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Monday, January 23, 2006

Milwaukee on top heading into 2nd half

Houston continues to lead many pundits lists in the West. Completely wrong. Milwaukee is headed for the top here, which doesn’t mean that I have less respect for the Aeros, but that Milwaukee is just a better team. The facts are there if you look.

First, Milwaukee still has one game in hand and is just six points behind the Aeros. Plus, look at the games that brought the Aeros to the attention of these Eastern geniuses: until its win against Chicago on Sunday, the Aeros had played 14 games in a row in Texas, all but two at home.

It is not a feat to defeat San Antonio anywhere. I think the low scoring Rampage are god’s gift to the Chicago Wolves, saving them from the ignominy of a last place showing. Two wins for the Aeros there on New Years Eve and New Years Day. Only Grand Rapids and Iowa snapped the home game-winning streak. Plus, the Ads have not shown their faces in the Lone Star State yet this season. The only collision was a 6-1 drubbing of the Aeros in Milwaukee October 28.

More bad news is that recent loss to Grand Rapids. They’re one of the few worthy foes for the Aeros in a long time and the Aeros dropped the ball at home. More losses earlier in the season against Manitoba. I’ll admit that my analysis isn’t perfect here, Milwaukee has had a hard time getting traction against Grand Rapids this season too. Any Western opponent is going to expect to face either the Griffins or the Moose in post-season. So, a better Milwaukee probably spells an early golf outing for the West.

But, it is still some time before that is determined. At the moment, I’ll only say this to the Eastern pundits, wake up and look at the schedule.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Scouting the Providence Bruins

Providence is averaging a healthy 6,142 attendance. The P-Bruins are led by Scott Gordon. Gordon is in his second year at head coach. He has spent five years as a member of the coaching staff. The Bruins have been on a roll since December 4 when a 3-0 victory over Lowell lit a 10-4-0-2 run that will probably extend as the next team up is the River Rats.

Overall, they have 40 points in 35 games, and they look well positioned to take on the Wolf Pack and the Monarchs for second place in the Atlantic Division. The Power Play is working 16.8 percent of the time and is ranked 15th in the league, while the Penalty Kill is running at 87.1 percent, second in the league.

Tim Thomas is ranked 4th among AHL goalies. His 92.3 percent save percentage and GAA of 2.26 could cause him to be called up at any time. Jeremy Reich has a chance of making goon status as he is currently listed as having 100 penalty minutes. Close behind is Garret Stroshein with 85 points.

The top skaters are Eric Healey with 36 points, Nathan Robinson with 32, Tyler Redenbach with 27 and Ben Guite and Ben Walter with 22 points each.

Scouting the Springfield Falcons

Springfield is running uphill in the second half of the season. As I write this, the team has 34 points in 37 games and is winning just 45.4 percent of their games. The power play is just 15 percent, 20th in the league, the penalty kill is running at 82.6 percent or 16th in the league. Finally, they are being sent to the sin bin an average of 17.3 minutes per game, ranked 25th in the league in penalty minutes. Mitch Fritz has 97 penalty minutes this season, the only Falcon with a shot of being honored as a goon.

The Springfield Falcons average just 3,229 attendance, among the worst in the league. But with a poor record on ice, should you be surprised at poor attendance too? The team hasn’t had a streak of more than three games won this season. And most periods are like the current one, a six game losing streak. They play Hershey tomorrow. Their next best bet for ending this terrible streak is an away game against the B-Sens on Friday.

Jason Jaspers anchors the team with 35 points, joined by Ryan Vesce with 33 points. It’s a long way back to the next skater, Jim Campbell with 22 points. Affiliated with the well-known Johnstown Chiefs, the Falcons most recent trade was to acquire Ray Schultz from San Antonio. Development appears not to be a word known in Springfield. Dirk Graham, a former Blackhawk coach could be reason one. Yes, Virginia, there is life after you associate professionally with $Bill$ Wirtz: you end up coaching a nowhere team in Massachusetts.

Gerald Coleman is in the pipes, he has a 3.41 GAA and is stopping 88.9 percent of shots. There is hope here, if Tampa doesn’t grab him, he was on the London Knights last season, where he won 32 of 38 games. Coleman is an Evanston native.

Scouting the Bridgeport Sound Tigers

As I write this, Bridgeport is running at .500 with 39 points and 39 games under their belt. So at the halfway point in their season they need to step up to be guaranteed a spot in the post season. The Sound Tigers fought the Wolves for the Calder Cup in my first year as a season ticket holder. The championship series sold me on the sport, the championship game on becoming a season ticket holder. So, I have a special place in my heart for the Sound Tigers.

