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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Ads advance to face Aeros

It wasn’t a beautiful win, but a win is a win and any Milwaukee Admirals fan must be relieved that history did not repeat. It was almost a year ago when an Admirals team lost to the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, after blowing a 3-0 series lead. Not only a long lead blown, but against a lower ranked opponent.

Not today. Iowa, called the younger team, the team with legs, came into the bench looking tired. They didn’t protect their goalie, and let the point go. Oh boy, there is just so much to criticize of a team that just wasn’t hungry to win, and may have lost the best chance they had today.

In short the game was Boring.

The Admirals on the other hand did what they had to, good d, took advantage of scoring chances and actually played as a team. They may have lost their goalie this weekend, but maybe help is on the way as the NHL team affiliate seems to be headed for the golf course. That could lead to the Nashville Predators sending Pekka Rinne back to the Admirals. Now, as we’ve sorted out within the last week, sending a player to the AHL from the NHL isn’t an immediate help. The infusion of Blues talent did not take the Rivermen to the next level of play. It takes a few days for the player to get back into the grind with the team.

But, as I write this piece, it appears Rinne will be headed back to Milwaukee. The other challenge for Milwaukee is that they’ve only developed one line. There isn’t really a second scoring line. That line, Darren Haydar, Simon Gamache and Greg Classen, are going to have to carry this team forward. I’ve already written about the NHL bug up Mr. Gamache’s rearend.

Haydar is a great player and a treasure. Will he be able to turn Gamache into a team player for these playoffs? Can he carry the load of team leader and overcome the Aeros?

Houston enters perhaps too rested from their sweep of the Rivermen. However, they have probably the best rookie in the AHL, Patrick O’Sullivan, plus a bench full of leading scorers. Their goalies aren’t as good as Rinne, but Houston has depended on offense to keep opponents unbalanced all season. Overall, the slight advantage Milwaukee has enjoyed all season is overshadowed by their problems in goal. Houston should win if they come out of the gate strong and take one or two of the first games in Milwaukee. As the series goes on, the balance will tip back to Milwaukee. Aeros to win in five.

The other series I can comment on is Grand Rapids v. Manitoba. Man, I love the Moose, but Grand Rapids is firing on all eight cyclinders. It is just tough to see any team take them till they meet their final Calder Cup opponents. The Moose are beaten up from the series in Syracuse. The Grifs are together. Grifs to win in five.

I’ll try predicting again for the East, (where is that crystal ball?) in the next day or two. But, really exciting hockey coming up in Hershey and Wilkes-Barre, while the Pirates blow away the Wolfpack.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Rivermen receive the broom

More brooms out, this time Houston sweeping the St. Louis Rivermen. It was a final result many people expected, not me. The ole’ crystal ball must have been cracked. The Rivermen, opps, did I say St. Louis? The Peoria Rivermen came into the series with a load of talent from St. Louis and some mojo while the Aeros have been drinking from the swag of San Antonio all season, and still sucking. In the one game I saw between the two teams, I saw the Aeros handed their head.

Well, that wasn’t good enough. Even with Patrick O’Sullivan not stepping up as much as he did in the regular season, the Aeros drowned the Peoria team, two overtime wins in Houston, then a decisive 6-1 win in Peoria Monday and another close game, 5-3 Wednesday.

Nevertheless, an exciting season for the former Worcester Ice Dogs. Welcome to the AHL, Peoria.

On the other side of the West the Iowa Stars are fighting it out with the Milwaukee Admirals, hoping to take the Admirals to a seventh game in the Bradley Center. Iowa hasn’t always played 60 minutes of hockey, as is obvious in the blog by Lisa Colonno. Yet, it has used its younger legs to keep the more experienced Admirals from dominating the game.

Special teams and excellent goal keeping by Michael Smith have also played a part in this series. But clearly, the Big Mo’ Iowa was hoping would propel it past Milwaukee, is sputtering. This is another series where I’d expected an upset, based on the momentum of Iowa and it’s youth versus the callups Milwaukee suffered. Assuming Nashville is knocked out of the finals, Milwaukee will get the curse of the NHL players inflicted on it in an Aeros series. Will that be good or bad?

I’ve got Crunch v. Moose notes about bad officiating, nasty physical play, even radio and broadcasters are getting it on in this series, according to journalist and blogger Lindsay Krammer. Where did the rivalry between these two cities hit such a low that local radio broadcasters are after each other?

Here is the quote: “Syracuse is a barren outpost of the American Hockey League.” Which, by the way, is remarkably similar to the feelings of my wife who says “Syracuse is a dark, dark hole. The part of New York that Bingo looks down on.” Yikes! And yes, the former Amerks fan was trash talking hockey.

Here’s something else from the web log by Lindsay Krammer of the Syracuse Post-Standard: “We have to make his (Crunch goalie Pascal Leclaire’s) life a little more challenging in there… we might have bumped their goaltender a little bit, but they’ve taken it to another dimension… Goaltenders aren’t open targets to be hit.”

Responded Syracuse coach Gary Agnew, “It’s up to the referee to protect the goalie. Having said that, you have to be smart about what you’re doing…”

And later in the same blog: "After just two games, this series has turned ugly… Syracuse forward Mark Hartigan was pretty ticked at Moose… Prestin Ryan after… a play where (Moose) Sven Butenschon face-washed Hartigan to the ice. While Hartigan was lying flat on his stomach, Ryan skated at him with his blades headed toward Hartigan’s face. Hartigan moved just in time to take the hit on his helmet instead. ‘It was gutless,’ Hartigan said.”

Can you feel the love? I’m disappointed that it seems Manitoba fans have replaced Skates for Al the Ice Monkey (the finest mayoral candidate Syracuse has ever fielded) for numero uno on the hate list. All of which gives me the excuse to run that picture of Al here again.

The Marlies have had to switch venues to the home of the iced Toronto Maple Leaves following power problems at their home arena. The power went out, leaving fans stranded in the parking lot while players were kept in their locker rooms. That could have led to an interesting headline: “A Switch: Fans locked out; players in the dark.” Sort of a play on last year’s NHL season, if you get it.

