Samson undeterred after training-camp speed bump

by Jesse Eisenberg || AHL On The Beat Archive

Jerome Samson had 21 goals and 18 assists in 65 games with the River Rats as a rookie in 2007-08.

The first day of the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2008 training camp saw its 60 attending players run, jump and lift their way through a gauntlet of off-ice fitness tests, all the while being closely evaluated and ranked by Carolina’s coaching staff.

Atop the rankings at the day’s end, ahead of a Hurricanes roster packed with talented NHL mainstays, was undrafted second-year pro Jerome Samson.

To those close to the organization, Samson’s first-place finish on day one wasn’t entirely surprising. The 2007-08 AHL season had seen the 20-year-old winger rise to Albany’s top line by the preseason’s end, score the team’s first goal in the season opener, and tally 20 more goals over the remainder of his rookie campaign.

Coaches and fans alike became accustomed to the personable youngster surpassing expectations early and often.

Going into camp Samson set the bar high, but even he admitted a hint of surprise with his day-one performance.

“I worked hard all summer training in the gym, on the ice, on the track and the bike,” said Samson. “My main goal was to improve on every test from last year. If I would have come in third, fifth, even 10th, I’d have known I did what I had to do and that I gave 100 percent. I didn’t expect to finish first, but I was pretty happy about it. Some of the big guys are pretty strong and fit over in Carolina.”

Coaches and players at camp, including Samson, did not allow the victory to linger.

“It was awesome, because you always want to give a good first impresssion, and I think I let the coaching staff and people in Carolina know that I’d had a good hard summer, but it’s training camp. I guess a couple of guys gave me congratulations, but it didn’t change my interactions with the coaches or players because everyone’s battling for a spot.”

Unfortunately for the Greenfield Park, Que., native, his 2008 training camp came to an end as quickly as it had started, when midway into day three’s “Red-White” Scrimmage, Samson left the game early with a sprained ankle.

“It happened midway through the third period. I had a couple of chances in the game, and I think I had a pretty good game overall, but some bad luck happened. I hadn’t had that kind of injury before. The training staff told me I was on a day-to-day basis, maybe like two weeks back to skating – you never know – it depends on how fast you heal and on the level of the injury.”

Upon his return to Albany, Samson put the same effort into his rehab that he put into his off-season training. Although limited by his injury, the second-year forward did not want to lose all of the hard work that he’d put in over the summer. Samson’s lifelong mentality of improving every day helped to motivate him through all of the lonely off-ice exercises, while the rest of his team went through their usual on-ice workouts.

“You don’t want to stress the ankle too much at first. I was just doing more and more everyday. At first I tried working in the gym, riding the bike, then going on the ice alone for a skate, then joining the guys at practice without contact, and now with contact.”

Albany went 1-4-1-0 through its first six games of the season and averaged just over two goals a game. During that opening stretch, the team clearly missed Samson’s natural scoring ability.

“It’s never fun being out of the lineup for one reason or another. I would liked to have been out there to help the team, but it’s always a bad feeling being in the stands, watching your team play… I ended up being out five weeks.”

Samson’s first game back finally came on Oct. 31 against the top-ranked Hershey Bears. Samson lived up to his reputation of being a fast starter, clocking extensive ice-time on both the first line and on special teams. Just as he’d done in his pro debut last year, Samson scored the team’s first goal of the game at 18:26 in the second period. Working on the power-play unit, Samson carried the puck on a two-on-one rush and ripped wrist shot passed the blocker of the Hershey goaltender.

So does the 21-year-old have any lofty goals for his next few games and for the rest of the 2008-09 season?

“Mainly the same goal I had in Carolina – just try to improve myself every day. Go on the ice and give my 100 percent to improve from last season. I thought I did pretty good last year, but I don’t want to stay at that level, just go up.”

Last season Samson rewarded the Hurricanes for taking a chance on the undrafted rookie, while showing every other team in the NHL what they missed out on by passing over him on draft day. With his proven work-ethic and attitude, Jerome Samson may find himself back in Carolina before even he anticipated.