Attendance is running 3257 on average, which is among the bottom five of the AHL. They’ve won 6 of their last seven home games, including two against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. An extended home stand ends on the 14th when they play the Bingo Senators. During this home stand, when they played eight of nine games at home, they won seven games, taking them out of the depths of the division.

No Sound Tiger player is currently in triple digits for Pims. And the team ranks 24th in the league for penalty minutes. The Power Play is running at 14.1 percent, 21st among the AHL, while the Penalty Kill is running at 81.9, 22nd in the league. Rob Collins leads the team in scoring with 32 points, followed by Bruno Gervais with 27, Jeremy Colliton with 25, Sean Bergenheim with 24 and Matt Koalska with 21. Two former Wolves are in the line-up, Greg Naumenko and Paul Flache. Flache has been battling problems related to a concussion suffered earlier in the season.

Two pipemen have taken their turn for the Sound Tigers, Chris Madden, 3.05 GAA and stopping 90.7 percent of shots and Wade Dubielewicz, 3.12 GAA and 90.8 percent stops. Dave Baseggio was named head coach this year. He was the assistant coach of the Sound Tigers since 2001.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Scouting the Lowell Lock Monsters

I’m doing an occasional series on teams that the Wolves will not play. Today, the NHL sharks announced they’ll be moving their affiliation to Worcester, a town that was home to the Ice Cats last season, before they in turn became the Peoria Rivermen. The Rivermen themselves were an ECHL team that was once an IHL team… Have I bored you yet?

The Lowell Lock Monsters have always intrigued me. The name is so romantic for one thing. How could you not like a team with a name like that? Yet, they are another team that seems to have rumors about their continued play in Lowell. Lowell is outdrawing Cleveland (now officially dead) and the Omaha Knights, but that’s it. There are lots of ECHL teams that are doing better in the draw than Lowell. And with the Omaha Knights end predicted here (if I haven’t done so yet, there it is. They will move). I think it’s sad to see an end to Lowell also.

Lowell is currently at 33 points, staying above bottom thanks to the good people of Albany. The Power Play is running at 15.6 percent and the penalty kill at 86.4 percent. That PK is quite good, ranked fourth in the league. It seems that teams in this league have either a good PK or a good PP, but not both.

Tom Rowe has been the GM of the Monsters since they were formed in 1998. He was named coach two seasons ago. Last year he took them into the post season with a record of 47-27-1-5, a franchise best. I think people were surprised that the team was defeated in post season play by Providence. Keith Aucoin is widely respected in the AHL, he has 43 points. It’s a long drive to meet the next scorer, Brad Richardson with 17 points. Vitaly Kolesnik has a 91.5 save percentage and a GAA of 2.82.

Griffins update 01.13

Grand Rapids enters the second game of the Comcast Cup series with a 8-1-1-0 record in the last ten games. Chicago in fact broke a six game winning streak for the Griffins on December 30. The Griffins are in first place in their division at 55 points, with the Moose following them at 51 points.

League attendance is 9th for the Griffins. Joey MacDonald has replaced Drew MacIntyre. MacDonald has spent five seasons with the Griffins and will be very accustomed to seeing a Chicago team. His stats are 88 percent saves and a 3.67 GAA. Not too encouraging and I doubt he’ll see much more time in the big league, or even the AHL.

There’s not much to updates, as I wrote the indepth analysis just a few weeks ago. Darryl Bootland is now up to 185 Pims, from 164 previously. He ranks third in the league, behind Josh Gratton and Dennis Bonvie.

The Power play is running at a 22 percent clip, a close second in the league, while the kill is running 80.5 percent, which is near the bottom of the league.

Harry Dumas watch

Harry Dumas called his first games with the Chicago Wolves this year. Whatever happened or didn’t happen in the NHL, he’s back in the AHL, to our regret. In these two games, Billy Tibbetts acquired more penalty minutes than in the previous month, including two majors for fighting and a suspension for instigating in the last five minutes. List of Tibbets games

Tibbetts stepped up to dance with Krys Barch twice. These two must have some sort of history, perhaps Tibbetts killed Barch’s dog or Barch “borrowed” Tibbetts pick-up and forgot to return it. I'm sure it was something like that. In the first of the two incidents, Tibbetts received a two minute roughing, five minute fighting and a ten minute misconduct. Barch received five minutes for fighting.

In the second of the incidents, Tibbetts received two minutes slashing, two minutes instigating, five minutes fighting, ten minutes/game misconduct- instigating and was tossed from the game. He also received a one game suspension. Barch received five minutes for fighting. (A tip of the hat to Wolfkeeper for the stats). Interesting spread of penalties.

