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Wamsley plans to be himself on Peoria bench

by Lindsay Kramer
After he got the job as new head coach of the Peoria Rivermen last week, Rick Wamsley checked around with some of his coaching buddies for advice.

The consensus was that if Wamsley was going to run his own show, the best way to do it was by being himself.

Get ready for the fun and games to begin.

Wamsley, who has never been a head coach before, has built a deserved reputation as one of the most colorful figures in hockey, whether he's showering referees with a few choice words from the press box, scorching goalies who allow soft scores or just regaling listeners with tales from his 12-year NHL goaltending career.

"I have kind of a sarcastic sense of humor. I don't see that changing. I have a little bit of temper. I don't see that changing. But when the play is over, it's over," he said. "I know I have the ability to be hard on people. Emotion is not a bad thing. I like to win. I really believe the fun comes from winning."

Then Wamsley, 50, should take over his new post with a smile on his face. With a points percentage of .583, the Rivermen are part of a logjam around the top of the West Division. The stress point is that, unlike the case when a newcomer takes over a bad team, it's Wamsley's job to keep Peoria trending upward.

"The team is doing well. We have to play better to make sure we secure a playoff spot," he said. "I enjoy the challenge. So far, everything in my hockey career has gone OK. I was a decent player. I played for a lot of good head coaches. The knowledge of what a head coach goes through behind the bench is invaluable."

He got the chance for that tutorial when Davis Payne was promoted from Peoria to St. Louis' top spot. Wamsley, an assistant with the Blues, had made it clear that he aspired to be an NHL head coach himself someday. Going to Peoria is an upgrade of his resume.

"I'm as ready as I'm going to be. We'll see how far I can take it, and what level I can take it to," Wamsley said. "There's not a need to change a lot. There're a few things I will put my stamp on, what will help them play better."

Like, say, stressing an old goalie's emphasis on keeping the puck out of the net above all else?

"You have to be careful. You can't take any offensive guy and make him a checker. But you can take an offensive guy and make him aware that if you can put him on the ice and (trust him defensively), he'll get to the National Hockey League quicker," Wamsley said. "Goalies have a different view of things. Whether it's right or wrong, we'll see. We understand the importance of good defensive play. Championships are won with defense, no matter what the sport is."

Back to the future -- Rockford IceHogs defenseman Jassen Cullimore's new home and job both have that familiar feel to them, yet at the same time they seem just a little off. He's doing the best he can to align them with the past.

Cullimore, his wife and their three young daughters have moved into a new house in a Chicago suburb. It's on the same street they lived on when he played for the Blackhawks a few years back. The current residence is a little smaller than their previous one, though Cullimore plans on tearing it down and building a new one.

"It's tight quarters," said Cullimore, 37. "We're doing the best we can."

The same roll-up-the-sleeves approach applies to his career. For the first time since 1994-95 with the Syracuse Crunch, the former NHL bedrock finds himself as an AHL regular.

Cullimore, who has played in 776 games up top overall, went to camp with Anaheim and earned a two-way contract offer. Because he wanted a little more flexibility, though, he opted for a tryout deal with the IceHogs. He didn't expect it to take this long to get another NHL look, but the upside is that he can easily commute to Rockford from his home 75 minutes away.

"I'm as ready as I'm going to be. We'll see how far I can take it, and what level I can take it to. There's not a need to change a lot. There're a few things I will put my stamp on, what will help them play better." -- Rick Wamsley

"I was hoping I wouldn't be as long as I have in the minors. It hasn't worked out that way yet," he said. "It's been good. I know what to expect. I don't necessarily think of myself as being that old. And I don't necessarily think of them (his teammates) being that young. I don't know why. I'm sure they do notice (his age). I have a few more wrinkles than they do."

Sage advice -- Lowell Devils forward Patrick Davis thought new coach John MacLean was joking at the start of the season when MacLean told him he was working too hard.

Davis laughed at first. MacLean didn't crack a smile.

"He said, no, really. It's about working hard at the right moments. It's about working smart," Davis said. "Coach MacLean just says, less is more. Keep your game simple and the points will come. I'm taking a step back, taking a look at things. The game kind of slows down."

Sort of like Davis' tenure in the Devils' organization. Though just 23, it seems like he's been around forever because this is his fourth full season in the system. And MacLean's little tug on the reins could make this the best one yet.

Through his first 37 games, Davis produced 10 goals and 14 assists. Those numbers are approaching his career high of 30 points last year, produced in 74 contests.

Davis is taking a little while to grasp MacLean's new philosophy - the coach made him a healthy scratch in mid-December. But in the six games since then, Davis has stormed back with 4 goals and 3 assists.

"It was good for me. It might have been that (that sparked the run)," Davis said. "It's all about being a pro. It's really a 24-hour, seven days a week job. Four years ago, I would have told you, yeah, I'm mature. I had no idea. I'm not trying to get too high, emotionally. Keep it level, at the pace I am."

Around the AHL -- Davis Payne became the seventh man to be named an NHL head coach directly from the same post in the AHL since Nov. 22, 2007, when Bruce Boudreau went from the Hershey Bears to the Washington Capitals. ... Hershey's current 10-game winning streak is one short of the 72-year-old Bears' franchise-record 11-game run achieved last season, from Nov. 14 to Dec. 7, 2008. ... The 2010 Winter Olympics will feature 135 AHL graduates in its hockey competition. ... Seven different skaters have scored the game-winning goal in Worcester's last seven victories. ... Andrew Desjardins leads the Sharks with six first goals this season, including the first strike just 34 seconds into a game in Lowell on Jan. 2. ... Lake Erie's Justin Mercier, goal-less in his first 31 games, registered back-to-back two-goal efforts on Jan. 2-3. ... Hamilton overcame Milwaukee leads of 1-0, 2-1, 3-2, and 4-3 to beat the Admirals 6-4 on Jan. 3. ... The Griffins have surrendered seven goals in two straight home games, three of the last four home games and in five contests overall this season. Never before had Grand Rapids allowed seven or more goals more than three times in an entire season. ... Hartford went 3-for-3 in the shootout in a 2-1 win over Syracuse on Jan. 3 after going a cumulative 3-for-21 in losing its first four shootouts of the season. ... Milwaukee lost in a shootout for the fifth time in as many tries this season Jan. 2 in Toronto. The Admirals are converting on just 21 percent of their tries, while stopping just 10 of 22 shots against. ... Manchester's 10-round shootout against Portland on Jan. 2 was the longest in team history. ... Monarchs right wing Kevin Westgarth set a career high in goals by scoring his seventh of the season in that contest. ... Springfield's 2-1 triumph over Providence on Jan. 2 halted a 17-game winless streak. ...The crowd of 15,319 fans at Chicago's Allstate Arena for the Wolves-Peoria match Jan 2 was an AHL season-high. ... Denis Hamel is expected to play in his 400th game as a Binghamton Senator Jan. 8 vs. Portland.

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