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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Haydar gone? Wolves will suffer

Nearly half-way through the season, with 36 games in the book, the Chicago Wolves looked poised to enter the 2007 post-season with the most highly skilled team in franchise history. Eleven games lost, eight in regulation play and 53 points place the Wolves in second place, currently, in the league.

Yet there are problems, particularly with the netminders, Michael Garnett and Fred Braithewaite. Combined they have given up a combined 120 points through the year-end, which is more goals against a team for all but four of the AHL teams. And, the Wolves have spent a great deal of time in the sinbin, exceeded by only three teams.

Carrying the Wolves in the first half were the line of Darren Haydar, Jason Krog and the rookie Brent Sterling. Together, the three have notched 180 points, although Krog was called up to Atlanta on December 14th. Earlier, I’d asked if a second line could develop, perhaps centered on Derek MacKenzie. However, MacKenzie was himself called up to Atlanta on December 21st. In the nine games played since Krog was called up, the Haydar and Sterling combination has continued to dominate the offense of the Wolves, being on the ice for 27 of the 43 goals scored in that stretch, including all the goals against the Peoria Rivermen on December 29th.

In the same period, it appears the Wolves have hit their toughest stretch of the season, winning six, but dropping one in regulation and two more in shoot outs. Haydar, during this period set an AHL record for most consecutive games with a point, registering a goal and an assist for 34-straight games with a point Only eight professional players have exceeded that total, led by Wayne Gretzky with 51 games during the 1983-4 season (a tip of the hat to the Peoria Journal Star’s Dave Eminian for that stat).

So, why is Darren Haydar still in the AHL? Why not play in the NHL for Atlanta? This afternoon, a rumor started on the Chicago Wolves discussion board that Haydar is going up. Fans have furiously called the thread starter a liar. But, it will happen, if not this weekend, sometime soon. Darren Haydar will leave Chicago to play for the Atlanta Thrashers in their march, perhaps, to the Stanley Cup.

There were brief mentions of Haydar’s feat in the Chicago MMO. But, sadly, hockey is not on the horizon for the writers at the major papers or the city’s electronic news outlets. Haydar will be the joy of Atlanta fans and many in this hockey community will not have realized he was ever here.

If Haydar has to clear waivers, waivers being a way, if he is returned to Chicago, for another NHL team to pick him up instead, it is very unlikely Chicago will see him play here for many months, if ever again. The decision on whether he must clear waivers will be determined based on why Atlanta sends for him. For example, playing in Atlanta in place of an injured player would provide protection to Haydar from waivers.

So, Haydar is probably headed to Atlanta, perhaps this weekend, but soon. One of the next call ups will probably be Brent Sterling, sending the entire line to Atlanta. Good for them. Bad for the Wolves.

To do the math, alluded to above, without this line, Chicago would only have scored 16 points in the last nine games, there would have been 29 goals against. Even though others are stepping up, the production will drop dramatically, backed by a weak set in the pipes.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Personal to Dan McGrath

Finally, the Chicago Tribune has run a story on the Chicago Hounds opener debacle. The Tribune only keeps stories up for a few days so you may find the link, here, it won't work in a week.

It ran on December 14 and I have a few bones to pick. First, being there, I can tell you that more than 30 people complained. That is the writer shilling for the Sears Centre. More questions need to be asked about that. Also, there were far fewer than 8,000 in the stands. Probably 4,500 is better. The 8,000 number probably comes from the number of tickets sold. In hockey, there is a fictional attendance and a real attendance.

Finally, is the best the Chicago Tribune can do is run a story five weeks late? WHAT THE FUCK! The sports desk was called that night, by me. And they didn't care. Why have a "special" printed weeks later? The news occurred that night. It could have hit the Chicago Tribune's Saturday morning Bulldog (early Sunday) edition or the Sunday edition.

Dan McGrath should call his staff together and discuss why newspapers are losing subscriptions and ad revenue: It is shit like this. They ignored the story when it was fresh and ran it five weeks late when the controversy was dead. HINT: The next question on the Hounds is very simple: Will they survive till the end of the season?

Injury cheered

I found this piece on the Internet today:

Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Mannheim 1, Berlin 2

Defending DEL champions Eisbären Berlin won their first match after the TUI Nations Cup break by beating Adler Mannheim 2-1 on the road. The slow and mediocre game was overshadowed by a serious neck injury of Mannheim's Lonny Bohonos.

Lonny Bohonos was a player on the Chicago Wolves in the 2004-5 season before settling into Euro hockey with the German Elite league Mannheim Adlers’. I’m indebted to Ted’s Hockey blog for following Lonny. Almost exactly two years ago, in a game against the Milwaukee Admirals, the blog reminded me, Bohonos had four assists in a 6-2 Wolves victory.

Bohonos is in Thunder Bay recuperating from his hockey injury, out a season, but interested in playing again for the Thunder Bay Bombers. Nice post by Ted…

Hockey injuries can ruin lives. They end careers. They can even kill. So why do some fans cheer when an opposing player goes down? Two injuries in the defeat of the Chicago Wolves tonight. First period Milwaukee Admiral. Third period a Chicago Wolf. I remember cheering the Admiral as he returned to the bench. Was it a clean hit? Did he have his head down? In almost the same spot in the third a Wolves player down holding his eye.

The guy behind me, an Admirals fan who had been well behaved, starts cheering. Several of us ask him to stop out of respect and an argument breaks out. Neither here nor there normally. As I said, the group he was leading was loud but great fans of the Admirals.

During the argument, about an injury, he claims to be the coach of the Kenosha Krashers, which appeared to be a junior high school aged team. Not good. Disappointing. Homer.

Billy Tibbetts Show

A bit of hockey news from Finland, former Wolf Billy Tibbetts has signed with the Finnish team HPK, the reigning champions of the Finnish SM-liiga league. I was told tonight that I tend to cut and paste. Maybe. In any case here is the original Finnish of Tibbetts joining the Knights:

HPK ja Billy Tibbetts sopimukseen
HPK ja hyökkääjä Billy Tibbetts ovat solmineet loppukauden kattavan pelaajasopimuksen. Tibbetts siirtyy Hämeenlinnaan AHL:n Chigago Wolvesista. Tibbetts on uransa aikana pelannut NHL:ssa 82 ottelua.
Tulivoimainen ja isokokoinen Tibbetts tuo HPK:n hyökkäykseen fyysisyyttä. Viime kaudella AHL:n Chigago Wolvesissa 32-vuotias Tibbetts pelasi 46 ottelua tehden niissä 20 maalia ja 22 maaliin johtanutta syöttöä.
Tibbetts saapuu Suomeen tapaninpäivänä ja pelaa ensimmäisen ottelunsa ritaripaidassa HPK:n kohdatessa Kärpät 28.12.06. Kuten Moravec, myös Tibbetts osallistuu tammikuussa pelattavaan ECC-turnaukseen HPK:n joukkueen mukana.

Those Fins have a way with words that no English speaker can match. Tibbetts entry to the Chicago Wolves was met with a lot of controversy. A hot-headed player, Tibbetts has managed to both endear himself and burn bridges in every city he has played in. The Wolves picked him from the Rockford IceHogs about a year ago and his presence on the ice was an immediate plus.

Still, his past pursued him. I remember coming home from work to hear my loving spouse in a hot-headed conversation with our ticket rep about Tibbetts and his past. I think she worked through those initial reactions as she learned more about Tibbetts. There was a very helpful website that seems to have gone dark. Too bad. Writing about Tibbetts always draws readers and people who hate Tibbetts are among the most loyal of readers.

But I feel there is another side to his story.

I’ll summarize here what I know, though Finnish readers may find better information elsewhere. Tibbetts was convicted of non-consensual sex with an under-aged woman when he was about 17. The story I’ve gathered from newspapers is that he was at a party and the woman, then 15, had sex with Billy, but later claimed it was rape. Courts tend to look at cases like this and give the young man a pass. Thus it was for Tibbetts, who received a suspended sentence.

Sometime later, while still on parole, Tibbetts shot a man. He used a pellet gun, if memory serves. A pellet gun, for our Finnish friends, does not fire explosives rounds. Instead the projectile is propelled by air.

It turns out the man Tibbetts fired on was an undercover police officer. Tibbetts spent three years in jail as a result. Because of the earlier conviction, Tibbetts had the earlier case reinstated and he is now considered a registered sex-offender. This raises the question of how Tibbetts was able to gain a work permit for Finland.

I think everyone can agree on these facts, in any case.

Now my opinion, I’ve seen Tibbetts play. There are lots of bits about him in my blog. He played with heart and I never saw him purposely start a fight, though he did stand up for his fellow team mates. His end with the Wolves occurred during a game in Milwaukee on April 14. I’ve never learned what happened, however, he did not join the bus ride home and it was clear that his time in Chicago, like in many other hockey teams, was finished.

Tibbetts ended the season with a fairly serious injury. He scored a goal late in the season, but managed to collide with the goal iron, causing a concussion. It was mentioned earlier this season as one of the memories of the 2005-6 season I’ll always carry with me: a great play by Tibbetts.

Earlier in this season he was in the reality series, “Be a Bruin” on the NESN (Northeastern Sports Net). When he was interviewed about his past, he said he was stopping the liquor, that he had found Jesus.

A mutual acquaintance said that the liquor had found Billy again.

Billy Tibbetts is a million dollar player with a ten-cent fuse in his brain. He is clearly a very good player who battles demons and often loses. He always has an excuse for what happened. It is never his fault. I like Billy Tibbetts. I’ve met him off the ice. But he has not faced the great demon inside and he’ll always have problems till he does.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Shots on Goal

The Rockford IceHogs MetroCentre deal continues to dominate hockey discussion in Rockford. One of the local newspapers, the Rockford Register Star, has editorialized in favor of the $23 million plan and has backed its editorial with heavy coverage.

