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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Scouting the Grand Rapids Griffins

Chicago will be closing out a five game home stand for the Griffins. They play tonight against Omaha and on Friday against the Bulldogs. They are currently on a four game winning streak. A tough team this year, the Griffins are at the top of their division with 46 points and are considered by many to be a favorite to witn the North Division and the Western Conference this year. The Grifs have a team balanced between some veterans and some youngsters new to the AHL.

The Grifs also sport the best AHL home power play, scoring on 27.6 percent of power plays at home, 21.2 percent overall. They’ll also be playing with among the worst pks, with 18.8 percent of them falling, ranked 21st in the AHL. Of course, they play the Wolves, who have an away power play that is even worse, 12.6 percent succeeding, 13.1 overall, ranked 23rd in the league. And, the Griffins have no worries with their 8th ranked shootout percentage against the Wolves. If it should come to that, the Wolves remain on the bottom of the league for shootout wins

Greg Ireland is the new head coach of the Griffins. The former assistant coach is on a one year contract extension. The Griffins have seemed to win in spurts, including a 12 game win over the final five weeks of the 2004-5 season and the off and on streaks of this month. His defensive strategies have led to a franchise low 166 goals, 2.08 GAA, during his tenure last year. Aside from hockey, the coach has a love for lacrosse, coaching several Canadian junior and midget teams to national championships, as well as working with youths in Michigan.

Jim Paek backs Ireland as the assistant coach. The first Korean to play in the NHL and win a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Paek has also won two Turner Cups. Prior to working with the Griffins, Paek was head coach of the Orlando Seals.

The game Saturday will feature what is billed as the largest indoor fireworks display in Western Michigan and an intermission spectacle by the Red Panda Acrobats.

Jimmy Howard and Drew MacIntyre hold the pipes for the Griffins, with a 91.2 and a 90.8 save percentage, respectively. They have almost identical GAA’s of 2.52 and 2.53 making their saves and GAA very similar to Brian Finley’s. MacIntyre played for Sherbrooke in the 2002-03 season, ending with a 2.75 GAA and 31-24-5 record in the regular season. Last year with Grand Rapids he had a 2.69 GAA. Howard has seen some NHL bench time this season. If he gets called up it could be Joey MacDonald in the pipes. MacDonald is saving 87.7 percent of shots with a GAA of 3.87, somewhat worse than Jani Hurme.

Jiri Hudler is in competition to lead the league in scoring with 41 points so far, 17 of those are goals. Eric Manlow follows him with 34 points, 12 goals, and +8, then Valtteri Filppula with 30 points and 12 goals. Filppula played with Jockerit Helsinki for the past two seasons, scoring 30 points in the last season. This is his first season with the AHL. He is commuting between Detroit and GR this year.

D men Kyle Quincey, with 18 points and Bryan Helmer with 17 points are among the top 20 AHL defensemen. Quincey played with Mississauga last season where he scored 46 points in regular season play.

Meanwhile Darryl Bootland is third in league penalty minutes at 164. He follows Josh Gratton of the Phantoms, 165 and Dennis Bonvie of the Penguins with 176. Kent McDonell, lags way behind, with a 78 Pim so far. Bootland, who once spent a lot of time commuting between Grand Rapids and Toledo, scored 34 points with the Griffins last year. Nevertheless, it’s hard to see another NHL try for Darryl, who is probably going to play in the AHL for the remainder of his professional career.

Nate Dicasmiro leads the Grifs in +/- with 10, followed by Greg Amadio at +9 and Travis Richards and Manlow +8.

Ryan Oulahen was a captain of the Brampton team last season. He scored 58 points there. Directly from the Griffins web site:

"Voted “Most Underrated Player” and “Hardest Worker,” and shared “Best Penalty Killer” honors in the OHL Eastern Conference Coaches’ Poll…Finished second in “Best Defensive Forward” and third in “Best on Faceoffs”voting.”
He’ll be someone to watch grow.