And finally, can you believe it? The Penguins are struggling with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, behind 3-2 in the series? I’d hoped, since it became obvious the Wolves weren’t going to do it, to see the baby Pens die in a Grand Rapids final. Now, I may never see them on this side of the Hudson this year. So sad. I may have to replace my cheap MS Paint avatar.

Game play here, according to the Wilkes-Barre fan Jason is marked by poor Penguin coaching decisions and bad officiating. He sums up the series so far: “The Sound Tigers were simply the better team. They out hustled, out hit, and out worked the Penguins. They played disciplined when they had to, and attacked the net very well.”

That’s a sentiment I suspect Mark Fornabaio of the Connecticut Post agrees with. The journalist and blogger sums up the games: “Bridgeport was happy with the chances it got, just wished it could have done more with them… The Penguins blocked a ton of shots. The Sound Tigers seemed to shoot some times they could have passed, passed a lot more times they could have shot...”

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

NHL no help?

Golf dates for the Norfolk Admirals are already being set. The Virginia Mads went down big, 4-0, to the Hershey Bears. Tom Robinson in the Hampton Roads Pilot newspaper tells how the team spent Saturday night nursing “the chipped tooth, the swollen lip and the gashed eyebrow of the best player, bathed in white light as he receives stitches in the trainer's room.
It's the collective, vacant stare of half-dressed athletes in their hushed dressing quarters, listening to hope slip-slide away.”

Perhaps the hopes slide away with the arrival of “the Chicago Seven,” seven Blackhawks who were sent down as the NHL season ended. Tris Wykes, also of the Hampton Roads Pilot asked whether seven players suddenly added to the roster could have an ill effect on the Admirals playoff chances, “Will the fatigue and chaos of playing two games in two leagues in two time zones within two days be too much?” I guess it was.

Wykes also managed to get a player to publicly address an issue I’ve thought about, the bitterness you feel from some NHL players about playing in the AHL. “Hopefully they’re not bitter at getting sent down,” Admiral Center Eric Meloche said.

While Winger Carl Corazzini said, “it’s a bad situation.”

Another team that isn’t helping its affiliate is the St. Louis Blues. The team, sometimes called the St. Louis Rivermen during the year, sent players up river to Peoria where that team is struggling to overcome the Houston Aeros.

Only five players were sent by St. Louis, perhaps the reason the Rivermen are surviving in the playoffs longer than the Admirals. Yet they too are suffering. The Peoria Journal Star’s Dave Eminian asking why a player can’t step up to make a difference. With all the NHL talent on the Rivermen I had expected the Aeros to be fighting for their lives right now. The series would have been different, of course, if for a bad bounce or two, as described by Kirk Wessler in a description of one of the Aeros two overtime home ice wins.

Another team that expected problems integrating NHL players into the lineup was the Wilkes-Barre/ Scranton Penguins. Although Marc Andre Fleury is perhaps the best goalie in the AHL or the NHL this season, he too plays for a team that is not in the playoffs. The Pittsburgh Penguins make no beefs about letting the chips fall where they may in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Q and A with Dave Molinari, “the reality is that farm teams exist for the benefit of the parent club, and the top priority for the Penguins during the Calder Cup playoffs should be to get Fleury as much playing time—and, ideally, success, as possible.”

Ouch! Baby Penguins fans. You’re just cannon fodder. As they say, you can love a sports team, but they’ll never love you back.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Comment from Heckler's Grove

Hiya Patrick,

Thanks for emailing me - it's always good to converse with another
hockey fan - especially from Chicago where I've had some great
experiences. :)

Go ahead and keep the quote from Heckler's Grove. I would appreciate it if you'd provide a link though. Thanks. Click inside the preceding hyper link to visit Heckler's Grove, or see the sidebar. Thanks

And I'd be glad to comment on the current situation:

The resurrection of US Bank Arena's dormant ECHL franchise is no real surprise. The RailRaiders were able to secure a large number of full season ticket deposits - somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,660 by the end of the drive. This is more full season ticket holders than any Cincinnati hockey team since the WHA Stingers. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough for the financial people who hold the Cincinnati AHL franchise to move forward, but that number seams to have piqued the interest of the Nederlanders.

I think the people running "Cyclones IV" believe the typical Cincinnati hockey consumer either doesn't know or won't care whether they're watching the AHL or the CHL, or that the experience at US Bank Arena will be that much better than what was offered at Cincinnati Gardens, even though the American Hockey League is clearly a superior product. In my opinion, this is a huge miscalculation.

Since Cincinnati moved from the ECHL to the International Hockey League in 1992, Cincinnati hockey fans have been watching future NHL players and highly skilled teams from Chicago, Orlando, Grand Rapids, and Cleveland (all IHL cities at the time). For the period of time where the Ducks and Cyclones were playing at the same time, you can include teams from Louisville, Lexington, Hershey, and Philadelphi (all AHL cities at the time). Cincinnati's fan base became split, but were still watching future NHL stars no matter what team they followed or what arena they attended. When the International Hockey League folded and the ECHL was brought in to fill the void at US Bank Arena, the Cyclones fans held out - at first. However, many realized that the ECHL's product was much different - sloppier and slower - and some either came to watch the AHL at the Gardens, or stopped going altogether.

After talking with many Cincinnati hockey fans over the past 6 months, it has become evident that most have become accustom to the speed, grace and agility that is the American Hockey League.

Cincinnati's fans have become used to seeing players like Lupul, Kunitz, Cole, CheeChoo, Kronwall - players that are tearing up the NHL record books - and they don't want to settle for less. Many people putting down deposits for the RailRaiders wanted to make sure they were buying a ticket to the American Hockey League, and they weren't going to spend that kind of money for a lesser product. Unfortunately, that's exactly what "Cyclones IV" are offering Cincinnati's hockey fans - less of a product for more money.

There is one more thing that has twisted this market. The RailRaiders fell 340 Full Season Tickets short of the goal. On average, a single person will purchase 2.3 tickets, so approximately 160 people could have made the difference. I believe there were enough people who either didn't want to attend games at Cincinnati Gardens, didn't like the RailRaiders ownership group, believed in the many lies and exaggerations that have been perpetuated over the years when Cincinnati had 2 teams, etc. The fact that the fan base remained divided and couldn't get over whatever issue one might have had was the net cause the RailRaiders ticket campaign fell short.

