Aaron Palushaj was a forward on the rise for the Hamilton Bulldogs near the end of the regular season, and he had a vision of where he was going to peak on the night of May 10.
That's when the Bulldogs hosted Abbotsford in Game 6 of the North Division finals. Palushaj approached linemate David Desharnais and shared his sense of the way things were going to unfold.
"We said this is our game to step up," Palushaj said. "Tonight's our night to bear down on our scoring chances."
"Confidence is one of the biggest things I learned. No one is going to push confidence on you. You have to learn it yourself."
-- Aaron PalushajPalushaj wasn't asking his linemates for anything he wasn't going to first contribute himself. The rookie came through with a goal and 2 assists in Hamilton's 4-0 series clincher. It was just another example of what Palushaj has picked up in what's been an at-time trying inauguration into the professional ranks.
"Confidence is one of the biggest things I learned," he said. "No one is going to push confidence on you. You have to learn it yourself."
Palushaj, 20, was in the wrong classroom in Peoria. Hamilton picked him up in a trade from the St. Louis organization in March. As a depth forward with the Rivermen, Palushaj still had 5 goals and 17 assists in 44 games.
"'I don't think the organization saw me as the player I was going to be," said Palushaj, a 2007 second-round pick by St. Louis. "They apparently needed more production out of me. I wasn't giving them that. I was playing the third and fourth line. I wasn't used to playing that."
Whatever Montreal thought it was getting in Palushaj, he's turned into exactly the player the Bulldogs needed. As a capable complement to the team's game-dictating defense, Palushaj moved up to a top-six forward spot and had 3 goals and 7 assists in 18 games. He's accelerated that pace in the postseason, with 2 goals and 9 points in 12 games.
"It seemed to be Montreal and Hamilton both like me," he said. "I like to think I'm helping as much as I can on the score sheet. I feel like I came into my own. I started playing how they wanted me to play, what they thought they were getting in the trade. I can't say I helped them win those games, but I like to think I'm a contributor."
Wamsley moves on -- After getting the feeling of being fired earlier this season when he actually wasn't, Rick Wamsley had a better handle on dealing with losing his job when that time actually came to fruition last week.
The St. Louis Blues removed Wamsley as coach of their affiliate in Peoria. Wamsley was named coach of the Rivermen on Jan. 2 after Peoria coach Davis Payne was promoted to St. Louis. The flipside of that move was that Wamsley was demoted from his assistant coach post in St. Louis.
"I was more upset on Jan. 2 than I was (last week). It felt like I got fired Jan. 2," Wamsley said. "All my experience told me I wasn't coming back. I was just waiting to see how it played out. I wasn't shocked. I wasn't happy, but I wasn't shocked."
In his first stretch as a professional head coach, Wamsley compiled a record of 17-20-1-5. The Rivermen finished the season with 85 points, the highest point total among any AHL team that missed the playoffs.
"It wasn't ideal by any stretch of the imagination. But everyone on the team is proud of the run we made at the end," Wamsley said. "They have a lot of young prospects. They didn't feel I'd be the guy to (develop them). A 51-year-old rookie doesn't fit (their) plans."
Wamsley still has a year left under his contract with the Blues, and he said he'll take his time sorting out his options.
"Did it whet my appetite? Absolutely," he said. "Now, I've walked in a head coach's shoes. I'm more experienced. It's a much different walk when you're in those shoes. I think I know where I made some mistakes. I know where I got better."
And what would he do differently if given another chance?
"I'd win more. I'd change the numbers at the end of the game," he said.
Holloway on fire -- It all was an elaborate setup.
There was Manchester forward Bud Holloway scoring game-winner after game-winner in the postseason this year -- six in all to date.
Then, with the Atlantic Division finals on the line in Game 6 against Worcester on May 7, Holloway drifted back into the supporting cast and helped set up Vjateslav Voinov for the overtime series-winner.
Ah well, it was time for something different anyway. Even Holloway's teammates had become so dependent upon his clutch play that they tried to call his shots before they happened.
"They love for me to get it just as much as I want them to get it," he said. "I'm skating down the ice, and I can hear, 'Come on, play it like it's overtime.' Some guys joke around more than other guys. I catch myself laughing in the play sometimes, too. I probably shouldn't tell the coach that."
Mark Morris likely would smile along with everyone else. Holloway not only has tied the AHL record for game-winners in a single postseason set by Darren Haydar in 2006, he also has produced at least a point in all 10 of the Monarchs' games (6-5).
"It's awesome to have that confidence that they're going in for you," he said. "The way things are working out for us this postseason is unbelievable. I've been fortunate enough to be credited for the game-winner, but 20 other guys are getting the job done every night."
Around the AHL -- Texas' overtime win against the Chicago Wolves in the West Division finals May 11 marked the 15th Game 7 in Calder Cup playoff history which extended to an extra session. ... The Wolves entered the game 6-0 all-time in AHL winner-take-all contests. ...Texas became the first team to reach the conference finals in its inaugural season since the 2002-03 Binghamton Senators. ... Chicago's Jason Krog has 76 career playoff assists, tying him with former teammate Darren Haydar for the most in AHL history. ... Hamilton scored 4 goals in its 5-2 win at Abbotsford in Game 5 of the North Division finals May 9. The Bulldogs had tallied seven third-period goals combined in their 10 playoff games to that point. ... Four players posted their first professional goals during Games 3, 4 and 5 of the North Division finals -- Hamilton's Gabriel Dumont and Olivier Fortier, and Abbotsford's Lance Bouma and Gaelan Patterson. ... Hamilton's 2-1 Game 4 loss to Abbotsford on May 6 marked the first time in 10 postseason outings that the Bulldogs failed to score at least 2 goals. ... Worcester was shut out once during the regular season, but was blanked by Manchester's Jonathan Bernier in Games 3 and 5 of the Atlantic Division finals. ... Hershey enters its Eastern Conference finals series against Manchester having won 10 straight and 34 of its last 35 at Giant Center. ... Reaching the conference finals for the fourth time in five years, Hershey now has won 54 of 76 playoff games (.711) and 13 of 15 series since the start of the 2006 postseason. ... Former Syracuse Crunch assistant coach Trent Cull has taken a head coaching spot with Sudbury of the OHL.