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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Hockey at the All-Star Break

Congratulations to the AHL, ECHL and UHL All-Stars. Time to look around at the first part of the season.

The Chicago Wolves enter the All-Star break seemingly headed for the top playoff spot in the division, but with trouble, too, on their plate. The team is the highest scoring team in the league, with 217 goals scored, but it is also the fifth highest team for goals scored against at 157. Six points separate it from its closest opponent, the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights. However, the Knights have an advantage: they’ve played four games less than the Wolves.

Further down in the West Division there is a race for fifth place. At this moment, if the playoffs started, the fifth place Western team has more points than the fourth place North Division team, the Grand Rapids Griffins. Plus, again, the Peoria Rivermen, in fifth place, have two games on the Griffins. That would mean the Rivermen or another West Division team, is poised to knock the fourth place North Division team out of the playoffs and take their place.

Nine points separate the Rochester Americans from the second place North Division team, the Hamilton Bulldogs. As previously discussed in this blog, the Americans have had a good record playing West Division teams. In fact with only twelve games lost all season, it is interesting to look at just who has defeated the Amerks: The Syracuse Crunch on 10/27 & 12/8; Milwaukee on 11/22 OT; Hamilton on 11/25, 12/15 and 12/26; Grand Rapids on December 1, 2 & 31; Toronto Marlies on 12/22; Manitoba Moose on 1 /4, 1/5; and Omaha on 1/20. Hamilton has lost two additional games to the Amerks, the Moose four. The Griffins remain undefeated by the Amerks.

In the Eastern Conference, the Amerks have faced the Crunch, the Binghamton Senators, the Springfield Falcons, the Manchester Monarchs and the Albany River Rats. Only the last place Crunch have beaten the Amerks in 15 Eastern Conference contests. Still, it must worry the Americans that the Griffins have the Amerks number and the Bulldogs have done so well against them.

In the Eastern Conference, the big story is how tight the race is in the Atlantic Division. Now, granted, these puppies have to play a bus league schedule. The last Atlantic Division team to survive the playoffs to the Calder Cup was the Hartford Whalers in the 1999-2000 season. So, who is to say that these teams could even compete in a tournament with teams that travel?

The point spread in the Atlantic division from the first place team, the Monarchs, to the last place team, the Falcons, is only 20 points. From the Hartford Wolfpack, the second place team, to the Falcons it tightens considerably to 12 points. Six teams within twelve points of each other. Only the Falcons have a losing record in this division. (But in the odd math of hockey, only seven of the teams in the league have losing seasons in any case).

We can assume the Monarchs, with good goal tending, will be in the playoffs as their fortune would need to reverse considerably to drop from playoff contention. But who else will play?

The East Division is being led by the Norfolk Admirals in what looks like their last year of affiliation with the Chicago Blackhawks. Everything you assume by watching the Blackhawks play is proven false in Norfolk. The Admirals have only lost ten games all season. They have the best record in the league, the second best goals for and an average goals against. However, this is a tough division, the Hershey Bears follow them by four points with a game in hand, Wilkes-Barre/ Scranton Penguins another four off the chase.

A way back, nearly twenty more points back from the Penguins, lies most of the rest of the division.

Over in the ECHL, the Gwinnett Gladiators are topping the American Conference and the Southern Division, though they are in a race. A week ago they were tied with the Texas Wildcatters for first, now they lead the Texans by one point. The South Division is a big division of eight teams, and six of them are within six points, currently, of the Gladiators. The Florida Everblades are a special threat, as they have three games in hand on the Gladiators and are three points back.

The Gladiators offense has been anchored by Brad Schell, Scott Mifsud and Colton Fretter, the number one, two and six scorers in the ECHL. Sounds like the Wolves top line, doesn’t it? Fretter is a rookie. The authoritative Internet Hockey Database doesn’t list Fretter or Mifsud as Atlanta prospects. Though there is strong evidence elsewhere they are in the Atlanta system.

Like the Wolves, the Gladiators have a strong power play, ranked number one in the ECHL at a scorching 26.2 percent. At least on the ECHL and AHL levels, Atlanta seems to be developing a high scoring team down the road with a mighty power play.

With only nine points separating the top team of the ECHL North Division from the last place team of the division, it seems up for grabs. Likewise, in the National Conference, the top team and the fourth place (of five) team are just six points apart.

But in the West Division the Alaska Aces look assured of another run at the Kelly Cup with 13 points separating them from the next team. They are the top team of the ECHL and look likely to play for the final again. In a rematch Monday of the Kelly Cup finals in Gwinnett, the Aces defeated the Gladiators 5-4 OT. They play again Saturday in Gwinnett.

At about this time of the year I begin to pay attention to the United Hockey League. The Muskegon Fury are leading the League by 19 points. It is almost a shoe-in for them to be in the playoffs. The Fort Wayne Komets are leading the Western Conference, but there is competition, with the Rockford IceHogs, now in their last days in the UHL, following at 52 points. The top two goalies of the league are in Muskegon, Clayton Pool with a 93 percent save and a GAA of 2.13, and Keven St. Pierre in Fort Wayne with a 92.7 percent save and a GAA of 2.22.

What strikes me, probably because I’ve only been to Chicago Hounds games, is that the penalty minutes for this league are greater than the average for the AHL and the ECHL, 19.98 minutes in the AHL, 22.76 minutes per game for the ECHL and 25.02 minutes for the UHL. The action this year, at least at Hounds games, is soft, with virtually no hitting.

Finally, there is another team in town, the Chicago Blackhawks. Last in power plays, they have also managed to be in last place in the Western Conference Central Division. That’s quite a trick. The competition for last is pretty tight, with losers Columbus BlueJackets and the St. Louis Blues in contention.

The Blackhawks are 27th in the league, leading the Los Angeles Kings and the Philadelphia Flyers (by 13 points!). They have only won one of the last ten games they’ve played, losing two others after regulation. What makes this worse, is that they play the Blues and the BlueJackets so much. It is pathetic hockey to watch, when it is even available. Thankfully their fans don’t even bother to tell me about major league versus minor league hockey. I don't know how they put up with it. They don’t suck enough to get the number one draft pick and yet they suck. They consistently and year after year are among the worst hockey has to offer.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Tibbets thoughts/ Blue liner dreams

1) Before I start my review of the first half, I note first the plea below, to leave Billy Tibbetts alone. I’ve always liked Billy, and I’ve admired his play. The attention he received in Finland began before I began writing about him again.

I try to keep in mind that Billy, his father, people who are hurt by Tibbetts presence, and others, may read these entries. Frankly, Billy Tibbetts leads to more traffic on this site than any other topic I can identify. There is a demand for news about him.

However, I’m not into some journalistic bull-shit excuse here. There is no higher motive of journalistic integrity. This is a fan blog. I’ll try to keep in mind that I am discoursing on a topic that is sensitive to others.

By the way, an excellent site on Tibbetts past is running: www.billytibbetts.com.

2) It is hard to look at the past two Wolves games without thinking about how much the defensive situation has changed and to reflect on what will probably happen in the future. The slowdown in Wolves production was almost coincidental with the injury suffered by Boris Valabik at the end of the year, although, as I discussed, it was also due to some call-ups and weakness in goal.

It is so nice to recognize that Guillaume Desbiens has really stepped up to fill the shoes of Valabik. The maturity of this young blue line is also filled by Jon Awe, who played in the Gwinnett Gladiators last year, and who has been called up from Gwinnett to play for the Wilkes-Barre/ Scranton Penguins this season as well as the Wolves. Troy Milam, another Gladiators graduate, is playing excellent defense, and a tip of the hat to Linda who said he would. A mom would know!

Nathan Oystrick has also stepped into the role and matured. I admit to not liking the man’s early play, and I take back the bad things I said about him. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Oystrick called up to the Atlanta Thrashers for a look this year, along with Valabik. And, for the first time, I can say we still have a strong blue line, if that happens.

