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Penguins' Lovejoy having stellar postseason

by Lindsay Kramer

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton rookie defenseman Ben Lovejoy was an American history major at Dartmouth.

He's not sure what he's going to do with the degree, but he knows he enjoys the topic.

"I think it's one of the things that interests me," he said. "I'd go to my class and be entertained."

And educated, since the one thing anybody who's studied history understands is that you shouldn't forget it. You know, unless you want to repeat it.

So that's why before every playoff game, Lovejoy pretends like he's starting over. He reviews all the mistakes he's made, and treats the start of each game like he's never played the sport.

"The first five minutes of games have been important for me in the playoffs," he said. "I think I've concentrated on every game coming out and starting over, whether it's making simple plays or getting your feet moving. Every game is a new challenge for our team. If we won the night before, we have momentum but that can be taken away if we come out flat."

There's been little chance of that for the Penguins, who have won eight of their first 10 postseason games in advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals against Portland. Much of that ride has come on the back of their student of the game, Lovejoy.

Lovejoy leads the AHL playoffs in plus-minus, at plus-12. That's a sign of a quick playoff learner, although he laughs it off as a benefit of being out on the ice with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's top line of Tim Brent, Chris Minard and Kurtis McLean.

"I've gotten lucky in a sense that I've been put out in some good situations," Lovejoy said. "That's certainly helped the stat. It's just reflective of how my team has been playing."

Lovejoy is deferential like that. He compiled a modest 18 assists in 72 games in the regular season, but has come up with seven in his first 10 playoff games.

The reason? According to Lovejoy, it's that coach Todd Richards has tried him out on the power play after not using him in that situation all season. Lovejoy isn't sure why Richards had the change of heart, and isn't about to ask.

"I didn't want to complain," he laughed.

One thing goes without explanation. Lovejoy, an undrafted free agent who is on an AHL deal, is firming up his future with this strong postseason. He isn't sure how he's going to use that American history degree. Given his blossoming hockey prospects, it could be awhile before he has to put it into practice.

"Obviously, I'd like to come back to Pittsburgh. We'll talk at the end of the year. But they gave me a chance," Lovejoy said. "I hope I've repaid them with my play. This has been a great learning experience."

Everybody on the bus -- The Portland Pirates' bus trip to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton took about 8½ hours on May 13, roughly 90 minutes longer than expected. Turns out the driver wasn't quite sure where he was going.

"It's tough. We were in a sleeper bus, so I couldn't see outside, see how we went wrong," said Pirates defenseman Joe Callahan. "You gotta love the bus rides. Everyone just wanted to get off. It's definitely better than the alternative, which is being home right now."

Callahan, 25, is well-versed on that topic. During his first full three seasons in the AHL, one with Utah and two with San Antonio, he missed the playoffs each year.

So that's why his current trip, bus follies aside, is one long joy ride.

Callahan has been one of the stabilizing elements on the blue line for the Pirates' run to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they are meeting the Penguins. He has a goal and seven assists through 11 games and was one of the leaders who helped Portland rebound from a 2-0 series deficit to storm back and defeat favored Providence in the Atlantic Division Finals.

"It's definitely the most fun I've ever had playing hockey," he said of the playoff experience. "I felt like a rookie again, because I hadn't done it (been in the AHL playoffs). As soon as you get over those nerves in the first 30 seconds (of the first playoff game), you go back to normal. You trust your instincts, and you trust what got you here."
Manchester coach in limbo -- Manchester coach Mark Morris will have at least one thing in common with his players next season – he'll be working to earn some more short-term employment.

Morris and his assistant, Scott Pellerin, have signed on for another season. Morris said the Kings hold a one-year option for another year after next, and the organization is supposed to let him know by January if it will pick that up.

"Pro hockey has lots of uncertainties," Morris said. "Sometimes they are good surprises, and sometimes they're not."

With Morris and Pellerin, the Monarchs have gotten more good than bad. In two seasons the duo has coached the team to a 90-52-12-6 mark.

Winning the first playoff round in franchise history during the 2006-07 season, the two guided the team to the Eastern Conference Finals during their rookie year. This season, a young Monarchs team lost in the first round to Providence.

"With our systems in place and our familiarity with each other, it's going to be a fun year," Morris said of 2008-09. "We knew this year would be a big challenge as our players acquainted themselves with the professional game. With this many new players, it was nip and tuck most nights. We knew we had to play a perfect game almost every night to win. There weren't many breathers."
Around the AHL -- After beating Rockford 4-1 in Game 7 on May 13, the Chicago Wolves moved to 10-4 all-time when facing Calder Cup playoff elimination, including a 5-0 mark in winner-take-all contests. ... In coming back to beat Syracuse four games to three in the North Division Finals, the Marlies became the 14th team in AHL history to rally from a 3-1 series deficit and the sixth to bounce back after losing the first two at home in a seven-game series. ... Both the North and West Division Finals in this year's Western Conference went to Game 7s. That's only the second time since the AHL began two-conference play in 1995-96 that both second-round series in the same conference extended to that final game. ... The Wolves established a postseason club record by potting four power-play goals in the second period of a 4-3 win against Rockford in Game 6 of their series on May 11. ... Providence (117) and Hartford (110) ranked first and third, respectively, in the AHL's overall standings in 2007-08. Portland (99 points) defeated both en route to reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. ... There have been four Game 7s played so far in this season's playoffs. That's one short of the record, set in the 2006 postseason. ... Tim Taylor has resigned his position as president of Quad Cities to pursue another opportunity in the hockey industry. Taylor leaves the team after three seasons. He was responsible for organizing the purchase of the Quad City hockey franchise by QC Sports Ventures and for bringing the AHL to the i wireless Center. ... Carolina has agreed to terms on a new deal for defenseman Bryan Rodney, 24, who led Albany with six points in the team's seven 2008 playoff games.

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