Outside of Rockford my attention has been on Norfolk. The owners of the Norfolk Admirals, one of the two possible franchises that are most likely to move to Rockford, have said the team will stay in Norfolk next year, whether or not there is an affiliation with the Chicago Blackhawks. That would leave just one American Hockey League franchise available in the most likely scenario: the former Edmonton Road Runner franchise, owned by the Edmonton Oilers.

The coach of the Rockford hockey team warned the MetroCentre that they had underestimated the cost of acquiring the AHL franchise. If the number of possible teams declines, the price should go up. It sounds like the coach knows more about business and hockey than the managers of the MetroCentre.

The Norfolk Admirals, meantime, are in third place in the East Division, within three points of the Calder Cup champions Hershey Bears, the division leader. The Admirals were swept by the Bears in the 2006 Eastern Division semifinals. It is early in the season to make predictions, especially about a division that rarely play this far west. Yet, this seems to be the strongest Norfolk team this decade.

A cynic might ask why the Blackhawks are considering moving a successful program. The answer is that the only part of the current IceHogs organization that will stay is the front office. There is virtually no chance the current roster would be present next season.

And, making national sports news, Enver Lisin, a troubled rookie in the Phoenix Coyotes organization, was suspended for not reporting to San Antonio. Lisin, who has a +/- of –18, instead flew home to Russia where he is expected to play for Ak Bars Kazan in the Russian League.

This is not the first time NHL players have taken a hit rather than play in the AHL. And, the loss of Lisin is probably not troubling for the Phoenix organization, given his terrible record. However, the word on the street is that the San Antonio club is mean.

That sounds like an opponent talking, but that comes from the inside, team mates talking about team mates. Mean. That’s a description that sounds appropriate describing a third-grader, not professional hockey athletes. Something really smells in the Phoenix organization’s Texas crew. Lots of money in the off-season has had virtually no effect. The NHL side of the organization is just as disappointing.

Finally, the Chicago Wolves play the 500th home game in franchise history against Omaha this week. Starting in the International Hockey League, the Wolves and the IHL were part of a strategy to challenge the NHL. Today the IHL is a memory. But the Chicago Wolves have one of the highest attendance figures in the AHL year after year, while downtown the Blackhawks have one of the lowest attendance figures in the NHL. The Wolves broadcast every game on cable, the Blackhawks only broadcast selected home games, sell outs and away games.

The Wolves have played in post-season every year but one since their founding. The Blackhawks regularly play golf starting in mid-April.

Finally, this week, Forbes magazine estimated that Bill Wirtz’s Blackhawks was among only three NHL teams that lost value since the lockout season. In Rosemont, Wolves owner Don Levin is rumored to be among the possible bidders for the Chicago Cubs. Clearly, the Wolves have been successful in challenging the Blackhawks. Sadly, the two teams will never meet on the ice. With three of the top scorers in the AHL, I have no doubt who would win such a match.

Go Wolves!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Yawney Gone: Now let's really piss off the Wolves

Trent Yawney is gone. You can read all about it in the mainstream media. Yawney had lost 12 of the last 15 games, basically the Blackhawks hired a good, not great, minor league coach. He did what he could. And now, he’s gone.

The problems on Madison Avenue start at the very top. Let’s face it, Bill Wirtz, who is affectionately known among hockey fans as Dollar Bill, or simply $Bill$, needs to go.

That could happen through an errant bus or clogged arteries. It doesn’t matter to hockey fans. Anywhere.

Wirtz, afterall, was one of the holdout owners who prolonged the NHL lockout. After getting the other NHL owners to agree not to accept any proposal unless by unanimous consent, Wirtz, and others, held out when the players came looking to end the lockout.

And it was Wirtz who drove Pat Foley and Wayne Mezmer into the arms of Don Levin.

Which gets me to my point. Levin has been slapping Wirtz around like he’s Teddy Roosevelt and Wirtz is one of the meat packagers. Time to stop. Just say stop.

Because as much as I dislike the way Wirtz runs his empire, from the seedy reception area at 680 N Lake Shore Dr. to the driving away of any hockey talent, he has an opportunity.

He’ll never listen, of course. But he should.

Wirtz has been hurt, betrayed you might even say, by former employees who, when they were abandoned by Wirtz, didn’t have the good graces to slink off. No, Mezmer, who you may remember, was fresh out of the hospital from a shooting, became a vice-president of the Wolves.

And then there was Foley. Who would have guessed that after getting shown the door, the SOB would have the good luck to answer the phone when Judd Sirott was called up to the HD-NHL gig?

The nerve of the fans too. There are sometimes more of them at a Wolves game than a Blackhawks game held on the same day. Not to mention that Levin cut a deal with Comcast to broadcast all the Wolves games, home and away. It’s a deal that many NHL teams would give their right nut to have.

The enemy of the team on Madison Avenue isn’t the Detroit Red Wings or the St. Louis Blues, or for that matter any of the players reps. It is located on Mannheim Road in Rosemont, Illinois: the Chicago Wolves.

It is time for Don Levin to get a big punch in the eye, I think. Speaking metaphorically of course. And I know just how Wirtz can do it. Forget about Denis Savard. Promoting Savard is just a way to continue to lose.

Sorry Denis, you know it’s true.

Savard, or practically anyone else, is going to be faced with the fact that this team has been poorly run from the very top. Give Savard the GM position, satisfy the local hockey fans that way. Besides, we all know the next to exit is Dale Tallon.

Now, let’s really piss the Wolves and their fans off.

Noel. Yep, Noel as in Claude Noel. Oh boy, this would really get the Wolves fans pissed. Noel has gone to the big game twice and won a Calder Cup. And, he did it while the front office of the Milwaukee Admirals was spinning out of control. The trustee there had about used up all their capital, the team was a second-rate team. But, Noel brought a bunch of young head-strong individuals together and made them a winning team. A winning team that brought Milwaukee its first Calder Cup.

He largely held that team together, moreover, for two more seasons, making another serious run on the Calder Cup last season.

This guy is a winner. And Wolves fans hate him. Because he wins against the Wolves.

Not only that, hockey fans will see a winning coach come to town, something the pleasantly ineffective Yawney could never claim. Because going to post-season isn’t winning. Winning is bringing home rings and cups. And Noel can do that, even for a crappy team like the Blackhawks.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

11/24 Griffins 6 Wolves 4

Jason Krog was called up to the Thrashers prior to the Griffins game. Without Krog the team wasn't horrible, just very different and struggling. The defence was outskated throughout the first and second period with Grand Rapids putting terrible pressure on Garnett. The Wolves appeared to be almost standing there as the Griffins went around them and through them to get goals.

Now either the defence had to much turkey at the Drake, or the defence sucks. Take your pick.

Despite being pounded for two and half periods, the Wolves almost caught the Griffs in the final minutes. But, there is a lack of discipline on the Wolves: players should know by the third period what the ref is going to call and stop doing that.

SHOTS ON GOALCoach Nelson and Kevin Cheveldayoff were at the Muskeegon Fury game on Thanksgiving instead of the Drake. Scouting for an affiliation?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

MetroCentre Update

The owners of the Rockford IceHogs responded to the maneuvers of the MetroCentre in a press release last weekend:

Tri-Vision Sports and its predecessor have spent eight years building a professional hockey franchise in downtown Rockford. The viability of professional hockey in downtown Rockford was initially doubted politically and publicly. The franchise has been sustained through the significant and repeated capital investment by its owners and the team is now, finally, both winning games and not losing money.

The future of the Rockford IceHogs is a business matter between the hockey club, as a MetroCentre tenant, and Centre Events as its lessor. We ask that all other parties respect that business relationship and allow these two groups to negotiate an agreement without interference. The MetroCentre has given Tri-Vision a written proposal, and our attorneys have responded. Until that dialogue has completely concluded, we feel that further discussions, resolutions, and votes at the City or County level with respect to an AHL/MetroCentre agreement should be tabled.

By the same token, the IceHogs fully and strongly support the proposed MetroCentre improvements, and urge everyone to proceed with that plan. Regardless of whether the IceHogs remain a UHL team or become an AHL team, the proposed renovation is both necessary and overdue.

Tri-Vision's first hope would be to reach an agreement with the MetroCentre to extend the current lease on a long-term basis, and continue operating the club that has taken eight years to build. It has been a long road to make this team successful, and we are concerned about the idea of a fundamental restructuring of the organization and how it might affect Rockford hockey.

Alternatively, if a long-term lease extension is not possible, then Tri-Vision would be willing to sell the entire team to the MetroCentre for its fair market value. In an effort to facilitate and expedite the AHL discussions, Tri-Vision would also be willing to sell its assets and logo (but not the UHL franchise) for two-thirds of the team's fair market value, and permit them to be used with a new AHL team. Tri-Vision has been negotiating in good faith to achieve these goals with the MetroCentre; unfortunately, due to the technicalities and contingencies in the proposals we've exchanged thus far, we don't feel that we are quite there yet.

Aside from this statement of our general position and plans, we would like to take this opportunity to correct specific misstatements that were made publicly:

1. In the Rockford Register Star on November 18, 2006, "Officials from Centre Events" were quoted to "say that they had a written deal in place for three months to purchase the IceHogs for $500,000, but that deal fell apart last weekend after the MetroCentre plan became public." That is absolutely false. There is not a written agreement in place to purchase the Rockford IceHogs for any amount, nor has there ever been. Two days ago, we were presented with a written purchase agreement for the first time, and we responded in writing the next morning. Prior to that, we have merely exchanged outlines, terms sheets, and similar notes to facilitate our discussion. We consider the specific terms and conditions of the proposed agreement, including the purchase price, to be a private business matter until it has been finalized and signed by all parties.