The early weakness on the blue line seems to me to have been there at the same time we suffered from the presence of current Thrasher Braydon Colburn. As I said above, sometimes moms and dads read what I’ve said. I’m not happy with Colburn’s performance. Please, leave before I say something I’ll regret.

Fred Brathwaite and Michael Garnett are average in goal. I’m being kind. They both stepped up this month after a miserable few weeks at the end of the year. But, this is clearly an area that Atlanta should address in the off-season. One strong goalie is not going to allow this franchise to win the cup, never mind their affiliates.

Two goal minder prospects sit in Gwinnett: Dan Turple and Dave Caruso. Their performance there has been average, but they are prospects and rookies.

Another prospect, that I watch from my comfy chair is Chad Denny who is playing in the Quebec QJMHL’s Lewiston Maineiacs. I’ve only seen him play in the Traverse City tournament in September, but I’m excited. So far this year he has 43 points. He had 47 in all of last year. I don’t know if the Thrashers will assign him to the Wolves, we may see him, or Gwinnett may see him, during the playoffs.

Wolves end first half, thrashing Iowa 7-3

The Wolves ended the first half of the season with a 7-3 thrashing of the Iowa Stars Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Arena. A game that ended in a pugilistic third period, was marked by a Wolves goal in the first minute of play.

Steve Martins returned to the ice in style Saturday night and with rookie call-up Jon Awe, assisted Chicagoan Colin Stuart as he put one past Stars goaltender Dan Ellis for an early lead. Joel Lundquist, whose family is already well represented in the NHL, hungrily showed he was ready to return to the NHL with an unassisted slapper from the high slot to even the score. It was the first goal given up by Wolves goalie Fred Brathwaite in 83 minutes of play.

The Stars dominated the first period and surged to their only lead less than five minutes later when an Iowa blueliner, Mark Ardelan, in a traffic jam, put the puck between Brathwaite and Wolves defender Guillaume Desbiens. The only penalty of the period was called on Colin Stuart less than a minute later, but the Wolves held the Stars off. With less than two minutes left in the first frame, Kevin Doell put a rebound by Ellis, tying the score 2-2. At the end of 20 minutes Brathwaite had already stopped 19 shots on goal, while Chicago had only put seven at the net.

In the second frame, Iowa got into early penalty trouble when Matt Nickerson was called for elbowing with less than 16 minutes on the clock. However, after holding the Wolves for less than a minute, Brett Sterling was called for hooking. Iowa was unable to capitalize on its short power play opportunity, in fact allowing Martins to breakaway and score a shortie.

Iowa received another power play opportunity with 12.40 left to play as Stuart was given four minutes in the sin bin for butt ending. Lundquist cut into the power play with a penalty, however the Stars maintained the momentum and scored on an even strength goal by Junior Lessard, tying the game at three each. Lundquist took another minor, although Chicago was unable to capitalize on it. Late in the period, with a minute and a half left Chicago scored the game winning goal which was passed from Darren Haydar to Sterling and on to Cory Larose. Larose put the puck above Ellis, but below the crossbar. Although Chicago finally ended the frame on top of Iowa, it was a near fought thing as Iowa had put seven shots and one goal on the Wolves, while the Wolves had responded with 11 shots and two goals.

The Wolves dominated the final frame, which started with coincidental minors called on Sterling and Marius Holtet. Less than a minute later Lessard bumped Brathwaite, getting a two minute visit to the sin bin. Less than six seconds after the expiration of the penalty, Martins, assisted by Troy Milam and Derek MacKenzie, put one past Ellis. Just 29 seconds later Alex Bourret, assisted by Desbiens put another home, leaving Iowa permanently behind now by 6-3.

Larose and Holtet danced about throwing punches and a minor on the Wolves and two minors on the Stars preceded another Bourret goal with less than 90 seconds to go. A final fight, this time between Desbiens and Francis Wathier marked the end of the contest. Brathwaite stopped 34 shots for his win, while Ellis stopped 22 for his loss.

The game, part of a nine game “Ice Capades” road trip, is interrupted by the American Hockey League All-Star game, played in Toronto this weekend. Three Wolves will take part in the All-Star game, Haydar, Sterling and blueliner Nathan Oystrick. Another Wolves player, Jason Krog, was also given the nod to play in the contest, but is now playing for the New York Islanders of the NHL, instead.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

MetroCentre deal close to closing

The MetroCentre deal is very close to being closed. In a nutshell, the Rockford MetroCentre has agreed to purchase the Rockford IceHogs. The IceHogs will affiliate with the Chicago Blackhawks and move to the American Hockey League. The affiliation agreement with the Blackhawks will last for ten years. Owner Kris Tumilowicz will not hold a share of the new IceHogs, due to the UHL having onerous conditions on owners moving leagues. Instead he will be kept on as a “consultant.” As noted below, minority owner Craig Drektrah will purchase the Chicago Hounds. The Norfolk Admirals will continue to play as affiliates of … well we don’t know that part yet. And we don’t know how the American Hockey League is going to organize its Western Conference so that Chicago, Milwaukee and Rockford remain in the same division. And, we don’t know how the IceHogs are going to get a AHL franchise. Finally, the UHL says it plans to sue and also will levy a $400,000 fine against the IceHogs for leaving the league.

Over at the Wolfkeeper discussion list several of us put together a master list, if you will, of the owners and affiliates inside the AHL. Our gift to the MetroCentre. It is sort of a master cold calling list. MetroCentre manager Corey Pearson can use it to inquire if a franchise is available. Can you imagine the call: “Hello? Is this the Pittsburgh Penguins? Is there a Mr. Mario Lamox there? … What? Oh! Lamieux, of course… This is Corey Pearson of the Rockford MetroCentre, I’m calling to see if the Wilkes Penguins franchise is for sale. See, we need one to put the IceHogs in the AHL for the Blackhawks… What?… Wilkes- berry?… Oh Wilkes-Barre… Oh, I see… That popular huh?… He’s at a meeting in T O? What’s that?… Oh… Toronto… Why is it called TO? … What’s happening there this weekend?… I didn’t know everyone was meeting there, I guess I should have gone too…”

Sorry to slam Mr. Pearson, but this entire thing looks botched. Anyway, that’s the story right now. The MetroCentre still has to convince the current IceHogs fans to stay for the AHL, convert the rink to AHL standards (it is too small) and find a franchise.

Here is your cold call list Corey, good luck… (average attendance as of 1/19) (capacity as of 1/19)

