By Lindsay Kramer | NHL.com correspondent
The latest in European style fit Mathieu Darche all wrong.
Darche doesn't do pretty, at least when it comes to hockey. Darche is a banging, hip-tossing, behind-clearing wing. As a scorer, he's way more brute than ballerina. Still, the alter ego in him always produced one of the cheeriest personalities in the AHL when he wasn't plowing over people.
Until last season. That's when Darche was just plain grumpy while playing for Duisburg of the German Elite League. Darche's playing style fit in over there like ragged blue jeans at an evening ball.
"It was just a frustrating year. The North American style is more to my style than the European style,'' said Darche, 29. "In Europe, it seems like they look for the perfect play. I'm more a guy crashing the net. The pretty plays, they happen. But I'm sure there's more goals scored off of rebounds and tips.''
There will be in the AHL this season with Darche around. After a failed experiment that saw him produce just 12 goals and 13 assists in 52 games for Duisburg, he's back to turn North American rinks into bowling alleys. In his first seven games with Worcester, he cranked eight goals and two assists off the assembly line. That's better than average production for Darche, one of the AHL's stealth scorers for the past few seasons. In his four seasons prior to playing in Germany, Darche chipped in with a minimum of 22 goals each year.
At a wide 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, he's a load on the power play. He's also dangerous creating opportunities off the half-boards and sneaking in that odd deflection.
"I know my limits. I'm more of a get open, and I'll shoot (player),'' he said. "Obviously, it's the best start I've had.''
Darche was almost a can't-miss signing by parent club San Jose. Moving its affiliate from Cleveland to Worcester, it needed an anchor veteran for credibility and to make coach Roy Sommer's job easier.
The Sharks were an easy sell to Darche. For all of his AHL success - which includes a Calder Cup with Milwaukee - he has played in just 26 NHL contests. Darche looked at San Jose and saw an organization that both leaned heavily on its youngsters while also giving its older depth players a chance.
"I've had a good career, but not good enough to give (NHL teams) no choice but to keep me up,'' Darche admitted. "I know at 30, I'm not a long-term prospect. But you never know. You look at (San Jose's) track record. Whether you're a prospect or not, if you're the one playing well in the minors, you're the one going up. If I get a chance, maybe I can show them I can stay up there.''
Phantoms tab Samuelsson -- First choice. Runner-up. As the seasons pass, who really keeps track of such things? Kjell Samuelsson finally has the job he waited six seasons to get. Actually, it was six seasons and six games.
Samuelsson, a Philadelphia fixture as a Flyers defenseman, is the new head coach of the Phantoms. He replaces Craig Berube, who moved up to the Flyers as part of new head coach John Stevens' staff.
Samuelsson, 48, had been a Phantoms assistant for the past six years. When Stevens left as the Phantoms head coach at the end of last year to become a Flyers assistant, Samuelsson and Berube were the candidates for the Phantoms top spot. Berube got it, and Samuelsson brushed away any hard feelings to return for what he thought would be his seventh season as assistant.
"Sure, I was disappointed,'' he said. "But I talked to management here. I had a good situation here. I like being part of the organization. It was more hard when the decision was made at the start of the summer. I came back at the end of the summer, and I was an assistant coach.''
First, Samuelsson wanted an assurance from the Flyers that he would be the only assistant under Berube, as opposed to how the two of them both worked under Stevens. Samuelsson said he wanted to take on more responsibility, all the better to prepare him for a head coaching job that rushed up on him quicker than he could have imagined.
Now it falls to Samuelsson to help rebuild a Phantoms team that missed the playoffs last season after winning the Calder Cup in 2005. If that isn't a weighty enough welcome, Samuelsson becomes a voice of authority in an organization in flux. Among the many personnel moves that have spun out of the Flyers' slow start is the recent demotion of veterans Niko Dimitrakos and Petr Nedved to the Phantoms.
"Even if there is a little turmoil here, we have a good club,'' Samuelsson said. "Players who probably don't think they'll get sent down got sent down. You have to talk to them and get them in the right frame of mind. It's just communication. Find out what they think happened up there, what you think.''
