Eric Murano, the newest Skipjack, was still learning his way around the Baltimore Arena when coach Barry Trotz did something that made him feel right at home.
He named Murano an assistant captain.
Murano had just arrived from the Vancouver Canucks organization in an even-up trade for Tim Taylor. This was in late January, and Murano -- who had 31 goals and 30 assists in 58 games with Hamilton -- promptly went scoreless in his first four Skipjacks games.
"He was trying too hard to impress, to show us we had made the right decision," Trotz said. "He was trying to do it all by himself."
Once appointed an assistant captain, Murano started to relax -- and to score. In the past 10 games, he has six goals and six assists, including a hat trick on Feb. 26 against the Springfield Indians.
"I was struggling when I first got here," Murano said. "The trade itself shocked me, and it took me a while to adapt. I put undue stress on myself, trying to do it all in the first one or two games. The result was that I didn't do anything.
"Trotzie helped me by making me an assistant captain. It was like a vote of confidence."
Murano is 25, one of the oldest Skipjacks. He is on the top line centered by Mike Boback; Jeff Greenlaw and Trevor Halverson split time at the other wing. Until a few games ago, Skipjacks points leader John Byce was Boback's top wing, but he is out with a dislocated shoulder.
"John and I were clicking," said Boback, who leads the Skipjacks in assists with 50. "Now Eric is getting a feel. He has a good hard shot, reads off the play and gets to the openings."
Murano said: "Mike is an excellent passer. I'm more of a shooter. I'd like to see this combination take off, really become cohesive."
Baltimore might represent new hockey life for Murano. Once highly regarded by Vancouver, which made him its fourth draft choice in 1986, he was stagnating in the Canucks' organization. He had played four years at the University of Denver, then spent two seasons with Milwaukee of the International Hockey League before he was assigned this season to the AHL's Hamilton Canucks.
This is a good time for minor-league players, Murano said, because the NHL is expanding next season to Miami and Anaheim, Calif.
"The new teams need players, and the established teams that stocked them will need replacements," he said. "We're all hoping to play well enough to be recognized."
The best way to do that, Trotz said he has told the squad, is to make the AHL playoffs. The Skipjacks, fourth in the Southern Division, are in position to advance. The top four go.