on Jan. 13 really ticked off the Bears.
First, it came on a score with just seven seconds left in the game. Also, it snapped Hershey's 12-game winning streak.
"It's tough not to think about that one," Hershey forward Keith Aucoin
said. "When you have a streak going and lose with seven seconds left, it definitely stuck."
The Bears have been venting on the rest of the AHL ever since.
Hershey has won eight in a row after that loss, meaning that the team was just a blink away from 21 straight. The Bears potted 59 goals during those eight games, an average of 7.38 per contest.
Hershey has won 16 straight at home, three shy of the record set by the Philadelphia Phantoms in 1996-97. Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux
have combined for 72 points during their current scoring streaks, which stood at 16 games each entering the week.
Aucoin had at least one assist in each of those 16 games, leaving him one shy of the league record put together by Shaun Van Allen
in 1992-93 and Peter White
in 1993-94. Aucoin notched a staggering 35 points in January -- at the time nine AHL teams didn't have a single player with 35 points all season -- and on Jan. 31 he became the 42nd player in league history to reach 600 career points.
"To be honest, I don't wish I was that (young) again. I've had a good career. Coming to the end of it, I look forward to making the next step. I'd like to coach. It (playing) is what you love. But you get to my age, part of you wants to retire. That's the cold, hard facts."
-- Gavin Morgan
"To see a stretch like this, I've never been a part of it or seen it," Aucoin said. "It's tough to explain. We have a lot of talent on the team. But to score at the rate we've been scoring is crazy. We have a veteran group that stays levelheaded. We're just having fun with it."
Around the AHL
-- Mark Mancari
's 5 assists against Manchester on Feb. 2 tied a Pirates franchise record for assists in a game. ... Hershey's Bryan Helmer
posted 2 assists in a win over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Jan. 29 to become the second defenseman in AHL history to reach 500 career points. ... Albany's last two games against Hershey have tacked on 0.34 points to starting goaltender Justin Peters
' goals-against average and has knocked his save percentage down .011. Had Peters not played in those contests, his 2.47 GAA would drop to 2.13 and his .918 save percentage would jump to .929. ... Rockford has gone 14-4-0-1 this season in games following a regulation loss. ... Lake Erie registered a franchise-record 49 shots en route to beating Toronto 6-3 on Jan. 29. ... Manchester has shut out Providence in four of the teams' six meetings this season. That run includes a current Monarchs shutout streak of 180 minutes, 48 seconds over the last four games. ... Manchester has participated in eight shootouts this season; in net, Jonathan Bernier
is 0-5 while Jeff Zatkoff
is 3-0. ... Rochester entered this week with 1,997 regular-season victories since the franchise first hit the ice in 1956. ... Hamilton's Andre Benoit
scored the 22nd goal of his Bulldogs career, against Chicago on Jan. 30, to become the franchise's all-time leader in goals scored by a defenseman. ... Hamilton's 5-0 whitewash of the IceHogs in Rockford on Jan. 27 was the Bulldogs' sixth road shutout of the season, a franchise record. ... Hartford had lost just three home games in regulation all season (15-3-1-2) prior to an 0-3-0-0 homestand last week. ... Once the only AHL team without a shorthanded goal this season, Grand Rapids has tallied three times while undermanned in their last seven games. ... A loss to Hamilton on Jan. 31 concluded a 17-game month (9-7-0-1) for Milwaukee. Not including the four days off for the all-star break, the Admirals had just three days in the entire month where they weren't either traveling or playing a game.