Any resemblance between Cal O'Reilly
and Marty Murray
in Milwaukee is purely coincidental.
And, from an Admirals' standpoint, greatly appreciated.
O'Reilly wore No. 16 in Milwaukee until his recall to Nashville in January. Murray sports the same number on his Admirals sweater now.
Murray now rents the apartment where O'Reilly used to live. Most importantly, Murray scoots around like the playmaking middleman the Admirals lost when O'Reilly got what looks like a full-time promotion to the Predators.
"He's pretty big shoes to fill. He's been a pretty good player in this organization," said Murray, 35. "I'm not trying to be anything I'm not."
The Admirals picked up Murray, a veteran of 261 NHL games, in a trade from the Moose on March 10, continuing his one-year alphabetical progression from Manchester to Manitoba to Milwaukee. He has chipped in with 4 goals and 4 assists in 12 games, each point taking on greater importance as the Admirals nailed down the final playoff spot in the West Division.
"It's not ideal, bouncing around too much. But the guys have welcomed me," he said. "I can't come in here and act like you can dissect the team, because that's not the case. You don't come in and try to take things over. You just want to come in and quickly contribute. If the guys do want advice, you are always willing."
If he keeps going by the alphabet, Murray jokes that he's off to play in Norfolk sometime in the future. Actually, if he plays well enough to pique any team's interest for next season, Murray will consider his Admirals' fill-in role time well spent.
"I'm just happy I'm still playing. Hopefully, we can have a good playoff run and hopefully I can get in a position where somebody wants me," he said. "I think as you get older, you realize it doesn't last forever. It goes by quickly. That's the message you try to get across to the younger players. You enjoy the moment."
Plante savors Amerk's success
-- Very few Rochester Amerks appreciate the team's turnaround this season more than backup goalie Tyler Plante
And he values it even more after last month.
Plante, a third-year pro, struggled right along with the Amerks his first two seasons. Rochester missed the postseason each of those years; Plante, a second-round pick by Florida in 2005, split each of those seasons between the AHL and the ECHL.
While Rochester showed immediate improvement at the beginning of 2009-10, it looked like an unhappy rerun for the goalie. A knee injury cost him a couple of months, and rookie netminder Alexandre Salak locked down the spot with a fast start to his pro career.
"I guess the season was a little frustrating for me," said Plante, 22. "I know Alex did so well. I was just trying to be there to support. I just tried to stay positive as much as possible. If you keep your mind focused on the goal, the obstacles don't look as big."
They melted away in March. Salak's play dropped off and Plante took over. He helped Rochester regain entry into the postseason by compiling a 1.88 goals-against average, a .942 save percentage and two shutouts in nine appearances. That turnaround earned Plante AHL goalie of the month honors.
"This has definitely been the best team I've played on in pro hockey," Plante said. "I'm happy with the way the month went. But I don't think the month means much of anything if I can't keep it going here."
April's early returns looked strong. Plante began the month by holding Hershey to one goal in a win on April 2 and then beating Hamilton in a shootout the next night. Those showings added another degree of difficulty to Amerks coach Benoit Groulx
's decision of who he gives first shot in goal once the playoffs begin.
"I'm a goalie. I'm not a coach," Plante said diplomatically. "Alex had a great year. I've had a good month. You don't know what the coach is thinking, but whatever he decides I'm going to support. It's always good when all the players are contributing at the end of the year."
Back to Norfolk
-- There will be time to rest in the off-season, which, if sleeplessness counted for anything, would be a ways off for Norfolk coach Jim Johnson
Johnson was back at his desk after dinner earlier this week wading through a video session that promised to last close to midnight. He had a lot of catching up to do, since he was returning from a 17-game run as assistant coach for the Lightning.
Johnson didn't know he'd be reclaiming his previous job this season, but when Tampa Bay was eliminated from playoff contention last week he was given the option of rejoining the Admirals. He jumped at the chance, then hours later jumped on a plane that took him to a game in Binghamton on April 3. The team then bused to Hershey for a contest the next evening, then drove back to Norfolk after that. Arrival time was a sleepy 2 a.m. on April 5, and Johnson was settling into his office again around 9 a.m.
"You are here until you get your work done," he said. "I have a few games to catch up on. If you coach and you try to uncover every little thing you can, there's never enough time in the day. I'm energized."
"I'm just happy I'm still playing. Hopefully, we can have a good playoff run and hopefully I can get in a position where somebody wants me. I think as you get older, you realize it doesn't last forever. It goes by quickly. That's the message you try to get across to the younger players. You enjoy the moment." -- Marty Murray
Johnson returns to an Admirals team that is taking the race for the last playoff spot in the East Division down to the final three games of the regular season. It's a familiar bunch, naturally, since Johnson was promoted from associate coach to head coach in January.
The advantage he had then, though, was that he had been with the team from the start of the season. Now, he's coming back to a roster with a handful of new players he must go to school on very quickly.
"It's not like I haven't been watching them," he said. "These guys have battled all year. If the organization asks you to help out, I'm more than happy to do whatever the organization asks."
Around the AHL
-- The AHL has announced that Hershey will host the 2011 All-Star Classic. The game will mark the first time that the event will be held at Giant Center, the 10,500-seat building that has already hosted three Calder Cup finals. Hershey has previously hosted All-Star events at Hersheypark Arena in 1954, 1959 and 1996. ... The league is making a change in the All-Star game format, going to an East vs. West contest that pits players from each of the AHL's two conferences against each other. ... Of the 12 teams that had clinched playoff spots entering the week, six did not take part in the 2009 playoffs. ... Chicago suffered back-to-back regulation losses at Houston on April 2 and at San Antonio April 3 -- the first time since Dec. 13 and 18 the team dropped two straight regulation decisions, a span of 48 games. ... High shots totals were no precursor of success for Worcester and Adirondack on April 2. The Sharks fired 49 bids in a 3-1 loss to Providence; the Phantoms let loose with 46 in a 3-2 loss to Syracuse. Adirondack outshot the Crunch 18-1 in the first period of that game. ... Hamilton's win over Manitoba on April 4 gave the Bulldogs 112 points on the season, a franchise record. ... In that game Hamilton's David Desharnais
broke the team record for points in a season when he posted his 78th. Jason Chimera
held the old mark of 77, set in 2001-2002. ... During Curt Fraser
's seven previous seasons as a head coach in either the AHL or the original IHL, never did his teams miss the playoffs, finish fewer than 12 games above .500, or finish lower than third place in their division. Entering the final week of the season, his current Grand Rapids Griffins squad sat in seventh place and seven club games under .500, having been eliminated from playoff contention with a 4-3 loss at Abbotsford on April 2. ... Toronto is 22-3-6-5 in one-goal games this season and 10-31-0-0 in games decided by more than one goal. ... Northern Michigan University senior Brian Stewart made his pro debut for Adirondack in Albany on April 3, getting the start and stopping 22 of 25 shots in a 4-2 loss to the River Rats. Stewart became the 10th goaltender to play for the Phantoms this season, by far the most of any AHL team this season. ... Goalie Dan Taylor played each of his first seven games with the Syracuse Crunch this season on the road. In his eighth contest in a Crunch jersey, Taylor made 41 saves to cool off Hershey 3-1 on April 6.