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Providence the perfect spot for LaVallee-Smotherman

by Lindsay Kramer
Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman recently got his best scouting report of the summer, from a friend. The basic message was that LaVallee-Smotherman wasn't nearly as whacked out as he had been in recent off-seasons.

For LaVallee-Smotherman, that passes for great news these days.

LaVallee-Smotherman, a power forward, has signed an AHL deal with Providence. He claims to be approaching this season with a peace of mind that was hard to come by the last two seasons.

Two seasons ago, he was coming off a 2007-08 campaign that saw him score 20 goals and 42 points for the Chicago Wolves. He thought that production earned him serious consideration for a spot in Atlanta the next season, but when he didn't get it, he dropped to 18 goals in Chicago.

"I set my expectations very high," said LaVallee-Smotherman, 24. "When those expectations weren't met, I get down on myself."

That season was shattered to a much greater degree by the death of LaVallee-Smotherman's father. LaVallee-Smotherman was traded to the Syracuse Crunch before the start of the 2009-10 season and claimed to be coping with the tragedy. But he was understandably distracted all season and pressed his way to a 10-goal, 32-point effort in Syracuse.

"Everything caught up to me. I wasn't sleeping at night. I lost who I was as a person," LaVallee-Smotherman said. "I never gave myself the time to step back and let things sink in."

LaVallee-Smotherman started talking to a sports psychologist last season, and he began compiling a checklist of things that had made him successful in his career. Before each game he reviewed it to narrow down his reminders to specific objectives.

He finished the season at a clip appropriate for an NHL prospect -- 4 goals and 12 assists in 17 games.

"I kind of hit a low during the season," he said. "I felt like I was playing the worst hockey I had played in my professional career. I needed to step back and evaluate."

LaVallee-Smotherman's landing in Providence should be a soft one. He lives in a suburb of Boston, and has family and friends nearby. In fact, P-Bruins owner H. Larue Renfroe was LaVallee-Smotherman's coach in junior hockey for several years.

"I'm very excited about the opportunity. I was looking for a way to join the organization all summer," LaVallee-Smotherman said. "I'm going to be surrounded by people I've known for a few years."

May finished one career, starting another in AHL -- Brad May played his entire 1,041-game NHL career before ever taking a shift in the AHL.

His budding broadcast career has started out along a more traditional developmental route.

CBC Sports has hired May as an analyst for its 10-game AHL package this season. May's only 17 games in that league came at the end of the 2009-10 regular season with Grand Rapids, a campaign that May, 38, said was his last.

"That is ironic," May said. "My opportunity (in broadcasting) starts there. Hopefully, it doesn't end there."

That's unlikely. Anyone who spends five minutes talking to the garrulous May easily can foresee a TV career with a span that surpasses his playing days.

"My big issue will be once I get into a story, how do I get out quickly before the puck drops?" he said.

The groundwork starts with understanding the AHL, and May said his brief run with the Griffins was enough to get him rolling in that department.

"When I got sent down, I was like, I'm going to take this opportunity for five weeks and I embraced it," he said. "As soon as I got there, I felt like I belonged. Other than winning the Stanley Cup, I had the most fun playing hockey those last five weeks as I did the last 10-12 years of my career. Will I know everything (about the league)? Probably not. That's where you have to stay in your comfort zone and speak candidly."

Much like it was during May's playing days, an NHL job is the plum he's reaching for in his new endeavor. His slower ascent now, though, will be no reflection on his effort.

"I guess the one thing I'd say about myself is mediocrity is not an option for me," he said. "I'm so green. Other than what I've experienced, I don't know anything. I have no problem knowing I have to catch up to speed."

Wolf Pack to become a Whale -- One of the most amazing transformations of the 2010-11 AHL season already has begun. A Wolf Pack is going to turn into a Whale.

At least, that's Howard Baldwin's plan.
Baldwin has signed a multi-year agreement to take control of the business operations of the Hartford Wolf Pack, the New York Rangers' affiliate. Madison Square Garden and the Rangers will retain ownership of the Wolf Pack and continue to be responsible for all hockey-related decisions, including coaching and player movement.

Baldwin's group will retain the Wolf Pack name until the team is re-named the "Connecticut Whale," at an unspecified time during the season.

"We wanted a name that reflected a fresh start and new look for this new era of Hartford hockey, while still commemorating our rich hockey tradition," Baldwin, former owner of the NHL's Hartford Whalers, said in a statement. "The Hartford Whalers have always been affectionately referred to as 'The Whale,' so it's a very familiar reference for Hartford hockey fans. With the name 'Whale,' we will begin our own new tradition."

 Baldwin hopes his deal unites the fervor of Hartford hockey fans.

"I'd like to sincerely thank the Hartford Wolf Pack and their loyal fans for supporting hockey these past 13 years," he said. "We will always commemorate the significant accomplishments of the Wolf Pack franchise. I also want to express my enormous gratitude to the Whaler fans and their booster club for keeping the Whaler name and the passion for them alive during these 13 years.

"Now is the time for both groups to come together and do what is best for hockey in Hartford. A Wolf Pack fan is a hockey fan -- and a Whaler fan is a hockey fan. It is my fervent hope that everyone becomes a fan of the Whale."

Injuries already hurting teams -- The injury bugs of a long AHL season already have started biting hard on key players before there's barely been enough time to unwrap the first case of pucks.

In Rochester, forward Mark Cullen suffered damage to his Achilles tendon during physical testing. He will undergo surgery sometime in the near future, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. His playing status for the season is in doubt.

The services of long-time AHL sniper Jason Jaffray were supposed to spark the Syracuse Crunch offense for at least some of the season, but Jaffray suffered a torn ACL during an Anaheim scrimmage and is expected to miss the season.

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