Heshey Owned by Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Affiliated with Washington 8,437 / 10,500 (80.4%)
Wilkes-Barre Ownership Mario Lemieux affiliation Pittsburgh 8,019 /8,143 (98.5%)
Rochester Ownership Steve Donner affiliation Buffalo and Florida 7,771 /11,200 (69.4%)
Manitoba Ownership True North Sports & Entertainment Affiliation Vancouver 7,164 / 8,812 (81.3%)
Manchester Ownership and affiliation Los Angeles 7,130 / 9,916 (71.9%)
Chicago Owned by Don Levin Affiliated with Atlanta 6,623 / 16,692 (39.7%)
Providence Ownership H. Larue Renfroe affiliation Boston 6,443 / 11,909 (54.1%)
Philadelphia Ownership and affiliation Philadelphia 6,106 / 17,380 (35.1%)
Houston Ownership and affiliation with Minnesota 5,840 / 8,939 (65.3%)
Grand Rapids Owned by Dan DeVos Affiliated with Detroit 5,619 / 10,834 (51.9%)
Syracuse Ownership Howard Dolgon affiliation Columbus 5,074 /6,230 (84.4%)
Portland Ownership Brian Petrovek affiliation Anaheim 5,033 / 6,733 (74.8%)
Milwaukee Ownership Harris Turer, Ben Sheets & local group Affiliation Nashville 5,015 / 17,845 (28.1%)
Iowa Ownership Schlegel Sports Affiliated with Dallas 4,708 / 8,851 (53.2%)
Hamilton Owned by Michael Andlauer Affiliated with Montreal 4,158 / 8,819 (47.1%)
Peoria Ownership Anne Griffith & Bruce Saurs Affiliation St. Louis 4,151 / 9,919 (41.2%)
Worcester Ownership and affiliation San Jose 4,095 / 6,800 (60.2%)
Bridgeport Owned by Charles Wang Affiliated with Islanders 4,087 /8,412 (48.6%)
Binghamton Locally Owned Affiliated Senators 4,000 /4,710 (84.9%)
Norfolk Ownership Ken Young Affiliation Chicago 3,991 / 8,823 (45.2%)
Hartford Owned by MSG Affiliated with Rangers 3,924 / 9,801 (40.0%)
San Antonio Ownership San Antonio Spurs Affiliation Phoenix 3,819 / 7,035 (54.3%)
Albany Owned by Walter Robb Affiliated with Hurricanes/ Avalanche 3,709 / 6,982 (53.1%)
Toronto Ownership and affiliation Toronto 3,650 / 8,295 (44.0%)
Springfield Ownership Pro Friends, Inc affiliation Tampa Bay 3,174 / 6,679 (47.5%)
Omaha Ownership Partnership local and Calgary Affiliation Calgary 3,081 / 7,994 (38.5%)
Lowell Ownership and affiliation New Jersey 2,545 / 6,400 (39.8%)

Hounds finally may get caring owner

The Hounds are going to lead this story as I finally have some news that might be good about this team of losers. First of all, I’m not the UHL homer with his authentic jersey reversed and the sign, who stands above the players tunnel with the sign “fire or trade Puhalski.” I think Puhalski, like just about anyone associated with the Hounds this season, has had a raw deal.

The deal was this: the Hounds are owned by a guy named Dr. Eric Margenau. Margenau had the fortune to be able to hire some good people, particularly middle management from the Chicago Wolves. I don’t know what they told him. He is a self-proclaimed successful minor league owner after all. What can you tell a guy like that? But do you suppose they told him to cut back on marketing? To avoid marketing in places hockey fans go, such as their fan clubs, hockey rinks or sports radio? Just asking. Because that seems to encapsulate the inaugural season marketing efforts, or lack of, for the team.

Anyway, last night I was at the game between the Hounds and the Fort Wayne Komets. The Hounds got killed in a boring shutout. What was the score? Ummn… I didn’t pay attention. I was falling asleep. I don’t know what the game sheet attendance was: I counted heads. There were about 400 people in the stands. I noted a lot of moms and kids under 10. I also saw a lot of puck bunny wannabees. What is it with 13 year old girls? Good god any photo of them would invite charges of child endangerment.

I also saw Craig Drektrah. This is the first time in the Hounds history in this city I’ve felt things might get better in the future. Drektrah is a minority owner in the Rockford IceHogs. The IceHogs have signed an understanding to sell the team to the Rockford MetroCentre. More on that in a moment. Drektrah is reportedly unhappy about the deal. A story in the Rock River Times notes he and co-owner Dr. Kris Tumilowicz are parting ways over the sale.

Drektrah now, according to a report on the Komets radio broadcast, is slated to purchase Margenau’s interest in the Chicago Hounds. He’s selling the Hogs for about $1.5 million, according to press reports. The Hounds are almost worthless. Margenau’s less than brilliant management saw to that.

Still, Margenau sold the IceHogs years ago, and they are now worth a major municipal blow-up and $1.5 million or so. So maybe Drektrah has two things going for him, one he can spot a deal and two, he can turn a bad situation around.

There’s still hope for the Hounds. Good luck Craig.

The Billy Tibbetts Show- Finland edition

It is so Billy. If you read the comments below, or follow this guy in Finland, you’ll know by now that Billy let his Professional Tryout (PTO) with HPK expire, got on a train to Helsinki, and signed with HIFK. Now the word coming out of Finland is that the people in Hämeenlinna had accepted Tibbetts, especially given his exceptional play on the ice. However, some observers there note that Hämeenlinna is a much smaller town than Helsinki. Given Tibbetts past, and the fact that his entry into the market was marked by a rehash of his past, perhaps he just felt more comfortable there. Living anonymously in the bigger city.

In any case, apparently HIFK doubled his salary, and he promptly rewarded them with the game winner in a shoot-out. Still, I can offer no excuse for what the fans in Hämeenlinna sense is a betrayal. Good god, I love the way he burns his bridges.

HPK plays HIFK in a few weeks. Despite the Finnish reputation for a softer style of play one poster warned me, “Man what a fucking class act. In a few weeks these two teams will face each other and that's gonna be something. Stay tuned...”

Wolves shutout Omaha 5-0. Solidify lead

The Chicago Wolves defeated the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights 5-0. The shutout could be the most important victory for the Wolves this month as Omaha was just two points behind the Wolves in the standings. A loss would have tied the teams and moved the momentum decisively into Omaha’s favor.

The shutout, in Omaha, featured goals by Darren Haydar, two goals by Brett Sterling and two goals by Jordan LaVallee. Sterling scored his second goal on the power play, LaVallee scored his first on the power play.

The first period was marked by a bruising fight between Wolves defenseman Guillaume Desbiens and Knights Brandon Pruist. Fourteen additional minutes of penalties interrupted the first frame as the Wolves traded knocks with the Knights. Nathan Oystrick and Derek Couture were given double minors during the period for roughing. The Wolves had three incomplete power play opportunities in the period and Haydar’s goal.

Leading 1-0, the Wolves received two penalties early in the second period. After Omaha was unable to capitalize on their opportunities, Sterling scored, putting the Wolves up 2-0. The Knights took two minor penalties to close the second half of the period, stopping the Wolves from taking further advantage of the situation. Only six Knights shots on goal were recorded in the second frame, versus nine for the Wolves.

Entering the final frame up 2-0, the Wolves received two additional minor penalties in the first half of the third period, but held Omaha off. In the final ten minutes, the Wolves scored three times. The first power play goal by Sterling was due to a 5 on 3 power play. The second power play, just 32 seconds later was also on the same power play. The final goal occurred in the final minute of the game.

Fred Brathwaite stopped 24 shots on goal for the win for his first shutout of the season. Curtis McElhinney stopped 29 shots on goal for the loss. The win snapped a red-hot Omaha team, on a seven game winning streak. The Wolves have improved their power play to 21.2 percent, the third best in the American Hockey League. Their penalty killing is ranked 16th at 81.8 percent. Sterling continues to lead the league among all rookies in scoring, while Haydar leads the league in points. Cory Larose is now climbing the list of league skaters at number eleven. With his victory, Brathwaite is ranked 16th in the league among goalies.

The Wolves are tied for third place in the league with 63 points. They lead the Western Division and are tied for first in the North Conference. Omaha is four points behind the Wolves at 59 points, followed by Milwaukee at 52 points, Iowa at 51 points and Peoria at 49 points.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Iowa wins shootout 3-2

The Iowa Stars downed the Chicago Wolves in a shootout, Tuesday, in the Des Moines Wells Fargo Arena. Michael Garnett defended the Wolves goal for 27 saves in three frames, giving up a power play goal to Junior Lessard, just down from the Dallas Stars, in the first period; and a goal by Francis Wathier in the second period.

Chicago had two for seven successful powerplays, with Darren Haydar and Mark Popovic both scoring in the first period. The evenly matched contest saw Iowa goalie Dan Ellis stop 28 shots on goal and all three shootout attempts by the Wolves.

Momentum switched back and forth as the Wolves held a 2-1 lead at the end of the first frame, with eleven shots on goal, against six for the Stars. The second period, the Stars regained the momentum with 13 shots on goal compared to the Wolves five. The third frame, the Wolves regained the momentum but were unable to finish the deal, with 11 shots on goal compared to Iowa’s seven.