2. In that same article, Corey Pearson was also quoted to say that "at some point the Blackhawks began negotiating directly with Tumilowicz…though he did not know why talks ceased." That is also false. Mr. Pearson was closely involved in those discussions and he was also closely involved in their cessation. The reason those talks ceased is that our ownership and management group determined that it would be financially impossible for us to launch and maintain an AHL team in downtown Rockford.

3. Also in the article, it was suggested that we are holding the MetroCentre "hostage". We categorically reject that characterization. In fact, if such a situation is taking place, we are the hostage. We are struggling with the difficult choice of either having our current lease terminated or selling our team for a fraction of its value. We have been faced with this heavy-handed negotiation tactic for months, and we have recently involved legal counsel to scrutinize the proposed agreement terms, and help us better understand our options. At no point in this process was the IceHogs team ever listed for sale, and we do not want to sell it now. Despite that, we have been willing to cooperate and try finding a way to sell the team for a fair value, if that is what's best for downtown Rockford and the hockey fans. Keep in mind, we all began the Fall of 2005 in good faith negotiations for a new lease at the MetroCentre. It was Centre Events who raised the notion of a Blackhawks affiliation, and who urged that we put off the lease discussions to focus on the possibility of bringing an AHL franchise to Rockford - first with us as the owners, and later with them as the owners but using our logo and management team.

4. Finally, the article quotes a Centre Events Board member to say "the bottom line is we don't need the IceHogs." If that is an accurate quote, we are deeply disappointed to hear it. As stated above, we've spent a great deal of time and money to build a successful professional hockey club in downtown Rockford. Furthermore, we have been a reliable and profitable tenant for the MetroCentre over the years. Now that we've established a solid fan base for the team, we quite frankly think it is despicable to be treated this way in both private business discussions and publicly disparaging remarks.

Ultimately, our position on all these matters can be summarized in three simple points: (1) We love professional hockey, and we are committed to doing whatever is best for the hockey fans of Rockford; (2) We fully support the MetroCentre renovation proposals and urge everyone to support them and all other efforts to make downtown Rockford a showcase community; and (3) we will do what is necessary to protect and preserve the Rockford IceHogs club and everything that our entire organization has done over the years to make this team successful.

Iowa pregame 11/26

We just clocked these guys. Here's what I wrote that time:

Iowa won the previous game in OT 5-4. But we want the Wolves to get more than a point. They owned the Wolves last year, with very few Wolves points from these guys. Junior Lessard has a team leading 17 points, 11th overall. Joel Lundquist has 15 points, tied for 19th place.

Tobias Stephen, a Swiss goalie, has a third place 1.82 GAA and is turning away 92.4 percent of shots.

The Iowa update is they have 24 points, running third in the West. Lessard is up to 21 points, Lundqvist 18, Marty Sertich 16. Three others are in double digits, Vojtech Polak, Mark Ardelan and Mike Green, all at 11 points. Rookie goal keeper Stephan is now ranked 4th in the league with 2.02 GAA and 92.5 percent save.

Our last two games against Iowa:
10/28 Iowa 5 Chi 4 OT
11/14 Chi 8 Iowa 2

Turkey Day updates: Houston Scouted

The Wolves killed the Omaha Knights 6-3 last night in Omaha. Rookie Brett Sterling notched a hat trick, the other goals were by Darren Haydar and Jason Krog. The Wolves play the Grand Rapids Griffins tomorrow in the first fan club road trip. The Griffins, who will consider this a home and home, lost to the Wolves last Friday 5-3 at the Allstate.

Following that is a game with the Houston Aeros, the first this season for the Wolves. With 27 points, the Wolves have their best start of the franchise history and three of the top AHL scorers in Krog, Haydar and the rookie Sterling.

Fred Braithwaite and Michael Garnett have both been pretty solid in nets this season with just four regulation and one OT loss in the season between them. As a team, the Wolves have given up 57 goals. That is actually the worst record in the West Division, and the sixth worst in the league.

In addition, the team's 479 penalty minutes are the second worst in the league.

The Aeros are not the same team they were last season. Gone are top rookie Patrick O'Sullivan and key players Kirby Law and Erik Westrum. Back is Roman Voloshenko. They were just beaten by the San Antonio Rampage on Tuesday. That may be due to a hot goal tender being brought up to the Rampage, more than anything else, however. Only two Aero skaters are breaking into the double digits in scoring, Matt Foy with 15 and Danny Irmen with 11. Fourteen other skaters have scored at least a goal.

Josh Harding returns to the pipes and is ranked 9th in the league. Power play is running about 12 percent (25th), penalty kill 89.6 (second).

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Mea Culpae

The post below, about the Rockford MetroCentre included this sentence: "The Edmonton Oilers, which owns the Roadrunner franchise is currently affiliated with the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights."

That is wrong. The Edmonton Oilers, which owns the Roadrunner franchise, are affiliated with four AHL teams, the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Milwaukee Admirals, Hamilton Bulldogs and the Iowa Stars. This sentence replaced the error on the date posted below.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The smell test applied

My last piece of the day: a sidebar on the United Hockey League.

It is fortunate that I am not a professional journalist, because I wouldn’t be able to write another part of the UHL story. The federal indictment of former Danbury, Conn. Trashers-owner Jim Galante is turning up a treasure trove of information about the UHL. When Richard Brosal talks about the “smell test” in the article below, he should know. The league president is reported on a federal wiretap to be discussing coercing a league official, Jim Harper, an on-ice official, into dropping charges against Galante for battery that occurred after a game.

Brosal has told the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette that it is a misunderstanding. He was making a joke: there was never an intention of coercing Harper into dropping the charges. But the smell test says different.

On the recording is a meeting between Brosal and an “associate” of a Galante. The associate, Ciro Viento was recorded calling on Brosal to ask Brosal’s aid in soliciting a letter from Harper that would exonerate Galante. The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette the Danbury News Times are following the story. Stay tuned.

MetroCentre plan advances

Earlier in the week the Rockford MetroCentre management presented its plan to renovate the orange downtown box that houses the Rockford IceHogs to the Winnebago County Board Economic Development Committee. The $23 million plan would, in part, depend on the sale of the hockey team to the MetroCentre, the affiliation of the IceHogs with the Chicago Blackhawks and an American Hockey League franchise.

On Tuesday, the committee approved the plan 2-1, sending it to a lame-duck Winnebago County Board. The plan is expected to pass the Winnebago board at its meeting on November 21. Passage is also expected at the Rockford City Council later.

Opposing the plan was the President of the United Hockey League, Richard Brosal. Brosal, wrote a six-page letter to the county board and the city, noting the efforts of the IceHogs owners in building a franchise and questioning the good faith of the MetroCentre in negotiations, "over the past two years, the ownership group has been asking for renovations and an extension to their lease."

Brosal noted that the IceHogs owners had first right of refusal should the MetroCentre negotiate with others during the lease. But that the MetroCentre had entered negotiations with the Chicago Blackhawks and the AHL in the hope of displacing the IceHogs.

In addition, Brosal said, "instead of doing the renovations that have been discussed… (the renovations are) now contingent on an AHL team being in the building… this just doesn’t pass the ‘smell test.’"

IceHogs owners Dr. Kris Tumilowicz and Craig Drektrah had called the MetroCentre’s $500,000 offer to purchase the IceHogs too low, but said they were hoping to conclude negotiations on the sale this week. They supported the plan to renovate the MetroCentre but noted it should occur whether the IceHogs are sold and affiliate with the Blackhawks or stay in the UHL.

Centre Events General Manager Corey Pearson told the Rockford Register Star that negotiations with the team weren’t seen as urgent during the first six months of the year as the IceHogs were examining affiliation with the AHL at the time. He said the MetroCentre was still interested in AHL membership after the IceHogs ended discussions with the AHL.

Incoming County Board member Doug Aurand questioned the haste of the plan, telling the Rock River Times that "there are seven brand-new faces on that Board, and it always bothers me when things are done in what I call a ‘lame duck’ session." Pearson replied that the approval is required now so renovations can be completed for the 2007-8 season.

While MetroCentre officials say three AHL franchises are available, there is discussion on AHL news and websites of only one franchise being open: the former Edmonton Road Runners franchise. Because the Norfolk (Virginia) Admirals AHL franchise is losing affiliation with the Chicago Blackhawks, that franchise too could be available. The AHL, which has 27 teams, has limited its size to 30 teams, one to be affiliated with each NHL team. Two inactive franchises have indicated they plan to become active in the next season: Windsor, Ontario and Cleveland.

The Edmonton Oilers, which owns the Roadrunner franchise, are affiliated with four AHL teams, the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Milwaukee Admirals, Hamilton Bulldogs and the Iowa Stars. The Roadrunner franchise was suspended following the NHL lockout in 2004-5, despite drawing an average of 8,854 fans per game, the third highest among AHL teams.

The Norfolk Admirals are 24th in league attendance this year, averaging 3,714 per game. The Admirals have made it to post-season play several times, most recently in the previous season. However, they have never been past conference semi-final level.

Brosal, Pearson and IceHogs coach Steve Martinson have been arguing publicly about the annual cost of AHL membership. Both Brosal and Martinson have questioned Pearson’s projections of the cost of running an AHL franchise, renovating the MetroCentre and obtaining an AHL franchise.

Two other hockey teams in Illinois looked at AHL affiliation within the past two years. The UHL-affiliated Quad City Mallards decided against affiliation at the end of last season. While in Peoria, the ECHL-affiliated Rivermen did affiliate with the AHL.

An attempt by the Cincinnati AHL franchise to resuscitate itself into the RailRaiders failed when the ownership group missed its goal of 2,000 season tickets by 340, despite extending the marketing campaign. When the campaign ended, a dormant ECHL affiliate, the Cyclones, immediately resuscitated their franchise in Cincinnati at a different venue.