However, those same people expect those of us who have given our heart and soul to the AHL effort to simply turn the other cheek and support the ECHL. For some, that's simply not going to happen, so Cincinnati's fan base will remain split. The owners of the Gardens still own an AHL Franchise, but it's likely the return of the ECHL in this market will block the possibility of the AHL taking the ice for 2007- 8, and they'll end up selling the franchise instead of finding another way to make it work. If the ECHL fails to get the support it will need to remain viable - and I believe that would require 4,000 + paid tickets a game on average - I can't see the Nederlanders throwing millions away every year on this experiment. I don't believe the Nederlanders understand the Cincinnati hockey market or how savvy most Cincinnati hockey fans are. I also believe another failure of professional hockey in Cincinnati could jeopardize a quality product from returning to Cincinnati for more than a decade - if ever.

It's just another chapter in the sick and crazy world of Cincinnati professional ice hockey.

Best regards,

Jim Questa from Heckler's Grove

Cincinnati minor league hockey

Take a look through the blog and you'll find hints of the love-hate relationship I've had as a Wolves fan with Cincinnati hockey. In 2005 I was the person to spread bags of yellow feathers around the Allstate Arena to celebrate the final game of the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks.

Throughout the spring the Robinson family, owners of the AHL franchise in Cincinnati, have been leading a campaign to bring the AHL back. Early on they declared they needed 2000 deposits of $25 each for 2006-7 season tickets. In early March they warned that they hadn't received that level of committment yet and launched a final push.

On April 4 they ended the campaign in failure, about 400 short of the goal.

The anger of the Cincinnati fans was understandable and is best expressed in this post by the owner of the noted hockey web site Heckler's Grove:

Support Not There For AHL / RailRaiders

Well folks, after over 6 months and countless pleas by the RailRaiders staff, fans and other concerned groups such as the Greater Cincinnati Blueliners Club, Cincinnati hockey fans have failed to respond in numbers sufficient enough to allow the franchise to move forward. As a result, RailRaiders President and CEO has announced that the RailRaiders AHL franchise is to be sold and the AHL will leave Cincinnati for good.

The RailRaiders have reached the bridge, and the tracks were taken out by the apathetic fans who either wanted to wait until they knew who the affiliate was, who wanted to see a schedule, who wouldn't support something that wasn't "major league", who thought the 2,000 deposit number was a "marketing ploy", or who simply refused to support hockey at Cincinnati Gardens. A simple $25.00 fully refundable deposit was all that was required - absolutely no risk - but enough so-called "hard core hockey fans" refused to do it and the goal was never reached. Many of you will never know how close the number actually was, but I personally believe that the group of people I mentioned above would have been enough to push the RailRaiders over the top so they could play in October of 2006.

Some "marketing ploy", eh?

Instead, Cincinnati will never see the American Hockey League again. And if you think for one minute the NHL will come to Cincinnati any time soon, then I want some of the drugs your on so the pain I feel in my gut and in my heart right now can be dulled for just a little while.

There are going to be a ton of questions by fans, especially from those of us who put down our money early in the campaign. I'll do my best here to explain the reasoning why the franchise couldn't move forward with fewer than the propertied "2,000 deposits" that were requested since October 20th of 2005.

At the end of the day, financial stability was what the RailRaiders needed to achieve. The "2,000 Full Season Ticket" number was an easy way for fans to grasp the need for approximately $1.0 million dollars of guaranteed revenue. If you divide $1.0 Mil by the average season ticket price, you'll discover a number somewhat close to 2,000, and that's a number that is easier for the average consumer to understand.

Financial advisors set that goal to make sure the franchise had a chance to keep losses at a reasonable pace. Believe it or not, the goal in most sports franchises is not to make money, but to not lose much money. So, until the financial goal was reached (in the name of 2,000 FST's), the accountants would not let the franchise secure an affiliation, and at the end of the day there wasn't enough community support early enough to get it done.

If the goal would have been reached by March 1st or earlier, the RailRaiders would have had anywhere from 3 to 5 different affiliate options from which to choose. As the campaign dragged on into March, fewer and fewer options were available until - finally - no more options were left. But it's important to note that the sole reason why a deal couldn't be struck was the deposit level never reached the threshold of $1.0 Mil by the time affiliations options dried up.

The amount of new business generated by the RailRaiders sales staff was approximately 60% of the received deposits. That statistic shows how successful the franchise was at getting the word out and engaging the general public. The "fans" I listed in the first paragraph all knew the score. They were paying attention and heard the message. They either chose not to believe the organization (and it a way, who could blame then? They've been lied to for years by others...) or chose not to care. We are left with zero top quality hockey in Cincinnati. We will never again be privy to Cincinnati players like Eric Cole, Jaroslav Svoboda, Josef Vasicek, Joffrey Lupul, Chris Kunitz, Michael Holmqvist, Kurtis Foster, Ryan Getzlaf, or visiting players such as Jonathan Cheechoo, Jason Spezza, Niklas Kronwall just to name a few. It's a shame, but that is now Cincinnati's reality

To those of you who put down deposits and supported this effort, thank you for being a part of the solution. There was a tremendous amount of new business and old AHL fans that reportedly made it back by the deadline. It's unfortunate, but we will now have to live without good quality hockey thanks in part to a handful of people who - through the spread of lies, misinformation or whatever else - have failed to put the past behind them. It can be said without question that the staff of the Cincinnati RailRaiders did not lie to the fan base. They said they needed a set amount of revenue (2,000 FST's) or it wouldn't move forward. It did not reach the goal, and it will not move forward.

Will another team call Cincinnati Home? Will lower level hockey make another go in Cincinnati? Probably, but it will require sufficient fan support. A lease will need to be put in place and ticket prices will be AT LEAST what the RailRaiders were asking for to see the stars of tomorrow. Without the support of the community, it will be a money loser for whoever tries it and it won't last more than a season.

All of the fans have lost for the 3rd and final time - this is the end of the rail...

In the end, I doubt if there is a real need for this web site. After some time, Heckler's Grove will probably be just another memory of Cincinnati's storied hockey history. I'll make that decision in the coming days. However, I want to take this opportunity to thank a bunch of people who have made the last 5 years of my life within hockey circles fun and gratifying.

