Even with four or five seasons left as a pro hockey player, Todd Reirden
could sense himself preparing to move on to the next stage of his career.
Reirden, then a veteran defenseman, would get more pumped about helping his teammates improve than by the state of his own game.
"You are getting more excited about the plays they are making than the ones you make," he said. "That's when you know coaching might be for you."
But even that very early planning couldn't have prepared Reirden for how quickly he'd get a chance to run his own team after hanging up his skates.
Pittsburgh tabbed Reirden, 37, as the interim head coach for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last week, presumably for the rest of the season. The decision comes just two seasons after Reirden ended a 13-year career as a player and one year after he got his first whiff as a coach by working as an assistant at Bowling Green, his alma mater.
"A year ago today, I didn't envision this," he said.
After working at Bowling Green last season, Reirden joined Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as a volunteer assistant for the playoffs. During the summer, Pens coach Todd Richards
got a job as an assistant with San Jose, and Dan Bylsma
was promoted to head coach on the farm. Bylsma grabbed Reirden as his helper.
When Bylsma got the interim head-coaching job in Pittsburgh on Feb. 15, it was a natural progression to slide Reirden in as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's new boss.
"I wasn't just carrying his briefcase to the rink. I ran every possible meeting he would be running," Reirden said of Bylsma. "There will just be a different voice that will be saying things, but other than that it will be business as usual. The exact message Dan and I have worked to establish all year will remain constant."
That message has taken the Penguins to second place in the East Division. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton handed Reirden a win against Syracuse in his debut Feb. 19, tying a franchise record with its ninth straight victory.
Reirden has been given control of a very good team, and he is expected to keep it that way. Watching from the press box in Syracuse was assistant Pittsburgh GM Chuck Fletcher, typically not a visitor at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton road games. But Fletcher no doubt wanted an early and up-close view of Reirden the coach as part of the process to decide whether the "interim" prefix is eventually dropped from his current job title.
"That's what comes with this occupation, pressure to win and pressure to develop players," Reirden said after the win. "I miss that as a player. This is my best avenue for pursuing that challenge."
Reirden got some help behind the bench earlier this week when Chris Cichocki was named his assistant. Cichocki, 45, spent three-plus seasons as head coach of the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL.
Walter back in the mix
-- In Bridgeport forward Ben Walter
's eyes, his current hot streak comes down to a case of making up for lost time.
Walter has 3 goals and 6 assists in 10 games in February, standard-issue production for a player the caliber of Walter. Last season, he had 20 goals and 46 assists in 68 games for the Sound Tigers.
The difference for Walter this season is he's been playing one big game of catch-up. He hurt his knee in an exhibition game with the Islanders and missed the first six weeks of the regular season.
"I guess now is the time you want to be playing your best hockey. If you can feel good about your game going into the last month of the season, that's what everybody wants."
-- Ben Walter
While there's never a good time for such an injury, this one tossed an extra hurdle into Walter's path. He said he's never had a bad injury to start the season before, and felt like when he was finally ready to go he was something of an outsider who had walked into a play after the first act. In his first four games with the Sound Tigers, he managed just one assist.
"It's a different feeling. I was on the Island. When I came back here, I was still injured," he said. "When you first come back, you feel like you have to do everything right away, you are the go-to guy. The first couple of weeks was a bit of a slow start."
Walter has rebounded to go 14-22 in 42 games this season, helping the surprising Sound Tigers challenge for the East Division lead. Part of that is muscle memory and part is the availability of a good sounding board. Walter's father, Ryan, was a long-time NHL player and an assistant coach with Vancouver.
"He just told me don't lose focus on what your goals are. You have to work extra hard, stay in shape, just know once I got back I was going to have a good season," Ben said. "I guess now is the time you want to be playing your best hockey. If you can feel good about your game going into the last month of the season, that's what everybody wants."
Change will do you good
-- The way that veteran forward Charles Linglet
left Peoria, any change of scenery was going to be a positive one. It was just a question of how quickly his luck would turn.
The answer: less than two periods.
After a swap from Peoria to Springfield on Feb. 18, Linglet scored in his first game for the Falcons two days later. The next night, he chipped in with an assist.
Such production is usually a bit of a yawner for an experienced scorer like Linglet, but he slumped so badly with the Rivermen this season that all expectations were off the table. He had dropped to 1 goal and 8 assists in 37 games, after going 24-42 for the Rivermen last year and 31-29 two seasons ago.
"I never found a groove (this season). Hopefully, I'll find one here," he said. "It (slumping) doesn't make hockey fun. I want to find that comfort zone I used to be in."
There was no reason why Linglet, 26, fell out of that territory in Peoria, which had been his AHL home for part of the last four seasons. He said he lost weight last summer and came to camp feeling sharp, but a broken hand sent him sliding down the Blues' depth chart.
Linglet said he became frustrated after that, and his spotty effort cost him minutes on the power play and a top-two line slot. He decided a divorce was the only answer, and asked St. Louis for a trade.
"It's really strange for me (in Springfield) right now. But I kind of need it," he said. "I had a bad season. Most of it was my fault. I didn't live up to my abilities. I'm looking forward to turning this horrible season into a good one."
Around the AHL
-- Philadelphia has allowed just four power-play goals in its last 61 shorthanded situations (93.4 percent) over a span of 12 games. ... Goalie Mike Dunham
and center Glenn Merkosky
have been selected for enshrinement into the Binghamton Hockey Hall of Fame as the Class of 2009. They will be inducted March 13. ... Sens defenseman Matt Carkner
played in his 500th AHL game in Binghamton’s 5-2 loss to Norfolk on Feb. 20. ... With his victory against Albany on Feb. 18, goalie Jeff Frazee
set the Lowell mark for wins in a season with 21. The rookie netminder broke Frank Doyle
’s record of 20 set during 2006-07. ... Milwaukee's 2-1 win against the Moose on Feb. 21 marked the 13th time this season that's been the final score of an Admirals game, which ties a team record set in 1999-2000. ... Houston is 14-for-31 on the power play (45.2 percent) in six meetings with Iowa this season, including a 4-for-4 effort Feb. 14 and a 4-for-6 output Feb. 19. ... The Crunch and Marlies have combined for 22 goals the last two times they have played each other, with Toronto taking both games. ... Entering this week, Toronto has won six of its last eight games while scoring 42 goals in that span. ... Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has put together four nine-game winning streaks in its history, including three during the past two seasons, but has been halted in search of win number 10 each time. ... After his overtime tally against Portland on Feb. 21, Hartford defenseman Michael Sauer has seven career AHL goals, three of them game-winners. ... Ryan Kinasewich
's goal for Hamilton in a 3-1 loss to Syracuse on Feb. 22 was the 3,000th regular-season tally in Bulldogs franchise history. ... In a 5-4 win against San Antonio on Feb. 22, Jimmy Howard
became the first netminder in Grand Rapids history to log 10,000 minutes between the pipes. ... Manitoba goalie Cory Schneider
has allowed four or more goals in just two of his 27 games this season, both against the Griffins (Jan. 16 and Feb. 20). He owns a 4.81 goals-against and a .860 save percentage in two games against Grand Rapids, and a 1.54 goals-against and a .940 save percentage in 25 games vs. the rest of the league.