Leaving San Antonio after four seasons in the Phoenix organization was a tough decision for goalie Josh Tordjman
, though he eased the breakup by staying nearby.
Perhaps close enough to haunt his old friends.
Tordjman, 25, has signed a free-agent deal with Minnesota, whose AHL farm team, Houston, is the Rampage's biggest rival.
"To tell you the truth, I'm not sure what to expect," Tordjman said. "It's going to be great going back to San Antonio. We're going to go there to beat them, for sure. It's going to feel good to get an opportunity to compete against guys on the ice and afterward catch up on some friendships I made."
There will be a lot of nostalgia. Tordjman played 176 games with the Rampage during the last four seasons, compiling a record of 82-76-10 with nine shutouts. In 2009-10, he was named the recipient of the Yanick Dupre
Memorial Award as the AHL's Man of the Year for outstanding contributions in the community.
Tordjman has experience crossing hockey lines, and on an even deeper emotional level. He played parts of four seasons with Victoriaville of the QMJHL, then near the end of the 2005-06 season was traded to Moncton. In the ensuing playoffs, he backstopped Moncton to a first-round win against his old team.
"It was definitely different. Pros is a much different feeling," he said. "In pros, you see different faces through the years. I found it pretty difficult in junior."
Hamel is happy to play anywhere
-- Playing hockey was something Denis Hamel
always did for fun, of course. You don't skate in 192 NHL games with a joyless approach to the sport.
But now the concept of taking the ice with a smile on your face has a whole new meaning for the veteran.
The long-time AHL point machine said earlier this week that barring any last-minute reprieves, he's looking at a season of semi-pro hockey in his home near Montreal this winter. Hamel, 33, said he sent word to every AHL team that all he is looking for is a training camp invite, but his phone hasn't rung once.
"It's always fun to play in any league. It's not like the AHL, what I want," he said. "But sometimes when you have nothing, you have to move on."
Even though Hamel doesn't move as quickly as he used to, the collective cold shoulder is surprising for a player who was a four-time captain with Binghamton and has strung together a run of productive AHL seasons. After peak efforts of 78 points for Binghamton in 2004-05 and 91 points for that same team in 2005-06, he spent all of 2006-07 in the NHL.
The subsequent back-end curve of his career still was solid. He put up 55, 50 and 51 points, respectively, for Binghamton the past three seasons. Hamel said he will try to stay in playing shape in case a team needs a fill-in this year or a European team is interested in 2011-12.
"I wish somebody can tell me what's wrong. Maybe I'm too slow now," Hamel said. "It's really hard. But I've been 13 years playing hockey. I never thought I'd be leaving the game like that, not getting anything. Right now, it looks like the game is leaving me. But life goes on."
Wong, Levy hoping for homecomings
-- The unfamiliarity of AHL training camps will be softened by homecomings for a couple of newcomers this preseason.
Forward Brandon Wong
has signed an AHL deal with Hartford. He comes to the team out of Quinnipiac University, where he amassed the second-most goals (68) and fifth-most points (143) in the school's Division I history.
Wong, who played in three games with Grand Rapids at the end of last season, spent the summer skating at the school in Hamden, Conn. Hartford is a little more than 30 minutes away, and Wong will get a chance to come back Oct. 1 when the college hosts an exhibition game between Bridgeport and the Wolf Pack.
"Oh, that will be exciting," Wong said. "I never thought I'd be playing at the rink again. But the main focus is making the Hartford team more than anything else. I've heard that they're short on forwards. I think there's going to be some opportunity there."
Forward Derrell Levy is looking at even more of a dream scenario. He has signed a tryout contract with the Syracuse Crunch, which will play an exhibition game against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Sept. 29 at Oswego State's Campus Center Ice Arena.
Levy is a former standout for Division III Oswego State and helped the team win the 2007 NCAA title. Last year, Levy played 33 games for the West Michigan Blizzard of the All-American Hockey League, where he had 11 goals and 27 assists for the Davidson Cup finalists.
Strong finish has Fraser looking forward
-- Reasons for optimism were hard to find in Grand Rapids last season, so the Griffins took them when they could.
A 9-5-1-2 finish certainly qualifies, considering the team was 25-34-2-2 through the season to that point. Whatever sunshine that portends for this season, coach Curt Fraser
is glad he'll be around to enjoy it.
Grand Rapids recently extended Fraser for two more seasons after a two-season mark of 77-73-10 with the team. The Griffins missed the postseason last season after Fraser debuted with a 43-25-6-6 record in 2008-09.
Fraser is fifth all-time among Griffins coaches in regular-season games coached (160) and regular-season wins (77). He is set to surpass leader Danton Cole
's 208 games coached in the 49th game of the 2010-11 season, while a 40-win campaign would enable him to eclipse Cole's 116 career victories for the most in franchise history.
"I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else this year. I'm glad that things got put into place and we can get back to work," Fraser said of his deal. "Last year was a real humbling experience. We had some challenges we had a tough time dealing with. I think this year we'll be a little deeper. I think there's tons to build on. I expect them to compete and to find ways to win every night."