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Wathier has come a long way since Junior C days

by Lindsay Kramer
The 9-to-5 career path was never for Texas Stars forward Francis Wathier. Maybe he'd be a farmer. Or a paramedic. Someone who helped others.

But never someone constrained by the regular routine.

"Don't put me in four walls. I'll go crazy," he said. "I appreciate the people who do it. But it's just not me. In life, it's important to find who you are."

A few years ago, Wathier would have told you he'd be anything but a pro hockey player. And the NHL? Not a chance. But sometimes punching the clock again and again until your hands are sore pays off, if not necessarily in the traditional sense.

Five years into his tenure with the Dallas Stars, Wathier, 25, has grinded his way into looking like an NHL player. The 6-foot-4, 208-pound power forward earned three separate recalls to the Stars this season, good for his first five NHL games. He also has 10 goals and 14 assists in 55 games with Texas, helping to keep the team in the race for a playoff spot in the West Division.

"They say there's a time for everything. A guy has to learn the game," Wathier said. "The more you play, the more you listen. And you have to make sure you are mature off the ice."

If love of dirty work was the only prerequisite for making the NHL, Wathier would have reached the top right after the Stars took him in the sixth round of the 2003 Entry Draft. As a youngster growing up in St. Isidore, Ontario, Wathier worked on a pig farm, handling such stomach-steeling tasks as pulling the teeth from and cutting the tails off the little critters.

"You know, I was a young kid. We didn't have much money in my family," he said. "I wanted to have money. If you want something, you work for it. I'd rather learn the hard way. Once you are there, you realize hockey is easy."

Well, yes and no. Wathier was so lightly regarded as a player that he started climbing the ranks via the Junior C level.

"Hockey was not even in my plans. Playing Junior C, there were a couple guys drinking beer before the game. It was bush league," he said. "I was finishing high school, going to paramedic college."

Wathier's life-changing detour was an invitation to try out for Hull of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He played two seasons there, then a couple more with Gatineau. That led to his four-year apprenticeship in the Stars system, during which time Dallas assistant GM Scott White said his main assignment was to improve his mobility.

"Now it's a matter of keeping his game moving forward. He's done everything we've asked here," White said. "He's what we're all about. He sticks up for his teammates. He gives us a chance to win. His confidence has grown. He's been fun to watch."

White's done the best he could to help Wathier avoid any missteps. The first time he called the player to tell him he was going to the NHL, he instructed him to grab a pen and piece of paper.

"You are so excited," White said, "that you'll forget what I'm about to tell you." White then detailed Wathier's flight information, reminded him to bring his passport and gave him the lowdown on packing the proper clothes.

A couple promotions later, Wathier has all the necessary groundwork down cold.

"They don’t give the opportunity to everybody," he said. "When you get the call, it's a special moment."
Spina bidding for Rampage greatness -- After missing all of this season with a torn pectoral muscle, San Antonio forward David Spina wasn't sure of his value to Rampage fans.

He was reminded when he returned to town.

Spina came back in January after rehabbing in Phoenix, still not ready to play but eager to see his teammates again. His first public appearance was an auction of special Rampage jerseys that were made to honor police and firemen. Spina figured he was out of sight, out of mind, and was prepared to shell out for his own jersey.

He would have needed a big check. His sweater went for $750, the second-highest amount.

"I was thinking I might have to buy my own jersey," he said. "People forgot who I was. I didn't show my face in San Antonio until that game. It's cool to have a community behind you like that. It gives you strength you can't explain."

Spina, who jumped back into the lineup Feb. 17, returns the favor. He is the franchise leader with 67 assists and is second on the points list with 104. He came into this season holding down the top spot, but Joel Perrault passed him at 120. Perrault is with Phoenix now, so Spina's return gives him a chance to push Perrault off that hill.

"It's definitely not on my priority list. But when you see it on paper, it's an accomplishment. I know if I'm putting up points, I'm doing my job," Spina said. "I've put all my individual goals aside. I expect to be better than I was before. I feel more in tune with my body. I've learned a lot from this injury mentally, how to clear bad thoughts, stick with good ones. I have to learn to adapt to whatever happens to me, and that's what I've learned from this injury."