So, in two games with Dumas calling, we lost two. It should be interesting to watch. (Does your team have a history of Harry Dumas? Please, please send them to me).

1/6/06 Chi 1 at Oma 3 18 Pims ea. (8 Tibbetts)
1/7/05 IA 5 at Chi 1 29 Pims/ 57 Pims (36 Tibbetts)

Dumas has been associated with 30 AHL games so far this season. The only teams to not have the pleasure of his visit so far are San Antonio and Milwaukee. He has referred for six Hershey games, giving Hershey 9 points standings and 126 Pims. Bridgeport has hosted him five games, getting three points and 93 Pims. Albany has hosted him four games, has never won a point and leads the penalties with 191 Pims.

The zebras were busy the next night too. Brandon Pruist of the Omaha Knights received 32 minutes, plus a game misconduct for his dance with Braydon Coburn of the Wolves. Pruist, who is now 21, broke his stick on the way out of the arena, just inches from Lineman Stephen Campbell’s hand and Chicago Goalie Steve Shields. Fans could have been injured as well as the careers of these two people. Time to grow up Braydon. The game misconduct was for the pique of anger and I think we’ll see a suspension too.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Update Omaha playing on 01.06 and 01.08

The Omaha Knights enter the fray twice this weekend with the Wolves, first playing at home, then an away game against the Admirals before playing the Wolves again on Sunday at the Allstate. Holding the honor of the worst attendance in the AHL and among the worst in all the minors, you have to wonder how long this franchise has left. It will have played its 21st home game when the Wolves land on the Civic Auditorium, and I don’t expect we will see a 41st regular season game played there.

Despite the lack of support, the Knights are holding on to third place in the division. A scrum is developing in the division for the third and fourth playoff spots as there is only a five point difference between the Knights who, in third, have played 37 games and the Wolves, in sixth, with just 32 games. Last year, teams needed about 85 points to make it to the playoffs, or 43 points by the half, and the Knights look to be just short of that goal.

The team has dropped five of its last six games, perhaps in part due to a lengthy road trip. Their last two games in Chicago were victorious for the Knights, as they blasted Jani “the sieve” Hurme. Their top skaters remain Carsen Germyn with 30 points, 17 goals and +3 and d-man Mark Giordana with 29 points, 8 goals and –3. Brandon Prust is leading the team with 114 Pims, followed by Cam Severson with 110.

Curtis McElhinney is stopping 91.8 percent of shots and has a GAA of 2.3. Brent Krahn is stopping 91 percent of shots with a GAA of 2.67.

The power play is scoring 16 percent of the time, while the penalty kill is working 84.6 percent of the time, ranked sixth in the league. They are the only team in the division with a shootout win percent that is below the Wolves, it is working just 12 percent of the time.

Iowa update 01.07.06

The Iowa Stars had a great end of the year run of 11-2-1-1 in their last 15 games. They currently place just above the Wolves with 36 points in 33 games, a tie with Peoria for 4th place overall. A game in Milwaukee tonight sets up their event with Chicago on Saturday.

They are winning 75 percent of their shootouts and 62 percent of their overtime games. The power play is running a pathetic 12.8 percent, while the penalty kill is currently running at 82.4 percent. Mike Smith is stopping 92 percent of shots on goal and has a 2.38 GAA, ranked 8th among AHL goalies. Teamate Dan Ellis is stopping 92.1 percent of the shots and has a GAA of 2.57, He is ranked 12th in the league. Both have roughly 1,000 minutes of ice time, so either could be in goal.

Toby Petersen leads the team with 24 points, 9 goals and a +/- of +4. Rookie Vojtech Polak follows him with 19 points, 8 goals and a +/- of –1 and then rookie Yan Stastny with 18 points, 8 goals and a +/- of +1.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The world of hockey at year end 2005

Look, today, as soon as possible, at the following link. Better yet, in case it changes, here is a picture of the link. There at the bottom of the East Division, Eastern Conference is our old friend the Philadelphia Phantoms, better known to Chicago fans as the Phucs.

It must have been a wild year indeed for the two teams that fought for the Calder Cup last year to be near or at the bottom of their division. The time has come, I think, to take stock of this year, or at least of the last few months in this season.

Minor league fans expected many of their teams to change significantly as players moved to the NHL, however, the tightening of the rules on veterans has significantly effected the Wolves and I expect the same can be said for some other teams as well. (The Phantoms, the Senators, the Penguins?) Minor league fans may support a “development league,” but do we need to be reminded of this by having our vets move on to Europe or the ECHL or retirement? The top management of the AHL has a development league mentality. They support changes that hurt teams that are independent of and successful despite their NHL ties. For my money, I want a minor league team that is stable and successful despite what happens to the NHL affiliate. More on this in a minute.