In the overtime period Wolves center Cory Larose was handed a minor penalty that Iowa was unable to use to score and the Wolves had two shots on goal versus Iowa’s three. All three of Iowa’s shootout players scored on Michael Garnett, while none of the Chicago players were able to score on the Iowa goalie.

It was the first shootout of the season for Garnett. Chicago is 1-4 in the shootout. It gains a point in the standings, leaving it four points ahead of the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights. Chicago returns to Iowa on Saturday evening. It plays Omaha in a Western Division showdown on Friday in Omaha.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Marlies win in SO

The Toronto Marlies held the Chicago Wolves to a 3-3 tie in regulation and overtime, leading to a shoot out loss for the Wolves. The shoot out loss for the Wolves is the third of four such losses this season. Overall all the shoot outs have occurred with Fred Brathwaite in net.

The Chicago play was marked by two short handed goals in the first period, the first by Derek MacKenzie and the second by Colin Stuart. MacKenzie shares a lead in the AHL for short handed goals with four so far this season.

Toronto came back in the third frame to make it 3-2, when Marlie Robbie Earl put one in on a rebound off of Wolves goalie Fred Brathwaite. Overall, Brathwaite had 46 saves, a season high. In the overtime, Chicago was given an almost two minute advantage due to a penalty on Jeff Corey, but was unable to convert the advantage to a goal.

Marlie goalie Jean-Francois Racine had 41 saves in the contest. The on-ice crew from the Saturday game were in residence again Sunday afternoon and yet another questionable call occurred, the game-ending goal in shoot out by Robbie Earl. Wolves goalie signaled to the referee that the signal that Earl could start his run was not given and was heard to say he wasn’t ready.

Nevertheless, the goal stood and the Marlies were awarded the win.

Wrist Shot

I'd earlier written about Steve Silverthorn, who had three shut outs in two leagues. On Friday the 12th Steve lost a game for Iowa against the Houston Aeros, 3-1, stopping 41 Houston shots. Last night, with Iowa behind 4-1 in the second frame, he was pulled for Tobias Stephen. Silverthorn stopped only nine shots in this contest, in those two frames.

Wolves drop Rampage 7-2

The largest season crowd in the AHL so far, 14,927, saw the Chicago Wolves defeat the San Antonio Rampage 7-2 Saturday night at the Allstate Arena. Leading by one goal, at the end of the first frame, the game looked to be another nail biter for the Wolves. Two goals by the Rampage in the first five minutes of the second period even made it look like the Wolves might drop a game to the perennial cellar dwellers of the league.

But a missed goal by referee Conrad Hache seemed to light the Wolves fire. They responded with 27 shots in the final two frames of the game, producing six goals. It was the second win in a row by Wolves goalie Michael Garnett, who stopped 33 of 35 shots. San Antonio goalie Josh Tordjman stopped 28 shots in his loss.

Blue liner Mark Popovic scored the first goal, while Brent Sterling potted two. Brian Fahey, Cory Larose, Jordan LaVallee and Darren Haydar each scored one goal. For the Rampage, goals were scored by Bill Thomas and Yanick Lehoux. Only fourteen minutes of penalties were assessed in the fast-moving game. Just two of them to Chicago. The win leaves the Wolves in the lead in the West Division by two points over the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights.

Wrist shots

1) Ever heard of the Florida Seals? A member of the Southern Professional Hockey League, the team had a walkout by the players and was locked out of the Silver Spurs Arena earlier this month when team checks began bouncing. ProhockeyNews has been following the story closely. Without housing, visas and possibly health insurance, the players may be in need of additional help. Stay tuned…

2) At least "two to three" NHL teams are interested in an affiliation agreement with the Norfolk Admirals, according to a story in the Virginian Pilot. The paper quotes owner Ken Young as saying the team is pursuing options and plans to meet with several teams during the AHL All-Star meeting later this month in Toronto.

"I think during all-star weekend, and the beginning of that week, we should have a feel for what we'll be doing," Young told the Pilot.

The Winnebago County Board meets January 25 to reconsider the approval of the $20 million Metro Centre bond package. A difference between the city of Rockford and the county approvals left the acquisition of the Rockford IceHogs up in the air. IceHogs ownership then lobbied the board to adapt the city measure. However, the county could not reconsider the measure until the 25th.

3) Here is more hy-jinks by the zebras with orange: Frederick L'Ecuyer was given a player list for the Rochester Americans versus Syracuse Crunch game January 13th. It didn’t include Mark Mancari. When Mancari was involved in a fight with Crunch Andy Canzanello late in the game, Mancari’s penalty wasn’t read aloud by the PA announcer. So, Mancari continued to play. Only it was totally illegal. He should have been ordered off the ice.

The league intends to discipline the on-ice officials.

4) The Crossbar broke the story of Mathieu Brunelle. Brunelle left the Bloomington Prairie Thunder December 15, reporting to the St. Jean's Chiefs of the LNAH. He is still carried on the Prairie Thunder roster injured reserve. He must be seeking that excellent socialized medicine.

5) John Awe, who played for a few games in Chicago Wolves colors last week, won the ECHL skills competition for the fastest slapshot. A burning 102.2 MPH, it broke the previous record of 99.3 MPH, a record that stood for eight years. Awe returned to the Gwinnett Gladiators.

6) Speaking of the Gladiators, the few games I’ve seen I’ve been entranced by the lovely Megan Guthrie, the Gladiators trainer. Half in jest, I’d asked for her autograph in Dayton last month. Megan gets her day in the sun in an article here: LINK

7) Over in IceHog land, a fan favorite, Robin Big Snake, has been in trouble off and on all season. His most recent problem on January 5th he passed up an empty-net opportunity near the end of the game in favor of passing to Paul Brown. Brown needed one more goal to obtain the team’s first hat trick performance of the season.

8) Michael Franke is one of the most successful minor league hockey owners anywhere. He is warning the United Hockey League that it needs to reconsider moves that make it more like the NHL and the AHL. Specifically, in a Fort Wayne News-Sentinel story, Franke says the fans want to see heavier hitting hockey in the minors. “Now you have no hitting. Players are afraid to hit because they will get penalties. We are telling our players to not hit one another. There’s no fighting any more. If you are an instigator, you’re going to get thrown out. We’re taking all the things the fans want to see away from them.”

9) The Atlanta Thrashers met the New York Rangers for the first time since the Rangers lifted Jason Krog off the waiver wire, preventing the Thrashers from sending him back to the Chicago Wolves. The Rangers lost the game 3-1. Krog was used in a number of face-offs, winning more than losing them.

10) The Chicago Blackhawks dropped another game last night, against the Nashville Predators, 6-3. The Blackhawks are now 1-7-2, meaning they have only won one game in regulation or overtime in ten outings. Any more talk of a post season on Madison Avenue is just hot air.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Amerks welcome Pekka Rinne back with 4-1 spanking

Two teams that the Wolves are likely to face in the playoffs squared-off against each other Friday night. The Milwaukee Admirals hosted the North Division leaders the Rochester, New York Americans. The Admirals need to “solve” the puzzle of how to defeat the Amerks due to a quirk in the playoff rules this year: If the fifth place team in the West Division has more points than the fourth place team in the North Division, it enters the North Division playoffs. At the moment that appears to be a good bet for the Admirals to enter the post-season.

The Admirals game marked the return of Finnish goalie Pekka Rinne. He last played in the Calder Cup finals in June of last year. A summer-time mugging at a Helsinki nightclub has kept him out of the game for the first part of the season. It was expected the Amerks would light him up like a Christmas tree. And for the first period they did, scoring four unanswered goals.

Rinne’s five-hole just couldn’t close fast enough to stop the pucks from sliding in whenever the Amerks approached the net. After just one period, there were ten shots and four goals for the Amerks.

