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Williams, Newbury help energize Grand Rapids

by Lindsay Kramer
The jealousy was mild and passed quickly, Jeremy Williams said.

On July 1, Williams was a little envious that his buddy and former Toronto Marlies teammate Kris Newbury had signed a deal with the Detroit Red Wings.

A day or two later, Williams was over it.

What happened? The Red Wings signed Williams, too.

"If Detroit is interested in you, it's a great compliment," Williams said. "I guess you could say I was jealous of him that first day. Then, the next day, my agent called and said Detroit was interested."

The signings didn't start out to be a package deal, but they sure wound up that way. And the pair's production in Grand Rapids shows why it was a sly move to keep them together. The forwards helped spark the Griffins to a recent nine-game winning streak and are the heart of the team's offense. Newbury, a center, paces Grand Rapids with 12 points (3-9) while Williams, a right wing, is right behind with 10 (8-2).

If the two players were going to start fresh at this point in their careers, they figured they might as well do it in a big way.

The Toronto organization was the only one each had known as pros. Newbury, 27, started there in 2003-04 while Williams, 25, broke in full time a year later. Both decided, independently of each other, that it was time to try another organization.

"I knew the day was coming, a change would be good for me. They were bringing in young college guys, giving them an opportunity," Newbury said.

"It was definitely hard. You are comfortable after playing somewhere for five years," Williams said. "It was tough to say goodbye, but at the same time it's a good thing."

The two transferred that comfort zone to Grand Rapids, especially when they put their familiarity to good use on the power play. Newbury is the disher off the half boards, while Williams doesn't have to be asked twice to rip away. Away from the rink, they live in the same apartment building.

"It definitely made the transition a lot easier. You don't want to come to a new team with 22 faces you've never met before," Newbury said. "I was coming into new territory. Me and Jeremy found our ways around."

The players feel right at home in the team's inner circle now, a natural by-product for newcomers who skate in and tear up the score sheet. The immediate payoff for Grand Rapids has been handsome. Williams is optimistic that a bigger one awaits everyone.

"I'm extremely happy with this organization," he said. "It's opened my eyes a lot. The main thing as a player is you want to win all the time. You want to win championships."
'Captain' McQuaid -- When Providence Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid reported to work on the night of Nov. 7, he found that his jersey was looking a little different.

That's because a "C" had been stitched on it. At age 23, he was the choice of coach Rob Murray to become the team's latest captain after the player who originally held that role, Trent Whitfield, was called up for what looks like a long-term stay in Boston.

"I never really gave it a whole lot of thought," McQuaid said of that possibility. "It was a pleasant surprise."

How long that glow lasts depends upon whether McQuaid is helping to run a vessel that's just weathering some choppy waters or is about to hit an iceberg.

At the time that McQuaid got his promotion, the Bruins were one of the worst teams in the AHL. Their struggles are highlighted by the team's tradition. Providence hasn't missed the AHL playoffs since 1997-98.

It isn't all McQuaid's fault that the Bruins find themselves just puttering along, and it isn't solely his responsibility to play handyman. But his new job, one he hasn't filled since youth hockey, puts him front and center when things go good or bad.

"The main thing as a player is you want to win all the time. You want to win championships." -- Jeremy Williams

"It makes things a little more different. When you are winning, everything is going good. When you are losing, you are trying to find ways to correct things," McQuaid said. "We have had a lot of success here the last few years. You want to steer the ship in the right direction. We have a lot of older guys who have a lot of experience. I've been getting a lot of pointers from other guys."

Case in point, Providence defenseman Andy Wozniewski is a former baseball player. On a beautiful fall day last week, Wozniewski suggested that the team gather for the unorthodox bonding activity of a pickup baseball game. Since no one had gloves, a tennis ball was subbed in for a baseball.

"We were trying to lighten up the mood a little bit," McQuaid said. "There was a few guys you can tell definitely played (before). But a lot of guys struggled."
The great outdoors -- After alternating runs of optimism and dashed hopes, it looks like the Syracuse Crunch will finally get its chance to make AHL history.

Pending a few minor details, the team is expected to announce later this month that it will host the first-ever outdoor AHL game, Feb. 20 vs. Binghamton at the New York State Fairgrounds.

Using the regular grandstand bleachers (about 13,000 seats), plus portable bleachers, VIP tents and standing room areas, the Crunch hopes to break the AHL single-game attendance record of 20,672, set in 1997 in a contest between Carolina and Kentucky in the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum.

The idea looked dead last summer when the Onondaga County Legislature turned down Syracuse's request for partial funding. But New York U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer got behind the project, and then recruited Gov. David Paterson.

The game's overall cost will be a variable right up until the last days, when the Crunch finalizes how much it will spend on marketing and celebrity guests, among other things. Syracuse owner Howard Dolgon has estimated his team's portion at coming in between $400,000-$550,000. Another $75,000 will be covered by a grant Paterson helped secure from Empire State Development Corp.

Schumer said he hopes the outdoor game becomes an annual event in Syracuse.

"There's certain intangibles in the community I'd like to see be an annual tradition," he said. "It would add some luster to Central New York. If it's a success the first year, the later years would be easy."
Around the AHL -- Including his winner vs. Portland on Nov. 15, Bridgeport defenseman Mark Wotton has scored 6 goals since the start of the 2008-09 season, and 3 of them have come in overtime. ... Chicago swept a three-games-in-three-days set on the road for only the second time in franchise history last weekend. The Wolves are 7-2-0-1 since the Oct. 19 coaching change that put Don Lever and Ron Wilson behind the bench. ... The Crunch finally nailed down a new lease agreement with the Onondaga County War Memorial, with one extra sign of its commitment to the town. The original deal was to be for five years with five one-year options; the new one is a straight 10-year shot. ... When Hartford goalie Chad Johnson blanked Worcester on Nov. 14, he became the first Wolf Pack goaltender to post shutouts in back-to-back games since Steve Valiquette did so Jan. 15-19, 2005. ... Adirondack's Greg Gilbert recorded his 900th career game as a head coach on Nov. 18, against one of his former teams, the Marlies. ... With 7 assists on the power play, Milwaukee defenseman Robert Dietrich has assisted on more than half of the team’s 13 power-play goals this year. ... In the previous two seasons a total of nine players had seen action for both the Predators and Admirals. Already this year there have been 11 players to skate for both Milwaukee and Nashville. ... After being shut out by Texas on Nov. 13, Rockford scored 3 goals in the first 185 seconds the next night en route to a 6-3 win over Abbotsford. ... Heading into the week, rookies Zach Boychuk and Jamie McBain are the only two River Rats skaters to have played in each of Albany’s 18 games without recording a penalty minute. ... Binghamton forward Josh Hennessy registered 4 assists last week to surpass Charlie Stephens on the B-Sens all-time leaders in assists. Hennessy currently ranks third with 84 assists, trailing only Jason Spezza (117) and Denis Hamel (170).

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