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With a clear head, Pokulok's on the comeback trail

by Lindsay Kramer
Bakersfield Condors defenseman Sasha Pokulok's personal scouting report is deceptively simple.

"I'm just like any other guy here," he said.

That would be absolutely true if the Condors' roster was stacked with 6-foot-5, 230-pound speed bumps who were former first-round picks and are now trying to overcome a long string of concussions.

Failing that, Pokulok is hard to miss in the team's lineup.

Pokulok, the No. 14 overall selection by Washington in 2005, is trying to find his health, and, subsequently, his game again in Bakersfield. Just staying on the ice would be a good place to begin.

Pokulok, 23, has been hounded by concussion problems in his three-year pro career. As a rookie in 2006-07, two concussions limited him to one game in Hershey and 16 in South Carolina. That, obviously, was a crucial drag on his development, an anchor that added to the weight of his draft status.

"'I always felt I had more to prove," he said. "It's always in the back of your mind. I felt like I had more to live up to since I missed my whole first year. The first year was a setback for me. It was a dent in my development."

Pokulok got in 44 games with the Bears as a second-year pro, but last season, another concussion cut his year to 23 contests in South Carolina and eight with the Bears.

He was a free agent last summer and found a fresh start in Bakersfield appealing.

"It (his medical history) is not a concern at all. I had the summer to make sure everything was fine," he said. "I wanted to come out west, just a change of scenery. It was just a perfect fit. I got a good vibe right away. Obviously, things weren't working out in the Washington organization. We'll see what happens."

The first couple games were certainly eye-openers. Pokulok announced his arrival by scoring 3 goals in his first three games with the Condors. In his first three seasons total, Pokulok hit the back of the net just six times.

"Right now, I feel great," he said. "I'm happy to be playing hockey again with no pressure on my shoulders."

Brothers again -- As brothers and former OHL foes, Bryan and Jason Pitton know all too well what it's like to compete against each other.

They are taking a much more fraternal approach to this hockey season.

Bryan, a 21-year-old goalie, and Jason, a 23-year-old forward, are teammates on Stockton this year. It marks the first time they have skated wearing the same jersey, and they are watching each other more closely than ever.

"Usually you don't notice when another player steps on the ice (in practice). But I notice him because I want him to do well," Bryan said. "Every now and then we joke around. The competition has always been there between us. But it's never been a huge thing."

Bryan played for Stockton last season, while Jason skated with Bridgeport of the AHL. When Jason didn't have much cooking for himself at the start of this year, Bryan lobbied for him to come on out to the Thunder.

"We've always trained together in the summer. Being able to hang out with him is kind of cool," Jason said. "He's been able to see what I'm doing on the ice. If he knows I'm not doing something right, or need to do something different, he'll let me know."

Well, maybe a little after the fact. What might Bryan be thinking in real time when big bro hops over the boards and heads in on him?

"Just don't let him score," Bryan said.

Reason to believe -- Daniel Steiner's belief in his ability might carry him a long ways this season. Actually, it already has.

The Reading forward is one of the most unusual players in the ECHL -- a 29-year-old rookie. He spent the past decade playing in his native Switzerland, happy yet curious. He described himself as a bit of a late bloomer, and was also slowed by injuries.

The money was very good, yet he wondered if he might be selling himself short professionally. So this year, he left a generous contract on the table there to test himself in North America.

"I was always over-ambitious. In my head, I was always going to play in the best league in the world," he said. "I want to go step by step. I'm not a huge NHL player. But I want to wear that jersey just once. I want to live that dream."

Steiner got a look from the Columbus Blue Jackets organization, then caught on with the Royals. Through Reading's first two games, he posted 2 assists.

"I think I'm on the right way. I don't want to pass up my whole dream after two weeks," he said of starting in the ECHL. "The East Coast level is kind of tough. Everyone wants to show their own skills. The collective of the team is missing. That's what we have to work on. That's what brings the individual forward, when you have a winning team."

Around the ECHL -- Toledo defenseman Jamie Milam is the ECHL's player of the week after contributing five points total in wins Oct. 17 and 18. … Idaho's Rejean Beauchemin is the goalie of the week for going 2-0-0 with a goals-against average of 1.50. … More than 20,000 fans turned out to watch Toledo in its first three games back in the ECHL last weekend. The Walleye had back-to-back sellouts at the new 7,431-seat Lucas County Arena with 8,000 on Oct. 16 and 7,467 on Oct. 17 before wrapping up the weekend with 5,197 on Oct. 18. The 6,888 per game average is up more than 75 percent from 2006-07, when the team played its last season in the Toledo Sports Arena. … The league drew almost 100,000 and averaged 4,742 per game for its opening weekend. … Stockton needs 64,360 fans this year to reach 1,000,000 in club history. … After this weekend’s home-and-home with Wheeling, Cincinnati will have played in four home openers. … In its first three games of the year, Kalamazoo outscored its opponents 10-0 combined in the second period. … Reading's Scott Langdon scored his first goal as a pro in a loss to Elmira on Oct. 17. Last year, as a rookie, Langdon was goal-less in 62 games. … Gwinnett’s Tom Zanoski tied a team record of four points in a season opener with two goals and two assists against Wheeling on Oct. 17. … Bakersfield blanked Ontario on opening night Oct. 16, the third opening night shutout in Condors history and the first since 2002-03.

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