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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?

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