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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Haydar gone? Wolves will suffer

Nearly half-way through the season, with 36 games in the book, the Chicago Wolves looked poised to enter the 2007 post-season with the most highly skilled team in franchise history. Eleven games lost, eight in regulation play and 53 points place the Wolves in second place, currently, in the league.

Yet there are problems, particularly with the netminders, Michael Garnett and Fred Braithewaite. Combined they have given up a combined 120 points through the year-end, which is more goals against a team for all but four of the AHL teams. And, the Wolves have spent a great deal of time in the sinbin, exceeded by only three teams.

Carrying the Wolves in the first half were the line of Darren Haydar, Jason Krog and the rookie Brent Sterling. Together, the three have notched 180 points, although Krog was called up to Atlanta on December 14th. Earlier, I’d asked if a second line could develop, perhaps centered on Derek MacKenzie. However, MacKenzie was himself called up to Atlanta on December 21st. In the nine games played since Krog was called up, the Haydar and Sterling combination has continued to dominate the offense of the Wolves, being on the ice for 27 of the 43 goals scored in that stretch, including all the goals against the Peoria Rivermen on December 29th.

In the same period, it appears the Wolves have hit their toughest stretch of the season, winning six, but dropping one in regulation and two more in shoot outs. Haydar, during this period set an AHL record for most consecutive games with a point, registering a goal and an assist for 34-straight games with a point Only eight professional players have exceeded that total, led by Wayne Gretzky with 51 games during the 1983-4 season (a tip of the hat to the Peoria Journal Star’s Dave Eminian for that stat).

So, why is Darren Haydar still in the AHL? Why not play in the NHL for Atlanta? This afternoon, a rumor started on the Chicago Wolves discussion board that Haydar is going up. Fans have furiously called the thread starter a liar. But, it will happen, if not this weekend, sometime soon. Darren Haydar will leave Chicago to play for the Atlanta Thrashers in their march, perhaps, to the Stanley Cup.

There were brief mentions of Haydar’s feat in the Chicago MMO. But, sadly, hockey is not on the horizon for the writers at the major papers or the city’s electronic news outlets. Haydar will be the joy of Atlanta fans and many in this hockey community will not have realized he was ever here.

If Haydar has to clear waivers, waivers being a way, if he is returned to Chicago, for another NHL team to pick him up instead, it is very unlikely Chicago will see him play here for many months, if ever again. The decision on whether he must clear waivers will be determined based on why Atlanta sends for him. For example, playing in Atlanta in place of an injured player would provide protection to Haydar from waivers.

So, Haydar is probably headed to Atlanta, perhaps this weekend, but soon. One of the next call ups will probably be Brent Sterling, sending the entire line to Atlanta. Good for them. Bad for the Wolves.

To do the math, alluded to above, without this line, Chicago would only have scored 16 points in the last nine games, there would have been 29 goals against. Even though others are stepping up, the production will drop dramatically, backed by a weak set in the pipes.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Personal to Dan McGrath

Finally, the Chicago Tribune has run a story on the Chicago Hounds opener debacle. The Tribune only keeps stories up for a few days so you may find the link, here, it won't work in a week.

It ran on December 14 and I have a few bones to pick. First, being there, I can tell you that more than 30 people complained. That is the writer shilling for the Sears Centre. More questions need to be asked about that. Also, there were far fewer than 8,000 in the stands. Probably 4,500 is better. The 8,000 number probably comes from the number of tickets sold. In hockey, there is a fictional attendance and a real attendance.

Finally, is the best the Chicago Tribune can do is run a story five weeks late? WHAT THE FUCK! The sports desk was called that night, by me. And they didn't care. Why have a "special" printed weeks later? The news occurred that night. It could have hit the Chicago Tribune's Saturday morning Bulldog (early Sunday) edition or the Sunday edition.

Dan McGrath should call his staff together and discuss why newspapers are losing subscriptions and ad revenue: It is shit like this. They ignored the story when it was fresh and ran it five weeks late when the controversy was dead. HINT: The next question on the Hounds is very simple: Will they survive till the end of the season?

Injury cheered

I found this piece on the Internet today:

Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Mannheim 1, Berlin 2

Defending DEL champions Eisbären Berlin won their first match after the TUI Nations Cup break by beating Adler Mannheim 2-1 on the road. The slow and mediocre game was overshadowed by a serious neck injury of Mannheim's Lonny Bohonos.

