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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Scouting the Binghamton Senators

With Christmas coming, why not look at the AHL teams that are little presents for the fans of other AHL teams, for example, Binghamton, New York. Bingo is the town that Syracuse looks down on. And, for the most part, so does the rest of the AHL. With a 6-12-2-1 record, the Senators have just 15 points, not as bad as the San Antonio Rampage, yet a welcome present on the schedule of any AHL team. The Wolves will not have the fortune of meeting this offering of victory this year, so as a Christmas present to those who need to know, what is it that makes the Senators suck so bad?

Scoring on an impressive 27.7 percent of powerplay opportunities, the second best in the AHL, you need to wonder. Could it be their almost equally disasterous lack of penalty kills? It is near the bottom of the league at 78.8 percent.

There is further problems in the pipes, or perhaps the poor penalty kill is a symptom of problems in the crease. The team has two goalies in the bottom of the standings, Billy Thompson is ranked 37 of the 40 AHL goalies listed with a GAA of 4.32, stopping 87.7 percent of shots, while his partner Kelly Guard, a particularly unfortunate name, is stopping 89.9 percent of shots, with a GAA of 3.15. Thompson’s production has fallen markedly this year. Last year he had a streak of 7 victories, an overall recored of 19-8-2 and a GAA of 2.44. Guard’s great moment was leading the Kelowna Rockets to the Memorial Cup in 2003-4 with a 1.56 GAA, then a record in the CHL. What has happened?

Steve Martins leads the team’s scorers with 7 goals and 13 assists, followed by Brandon Bochenski with 5 goals and 12 assists. Filip Novak, a d-man, is ranked 9th in the league with 4 goals and 11 assists. Rookie Patrick Eaves, has 5 goals and 7 assists. Rookie Gregg Johnson with 4 goals and three assists completes the list of AHL notables. Except for Filip Novak, none of these players cracks the top 20 of their category. Every other team I’ve written about has several players in the top 20 of rookie, d-man, goalie or scorer, except Binghamton.

Lance Ward, with 73 penalty minutes and Brennan Evans with 57 Pims at least give the team a presence in the sin bin, providing the team with more than a quarter of its penalties. That’s always nice work, if you can get it.

Dave Cameron took the team to a division title in 2004. The head coach coached the St. Michaels Majors to 87-30-10 during his time at the helm there, and coached the Canadian U-18 Gold medal World Cup team in 2003. He is backed by Mike Busniuk, a successful coach from the Muskegon Fury.

Juniors include Danny Bois, a captain on the London Knights. I won’t go into the detail as the Wolves are unlikely to meet the junior Senators this season. But, as is the case with the rest of the AHL, there is a bench of junior talent. Why do they suck? Lack of goals, goalies not able to stop the biscuit from finding the back of the net. For more information, a blog follows the Bingo team.


Saturday, November 26, 2005

Post game- Omaha 11.26

Hurme was a sieve and our defense didn't help. Although Hurme made some nice saves late in the game, they came to few and too late. He needs to get it together or be sent down. The breakaway and short handed goal by Stewart was wonderful. Stewie has it together as a threat. He agitates and he scores. That must be causing real headaches for our opponents. Abid didn't do something stupid tonight. I'm not sure if that is anything to celebrate... but hey! He also scored a goal. We were unable to convert most of our power play chances, that was to be expected.

Omaha looked great on the PK. They were buzzing us like mad and we had problems penetrating their defensive zone on our PP. I'd thought this young and fast group would jell later in the year, and with their now fifth win in a row (my boo-boo on the earlier call of five in a row, the media kit difference caught my eye immediately.) they are becoming a real threat in the West.

It was my impression that this Knight goalie, Krahn, was outstanding down low. He had a great butterfly and no five hole. But, he lost sight of the puck up high. It bounced off his chest twice when we put it up high and I think with a different bounce, those could have been rebounded in. Whatever problems the Nebraska team had with goalies earlier in the year seems to have been resolved with Krahn and McElhinney.

Brandon Prust played well tonight. Like a lot of the Knights, he's fresh out of juniors, but the London Knights were outstanding last year. He was worth watching. Looking back, I wouldn't have expected him to be the outstanding player of the match.


Omaha 11.26

The Knights enter the game coming out of a five game at-home winning streak. With a 9-8-0-3 record, the Knights have 21 points. They have the worst power play in the league, scoring on only 5.5 percent of their chances, but one of the best PK teams, successfully stopping scores on 89.9 percent of the penalty kills when away, 87 percent overall.

