by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
Winning and development, in wildly varying proportions from team to team, are the twin pillars of coaching in the American Hockey League.
Don Nachbaur takes over the Binghamton Senators with a resume that includes a perfect 12-for-12 showing in making the Western Hockey League playoffs — so there is little doubt which way he leans in that balancing act.
“It’s the same thing in juniors (as in the AHL)," he said of the emphasis on winning. "The guys that don’t win don’t spend much time in that league. You have to have a plan from the start. You have to set those goals, and you can’t backtrack from them.”
So what’s Nachbaur’s plan?
“Winning is a mentality. Losing is easy. Anybody can do that,” he said. “The basics for any team (are) about work ethic and compete level. I think that plan works in life.”
It certainly works for his teams. Nachbaur, 50, who was introduced as Binghamton’s coach last week, is coming off a six-year run as boss of the WHL’s Tri-City Americans during which he went 235-155-25-17. His teams made the playoffs in each of his six seasons there, as they did during an earlier six-year stint in Seattle.
As a player, Nachbaur skated in 223 NHL games and won a Calder Cup with Hershey. He’s never been the head man in the AHL before, although he was an assistant for the Philadelphia Phantoms from 2000-02.
“For me, it’s time," Nachbaur said of returning to the AHL. "I felt I’ve done everything in juniors. I really have no apprehensions. I’m pretty certain I know what the American Hockey League is like. I sat in the same lockers and stalls that many of those players are sitting in today.”
Nachbaur appealed to Ottawa because of his passion and intensity, and his playing record points a strong arrow toward what type of club he’ll put on the ice. As a player, Nachbaur had 465 penalty minutes in his 223 NHL games — and averaged well over 100 PIM in his nine AHL seasons.
“The skill players have to have room. They have to have a comfort zone,” Nachbaur said. “That comfort zone comes from team toughness.”
Even though he’s been based on the West Coast for several years, Nachbaur’s personal comfort zone extends across the country to his new home. When he played for Hartford, the Whalers were affiliated with Binghamton. He never skated for the AHL team, but played exhibition games in Binghamton.
“I think the biggest thing is I’m familiar with the whole (organization). I’m not going to go in there blind,” he said. “It’s going to be a situation where you go back in there, say, ‘Hey, it’s great. It’s like any hockey town. They love to win.”‘
Sounds like a perfect match already.
Taylor comes home again
Forward Chris Taylor has spent his off-seasons in Rochester for eight years. But when he bolted the Amerks for Germany after the 2005-06 season, he was certain he was leaving Rochester behind as his professional home for good.
“Once you go over at 34, coming back to the American League is not a good chance,” Taylor said.
Apparently, the Amerks left a light on for Taylor, now 37. After he decided to leave the Frankfurt Lions, Rochester signed him to a two-year AHL pact. Taylor, who has played parts of seven seasons (1999-2006) with Rochester, is eighth on the franchise’s all-time points list with 369 (115 goals and 254 assists).
Reprising those types of numbers probably are unrealistic at Taylor’s age, although he did pace Frankfurt in scoring each of the past three seasons.
“There’s always different expectations everyone has for every different player,” Taylor said of coming back. “I can’t worry about that. They brought me in to be a leader and hopefully contribute on the ice. If I felt (too old), I wouldn’t be playing. It will still be the same game. It doesn’t change too much.”
Whitfield back where he started
The Boston Bruins let forward Trent Whitfield slip away once. They weren’t about to let it happen again.
Last week, the Bruins tied him up for a couple of years, signing him to a two-year, two-way deal as a depth player for their organization. That’s the sort of security that a solid AHL career can earn.
The Bruins originally chose Whitfield in the fourth round of the 1996 draft — but never signed him. He went back to juniors for his overage year and has played 617 career AHL games with Portland and Peoria, totaling 196 goals and 292 assists.
“We both moved on. Now they have a completely new organization over there,” said Whitfield, now 32. “Here we are 12 years later, back to where we started. I’m really excited. I hope they are, too.”
While the circumstances are vastly different, Whitfield’s challenge of proving himself to the Bruins remains a constant. He’s played in 177 NHL games, but only three (with St. Louis this past season) since 2005-06.
“When you’ve been a guy in my situation, you might be thinking this might be your last shot. They tend to lean toward the younger guys getting into the lineup,” he said. “I was always the veteran guy going down to the minors to lead down there. If it doesn’t work out right out of training camp (in Boston), hopefully I’ll leave a good enough impression that if they need a guy to fill that role, I’d be the guy at the top of their list.”
Milroy’s ticket home
For all that Duncan Milroy knew last summer, his trip to Germany might as well have been on a one-way ticket — at least as far as his hockey career was concerned.
The key thing was that at least he was going somewhere, which was a lot more than he felt could be said about his career at the time.
“If you don’t get what you want, you can either do something about it or pout about it,” he said.
Milroy didn’t waste any energy on pity, and as a result the 26-year-old forward has a new shot in North America. Minnesota signed him to a two-way deal last week following a season in which he posted 48 points for Ingolstadt ERC in the DEL, Germany’s top league. That type of pact — which likely slots him with the Houston Aeros — is something Milroy wasn’t sure he’d ever see again after five mostly solid seasons in the Montreal organization.
In 2006-07, Milroy contributed 25 goals and 33 assists in 64 games with Hamilton. In 2007-08 he dropped to 15-24-39 — and then came up empty in a search for a new deal in North America.
“I kept asking myself the question, ‘What have I done wrong for no one to be interested in me?’ Initially you are like, ‘didn’t I prove myself before?”‘ he said. “Once you get past your own arrogance, it’s one of those things — I have to realize what I can do. I know I have to re-establish myself as a player who can play at the AHL level.”
“In my mind, the new opportunity will allow me to be seen by new people. Sometimes, when you get comfortable in a situation, the same people see you over and over again,” Milroy said. “There are going to be a new set of eyes that will be watching me. I’m excited about the opportunity they (Minnesota) gave me. I’m not going to waste it.”