After one year in Finland, center Tim Stapleton
loved it so much he was pretty sure he'd never come back.
After a second season there, he was almost positive about that. So much so, in fact, that he had already decided to go for a third season in 2008-09.
Funny what a sniff of an NHL contract can do. The Maple Leafs came up with one, and Stapleton showed he could change directions as quickly in his life as he does skating through the offensive zone.
Stapleton, 26, is second on the Marlies with 18 points (4-14). He held out strong for this type of chance, but even he is caught a bit off-guard with how much he's been able to do with it.
"When I signed with Toronto, I was like a little kid. I was definitely excited. I'm still excited," he said. "Everything is just happening. I'm just taking it all in."
Stapleton gave the AHL a brief shot in 2005-06 after his senior season at Minnesota-Duluth. He joined Portland for nine games, contributing five assists. He hoped to parlay that into a two-way NHL/AHL deal, but when none came, he skated to Finland.
The lack of a clamor for Stapleton's services is understandable if you focus solely on his 5-foot-9, 160-pound frame. But the Maple Leafs' gaze locked onto his speed and 110 points combined in two years with Jokerit, so they pitched him a one-year, two-way offer.
"I was like, 'Hey, I might as well stick around (in North America) and give myself a legit chance,'" Stapleton said. "I've always believed in myself. I know what kind of road it's going to take to get to the NHL."
Marlies coach Greg Gilbert
said he admires Stapleton's persistence on the puck, but he might as well have been talking about his pluck in general. Stapleton pushed his way from a player the coach admits he knew little about to a point man on the team's power play and an offensive catalyst in general.
"Everyone has told me no throughout my career," Stapleton said. "I've had people tell me there's no way you'll make the NHL. The thing about hockey is you play one game, you might have a bad game. You go at it the next day."
No rest for Lemieux
-- Three games in three nights, New England style? Phooey. Claude Lemieux
eats that type of schedule for breakfast.
Back in the day, say, Sherbrooke in 1985, three-in-three could mean logging some serious miles. By comparison, playing for Worcester at Providence on Nov. 28 then in home games Nov. 29 and 30 was a skate in the park.
"This is actually easier, because we got to play two out of three at home," he said. "Back in Sherbrooke, we had long travel."
Of course, the small catch is that Lemieux was 20 when he began his Sherbrooke career, as opposed to 43 now. So he's not getting too carried away just yet. But the feistiness with which he's approaching his comeback from a five-year retirement survived its opening jolt of the AHL schedule.
"In his first AHL action since that 1985-86 season, the four-time Stanley Cup champ contributed a goal, an assist and an energetic attitude.
"I feel great, surprisingly. It's a very good league. The speed of the game is fast," Lemieux said. "It's a good measuring stick for me. I feel I passed the test with honors this weekend. I was able to compete and produce."
Lemieux, on an AHL deal with Worcester, originally said he hoped to add to his total of 1,197 career NHL games by Christmas. But after last weekend, he said he isn't sticking to any firm timeline in that pursuit.
"I feel good enough, I could be ready by next week. I'm available," he said. "At the same time, I'm going to be patient. (The comeback) not working is not an option. I know it's going to work. I enjoy the challenge. I know deep in my heart this will be something I remember as a steppingstone."
Happy reunion for Lundmark
"When I signed with Toronto, I was like a little kid. I was definitely excited. I'm still excited. Everything is just happening. I'm just taking it all in."
-- Tim Stapleton
-- When free-agent center Jamie Lundmark
signed with Calgary last summer, one of his considerations was that his backup plan to an NHL job came with a familiar safety net.
It was Quad City coach Ryan McGill
. Lundmark obviously didn't plan on skating for McGill in the AHL again, but now that he is at least the reunion remains productive for both.
Lundmark put up some pretty solid numbers playing for McGill in Hartford earlier this decade. With Quad City, Lundmark has 6 goals and 19 assists in 23 games, and his effort of 5 goals and 14 assists for the Flames in November earned him the AHL's player of the month honor.
"He hasn't changed much. For a guy like me, and a lot of guys, he makes guys want to play, keeps guys accountable," said Lundmark, 27. "He seems to get me going every night. For me, it's just kind of a respect thing. He has respect for me as a player, and I have respect for him as a coach."
The two might be combining to create a spark that has Lundmark on a career upswing nearly a decade after the Rangers took him ninth in the 1999 draft. Lundmark has played in 232 NHL games, most recently splitting 2006-07 between Calgary and Los Angeles. He then started last season in Russia.
Lundmark quickly decided that wasn't the place for him at this point in his career, and came back to post 33 points in 51 games for Lake Erie. His current pace puts him on track for an offensive output that would easily be the best of his career.
"I thought when I was younger, you can't get much better," he said. "But I think I'm getting better every year. I'm more confident. I think the game out more. Sometimes in the past, I've tried to do too much. It's all coming together for me now. I feel I have my game where I want it."
Around the AHL
-- Hershey has won nine in a row and has scored at least 7 goals in a game on six occasions this year. One of those outbursts came against Philadelphia on Nov. 29 at Giant Center, making the Bears the first team to score nine goals against the Phantoms. The Bears have outscored their opponents by a 60-23 count in 11 home games this year. ... Philadelphia's 13 shots in that game tied the franchise record for fewest shots on the road, and the Phantoms had gone 114 games without being shut out, leaving them just two short of the franchise record of 116 games. ... Milwaukee's pair of games against Houston last weekend marked the fourth time in the Admirals' last nine games that the team has played the same opponent two games in a row. ... Iowa has scored the game's first goal in just eight of its 21 contests, but is a perfect 8-0-0-0 in those games. ... Lowell's recent five-game winning streak was a franchise record. ... Chicago's Don Granato
and Grand Rapids' Curt Fraser
, both assistant coaches for St. Louis in 2005-06, coached against each other Nov. 28. ... When Grand Rapids' Aaron Downey
scored in his team's win against Rochester on Nov. 29, it was his first goal since 2006-07 and his first in the AHL since 2000-01. ... Daniel Larsson
has become the sixth goalie in Griffins history to notch a pair of 1-0 wins in a single season. ... Mike Sillinger
's goal for Bridgeport on Nov. 28 was his first in the AHL since May 1, 1993. ... Houston's Clayton Stoner
scored six seconds into the third period against Milwaukee on Nov. 28, setting a franchise record for fastest goal to start a period. ... Rockford has netted 30 goals in its last seven games (4.29 per game) after scoring 36 in its first 14 contests (2.57 per game). ... Fourteen of Chicago’s 22 games this season have been decided by one goal, including each of the last three. ... San Antonio's current 17-game winless streak is the longest in the AHL since Albany's 21-game slide in 2001-02. ... Bridgeport is 4-1-0-0 when trailing after two periods this season. ... Hamilton had the second-highest attendance in franchise history Nov. 30 at the Bell Centre with a crowd of 14,446 at a game vs. Binghamton. The crowd was second only to the 15,119 fans who came to the ‘Dogs game on March, 26 2004 against the St. John’s Maple Leafs.