Thanks to rehab assignments, contract dumps and Olympic aspirations, there were some pretty big names playing in the AHL this year – albeit briefly
As professional as we are at The Hockey News, we’re still fans of the game and for some of us, we’re really nerdy fans. To wit: anytime I’m at a big event like an All-Star Game, or the world juniors or Frozen Four, I check out the jerseys that fans wear to games. The more obscure the better. I saw a dude rocking an old Cincinnati Cyclones sweater when the All-Star Game was in Columbus, for example. When the draft was in Los Angeles, I saw someone wearing a (pre-criminal) Slava Voynov Manchester Monarchs jersey.
So recently I was thinking about the AHL and how, thanks to conditioning stints, unwanted contracts and Olympic aspirations, there were some pretty unexpected jerseys in the ‘A’ this season.
But before we get to the list, I want to mention two close calls. First, there should have been a Vadim Shipachev Chicago Wolves jersey, but the Russian import never actually suited up for a game – he only skated with them before bolting. And we came kinda close to Jarome Iginla having a Providence Bruins jersey in the spring, but the future Hall of Famer just practiced with the squad. Believe it or not, that would have been Iggy’s first AHL game ever. Oh well.
Here are the top 10 most unexpected AHL jerseys of the year:
10. Brian Gionta, Rochester Americans – In prepping for the Olympics, the NHL veteran practiced with his hometown Amerks, playing in one game and scoring a goal. Gionta hadn’t played in the AHL since 2004-05 and this was the first time he played for a Rochester team since he played for the Jr. Americans as a teenager.
9. Eric Fehr, San Diego Gulls – Fehr is an interesting one because at no time was he property of the Gulls’ NHL affiliate, the Anaheim Ducks. The veteran pivot had been sent down by Toronto as a contract dump and assigned to San Diego because the Marlies were so stacked. Fehr’s old Washington buddy Jeff Schultz put in a good word with the Gulls and after success in San Diego, Fehr is now back in the NHL with San Jose.
8. Ryan Malone, Iowa Wild – Like Gionta, Malone had Olympics aspirations this year. Unlike Gionta, Malone hadn’t played a pro game for several years. So the big left winger signed an AHL deal with Iowa, getting into 12 games and registering two assists. Unfortunately, Team USA didn’t end up taking him to Korea. His last game was Feb. 18.
7. Chris Kelly, Belleville Senators – The final player in our Olympic cohort, Kelly did end up captaining Canada to a bronze medal and earned himself a contract with the Anaheim Ducks as a result. But before that, Kelly had been honing his craft with the Baby Sens, putting up two points in 16 games.
6. Marcus Kruger, Charlotte Checkers – Waived by Carolina in the midst of a 19-game goalless streak, Kruger ended up with the Checkers in February. The two-time Stanley Cup champion has put up three points in eight games for Charlotte.
5. Lee Stempniak, Charlotte Checkers – The veteran scorer had some pretty rough luck this year, starting the campaign with a hip injury. He was sent to Charlotte on a conditioning assignment and immediately sustained an upper body injury in his one game with the Checkers, prompting another spell on the shelf. Now he’s back in the NHL, but for the record, he played his first AHL game since 2005-06 this year.
4. Paul Martin, San Jose Barracuda – One of the more surprising moves of the year was Martin, the veteran defenseman, getting sent down to the Barracuda from the Sharks. The idea was to showcase him for a potential trade, but the gambit didn’t pay off. Martin notched two points in 18 AHL games and is now back with the Sharks, albeit as a black ace.
3. Ryan Murray, Cleveland Monsters – This one is particularly fun because Murray had never played in the AHL before the Columbus Blue Jackets sent the still-young defenseman down on a conditioning stint to rehab an upper body injury. Murray scored one goal in his Monsters debut and then popped right back up to the NHL.
2. Steve Mason, Manitoba Moose – Another rehab-based assignment, Mason played one game for the Moose last week in his return from a concussion. He got bashed in, too, giving up four goals on 22 shots. Amazingly, Mason had just three AHL games to his credit before this – that’s nearly unheard of for a goalie. Keep in mind, he had a short stint with Syracuse in 2008 before jumping up to Columbus and leading the Blue Jackets to their first-ever NHL playoff berth, earning himself the Calder Trophy in the process.
1. Zach Parise, Iowa Wild – Somewhere out there, I hope there’s an Iowa fan who got themselves a customized Parise jersey. The star Minnesota left winger played one game for Iowa as part of his rehab from a back injury. Parise had one assist in the game and for the record, he wore No. 10.