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This article is copyright 2000 by the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle and is used for informational purposes only.

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Winning's first, fighting now distant second for Boulton

By Kevin Oklobzija
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

HERSHEY, Pa. -- During the season, Eric Boulton has established himself as one of the American Hockey League's toughest players.

Challenge Boulton to a fight, or take liberties with someone like Domenic Pittis or Jeremy Adduono, and it's wise to be ready to accept a beating.

Yet there Boulton was on Thursday in Game 3 of the Calder Cup Western Conference finals, taking a forearm to the back of the head from Hershey Bears forward Yuri Babenko as he moved the puck out of the Rochester Americans zone.

He didn't blink an eye when agitating Finnish winger Ville Nieminen had him in a headlock, ripping off his helmet.

And on Tuesday in Game 2 of the best-of-seven series, Bears defensemen Brian White and Rick Berry at different times pawed at Boulton and stood face-to-face, yapping at the Amerks tough-guy winger as though they actually wanted to fight.

At no point did Boulton ever stray from the game plan of coach Brian McCutcheon, which is worry about the puck, concentrate on defense and play with discipline.

Because of the Amerks dedication to that game plan, they lead the AHL semifinal series 3-0 and will look to close out the Bears at 7 o'clock tonight at Hersheypark Arena.

"The toughest thing is to be that tough and not fight," Amerks defenseman Mike Hurlbut said before yesterday's practice in Harrisburg. "It's a pride thing. But the whole focus of this series has been discipline and Bolts has typified it.

"He's taken punches to the back of the head and skated away, and I think that's more antagonizing to the other team than dropping the gloves."

His discipline has been important, because unlike the majority of the regular season and first two rounds of the playoffs, he's now skating a regular shift on the grind-it-out checking line with center Francois Methot and left winger Darren Van Oene.

A shoulder injury has reduced Matt Davidson's role to emergency penalty killer, but Boulton has filled in very well.

He doesn't have any points in the series with the Bears, but he did have four shots in the 3-2 victory in Game 3.

"I give Bolts a lot of credit because he understands the importance of just playing hockey," McCutcheon said.

"He's still be a physical presence but he's done it intelligently. He finishes his checks, his stick is down and he uses his shoulder."

Knowing Boulton could play composed was one reason McCutcheon didn't fear using him in place of Davidson.

While Boulton is one of the AHL's best fighters -- he had 276 penalty minutes but just three game misconducts in 76 regular-season games -- he also has some skill with the puck.

He scored two goals and two assists in the regular season and had his first AHL playoff goal in the second round against Hamilton.

"I give him credit because he's been patient all season, he never grumbled about a lack of ice time, he just came ready to do what was asked of him," McCutcheon said. "He's been listening and learning and he understands the system."

That's why there was no major adjustment for Methot or Van Oene. Boulton has been able to cycle the puck on the forecheck effectively, and, while the line hasn't scored in the series, they're also not giving up goals.

"When I'm out there, I'm thinking defense first, that's pretty much what the line is thinking," Boulton said.

"I've been working on my game all year and I feel I can play a regular shift and contribute defensively."

He has also shown the ability to avoid confrontations, to take a slap to the face or stick to the ankle.

"I know part of Hershey's plan was to see if they could suck me in to a penalty but I've been told if I want to play, I have to play disciplined," Boulton said.

"Everyone's committed to winning, so a shot to the head doesn't seem that bad when you win.

"You watch Domenic Pittis take two or three shots in the head in one shift and not retaliate, then it seems stupid for anyone else to retaliate. And all those little jabs to the back of the head and the chirping, you pretty much forget it the next day."

Boulton does have one score to settle, but it will be next season. In Game 3 of the second round, Hamilton defenseman Ryan Risidore plowed into Boulton from behind and slammed his head into the glass.

The vicious charge knocked out Boulton immediately and because of the concussion he missed Game 4. But even when the two met on the ice in Games 5 and 6 of the series, Boulton ignored Risidore.

"I remember though," Boulton said. "I don't remember the hit but I remember him."

He'd like to spend the summer remembering a Calder Cup victory party, too.

Notes: Only two teams in AHL history have overcome a 3-0 deficit, the 1960 Amerks over Cleveland and the 1989 Adirondack Red Wings over Hershey. "We know it won't be easy, we know Hershey doesn't want to die in four games," winger Denis Hamel said. Said Bears captain Brad Larsen: "We can't look at it like we need four wins, we just have to look at it as we need one win."

Heat and fog could be a problem tonight in the rink. The forecast calls for a high near 90 with high humidity, and there is a college graduation this afternoon in Hersheypark Arena, which is not air conditioned.

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