At the end of last season, emerging Albany River Rats forward Jerome Samson
set himself up for either a breakthrough or a flop heading into 2009-10. It could have gone either way, and the direction wouldn't be revealed for months.
Samson closed hard on 2008-09, with 6 goals and 12 assists in his last 18 games. That's fine, Rats coach Jeff Daniels
told Samson at the time, but you better play like that all of next year or you won't be playing much at all.
"I'm going to hold you to that," Daniels said he warned him. "Those last (18) games, every game he was a force."
Thus put on notice, Samson, 22, came out on fire this year and stayed that way from start to finish.
The undrafted third-year pro was one of the AHL's great breakout players this season. His 78 points were 24 more than last season and ranked tied for fourth in the league. His 37 goals were a plus-15 over last year and tied him for second in the AHL. Those numbers made him a first-team AHL all-star. You could say he cleared Daniels' bar by a bit.
"He was going to push me pretty hard this year, keep going at it," Samson said. "I thought he was right on. The extra push got me to where I am today. I agreed with him 100 percent. The way we've been working together for two years, it gave me a shot to play in the NHL."
A few shots, actually. After remaining patient while several of his teammates got looks in Carolina, Samson would up getting the first seven NHL contests of his career from the Hurricanes.
Samson's improvement was a matter of aggressiveness. His 332 shots were by far the most of any player in the AHL, reflective of the hunger of a player who worked his way up from a fourth-liner in juniors to the go-to finisher on the playoff-bound Rats.
"I didn't question myself. I just put my head down, went at it 100 percent," he said. "It's the mentality I had to have being an undrafted guy. Do whatever you can, you won't have any regrets at the end."
Samson doesn't know what kind of message Daniels is going to leave him with at the end of this season, but after tasting his own potential it's likely that no one is going to motivate him harder than he will himself.
"I'm just proud of what I did up to now," he said. "Once everything is done, I'll try to clear my mind, try to get some rest, and then start all over again. Just one step at a time I want to make it to the NHL, the sooner the better."
Blue Jackets make changes
-- Columbus made a clean sweep as it closed shop in Syracuse and headed to Springfield.
A day after the Crunch season ended April 10, Columbus Assistant General Manager Chris MacFarland told head coach Ross Yates and assistants Trent Cull
and Karl Goehring
that their contracts would not be renewed for 2010-11. Cull was given the option of interviewing for the head spot in Springfield.
Yates had worked in Syracuse for 10 years, six as assistant coach and four in charge. His record as a head coach was 154-131-15-20, with one playoff appearance.
"He said we need a change," Yates said of MacFarland's talk. "I asked him the reasons because I'd like to get better and hear his side of the story. He said we'd talk later. They obviously felt they needed a new voice. I think I needed a new challenge also. I think it's good for both of us."
Cull had been an assistant in Syracuse four seasons while Goehring made his coaching debut this year after retiring as a player.
"It's part of the business," Goehring said of his firing. "It's a performance-driven business. It's the nature of the beast. It's never an easy situation, but you try to move forward the best you can. With my playing career, this wasn't the first time I was let go. You try to prepare yourself either way."
Getting the message
-- Hamilton's concept of team defense swept up everyone this season.
In 2008-09, Bulldogs defenseman Yannick Weber
made his pro debut with a calling card of point production, tossing in 16 goals and 28 assists. A great start for sure, but new coach Guy Boucher
wanted a little more tightening of the hatches from everyone this season.
"Last year, I had a pretty good year. But if you watch my games from last year, I didn't play good defensively," Weber said. "That was the goal before the season, to get better in my own end."
"I didn't question myself. I just put my head down, went at it 100 percent. It's the mentality I had to have being an undrafted guy. Do whatever you can, you won't have any regrets at the end."
-- Jerome Samson
That ambition took precedence over getting on the score sheet for most of the season. Weber came up with just two goals in his first 50 contests, but was a valuable part of a Hamilton defense that allowed the fewest goals in the AHL (182). He improved his plus-minus from plus-11 last year to plus-16 now, even as his goals total slipped from 16 to 7 this season.
"When Montreal tells me I have to be better defensively, that's what I have to do," Weber said. "It's just details. It's just having good positioning, being aggressive. I think I'm a more complete player this year. I like to play to be successful."
Around the AHL
-- Hershey's goal differential this season was plus-144, the third-highest mark in AHL history behind the 1992-93 Binghamton Rangers (plus-146) and the 1972-73 Cincinnati Swords (plus-145). ... The Bears were the first AHL team since the 1987-88 Hershey club to lead the league in power-play efficiency and penalty-killing efficiency in the same season. ... Hershey captain Bryan Helmer
played in his 982nd career regular-season game at Norfolk on April 10, eclipsing Bill Needham's record for an AHL defenseman. ... Bridgeport defenseman Mark Wotton
skated in his 1,000th career North American pro game vs. Manchester on April 10, a total that now includes 825 in the AHL. ... Lake Erie's Darren Haydar
hit the 600-point mark for his career in the Monsters' last game of the season, April 10 vs. Abbotsford. Haydar has 224 goals and 376 assists in 562 career AHL games. ... With Hartford (12) and Providence (11) missing the playoffs this spring, Milwaukee and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton take over the longest current streaks of qualifying for the postseason, with eight each. The AHL record remains 24 straight, by the Cleveland Barons from 1941-64. ... The Lowell Devils set a franchise record for wins in a season, 39. ... Milwaukee passed 90 points on the season, making it the first team in AHL history to post seven consecutive seasons of 40 or more wins and 90 or more points. ... Chicago matched a franchise-record 29 home wins this season (29-8-0-3). ... Five players posted hat tricks April 9 - Milwaukee's Dave Scatchard
(4 goals), Hershey's Alexandre Giroux
, Bridgeport's Jesse Joensuu
, Albany's Oskar Osala
and Syracuse's Maksim Mayorov
. ... Hamilton lost to Toronto in a shootout on April 10 but the point earned allowed the Bulldogs to set an AHL record for most road points in a season at 60. ... Hartford scored a franchise-record 7 goals in the second period of a 7-5 victory over Springfield on April 10. ... Houston gave up a franchise-record 55 shots in a loss to San Antonio April 11. That included 27 in the second period. ... Chicago's Arturs Kulda
and Hamilton's P.K. Subban tied for the league lead with a plus-46 rating, the highest since Joby Messier
's plus-59 for Binghamton in 1992-93. ... Springfield tied an AHL record with 12 overtime losses this season.