Rinne needs to get back up to speed and the Mads are in for a tough few weeks as they get him back in condition. Playing seven games in the next nine days, the Admirals will have plenty of opportunities to warm Rinne up. (The next time the Wolves face the Admirals is March 10).

The Admirals play in the last few years has been anchored by a scoring line that is similar to the scoring line that currently anchors the Wolves: Darren Haydar with Simon Gamache, versus the Wolves Darren Haydar and Brent Sterling. With both Haydar and Gamache gone, the Admirals team play is noticeably more physical and is scoring less.

Blueliners Sheldon Brookbank, Kevin Klein, Alex Henry and Nolan Yonkman are carrying through on checks in the defensive zone. What I’ve always noted about the Admirals check style, however, is it tends to come late, and seems pointless. Last night, with nothing personal at stake in the game, that style was evident again.

Checking serves several purposes. A heavy check on an opposing player can hearten a team, lifting its hopes and warning the opposition that there is a physical price to be paid for playing. Milwaukee does an effective job of using the check for this purpose. And although the checks are hard, they are clean, that is, they don’t generally deserve penalties.

A second purpose of checking is to force a turnover of the puck. The checks I’m seeing are not accomplishing this: they are occurring after the puck has left the player. They seem to come a bit late and a bit behind the man, when the player isn’t looking. I think they are on the envelope of being too hard and too much for the circumstances. However, Milwaukee generally doesn’t get called for its checks.

Further, they don’t accomplish the next goal: They don’t take the man out of the play. The man is already out of the play. It seems that a fast moving player, instead of checking, can begin to play the next man or the puck, instead of a check on someone who is generally not moving.

It is a style of play that seems pointless. It seems that one of its unanticipated consequences is to increase the opposition’s anger, which can be good, possibly leading to fights and penalties. But the league shows the Mads as having only 824 penalty minutes so far this season, placing the team behind the Wolves and the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights in the division, and 15th overall. So, the tactic is not leading to a lot of penalties against the Admirals.

In the power play, the Admirals are a lackluster 16.2 percent, among the bottom half of the league. So why do it?

The Amerks, like the Wolves in the Western Division, are cleaning up in the North Division. Their style of play is markedly more defensive than that of the Wolves. Only 121 goals have been scored against the Americans this season, a mark that is beaten only by the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, the Omaha Knights, the Hartford Wolfpack and the Portland Pirates.

The team effectively closes down any passing lanes, defends against shots on goal and is able to disrupt the offense with poke checks and turnovers. Once on the offense, the team is not scoring a lot of goals, just enough, it seems, to end the chances of the opposition. The Amerks offense is marked by excellent passing into the center of the offensive zone. There don’t seem to be any defenders there! They all seem hung up on the boards. What is the defense doing? This isn’t just a critique of the Admirals but of the Wolves too.

Then they play trap. They don’t leave the defensive zone, they gang up on the puck. The shooting lanes are shut down. It is boring. It is terribly, terribly boring to watch. In the game on Friday, the Amerks put three shots on goal in the second period and seven shots on goal in the third period. Ten shots, total in 40 minutes of hockey. And, it wasn’t as if they ever lost control of the game. They played with the Admirals and the Admirals couldn’t break out of the rut.

Why would a team play like this? Why not take the Admirals, a likely play-off opponent, and shake them till their brains rattled. The Amerks could have done it.

Rinne. Why give him any real practice? The Amerks decided not to play against Rinne. He is still as cold as he was at 6.59 PM Friday, and probably more discouraged. This is one deadly team. And, they seem to have the number of every Western Division team this season, only dropping one game to any Western team: Milwaukee on November 22.

Across the Illinois State Line, the Wolves, once again, shattered the Peoria Rivermen, winning 6-1 in Peoria. Marek Schwarz defended the Rivermen nets, stopping 29 of 35 Wolves shots. Michael Garnett played a good game, stopping 42 of 43 Rivermen shots. Wolves goals were scored by Haydar, two goals including a short-handed goal by Kevin Doell, two goals by Cory Larose and a goal by Brian Sipotz. The win keeps the Wolves ahead of the Omaha Knights, two points up in the standings.

The Wolves have only dropped one game to the Rivermen this season, a 2-1 loss January 9. The Wolves take on the San Antonio Rampage at the Allstate Arena on Saturday, and the Toronto Marlies at the Allstate on Sunday. Sunday’s game is being rescheduled to 6 PM due to a conflict with a minor sporting event across town. The Wolves then start their “Ice Capades” road trip, with only one game scheduled at home till February 24.

Wrist shots:

The Gwinnett Daily Post published an article quoting Gladiator coach Jeff Pyle as saying the heart of a champion did not beat in the Glad's locker room. Pyle was reacting to the slow slide of the Glads from the top of their division and then back to first place again. Meanwhile in Chicago, reports that their was a players only meeting prior to the loss earlier in the week against the Marlies.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Wolves falling short: Is it Atlanta's fault?

Wash your sweaters, get the grill out. The Wolves slide has started a new season. The 5-4 loss to the North Division fifth place Toronto Marlies on Wednesday brought the Wolves opponents within striking distance of taking the lead from the Wolves. Just two points ahead of the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights, the Wolves have blown a substantial lead, gaining just 13 points since December 18.

Darren Haydar, the league’s top scorer has continued to score, although the streak of goals and assists which at one point threatened to topple a twenty-three year old record held by Wayne Gretzky ended. Still the 39 games in a row in which Darren Haydar scored either a goal or an assist rank among the top five professional runs.

And, the Wolves have a rookie, Brent Sterling, who has twice won rookie of the month. Sterling is ranked third for points in the American Hockey League and tops the league with 35 goals.

What has prevented the Wolves from winning recently? December saw injuries and call-ups that disrupted the lines. Most recently, Boris Valabik, injured during a December 29th game in Peoria is expected back at any time. Since he’s been gone the blue line has called up several promising rookies and prospects from the Gwinnett Gladiators. But the defense is still suffering. Jason Krog, part of the high scoring line with Darren Haydar and Brent Sterling, was called up to the Atlanta Thrashers on December 12th. Further turmoil in the Wolves lines in December included a call-up of former captain Derek MacKenzie on December 21st. Krog was sent to waivers last week by the Thrashers. The New York Rangers picked him up and he is now playing there. If the Rangers release him, which isn’t likely right now, he would probably end up back in Chicago. MacKenzie was sent back to Chicago without incident.

The other problems are in the nets. First let’s set the top of the league. Jaroslav Halak of the Hamilton Bulldogs is stopping 93.5 percent of shots and has a goals against average of 1.92. Karl Goehring, who was supposed to back Pekka Rinne in Milwaukee, is ranked 17th with a 2.66 GAA and stopping 90.9 percent of shots.

For the Chicago Wolves, Fred Brathwaite ranks 20th on this list, with a 2.75 GAA and stopping 89.7 percent of shots. And, Brathwaite, the Wolves leading goalie, is credited with 12 wins, seven losses and 2 shoot-out losses. Michael Garnett is ranked 39th on the list with a 3.42 GAA and stopping 88.8 percent of shots, has a win loss of 13 – 8. The AHL is only ranking 46 goalies, meaning Brathwaite, a veteran, is ranked just better than average, while Garnett is near the bottom.

Clearly at least one of the problems the Wolves have is they can’t stop an effective offense. The problem is not limited to the Wolves. Further into the Thrashers organization, at the top there is Kari Lehtonen. Lehtonen, who suffered a groin injury early in the previous season, is ranked 21st among NHL goalies, with a GAA of 2.78, stopping 91.2 percent of shots. Backing Lehtonen is Johan Hedberg. Have you heard of him? If his cold hand has to play, he has a GAA of 3.17 and is stopping 88.1 percent.

In the Gwinnett Gladiators of the ECHL are Atlanta prospects Dan Turple and Dave Caruso. Caruso and Turple have about split the season at the Gladiators, Caruso playing 18 games and Turple 21.