Lonny Bohonos was a player on the Chicago Wolves in the 2004-5 season before settling into Euro hockey with the German Elite league Mannheim Adlers’. I’m indebted to Ted’s Hockey blog for following Lonny. Almost exactly two years ago, in a game against the Milwaukee Admirals, the blog reminded me, Bohonos had four assists in a 6-2 Wolves victory.

Bohonos is in Thunder Bay recuperating from his hockey injury, out a season, but interested in playing again for the Thunder Bay Bombers. Nice post by Ted…

Hockey injuries can ruin lives. They end careers. They can even kill. So why do some fans cheer when an opposing player goes down? Two injuries in the defeat of the Chicago Wolves tonight. First period Milwaukee Admiral. Third period a Chicago Wolf. I remember cheering the Admiral as he returned to the bench. Was it a clean hit? Did he have his head down? In almost the same spot in the third a Wolves player down holding his eye.

The guy behind me, an Admirals fan who had been well behaved, starts cheering. Several of us ask him to stop out of respect and an argument breaks out. Neither here nor there normally. As I said, the group he was leading was loud but great fans of the Admirals.

During the argument, about an injury, he claims to be the coach of the Kenosha Krashers, which appeared to be a junior high school aged team. Not good. Disappointing. Homer.

Billy Tibbetts Show

A bit of hockey news from Finland, former Wolf Billy Tibbetts has signed with the Finnish team HPK, the reigning champions of the Finnish SM-liiga league. I was told tonight that I tend to cut and paste. Maybe. In any case here is the original Finnish of Tibbetts joining the Knights:

HPK ja Billy Tibbetts sopimukseen
HPK ja hyökkääjä Billy Tibbetts ovat solmineet loppukauden kattavan pelaajasopimuksen. Tibbetts siirtyy Hämeenlinnaan AHL:n Chigago Wolvesista. Tibbetts on uransa aikana pelannut NHL:ssa 82 ottelua.
Tulivoimainen ja isokokoinen Tibbetts tuo HPK:n hyökkäykseen fyysisyyttä. Viime kaudella AHL:n Chigago Wolvesissa 32-vuotias Tibbetts pelasi 46 ottelua tehden niissä 20 maalia ja 22 maaliin johtanutta syöttöä.
Tibbetts saapuu Suomeen tapaninpäivänä ja pelaa ensimmäisen ottelunsa ritaripaidassa HPK:n kohdatessa Kärpät 28.12.06. Kuten Moravec, myös Tibbetts osallistuu tammikuussa pelattavaan ECC-turnaukseen HPK:n joukkueen mukana.

Those Fins have a way with words that no English speaker can match. Tibbetts entry to the Chicago Wolves was met with a lot of controversy. A hot-headed player, Tibbetts has managed to both endear himself and burn bridges in every city he has played in. The Wolves picked him from the Rockford IceHogs about a year ago and his presence on the ice was an immediate plus.

Still, his past pursued him. I remember coming home from work to hear my loving spouse in a hot-headed conversation with our ticket rep about Tibbetts and his past. I think she worked through those initial reactions as she learned more about Tibbetts. There was a very helpful website that seems to have gone dark. Too bad. Writing about Tibbetts always draws readers and people who hate Tibbetts are among the most loyal of readers.

But I feel there is another side to his story.

I’ll summarize here what I know, though Finnish readers may find better information elsewhere. Tibbetts was convicted of non-consensual sex with an under-aged woman when he was about 17. The story I’ve gathered from newspapers is that he was at a party and the woman, then 15, had sex with Billy, but later claimed it was rape. Courts tend to look at cases like this and give the young man a pass. Thus it was for Tibbetts, who received a suspended sentence.

Sometime later, while still on parole, Tibbetts shot a man. He used a pellet gun, if memory serves. A pellet gun, for our Finnish friends, does not fire explosives rounds. Instead the projectile is propelled by air.

It turns out the man Tibbetts fired on was an undercover police officer. Tibbetts spent three years in jail as a result. Because of the earlier conviction, Tibbetts had the earlier case reinstated and he is now considered a registered sex-offender. This raises the question of how Tibbetts was able to gain a work permit for Finland.

I think everyone can agree on these facts, in any case.

