When Cincinnati Cyclones forward Mark Van Guilder
wasn't lucky enough to fly -- and he's driven the seven-hour trip between Milwaukee and Cincinnati on about half of his 13 jaunts this season -- his car could virtually guide itself from city to city.
"I know Chicago and Indy like the back of my hand," he said of two of the landmarks along the way.
The time for settling down may be near, as Cincinnati trails Reading 3-0 in the American Conference finals. Before he left his city one last time this year, though, Van Guilder was adamant about making sure all the back-and-forth paid off.
"ou can't use that as an excuse. It's part of the game. You just wait your turn and when you get it you have to take advantage of it. It's hard to stay confident when that's going on. At the same time, there're good guys up there. I didn’t score much this year. It's always me coming back." -- Mark Van Guilder
Van Guilder played for Milwaukee of the American Hockey League in all seven games of its playoff loss to Chicago, then to Cincinnati of the ECHL for Game 6 of the Cyclones' set vs. Charlotte. He rescued Cincinnati's season with his team's only two goals in a 2-1 Game 7 triumph April 28.
"It's not only physically tiring, your schedule's thrown off, but mentally it's tough. You don't know where you're going to be," he said of the shuttle. "Honestly, after the game, I was way too tired to be excited, not too much time to celebrate."
But at least there was something to smile about, a contrast to how the rest of his season had gone. Van Guilder, 26, looked ready to shed his ECHL address after going 26-44 in 65 games for the Cyclones last season. And he might have pulled that off if not for an oblique muscle ailment that limited him to just 28 games in Milwaukee and 15 in Cincinnati in 2009-10.
His scoring touch never abandoned him with the Cyclones (6-5), but in Milwaukee the spotty playing time helped hold him to just 7 assists. That made him an extra with the Admirals and all the up-and-down chipped away at his effectiveness when he did get a chance. Overall, the potential for any AHL momentum was cut off by a half-dozen trips to Cincinnati.
"You can't use that as an excuse. It's part of the game. You just wait your turn and when you get it you have to take advantage of it," he said. "It's hard to stay confident when that's going on. At the same time, there're good guys up there. I didn’t score much this year. It's always me coming back."
Back in the room
-- Idaho right wing Matt McKnight
missed the stories the most. All the games he sat out with his two concussions and a groin injury, he could follow those on the Internet. Sitting at home while his team was on the road for four or five days at a stretch, McKnight knew he was on the outside of some off-ice fun that could never be recreated.
"That's when you notice it the most," he said. "The stuff away from the rink is often the better stories anyways."
Thankfully, the Steelheads' success this year bought McKnight a little extra time and brought him back into the pack for the best drama of the season.
McKnight, 25, suffered his second concussion of the season in late March and was iffy for the postseason. But when Idaho clinched the No. 1 seed in the National Conference and the first-round bye that came with it, McKnight had crucial extra time to heal.
McKnight's first game back was Game 1 of the Steelheads' opening series against Utah on April 16, and he scored twice. Since then he's scored twice more and added 2 assists, giving him 4-2 in six games after going 13-18 in 48 regular season games. His spark on the third line gives Idaho yet another offensive dimension beyond its dangerous top two trios.
"Everyone wants ice time. But I don't look at it as competition," he said. "In the playoffs, the other teams key on certain guys. It's important to have balanced scoring."
McKnight's contributions would normally make him the big storyteller in a small hometown like Halkirk, Alberta, which counts about 100 people within its borders. When you come from a town that cozy and reach the level of pro hockey, there isn't a lot of competition for bragging rights.
But there is in Halkirk. Its more prominent native son is Phoenix Coyotes
captain Shane Doan
"I kind of play second fiddle to him," McKnight said. "I think there's a lot more fans who know what Shane is doing versus what I'm doing."
One big pain
-- Even though he stands just 5-foot-8, opponents of Stockton agitator Garet Hunt
would have a hard time imagining he could make himself a bigger pain than he already is.
But that's precisely what he's done in the playoffs.
Operating out of a spot as the 10th forward and a penalty kill specialist for the Thunder, Hunt has still tossed a pair of goals and assists into Stockton's basket during its run to the National Conference final. That's just three fewer markers than he contributed in 52 games during the regular season.
"Any time a guy like me can score a goal is a boost to the team," said Hunt, a second-year pro. "It's hard to score every game. And it's hard to have lots of energy every game. You just have to find it within you, know that's you're role. I'm an energetic guy. That's my personality."
It's one that shines through like a meteor. Hunt, who tallied 215 PIM this season, has been voted the Thunder's fan favorite in each of his two seasons there.
"I guess they like my work ethic. With that, comes a fan base," Hunt said. "I just play every game like it's my last. You have to make it as fun as you can."
Around the ECHL
-- Linesman Ray King has been named the 2009-10 recipient of the Ryan Birmingham Memorial Award. The award honors an on-ice official for his contributions and dedication to the league officiating staff. King is in his 10th season as an ECHL linesman and has worked more than 480 games. ... Defenseman Ryan Constant
's goal ended the longest game in Stockton Thunder history 36 seconds into triple overtime, lifting the Thunder to a 1-0 win against Idaho in Game 3 of the National Conference final May 5. Goaltender Bryan Pitton
, making his first start of the postseason, broke a Thunder playoff record with 49 saves while earning the first playoff shutout in team history. ... Royals goalie Matt Dalton
tied a team record with his 32nd win as a Royal this season (22 in the regular season and 10 in the postseason) by beating Cincinnati 4-2 in Game 3 of the American Conference finals May 4. ... Royals forward Olivier Labelle
registered the first playoff hat trick in team history in a 5-2 win against Cincinnati in Game 1 of the finals April 30. ... Reading has scored first in 11 of its first 12 playoff games and has won eight straight playoff contests. The league record for consecutive playoff wins is 11, set by the Richmond Renegades in 1999. ... Cyclones assistant coach Dean Stork
has been involved with eight of the 20 Game 7s in ECHL playoff history. Skating in four as a player and coaching four others with the Cyclones, Stork has a 5-3 record in these contests.