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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!

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