Derek Meech played for Red Deer until this year, and has experienced several Memorial Cup runs with that team. Eric Himelfarb moved from Sarnia to Barrie finally spending the 2003-4 season in Kingston, where he scored 107 points. He only played seven games in the Griffins that season, earning another five points. Last season he scored 43 points and 19 goals with the Griffins.

Brad Bonello worked his way around the OHL before ending his time there with Ottawa where he had 66 points in his 2004-5 season. Clay Wilson played college hockey at Michigan Tech and two short seasons with the Muskegon Fury. With 10 points in 15 games he has more going now then anytime in the past. Something is finally clicking with the young guy.

Todd Jackson played in Maine in the 2003-4 season, with the Griffins for part of the next season and also Toledo. He clearly had some ice time in Toledo where he scored 25 points in 35 games last season. He is still spending time commuting between Toledo and Grand Rapids.

Nick Martens played with Michigan for the last several seasons. He hasn’t seen a lot of ice time with the Griffins and hasn’t really shown much in his amateur career to recommend it now.


Monday, December 19, 2005

Six points lost

It was a six point weekend for the Wolves. Six lost points. The only home game was against the Milwaukee Admirals. I thought Hurme played well through about 30 minutes of the Admirals game. Then, I thought he seemed tired. That's when we began seeing the Hurme we hate, again. Softies, long shots, looking the wrong way... the list go on.

The man is in rehab. Does he really need to play a full 60 minute game? Has anyone who has gone through a major illness, as this guy has, been kept in when they are obviously not as good at the end as at the beginning? It is not clear what is going on here. I'd like to know.

Milwaukee is my pick to top the West in regular season play. I was disappointed in the play of Finley on Saturday. He has been in the pipes against the Wolves for years and this is the first time I can say his play is off. There are a lot of new faces on the ice for the Ads. One writer took me to task on a message board for saying the Ads are rebuilding. I'm not backing away yet from saying they are the best team in the West, but this is a new team and in my eyes they are rebuilding.

The Billy Tibbets Show continues on the ice. Every two-bit goon in the league wants Tibbets to take a poke at them. It's like watching one of the Westerns as a kid. The reformed bad guy is constantly being taunted and goaded. Will he finally explode, and return to the way of the outlaw or will he hold on? Will there be a defining moment when Tibbets explodes for some sort of good, as in the old movies.

Fierceness. I wrote that word back to a fan on one of the boards who admonished me for hating the little Pens. If you’ve read this blog, you’ll recognize that it is a hate born of love. Keep writing.


Saturday, December 17, 2005

Irrational hate

It was a gray morning, Thursday. The darkness of my soul matched by the winter weather outside. It was empty inside. What to do when you’ve decided that the team you hate isn’t worthy of your hate anymore? Although I am a Chicago Wolves fan, some time ago I decided that I hated the Wilkes-Barre Penguins. It wasn't an easy decision in the first place. The Wolves and the baby Pens hardly ever play each other for one thing. And the other thing is there is a lot to admire going on in Wilkes-Barre.

For one thing, I think they have the best fans in hockey. I really mean that. I’d met a few of these poor souls in Milwaukee several years ago when the Sadmirals made their Calder Cup run. They were so down-to-earth, regular folks. And they were not wealthy at all. I mean they were camping out, following their team to Milwaukee in May. It couldn’t have been easy for them.

They were just regular folks: coal miners, moms with their daughters and wage earners. They were committed fans and a real joy to talk to. Milwaukee fans were playing the usual meanness on these poor people.

They explained how the team had allowed them to fly with them to Milwaukee. The coach had insisted they not talk to the players. They spent their own hard-earned dollars to follow the team to Milwaukee, were camping out in the cold, wet Wisconsin spring and they weren’t allowed to talk to the players? Oh, puleze!

They were from Wilkes-Barre. There’s not a lot of money in that town. What type of creep would do that? That was the moment I decided to hate the baby Pens.