To all of my friends who I've come to know, thank you for your friendship and support of Heckler's Grove over the years. There are people who have contributed graphics and other content to these pages - HockeyRaven - you are the best!. To all of the great fans of Heckler's Grove, we made a great run of it while we were there. We'll never know how good it could have been.

I would like to especially thank the following people who have supported me and those of us in Heckler's Grove. Without their support and consent, Heckler's Grove wouldn't have even been a "thing":

Pete Robinson - for giving Cincinnati the chance to have the best available to us. Pete - I'm sure you had a lot of explaining to do with some of my signs on the "Heckler's Grove Wall of Love". Thank you for letting us have our fun. I wish the rest of the fans would have stepped up to support your vision - I'm so sorry that we couldn't get it done.

To the Ducks / RailRaiders ticket staff of Richard Elvin and "Big" Mike Amshoff. You knew how to treat a season ticket holder right. Please don't be discouraged by the events the way they unfolded - you guys really understand what it takes, and you did an awesome job.

To former employees Tom Gariety, Donn Bagnell, Steve Cowell - God only knows how good it could it have been if you wouldn't have been held back. You all saw the vision too, but realized that there were some fans in this city who just don't get it.

To Don Helbig. I've learned a lot more about hockey from you than most people have forgotten. Thank you for the friendship, insight, and trust you showed me over the time you have known me. You never lied to the fans - you didn't say what they wanted to here, you told them the truth. No one can expect anything more than that from a person, or an organization.

To all of you - thank you for giving Cincinnati this opportunity. Of course, some of the community responded. All of the new business that was generated is a testament to how successful your efforts were. I and many others think you have absolutely done a fantastic job- it was the disgruntled "fan" that let you - and the rest of us - down. Please hold your heads high, as you were able to sell a name and a logo and do better than any organization since the WHA Cincinnati Stingers. You guys deserve better - I only wish the outcome was different, because it would have been awsome...

Make no mistake about it - people are going to second guess every motivation and every action that was made by the RailRaiders staff. They're going to say "they didn't do 'X' " or "they should have done 'Y' ". But to hell with those people. They didn't have their money or their jobs on the line. You did - and you will all pay the ultimate price thanks to the people who wouldn't put down a fully refundable deposit for the 2nd best hockey league in North America.

Lastly, to all of you who thought I didn't know what I was talking about over the last 6 months, I have four words for you:


And in the best tradition of Heckler's Grove, I've got too more words for you:


We'll never know what could have been. But at least it wasn't "never was", and the memories of the great times watching and playing hockey will always remain a part of me. Hopefully, history will not judge us too harshly. I can be comfortable knowing that I was on the right side of this issue, even though I will be remorseful that we have lost something that we held in our hands.

Best regards everyone,

Jim Questa
Founder of Hecklers Grove.

Yesterday this story took a strange turn. The Cincinnati Cyclones ECHL franchise announced it will return to play:

Professional Hockey Officially Returns To Cincinnati
Date: April 20, 2006

Contact: Sean Lynn

Cincinnati, OH –U.S. Bank Arena proudly announces that after suspending operations the past two seasons, the Cincinnati Cyclones will participate in the 2006-2007 ECHL season.

The team will rejoin the ECHL’s American North Division. The upcoming season will be the Cyclones fourteenth overall season. The team originated in 1990 as part of the ECHL before moving to the IHL in 1992. The Cyclones returned to the ECHL in 2001.

Season tickets are on sale now. Prices for the 36 game home season are: VIP Seats located within the first 2 rows from the ice $720, neutral zone seats (straightaways) $540, & endzones are $360. Half season packages are also available for $360, $270, and $180 respectably. Single game tickets will cost $22.50, $17.00, & $12.00 and will be available at a later date. Season tickets can be ordered by calling 513-421-PUCK (7825). More information on season ticket packages is available at www.cycloneshockey.com.

“It is our distinct pleasure to bring hockey back to Cincinnati,” said U.S. Bank Arena/Nederlander Chief Financial Officer Ray Harris. “We have been working on bringing back the Cyclones for months and are excited to see our hard work come to fruition. We feel strongly that Cincinnati will support this team. We are dedicated to bringing the people of Cincinnati a great product come October.”

“We are thrilled to have Cincinnati back in the ECHL,” commented ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna. “We see Cincinnati as a vital part of the league’s success and we share the organizations feelings that the community will support this team. The Cyclones history combined with a first class facility such as U.S. Bank Arena should make for a great season of hockey and a great future for Cincinnati hockey and the ECHL.”

The reaction of the fans is complicated. I wouldn't say there is complete support for this ECHL expansion into Cincinnati. Add to this the Cyclones history of affiliation with the San Jose Sharks, a team that has already burned Ohio residents, albiet in Cleveland.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

I'm still trying to catch up with April 16

First, congratulations to Olympian Bob Nardella, who announced he is retiring from professional hockey. Although this hurts the playoff chances of the Rockford Ice Hogs, I'll carry fond memories of Nardella's play, particularly with the Chicago Wolves and in the 2006 Italian team Olympic games.

Billy Tibbetts will be suspended for two games with the Ice Hogs in their playoffs against the Fort Wayne Komets, the UHL decided. Most times, players are not punished for infractions in another league, particularly as time served in the UHL will not count towards his debt in the AHL. Tibbetts, who is a mercurial character in the best of times, did not take the team bus home from Milwaukee on Friday. I assume the team will be discussing that with him.

Hockey blogs are falling by the way side like mad. Obsessed with Hockey is still going strong, as are most sites associated with a newspaper. I'll be updating the list of blogs soon.

More incidents of hate at the Milwaukee Admirals games. People (from Milwaukee) screaming at children, Chicago fans being attacked... Earlier this year we went to Milwaukee to watch the Wolves play. It was February and the Wolves were in a death spiral. I never expected the Wolves to win.

Embracing the concept, I purchased a "Wolves Suck" button at the Blueliners Club, or maybe it was the Admirals Crew. It seemed a lucky totem, as I had to continually explain to Chicago Wolves fans the circumstances of the purchase and why I wore it for the rest of the season: The Ads lost big that day. And I like my Wolves Suck button. Not only does it remind me that the Western Division champion had trouble in the midst of our worst period with a team I love, it also diffuses the situation when some cheese headed bozo threatens me. "Wolves Suck"? Sure, here's my button.

