HERSHEY -- It was an auspicious beginning for Andrew Joudrey.
An eighth-round pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by the Washington Capitals, Joudrey opted to turn pro following his senior season at Wisconsin. He signed with the Capitals and was assigned to the Hershey Bears. In his first game, April 4, 2007, he the only goal for the Bears in a 4-1 loss to the Binghamton Senators.
Joudrey added a second goal and an assist in the last few games of the season. Later, he saw some playing time during a playoff run that went all the way to the Calder Cup finals.
Still, Joudrey harbored no illusions about becoming one of the team's top goal scorers. All he wanted to do was to establish himself as a regular.
He did that last season, becoming a solid and dependable checking-line center on a team plagued by injuries. This season, it's been more of the same. Although others dwarf his point totals in the AHL's most prolific offense, Joudrey has emerged as one of Hershey's top penalty killers and a checking-line asset.
"You always want to improve. There's always room for improvement," Joudrey said, "but the biggest thing for me is making sure every night I'm ready to be a shutdown guy; to have that competitive level, that drive and effort. When you're playing that role, you've got to make sure you're ready to play. That's the biggest thing for me; to be ready every night to go out and do that, and to really be effective.
Hershey coach Bob Woods has no complaints about Joudrey's play.
"He's intelligent, he's fearless," Woods said. "Him and Langer (defensive forward Quintin Laing) have a lot of similarities. You can use him on the wing. He has good versatility. He'll play wherever you tell him. You can use him as much as you ask him. He never complains. When you call for him, he's ready to go. He's a good team guy, a good guy to have on your team."
In fact, Woods said his primary criticism of Joudrey is that he isn't scoring enough.
"He should be more offensive," Woods said. "You look at his speed, you watch him shoot the puck, he's got a good shot. I just don't know that he uses it enough; that he's got enough confidence in it. He's got a good release. He can be dangerous. I just keep hoping eventually he'll find that. It'll be a bonus for him as well as our team."
Those shots, Joudrey hinted, may come, but not at the expense of his defensive efforts.
"I want to be responsible," he said. "I want to be able to play in all situations, end of the game, penalty kill, against their top line. I want to be one of those guys you can count on every night. I won't be a (Wayne) Gretzky or anything like that, but I want to be able to chip in and help out and, at the same time, shut down guys defensively that my line is gonna come out even or better when we're on the ice."
Having established himself in his role, Joudrey is starting to focus on helping the Bears begin another lengthy playoff run.
"Last year, it's getting your feet wet, getting the feel of things," Joudrey said. "This year, now that I have a year of experience under my belt, I feel a lot better being in different roles and different positions.
"I trust myself out there. I know the way I'm playing, I can play well," he said. "You've got to keep improving, but I'm happy. The key is working hard every day and getting ready for playoffs. I'm in a position where I trust myself."