played so little with Abbotsford of the AHL last year that at the end of the season he did what previously might have been the unthinkable.
He asked to be sent to Utah of the ECHL so that he could start having fun again.
"If I was asked three or four years ago if I wanted to play in the East Coast League, I would have said no," said Vandermeer, 34. "It was fun to be a bigger contributor (with the Grizzlies). You're a competitive guy. It was a great opportunity to go down there and get that many minutes in, get rejuvenated."
Last week, Vandermeer made sure his batteries would be charged from the start of the upcoming season. He signed a deal with Victoria that will likely make him an ECHL regular again for the first time since 1999-2000. Overall, Vandermeer, a combo forward/defenseman, is a veteran of 611 AHL games who racked up 130 points and 2,772 PIM with nine teams in that league.
The Salmon Kings brought him in as part of a backbone transplant and immediately named him captain.
"The American League has gotten a lot younger. The ECHL is younger yet," Vandermeer said. "It's part of my makeup to give something back to the game, impart some knowledge back to the younger guys. Management has confidence in me to fill in some of the things that were lacking, bring more grit to the team."
Vandermeer's tough-guy role is even tougher because of the circumstances he's stepping into, replacing Wes Goldie
as captain. Salmon Kings management wanted the popular scorer to return, but without the letter. Goldie decided it would be better to part ways.
"Whenever there is change, there will be some people who don't like it and some people who welcome it," Vandermeer said. "You're not necessarily brought in to replace all the things that he does. I'm a different player. What I do is a known and proven commodity."
Swanson's frozen dinners -- Brian Swanson
's freezer is stocked with enough salmon to last his family through the winter.
He yanked them out of the Kenai River near Anchorage with a few hours of dip netting last week, a process in which large nets are spread in the water to haul in the fish.
"It sounds simple, but it gets chaotic at times," Swanson said. "The salmon come in in massive schools. You're trying to do it fast. I was born and raised here. This is the stuff you do."
The difference this year is that Swanson will get to enjoy his bounty at his own dinner table during the hockey season.
Swanson, a 34-year-old forward, has returned from six seasons playing in Germany to sign with his backyard ECHL team, the Aces.
"I'm pretty lucky. To have a team here, in my hometown and play, is nice. It's a great organization," he said. "We could have gone back (to Germany). It will be tough not to go back. Right now, I'd be packing my bags, getting ready to go over. It feels weird not to be doing that."
It'd feel even weirder to Swanson -- a former big-time AHL scorer who has played in 70 NHL games -- to settle down entirely. So the Aces are a win-win accommodation. The family -- Swanson and his wife have three children -- get the comforts of home while Brian keeps squeezing his career for all it's worth.
"As the years go by, you kind of figure out where you are career-wise," he said. "I didn't want to stop playing hockey. I know I can still play at a good level. I'm 34, but by no means am I over the hill. I don't want to look back in 10 or 15 years and regret quitting too early."
Raymond flees France -- It took a trip to France for Bobby Raymond to realize he was headed toward the easy way out.
Earlier this month, he re-routed his journey to Florida.
Raymond, a second-year defenseman, signed with the Everblades after playing last season in France. He jumped to that country straight out of a career at RIT and it didn't take him long to realize he was in the wrong spot.
The on-ice efforts of the players were OK, he said, but the more important sweat, that which comes from weight room sessions, wasn't what he was used to in school. As a senior he was named recipient of the team's hardhat award, emblematic of his work ethic.
"I was disappointed with the intensity of other players. A lot of guys wouldn't be there for mandatory workouts," he said. "That was just the normal culture of the game there. You are a team together, you definitely want everyone to be into it, and having people push you, they're helping you get to the next level yourself. Work ethic in any company is contagious. It's no different on a hockey team."
Raymond said he also returned because he prefers the notion of the ECHL feeding higher-up leagues. And if that struggle through the narrowing chute breeds more competition within the team, well, that's the whole point, right?
"The East Coast is a very competitive league. You don't have time to mess around," he said. "There's a lot of players who want your spot. If you don't do your best, you'll see the consequences very quickly. I've always tried to be the one working hard off the ice, trying to catch people with more skill than me, rather than the other way around."
Around the ECHL --
As the off-season stretches into the dog days, several teams are tidying up important off-ice matters. Among the latest tidbits:
The ECHL's new Chicago entry, which begins play in 2011-12, has narrowed its potential nicknames to four choices: Chicago Blizzard, the Hoffman Estates Hammers, Chicago Knights and the Chicago Express. Fan voting will run until Aug. 6.
Utah has signed an affiliation agreement to again work with Calgary and Abbotsford.
Kalamazoo has reached a deal to work as an affiliate of the New York Islanders
and Bridgeport. The Islanders replace Philadelphia; the K-Wings will still maintain an affiliation with San Jose.
Elmira has signed on as an affiliate of Anaheim. The Jackals are expected to maintain their current relationship with Ottawa.
Reading renewed with the Toronto Maple Leafs
and Boston Bruins
and the Toronto Marlies.