Nothing like doing that to confuse 'em.

The Ads had their largest attendence ever at the game, fueled by $2 tickets in the upper bowl. Really, it was a caldron of hate fueled by cheap tickets, and a combination of once-off fans and a group of hard-core fans who the league would be better without.

Visiting another team's home ice always has the potential of creating violence. Security should be better prepared for incidents, and act to end the reign of terror of these bench jockeys in Milwaukee.

Steve Maltais had a memorable send-off when they raised his number to the rafters last week. The blog My Mundane Life has a nice take on it and a fight by Francis Lessard.

Finally, in an earlier post I'd mentioned that the UHL had not yet announced the Colonial Cup Playoff Schedule. Here is the hyperlink to it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Bad idea-- my predictions for the first round

WHY AM I DOING THIS? This is just inviting me to be stupid but, here goes:

Western Conference
Milwaukee vs Iowa>> Iowa in an upset, 6 games.
Houston vs Peoria>> The Aeros get shot down. Rivermen in 5
Grand Rapids vs Toronto>> GR has an easy time of it, blowing the baby leaves away in 5
Syracuse vs Manitoba>> A tough series, but the Moose crush Syracuse in 7

Eastern Conference
Portland vs Providence>> The former Ducks rape the P-Bruins in 4
Hartford vs Manchester>> Wolfpack in 6. A wild guess on this one.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton vs Bridgeport>> The Tigers are still chillin', Pens in 4
Hershey vs Norfolk>> The Eastern Sads are on a roll, but can't overcome the Bears. Chocolate Bears smear them in 6

A few other hockey notes. There is a great video on the hockeyfights site. I watched it several times, laughing each time.

The roster for the Ice Hogs was announced today. As I alluded, Bob Nardella is not taking the ice with the Hogs in their playoff bid. I've heard Bob is retiring from hockey, though I've also heard he wants some time off to recuperate and has an offer from the Italian team.

Billy Tibbetts, however, is playing for the Ice Hogs in the playoffs. That should give the Hogs a big boost. Tibbetts has been suspended indefintely by the AHL following a slashing in the game, Friday, against Milwaukee. The Ice Hogs are an affiliate of the Milwaukee Admirals. On the Milwaukee line-up that night were two other Ice Hog players: Robin Big Snake and Nathan Lutz. I was on the road on Friday night, and missed the game. However, this line-up did lead to some discussion in our car speculating whether Big Snake and Tibbetts would have a go, though they are team mates.

B2 will be carrying the UHL and AHL games, except those from Fort Wayne. The Komets have not participated in the B2 arrangement. Unlike the Wolves, where all the games are broadcast in an exclusive arrangement with Comcast, the Komets have made a Bill Wirtzian decision to black-out all home games.

Arena Digest is one of the best sites on the web for strange news and stories about the background of the sports business. Here are two stories from this week that demonstrate the worth of this site:

Steeldogs to wear Bible-themed jerseys during AF2 game
April 12

For the first time in sports history, a professional franchise will wear Bible-themed jerseys during a game. On Saturday, May 5th, the Birmingham Steeldogs arena football team will don jerseys with the name of Bible hero SAMSON embroidered on the front as they take on the Louisville Fire at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. Specific Bible chapter and verse references will be created by combining the names and numerals on the backs of each player. The jerseys have been produced to replicate the Steeldogs regular game jerseys. Samson replaces Steeldogs across the chest, in reference to the Old Testament hero renowned for his incredible strength. On the back of the jerseys, instead of having the player’s last name, it will be replaced by a book of the Bible. The number on the jersey will correspond to a chapter and verse of that particular book.

It takes a mullet to fill an arena
April 12

Most people charged with filling an 18,000-seat arena with basketball fans would think big. Scotty Adams thinks long. Specifically, he thinks short on the top and long in the back -- the classic mullet. Mullet Madness was also by far the most fully articulated theme night of Adams’ career, a masterpiece of theme realization. It began with the mullets -- Adams found a Chinese source for copper-colored mullet wigs, featuring a sort of a church-lady permanent curl on top and a long, stringy cascade of hair in the back, for $1.50 a piece. He bought about 1,200, and gave them out to the first 1,000 fans to arrive.
But as with most masterpieces, there were homages to the Old Masters. The very idea of luring sports fans by celebrating the mullet hairstyle came from a hockey team up North; hockey players are known for the tail of hair sticking out from the back of their helmets, a classic mullet signifier.

Monday, April 17, 2006

I was out of town over the weekend. So, while I think about all that happened here in Chicago, and there was some hockey news here, here is a summary of the playoff games around the Midwest:

Iowa Stars (#4) v. Milwaukee Admirals (#1) in Milwaukee 4/21, 4/22 at 7 P.M. 80 miles
in Iowa 4/24, 4/25, 4/27 at 7.05 P.M. 330 miles from Rosemont, IL

Toronto Marlies (#4) v. Grand Rapid Griffins(#1)
in Grand Rapids 4/21, 4/22 at 7 P.M. Eastern Time. 194 miles from Rosemont.

Peoria Rivermen (#3) v. Houston Aeros (#2)
in Peoria 4/24, 4/26, 4/27 at 7 P.M. 167 miles

Toledo Storm (#1) v. Johnstown Chiefs (#4). Storm are up 3-0 in the series with two games in Johnstown before heading back to Toledo (261 miles) 4/22 at 7.35 Eastern
Toledo is the closest spot to catch any Wolves in Gwinett Colors this season. The Storm is #1 in the American Conference North Division and Gwinett #1 in the American Conference South Division. If they meet, the winner goes to meet the National Conference winner for the Kelly Cup.

Kalamazoo Wings (#1) v. Motor City Mechanics (#3). The dates are expected to be announced today. Kalamazoo is 164 miles, Motor City plays in Fraser, Michigan, 325 miles

Quad City Mallards (#3 in Western Conference) v. Danbury Thrashers (#1 Eastern Conference). The dates are expected to be announced today. The Mallards play in Moline, Illinois, 177 miles.

Rockford Ice Hogs (#1) v. Fort Wayne Komets (#2). The dates are expected to be announced today. The Rockford facility is 70 miles. The Fort Wayne facility is 178 miles.