Rookie goalie Curtis McElhinney is stopping 92.6 percent of the shots on goal, fourth best in the AHL, with a 2.1 GAA. Brent Krahn is stopping 91.3 percent of the shots on goal and has a GAA of 2.73. Both rank among the top 20 goalies of the AHL in these two measures. In addition, both have enjoyed at least one shutout this year.

Mark Giordano is ranked the top defenseman by the AHL with 17 points, including 4 goals. He is backed by Richie Regehr with three goals and nine assists. Tomi Maki is ranked among the top rookies with six goals and eight assists. Carson Germyn has recorded 11 goals this season. Cam Severson is up to 75 Pims so far.


Milwaukee 12.2

The Admirals will be coming to the AA after a four game trip to Texas, proceeded by a home game against the Rampage. Needless to say, any trip to San Antonio hits pay dirt for a decent team and the Ads are no slouches. They picked up two against the Rampage away, one at home against the Rampage just prior to the road trip. As of this writing, Saturday night, they were shut down by the Aeros and play one more against the Aeros before heading to Peoria for a sea battle with the Rivermen.

Overall, the Ads lead the Wolves with a season of 10-5-0-1 and 21 points. This is the third meeting of the two teams, with a win for each so far. Pekka Rinne is looking better and better as the season progresses. He is now ranked second in the AHL with a GAA of 1.9, saving 92.5 percent of shots. He has seven wins this season and is backed by Brian Finley: This is as tough a pair of pipe men as we will face this year.

Our favorite ex-Wolf to hate, Simon Gamache, has been reassigned to the Ads on a “conditioning assignment.” Admiral Kevin Klein is one of the leading defense men of the league with 12 points.

They are converting 18.6 percent of their away power play opportunities, 22 percent overall. The PK is 88 percent overall, 82 percent away.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Not scouting the London Racers

I’m not going to be writing a typical column about the London Racers. Monday, the team decided to go dark. Management cites two incidents that sparked this decision. On November 5th Blaz Emersic of the Nottingham Blaze suffered a serious facial injury when he contacted a “protruding object” in the safety barrier. In addition, at a game on November 13th, the safety glass in one section “exploded”. Apparently no one was hurt by the glass breakage. However the team says this isn’t wasn’t the last time that section of glass shattered.

The Lee Valley Park has also been critisized by Racer fans for failing to maintain the ice facility. Fans on the Racers discussion boards say there are five-year-old patches on the safety board.

In sum, the team said it felt the safety of the players and the public was at risk at the Lee Valley Ice Centre. The team says it attempted to relocate, but says London doesn’t have another professional ice facility. As a result the British Elite League has lost one ice hockey team.

The story of the death of an ice hockey team in Britain may all be quaint. The fans will find the sun rises tomorrow, the skaters and staff will go on to other things. However, I noticed that Lee Valley plans on hosting at least two 2012 Olympic events.

What would be the effect of an Olympian or a group of international visitors testing the safety of a barrier at Lee Valley? If Lee Valley’s resources are already stretched, how much worse will the situation be as the IOC pushes it to upgrade and complete new facilities?

This situation points to a failure that impacts the international community. Emeric’s accident could cast a cloud over London’s Olympic moment. The Lee Valley Park Authority seems unable to deal with an AA level of professional sport. It should tell the public why it thinks it will be able to safely handle the highest level of sport and hundreds of thousands of foreign and domestic visitors.


Thursday, November 17, 2005

American Hockey League Western Conference, Western Division predictions

As I finish the final installment of the scouting series, on all the AHL teams in the Western Conference, Western Division., it is time, I think to take a look at the season so far. I found this posted in the Connecticut Post under the Sound Tigers Weekly Column (11/17/05)

1. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton — Who'll slow these guys down? 2. Grand Rapids — Hudler, Manlow off to torrid starts. 3. Houston — Aeros, on hot streak, play their 20th game tonight. 4. Portland — Yet another Dineen coaching career off to a nice start. 5. Manchester — Monarchs have picked up steam. 10. Bridgeport — Sound Tigers getting everything going. 27. Binghamton — Denis Hamel has a great week: Sens still just 2-2 in four games. 26. San Antonio — Can Yanick Lehoux lift them? 25. Philadelphia — Phantoms were reeling until Binghamton came to town. 24. Chicago — Unfamiliar spot for the Wolves. 23. Albany — Rats had dropped five in a row going to banged-up Lowell Wednesday.