Bruce Saurs of the Peoria Rivermen told the Quad City Times in a March interview that the team was not yet breaking even. Last season, the Rivermen had an average attendance of 4,780. This season, so far, the attendance is 4,820, still about the same as during their ECHL days. Ticket prices in Peoria rose about $0.50 cents from ECHL affiliation and the Carver Civic Center, which is also undergoing a substantial rehabilitation, installed new glass and other amenities this season for the Rivermen.

Although the AHL is considered stable, with teams wanting to affiliate, the UHL has suffered. This is all being prettied up by the UHL as a retrenching of the league into the Midwest. The Richmond River Dogs moved to Hoffman Estates to become the Chicago Hounds; the Fraser City, Mich. Motor City Mechanics closed for a year, the (Glen Falls, NY) Adirondack Frostbite folded. And, the second-place Danbury, Conn. Trashers closed after the team owner, a reputed mobster, was indicted by the Federal government.

The St. Charles, Missouri River Otters pulled out of the 2006-7 season. The Moline, Ill. Quad City Mallards underwent a bruising front office battle that is discussed HERE. Plus, the website ArenaDigest.com noted that the Rockford IceHogs are unprofitable. The only bright spots are the new Bloomington, Ill. Prairie Thunder, the outstanding attendance at Fort Wayne, Ind. Komets games and the new Sears Centre built for the Chicago Hounds.

SHOTS ON GOAL: The CBA-affiliated Gary Steelheads may become the first CBA team to resusitate their franchise. The CBA has also shrunk as minor league basketball teams have affiliated with the NBA-D, that is D as in development.

However, on Friday the Gary Post-Tribune said the team plans to announce a 2006-7 schedule, joining the US Basketball League. A new ownership group, headed by Jewell Harris Jr., said the team will play an April to June schedule.

The Steelheads play at Genesis Convention Center.

Griffins scouting report

The Grand Rapids Griffins visit the Allstate Arena tonight, for their first visit to the Chicago Wolves this season. The Griffins come into the game on a losing streak of 0-5-1-0. That includes dropping four home games in a row, one in overtime.

Bob McNamara returned to the Griffins as General Manager for the tenth season. Newly promoted behind the bench is head coach Greg Ireland. Ireland was the former assistant coach. Taking his place as assistant is NHLer Jim Paek.

Former Wolf Kip Miller anchors the offense with 17 points, followed by two former Wilkes-Barre/ Scranton Penguins, Krys Kolanos and Matt Hussey. Of the top ten scorers on the team only Matt Ellis, Kyle Quincey and Ryan Keller return from last year. Darryl Bootland, the team’s goon, has been recalled to Detroit. In fact 25 rooster changes have been noted this season, compared to just three on the Wolves.

Jimmy Howard is returning to the nets. He is stopping 90 percent of shots and has a 2.79 goal against average. Also in the nets is Stefan Liv, with a 3.2 GAA and stopping 89.4 percent of shots.

Penalty Kill is 81.6 percent, just below the Wolves, while the power play is running an anemic 14.6 percent. The team plays the Wolves again on November 24. For the Griffins this will be a home and home, while the Wolves have other games first.

Wolves return home

The Chicago Wolves return to the Allstate Arena tonight after a three week road trip that brought them an 8-1-0-0 streak. Offense is the plan the Wolves have chosen this season. One measure of the dominance of the team’s scoring is that it has the most goals of any team in the league, with 70, compared to 64 goals by the next best scoring team.

The top three scorers on the team, Jason Krog, Darren Haydar and rookie Brett Sterling, are ranked number one, two and five on the leagues list of top scorers. A skeptical fan might note that the next three Wolves are falling at number 76, Steve Martins, number 113, Derek MacKenzie and Joey Crabb, 154. But, Martins is producing more than a point a game and is in double digits with 11 points. Three other Wolves are producing at least a point a game, Cory Larose, Kyle Wanvig and Colin Stuart. And, a total of 21 Wolves have at least one goal this season.

The team is 21.6 percent on the power play, 25 percent on the road. They are 14 for 37 in the last four games, nearly 40 percent. The team is an offensive power house.

In the nets, the team has been anchored by Michael Garnett and Fred Brathwaite. Garnett has a 2.8 goals against average and is stopping 90.7 percent of shots, while Brathwaite has 3.04 goals against average and is stopping 88 percent of shots. Another measure of the defense is the team has allowed 49 goals in 15 games, or 3.27 goals per game, the eighth highest goals against in the league.

In summary, a tough offense and a so-so defense, with the highest number of penalty minutes in the league, averaging more than 20 minutes per game.

Against this background, two of the Wolves defensemen were called up to the Atlanta Thrashers this week, Braydon Coburn and Mark Popovic. Coburn was assigned to Chicago in October and in that time notched seven points. I am not a fan of Coburn, notably yelling at him to get back on the point during a game in Milwaukee last year, loud enough that he looked at me. The man wanders. Plus, he uses a lot of clutch and grab to stop opponents getting by his position. His penalty minute, 27 in nine games, ranks fourth in the Wolves.

This number one draft pick isn’t able to play his position well. I don’t yet know if he is a bust or simply needs more seasoning. But, frankly, I’m glad he’s gone for the moment from Chicago. Coburn replaces Steve McCarthy on the Atlanta rooster.

Another Atlanta player, Garnet Exelby, has been placed on the injured reserve list. Exelby played with the Wolves some years back. Mark Popovic is taking his place in Atlanta.

The moves place the weak defense in a position of having just six blue liners available. Tim Wedderburn was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs earlier in the season and could be recalled. However, as of Saturday morning, there is no sign of Wedderburn making the short trip down the Northwest Tollway.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Blackhawks, IceHogs to affiliate?

The big news in local hockey occurred off the ice. Rockford MetroCentre officials confirmed to the Rockford Register Star they concluded discussions with the Chicago Blackhawks to purchase the Rockford IceHogs United Hockey League team and affiliate it with the Blackhawks starting in the 2007-8 season.

A news conference today is expected to confirm the proposal, which would include a $20 million renovation of the downtown venue paid for by bonds. Officials of the MetroCentre told the Register Star that if the plans for the renovation of the MetroCentre are not approved, they would be coming up with a five year shut down plan for the 27-year-old arena.

The story notes that $3 million would be needed to purchase an American Hockey League franchise. There are currently 27 teams in the AHL, and according to the league, the league is limiting the number of franchises to 30, that is one for each team to affiliate with a NHL team. There is a dormant franchise in Cincinnati that is moving to Canada and a franchise that is expected to start in Cleveland, leaving just one franchise that is not planned or active.

MetroCentre officials would have to deal with the higher costs to affiliate, annually, with the AHL, the increased travel expenses, as the UHL is a "bus" league, whereas many AHL games are a flight away, and the increase in players salaries. The Quad City Mallards of Moline, Illinois, had considered affiliating with the AHL prior to the end of last season, but decided to remain in the UHL due to the financial considerations.
MetroCentre officials were optimistic in news reports of attracting the additional fans required to pay for the team to change affiliation.

For the deal to conclude, the MetroCentre would also need to conclude a deal with the owners of the IceHogs to purchase the team. The front office staff is expected to remain. The affiliation with the Blackhawks would be for ten years.

The Blackhawks are currently affiliated with the Norfolk (Virginia) Admirals. Their prospects play primarily along the East Coast. The affiliation would be a boon to the Blackhawks, as they would enjoy greater economy when moving their prospects between the leagues, as well as have greater opportunities to see prospect development. The movement would also benefit Hawks fans who could see their prospects with a short trip to Rockford. The new affiliation would have the IceHogs play the Chicago Wolves, Milwaukee Admirals and Peoria Rivermen, among other rivals.

The UHL includes teams in Bloomington, Rockford, Moline, Hoffman Estates, Illinois; Michigan, Indiana and New York. The AHL includes teams in Milwaukee, Omaha, Des Moines, Peoria, Rosemont, Illinois and Grand Rapids, Michigan, as well as elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada.

The AHL is considered the only AAA level league in North America. Most AHL players are considered NHL material, with between a third and two-thirds of a bench likely to be called up in a season.

The UHL is considered a low AA level hockey league. It has some very successful teams, but has also struggled in the last season with indictments of owners in Connecticut and closings of affiliations in Virginia, Missouri and New York.

In other hockey news, the Chicago Wolves ended their circus road trip string of victories with a 7-3 loss to the Rochester (New York) Americans last night. Clarke MacArthur of the Americans scored a hat trick. Darren Haydar and Jason Krog each extended their streaks of points to 14 games each. Earlier in the weekend, the Wolves had put away the Syracuse (New York) Crunch 7-2, marking the eighth straight road win of the season.

Don Levin, the owner of the Wolves has said he is in contact with Tribune Co. as a prospective buyer of the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs, which are packaged with WGN television, would need to be broken out if Levin purchased them, he said, as he is not interested in running a broadcasting company. The Chicago Sun-Times estimated the value of the Cubs alone at over $500 million in an article last week.

And the Madison Avenue hockey club ended its string of eight losses with a 3-1 home victory over the St. Louis Blues Thursday and a 1-0 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday. The team is 6-9-1 for the season. The wins lift the Hawks above both the Blue Jackets and the Blues in the standings.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Seven Up. Longest away streak continues

A 10-5 victory over the Peoria Rivermen on Saturday night continued the Chicago Wolves circus road trip. The victory marked the largest goal accumulation in an away game by the team in its history and the seventh straight road win this season, making this the best start the team has had in its history.

Jason Krog led the scoring with seven points, including a hat trick, which put him in the lead for AHL scorers over teammate Darren Haydar, and was a season high for league scorers. Krog’s total was one point shy of matching the club record for points in a single contest.