Muskegon Fury (#2 Central Conference) v. Adirondack Frostbite (#2 Eastern Conference). The dates are expected to be announced today. The Fury play is 203 miles away.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Stayin' alive

Stayin’ alive… stayin’ alive. Ah, what a feeling. The Wolves squeezed a 2-1 victory out of the Iowa Stars tonight, tying them with the Ak-sar-ben Knights, who lost a game in Peoria at 81 points each. Iowa is in fourth place at 84 points. And, the last playoff spot in the AHL is still up in the air.

The game sheet shows the Wolves with 34 penalty minutes. But, 20 of those minutes were assessed after the game against the Wolves for an unknown infraction. So, during the game, the Wolves had 14 minutes in the sin bin against just eight for the Stars. Despite continued poor officiating by Gord Dwyer, the Wolves won.

Over in Peoria, however, it was a story of lack of discipline which led to another Peoria victory. Peoria dropping the Omaha Knights. Peoria continues, in my mind, to be the leading contender to win the Western Division and face the North Division post-season champ, probably Grand Rapids. Peoria is close on the heals of the Aeros still. The Houston team had a tough time finishing off the San Antonio Rampage, but did and remains three points ahead of Peoria.

So, tonight here are the magic numbers. The Iowa Stars eliminate the Wolves with four points in their last four games. They eliminate the Knights with six points. The Stars have a game in pocket against the Wolves. The Aeros retain second place by gaining four points in their last four games, they have a game in the pocket against the Rivermen.

Iowa within four points of ending Wolves post season hopes

Poor discipline may have ended the Wolves hopes for a playoff berth last night as the Iowa Stars rolled 4-1 past the Wolves. With the loss, the Stars will end the Wolves playoff hopes with any combination of four points, meaning they could do it themselves with a combination of two wins, one today and another on Tuesday against the Wolves.

The Wolves spent 28 minutes in the penalty box Saturday, versus only 18 for Iowa. Two of Iowa’s goals occurred on power plays, the final goal an empty netter. Now, I’ve continued to believe that a good team can overcome bad officiating. And this game was no exception. Wolves discipline melted in the heat of the competition. Yet you have to wonder at calls like the one by Referee Gord Dwyer at 2.56 in the second period. Nicklas Grossman was called at that point for tripping. His victim, Ramzi Abid was also given two minutes, for diving.

WHAT? Stuff like this is what causes fans to question a referees impartiality and objectivity. Take a class in logic ref… Yikes.

Wolves shot 36 on Michael Smith, who was not named a star of the game. I see it more frequently at the Allstate than in other Midwest venues, no matter the score, at least one Wolf will get a star. Okay, not always. But, I’m confused about this stuff. Michael Smith let some soft stuff dribble through and he was very lucky. I sit pretty close to the west goal, where he defended for two frames. Stuff was getting by him and it would bounce the wrong way (the right way if you were Michael Smith) and miss the goal.

But that stuff happened to Kari Lehtonen last year too. I think Smith deserved one of the stars of the game. Bottom line, stars of the game should have meaning.

By the way, in Omaha, Knights Warren Peters and Kam Cunning were named stars, despite the drubbing the Knights received.

The other contender for the last playoff spot is Omaha. They were defeated at home 5-1 by Peoria. It happened in Omaha too. This game, which was officiated by Steve Kozari, ended with the Knights receiving 35 minutes to the 26 assessed the Rivermen. The Knights are now three points out of fourth place with both teams having five games left. Any combination of seven Stars points ends Omaha’s hopes for post-season play.

Peoria on the other hand is in the interesting situation of being closer to edging the Aeros from second than the Wolves are of making the playoffs. The Aeros, high-flying heroes of Eastern sports pundits who watch (the Eastern Conference of) the AHL, has been in a tail spin. Bad timing going into the playoffs. The Rivermen are just three points from catching the Aeros, although the Aeros have a game in hand against the Rivermen. To end that, and retain home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, the Aeros must gain five points in their last five games.

The Rockford Ice Hogs visited the Quad City Mallards on Friday. The Mallards won the game 2-1 in a shoot-out, but it was enough to give the Hogs 100 points for the season. The Hogs have had a tough time lately. They are another team that is probably secretly hoping for an early golf season for the Wolves. Bob Nardela and Billy Tibbetts currently play for the Wolves. A source close to Nardella says Nardella has received offers to play for Italy in the post-season, and may not return to Rockford for the playoffs. However, Tibbetts indicated to me, when we met him during an injury time-off a few weeks back, he plans to play in Rockford if the Wolves season ends.

The Mallards themselves have been musing about the idea of moving into the AHL. There has been some open talk between the UHL management, which is based in Fort Wayne and the management of the Mallards, in the newspapers, about this. Here is a Quad City article on the move. If I ever locate the link containing the extended discussion with Richard Brosal, a UHL commissioner and owner of the Fort Wayne Komets, I’ll add it here. Let’s sum up Brosal’s comments with the idea that it’s a bad idea financially for the Mallards to move.

On Friday April 4, there was some blood spilled in the Mallards front office as the pro-UHL supporters overcame the pro-AHL supporters. The story, carried in the Quad City Times here , follows the battle to control the Mallards between President Paul O’Dacre and Vice President Tim Taylor. It isn’t completely accurate to say Taylor was heading the pro-UHL side, however, O’Dacre and two others are out and Taylor has indicated the team is committed to the UHL for another year.

The AHL is not gone yet though. VSG said it is still considering options to sell the team. In the meantime, the team is refurbishing the Mark so the rink meets AHL standards. (Thanks to Dave Wolf of the AHLGriffins.com for the link).

Time to turn around and also note Dave’s excellent rant on the San Jose Sharks and the mistreatment of Cleveland Barons fans, here. Looking at the mess Cincinnati made of rejoining the AHL, I have to wonder if something like that is felt by former fans of the Mighty Ducks, Cyclones and Bees.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Chicago 3, Peoria 2 4/7/06

Every Wolves game now seems to hold the entire season in the balance. As a set-up to a three-game series with Iowa that starts in Chicago tonight and ends Tuesday, there was a 50 mile per hour wind pushing our van down I-55 toward Peoria. The Carver Center, in downtown Peoria, has wonky seats and terrible glass. But the play on the ice has been exciting all year. My last visit there, in January, saw the Rivermen shoot down an anemic Aeros. Check back in the blog and you’ll see me predict then the Aeros decline from top dog in the West and the assent of the Admirals.