Pretty interesting perspective. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has lovely fans, a great team and what I think of as the most hated management in the league. But, you can disagree. It would be a treat to see them come to the Midwest for a game this year, but it is not to be. Browse over to the AHL stats site and look at how dominating they are in virtually every category. To top the stats, the WBS team is set to receive Marc-Andre Fleury from Pittsburgh. Did you see his play on OLN on Wednesday? Damn fine win against a Philadelphia team that looked a lot like the Calder Cup champion last year. Damn sea garbage may just win the Cup this time.

The Aeros in number three? I think the most talented team we play is Omaha. But, I don’t expect Omaha to be much of a factor in the Western Conference, Western Division. The Knights team is full of amazing talent. I think they are failing this year due to a lack of experience on the AHL team: there are no experienced players to help the players bind together, to help the younger members grow.

Peoria has been fun to watch from afar. The coaching staff is fresh and the team has lots of young talent. The two enforcers, the natural rivalry with St. Louis that exists with Chicago… This team will test Milwaukee for which team we love to hate more… Okay, I still hate the Penguins more, but that’s me.

Milwaukee faces a rebuilding year. The players there are getting older in a very young league. Surprising to say that, huh? The Rampage… I’m continually surprised that we lose to these guys. My prediction, last place for the Rampage this year. Iowa won’t fare much better. The future of hockey in the corn state is still up for grabs, though the team is currently outdrawing the Rivermen and the Aeros.

In short, I don’t expect the Wolves to end up on the bottom at the end of the year. Iowa and San Antonio, alone, will cushion our fall in the West. And there are such wonderful hockey towns as Bingo, Syracuse and Cleveland too, who will fall before we do.

Peoria has been a great addition to the West and I’m looking forward to years of heated rivalry with the Rivermen. The Aeros, always tough, they seem to be looking at a great year. The Sads, well, like us, a year to rebuild and struggle.


Scouting the Peoria Rivermen

It is the first time Steve Pleau has managed a hockey team. The former assistant coach of the Worcester IceCats is backed by another rockie coach, Brent Thompson.

The Rivermen are playing in the Carver Arena, an older facility in downtown Peoria. It is a small arena that probably rocks to the tune of Ted Nugent and Kiss. It needs a major overhaul, as much of its concert series as its seating and glass. Nevertheless, an easy drive for Chicago fans, especially those in the Southwest suburbs.

The Rivermen enter the game 9-4 on the season, second in the Division to the Aeros. The teams pk is the second best in the league at 88.5 percent. That’s good, because the team is drawing a lot of penalties: 431 penalty minutes so far this season, which the AHL ranks as the 6th highest.

Their last “game”, at Iowa’s Wells Fargo Arena, hasn’t yet been decided. This was the game where the ice was declared to dangerous to use, Sunday Novermber 13. That game will be completed in December, however the Rivermen were in the lead when the game was called. Officially, Peoria is on a two game losing streak.

In the pipes are Jason Bacashihua. He played for the Chicago Freeze before moving on to Utah and Worcester. He was a Dallas Stars first round draft pick in 2001. Last season he had a 2.51 GAA, with an 18-13 record. So far this season he has a 2.54 GAA with a 5-2 record. He has two shut outs so far this year, third in the AHL behind former teammate Curtis Sanford. Currently ranked 13th among AHL pipemen for GAA and 20th for saves, he is backed by Reinhard Divis who played for the Austrian team Heraklith VSV Ec till last year.

A young and talented team starts with Peter Sejna who skated for Colorado College through the 2003 season. That last season there he scored 82 points. He came roaring out of the box this year but hasn’t been able to keep the pace of early October, when he scored a hat trick in the first game and two more goals in the second game. He received the CCM/ Vector Player of the Week award for his play that week. Sejna has been called up to St. Louis and sent back down since then. His play that week, remember he scored five goals, has kept him among the top skaters in the AHL, with ten goals overall (ranked 12th) and 17 points.

Mike Glumac, who played college hockey at Miami (Ohio) University, scored 52 points in his last full season with Worcester. Playing a partial season last year, he scored 29 points in 45 games. He has a +/- of 7 this season, ranking him 19th among AHL skaters. Trevor Byrne skated for Dartmouth through 2003, ending as the team captain. Since then he has skated for the ECHL Rivermen and Worcester. Trevor has +/- 9, the eighth best in the AHL. Byrne is current among the top AHL defense men with 11 points. Close behind with nine points is teammate Mike Mottau. Troy Riddle played for the University of Minnesota through the 2004 campaign, including playing on the 2003 NCAA championship team. He best season there was 51 points as a senior. He has spent his career since at Worcester and ECHL Peoria. He has a +/- of 7 this season, which ranks him 18th among AHL players.