It ran against the grain of Chicago Wolves fans. We hate the Admirals. Well, to be frank we hate the Bucks, Brewers and Marquette too, so anything from Milwaukee… Well come to think about it some more, we hate the Badgers and the Packers, cheeseheads in general and anything from the dairy state… Hmmm… Okay, let’s see, we hate the Admirals. That much is clear. And, we hate the Griffins. Okay, I hate the Griffins. Although they have a nice arena and their fans are pretty nice… They are from Michigan… and the only good wolverine is a dead wolverine…

Look… I’m getting lost in the entire hate thing here. The fact is that it is easy, so very easy to hate your traditional rivals. I wanted something mythic, I wanted the unreachable. I wanted a rivalry which would only have a full and complete consummation when the Wolves met their rivals in the Calder Cup. And the Penguins fit the bill nicely.

Beside for the great fans, it is obvious that the baby Pens have these great players, and it is one of my dreams to see a game in the Wachovia Center some night. They sell out practically every game. The place must rock!

It is a big commitment to hate something. Sports fans know. If the Yankees left New York, would Boston hate them as much? Would Cubs fans hate Cards fans as much if they were in different divisions or even leagues? I grew up in a family of White Sox fans. I hardly knew there was a team playing baseball in St. Louis. The answer is no. NO! Stop insisting the BoSox fans will never give up their storied hate of the Yankees. NO!… Okay, yes.

It’s a commitment thing. You commit your soul to the hatred of another team in sports. You see evil ooze from the other team and watch their victories with envy and defeats with glee.

So, on Thursday morning, the world changed. It was crooked. When the Pittsburgh Penguins took every person without skates on from Wilkes-Barre, every person including the Zamboni driver, the organist and the peanut vender, the world became askew. I didn’t realize it at first, but it was crooked. I didn’t hate the players. I can hardly name them. And I’ve already admitted I like the fans and would like to attend a game.

It was the management I didn’t care for. And they were in Pittsburgh. I immediately transferred my hate to the Pittsburgh Penguins. But I don’t follow the NHL. What do I care about the damn big Pens?

Life, as I knew it, had lost its meaning.

I need help. I could call Dr. Phil. Apparently he helps hockey players, coaches and managers, at least there is a blogger who says he does. But, really, I need help. Maybe… maybe my fellow fans understand and will help. I need to rethink this entire hate thing. Maybe the baby Pens are still worthy of my hate, as my wife, who hates the Crunch, says.

Why I should continue to hate the Pens or another team. The Moose or the Amerks (Opps, can’t hate the Amerks, the wife is from Rochester) might fit the bill. Who would you suggest I hate now?


Thursday, December 15, 2005

Chicago Wolves v Milwaukee Admirals 12.17

Milwaukee returns to the AA on Saturday night Simon Gamacheless, but with 36 points. Although this puts them in second place for the West Division, behind the Aeros, the Aeros have played four more games than the Ads. The Ads are sneeking their way into first place and the people back east are not noticing.

Scoring on 19.3 percent of the power plays, the Ads are only matching the Bingo Senators, but they are killing 86.3 percent of penalties. Michel Robinson, formerly of the Ice Hogs, should be fronting the team as Nashville recalled Pekka Rinne.

D-Man Kevin Klein has 17 points in 22 games, among the best in the AHL for defense. It’s an evolving team that is surprising me with its strength. Aside from Gamache and Rinne, familiar names you will not find on Saturday include Tootoo, Finley and Zanon, all up in Nashville.

Since the December 2nd victory over the Wolves, the Ads have won one in regulation, one in OT, one in a shootout and dropped two games.


Chicago Wolves v. Iowa Stars 12.16

The Iowa Stars enter the Friday night game against the Wolves leading the Chicagoans by two points in the standings, but just barely doing better than the home town favorites in percentage of games won. Overall, we should catch them as we play more games. Iowa has dropped 3 of its last four, only defeating the Wolves in a shootout in Des Moines last week.

Questions are being raised about whether the Iowa franchise will remain in Des Moines, but team officials assured the Des Moines Register recently that they plan to stay. Mike Ellis and Dan Smith man the pipes with Smith ranked 7th among AHL goalies with a 91.5 percent save ratio and a 2.5 GAA. Ellis is ranked 20th with a 90.9 percent save ratio and a 2.89 GAA. Smith has notched two shutouts this season so far.