Krog now has 25 points, having scored a point in each game the Wolves have played this year. Haydar is second in the league with 21 points, also having scored a point in each game played. Haydar scored three points, including a goal on Saturday. Rookie teammate Brett Sterling also cracked the top-ten scorers in the league. He is tied for seventh with six others with 14 points. Sterling received five points in the contest, including two goals.

The match didn’t start as a kick-butt game. The Wolves sputtered in the first period till Rivermen Center Joel Perrault collided with Wolves goalie Michael Garnett at 13.56. The Garnett who challenged Perrault, left the crease to freeze a puck. When Perrault could not stop in time, the unlucky Garnett went flying backwards due to the force of the collision.

Garnett returned to the crease, but Perrault was given a five-minute major penalty. The Wolves, whose power play has struggled to fire pushed aside a highly rated Rivermen penalty kill to drop three pucks in the net before the end of the penalty. The period ended with a fourth goal, removing whatever oxygen was left in the Rivermen building for the moment.

The start of the second period found a new goalie in the net for the Rivermen, as Marek Schwarz was benched in favor of Jason Bacashihua. Four minutes and half minutes later, Garnett was kneed by Rivermen Michael Glumac. Garnett was pulled from the net on suspicion of a concussion and Dave Caruso was put in.

Caruso, a rookie out of Ohio State University, registered 31 saves on 34 shots to lead the ECHL Gwinnett Gladiators to an 8-3 victory against the South Carolina Stingrays, his second pro win. Signed to the Gladiators he has backed the excellent Dan Turple there. Duly impressed, the Rivermen welcomed the rookie with a goal within a minute. With two unanswered Rivermen goals in less than six minutes the Rivermen were a threat again. At 10.38 Sterling finally replied, popping a power play goal in, followed 26 seconds later by another goal. Three more goals rained down on the Peoria team within 3.16, ending the second frame, Wolves 9, Peoria 3.

In the final frame, the Wolves used a new rule, suiting their third goalie, Fred Brathwaite. However, Wolves coach John Anderson decided to leave Caruso in, despite the three goals. Caruso contained the Rivermen to two more goals in the third, Krog netted his hat trick in the 3rd frame, leaving Chicago with a 10-5 win.

The entire Atlanta organization is doing well this year. Gwinnett, which went to the Kelly Cup finals last season, is currently in first place in the South Division, ECHL, and tied for first in the ECHL, with 12 points. Curtis Ryser is taking Caruso’s place on the bench while Caruso is in Chicago. Ryser last played in 2002-3 for a junior team in New York.
Don Waddell, the Thrashers General Manager, was in the Peoria crowd last night, watching the mayhem. Waddell was a former Riverman.

Waddell guaranteed a playoff to Atlanta fans last season. The Thrashers have never made it to the playoffs in their history. This year, Waddell refused to guarantee a playoff and the Thrashers are in first place in the Eastern Conference, Southeast Division. They are in second place overall in the NHL to Anaheim. The Blackhawks, by reference, are in second to last place, above Philadelphia and tied with Phoenix.

Krog and Haydar are not the only former college teammates on the ice. Sterling and Joey Crabb played together at Colorado College until last season.

The Rivermen penalty kill has fallen markedly since mid-month, when it led the league at 94.3 percent. It is now ranked 14th at 82.1 percent.
Usually a team’s power play is best at home, not as good away. The Wolves away game streak is reversing this. The team has a power play ranking of 9th in the AHL away, but only 21st at home.

The Wolves continue their circus road trip Thursday with a game against bottom ranked Syracuse Crunch in Syracuse, NY, followed by a Sunday game in Rochester, NY against the top ranked Amerks.

Last night was really do or die for the Chicago Hounds. Fortunately, they did put on a hockey game, losing to the new Bloomington (IL) Prairie Thunder 3-2. Fans unlucky enough to be at Friday’s non-game should save their tickets as the Sears Centre has promised tickets, food and parking for it’s screw-up.

The Prairie Thunder had their arena ready months ago. Called the Pepsi Center, my visit there showcased a beautiful new facility in the heart of the Twin Cities. Parking is probably going to be an issue, but from my observations, everyone will have their own seat and the glass will be in place at game time.

Top local hockey stories for the year

I'm just thinking ahead here.

  • Pat Foley leaves the Chicago Blackhawks, accepts job at the Chicago Wolves.
  • March 19th, start of end of season winning streak by Chicago Wolves and Michael Garnett.
  • Manitoba Moose stop playing in the third period of key playoff game against Grand Rapids, losing the North Division championship to Grand Rapids.
  • Milwaukee Admirals fail to close the deal on 2nd Calder Cup.
  • Chicago Blackhawks meltdown, losing nine in a row in October, probably costing them the season right there.
  • Chicago Hounds franchise opens in Sears Centre. Opening game cancelled due to poor ice conditions. Franchise is in jeopardy.
  • Chicago Wolves fail to make playoffs for first time in franchise history.
  • Milwaukee loses Hobbit line in post-season.
  • Judd Sirott accepts job at NHL HD desk.
  • Vlad and Holly get married in front of 16,000+ fans.
  • UHL contracts, closing franchises in St. Louis, New England, Up state New York and Virginia. Two new UHL franchises open in Illinois.
  • Quad City Mallards decide to stay in UHL. Ownership changes hands after bloody Friday.
  • Atlanta goes on off-season binge, bringing aboard amazing amount of talent. Allowing their entire organization to start with strong seasons.
  • Gwinnett Gladiators reach Kelly Cup playoffs.
  • Chicago Wolves start season with best road record in franchise history.
  • St. Louis Blues decide to dump season. They have to race the Blackhawks, who are actually trying to win, to the bottom of the charts.

I have a few observations immediately, but will try to post on each subject as the last few weeks of the year pass. First, I'm real pissed that the major media has ignored many of these stories. Granted, you need to be a bit die-hard to realize that the Gladiators were in the Kelly Cup playoffs and what the relationship to the Wolves is, but there is no real interest in the major Chicago media for hockey. And that is the fault of the Blackhawks.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

SLAM. Wolves end Omaha streak

The Chicago Wolves are on a roll, they defeated the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights, away, in a 3-1 dustup in Omaha. The Knights had entered the game on top of the league, with an eight game win streak. Forwards Darren Haydar and Jason Krog continued their streak of points, now at eleven games this season, while goalie Michael Garnett continued his win streak, making 29 saves.

It is a huge victory for the Wolves, who continue to dominate on the road. The Wolves do not seem to be winning through great defense, indeed, their penalty kill is ranked 12th in the league, at 85.5 percent, and the team is giving up an average of three goals a game. And Michael Garnett, who has stood in for the injured Fred Brathwaite, has turned away a lot of shots, but is still not considered one of the top twenty goalies in the league.

Instead, the credit should go to the other end of the ice where a line of veterans, including Krog, Haydar, Derek MacKenzie and Steve Martins are regularly lighting lamps. Two solid lines, perhaps a third line developing— if the Wolves put together three lines they are going to be very dangerous in the Western Division.

But the weakness is now and has always been defense. Looking over the victory over the Knights, the Wolves took 28 minutes of penalties, much of it by blue liners who either were undisciplined or lacked the ability to cover their assignment. The Wolves enter their twelfth game leading the league in penalty minutes.

The road trip continues tomorrow night with a visit to the Peoria Rivermen. The Rivermen lost their opener against the Wolves. They are 5-4-0-1 so far this year.

Cluster fuck train wreck in Hoffman Mistakes

The Chicago Hounds "postponed" their home opener tonight as the Sears Centre was not ready for hockey. United Hockey League Commissioner Richard Brosal made the announcement to fans after delaying the game for more than two hours. The problems at Sears Centre were obvious and numerous. However, the fault for a train wreck of a night should be shared by an inexperienced front office staff at the Hounds.

The Sears Centre had hosted the Olay Ice Wars on Thursday. The figure skating competition had required the removal of the Hounds center ice logo. A source said the replacement logo hadn’t arrived to the Sears Centre until after 4 p.m. Friday. Further, the facility doors had been left open during the day. Significant ice melting occurred and even after a two hour delay, large areas of the ice were still visible, clear enough to see the underlying material. A large pool of water stood at center ice.

Further aggravating the situation was the unreadiness of the facility in other areas. Glass surrounding the ice was not fully installed by the staff till after 9 P.M, almost two hours after the scheduled game start. The staff could be seen installing safety railings among the seats as the crowd came in. And, some seats were not even installed yet. On one discussion board, a fan said they found the fasteners where their seat would soon be installed. Another fan said their seat locations were inside the penalty boxes, meaning the staff hadn’t planned on the needs of the off-ice officials.

Upper bowl concession stands were not opened during the two hour delay. Women complained of dirty bathrooms prior to the regulation start. Did I mention the staff put a football movie on, to appease the hockey fans?

Technically, this train wreck is a cluster fuck. And you just don’t see many cluster fuck train wrecks and survive.

The nice thing about such disasters is there is no where to go but up. And, prices for seats were higher than for Chicago Wolves and Rockford Ice Hogs tickets, and the seats in the upper bowl were further from the ice.

From what I’ve read of the economics of UHL teams, the Hounds will need to attract about 3,000 fans each game. They didn’t get that on opening night. It is going to be difficult to attract many of the families back after this fiasco.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Scouting the Omaha Knights

The Chicago Wolves defeated the Houston Aeros Wednesday night 4-2 in Houston, continuing their undefeated status on the road. The game marks the Wolves fifth on road win this season. In addition, Wolves Darren Haydar and Jason Krog have points in every game played by the Wolves this season and top the AHL in scorers with seventeen points each. Both notched assists in the Houston game.

Michael Garnett made 21 saves in the game. Fred Brathwaite has been seen with a cast on and is not expected to play to night when the team takes on the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights. Rockford Ice Hogs goalie Frederick Cloutier was released as the ECHL affiliated Gwinnett Gladiators sent the Wolves David Caruso. Cloutier was the first United Hockey League player to be sent up to the AHL.

