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Sterling rediscovers touch, eyes NHL return

by Lindsay Kramer

Brett Sterling quickly volunteers that he needs to become a more well-rounded player. An equal challenge will be fighting off boredom on a level at which he can seem to score with ease.
Chicago Wolves point machine Brett Sterling found his scoring touch right where he last saw it -- in the AHL.

Sterling seemed gone from the league for good after a rookie season in which he tore it up for 55 goals and 42 assists. But his transition to the Atlanta Thrashers this season was shaky, at best.

Atlanta moved him from left wing to right wing, where he had seldom played before. He found the back of the net just one time in 10 games. He was eventually a healthy scratch.

Long story short, he’s back overmatching opponents in Chicago. He scored two goals in his second game there, against Syracuse on Nov. 9. The next night he scored twice more, vs. Hamilton. It was like he never left, and like he might not be here much longer.

“It didn’t seem like there was a good fit for me there at that time,’’ he said of his first go-around with Atlanta. “I didn’t get off on the right foot for myself. I don’t think I had a shot until the fifth game. I might have been pressing too much. It was a struggle. Sometimes it’s as much about skill and timing as it is about talent and hard work.’’

Sterling, 23, quickly volunteers that he needs to become a more well-rounded player. An equal challenge will be fighting off boredom on a level at which he can seem to score with ease.

“It’s a different year for me. I’m not going to sit here and tell myself, I have to score more than 55,’’ he said. “I want to become better defensively, play in more situations for the team. I’m not going to say I’m better than the league. If I come down here and feel sorry for myself and don’t play like I can, what’s the motivation for Atlanta to call me back up?’’

Downie makes up for lost time -- All that Phantoms rookie wing Steve Downie needed to create a better buzz about himself was some ice time.

That was a problem until Nov. 3.

Downie was under AHL suspension as a consequence of the 20-game NHL ban he got for his hit on Ottawa’s Dean McAmmond in a preseason game. That certainly wasn’t how the Flyers’ first-round pick in 2005 wanted to start crafting his pro image. So in his first five games back with the Phantoms, he’s changed the conversation by coming up with seven assists.

“It’s never fun sitting out when you should be playing. It was tough. But I kept in good shape,’’ he said. “It’s good to be on the road with the guys, laughing and making jokes there. It was a long layoff.’’

One big advantage Downie has now is that he can blend into the background. Philadelphia, now 13-1-1, was doing fine without him. Still, it looks like Downie will have something to say about the team’s success the rest of the season. Playing on a line with Ryan Potulny, Downie set up all three of Potulny’s game-winning goals last weekend.

“I’m just trying to fit in and help them win some games,’’ Downie said. “You don’t want to change lines, mix things up. There was no shortage of chemistry. It’s just adding another element to our team, trying to pitch in.’’

Road no problem for P-Bruins -- Home remains sweet, perhaps sweeter than ever, but the road has lost a lot of its intimidation factor for the Providence Bruins this season.

The Bruins played their first home contest of the season Wednesday, an opening delayed by renovations to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. No big deal. Providence breezed through a potentially spirit-sapping 10-game road trip to start the season with an 8-1-1 mark, good for 17 out of a potential 20 points.

Providence coach Scott Gordon credited the team’s aggressiveness for its happy travels. The Bruins are first in the league in both shots (36.3 per game) and fewest shots allowed (21.3 per game), while ranking second in scoring (3.80) and fifth in defense (2.40). The Bruins are outscoring opponents by a combined 30-14 in the last two periods.

“Looking at the schedule, I would have been happy to go .500,’’ Gordon said. “We’re coming home, and we’re not having to regain some ground. After the first two games, we didn’t know what to expect. The thing that impressed me about our team is that we get stronger as the game goes on. To be able to do that on the road speaks volumes about our team.’’

Yeah, most of the Bruins’ games were in the New England area, so the road grind was minimal. Still, Providence recorded impressive wins at Rochester and Philadelphia.

Gordon said the displacement was eased by the team’s ability to move its locker room and coaching office to its practice facility 15 minutes from downtown, giving it the feel of home.

“In a way, it was less of a transition than it would have been if we were (based) in the Dunkin’ Donuts Center,’’ Gordon said. “I don’t think our guys felt like it was a big road trip. Now, when we go on the road the rest of the year we should feel pretty confident about our chances. There was no flukes in any of our wins.’’

The Dunkin’ Donuts Center is undergoing a three-phase, $62-million renovation and upgrade that will include all new seats, sound system and video scoreboard; facility and concession upgrades; luxury suites and a redesigned lobby and concourse. The arena is remaining operational during renovations, which are expected to be completed for the 2008-09 season. Providence will play 15 of its next 17 games at home, including four in a 96-hour span this week.

Around the AHL -- Ryan Potulny was named league player of the week after carrying the Phantoms to three wins almost single-handedly. Not only did he score the three game-winners on Nov. 9, he registered a natural hat trick that began with less than two minutes to play in regulation and ended 2:11 into overtime, turning an impending 2-0 loss to Bridgeport into a 3-2 overtime win. … The Phantoms have swept a three-games in three-nights stretch three times already this season. … After posting his third shutout of the season on Nov. 7 vs. Binghamton, Rats goalie Michael Leighton needs one more shutout to equal Ari Ahonen’s franchise record of four in one season, set during the 2004-05 season. … Rookie Casey Borer scored his first two professional goals for Albany last week; they were the first goals by a Rats blueliner all season. … Former Penguins Jeff Deslauriers (41 saves), Jean-Francois Jacques (two goals) and Marc Pouliot (two assists) helped Springfield to a 4-2 win over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Nov. 10. … Chicago has recorded a 3-0-0-0 mark this season when trailing entering the third period. Last year, Chicago was 0-17-1-0 when trailing after two. … Charles Linglet has registered exactly one point in nine straight games for Peoria (1-8). ... With an assist vs. Chicago on Nov. 10, center Corey Locke took sole possession of third place on the Bulldogs’ all-time scoring list with 166 points, surpassing Peter Sarno. Locke now needs 14 points to overtake Brain Swanson (179 points) and become Hamilton’s all-time leading scorer. … Hartford beat Albany for the 10th-straight time on Nov. 10, a Wolf Pack record for consecutive wins over a single opponent. ... Binghamton, blanked three times last week, is the first AHL team to be shut out in three-consecutive games since San Antonio in March 2006.


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