The Stars have one of the worst power plays, scoring on just 11.8 percent of their chances at home, 12.9 percent overall. The PK also needs some work as it is working just 81.5 percent of the time, 82.2 percent at home.

However, that shootout win was no accident. They’ve had four chances and have taken home the brass ring three times. The Wolves, in comparison are particularly weak on shootouts, having taken only one of their four.

The usual goons are still among the top penalty earners in the league: Garrett Burnett has 104 Pims, but sadly his talents were deemed… well, he was sent down. Zack Stortini has 101 Penalty minutes however, and we can look forward to his goonery tomorrow night. The most likely match-ups if the gloves drop appear to be Stortini and B J Crombeen from the Stars. They might face who? Abid perhaps, and Lessard.


The Billy Tibbets Show

Okay, back to the Chicago Wolves, another team that has struggled after a terrific season last year. Coach Anderson wasn’t getting the message across, the players didn’t care, and the captain was on ice, having broken his ankle in the first minute of the first game. A roster of terrific AAA goalies was devoured by Atlanta as its goalies went down to injury. If it wasn’t for the San Antonio Rampage, the worst team in the AHL, the Wolves would be in last place in their division. Pschologically they were already there, DFL.

I think it came down to this, on December 3 the Wolves lost 4-6 against Omaha, having dropped four in a row. Not even a shoot-out loss, and three of the four games at home. Whatever was happening, had to stop. The Wolves made the amazing announcement on November 25th they had signed Bobbie Hull and that Atlanta had assigned Jani “the sieve” Hurme to Chicago. Okay, so Hull was coming aboard as a charity effort, so was Hurme. Hurme, it may be recalled, was a top goalie prospect for the Thrashers in the days before the CBA. If he came back then the Thrashers would be required to pay his contract, which would put them over the salary cap. Hurme, following a life threatening bout with a post operative infection, hadn’t played in two years.

At first, the Wolves fans on the boards were ecstatic. Then they saw him in the pipes. I have never left a game so disheartened as after watching Hurme in his first two starts. He couldn’t stop a pee-wee dribbler, let alone the Omaha Knights. And the Wolves were stuck with him for god only knows how long.

On December 8th the Rockford Ice Hogs announced they had loaned Billy Tibbets to the Wolves. Tibbets is to hockey, I suppose, as Dennis Rodman is to basketball. He is highly talented and very volatile. I cannot even begin to cover the problems, mainly criminal matters, that this guy has left behind on the teams he played with.

The low point came December 9th. For some reason, my wife was home that morning, and I was going into work late. She was on the telephone to the Wolves explaining how we are season ticket holders and who made the Tibbets decision? She said she worked with pregnant 12 year-olds and didn’t want to associate with a team that had a guy like Tibbets on it.

Being a bit of a smart ass, I asked her if Tibbets was joining the Wolves “Read to Succeed” program, where the players read to school age children in libraries. The “Look” was my reply, and if you’re married, you know the look.

The Wolves played Peoria that night at the Allstate. And the losing streak ended. How?

Peoria is undoubtedly hot, though I think that will be coming to an end soon. Tibbets was on the ice, scoring the first Wolves goal. Later, refusing to face Rivermen goon Rocky Thompson. In fact Tibbets has appeared in three games with the Wolves, and each time been challenged to fight, and each time has turned and skated away, leaving the goon with a penalty and the Wolves on the power play. He has scored, additionally, three points, including two goals in the three games he played in, being blanked by San Antonio last night.

In addition Hurme is finding his way to stop shots too. Enough for 25 saves and a win.

It could be a last chance for Tibbets in the sport. Is his presence turning the Wolves? He cares and is playing with heart, which is more than I could have said for many of the Wolves before he showed up. There appears to be a difference on the ice. There is hustle again. There is movement for a full 60 minutes.

For Tibbets, and the Wolves, it is time to show us what they’ve got. It is becoming exciting to be a fan again.


