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Portland prowess helps Salcido head home to California

by Lindsay Kramer

Brian Salcido looks ready to punch his ticket to his backyard NHL team.
A round trip of more than 6,000 miles, give or take a wrong turn here or there, will have gone into Brian Salcido’s journey if he makes it to the NHL.

You can bet the potential final leg – perhaps a 3,000-mile flight from Portland to Anaheim – would breeze by.

“If I ever got the call, the flight from Portland to Anaheim, it would be a pretty cool trip,’’ said Salcido, 22.

Such a jaunt seems closer than ever for Salcido, a second-year pro who was snatched by Anaheim in the fifth round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. It would both take him home again and lift him to a place he’s never been before.

Salcido, a native of the Los Angeles area, looks ready to punch his ticket to his backyard NHL team. His 31 points pace all AHL defensemen and already surpasses his rookie season total by four points.

“You know what? I don’t know (why the improvement). Last year was my rookie year. More than anything, I wanted to come in, learn a lot, be a sponge. I grew a lot as a person. As a hockey player, I matured.’’

Maybe part of it was his California cool seeping into his poised game. As a child he lost his home in the Northridge earthquake of 1994, surviving by remembering to stand in the safety of a doorway while his possessions crumbled around him.

“It was a pretty scary thing,’’ Salcido said. “California is known for its earthquakes, but you never expect one as big to do the damage it did.’’

After that quake his family moved to nearby Hermosa Beach. Salcido picked up surfing, but with a father who played lower level hockey himself, he already had been in skates by age 2 or 3. He went to both Kings and Ducks games.

“I fell in love with hockey and stuck with it,’’ he said.

Salcido certainly has gotten the proper grooming. He attended prep power Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota and then played three seasons at Colorado College. His post-graduate hockey schooling was the most impressive. In training camps with the Ducks, he’s skated along side Chris Pronger, Francois Beauchemin and Scott Niedermayer.

”They’re the guys you watch on TV,’’ Salcido said. “It’s kind of a dream come true to be paired with guys like that. You’re trying to pick up little things they do. They are always willing to help out. It’s kind of unbelievable. I’d get off the ice, I’d call my dad and say, ‘Can you believe I was partners with Chris Pronger?’ ’’

Aside from the obvious, there’s another reason Salcido would like that opportunity again as soon as possible. It seems that despite his extended stays in Minnesota and Colorado, “Mr. West Coast” is having trouble adapting to the Portland winters.

“Everyone always makes fun of me,’’ he said. “I’m always the first one to have my long johns on, pull on my winter hat. It’s so much different than home.’’

Lots of minutes -- Andrew Hutchinson had come to the realization that he needed a new home. He didn’t factor in that it would come with a new league as well, but that wound up as part of the bargain.

It’s a condition he’s made peace with – for now.

The defenseman is back in the minors, this time with Hartford. That was the result of a trade last summer that sent him from Carolina, where he had played each of the past two seasons, to the New York Rangers.

The Rangers couldn’t find a spot for Hutchinson on their roster, but they did offer him loads of playing time in Hartford. After dressing for just 36 and 41 games, respectively, for the Hurricanes the past two seasons, that was a shiny consolation prize.

“It’s not a huge step back (starting in the AHL),’’ Hutchinson said. “I know it’s the AHL, but getting a chance to play minutes is nice. When I came back and did get to Hartford, I wanted to prove I could play every night. It’s been going well.’’

Actually, it’s been going a lot better than that. Hutchinson, 27, is tied for sixth among AHL defensemen with 22 points. His booming shot has been a catalyst on the Wolf Pack power play, opening room for the team’s other finishers.

In the bigger picture, Hutchinson has every reason to be having fun. Hartford is looking like a Calder Cup contender, as a solid second-place team in the Atlantic.

That sort of success plays right to Hutchinson’s wheelhouse. He won a Calder Cup with Milwaukee in 2003-04 and a Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2005-06.

“I’ve been fortunate. I’ve played on good teams,’’ Hutchinson said. “I’ve never had that responsibility of having to help younger guys. I’ve been the guy that’s been told what to do. I’ve always been quiet. I’ve never really brought it (his winning history) up, but a few guys have asked me. It’s been fun here.’’

Quick study -- Syracuse Crunch defenseman Brett Motherwell is getting a much different education than the one he bargained for this season.

The plan was for the playmaker to use his junior year at Boston College as another steppingstone toward a possible pro career. Instead, Motherwell was cornered into jumping ahead to some graduate work in the sport.

Motherwell played just one game with the Eagles before he was suspended for an unspecified team infraction. He then decided to bolt the program completely and sign a tryout deal with Syracuse.

His start with the Crunch made that look like a questionable decision. He was scratched his first four games, and then did not score in the first six games he played. But in his last seven contests he’s resembled the puck mover who produced 25 assists for BC last season, with a goal and five assists.

“Everyone is a much better hockey player here. I felt like I was able to step up and keep up with everything,’’ Motherwell said. “We have a great group of guys here. Everyone on the team has been awesome. They’ve really helped the transition to the pro lifestyle. You have to catch up a little bit. Luckily, it wasn’t too far in the season. I wasn’t too far behind.’’

Motherwell is making sure the same is true of his schoolwork. He’s still trying to squeeze in two BC classes while with Syracuse, one in real estate law and one in marketing.

“You find time. It’s not that hard,’’ he said. “I would never let it interfere with hockey. School’s important. But this is more important.’’

Around the AHL -- Worcester’s 4-3 win over Portland on Dec. 22 marked the team’s first win at the Cumberland County Civic Center since their inaugural visit on Oct. 6, 2006. The Sharks had gone 0-5-1-1 in the building since. … The Wolves have recorded 21 goals in their last three outings, the most in a three-game span in franchise history; Chicago has netted four or more in 18 of its 29 games. … Cynthia Konopka, older sister of Syracuse captain Zenon Konopka, was scheduled to sing God Bless America’ before the Crunch’s home game vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton tonight. ... Binghamton defenseman Lawrence Nycholat buried his 50th career AHL goal and Josh Hennessy collected his 80th AHL assist against Rochester on Dec. 22. ... Each of the Griffins’ last seven games and 10 of their last 11 contests have been decided by a single goal. ... Bulldogs defenseman Mathieu Biron, who missed the first 25 games the season because of an injury, appeared in his first two games of the season last week. ... Bridgeport is 3-0-0-0 against Norfolk this season and has yet to allow a goal on 67 shots. … Philadelphia has reached 20 wins prior to Christmas for the fourth time in franchise history, and two of the previous three Phantoms teams to accomplish the feat went on to win the Calder Cup (1996-97, 2004-05). ... After going just 1-for-25 on the power play in its previous seven contests, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was 7-for-21 during a recent four-game run. ... Lowell is 8-1-1-2 when scoring three or more goals and 1-16-2-0 when scoring fewer than three.


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