The Omaha game could mark the first road loss for the Wolves. Omaha is hot, having won seven games in a row, only losing the first game of the season in overtime. The Knights, an affiliate of the Calgary Flames, have returned to the ice with essentially the same crew as last season. A new addition is Dustin Boyd. The rookie is lighting with 13 points this season. Goalies Brent Krahn and Curtis McElhinney are splitting goal duties and each is looking good, with a solid defense in front.

Two other games to look at this weekend, one is happening in Chicago at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates. The Chicago Hounds of the UHL take to the ice for the first time on Friday night against the Flint Generals.

The other game, the one I would travel to see this weekend, the Manitoba Moose versus the Grand Rapids Griffins in Van Andel Arena of Grand Rapids. The last time these two teams met was in the Northern Division Playoffs of last season. In the final game, the Moose started backup goalie Bryan Helmer after a groin injury to Wade Flaherty. At the end of the second period Helmer missed a save, leaving the score 4-1. The Moose were only able to put one shot on goal in the final period, but allowed four unanswered goals, losing the game 5-4. It was the biggest meltdown of the previous season and a real heart breaker for Moose fans.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Final seconds, Iowa ties, then wins in OT

With just four seconds remaining in the third period, Iowa scored a tying goal, setting up a game-winning goal in overtime, to defeat the Chicago Wolves 5-4 Saturday. The goals were set-up by a penalty by defenseman Braydon Coburn who is on a conditioning assignment from the Atlanta Thrashers.

Sidelined earlier in the season by an injury, last night Coburn seemed too shy-away from physically challenging his man. In the first period Coburn took two penalties, a hooking and a tripping penalty, that may indicate he wasn’t physically up to the task of playing. However, with forty seconds remaining in the game, and the Iowa team already emptying their net to put another man in Michael Garnett’s face, Coburn was outmaneuvered and grappled his man, dragging him to the ice.

Coburn was given a two-minute penalty. With six men, Iowa seemed to buzz Garnett, finally shooting the puck in with just seconds left on a rebound bounce to Chris Conner. Sometimes one shot or check is enough to turn the game. With the oxygen disappearing fast in the Allstate Arena, Iowa scored the game-winning goal 1.06 into the overtime.

While credit wasn’t given to Michael Garnett, he stopped 26 shots and may have looked as good as at any point so far this season. Iowa broke a small losing streak, although the result does give one point to the Wolves.

The official attendance at the Wolves game was 6432. Blackhawks attendance, same night, 13580. Ex-Wolf, Karl Stewart played more than 15 minutes in a Blackhawk uniform against the Anaheim Ducks, earning a –1 for the night, but also a nice quote in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Atlanta had initially traded Stewart to the Anaheim organization, this summer. Seeing as how his most serious injury was at the hands of the AHL Cinncinnati Mighty Ducks during the lockout year, and included an uncalled strike by Duck goalie Ilya Gryzgalov on an unconscious Stewart, the chemistry was always suspect. Gryzgalov shutout the Hawks in one of the few televised homegames.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


The post on the Iowa Stars says the Wolves never won a game against Iowa. Iowa definitely had the Wolves number in the previous season, however, the AHL guide and record book says there were two contests that Iowa lost in overtime. But, there were eight other victories for the Stars. Sorry for the error.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Iowa Stars scouted

The Iowa Stars travel to Chicago Saturday to take on the Wolves Saturday. Coach Dave Allison returns again to coach the team. The experienced Allison has seen time in Grand Rapids and Milwaukee prior to coaching the Stars. Plus three of the big hitters from last season are returning again, Junior Lessard with 58 points, Loui Eriksson with 60 and Toby Petersen with 73. So, in general, we could say that an Iowa team that got into the playoffs last year is returning with much the same team this year, except it appears there may be even more muscle to deal with. That includes Marty Sertich, a rookie who scored 64 points last season at Colorado College and Marty Wilford, a veteran defense man from the Manchester Monarchs who posted 41 points last season.

New to the league are Joel Lundqvist from the Swedish Elite League; Dan Hacker, up from the ECHL Idaho Steelheads; Mark Fistric and John Lammers, both up from the WHL; and Tobias Stephan in goal, a 2nd round draft pick in 2002.

Mike Green is returning to the North American ice after two years in the German Elite League where he breathed new life into his career. However, he was most recently playing in the AHL for the Rampage in 2004 when he scored 23 points in 45 games.

Michael Smith’s presence in goal will be missed by this team, though Dan Ellis with a .911 save percentage and 2.78 goals against average, spent 34 games in the net for the Stars last year.

The Stars had the Wolves number last year. The Wolves won only two games, both in over time. (Originally, this sentence said the Wolves never won a game against the Stars.) The same group is back, with more experience. If the Wolves are going to show they’ve changed, they can start by winning against these guys for once. The Stars enter the contest fresh off an over-time loss to the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights on Thursday. The loss snapped a six game win streak for the Stars, who are 6-1-0-0 for the season and dropped to second place behind Omaha.

The Wolves enter the arena fresh from their first home game victory over the Philadelphia Phantoms on Thursday. They are 5-3 for the year.

The on ice contest on Saturday is masking another: the battle of attendance. This is the first of several dates this season when the Wolves and the Chicago Blackhawks go head to head for the hockey dollar in Chicago. Although the Wolves have not beaten the Blackhawks in season attendance, they often beat them in the head to head competition.

Former Wolf Karl Stewart was picked up on waivers by the Blackhawks from the Pittsburgh Penguins this week. Stewart played with the Wolves for three seasons out of the minors and has played 16 games in the NHL. Although you can still find lots of Wolves fans in Stewart jerseys at the Allstate, one thing you won’t find is a mention of the Chicago Wolves in the Chicago Blackhawk press release about Stewart.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

First Home Victory

The Chicago Wolves put a home victory on the board last night, their first of the season. The 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Phantoms brings the Wolves to a 5-3 record in the Western Division of the AHL. The Phantoms scored first, on a power play goal by David Printz at 17.03 in the first period. The Wolves responded 20 seconds later with a goal by Chicago native Stephen Baby, ending the first period tied 1-1.

In the second period Braydon Coburn a first round Atlanta Thrasher draft pick, notched a power play goal at 14.07. He was assisted by Darren Haydar and Brent Sterling. Haydar now has points in each of the eight matches played this season, the longest streak going in the AHL.

Derek MacKenzie scored the final Chicago goal in the third period at 5.59, followed by a Phantom power play goal by Mark Cullen at 10.17. Philadelphia put 14 shots on goal in the final period but was unable to get past Chicago goalie Michael Garnett.

Garnett, who I described going in as having a cold hand, was assisted by much better defense in the game. Plus, he just looked better too, putting aside a season high 34 of 36 shots. The penalty kill unit did not do very well, letting two go in on six attempts, while the power play was one for seven attempts.

It was a Philadelphia game and a good fight or two comes with the turf. Wolf Boris Valabik and Phantom Frederik Cabana spent five in the sin bin for a pretty good bout in the middle of the first period, followed less than a minute later by a handbag fight between Wolf Joey Crabb and Melrose Park native Gino Pissellini.

Although Valabik and Cabana were mouthing off to each other for their five minute sin bin sits, the last fight of the night was a third frame bout between Wolf Guillaume Desbiens and Phantom David Printz. Desbiens did a spectacular check on a Phantom, leading Printz to charge in to defend his teammate.

Chicago, now 1-3 at home, faces Iowa on Saturday night at the Allstate. The team then starts its annual November "circus" road trip. This year it will be six games in three weeks.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Scouting Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Phantoms come to the Allstate Arena with the top spot rotating. The story so far, Ken Hitchcock, the Philadelphia Flyers head coach was fired on Sunday. Elevated to his position was John Stevens, his assistant. Stevens had been the Philadelphia Phantoms head coach till this year. When he left the Phantoms, he elevated Craig Berube to be Phantoms head coach. But now, as head coach of the Flyers, he called on Berube, again, to be his assistant.

Kjell Samuelsson, the assistant coach of the Phantoms for six years, was promoted to the job of head coach when Craig Berube was elevated. Berube had occupied the post only since the start of the season.

In addition to turmoil at the top, the Phantoms ended last season with a losing record. Although the Phantoms had won the 2004 Calder Cup Championship against the Chicago Wolves, most of their key players, such as Antero Niittymaki and Jeff Carter, were now playing in the NHL.

Obviously, the Phantoms are close to the Flyers, which is underscored too by their use of the Wachovia Spectrum, the old Flyers home, which is across the street from the Flyers new home.

Meeting the Chicago Wolves for an early season inter-division game, the Phantoms are on a four game road trip. They dropped two games in Norfolk, Virginia against the Chicago Blackhawk affiliates, the Admirals over the weekend. From Chicago they finish the trip in Grand Rapids this weekend before a Sunday game in Philadelphia.

The bottom line is that the Wolves have a good chance to take one at home against a team that is changing the color of the corner office and was already struggling with the results of the last season.

Samuelsson coaches a team that is 3-2-1-0 for the year. Veteran Marty Murray with eight points and former Blackhawk Mark Cullen with six points are leading the team offensively. Second-year goalie Martin Houle holds the pipes with the assistance of rookie Rejean Beauchemin.

The Wolves enter the contest with an 0-3 record at home. Goalie Fred Braithwaite was off with a suspected hand injury and Rockford Ice Hogs goalie Frederic Cloutier is on a day-to-day call up. Michael Garnett, who played in Atlanta part of last season and had a nine game win streak in the late AHL season with the Wolves has had a cold hand in the net so far this year.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Third home loss powered by 4 goal Jaffray hat trick

Last season there were 90 hat tricks during the AHL season. Only ten were in excess of three goals. The Chicago Wolves had the dubious honor of hosting a Manitoba Moose player on his night. Jason Jaffray kept the Moose in the game with the Wolves last night, and scored four of the team’s seven goals on their way to creating the Wolves third straight home loss this season.

