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Murray's return coincides with end of slump

by Lindsay Kramer
Veteran center Garth Murray had just one question as he surveyed the damage in the San Antonio dressing room after he was demoted by Phoenix.

"I was just wondering how they could get a 'W,'" Murray said. "They lost every way they could. It was quite a situation to come down to."

It wasn't like a rose garden when Murray left. The Rampage were 2-7 at the time, not great, but far too early to panic. The bottom fell out with a vengeance while Murray was gone, though. San Antonio went 0-12-0-1 without him, polishing off a franchise-record 17-game winless streak.

Since Murray's return, San Antonio is 6-2. Coincidence? Well, the Rampage have added a load of quality players via trade and demotion in the past couple weeks. But none of those winning ingredients knows more about comebacks than Murray.

Murray played in all of seven games last season, one with Montreal and six with Florida. A bad shoulder injury he suffered in a fight while playing with the Panthers cost him the rest of the season.

That's one reason why Murray, 26, now finds himself as an AHL regular for the first time since 2004-05 with Hartford. The timing of the injury was particularly cruel -- Murray estimated that the Panthers offered him his best chance to turn into an NHL full-timer.

"It almost took a lot of pressure off me. Whatever happens, happens," said Murray, who signed with the Coyotes as a free agent. "I think most of the 'what ifs' were right after the injury. When it's all said and done, and I'm done with playing hockey, time will tell what I think of (the injury costing him NHL time). Now, it's just a matter of leaving it all out there. It's back to the grind again, trying to chip away."

Murray has 4 goals and 2 assists in 17 games for the Rampage, plus a completely changed outlook on his profession that only emerged through challenges.

"It's a battle. It's a totally different mindset you have when you're younger," he said. "You always think you're always going to be an NHL player. It's just a matter of getting better and getting older."

Players like Murray eventually find out that it doesn't work that way, that everyone gets older long after they stop getting better. But the combination of more experience and talent is working for the Rampage in the short term.

While San Antonio's vets can't turn back the clock or the AHL schedule, they have the savvy to take advantage of the shifts yet to be taken and are turning the Rampage into one of the league's hottest teams.

"That's the mindset. Everyone is so optimistic," he said. "The way we look at it now is we're a completely different team. It's a 60-game year for us. It's a big mountain to climb, but people don't climb Mt. Everest in a day."

Brodeur won't fold -- Goalie Mike Brodeur couldn't do much to save his old team from falling off the map, but he's been a real lifeline for Rochester.

Up until a couple weeks ago, Brodeur, 25, played for Augusta of the ECHL. The players heard rumblings that team was having financial problems

"Then they said it was fine. We got a new investor," Brodeur said. "We all went out and got groceries."

That food turned into takeout, though, when the Lynx wound up folding. The Amerks were interested in calling him up anyways and when Augusta went under Brodeur hopped in his car and drove to Rochester.

At the time he arrived, the Amerks had three wins all season. In his first six games, Brodeur posted four wins to go along with a 1.16 goals-against average, a .958 save percentage and the first two shutouts of his AHL career. After denying 130 of 137 pucks in five games spread over six days last week, he was named the AHL player of the week.

"I was just wondering how they could get a 'W.' They lost every way they could. It was quite a situation to come down to."
-- Garth Murray

"I worked hard in the summer. I think I've maybe hit the peak at this level and I can show everyone what I can do," Brodeur said. "The puck is really big right now. Hopefully, this can keep up. My confidence can't get much higher."

On the road again -- Iowa coach Gord Dineen's scouting reports for road trips this season have sometimes started from scratch.
Teaching his team about the tendencies of opponents hasn't always been enough. There were times when Dineen had to literally remind his players of the challenges that true travel really presents.

Most of them already knew that in the deep recesses of their minds, but those who were with Portland last season probably wish those memories stayed there forever. Anaheim moved its farm team from that city to Iowa this year, bloating road trips from cozy little there-and-back New England swings to long bus rides and plane trips in the Midwest.

"It's a big adjustment for those guys. We're spending a lot more nights on the road," Dineen said. "It's something we addressed, mentally training yourself no matter what hardships you face. That's part of the deal. You get more time to interact with the guys, get to know them on a personal level. I try and make the most of it, try to make it a positive."

The advice of Dineen, an assistant in Portland last year, must be handy. The Chops' road points percentage of .654 is the fourth-best in the AHL.

"It's definitely different," said forward Drew Miller, one of the many former Pirates on the team. "It's part of hockey. Everyone has been through it in juniors. It's just something you have to accept."
Around the AHL -- Wilkes-Barre/Scranton defenseman Paul Bissonnette has four points in his last four games. In his previous 115 AHL contests, he produced 14 points. ... Milwaukee forward Ryan Jones played four games in four consecutive nights last week, three in Milwaukee and one in Nashville. All told, Jones traveled almost 2,000 miles and spent time in five states during his journey. ... At their Dec. 12 home game vs. Albany, the Monarchs opened the doors to their arena for those in the community without power because of a large ice storm. About 1,550 fans took the team up on its offer to come to the game for free. ... Michael Ryan’s five-point game (3-2) at Manchester on Dec. 12 tied a franchise single-game record and was the 13th time in team history that a River Rats player recorded 5 points in one game. ... The River Rats were shut out by Binghamton 3-0 on Dec. 13 at the Times Union Center, marking the sixth time in 27 games that Albany has been held scoreless this season.  The Rats were blanked seven times all of 2007-08, with five of those scoreless games coming in the second half of the 80-game schedule. ... Monarchs captain Marty Murray picked up 8 points in his last five games after totaling 8 points in his first 21 games of the season. ... Crunch captain Dan Smith skated in his 700th professional game Dec. 14 at Rochester. The Amerks won that contest though, snapping a 13-game losing streak to their biggest rivals. ... Through its first 16 road games, Syracuse managed just 30 goals  (1.88 per game). ... Lake Erie had 21 of its first 25 games decided by one or two goals, including 14 in a row.

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