by Doug Plagens || AHL On The Beat Archive
With the Lake Erie Monsters trailing by a pair early in the third period in Rochester last week, Hugh Jessiman made a move into the offensive end and fired his team-leading 12th goal of the season by Americans goalie Drew MacIntyre. The goal was also his fifth power-play goal, another team high.
For a former first-round pick with multiple 20-goal seasons in his pro career, it’s not hard to believe he has a scoring niche with the Monsters. It is, however, difficult to fathom that due to being without a contract as late as mid-September, Jessiman’s next hockey home was uncertain.
“Training camp came up, and I didn’t have a deal anywhere,” said Jessiman, who was the 12th overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Rangers. “I knew that once an opportunity came up that was a good one, I was going to be prepared. Then my agent said he had spoken to [Monsters head coach] David Quinn and [Monsters director of AHL operations/assistant coach] David Oliver, and they were interested in having me come out for a tryout.”
As the offseason was heading to a halt, the Dartmouth product was working with a Russian skating coach and working out with a few other players while waiting for a call.
“When you’re sitting at home, and it’s mid-September, and everyone is at training camp, you have to soul-search a little bit,” Jessiman said. “When I was back in Connecticut training by myself every day, it’s pretty powerful. You have to train when nobody’s watching. That’s where you’re building confidence: in your own work ethic and preparation.”
But as September wore on, Jessiman’s next step had fallen into place. He says it was around Sept. 20 when an invite had come forth to Lake Erie’s training camp, and favorable testimonials from former and future teammates made the 6-foot-6 winger know he had found that opportunity.
“I had heard great things from David Liffiton and Patrick Rissmiller about the coaches,” Jessiman said. “To me, regardless of what type of situation it was, it sounded like a good environment for me.”
And off the ice, familiar faces made the situation with the Monsters a comfortable one. Liffiton, the Monsters captain this season, spent parts of three seasons as a teammate of Jessiman’s with the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack.
“I was the best man in his wedding, and became the godfather with another friend of his to his son,” Jessiman said of Liffiton. “That was huge for me, being able to come here and play with Lifty, have a really familiar face, be able to see my godson quite often…. I see him as a brother. He’s a warrior, a guy who’d do anything for you, and I’d do the same for him.”
“He’s a great friend of mine and fantastic teammate, and a good voice in the locker room for us. For his size, he has a really good skill set and he’s a physical force out there,” Liffiton says. “Coming in and being a guy who has been on NHL contracts, I think he definitely had a chip on his shoulder, and definitely felt there was something to prove. He has really answered the bell this season.”
At the Christmas break, Jessiman had accounted for over one-sixth of the Monsters’ 70 goals this season; a higher percentage of his team’s goals than Norfolk’s Cory Conacher and his league-leading 18, or Hershey’s Chris Bourque and his team-leading 16. Following a season in which Jessiman made his National Hockey League debut – a two-game stint with the Florida Panthers – he has a very clear vision of his ultimate goal.
“Having played a couple games there – and I thought I played pretty well – I want to see the opportunity through,” Jessiman said. “I played a lot of games at [the AHL] level before I got that opportunity. I was ready, I was prepared. Once you get a taste, it gives you confidence. It told me that I know I can play at that level. It’s about creating opportunities for yourself.”
“Hugh’s been a good part of our success this season,” said Quinn, Lake Erie’s third-year head coach. “He’s got great size. When he’s moving his feet and he keeps it simple, he’s a dominant player at this level. He and I have had many conversations, and when he doesn’t overthink it, I think he’s an NHL player. We’re really lucky to have him.”
“It sounds cliché, but my goal is to get better every single day, and that’s what I want to continue to do,” said Jessiman. “I’ve really enjoyed everything about the couple months I’ve been here, and I owe a lot of that to Coach Quinn, Coach Oliver, and the work we do in practice as a team.
“I want our team to make a deep playoff push, and I want to play the best game I can every night.”