Now my opinion, I’ve seen Tibbetts play. There are lots of bits about him in my blog. He played with heart and I never saw him purposely start a fight, though he did stand up for his fellow team mates. His end with the Wolves occurred during a game in Milwaukee on April 14. I’ve never learned what happened, however, he did not join the bus ride home and it was clear that his time in Chicago, like in many other hockey teams, was finished.

Tibbetts ended the season with a fairly serious injury. He scored a goal late in the season, but managed to collide with the goal iron, causing a concussion. It was mentioned earlier this season as one of the memories of the 2005-6 season I’ll always carry with me: a great play by Tibbetts.

Earlier in this season he was in the reality series, “Be a Bruin” on the NESN (Northeastern Sports Net). When he was interviewed about his past, he said he was stopping the liquor, that he had found Jesus.

A mutual acquaintance said that the liquor had found Billy again.

Billy Tibbetts is a million dollar player with a ten-cent fuse in his brain. He is clearly a very good player who battles demons and often loses. He always has an excuse for what happened. It is never his fault. I like Billy Tibbetts. I’ve met him off the ice. But he has not faced the great demon inside and he’ll always have problems till he does.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Shots on Goal

The Rockford IceHogs MetroCentre deal continues to dominate hockey discussion in Rockford. One of the local newspapers, the Rockford Register Star, has editorialized in favor of the $23 million plan and has backed its editorial with heavy coverage.

Outside of Rockford my attention has been on Norfolk. The owners of the Norfolk Admirals, one of the two possible franchises that are most likely to move to Rockford, have said the team will stay in Norfolk next year, whether or not there is an affiliation with the Chicago Blackhawks. That would leave just one American Hockey League franchise available in the most likely scenario: the former Edmonton Road Runner franchise, owned by the Edmonton Oilers.

The coach of the Rockford hockey team warned the MetroCentre that they had underestimated the cost of acquiring the AHL franchise. If the number of possible teams declines, the price should go up. It sounds like the coach knows more about business and hockey than the managers of the MetroCentre.

The Norfolk Admirals, meantime, are in third place in the East Division, within three points of the Calder Cup champions Hershey Bears, the division leader. The Admirals were swept by the Bears in the 2006 Eastern Division semifinals. It is early in the season to make predictions, especially about a division that rarely play this far west. Yet, this seems to be the strongest Norfolk team this decade.

A cynic might ask why the Blackhawks are considering moving a successful program. The answer is that the only part of the current IceHogs organization that will stay is the front office. There is virtually no chance the current roster would be present next season.

And, making national sports news, Enver Lisin, a troubled rookie in the Phoenix Coyotes organization, was suspended for not reporting to San Antonio. Lisin, who has a +/- of –18, instead flew home to Russia where he is expected to play for Ak Bars Kazan in the Russian League.

This is not the first time NHL players have taken a hit rather than play in the AHL. And, the loss of Lisin is probably not troubling for the Phoenix organization, given his terrible record. However, the word on the street is that the San Antonio club is mean.

That sounds like an opponent talking, but that comes from the inside, team mates talking about team mates. Mean. That’s a description that sounds appropriate describing a third-grader, not professional hockey athletes. Something really smells in the Phoenix organization’s Texas crew. Lots of money in the off-season has had virtually no effect. The NHL side of the organization is just as disappointing.

Finally, the Chicago Wolves play the 500th home game in franchise history against Omaha this week. Starting in the International Hockey League, the Wolves and the IHL were part of a strategy to challenge the NHL. Today the IHL is a memory. But the Chicago Wolves have one of the highest attendance figures in the AHL year after year, while downtown the Blackhawks have one of the lowest attendance figures in the NHL. The Wolves broadcast every game on cable, the Blackhawks only broadcast selected home games, sell outs and away games.

The Wolves have played in post-season every year but one since their founding. The Blackhawks regularly play golf starting in mid-April.

Finally, this week, Forbes magazine estimated that Bill Wirtz’s Blackhawks was among only three NHL teams that lost value since the lockout season. In Rosemont, Wolves owner Don Levin is rumored to be among the possible bidders for the Chicago Cubs. Clearly, the Wolves have been successful in challenging the Blackhawks. Sadly, the two teams will never meet on the ice. With three of the top scorers in the AHL, I have no doubt who would win such a match.

Go Wolves!