My money is just as good if it is spent on minor league hockey or college sports or an annual trip to Vegas. The continued tightening of the vet rules are leaving me cold. It hurt this year hard. Not only did the better players move to the NHL, leaving many new faces on the ice, but some old faces are gone. It was bad timing. The Vet rules could have been relaxed this year. Last year was the best year ever in the AHL. Why? There was superior play led by veterans and NHL level players. But, the AHL wants to avoid a repitition of this. Their management apparently wants the good AHL player material to be young prospects. They are choosing to enforce rules limiting AHL teams from using too many vets. I grade this D.

The fact is, the enforcement of on-ice rules sucks. Our teams are all playing as if Harry Dumas were calling the game. It’s strict enforcement to the point where the game is being broken up and the flow interrupted. Harry Dumas calling every game? The games he officiates aren’t fun when they go your way. Relax some of the interference calls. Let’s keep it in perspective, would it have cost a shot on goal?

My solution in the AHL is to add another set of eyes on ice and relax some of the calls. First, statistically, when you have three people calling, versus four, the calls are most likely to be better balanced. Second, the officiating is missing some calls that should be called. This, in turn, leads to the calls for better officiating. And, finally, if the AHL is a development league for officials, as well as players, the league should be striving to reach the NHL level too. You’ll need to spend more money here Dave Andrews. C+

I have to support the rules changes otherwise. The game is more open and faster. It is more exciting to see a game that would be put away last year still have potential this year. No more clutching, holding, defensive playing hockey? A grade of B.

The shootout? Yuck! Count me as among those who hate it. I don’t want to go to a hockey game and spend 60 minutes of terror to have it end in a skills contest. Count this grade F. If the teams test themselves for that long and can’t determine the better set of men, it is a tie.

Changes to goalie equipment, goalie movement, etc. This set of rule changes is great. Unfortunately, there was a price to pay, many injuries among the goalies who were not in shape. But a hockey game is exciting to watch because of the rules changes. “How did he stop that?” is no longer an empty phrase. I was watching a game two or three nights ago and the goalie came out to the circle to freeze a puck. He got a penalty for interference. A+. Yes, great change.

There is one more change which the Shanahan think tank suggested during the lockout, one minute minor penalties during OT. Games shouldn’t be decided by officiating. We approach football if we let that occur. Here is a link to an article by sports writer Jamie Fitzpatrick on the Shanahan think tank.

The real question at this point isn’t what is the overall grade. The real question is what is the experience like versus the previous year? That’s how season ticket holders and other fans decide to spend their money. Is the experience better or worse? In general it is better. However, I dread the coming post season.

The Wolves, last year, were dogged by accusations of buying their way to the Calder Cup because of a deal that brought two players from the Florida Panthers, through San Antonio, to their roster: Steven Wiess and Jay Bouwmeester. The deal, which was cut in early March 2005, was priceless, Wiess and Boumeester played for the remainder of the season with the Wolves, their appearance started the development of the Black Aces squad at the Wolves. These Black Aces are players who had played for the Wolves, getting them to a point to compete for the Calder Cup, but were not allowed to play in the post season due to a limit of dressed skaters. (A link to an article on the Black Aces).

The Black Aces squad appears on any team that is competing in post season play. There is some discussion among some Wolves fans on the negative effect of the signing of Weiss and Boumeister on the 2005-6 team. You’ll need to read between the lines on the thread I’m linking to, Did you give up yet?, but the questioning of the Wolves organization is clearly there.

Now, the point of this five paragraph intro, where is the integrity of allowing players who have never played with the team in the regular season, or only played after the clear day roster, to play in the post season? If the Bouwmeester and Weiss deal was questioned and it occurred before the clear day roster announcement, what about the juniors who appear in post season or at the very end of the regular season? Help me understand that one, please? Once again, my money is just as good if it is spent on minor league hockey or college sports or an annual trip to Vegas. I want to see the same post season team on the ice as I’ve seen during the regular season. I want the winner of the Calder Cup to be the same team that brought them to post season play.

There is usually a Black Aces group on every team. That’s the team I want to see play, the one dressed and the one not, from regular season play. Not a team padded with last minutes PTOs and junior call ups. Development league, shlevelopment league. Calling up players to pad the roster is good for the team, and leaves a bad taste in the mouth of fans. Change the rules to stop it. If a player hasn’t played by the clear day roster deadline, they cannot play in the playoffs.