"Now it's a matter of keeping his game moving forward. He's done everything we've asked here. VHe's what we're all about. He sticks up for his teammates. He gives us a chance to win. His confidence has grown. He's been fun to watch." -- Scott White

Rowe aching for healthy season -- Randy Rowe's season is proceeding remarkably in tune with the others in his pro career to this point, a development that's both good and bad.

When he plays, Rowe remains productive. This year, he's recorded 11 goals and 7 assists in 17 games with Charlotte of the ECHL and 5 goals and 6 assists in 12 games with his current team, Lake Erie.

But the forward is also struggling through yet another choppy season because of injuries. Since turning pro in 2001-02, Rowe, 29, has had several years broken up by months-long ailments. The lowlights have included herniated discs in his neck, a fractured lower back and a hyper-extended elbow.

"It's always a challenge to stick up here (in the AHL). Over my career, I've had a lot of injuries. That's one of the reasons it's been up and down, up and down," he said. "I think it was more frustrating when I was younger. You see a lot of guys playing you played with in juniors that are up in the AHL or NHL. But now, once you get older, you learn the ropes of the whole system."

This year's issues have included a broken jaw that delayed the start of his season until November and then a back ailment that sat him on the bench five games into his recall to the Monsters. The painful lessons have taught Rowe that one of the best treatments is to exercise his selective memory.

"A lot of people come back worried about their injuries. I black it out, pretend it never happen," he said. "Once the game's on, your adrenaline is going. It's after the game, the bus ride home, when stuff catches up to you. Hopefully, the next day you feel better and can get going again."
Around the AHL -- Darren Abbott, currently the team president of South Carolina of the ECHL, has been named to the same position in Manchester. Abbott replaces Jeff Eisenberg, who is leaving the Monarchs to lead a local advertising firm. ... Milwaukee and Nashville have extended their affiliation agreement through the 2011-2012 season with a mutual option for the 2012-13 campaign. Currently in their 12th season with Nashville, the third-longest affiliation agreement in the AHL, the Admirals are 487-324-31-102 (.586) while serving as the Predators top farm club. ... Hershey's 5-3 win against visiting Albany on Feb. 21 was its 20th straight victory on home ice, setting an AHL mark. Bears captain Bryan Helmer recorded his 386th career assist in that win, moving into a tie with AHL Hall of Famer Steve Kraftcheck for the most assists by a defenseman in league history. ...  Hamilton defeated Adirondack 5-0 in front of a franchise-record regular season home crowd of 15,529 on Feb. 21 at Bell Centre in Montreal. The shutout was Bulldogs goalie Cedrick Desjardins’ sixth of the season, tying a franchise mark. ... Lowell has a 35.3 percent success rate on the power play (12-for-34) versus Manchester’s second-ranked penalty kill unit this season. The Devils are responsible for more than 37 percent of the 32 power-play goals allowed by the Monarchs this season. ... Chicago defenseman Jamie Hunt scored his first three goals of the season last week, which included his first career two-goal game on Feb. 20; prior to those scores, his most recent AHL tally came on Dec. 28, 2007. ... The Wolves have not lost a game with goaltender Peter Mannino or Drew MacIntyre in net since Jan. 6, a span of 22 games; both netminders are currently on professional career-high winning streaks (Mannino, 10 games, MacIntyre, eight games). ... Rochester's victory against Portland on Feb. 21 was the Amerks' 2,000th win in franchise history. ... Jonathan Bernier made 40 saves on Feb. 20 in a 4-0 win against Providence, Manchester’s fourth consecutive shutout of the Bruins; Providence has gone 240:48 without scoring against Manchester. ... Wilkes-Barre/Scranton set a franchise-record for goals in its 9-2 win against Albany on Feb. 18, and Chris Conner's six points (3-3-6) that night also marked a single-game franchise high. ... Chicago, Norfolk and San Antonio, the three AHL teams whose head coaches were relieved of their duties this season, are a combined 67-29-2-10 (.676) under their new bench bosses.

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