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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.