WBS after the earth moved

Whatever the Wolves are drinking, I want some. But before I talk about the turn-around performed since… wait for it… BILLY TIBBETS arrived, first, some hot news. The Pittsburgh Penguins announced this morning that they are promoting Wilkes-Barre/ Scranton’s Michel Therrien and Mike Yeo. WHO? The coach and the assistant coach of the sea chum are who. Oh, and just about the entire little sea chum staff.

That’s a bomb on WBS if there ever was one. There is not one standing person from this terrific team that has won 90 percent of its games this year, left in Wilkes-Barre. Scatch-a-ma-gowza! Relieved of their duties in Pittsburgh were head coach Eddie Olczyk, assistant coaches Joe Mullen and Randy Hillier, strength and conditioning coach John Welday and goaltending coach Shane Clifford.

To describe the big Pens start this year as poor would be conservative. Not only do they have Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux, they have Marc Andre-Fleury. Yet they are in last place in their division. The times they are a changing, the big Bruins trade Joe Thornton and both the Sharks and the Bruins seem to benefit, now, the whole Pittsburgh head office is cleaned out and who knows? One thing I’ll predict now, the little sea chum won’t hold on to first place in the league much longer. This thing is real bad news for sea chum fans everywhere.

The big Pens, of course, are in a battle with city hall to do something about their facilities. There have been persistent rumors they are moving to Kansas City, Houston or anywhere that will give them decent facilities. If the play on the ice was effected by the rumors, I wouldn’t know. However, there is a very nice blog that covers both the big Pens and the sea chum.Confessions of a Hockey Fanatic will be following the changes in Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre too. Check it out.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Scouting the Albany River Rats

With 18 points thus far, the Albany River Rats have a record rivaled only by the hapless San Antonio Rampage, 13, Chicago Wolves, 15, and the Binghamton Senators, 17. Officially tied in last place for the Atlantic Division with the Providence Bruins, the Rats have played four more games than the bean town minor and are definitely the team to play because, it’s another in a series of Christmas gifts for the league, Albany River Rats, last in the Atlantic Division.

Head coach Robbie Ftorek is spending his second season behind the Albany bench, a place he knows well, as he coached there in the Calder winning season of 1995. He’s also coached the NHL Kings, the Boston Bruins and NJ Devils. He is backed by former goalie Chris Terreri in his first coaching assignment.

Coach Ftorek is reported to be trying to fix a broken development system, according to SLAM’s Patrick Williams. "We have a lot of ability. I definitely think there's some room for improvement. We've got a lot of young guys, so hopefully (soon) it will change,” captain Alex Brooks told Williams in October. Two months later and you wonder.

Aleksander Suglobov is leading the team in scoring with 18 points. Krisjanis Redlihs is the teams leading defense man with 11 points. Frank Doyle, who played most of last year in Idaho, is ranked 12th among AHL goalies with a 2.45 GAA and a .925 save percentage. His back is inadequately covered by a Finn, Ari Ahonen. His 4.16 GAA is ranked 39th of 40 AHL goalies. Ahonen, who was considered to be the number one goalie at the beginning of the year, has not stood up to the challenge. Earlier talk of his return to Finland is probably now wished for.

Cam Janssen with 84 Pims, David Clarkson 81, Aaron Voros 58, Alex Brooks 53, Ilkka Pikkarainen, 52 and David Hale also 52 penalty minutes, all have a shot at being considered official goons at year-end. Goons, of course being players with at least 200 penalty minutes.

Finally, the team has a 13.8 percent power play and an 85.9 percent penalty kill. The last not surprising as they have lots of opportunities to practice defending. The team, I use the phrase loosely here, has no shooters and only one goalie. Their goal seems to be reaching the top of the league for penalty minutes.

My prediction is another wash-out year for the Rats. That will be their sixth time with no post season. And that will be a new record for the AHL.


Monday, December 05, 2005

Chicago Wolves v. Peoria Rivermen 12.9

Nearly 4500 votes were cast this week in an AHL poll for the team most likely to win the West Division. All those eyes and fingers voted 25 percent for Milwaukee, 21 percent for Houston, and 17 percent for both Peoria and Chicago. So, with our next game, Friday, against the Rivermen, the West Division may be at stake.