Jon DiSalvatore scored 42 points at Providence College in the 2002 campaign and 48 points in the 2003 campaign. After moving to the AHL’s Baron’s, he scored 46 points in the 2004 campaign. At Worcester, last year, he scored 45 points.

Ryan Ramsay played for a number of OHL teams including the Petes, the Whalers and the Rangers. In the 2003 campaign with the Whalers he scored 88 points, the next season, also at the Whalers, 77. He spent most of last season with the Ice Cats, but played two games in the ECHL Rivermen. Trent Whitfield scored 54 points while on the ice with the Portland Pirates.

Mike Stuart, a Chicagoan, played at Colorado College in 2002. Moving to the ECHL Rivermen, he has bounced between the Blues, the Ice Cats and the Rivermen since. Brendan Brooks has recently played for the ECHL Rivermen and the Quad City Mallards. Blake Evans has played for the ECHL Rivermen. Brendan Buckley played with the Quad City Mallards.

Aaron MacKenzie played for the University of Denver. Colin Hemingway played for the University of New Hampshire and the ECHL Rivermen. D.J. Kingplayed with the Kelowna Rockets in 2003-4 and the Lethbridge Hurricanes before and after that. Doug Lynch played with the Red Deer Rebels and the Spokane Chiefs until 2003.

Jeff Woywitka played with the Red Deer Rebels till 2003. Charles Linglet played for the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in 2002-3. Colin Hemingway scored 66 points in the 2002 season with the University of New Hampshire. In 2003 his production dropped to a still respectable 47 points. He moved to the ECHL Rivermen in the 2004 campaign, where he had 44 points in 36 games with the Rivermen and two more with the Ice Cats. The 2005 campaign saw yet another drop in production with 25 points in 44 games. Don’t blink, he may disappear on us yet.

Reed Low, an enforcer for the Blues, had 234 Pims in the 2003 campaign. He is backed by another enforcer, the wonderfully picturesque and named Rocky Thompson. Thompson has not been sent up to the NHL yet, but has still managed to take out his frustrations while playing for the Toronto and Edmonton Roadrunners. He had 275 Pims with the 2003 Rampage, 196 with Toronto and 231 with Edmonton in 2005. He is ranked sixth among AHL enforcers.


Friday, November 11, 2005

Scouting the Rochester Americans

When the Wolves step on the ice of the War Memorial Stadium in downtown Rochester they face 50 years of history, six Calder banners hang from the rafters, and ten more banners show how close the team has come in other years. Rochester has averaged 7,314 attendance this year, just behind the Wolves, 8,027, Wilkes-Barre, Manchester and finally, Providence, number one with 8,241 average. With the possible retirement of the Moose as mascot this year, could the Amerks follow-up with inviting the Accordian Man to play the National Anthem?

It’s drums, it’s a mascot called The Moose, it’s a guy grifting for quarters playing “Take me out to the Hockey Game…” It’s Saturday night hockey in Ra-Cha-Cha.

The Amerks enter the fray with a record of 7-4, prior to a game with the Moose on Friday. A Friday night grudge match with the Manitoba Moose will influence the play on Saturday, as the Amerks will be going all out to revenge their disappointing end to the 2004-5 campaign at the hands of the Manitoba team.

The AHL reports they have a 28.9 percent home power play and an overall power play of 30.3 percent, the best in the league. They are also killing 90 percent of the power plays against opponents at home, 88.6 percent overall, the sixth best in the AHL. However, it should be noted that Derek Roy was a big guy on the ice for the Amerks and he is now playing in nearby Buffalo.

Coach Randy Cunneyworth has led the team to the post-season in each of his five seasons at the helm. Last year the team won 70 percent of its games and ended the season with the best record in the AHL, but was unable to transfer that to the post-season. Overall, Cunneyworth has a 198-129-54-16 career record, all with the Amerks. He is supported by assistant coach Doug Houda in his first year as a coach.

Michael Leighton, from the Norfolk Admirals and Blackhawk organizations is the main guy in pipes. The last season he played was with Norfolk where he posted a 1.83 GAA. So far this year he is averaging a save percent of 89.3 which earned him the 17th best record in AHL stats so far for GAA. (I know, mixing apples and oranges). Two of his wins have been shutouts, leading to seventh best record in shut-outs in the league.

He is backed by Jean-Marc Pelletier, reprising his role as second string goallie again. Despite this, his five wins put him near the top of the AHL stats for wins and is a hefty share of the overall wins at the Rochester team.