The Wolves led the game 4-2 heading into the third period, powered by two goals by Nathan Oystrick when Mike Brown found the back of the Wolves net bringing the score to 4-3. Less than 2 ½ minutes later Jaffray had his hat trick and the game was tied. Then the Moose scored twice on Penalty Kills, first with Mike Keane, then again with Jaffray. Lights out for the Wolves as an empty net goal put the final touch on a disastrous night.

While the Wolves Penalty Killing unit is ending 89.8 percent of opponents chances, they are only connecting on 14.3 percent of the Power Play and the defense, at least on home ice, is disappointing. Michael Garnett, who was in goal tonight, was forced to defend the net too many times as shown by the two short handed goals as well as the lead loss.

The Wolves face former Calder Cup rival the Philadelphia Phantoms on Thursday at the Allstate. The Wolves remain winless at home.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Scouting the Manitoba Moose

The 3-1 Chicago Wolves victory over the San Antonio Rampage on Friday sets the stage for the Wolves return to the Allstate Arena on Tuesday. The Manitoba Moose face the Wolves in the first inter-divisional game of the season. The Moose are old foes of the Wolves from the days of the International Hockey League and one of the I-six, one of the six surviving IHL teams to gain membership in the American Hockey League.

Manitoba has been mentioned by some people as a team that might someday be promoted to the NHL. Home to the old World Hockey Association Jets and tenants in the the MTS Centre, the front office of the Moose is considered one of the best, if not the best, in the AHL. If hockey is going to return to Canada’s smaller cities, Manitoba might be one of the first.

Matt McGrath, a Moose fan wrote me, "for the third consecutive season the Moose will have a new head coach, this time Scott Arniel. Arniel, the former Manitoba Moose and Winnipeg Jet spent the 05-06 season as an assistant coach to Lindy Ruff in Buffalo. The Moose are coming off their best campaign in their ten-year history, recording 100 points. Although a disappointing game seven loss to Grand Rapids in the Division Finals spoiled a great season." For Manitoba, the meltdown in game seven of last year’s North Division playoffs to Grand Rapids, was as great a disappointment to Moose fans as not making the playoffs were to the Chicago Wolves fans.

McGrath gloated about a stronger Moose team, "Manitoba looks to have a strong veteran presence upfront with the likes of Winnipeg native Lee Goren returning for a third season in the organization, Brad Moran was brought in from Switzerland, former Moose (01-04) speedster Brandon Reid and Tyler Bouck was resigned to a two-way deal. Add players like Jesse Schultz, who had a breakout season with 67 points last season while leading the Moose in scoring and Jason Jaffray. Moran is returning to North America in the hopes of working his way up again, after a rough season with Langnau in the Swiss league which saw him play just 18 games due to a shoulder injury. The British Columbia native is a proven sniper having recorded 72 points in 80 games with the Crunch during the 04-05 season. The 99-00 Western Hockey League player of the year had a very successful junior career with the Calgary Hitmen, improving his point totals each season. Reid, has spent the past two seasons in Europe. Last season he finished third in scoring with Rapperswil in the Swiss league with 34 points in 44 games. Former first round pick Nathan Smith will be back for a fifth season, the centre had a solid start to the 05-06 campaign recording 9 points in 20 games while showing a lot of poise for a breakout season we had all been waiting for before going down with a season ending injury. Rick Rypien, a fan favorite should also spend time in Manitoba, the scrappy Coleman, Alberta native made his NHL debut with the Canucks last season.

"Manitoba’s defense will have a new feel to it and should be improved from a year ago. Led by veteran Joe Rullier, a tough physical player who has spent the past six seasons patrolling bluelines in the AHL with Lowell, Manchester and Hartford. Maxime Fortunus, Prestin Ryan and Nathan McIver will all return for their second season with the Moose. While free agent signings Nick Kuiper and Reagon Rome look to be solid pick-ups. Rome, from Nesbitt, Manitoba, split last season between Manchester where he recorded 4 assists in 13 games and Reading (ECHL) where he recorded 30 points in 49 games while also the team captain. Kuiper, a solid-stay-at-home defenseman will enter his third season of pro hockey having spent the past two with the Norfolk Admirals. The UMass-Amherst graduate has played 143 games recording 5 goals and 17 points with Norfolk."

The Moose are 2-4 this season. They are on a two game road trip, having lost 2-0 to the Milwaukee Admirals on Friday. The Wolves return from a two game Texas road trip sweep of the San Antonio Rampage. The Wolves have lost all their home games so far this year. They are 4-2 this season.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Wolves stampede Rampage

Tyson Nash, a San Antonio Rampage winger, blamed the 6-1 stampede Wednesday night, won by the Chicago Wolves, on defense. In an interview with the San Antonio Express yesterday, he said the game would have been 15-1 if not for goaltenders Philippe Sauve and David LeNeveu. The Rampage had the material, he said, but couldn’t put together 60 or even 20 minutes of hockey.

Sauve and LeNeveu split duties in the loss, the third road victory for the Wolves. The Wolves now have a perfect season, they’ve won every road game and lost every home game (3-2). It does seem that if the guns get rolling, the Wolves win. And they can’t seem to get things going, yet, at home.

Fred Brathwaite did a great job between the pipes for the Wolves, putting aside 25 of 26 Rampage shots on goal. In addition, the line of Darren Haydar and Steve Martins was on the ice for three of the Chicago goals, with another goal by Haydar on a line with Derek MacKenzie, Kevin Doell, Nathan Oystrick and Jimmy Sharrow.

Haydar and Jason Krog are currently number two and four in the AHL for top scorers with nine points each. The two Wolves previously played together on the University of New Hampshire Wildcats for one season, 1998-99.

The Wolves play the Rampage again tonight. They have six points in five games played, behind the Iowa Stars with eight points and four games, and the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights and Peoria Rivermen with seven points. They return home for a rare Tuesday night game against the Manitoba Moose.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Scouting San Antonio-- more of the same

Last year the key question I had about the San Antonio Rampage was what is the Gretzky touch. The Rampage, then, and their NHL affiliate, were broadcasting the connection to the great one. Yet what I saw on the ice was a lot of players from the Utah Grizzlies moved to Texas. The Grizzlies hadn’t done well in the lockout year and yet the San Antonio team was stocked with them.

It’s a year later and by all accounts a very large yacht payment has been invested into the Rampage. No one is expecting a repeat of the terrible season they had last year. Last place in the AHL and a record low 153 goals in the season.

Will money turn the league rug into something to respect? I have to wonder. Change is happening from the bottom in San Antonio. I’m not talking about the Zamboni guy, but the players. The top three people, Laurence Gilman, the GM and coaches Pat Conacher and Gord Dineen are unchanged from 2004. They still have to have one winning season.

The roster has changed a lot. Ten players remain from last year, which is about the same as many teams. However there has been some power added. Don MacLean, who played on the Grand Rapid Griffins last season and had 32 points.

Ryan Garlock had 20 goals in the Ontario Hockey League last season. Bill Thomas out of the University of Nebraska- Omaha had 27 goals in his last season. Kyle Wilson, out of Colgate University, had 23 goals last season. Oliver Latendresse, up from the Quebec juniors, had 41 goals last season. That’s just about the entire front line. I’m not real impressed.

The D has Matt Jones, a native of Downers Grove is returning. Travis Roche, a former Wolf, Bryan Helmer and Nick Martens, former Grand Rapid Griffins, and Logan Stephenson, up from the Western Hockey League juniors, are new to the defense. The addition of the experienced players from the Griffins and Chicago help.

Finally, in the nets, the team has returned David LeNeveu. The stats for anyone from San Antonio are startling. So let’s say we don’t know how he’ll do. I always considered Karl Goehring the best goalie on the team last year and he’s in Milwaukee now. Joining LeNeveu between the pipes is Philippe Sauve. I guess he’s a bit of a mystery too. Like LeNeveu, Sauve played last year—13 games in with the Calgary Flames and the Phoenix Coyotes during which he let in 39 goals.

The owners of the Rampage also own the National Basketball San Antonio Spurs. They hope to create a sports community, much like the Brewers owners hope to do with the Milwaukee Admirals. It doesn’t seem to be working in Milwaukee and to date it’s not happening in San Antonio either.

I think the addition of some money will help, but change has to occur at the top. I’ve read some assessments saying the Rampage will be at the top of the league at year end. I don’t see it.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Admirals home and home game 2

I feel like a puck bunny. Hippitty Hop to see Alexander Radulov tonight at the Allstate. Radulov is the Milwaukee Admirals new sensation, a Russian who played in the Quebec minors last year and is already shaking up the AHL after just two games.

People must have felt like this about Gretzky, Ovechkin and Hull.

Not only has this wonderkind been on the ice for every goal scored by Milwaukee this year, he scored two of them himself and assisted in all of the other goals. And here is another factoid. Of the 14 goals scored against Milwaukee so far, Radulov has only been on the ice for two goals against Milwaukee.

It is almost as if his very presence is stopping the goals, though it must be something he is doing on the ice. This is one dangerous player.

The Ads have him on a line with Rich Peverly and John Vigilante.

Memorize his baby face and number 22 Chicago. We’re going to be hearing his name a lot when we play the Ads.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Scouting Milwaukee Admirals

Claude Noel returns to steer the Milwaukee Admirals through another season after a Calder Cup run last year. Noel has earned the respect of Wolves fans for his ability to take young head-strong players and mold them into a winning team. Particularly in 2004 when he ran the team even though it had significant financial woes and a trustee management, Noel shows he can take rough material and win.