Peoria has been a hot and unknown product for Western fans this season, the former Worcester Ice Cats have come into the West and become a new, hot rival. Sunday they had a 5-1 victory over the Admirals, extending a three game streak. Unwritten in that statement is a two game victory in Iowa on Saturday, completing a suspended game from November 13 following dangerous ice conditions.

They stand in second place with 31 points. There is an intervening game, against Omaha on Wednesday.

The St. Louis Blues parent club, however, is suffering a humiliating season, and it seems a matter of time before the Rivermen lose their skilled prospects. In fact, by early January, according to some Rivermen fans, players such as Peter Sejna and Mike Glumac, leading scorers for the Rivermen, will be skating for the Blues. So, the Rivermen individually will be pushing to get their shot at the NHL, and as a team too, as they will not have the power in the mid-winter push, to continue their assault on the West.

Jason Bacashihua is saving 90.1 percent of shots and has a GAA of 2.61. Defense men Trevor Byrne and Mike Mottau are tied with 15 points each. Rocky Thompson is holding his place among the top 10 AHL goons with 90 penalty minutes so far this season.


Sunday, December 04, 2005

Post game analysis Omaha 12.3

Omaha 6, Wolves 4.

First, I have a theory on why this team is spinning its wheels. It's staring us in the face. Or at least it was when Malt was out there. There is no captain: no leader on the ice. That sums up its problem. It can't make a decision about captain, can't make a decision on the ice.

Second, Jani Hurme is a great big sieve. He has shown less talent than guys we got rid of earlier in the year. I'll say a prayer for the man, that he continues to recover the strength and talent that he once possessed. That, whether for us or against us, he fills the pipes again. Right now, he sucks. How long will we have to endure this assignment from Atlanta?

I just don't see offence on the ice. 15 shots on goal tonight, 20 shots in the last five periods. The PP is all about puck control with these guys, not putting the biscuit on the goal. It defies logic to control the puck to the point where there are no shots on goals, what's the point anymore? The defense has to step up. But wait, is there a defense at all? Three goals in the last period. Okay, sieve let one in through the 5 hole. Umm.... you gotta be able to stop those. He was down and in position, why the 5 hole? Germyn's second period goal, he was down on his knees and Germyn hadn't even shot yet. The shot went over his shoulder. Komarniski's 3rd period break away from the penalty box I felt we let our guard down, but I didn't notice sieve, I mean Hurme, warning the players that Komarniski was about to get out of the sin bin. Did he warn the Wolves that the penalty was about timed out?

Finally, I just want to throw some more meat out. Wolves fans keep hearing about slow starts. One of the reasons for the slow start is that we don't play many games, compared to other teams, in the first two months. To turn that around, Houston has already played six games more than the Wolves. So you would expect them to have more points, and they do. Milwaukee has played 20 games, and is six points behind the Aeros. The Rivermen, 21 games and are five points behind the Aeros. The Wolves have played the fewest number of games of any other AHL team, 19, tied with Providence. The average number of games played to date is 22.8. However, even factoring that in, we're not doing well. A better index to use, for leadership, at this point in the season, may be the percent of games won. And, we're losing games.


Friday, December 02, 2005

Post game analysis Admirals 12.2

The Wolves 1, Admirals 3.

I just don't see any improvement here. The Thrashers are not using the Wolves to develop younger players, so we don't have the talent pool that some of the other AHL teams have. Without the deeper pockets of the Thrashers we are not going to see the younger player that this new game demands. The Thrashers spent their money on free agents. With the CBA cap many teams are not using the AHL teams to park players for development, as they had in years past, look at Bingo for example. So, it's not just that the coaching staff can't develop talent, I don't know if I agree with that yet, it's that we don't have it to develop. So, we have a shallow pool of talent this year and we are battling other teams that have parents with a different philosophy. We're losing this battle. Anderson & Co. need a new game plan, quick