It was another must-win game for the Wolves. The set-up was that the Iowa Stars and the Omaha Ak-sar-ben Knights were tied at 80 points, with the last playoff spot in question. As the Knights and the Stars were playing each other, the Wolves had to win to stay just three points behind the Western 4th place team. On Thursday the PPPShow.net had said the Chicago Wolves, despite an eight game win streak, were finished.

And, it seems true. Any loss by the Wolves may doom their season, the Wolves behind by three points.

The local fans were pumped, a visit by the Hanson (Carlson) Brothers and winning hockey were having their way in the river city. And the Peoria team was in a bit of a race itself, hoping to catch the Aeros in their death spiral. It was a question of which team was hungrier. Gavin Morgan made the first mark for the Rivermen at 2.07 in the first.

The fans near us pounded on the glass and let us know we were finished. As the Rivermen came back on the ice it seemed as though they’d lost some discipline, marked by sin time for David Backes and Trevor Byrne, answered only by Ramzi Abid. This didn’t lead to a Wolves goal immediately, but Scott Barney did score finally at 14.39, ending the period tied.

A spirited hockey fight in the first started with D.J. King picking on Kevin Doell. As the shift ended, the Wolves sent out Francis Lessard who promptly dropped gloves with King. It wasn’t two old ladies at center ice, instead two bruisers, neither willing to fall, ended with linemen calling an end for the exhausted contenders.

An early second period power play goal for the Wolves by Justin Morrison at 0.51, put the score at 2-1 Wolves. This was followed by Ramzi Abid scoring another power play goal at 12.53. The Rivermen took 8 minutes in the penalty box in the second period to just 2 minutes for the Wolves. As noted in earlier posts, discipline is becoming a key to winning games as the post-season develops.

Four more penalty minutes in the third period sealed Peoria’s fate, as the Wolves held their sin bin time to just two minutes in the third. A final goal by Tomas Mojzis at 8.07 threatened the Wolves, but a 15.25 penalty by Brendan Buckley put the final nail in the coffin.

Peoria remains the unknown in the West. They have soft hot hands right now, despite their loss to the Wolves. They’ve had their way with the Aeros, as noted earlier. A series between Peoria and any of the teams in the playoff, could easily see the Rivermen the Western Division representative in the Calder race.

The Wolves, meanwhile, face Iowa in three games, Saturday, Sunday in Chicago and then Tuesday in Des Moines. Iowa has defeated Chicago in every game this year. Both teams are fighting for the final playoff spot. Iowa defeated Omaha in a shoot-out in the Friday night game and also has a game in hand against the Wolves. Clearly, the Wolves have to win every game against the Stars, to put them in a sufficient lead over whatever the game in hand both the Knights and the Stars results in. And, even with those wins, the Knights remain an unknown.

If the Wolves break their string of losses against the Stars tonight, it would be the second longest win streak in the franchise history.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Lack of discipline dooms Knights. 3-1 Win for Wolves

Adrenalin. What a rush. It was all adrenalin last night as the Chicago Wolves defeated the Omaha ak-Sar-ben Knights 3-1. The recent surge in Wolves fortunes has been nothing short of a sports miracle. Before it started, and even yesterday morning, I’d pretty much written-off the Wolves chances for post-season play. They are currently three points behind the Knights and the Iowa Stars with six games left on the Wolves schedule, seven games each for the Stars and Knights.

That means that it is still a difficult road for the Wolves, but it is very possible the Wolves will win enough games and the Stars and the Knights lose enough games, so the Wolves end the season in fourth place, good enough to join post-season play.

The game last night was key for both teams. The Wolves needed two points and had to shut the Knights out of any points, i.e., a shoot-out win or over-time win for the Wolves would have been nearly as bad as a loss for them, as they would only have gained a point in the standings on the Knights.

While the Knights, as you can tell from the commentary in the first paragraph, wanted a win, it was the season on the line for the Wolves. The Knights would have come away happy even if the Wolves gained a point on them, provided the Knights won at least a point.

The crowd in the Allstate was a small 4626, probably about half of those were season ticket holders, and many knew the game was key to the team’s post-season hopes. As a season ticket holder, it was a game that makes you look around, as it starts, to absorb the people you’ve sat with and known over the past season and the campaigns before.

The Wolves have had five seven-game winning streaks in their history, prior to last night. A win would make this the fourth longest winning streak in the franchise history. The last time the team had a streak like this was in 2004.

If it ended after this remarkable streak, the letdown would be as devastating as the game two loss in the Allstate to the Phantoms in 2005.

The most remarkable moment in the game was the game-winning goal, by Ramzi Abid, at 18.14 in the third period. Leading up to that moment, the Knights had the Wolves at a numerical disadvantage for much of the third period, Brandon Coburn, Mark Popovic and Karl Stewart each taking penalties. Stewart’s was a five-minute major and game misconduct. Bad enough to lose Stewart, however, the Wolves didn’t put anyone in the sin bin immediately, hoping for a whistle before the penalty expired. Unfortunately, the penalty expired and no one was in the box—the Wolves had to wait for the whistle for their fifth man to join them.

Penalties are where it’s all at this season in hockey. The number of goals scored during power plays is up something like 50 percent over last year, while all goals are up about a third. Seeing any game go into the third period with just one notch for both teams, and the second goal of the game wasn’t scored till Knight Brandon Prust fired a goal in at 16.34 in the third, is rarity, a throwback to previous seasons.

The Wolves had suffered greatly at the hands of the Knights during penalty kills this season. It was a nerve-wracking third period. Of course there were the long moments of Knight power plays. And Prust’s goal took the air out of the building as fast as a pin lets the air out of a balloon. The crowd was chanting ref you suck following the major called on Stewart, the Wolves having put guys in the sin bin for nine minutes in the third, and no responding penalties assessed against the Knights.

Prust scores… silence from the crowd.

It was a significant turn in events for the team from the emotional high following the major against Stewart. Where was the ref as Michael Garnett shoved a Knight out of the crease and when Billy Tibbetts was held?

