The pain and exhaustion of the postseason play right to the comfort zone of Worcester veteran defenseman Danny Groulx
Groulx, 28, is in his seventh AHL season. His team has qualified for the playoffs every year, and in 2006-07 he helped Hamilton to the Calder Cup.
"For some reason, it seems like I guess I play a lot in the playoffs. I don't think you can take it for granted," he said. "Every night is just so intense. You have to do a little extra. Sometimes it hurts a little more. But it's all worth it when you're able to win that Cup."
Groulx again is one of the last players standing, as his Sharks are locked in the Atlantic Division finals with Manchester. The difference this year is that regardless of how the playoffs turn out the season, already is assured of going down as unique in his swerve through the AHL.
In a career that's included stops in Grand Rapids, Manitoba, Hamilton, Rockford and now Worcester, Groulx had never produced more than 40 points in a season. That number swelled to 66 this year (14-52).
Groulx had an early sense this type of breakout year was coming when he saw that Sharks coach Roy Sommer
's system of attacking was custom-fit for him. The first tipoff was the way that Groulx took his newfound freedom and produced a goal and 11 assists in his first 11 games this season. He continued to keep loose with 264 shots on net -- the second-highest total in the AHL -- and eventually earned league defensemen of the year honors.
"You don't have to tell me twice to jump in the play and get involved," he said. "I had a feeling if things kept going well, I'd be able to put up some good numbers. It's the way we play. That's our system."
Groulx has happily stuck to the plan in the postseason, producing a goal and 6 assists through nine games. Hey, it's just a matter of following orders.
"The way our system is, you play hard, you get involved in the play, or someone will take your place," he said. "That's one of the most important things of the playoffs -- playing the way your system is built. Hopefully, it will pay off like it did during the season."
Change of plans
-- The plan was for Chicago Wolves' forward Anthony Stewart
to act like he'd been there before.
So many times he scored an overtime playoff goal in his mind, and in each case he envisioned himself playing it cool.
Real life doesn't always follow the script, as Stewart found out when he potted the winner at the 12:21 mark of the second overtime to give the Wolves a 4-3 win against Texas in Game 2 of the West Division finals May 2.
"I was hopping around pretty crazy," he said. "I think I did a long jump for about 10 feet. Then I got checked by a couple of guys, a couple of face washes. I was too tired to fight back."
That made Stewart's goal timely because he estimated at that point he had maybe a handful of shifts left in his legs, tops. If he needed to go longer, though, it's likely he would have been fueled through sheer enjoyment.
Stewart, 25, is skating on springtime ice rarely grooved by him. From 2001-02 up until this season, he had played in 12 total playoff games in juniors and pros. So far this postseason, he's dressed for nine such contests.
"This is an exciting time for me. It's something I've never been a part of," he said. "You hear about the guts and the glory. It's pretty intense. I plan on going a couple more rounds and seeing where this takes me."
Stewart has done his part with 6 goals, half the amount he scored in 77 regular-season games. Part of that output is a result of the way playoff hockey is tailored for his 6-foot-2, 239-pound body. Another element is how Stewart's wrecking-ball game has found a motivation.
Stewart played all of last season with the Florida Panthers
and admits that fire was sometimes hard to spark in his return to the minors in 2009-10. That was especially true at the end of the regular-season, when Stewart went goal-less in his last 19 games.
"You can be as rah-rah as you like. I think subconsciously you are a little upset, not at the situation, but at yourself," he said. "Part of the maturation process is, whether you are in the AHL or NHL, to play the same way. I think I've figured it out now. We're re-invigorated and definitely excited. Every day you have a little more bounce in your step."
"The way our system is, you play hard, you get involved in the play, or someone will take your place. That's one of the most important things of the playoffs -- playing the way your system is built. Hopefully, it will pay off like it did during the season." -- Danny Groulx
-- Milwaukee Admirals owner Harris Turer has been honored as one of the outside-the-box thinkers in his area.
Turer recently earned one of the BRAVO Entrepreneur Awards given to 12 Southeastern Wisconsin area business owners who have distinguished themselves for the creative and innovative work demonstrated by their companies.
Turer recently completed his fifth season as the principal owner of the Milwaukee Admirals. This year the Admirals drew 241,073 fans, an average of more than 6,000 per game. That's more than a 22 percent increase over the 197,198 fans that the team logged in the year before Turer bought the team. Sponsorship has also increased by 125 percent since he took over.
Under Turer's guidance, the Ads have given out their first bobbleheads, have hosted national recording acts like Styx, Sugerland, REO Speedwagon, and the Dropkick Murphys, held promotions like a Hairiest Back Contest, Biggest Beer Belly Contest, and Don't Be Like Mike Night. The team has also increased its presence in the community ten-fold, visiting the Children's Hospital Milwaukee and handing out Thanksgiving dinners to the less fortunate.
Around the AHL
-- Gabriel Dumont
and Olivier Fortier
each scored their first professional goals for Hamilton in the Bulldogs' 3-2 win against Abbotsford in Game 3 of the North Division finals May 4. ... Road teams are 4-2 in overtime games in the division finals round of the playoffs. They were 1-5 combined in OT during the division semifinals round. ... Six of the 12 overtime games played this postseason have been decided within the first five minutes. ... Hershey's quartet of Alexandre Giroux
(10), Andrew Gordon
(9), Chris Bourque
(4) and Keith Aucoin
(1) have combined for 24 goals in the playoffs. Abbotsford had 23 as a team through nine games. ... Six former AHL All-Star defensemen suited up in the West Division finals, with Texas' Andrew Hutchinson
, Garrett Stafford
and Dan Jancevski
opposing Chicago's Ivan Vishnevskiy
, Nathan Oystrick
and Noah Welch
. ... Chicago has held home-ice advantage in 13 consecutive playoff series. The Wolves have not been a lower seed since their 2004 division final meeting with Milwaukee. ... Chicago has played in seven Game 1s that have gone to overtime. ... The Monarchs' four penalty minutes earned against Worcester in Game 3 of the Atlantic Division final was an all-time playoff low in franchise history. ... Manchester also tied the team's all-time playoff record of three power play goals in that game. ... One of the AHL's landmark veterans is coming back for more in 2010-11. Bridgeport has re-signed defenseman Mark Wotton
, 36, who on April 10 played in his 1,000th career North American professional contest.