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Lindsay Kramer | correspondent
Jan 18, 2007, 12:00 PM EST

The Manchester Monarchs' energy line gets its fuel from “Down Under.”

Almost every Thursday night, rookie forwards Matt Moulson, John Zeiler and Gabe Gauthier gather for a little eat-and-greet at the local Outback Steak House. Much like the enthusiasm the trio has spread, the habit of that meal is starting to extend to teammates. Occasionally six or seven get together, running up a bill of $250 or more.

"We just have a great time, talking and laughing about everything,” Zeiler said. "We tend to order a lot. We're hockey players. You feed the engine.”

Sometimes the bill gets paid via the credit card game. That's where everyone tosses their plastic into a hat and the last card pulled out pays.

As vital as that trio has been to the Monarchs' success this season, they should be guests of honor every night. Manchester has fought to the top of the Atlantic Division on the back of its three newcomers out of college. Moulson, a left wing from Cornell, has nine goals and 16 assists. Zeiler, a right wing out of St. Lawrence, has 11 goals and 11 assists. Gauthier, a center out of Denver, has chipped in with eight goals and nine assists. Together, they are the embodiment of a spunky squad that has rookies filling six of its top eight scoring slots.

"They've played against some of the top lines in the American Hockey League and held their own,” said Monarchs coach Mark Morris. "All of them are smart hockey players. They are extremely coachable. There is a great chemistry among the three.”

That’s something Morris is attuned to. He has a college background as well, as the former head coach of Clarkson. As such, he appreciates that college colors run deep. Zeiler wasn't always a huge admirer of Moulson. That primarily had to do with the fact that Moulson's Big Red usually hammered Zeiler's Saints.

"In college, you don't know the kid, it's like, oh, I hate him,” Zeiler said. "Now, we're like best friends.”

The change started in preseason. Morris said he eventually put the line together because he noticed the three players hanging out so much. Now, Moulson and Zeiler are roommates.

"I give him a couple of shots (about college) here and there,” Moulson said. "I don't think I'll ever let it go. I like bugging him about it.”

If Zeiler gets riled, he takes it out on opponents.

"I don't remember him hammering guys (in college) as much as he does now,” Moulson said. "Maybe I just didn't notice it.”

What's evident to both now is that the college backgrounds of all three players have moved them beyond the categorization of typical AHL rookies.

"It's funny. They call us the young guns. But all three of us are older than the second-year guys,” Moulson said. "You can just tell the college style,” Zeiler said. "All of us go into corners. All of us work hard. Everyone is pulling their weight. The work ethic of college helps suit us to the pro game.”

Krahn the conductor -- Conducting a defense, conducting an orchestra. What’s the difference?

Not much, according to Omaha goalie Brent Krahn. Krahn was the key figure in the Ak-Sar-Ben Knights’ recent promotion with the Omaha Symphony and Maestro Thomas Wilkins.

Near the end of the family concert, the conductor feigned an injury and asked if anyone wanted to finish for him. Krahn, as the plant, got up on stage. His identity was then revealed.

Krahn told the conductor that he wanted to use his own baton and disappeared off stage. He came back wearing his jersey and carrying his goalie stick.

When the conductor told him the stick was too big, he gave Krahn his baton and showed him some of the moves. Krahn guided the orchestra through one number.

“It was a piece of cake,’’ Krahn said. “I had no clue what I was doing, but the orchestra knew what it was doing. I put the wand up and they started playing music.’’

Smith stands alone -- The Rochester Amerks' squeezing out of veterans the past two years goes only so far. To be precise, it stops abruptly when it comes to defenseman Brandon Smith.

Smith is a near solitary figure standing against the changing demographics in Rochester. Previously a team that relied heavily on a large core of savvy veterans, the Amerks' dual affiliation with Buffalo and Florida has drastically hastened the youth movement.

But the Sabres give Rochester the choice to ink a veteran or two of its own, and the Amerks chose Smith.

Smith is in the second year of a two-year pact with Rochester and in his third year with the organization. When he looks around he sees just a couple familiar faces from his first season in Rochester, forwards Daniel Paille and Michael Ryan. Smith, 33, is seven years older than the next-oldest Amerk.

"It's a complete overhaul. I love that responsibility,” Smith said. "I'll take it as a challenge. I've seen all types of players. The main thing is to keep an even keel. I'm fortunate at this point in my career to have a job.”

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