Turple, ranked 35th among 40 ranked goalies in the league, has a 3.58 GAA and an 87.7 save percentage, winning 11 and losing 7 games with a shutout loss. Caruso is ranked 30th in the league, has a 3.41 GAA, and an 89.3 percent save. Top scorers and a strong group of prospect blue liners have allowed the Gladiators to be ranked 3rd in the ECHL, tied in points with ECHL champion Alaska Aces and the Florida Everblades.

The Thrashers have built a fragile group of goalies. Lehtonen, who played in 40 games this season, has been a wall, bringing the Thrashers to the top of the Southeast Division and fifth overall in the NHL in points. But if he falls, who will the Thrashers put in the net? Who will get the call from Chicago?

It is a bad situation. Everything is riding on the back of one person, Lehtonen. If he falls, things will only get worse in Atlanta, Chicago and Gwinnett.

Wrist Shots:
1) Glen Falls, NY, which lost the UHL Adirondack Frostbite last season in a league contraction, is looking again at minor league hockey. This is the first season since 1980 that the town has not been home to a minor league hockey club.
2) The ECHL Cincinnati Cyclones are off to a terrible start with an average attendance of less than 2,000. There could be a reason the AHL left town.
3) Allentown, PA has received a study giving a thumbs up to trying to obtain a minor league team. The study compares the region favorably to Wilkes-Barre, one of the hottest minor league hockey markets in the country.
4) Bentonville, AK, home to Wal-Mart, is getting an eye from the ECHL, local leaders say. A team would help fill a new arena being built there.
5) The list of cities hoping Pittsburgh and the Penguins fail to reach an agreement: Houston, Kansas City and Winnipeg. The list of cities that should be added but won’t: Oklahoma City, Portland, OR. The next meeting is set for Wednesday night or Thursday morning.

A couple of news items that I saw that haven't been widely reported but may deserve some more attention:

The Flint Generals have accused their former coach of entering their locker room during a January 6th game, perhaps taking note of game strategy. The story is from MLive. The UHL is investigating and warning it will discipline Elmira head coach Robbie Nichols if he entered the Generals locker room.

A New Year's Eve game between the Muskegon Fury and the Quad City Mallards saw the Fury coach, Bruce Ramsay, ejected after he objected to an on-ice officials call, thoriwing sticks on the ice in protest. The Muskegon Chronicle reported in MLive.com that there were 28 penalites in the game. Nineteen of the penalties were against the Fury, including 11 in the third period.

Well, maybe that's all the attention they really deserve after all!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Waivers and Sales

Funny business, hockey. The Los Angeles Kings have had problems all season with goalies. The revolving door that is the pipes in LA doesn’t include one name, however: Manchester Monarch Jason LaBarbera. LaBarbera is better than the other netminders it has called up, Dan Cloutier, Barry Brust and Yutaka Fukufuji. However, LaBarbera is subject to waiver if he is called up. And, LA expects he’d be grabbed by another team.

The same waiver rules designed to protect athletes from being warehoused in the minors between stints in the majors have found a way to punish LaBarbera this season.

More funny business, Nashville is on the market, or maybe in the market… to move. The Predators, who affiliate with the Milwaukee Admirals, have had one the best seasons ever, yet corporate ticket sales have floundered, leading the Wisconsin-based owner, Craig Leipold, to announce he plans to sell 40 percent of the team to a local investor. Provided he can find one.

Leipold’s move was due to the team attracting common Joe, not corporate sponsors and corporate ticket buyers. It averages 14,700 in attendance, with about 1,500 tickets given away each game, according to a story in the Tennessean.

That places it 23rd in the NHL in attendance and the lowest in ticket price, according to the Predators. The team’s revenue sharing agreement is effected by attendance and revenue, to low and the team takes a smaller cut of league television sales and advertising revenues

Corporate ticket sales have fallen from 8,600 in the inaugural season, eight years ago, to about 2,600 this season. Local businesses cite their unfamiliarity with the sport and support for local Vanderbilt University. Similar in market composition to the Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes, the ‘Canes organization noted that individual and family tickets were becoming increasingly important to it.

The news excited hockey fans in Kansas City. They immediately added Nashville to the teams they are wooing to come to the new Sprint Center. Add to that list, the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights. Why not? Although owners of the team, it is a partnership between the Calgary Flames and a local charity, the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben, deny the team is moving in the next year, the team continues to have among the lowest attendance in the league.

So far, this year, attendance has averaged 3,151 fans, compared to 3,271 in 2005-6, their inaugural season. That ranks 26 of the 27 AHL teams.

Landing an AHL team and showing success with it may prove KC is ready for a NHL team. The market has already failed with the International Hockey League’s Blades and the NHL’s Scouts.

Zebras in the crosshairs

You, the hockey fan, may not know it, but the guys in the stripped shirts are often related. Two games by two different members of the Koharski family were criticized this week. In the NHL Don Koharski, coming off a decision that cost the Edmonton Oilers the game against the Los Angeles Kings on Monday, January 8, decided to sacrifice the San Jose Sharks on the altar of his demons, holding them to six penalties in row starting after a fight in the first period.

While the San Jose announcers were trying to describe this in polite terms, the anger could be heard that their team was being dealt with as the lamb taken to slaughter, the meat for Koharski’s atonement. The Oilers, despite the sixth man help, ended the game 3-2.

On the other side of the continent Jamie Koharski, is being criticized for his calls in an American Hockey League game between the Norfolk Admirals and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Michael Fornabaio's blog on the Bridgeport Sound Tigers 3-2 loss starts with questions about two calls made by this Koharski.

Over on Madison Avenue, yet more questions are being raised. The Blackhawks loss due to a video goal review (which doesn’t involve the on-ice officials) is being challenged. According to announcers, the league has superior video capabilities, even beyond that of the networks, allowing it to review each goal, in Toronto, and approve it or not.

In the Shoot-out loss to the Minnesota Wild on Sunday the 14th, Wild goalie Manny Fernandez can be seen almost, but not quite stopping the shot by Blackhawk Denis Arkhipov. As it inches across the goal line he glances down and kicks it away with his skate. No goal say the boys in Toronto. The Blackhawks are so upset, according to reports, that they plan to bring the matter before the board of the NHL at its next regularly scheduled meeting. There is an excellent video of the questioned goal at the Blackhawks website.

Buffeted by more injuries, the Blackhawks have dropped eight out of nine, with one of the losses being the above shoot-out., since December 29. Fragile hockey is back on Madison Avenue.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Silverthorn, Tibbetts and Krog

Two shutouts, sent down and settles another shutout. That’s the story of Idaho Steelheads goalie Steve Silverthorn. Silverthorn, called up to the Iowa Stars due to injuries in Dallas, replaced Iowa netminder Tobias Stephen. Silverthorn, who played two games for Iowa last weekend, shutdown Hamilton and Toronto, stopping 56 shots in the process.

Iowa sent him back to Idaho due to schedule opportunities that let him play there without missing a game in Iowa and he does it again, shutting down the ECHL Phoenix Roadrunners, stopping another 20 shots on goal. Recalled against the Houston Aeros, he finally gave up a goal, losing the game 3-1.

His rookie year in Idaho saw Silverthorn play 40 games and post a 2.9 GAA, compared to a 2.88 ECHL GAA this year in 29 games.

Billy Tibbetts is back on the ice, as previously reported, in Finland. HPK is playing this weekend in St. Petersburg, Russia in the European Champions Cup. Tibbetts who was out of condition on first reporting to the Finnish team, scored on a penalty shot in a 7-0 victory over Slovakia’s MsHK on Thursday. HPK went on to defeat Sparta (Prague) 3-2 earlier today. They take on AK Bars Kazan in the New Ice Palace for the Gold tomorrow.

If tradition has any meaning, Bars Kazan traditionally wins this contest and HPK will walk away with a silver medal. I’ll report back if Tibbetts was able to change things.