Amerks goalies like the work -- Rochester's hot new goaltending tandem combined to put an emphatic end to a long drought last weekend.
The last time an Amerks netminder had stopped at least 50 shots in a game was Nov. 12, 1991. That run ended on Oct. 20, when Rochester goalie Craig Anderson turned aside 50 shots in a win over Peoria. The effort looked like so much fun to Amerks rookie goalie Adam Dennis that he rejected 54 pucks the next night, in a win over Toronto.
"I don't know what 50 shots feel like, but I'd rather have it this way than have 20 shots and not have much action," Dennis told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. "It was a fun game."
Dennis' heroics aside, this could be the season that Anderson finally gets a real run as a true No. 1. Since turning pro in 2001-02, he's never gotten a chance to lift more than a fraction of the load.
His professional season-high is 37 games, with Norfolk in 2003-04. In the past two seasons combined he's played in just 44 games overall, with Norfolk and Chicago.
Eye-opener for Guenin -- One thought pulsed through the head of Philadelphia Phantoms rookie defenseman Nate Guenin when he watched teammate Marty Murray set up the game-winning goal vs. Norfolk in the season opener Oct. 6: If you plan on taking out players at the AHL level, you really need to hit them hard.
Murray had bounced off a solid check by an Admirals player to deliver a helper to Stefan Ruzicka in overtime. Guenin was on the bench at the time, taking in lesson No. 1 of playing defense in this league.
"These guys are stronger. You're playing against men,'' Guenin said. "When you hit a guy, you have to put everything into it. They know how to roll off you.''
That soon could be a difficult strategy to pull off against Guenin.
Guenin, signed to a free-agent deal by the Flyers, comes into the AHL with a reputation that precedes him. Last season, while captaining Ohio State, he was voted both hardest-hitting defenseman and best defenseman one-on-one in the CCHA captains' poll. The physical prowess of the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Guenin is eye-catching in itself. Even more impressive is his awareness of how much he doesn't know yet.
"In college, a lot of times you catch the guy and the play is over,'' he said. "You have to pick your spots better for the big hit (in the pros). The main thing is position. In the neutral zone, you can't go flying across the ice trying to lay a guy out.''
Besides dropping opponents, Guenin said he loves blocking shots. What else would you expect from someone with his hardscrabble background? He's a native of Sewickley, Pa., and he watched and absorbed the toughness of his grandfather, who put in 40 years in a steel mill without missing a day. Such a perspective explains how running into - and sometimes getting running over by - forwards can be categorized as fun.
"It's a good feeling when you catch a guy real solid,'' Guenin said. "When you separate a guy from the puck, you're team's getting the puck back and going the other way. And a lot of times a big hit changes the momentum of a game.''
Around the AHL -- Crunch players Geoff Platt and Marc Methot, huge fans of the rock group Godsmack, got to skate with bassist Robbie Merrill the morning of a concert by that group in Syracuse Oct. 23. Merrill is a hockey fan who travels with gear in case he has a chance to take the ice during his tour. ... A special pink goaltenders stick, used by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's Andrew Penner during warm-ups on Oct. 21, was raffled off during the game against the River Rats, raising more than $2000 for the American Cancer Society's fight against breast cancer. ... Petr Nedved had a goal and an assist for the Phantoms in his debut Oct. 20. After a career of nearly 1,000 professional games, it was his first appearance in the AHL. Nedved's number 93 is the highest ever worn by a Phantom, surpassing Jeff Carter's 37. ... Neil Komadoski, whose father Neil played for the Springfield Kings (1971-72) and Springfield Indians (1977-78), scored the winning goal in Binghamton's 4-3 victory over the Springfield Falcons at the MassMutual Center on Oct. 21. ... Nine of Houston's 17 goals this season have come from rookies: Benoit Pouliot (four), Danny Irmen (two), Alex Leavitt, Ben Thomson and Ryan Hamilton (one each). ... AHL President and CEO David Andrews, a Nova Scotia native and former general manager of the AHL's Cape Breton Oilers, has been inducted into the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame in Halifax.