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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.

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