He is joined on the bench this year by assistant coach Lane Lambert, the former assistant coach of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Prior to Bridgeport, Lambert was the head coach of the Prince George Cougars, a team that posted a 26-41-3-2 record in 2004, and the Moosejaw Warriors, in 2003.

Noel takes the ice with a team decimated by departures. Of the top ten scorers from last year’s team, just three have returned, Rich Peverly, 46 points, Kevin Klein, 42 points and Sheldon Brookbank, 35 points. Joining them is Ramzi Abid, who scored 76 points last year with the Chicago Wolves at wing. Abid’s most memorable stat, however, is his 165 of penalty minutes, which I remember as occurring at the most inopportune times.

Alexander Radulov has been eagerly expected for months by Admirals fans. The Russian winger did not make the Calder Cup run last year and was just assigned to the Admirals by the Nashville Predators this week. Playing in the Quebec minor’s Remparts for the past two season, Radulov posted 75 points in the 2004 season and 152 points last season. That’s a doubling of production and pretty exciting.

Another newcomer is Kim Staal. No, he isn’t related to the famous hockey family, however he posted 21 points in 34 games in the Malmo team of the Swedish league.

The nets are in a bit of disarray. Unfortunately, Pekka Rinne was involved in a personal incident and suffered an injury over the summer. I believe he won’t return till late this calendar year. Rinne was simply excellent and his return will be eagerly awaited.

In the meantime Karl Goehring will be the Admirals final defender. Goehring played last season in San Antonio and so I’m reluctant to post his stats. He was a better goalie than the defense there.

Milwaukee enters the Bradley Center for their second game of the year at the Bradley Center after being spanked by the Omaha Knights 7-1 last weekend in their opener. Chicago is coming into the game after opening away 5-0 against Peoria.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Scouting Peoria Rivermen

The Saint Louis Blues may not have been the worst team in the NHL last year, they just did their best to be worst. It was a terrible thing to watch, as the former owners went on what could only have been a deliberate effort to beat the Chicago Blackhawks and every other team in the league to the bottom, showing good players the door and discouraging whatever effort was put forth.

Despite this, or perhaps because of it, many good players ended up on their AHL affiliate, the Peoria Rivermen, who gave a respectable showing for the first year in the conference and division. In fact, I’d expected them to beat the eventual Calder Cup contender Milwaukee Admirals in the playoffs.

This year is different. New owners in St. Louis mean a more focused team there, and it also means new people in Peoria. Starting at the top with head coach Dave Baseggio. Baseggio is already known in Chicago as he was former head coach of the Calder Cup contenders Bridgeport Sound Tigers, they fought the Wolves for the Calder in 2002, and lost. Still, to get that far is nothing to fart at. Baseggio’s Sound Tigers have been to the big game and we can expect a more active Blues organization to push the Rivermen harder too.

Chris Beckford-Tseu has come up from the Kelly Cup victor Alaska Aces to man the pipes, along with a Czech, Marek Schwarz. The Alaska Aces play on big ice and their final victory last year was over our affiliate, the Gwinett Gladiators. Beckford-Tseu has been as high as the Worcester Ice Cats, the pre-AHL Rivermen and also the ECHL level Rivermen. He also spent 16 games in the AHL last season. At the Aces he had a 1.87 GAA and .929 saves. I see him as being the main man as Marek spent the entire 2005 season with Sparta Praha in the Czech Republic. He posted .920 saves and .92 GAA.. Marek spent the 2004 season with the Vancouver Giants of the WHL.

I’m glad to see Rocky Thompson is one of the people returning to the Carver Arena. Thompson put up 247 Penalty minutes last season for the Rivermen, one goal and five points. Still there is a place in hockey for muscle.

Ryan McMurchy is up from the University of Wisconsin where he put up eight goals and 25 points in 40 games last season. He is joined by Konstanin Zakarov, who is up from the Alaska Aces and Mike Glumac, who spent a good part of the 2005 season in St. Louis. Also another rookie winger, Michal Birner of the Czech Republic, who is just up from Saginaw in the OHL. He produced 31 goals and 85 points in 60 games last season. And the final rookie winger is Magnus Kahnberg, a Swede who played on Vastra Frolunda HC Indians in 2005, producing 33 points in 45 games. Out of this group, the only one I’ve seen before is Zakarov, who played a fine tournament in Traverse City about a month ago. He was among the standouts of the Blues squad.

I’ve always liked Charles Linglet, but apparently he has not been loved back. Most of the 2005 season he spent in Peoria, but he was also in Las Vegas for a while. Linglet’s contribution to the team last year was 21 points in 38 games. Another Rivermen player I liked was winger Peter Sejna. Sejna produced more than a point a game for the Rivermen in 2005, went up to the NHL for six games and is back on the ice for the Rivermen again this year. Even discounting his NHL contribution, 2005 was his best year. Once again, Sejna will be a key man to beat on the ice.

Moving on to the centers, Trent Whitfield is coming down from the Blues. He spent part of the 2005 season in Peoria, but starts here. While producing 53 points in 41 AHL games, he only produced 7 in 30 NHL games last year. His NHL career has probably peaked, but he is still very dangerous at this level. He is joined by Denis Pederson, who most recently played in Germany, but has more than 200 NHL games stretching back to 1996. Pederson was producing about .8 points per game in Germany, which has recently seen many of its NHL alumnae return to the US. Two other centers, Ryan Ramsay and Cam Keith, spent time last year on the Aces squad and return to the Rivermen.

D man Patrick Wellar spent most of the year in Alaska in 2005. Mike Stuart, who I believe is related to the Collin Stuart of the Wolves, is back on D. However, what I mainly see in the defense men is sophomore blue men, returning. If you thought the Rivermen had a solid defense last year, you’ll see more this year. The team finished the year with the fourth best PP, lets remember, technically tied for second place with the Admirals and the Aeros. And fifth among all teams for PK, technically tied with the Lowell Lock Monsters for fourth.

Keys to winning, discipline. The Wolves still face a team that can defend and has some good scorers. We need to stay out of the penalty box. Putting early pressure on the goalie can’t hurt either as neither has played with this defense line.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Scouting the Chicago Wolves

John Anderson is leading the Wolves into another season as head coach, disappointed by not making the post-season, Anderson and General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff have managed a large shake-up of the team. Marty Howe retired from the assistant position over the summer and was replaced by Muskegon Fury Head Coach Todd Nelson. Nelson led the Fury to Colonial Cup championships in 2004 and 2005 and late into the post-season of the 2006 season. Anderson too came up from the United Hockey League Quad City Mallards to the Wolves. It’s a tough league with a lot of undisciplined talent.

Out too are many fan favorites, including Ramzi Abid, Karl Stewart, Billy Tibbets, Kip Miller, Scott Barney, Bobbie Nardella… In fact of last year’s top-ten ranked scorers, only two, Kevin Doell and Mark Popovic, are returning. In are some faces Wolves fans should already be familiar with, including Darren Haydar who scored 92 points with the Milwaukee Admirals last season. Steve Martins of the Binghamton Senators, who scored 76 points last season. Martins played with the Wolves during their International Hockey League days. Jason Krog who played in Sweden and Switzerland last season, but has 175 NHL games and 52 NHL points. Brett Sterling who was a finalist for the last two years for the Hobey Baker award. Cory Larose, who put up 63 points for the 2004-5 Wolves. The Atlanta Thrashers also assigned Alex Bourett, the 16th overall pick in the 2005 NHL draft, and defenseman Boris Valabik, formerly of the Kitchener Rangers and the 10th pick in the 2004 NHL draft to the Wolves.

The Wolves blue line has had a tendency to wander off or not assist the PP. I’m looking forward to a better year as we’ll see Valabik there, as well as Jimmy Sharrow and Scott Lehman, standouts in the Traverse City tournament a month ago. I was disappointed with the showing of Nathan Oystrick at that tournament. However, it was pointed out to me that Oystick was recovering from mononucleosis at the time. Nevertheless, he pulled a lot of penalties due to lack of discipline. Troy Milam is coming up from Gwinett. I saw him in Toledo last spring on the Gladiator’s way to the Kelly Cup finals. He should be a real asset.

All-in-all, a better defence. Backing up this d-line are Michael Garnett and Dieter Kochan. Garnett had a pretty rough year last season. A bad start in Atlanta was finished well, but he was suddenly sent down to Chicago. He apparently had a chip on his shoulder and though initially welcomed by the fans, played poorly for several weeks. Suddenly, in mid-March, he changed his attitude and went on a winning streak that only petered out in the final few games of the season. From hero to dog to hero to dog to hero. If Garnett can hold it together, the Wolves will have a great season: Garnett has shown he can be a champion. However, if Garnett loses his composure, the season may turn into a wreck.
Kochan played with the Portland Pirates for 15 games last season, as well as a Russian team. In the long-run Atlanta is apparently going to send Fred Brathwaite when there is less chance of his being picked up on waivers.

This team has the potential to have one of the highest scoring lines in the league. Garnett should be able to defend the goal well while the new defense line looks more disciplined than the line from the previous season. If the Wolves can get out in front on goals, they should be able to defend their lead. PP and PK were not good last year. Most of the team’s hot heads: Stewart, Tibbets and Abid in particular, are gone, so team discipline should be better. Though the team had one of the best short handed stats in the league, that power (in Stewart and Tibbets) is now gone. Martins may have the speed and certainly has the skill of either of those players however. So the thrill of the sudden reversal is still there.

Overall, the division and the conference look tougher. The NHL salary cap has changed one thing, just about any team seems to have the potential to win the Stanley Cup at this point. The minor teams are also showing greater depth. Still, I see the Wolves entering the playoffs and making it to at least the second round.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Minor League Favorites














My edited posts

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