Top guys on the ice include veteran Chris Taylor who scored 79 points with the Amerks last year.

Clarke MacArthur joined the team for the playoffs last year from the Medicine Hat Tigers where he scored more than 74 points each year for the past three seasons. He is considered a leading rookie in the league, with nine points so far this season. And, Jason Pominville has scored 14 points this season, including ten goals. He is among the league’s leading scorers.

The Amerks have a bench of talent, much of it young. Michael Ryan joins from Northeastern University. He was a second round Stars pick in the 1999 draft. Kamil Kreps is out of the Brampton Battalion. He spent last year in the San Antonio Rampage and shows the new duo affiliation of the Amerks with the Sabres and the Panthers.

Chris Thorburn played with the North Bay Cenntennials, the Saginaw Spirit and most recently with the Plymouth Whalers. Last year with the Amerks he had 175 Pims and 29 points. Nathan Paetsch comes from the Moosejaw Warriors. Last year he had 23 points with 150 Pims.

Greg Jacina came up from the Mississaugua Ice Dogs and played with the Rampage last year. There he scored 31 points and 150 Pims. Mark Mancari is fresh from the Ottawa 67’s. He scored 68 points last year, 65 the year before.

Stefan Meyer is fresh from the Medicine Hat Tigers where he scored 77 points and 104 Pims last year and 75 points the prior year. He was a second round Panther pick in 2003. Daniel Paille was a first round Sabre draft pick in 2002. Last year he scored 29 points with the Amerks.

Rob Globke is a second round Panther pick out of Notre Dame. Last year, assigned to the Rampage, he scored just 12 goals. Matt Hendricks comes out of St. Cloud State. Jeremy Swanson is from the Barrie Colts.

Sean McMorrow is the enforcer for the Amerks. Last year he had 288 Pims, and that’s pretty consistant. He had 287 Pims in the 2003-4 campaign and 315 in the previous campaign for the Amerks. This year he has just five Pims, although he has only appeared in two games yet. As you can see, he is backed by a cloud of young guys willing to mix it up. Also on the roster in this vein is Doug Janik who has 32 Pims so far this year. Last year, with the Amerks, he had 196.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Scouting the Syracuse Crunch

The Crunch enter the contest in last place in their division and tied for last in the conference with a 4-7-0-0 record. They are in the bottom third of the league in power play goals and in penalty killing. They enter the contest on a five game losing streak, having lost to Cleveland, two games to Grand Rapids, Wilkes-Barre and Hamilton. They have lost six out of the last seven games. They last won against the Amerks on October 22.

Gary Agnew leads the Crunch. He has a .526 winning average which seems disappointing compared to some of the coaches we’ve seen, but which is the best the Crunch have ever had. Crunch are affiliated with Blue Jackets.

The Crunch list three people in pipes, Andrew Penner has a 2.7 GAA last season. 3.00 so far this year. Also in pipes is Pascal Leclaire. Even worse at 2.34 GAA, 4.01 this season. And a Professional Try Out with Mike Ayers who played at Dayton in the ECHL last season. He had a 2.90 GAA.

Two familiar faces at the Crunch: Mike Hartigan played for the Wolves in the 2002-3 season. Last season, with the Crunch, he had 59 points. Also, Ben Simon, from our team last year, scored 21 points for us in our last season.

Rookie Geoff Platt has been bouncing around the OHL, most recently in Erie where he scored 79 points last season. The rookie is ranked 14th scorer in the AHL so far this season with 10 goals and 14 points. This tops the current crop of rookies and includes five power play goals, two short hand goals also among the leaders of the AHL.

On defense, Aaron Johnson and Andy Delamore are ranked 9th and 10th d-men with nine points each. Delamore had six power play assists, which is among the best of the AHL.

The juniors of note include Joe Motzko who played for St. Cloud State in 2003. Last season, at the Crunch, he scored 66 points. Alexandre Picard played for the Lewiston team of the Quebec juniors. In 2003-4 he scored 85 points for Lewiston, 80 for them in 2003-4. Marc Methot was a member of the London Knight Memorial Cup team. Andrew Murray scored 38 points for Bemidji State last season.

Tyler Kolarik played for Harvard two seasons ago, where he scored 30 points. Andy Canzanello is out of Colorado College. Ole-Kristian Tollefsen played for the Brandon Wheat Kings.

Brandon Sugden is one of their enforcers with 252 Pims last season. He has 59 Pims so far this year, which is just five minutes behind the Caveman’s.