EDIT: 1/16/2007 Bars Kazan, a Russian team from Tartarstan, blew out the Finnish team HPK 6-0. Winning the European Champions Cup. WOW!

Finally, Jason Krog, the wonderkid of the Wolves, called up to Atlanta December 12, was sent down, to be picked up off of waivers by the New York Rangers. Krog, although not having played in a month, remains among the American Hockey League’s top five scorers this season. In Atlanta, he played in 14 games, only recording one goal and four assists. Replacing him in Atlanta is Scott Mellanby, off of the injury list. Mellanby had seven goals and 12 assists in 33 games this season. Discussing the magic of the Krog-Haydar-Sterling line in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Milwaukee Admirals Coach Claude Noel said Haydar was small, not the greatest skater, but was blessed with great intelligence.

It is unlikely Chicago will see Krog again. If Atlanta has more offensive call-ups from the Chicago Wolves Derek MacKenzie, Darren Haydar and Brent Sterling are the most likely to go, in that order.

Penguins 1 Wolves 0

The Wolves slump continued last night as the WBS Penguins blanked them in one of the best hockey games I've seen all year. I believe part of the offensive problem is turnovers. I kept track in the first period, the Wolves used dump and chase almost as much as they brought the puck into the offensive zone. However, the Pens and other teams have lately appeared to be very prepared for this style of Wolves play. Either a blue liner is waiting, often on the opposite board, or the goalie (who had an excellent game) will just go behind the net to play the puck. Either way, the Wolves end up turning over the puck. There is almost a one-for-one relationship between dump and chase and turnovers.

This isn't to say that you should never dump and chase, nor that every dump and chase causes a turnover, but the use of it is excessive on the Wolves. It happened, at least seven times in the first period.

Watching Atlanta play on TV I also counted the dump and chase against the Canadiens. I believe they used it six times in the whole game. Why are we using a technique that is taught to mites so they can penetrate the blue line? Are the offensive players so ill-equipped to be challenged that this is the best they've got? It has clearly become a dominant style for the Wolves as opponents are now anticipating its use.

The almost useless Braydon Colburn, number one draft pick and current Atlanta Thrasher said "let's go" to New Jersey Devil Mike Rupp. He sustained cuts to his face and did not return. In a related matter, Wolves blue liner Mark Popovic was seen taking a limo to O'Hare after the game. So long Braydon?

The MetroCentre and the ownership of the Rockford IceHogs are close to a deal, according to the Rock River Times. The deal would allow current ownership to continue with a 25 percent stake in the team, the other part owner would be the MetroCentre. Team owner Dr. Kris Tumilowicz asked Winnebago County Board members Thursday night to reverse an earlier decision to block the MetroCentre from owning an AHL team saying a deal would be announced before the next board meeting January 27.

The thought occurrs to me, as this deal is now approaching reality, what will happen next season as the fanatical Rockford UHL fans invade the Bradley Center and the Allstate. I'm of the opinion that the Bradley Center will be a tough place as there will be almost as many Rockford fans as Mads fans. And, there will be bad blood due to the broken relationship between the two teams. On the other hand, coming to Chicago, the IceHogs fans may pickup some Blackhawk fans. The Wolves larger fan base will be able to absorb the influx of IceHog fans, but there is no love lost between Blackhawk fans and Wolves fans. As a season ticket holder for all three teams, yes I'm nuts, welcome hogs fans. I need to get myself an IceHogs sweater before it is too late.

By now most Wolves fans are aware that Jason Krog, the Wolves scorer who led a line until December with Darren Haydar and Brent Sterling, has been claimed off of waivers. Krog, who did not play against the Canadiens earlier this week, will play for the New York Rangers. Go Krog! If Atlanta turns to the Wolves for more offensive power, the Wolves would probably lose Darek MacKenzie, Darren Haydar and Brent Sterling, in that order.

The Wilkes-Barre Scranton fan club and the Wolfpack had a joint function after the game last night. Great fans. Whatever happens in Pittsburgh, these fans have earned a team in the AHL with almost 100 percent sell-outs and consistent post-season play. The fans tell me they are guaranteed a team in WBS until at least 2010.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Haydar streaks ends at 39. Wolves drop 5 of 7

Darren Haydar’s point streak ended tonight and the Chicago Wolves season long dominance of the Peoria Rivermen both came to an end at the Allstate Arena tonight.

Peoria goalie Chris Beckford-Tseu, who won the ECHL championship while playing for the Alaska Aces last season, stopped 22 of 23 shots on goal. The loss marks the fifth loss in seven games for the Wolves, a downturn that started December 27th. The streak can be traced even further back to December 23rd when the Wolves won, but in overtime. So that in nine games, the Wolves have had only two regulation victories.

For the Wolves, the loss also marked its first loss to Peoria this season.

Haydar visibly showed disappointment at the end of the game. Standing between the hash marks, he drooped. Players came up and congratulated him on his run. Haydar, an Atlanta prospect, has not, surprisingly, had a significant shot at the NHL despite his run. A one day bench warming during a tilt between the Thrashers and the Ottawa Senators occurred January 1st.

Several Wolves have been called up to the Thrashers this season, including line-mate Jason Krog, Derek MacKenzie and Braydon Colburn. Colburn and Krog remain in Atlanta.

Haydar’s streak, which broke an American Hockey League record, ended at 39 consecutive games played with a point scored in each. Among professional hockey players, the streak places Haydar fifth among skaters:

1) Wayne Gretzky, NHL in Edmonton 1983-4. 51 Games
2) Mario Lemeiux, NHL in Pittsburgh 1989-90. 46 Games
3) Chick Chalmers, IHL in Omaha 1961-2. 40 Games
4) Paul Jackson, CHL in Wichita 1993-4. 40 Games
5) Wayne Gretzky, NHL in Edmonton 1985-6. 39 Games
6) Darren Haydar, AHL in Chicago 2006-7. 39 Games

(A tip of the hat to Dave Eminian for creating the first version of this table here)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Put the UHL on a dead pool list

The hockey dead pools are beginning to surface. It is the time of the year. The robins return in the spring. The snow drops in February and the hockey dead pools at the turn of the year.

I’m all for hockey dead pools. They aren’t like regular dead pools, but rather speculation on the viability of teams and their operations. But I haven’t really seen one that calls the entire United Hockey League into viability yet. Putting an entire league of ten teams on a dead pool list would be a gutsy move. A move made by a rookie. So, what the heck, I’ll do it.

The UHL has been in trouble, off and on for a while of course. And, when you read this, you need to understand that some parts of the UHL will survive. There are financially strong teams in the league, teams that are well managed, drawing good crowds and that will live to see another season, perhaps as members of the ECHL or another league.

Then there are the dogs, or should we say the Hounds. The Chicago Hounds were screwed from day one. I should say the first home game. The Sears Centre, as previously discussed, has been unable to understand and provide the level of service required for this hockey team. Do I need to repeat what has happened? Glass not installed at game time, seats not yet in place, closed concession stands and what else? What do you need to play ice hockey? Ice. The ice was in terrible shape and the surface was unplayable. The Hounds have not recovered. I’ve personally been to one game that had a crowd that was easily under two hundred people. A recent attendance was officially at less than 1,000. Current attendance is averaging a stated 2,028 or 20.91 percent.

Another team that may be on the watch list of some groups is the Bloomington Thunder of Bloomington, Illinois. Like the Hounds, this is a new team to the area, an expansion, rather than a move, the Thunder have been drawing 3,632 (51.86 percent), according to figures from “intotheboards”. Local media says that is a disappointing number. Of greater concern to me is watching the team’s turnover. Sixteen members, including people associated with the ECHL Rivermen. One of the strengths of the team was its association with the former Peoria Rivermen (ECHL) team. A hoped for agreement with the AHL Rivermen to be an unofficial affiliate does not look like it is working either. The AHL Rivermen are sending their AA players to the Alaska Aces ECHL team.

