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Returning to form arduous for Trenton's Lerg

by Lindsay Kramer
At least he made the save both times.

That was Trenton Devils goalie Jeff Lerg's only consolation when he tore the ACL in his right knee at a practice at Michigan State near the end of his senior season last year, and then did the same to his left knee at a workout late in the summer. The incidents were similar. Lerg was scrambling across his crease to stop a shot, and the torque he put on his knees was too much.

"Both ones were pretty good saves, sliding across the net," he said. "I've got that going, at least."

More than a year after the first blowout, Lerg is again making saves that count. He made his season debut against Johnstown on March 24, stopping 21 shots in a 4-3 win.

"I can't even remember the whole process of getting ready for the game. I was just trying to catch my bearings, (say) this is what you do," said Lerg, 23. "You never really realize how much things mean to you until you have some time off."

"That's a big thing to say, yeah, I can get comfortable in there again. My body is back. Physically, I can handle it. Mentally, I can handle it. I'll just be a late bloomer as far as a prospect. When I eventually get there, it will mean that much more to me. It's an exciting process." -- Jeff Lerg

As if being a 5-foot-6, 155-pound goalie isn't enough of an obstacle, Lerg now is an untested pro coming off two bad injuries. He had hoped to return earlier this season, and kept looking at the calendar to guess his comeback and how much time he'd have left. But he didn't join the Devils until early February, and needed five more weeks of practice to get in game shape.

"I had everything going right for me in my career as far as college hockey," Lerg said. "I was riding high on everything I accomplished in juniors and college. I had never really experienced an injury that kept me out for a long period of time. It's been pretty tough, but hopefully this is the worst of it."

With Trenton's season ending this weekend, Lerg may be looking at a return of only one or two games before another long layoff this summer. But the value of whatever minutes he plays before the break are amplified in importance considering how long he's waited to get them.

"That's a big thing to say, yeah, I can get comfortable in there again," he said. "My body is back. Physically, I can handle it. Mentally, I can handle it. I'll just be a late bloomer as far as a prospect. When I eventually get there, it will mean that much more to me. It's an exciting process."
Back where he belongs -- After getting a view of the South Carolina Stingrays from ice level and then the stands, Rob Concannon now has a good look at the team from the perspective of behind a desk.

It appears the same way it always has to him - like a winner.
Concannon, 39, settled in as the new president of the defending Kelly Cup champions earlier this week. The hot seat is as comfortable as an old recliner.

Concannon played for the Stingrays from 1995 to 2000, was a member of the 1997 Kelly Cup championship team and was inducted into the Stingrays' Hall of Fame in 2005.  He retired from hockey with the sixth-most games played in Stingrays' history, at 330, and was sixth all-time in Stingray points with 231 (111-120).

He stayed in the area after his retirement, and currently owns a bar in downtown Charleston.

"This is where my heart was, where it is. My mom would always say, 'why don't you move home when you're done playing?'" said Concannon, a native of Dorchester, Mass. "I didn't want to. I think the positive with me getting the job is that I can relate to a lot of these people because I have a relationship with them. Those are going to help me with this job. I don't see why the team wouldn't be considered a strong contender to make a strong run at championship No. 4."
Reason to believe -- A bad knee injury incurred while playing for Johnstown put forward Matt Robinson on the sidelines for most of last season. He used the break to envision the type of player he could someday become.

Robinson never saw anything like this unfolding. Stockton coach Matt Thomas did.

When Johnstown put Robinson on waivers earlier this season, Thomas called Robinson and told him he could be a point-per-game player. That seemed optimistic to Robinson, who wasn't close to that clip in either of his first two pro seasons with Alaska.
But Robinson, 24, appreciated Thomas' optimism and joined the Thunder. In the 61 games since then, Robinson has exceeded his coach's prognostication with 30 goals and 32 assists.

"He said: 'I'm not looking for you to be a checker.' He said: 'I'm looking for you to be a point-per-game guy.' He asked if I could do that," Robinson said. "I like that kind of pressure. I like that he put that kind of confidence in me, wanted me to be the player I could be. I did not expect to have a year like I'm having. It's kind of a shock and a surprise."

The results are a tribute to Thomas' ability to convey the obvious. Robinson stands 6-foot-1, drawing the coach's observation that someone that big needs to get in front of the net a lot more. Robinson has come around to that line of thinking.

"For all the situations he's put me in, I've delivered," Robinson said. "I'm playing the best hockey of my career."
Around the ECHL -- The crowd of 12,044 that watched the Checkers beat Reading on March 27 in Charlotte was the ECHL's largest of the season. ... Stockton's 3-2 shootout win over Las Vegas on March 26 was the Thunder's first in that drill since Mar. 1, 2009, snapping a run of seven straight shootout losses. ... Toledo has extended its affiliation with the Blackhawks through the 2010-11 season. ... South Carolina inducted former goaltender and head coach Jason Fitzsimmons into its hall of fame on March 26. Fitzsimmons, currently a scout for Washington, joined the Stingrays in 1994 and was a member of the 1997 and 2001 Kelly Cup championship teams. ... Reading's Andrew Sarauer set a team record when he converted his third penalty shot of the season on March 27 in Charlotte. ... With an assist vs. Utah on March 27, Bakersfield forward Andrew Ianiero passed Jamie Cooke for second on the all-time Condors points list, with 314. ... Bakersfield netminder Timo Pielmeier became the first Condors goaltender to record a multiple-point game when he produced two assists vs. Utah on March 26. ... Kalamazoo forward Dean Strong has earned points in all 13 games (8 goals, 11 assists) he has played at home. ... Jackals head coach Steve Martinson has now reached the playoffs in each of his 15 seasons at the helm of a team. ... When Elmira's Thomas Beauregard scored at 15:50 of the second period against Trenton on March 28 he gave the Jackals their 261st goal of the season, which set a team record. The previous high of 260 was set in 2000-2001 and 2001-2002.

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