Remarkably, the ref was there, calling interference on Warren Peters at 18.14, the same time as Abid’s goal. The Knights started to implode. Discipline, required to bring a successful season to a close and roll into a winning post-season, it all evaporated at 18.14 for the Knights.

Thirty-two seconds later, 18.46, another goal by Kip Miller made it 3-1. The Knights on the bench exploded in a fit, a tirade, trading a man in the sin bin. The tension physically marked when Francis Lessard and Brandon Prust began trading blows behind the Knights goal with 21 seconds left in the match.

The match ended with the Wolves holding the puck behind their own goal: the crowd standing for much of the last two minutes. This was play-off level hockey. I wish the people in Omaha, who haven’t supported their team sufficiently, had seen this level of play. WOW!

I’m sitting now in Rockford, not my home, just a business trip. Thinking about the Rockford Ice Hogs as they enter the post-season. Two key members of that team are in Chicago: Tibbetts and 2006 Olympian Bob Nardella. I’d been expecting to spend some of my bread here, and in Peoria, Grand Rapids and Milwaukee, instead of the Allstate, during the playoff push.

The Hogs need Tibbetts and Nardella to successfully conclude their remarkable season. And while I wish them well, I want Tibbetts and Nardella to stay in Chicago as long as necessary for the Wolves in the post-season.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A big sorry, I should have written earlier

So, what’s up with this blog? We entered the time of the year when every hockey fan, except those from San Antonio and teams that have made it like Grand Rapids, are wondering whether their team has the right stuff. New job, taxes. Mundane stuff is causing me to try to get this done, and it has had a lower priority.

But it has been an exciting spring. First my Chicago Wolves seemed to self-destruct. Then they came back from the dead and are currently on a seven game win streak. With just seven games to go, they are five points behind Omaha and Iowa, those two teams being in a tie for the last play-off spot.

There was the great goals by Billy Tibbetts that showed the team had fire in the belly, and the sidelining of Tibbetts as a result of slamming into the goal on one of those great goals. There was, finally, the melt-down in Houston and the equally stunning lack of effort in Milwaukee. This all resulted in Milwaukee taking first place in the West and the slow flame-out of the Aeros.

There is also the equally powerful story of the surge from Peoria, as the Riverguys threaten to torpedo the leaders of the Western Division. The emergence of Grand Rapids in the North Division as the true IHL heirs this year and perhaps the one shot the IHL has of bringing the Calder back home where it belongs.

And, there is the story of the River Rats, Railraiders, Lock Monsters and Barons. And, I should mention all the other cities and fans that are wondering what sort of hockey, if any, they’ll see next year.

There hasn’t been a lack of great stories and ideas. Just following the re-birth of Michael Garnett as our lead goalie would cause the fan of any AHL team to tell the Wolves fan to put a sock in it.

And least I forget, there is the UHL Rockford Ice Hogs, The Hogs were the first American team that I follow to clinch their division, though they have hit a worrisome skid in the last few months. Meanwhile, in Belfast, Theo Flury jumped out of a penalty box to get it on with some fans. The Belfast Giants, who I also follow from afar, are in contention for their second crown of the year. I should have my wife discuss this, however, as she understands the arcane rules of the British Elite league better than I do.

That’s way too much to discuss in one piece, of course. So let’s pick something easy and ease on back into hockey. The Wolves play the Peoria Rivermen on Friday in the Peoria Civic Center. The game will also host the Carlsons, also known as the Hansons, from Slapshot. The Hansons are a business in themselves. However, if you’re nearby, go. Their appearance at the game is benefitting local charities and Peoria isn’t attracting a lot of fans. I’m sure good seats are still available.

Peoria has benefitted from the decision by the St. Louis Blues earlier in the season to dive for the bottom, hoping to gain the first draft choice. As a result, the Rivermen have seen an influx of NHL level players and have become a real threat to the Aeros and the Admirals.

The Wolves have been so anemic this year that a great rivalry between Peoria and Chicago hasn’t really developed yet. Peoria came up from being the ECHL affiliated local team, and the Worcester Ice Cats, the team that actually moved into Rockford, hadn’t played the Wolves that I recall.

However, up in Rockford there is a great Illinois rivalry taking place on the ice as the Hogs host the Quad City Mallards. The Mallards are planning on making a decision on moving to the AHL at the end of the season. Both the UHL and AHL have created strong Midwest cores, almost bus leagues. The UHL is developing teams in Bloomington, Illinois and Hoffman Estates, a suburb between Chicago and Rockford. So the UHL is getting stronger around here. The AHL’s recent move into Omaha, Iowa and Peoria are still new. Omaha gained some ground after the conclusion of the college hockey season and is beginning to attract some fans. Iowa and Peoria are reportedly on the target of what was expected by their owners. Post-season play by Omaha or Iowa would eliminate the Wolves, but would be good for these cities.

You can’t argue with a great rivalry. Although the Hogs have beaten the crap out of the Mallards this season, the Mallards are probably interested in bloodying the Hogs in Rockford and proving a point before the play-offs. If I’m reading the standings right, the Mallards are tied for the last remaining play-off spot. The other team is the Richmond Riverdogs, the same team that is rumored to be moving to Hoffman Estates next season.

Now on the Riverdogs roster is a guy I’d like to spend some time with, Brendan Tedstone. Here’s a picture of him. It doesn’t do him justice. 375 pounds of fun. He doesn’t get much ice time, but I loved watching him mess with the fans in Rockford a few weeks ago. He is a character of the game, amassing 27 penalty minutes in just three games. Put me down as a Tedstone fan. Tedstone is from the LNAH. What is the LNAH? I had to look it up too, look here first: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ligue_Nord-Am%C3%A9ricaine_de_Hockey

If the Riverdogs move to Hoffman Estates, I hope Tedstone comes along, if for nothing else, he can work the back office. A most excellent guy.

Finally, where would we be at this time of the year without some speculation about next year? The Wolves released the Alpha Wolf jersey for next season. These jerseys, which you’ve probably seen, are given by the organization to season ticket holders only. They are not available to the public for sale. Traditionally, they have matched colors with the Atlanta Thrashers. Here’s this year’s: Who do you think the Wolves are affiliated with?