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Willsie channels disappointment into goals

by Lindsay Kramer
Lake Erie forward Brian Willsie got off to a slow start this season. He needed some extra time to score his first goal -- all of 1 minute, 18 seconds, to be exact.

That's how deep into overtime the veteran scored on opening night to push his team past Grand Rapids. But since he's gotten going, he's barely stopped.

Willsie, 30, scored once in each of his team's first 6 games, running off a streak that more than took the edge off whatever disappointment he felt as one of the last cuts of the Avalanche.

"Any time you get sent down right at the end, it's a disappointment," he said. "But it was a good start. I'm counted on to get some offense. I was getting a lot of chances and they seemed to go in. You keep getting some of those every game and you're going to get some numbers."

Willsie's re-introduction to the AHL revealed an older, wiser game. With the exclusion of the lockout year of 2004-05, he hadn't been in the league since 2002-03. His numbers with Hershey that season look outstanding: 29 goals and 28 assists in 59 games.

Then, like this season, he was a late cut by Colorado. He didn't take it well, slumping at the start of the season. Only a subsequent rally with the Bears earned him a 12-game promotion to Colorado at the end of that season.

"I've been sent down before and moped around for the first few weeks," Willsie said. "I've grown out of that. It just doesn't get you anywhere, that feeling of disappointment and you deserved better. It's part of the game, part of the business. That was a good learning lesson for me."

Spoken like a true role model, a status that was verified when Willsie was named captain of the Monsters. He's also the oldest player on the squad, and the only one with children (2 boys).

Willsie's return to the Avalanche as a free agent rounds off a career circle. Colorado originally drafted him in the sixth round of the 1996 Entry Draft. The difference now is that he begins his second lap willing to skate in whatever direction it carries him.

"You have to find a role that keeps you in the (NHL)," he said. "That's how teams are made. They (role players) find ways to contribute. I don't think I realized it when I was 23. It was probably little by little. If you have that depth, I think a team is going to be better off."

Feeling at home -- For as many places as veteran defenseman Johnny Boychuk has gone in his career, he really hasn't gotten as far as he wanted.

If his fast start with Providence keeps up, that may be changing.

Boychuk, 24, has played with a different AHL team each of the last four seasons -- Hershey, Lowell, Albany and Lake Erie, respectively.

That's a lot of movement, even by pro hockey standards. The odd thing is that Boychuk was at the same time spinning his wheels. Each of those teams was the affiliate of the same NHL team -- Colorado. The Avalanche shared roster spots on those first 3 squads before getting their own team in Lake Erie last season.

"You can't really get settled down anywhere," said Boychuk. "You can't put anything in storage. You didn't know where you were going to be. You got to see everywhere, but it gets old after a while."

One more move has made things seem fresh again. Boychuk was traded to Providence in the offseason, and he's responded like a fresh-legged rookie. Through his first 6 games he posted 2 goals and 9 assists, a clip that already has him more than one-third the way to his pro points career-high.

"I didn't know what to expect, but it was a good trade for me," he said. "It's been great. It seems like the guys have been in the right position for passes I'm making. It's been easy to play because everybody is doing their job right."

Boychuk finally gets a say in the direction of his career at the end of this season when he becomes a free agent. He might have to find his way around a new dressing room again, but his experience with the Bruins has calmed him about that.

Unlike his previous stops, Boychuk knew not a soul when he joined Providence. And that looks to be working out OK.

"It hasn't seemed to bother me yet," he said. "Even if it's a different team, you get to know the guys. After a while, if I go to another team, I'll probably know a couple of guys because I've played with them before. You get to know the guys and everything handles itself, more or less."

Standing on his own -- After helping Steven Stamkos get a little more room on the ice last season, rookie forward Devin DiDiomete is off to a fast start creating a niche for himself now.

DiDiomete played on a line with Stamkos with the Ontario Hockey League's Sarnia Sting last season, acting as something of a bodyguard. He compiled 216 penalty minutes, to go along with 56 points.

That effort was enough to earn him a tryout deal with Columbus, and then an offer of an AHL contract. But the 5-foot-11, 200-pound DiDiomete was so impressive during the Traverse City rookie tournament with the Blue Jackets that the New York Rangers swooped in to offer him a two-way entry-level deal.

"You never really know who is watching. I could have maybe dreamed the (AHL contract), but for another team to offer me an NHL/AHL contract, not a chance. For me to come out of nowhere, it was a big shock to me."
-- Devin DiDiomete

So DiDiomete, who had his bags packed for Columbus affiliate Syracuse, re-routed his car to Hartford.

"You never really know who is watching," he said. "I could have maybe dreamed the (AHL contract), but for another team to offer me an NHL/AHL contract, not a chance. For me to come out of nowhere, it was a big shock to me."

The Rangers like DiDiomete as an energy player, but his secondary objective is to prove that his point-per-game pace of last season was more than just a byproduct of him drafting in Stamkos' superstar wake.

"I'm definitely not here to score goals or to set up plays," DiDiomete said. "But if I get chances, I'm going to bear down. I don't want to be known as some guy who just goes out there and fights. Watching anyone who plays the style of him, you learn little things that can help you score goals. I'm not as good as Steve was at it, but I'm trying to work on it and add a dimension to my game."
Around the AHL -- Toronto's Andre Deveaux, who entered last week with 22 goals in 238 career AHL games, scored 5 times in 3 games. ... Quad City's first 8 games this season featured a total of 3 first-period goals. ... Following his shutout in Worcester on Oct. 25, Bridgeport goalie Peter Mannino had stopped 97 of 99 shots to begin his pro career. ... The Crunch last season recorded 3 wins in games they trailed after 2 periods; it posted 2 such victories through its first 6 games this season. ... Syracuse has a consecutive home points streak of 20 games (17 last season, 3 this season). That's 4 shy of the overall mark set by Springfield over 2 seasons in 1997. ... The Crunch has won 13 straight games against the Amerks, dating back to last season. Over that span, Syracuse has outscored Rochester 67-26. ... Hershey's 8-3 win Oct. 26 was the Bears' 200th regular-season victory all-time against Rochester (200-180-53). ... Worcester allowed 4 shorthanded goals in its first 6 games this season after giving up just 7 in 80 games last season. ... Houston denied a penalty shot against Toronto on Oct. 26, extending its streak to 9-for-9 in stopping such attempts since March 9, 2003. The Aeros have allowed only 1 penalty-shot goal in 10 attempts in team history, on Nov. 13, 1997. ... With a 6-3 win over Norfolk on Oct. 26, Grand Rapids extended its run of scoring at least 6 goals to 3 consecutive games for the first time in franchise history. The Griffins' 26 goals were their most ever through the season’s first 5 games, eclipsing the 22-goal output of the 2005-06 squad that went on to claim the AHL's regular-season title. ... Adam Berkhoel's 46 saves in a 5-0 win at Lowell on Oct. 22 marked a career-high and the most ever by a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton goaltender in a shutout. ... Rockford entered the week on a 6-game winning streak, and 3 of those wins came via the shootout. Rockford goaltenders denied 13 of 16 opponent shootout attempts. ... Philadelphia goaltender Scott Munroe posted a 31-save shutout in the Phantoms' 3-0 win at Albany on Oct. 25; dating back to the teams' 5-overtime playoff game Apr. 24, Munroe hasn't allowed a goal in his last 165:44 of play at the Times Union Center.

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