Providence forward Jeremy Reich
's hat trick at San Antonio on Nov. 1 was the first of a pro career that began in 2000.
Naturally, his teammates had something to say about it.
''A couple of guys harassed me, it took me so long to get one,'' Reich said.
Those buddies, no doubt good-natured, are missing the point. The fact that Reich potted his first hat trick at age 29 underscores a pro longevity that few people beside him ever envisioned he'd enjoy.
When Boston sent the grinder to the American Hockey League at the start of the season, it marked something of a third chapter in a career that at one point seemed stuck on the first few pages. He toiled from 2000-06 as an AHL regular with Syracuse, Houston and Providence, save for nine games with the Blue Jackets.
Reich was one of the best pluggers in the AHL for the Crunch, energetic and a very good third-line banger. But it seemed like he would never quite raise his game enough to fit into an NHL team's lineup.
''There's 30 teams out there,'' Reich said. ''You just have to do what you do and hope someone notices. When you're done playing, you don't want to look back and say you left something on the table.''
Boston finally gave him an extended chance to gun his motor in the NHL the past two seasons, with 32 games in 2006-07 and 58 last season. But this season the Bruins slotted him in Providence, where he was named captain and fits in nicely as a dirty-work player on a team of flyers that's producing one of the best offenses in the AHL. In 15 games, he has 4 goals, an assist and 35 penalty minutes.
The demotion would have been a little discouraging under most circumstances. In Reich's case, though, it merely returned him to familiar territory. It took him seven years to prove he was an NHL player in the first place.
Don't be surprised if he's got at least that much fight left in him now.
''I'm holding up pretty good," he said. "I have to spend more time in the gym than I used to. I don't know if guys change their styles when they get older. I'm not going to change the way I play. I feel as good as I did five or six years ago. If anything, I'm probably a little smarter, training-wise, for what I need to do. I just have to get noticed, make someone give me a chance.''
Anderson working backward
-- Chicago Wolves forward Matt Anderson
has taken the typical AHL developmental model and spun it 180 degrees.
Most young, untested players, especially on great teams, pay their dues in the regular season and, if they are lucky, get some leftover minutes in the playoffs. Anderson, in his second full season as a pro, has gone about it the complete opposite way.
Entering this season, Anderson, 26, had played in 23 career playoff games for Chicago and just 14 of the regular-season variety. Those 23 postseason contests included 13 when he debuted with the squad in the 2006-07 playoffs and 10 in its Calder Cup run last year.
With clutch players like Darren Haydar
and Jason Krog
in the lineup, the Wolves needed a fourth-line center, and Anderson delivered. That's accelerated his development as a regular this season, as he's moved into a scoring role and chipped in with 2 goals and 7 assists through 12 games.
"The game has become a lot easier from how I learned it from the bottom up,'' he said. "Both playoff experiences the past couple of years were a tremendous help. I was put in a defensive role, learning the intensity of the game. I knew what I needed to do to be in the lineup, to be a part of the team. Coming into the Chicago Wolves organization, there's a lot of pressure to perform. The Chicago Wolves are about winning.''
The reverse approach to Anderson's hockey education has left him short-handed in one important sense, though. Most second-year AHL regulars usually have at least a taste of the flow of the regular season, if not the playoffs. Anderson has to follow his early passing grades in the concentrated drama of the postseason by mastering the different-paced demands of the marathon regular season.
"There's 30 teams out there. You just have to do what you do and hope someone notices. When you're done playing, you don't want to look back and say you left something on the table." -- Jeremy Reich
"Using the head instead of my legs a lot of times, being in position,'' he said of his new lessons. "The puck does a lot more of the work. The game becomes a lot easier. The game slows down. Little things taken care of in the season will pay off.''
MacDonald gathering momentum
-- In December 2007, Bridgeport gave disappointing defenseman Andrew MacDonald
a ticket to Utah of the ECHL.
A season later, MacDonald's play is the gift that keeps on giving. He's now one of the best young blueliners in the AHL, tied for eighth in scoring among defensemen with 10 points That's quite a turnaround from a player who just 12 months ago admitted to hoping the puck would wind up on someone else's stick in pressure situations.
''It was just a matter of getting comfortable with my game at the pro level,'' MacDonald said. ''When I look back at last year and how last year went, I'm a little bit surprised (at his productivity now). At the same time, people told me, my coaches, you can definitely play pro. You have to believe in yourself. If you don't, that's when you get into trouble.''
MacDonald had plenty of that at the start of last season. He was coming off a season in Moncton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in which he ripped off 81 points in 65 games. But he struggled big-time at the start of 2007-08 with the Sound Tigers and lost his roster spot.
Hitting something of a plateau, MacDonald could have gone splat. Instead, he used the thud to turn his momentum the other way. He followed a 12-point effort in 38 regular-season games in Utah with 12 points in 15 playoff games. That created momentum that carried into his summer workouts, when MacDonald knew he was on the cusp of challenging for an AHL spot.
Bridgeport has been the surprise of the first six weeks of the AHL season, grabbing the top spot in the tough East Division. It's only fitting that an unheralded defenseman is one of the biggest eye-openers of all.
''I could sense that from the start of the year," he said. "The vision I had back in juniors, it was back with me. I could really see more. When you're playing well, you can see things.''
This year, it looks like MacDonald will see Christmas and a whole lot more in Bridgeport.
Around the AHL
-- Marlies assistant coach Doug Gilmour
, in his first season in that position, has left to take the head-coaching job for Kingston of the Ontario Hockey League. ... The Nov. 15 contest between Springfield and Worcester at the DCU center was postponed because of electrical problems. Sharks players and Jason Earles from the hit television show Hannah Montana stayed well after the postponement of the game and signed autographs for the thousands of fans that waited in line. ... Worcester goaltender Taylor Dakers
made his season debut for the Sharks on Nov. 16 and stopped all 11 shots he faced in a 3-0 victory at Springfield. The 11 shots allowed were the fewest by an AHL team since San Antonio was held to 10 shots by Cincinnati on April 1, 2005. ... Worcester already has used four goaltenders this season, one more than it needed all of last season. ... Norfolk captain Zenon Konopka
scored the tiebreaking goal with 1:19 left in regulation to send Norfolk to a 4-3 win in Lowell on Nov. 11, and then scored with 4.3 seconds left in the Admirals' 2-1 win at Manchester on Nov. 15. ... The Crunch are 7-2-0-1 when allowing the first goal and 9-3-0-1 when tied or trailing after two periods. ... Grand Rapids' game against visiting Hartford on Nov. 14 was its first against an Atlantic Division foe since joining the AHL in 2001. ... San Antonio had just two goals from defensemen all season, both belonging to Matt Jones, until both Jonas Ahnelov
and Logan Stephenson
scored in a 5-3 loss to Peoria on Nov. 15. ... The Rivermen close out a run of 12 straight games in Illinois on Nov. 22. ... Hamilton's three shorthanded goals against Rochester on Nov. 16 were one shy of an AHL mark. ... Chris Minard
's 14-game scoring streak entering the week is one shy of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton franchise record set by Billy Tibbets in 2000-01.