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There's no quit in Weinrich

by Lindsay Kramer /

40 year-old defenseman Eric Weinrich,
who played over 1,100 NHL games in his career, is returning to AHL Portland.
Playing 36 games in the AHL last season was enough to whet Portland Pirates defenseman Eric Weinrich’s appetite for more.

Potentially, a lot more.

Weinrich, 40, has agreed to a deal that will bring him back to Portland this season. And 2007-08 isn’t a farewell tour, at least not in Weinrich’s eyes. He said he’s not even thinking about quitting.

“I kept myself in pretty good shape. Physically, I’m still capable,’’ he said. “I’m not playing at the highest level. The stress level is not quite as high game-to-game. Eventually, they (parent club Anaheim) will say no. But I’ll do it until they say no. Why would I quit?’’

Weinrich apparently saw the merit in at least giving retirement a try last season. After a career that included 1,157 NHL games, he started 2006-07 as a Pirates assistant coach. He hadn’t played in the AHL since 1989-90, with Utica. But when Portland needed some help on the blue line, Weinrich eagerly jumped back on the ice.

He felt at home there, as he does in the community as a whole. He lives with his wife and two children just 15 miles away from the arena. And even though he technically isn’t a coach, that doesn’t preclude him from sometimes acting like one. 

“I’m helping out in the locker room. Guys might learn just by watching what I do off the ice,’’ Weinrich said. “I still feel I contribute the way a coach would, but I still get to play. I think under other circumstances, I wouldn’t have even thought of (returning). It could be a nice little story for me.’’

Self-improvement project -- There are some things you notice right away about defenseman Lane Manson. One of them is that he’s a legit 6-foot-9, which is certainly a hard item to overlook.

Other tidbits are less obvious. He’s very handy -- he remodeled his basement in Saskatoon from top to bottom -- although he tries to keep that under wraps. Handymen aren’t always easy to find in his neck of the woods, and he’d prefer that not everyone know he can fix things lest he get too many calls from friends in need.

“You go to The Home Depot and ask (questions) until they tell you how to do it. You bug enough people,’’ he said of his self-taught ways.

If Manson becomes as adept in self-improvement projects as he is with the home improvement variety, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton could be building a wall on defense.

The Penguins signed him to an AHL/ECHL pact late last month. A blueliner who stands nearly 7-foot tall on skates is a curiosity, for sure, and a gamble worth taking. But the fact remains that Manson, a fourth-round pick by Atlanta in 2002, has yet to play in a game above the ECHL level in his three seasons as a pro.

“There was always a question mark, was he quick enough?’’ said Manson, who weighs 250 pounds. “When I’ve played (AHL) exhibitions, I haven’t felt out of place. The reach definitely has its advantages, but there’s definitely drawbacks when it comes to moving around the big frame.’’

Manson thinks his biggest fixer-uppers are his puck movement and first passes out of his zone, but at 23, there’s no reason to expect that he’d be a polished product at any height yet. He knows he’ll probably keep getting a look because his size is just so tantalizing.

At the same time, it also raises the issue of how come a player with such an obvious physical advantage is still mired in the lower minors.

“Three years in ‘The Coast’, you say, ‘What’s wrong with him?’ It’s frustrating, but what do you do?’’ he said. “It (his height) gets you a second look. People say to themselves; ‘Hey, we can work with this guy.’ But when you’re 6-foot-9, you can’t get away with much. It’s tough to fly under the radar. You throw a pass in the middle, it gets intercepted, everybody remembers the big galoot.’’

Lights! Camera! Sugden! -- Brandon Sugden is padding his resume just in case Hollywood someday needs another action hero.

The former Syracuse Crunch enforcer has been working as an extra in the upcoming Mike Myers movie Love Guru.’ The movie revolves around a hockey team and Sugden is one of several players picked via auditions to rehearse potential action scenes. The practices have been taking place in a rink in Scarborough, Ontario. Sugden, 29, left the Crunch last season and is now playing in the North American Hockey League in Montreal.

The movie, which stars Myers, Justin Timberlake and Jessica Alba, is scheduled for release in June. It’s not known yet how much screen time Sugden will get, or whether he’ll have any dialogue.

“I always like to have possibilities of doing stuff, but I’m not going to tell myself I’m going to be in movies now," he said. “I’m being realistic. It (movies) is a different world. I don’t know if I see myself as a leading man. I’m concentrating on hockey now.’’

Sugden is committed enough to his latest endeavor that he volunteered for any potential locker room/shower scene.

”Of course. In a heartbeat. I wouldn’t think twice,’’ he said. “I think I’d look good in the shower.’

Lots of work for Sauve -- According to Scott White, director of hockey operations for Iowa, the Stars could have as few as one, or perhaps zero, skaters who qualify as veterans this season.

That’s one good reason to pour as much concrete as possible into the cornerstone of goaltending.

Dallas did exactly that by signing netminder Philippe Sauve to an AHL deal. Sauve is a veteran of 206 career AHL games, totaling 87 wins and 16 shutouts. White hopes Sauve, 27, can work at least 40 games this year to complement second-year goalie Tobias Stephan.

“Our research says that Philippe is able to do this and will embrace it,’’ White said. “The bottom line for a goaltender at any level is winning. Philippe gives us an opportunity to win and an opportunity to help our younger goalies. If our goaltending is consistent, we’ll be fine.’’

At this point in his career, Sauve would probably consider 40 games a mother lode of work. He hasn’t come close to playing that many games for one team in one year since playing in 60 for Hershey in 2002-03. Last season, he played in two with Boston, 10 with San Antonio, 23 in Providence and six in Hamilton.

“I think I’m still playing the game because of the way I’ve reacted in certain situations,’’ he said of his mentoring duties. “If you’re positive in the game, it goes a long way. And if you’re negative, it goes a long way. We haven’t talked about my ice time there, but it doesn’t matter to me. It’s just starting off on the right foot, and hopefully everything goes from there.’’

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