Toronto forward Jiri Tlusty
was too close to the problem to figure it out. He couldn't tell why he was struggling with both the Maple Leafs and then the Marlies earlier this season.
Tlusty's confidante and father, also named Jiri, was too far away from the problem to help, living thousands of miles away in his native Czech Republic.
That changed around Christmas when the younger Tlusty got two of the best presents possible - a visit from his family and invaluable advice from his father.
Dad barely recognized his son as he watched him skate in a game for the Maple Leafs. The player was uptight and pressing, not enjoying the game.
"He was like, 'You know what? You look so nervous out there. Don't be nervous.' Focus on the things I did when I was younger," the player said. "I always try to listen to my dad. He knows better how I play than anybody else. After they left, I was a different person."
That's different, as in unstoppable. In his last 18 games, Tlusty has cranked out 36 points (16-20). The run includes one contest with five goals and another with six points.
Those are the sort of fireworks Tlusty thought he had to pay back to the Maple Leafs, who took him No. 13 in the 2006 Entry Draft. Getting 58 games with the parent club last season only heightened his expectations. But this season, Tlusty was a quiet 0-4 in 14 games up top.
"I played last year with the Maple Leafs. I was like, you have to do more. It didn't work," Tlusty said. "I pressed myself too hard. I'm expecting more than last year. From the middle of the season, I calmed down."
Tlusty gets percolating again, this time in a good way, when he rolls out with one of the best lines in the AHL. His pairing with Tim Stapleton
and Bates Battaglia
has produced a mind meld of dipsy-doodling and a steady river of points.
"I'm playing with the right people. Everything is clicking right now," Tlusty said. "When I was younger, when I was playing in juniors back home, I had the same time I'm having now. That's my first time playing like that in pros. You work hard when you are younger, hoping one day it happens like that. I'm enjoying every single moment on the ice."
That could lead Tlusty to the same goal he's always had, but one he now approaches in a much more understated fashion.
"If I play the way I am with the Marlies right now, I can make the Maple Leafs," he said. "I have to make sure I don't put so much more pressure on myself."
Coming into focus -- Brian Pothier
can see clearly now, and he sure loves what he sees: the rest of his hockey career,
The veteran defenseman has joined Hershey for a few games while recovering from an ailment. Just what that ailment is cuts to the crux of his problem.
Pothier, 31, had been out of action since suffering a bad concussion while playing for Washington in January 2008. He was feeling better last summer, until what he thought were relapses sidelined him again. Turns out his vision and dizziness issues were related not to the concussion, but rather to an eye problem, a situation rectified by glasses and contacts.
After a couple months more of getting back into shape, he was ready to return to action. The veteran of 292 NHL games started with two games in Hershey and could play a few more there before rejoining the Caps.
"Once we sorted out exactly what it was, the middle of December, it was full speed ahead," Pothier said. "The first game back, I was a little rusty. The second game, I felt 100 times better. I was way more comfortable with the puck, way more comfortable with guys coming in for hits."
"The first game back, I was a little rusty. The second game, I felt 100 times better. I was way more comfortable with the puck, way more comfortable with guys coming in for hits."
-- Brian Pothier
The first of those two games was in Toronto. The second was at Lake Erie. Those were a pair of long bus rides that might as well have been on a magic carpet as far as Pothier is concerned.
"You did not hear me complain one time about how long the bus ride was," Pothier said. "I was so excited to be (playing). The more situations I'm involved in, the sooner I can come back. I couldn't ask for a better start."
Homes away from home --
Defenseman Doug Janik
never really had the Rochester Amerks logo tattooed on his chest. It just seemed that way after playing 376 games for the team from 2001-06.
He hoped that if he ever returned to the AHL, it might be in an Amerks' sweater. That didn't happen, so Janik found comfort in the next best thing.
Janik, acquired by Montreal in a trade from Dallas on Feb. 26, made his Hamilton debut in Cleveland vs. Lake Erie on March 1, then two nights later visited Syracuse. As frequent opponents of Rochester, both those cities became homes away from home for Janik.
"It's definitely a familiar feeling. It brings back a lot of memories, but just for a new team," said Janik, 28. "I just think back to the good games (in both those cities). I look back and it's hard to believe it's been eight years (since his rookie year)."
Janik's arrival is a coup for a well-rounded Hamilton team already loaded with depth. Coming down the stretch run, it's hard to beat the addition of a player who was part of some great Amerks teams and who's played 149 games with Tampa Bay and Dallas the past three seasons.
"I always thought Rochester was the only team I'd play for in the American League. That's obviously changed this year," he said. "A lot of the players I played with (there) are in Europe now, or in Buffalo. Whenever you change teams this late in the year, it's an adjustment. Having a winning team and a good group of guys makes it a lot easier."
Around the AHL --
Ron Wilson was promoted from assistant to interim coach of Hamilton after Bulldogs bench boss Don Lever was called up to be an assistant in Montreal. Wilson is the seventh head coach in Hamilton history. Sergio Momesso
was tabbed as interim assistant with the Bulldogs. Momesso had been with the Canadiens as a player development consultant. ... Quad City edged Milwaukee in the 15th round of a shootout March 8, falling one short of the AHL-record 16-round shootout between Cleveland and Utah on Dec. 3, 2004. ... Hershey's Keith Aucoin
had his assist streak end at 14 games March 8, three shy of the AHL record. ... When Bridgeport beat Binghamton 6-5 on March 6, it marked the third time this season the Sound Tigers had topped the Senators by that score. ... Hartford lost the first 1-0 overtime game in its history on March 6, to Manchester. ... John Curry
set a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton franchise record by winning his 49th career game March 8 against Norfolk. ... Hamilton goalie Cedrick Desjardins
' recent shutout streak of 148:35 was only 9:34 shy of the Bulldogs' franchise mark. ... This is Philadelphia's last three-game week of the year. After this week, the Phantoms close the season with four consecutive weeks of four games in five nights. The Phantoms will play their last 15 games over a span of 25 days. ... Peoria rookie defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy
, a first-round pick by Dallas in 2006, had netted three goals in his first 52 games this season before scoring three times in as many contests last week. ... Chicago was not whistled for a penalty in its game against Peoria on March 6 -- the first time in Wolves franchise history the club was not assessed an infraction in a contest.