The Quad City Mallards had one of the most successful teams in the UHL a few years ago. After falling on hard times, under new management and ownership the team promised better to its season ticket holders this year. Instead it is struggling to make .500 this year and the average crowds are 3,174 (34.59 percent). That’s down significantly from the 8,646 attendance the team posted in 1997-8 when it won the Colonial Cup, but also down almost 500 from the season average a week prior and the about 3,542 last season.

The Rockford IceHogs have been examined a lot here. The story update is that the County approved funds to refurbish the Metro Centre but inserted language preventing the Metro Centre or the City of Rockford from owning a professional sports team. So, although there is consensus on renewing the Metro Centre, there is not on the key question of public ownership of the team. The team’s owners have said they plan to play hockey in Rockford next season. And, there is some general agreement that the Metro Centre is low balling the team’s owners on the value of the franchise. It is a mess. What happens if there is no UHL to play in? It might get worse. Current attendance is averaging 3,966 or 56.66 percent.

Looking through the figures posted on intotheboards the Port Huron Flags are near the bottom of the list. Port Huron, Michigan has been on a hockey death pool list several seasons. Last season the Flags went looking for money, according to prohockeynews. This week, when the rest of the hockey community saw attendance up, average attendance fell more than 600, according to intotheboards. Average attendance 1,731 or 53.23 percent of capacity, down from the previous season of 2,387.

The Flint (Michigan) Generals are put on the death pool list by prohockeynews. Pulling just 2,191 (54.49 percent), attendance is down significantly from the peak of 3,737 in 1996-7 and 2,422 last season.

The Elmira Jackals are putting butts in seats, almost 3,600 on average this season. In an arena that holds 4,000, or 90 percent of capacity. However the closest opponent of the team is 392 miles away. Road trips are expensive and without UHL expansion in New York State, this isn’t going to improve. Attendance is up from last season’s 2,692.

That is six of the ten teams in the UHL league. On the plus side, Fort Wayne continues to pull very well, again challenging many more established leagues for a draw. Intotheboards said their average through January 1 was 7,839, 74.62 percent, which is more than the 7,777 average for the 2003-4 season, the previous high or last season’s 7,421.

Also, to put the UHL into perspective, remember that this league contracted from a number of markets at the end of the previous two seasons.

Contractions in 2005-6
Roanoke, Virginia
Fraser, Michigan
Danbury, Connecticut
Glen Falls, New York
St. Charles, Missouri

Relocations in 2005-6
Richmond, Virginia

Contractions in 2004-5
Kansas City, Missouri


The Blackhawks ended the 2005-6 season near the bottom of the NHL with an average attendance of 13,318, or 65 percent of capacity, according to ESPN. This year attendance, so far, is 13,283 or 69.5 percent. Their attendance is up. Beneath them? New Jersey, Washington, New York Islanders and St. Louis. Hawks rule.

Wolves attendance is down this year. 6,803 average (40.76 percent) this year, 8,079 (48.4 percent) in the previous season.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Year in review- 2006

At the end of the year it is inevitable that journalists and writers will look back. Look, I’m doing it now. I’ve been looking back all year, of course. And, of particular concern to me was how the Major Media Outlets looked at hockey.

Well, the news was not good. They didn’t see much, if the summary of the two stories I could find in the Tribune, where hockey isn’t mentioned, and the Daily Southtown, where it is an afterthought, is any indication. In any case, here are the notes I made in November on this story idea. It is time to share, and I ignore the other sports.

Top 2006 local hockey stories, in no particular order:

- Trent Yawney fired by the Chicago Blackhawks, replaced by Denis Savard as head coach. This occurred November 27. The game that proceeded was a 5-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers. However, the Blackhawks were headed straight into the golf season under Yawney. With a 7-14 season, including two overtime losses and an eight game losing streak proceeding it, the nice guy who had only reached post-season in charge of Norfolk’s bench was sent away. Since that time, Savard has shown he learned from the worst, in the best possible meaning of the word: Nine wins, three overtime losses, which are worth a point and three regulation losses. I had doubts that anyone could make a go of the Blackhawks under current ownership and mismanagement, but I could be wrong. Even with that terrific December behind them, the Blackhawks are only a handful of points above the worst in the league. The melt-down in October and November may have already ended any chance the Blackhawks have of a post-season. And, of long-term concern to Blackhawk fans must be that they play in a conference against two of the worst teams in the NHL: the Columbus Blue Jackets and the St. Louis Blues. For exciting hockey to return to the United Center on a consistent basis, there needs to be both a change at the top and something exciting has to happen to all these other bottom dwellers. The current NHL schedule includes too many games against these opponents.

- Pat Foley leaves the Chicago Blackhawks, accepts job at the Chicago Wolves. This happened September 12. What proceeded were two things. First, the Chicago Blackhawks had to let Foley go. That happened at the end of the regular season, when the Blackhawks wouldn’t offer Foley another contract, announcing in May that they were ending their simulcast of radio and television. Foley had been the “voice” of the Blackhawks since the early 1980’s, gaining an Emmy and entry into the Chicago Sports Hall of Fame. The second event occurred in August when Judd Sirrot, the voice of the Chicago Wolves, was offered a job with the HD NHL network. There were few turnovers during the off-season in professional hockey, and the Wolves had already talked to Foley about covering Sirott when he took time off for personal business. When Sirott got the call, Foley slided into his chair. It was another in a number of fan-friendly decisions by the Chicago Wolves, and fan- unfriendly decisions by the Chicago Blackhawks. Foley recently said that he has a home and family in Chicago and that those will be important factors in any decision on moving from the Wolves.

- Chicago Hounds franchise opens in Sears Centre. Opening game canceled due to poor ice conditions. Franchise is in jeopardy. This occurred November 3. The events of the day before are important in apportioning blame. On that day, the Sears Centre had rented the facility to Olay’s figure skating exhibition. That group had requested the Hounds logo, at center ice, be removed and replaced with the Olay logo. No problem so far, except on Friday the 3rd, the doors to the Sears Centre were left open, warming the ice surface, or in the case of center ice, the water surface. At game time the center of the ice, as well as spots around the surface, were visibly watery. The Sears Centre also failed to complete the installation of seats, glass, open enough concession stands and was not in complete control of the parking… The Hounds have not rebounded from this fiasco. And, note that it wasn’t their fault. The fact is, however, that the Hounds did not enter the hockey community to identify potential season ticket holders, did not attempt a real campaign to get hockey season ticket holders to come to their games, and is still failing to do so. The incompetence of Hounds management in the marketing of their team is astounding. There is no presence to speak of at junior level hockey events in the area, there was a refusal to work with the Wolves fan club, the Wolfpack, for their summer picnic, they do not apparently advertise where hockey fans get news. A bigger story is also brewing here. After the Quad City Mallards decide to stay in the UHL last season. The United Hockey League shrank down to ten teams in 2006-7. It lost teams in Virginia, New England, New York and Missouri. Several of the remaining teams are in financial trouble. The Hounds may leave the league before the end of the season. The end of the season may take teams in Bloomington, Rockford and Michigan. What will remain?

- A related story, because they play in the UHL, is the decision of the owners of the Rockford MetroCentre to purchase the Rockford IceHogs and affiliate with the Chicago Blackhawks. The plan is part of a $23 million rejuvenation of the MetroCentre that has already been agreed to by the city of Rockford and now is headed, this week, to the Winnebago County Board for approval. The plan would pull one of the strongest financial clubs out of the UHL, possibly causing it to collapse. From a hockey standpoint, the affiliation would put another team into the American Midwest AHL and help the Blackhawks development efforts. It is the strongest step taken by Madison Avenue in the face of the AHL Chicago Wolves.

- Chicago Wolves fail to make playoffs for first time in franchise history. The true loyalty of a fan is the willingness to put up with a team when it is down. Chicago Wolves fans had that opportunity for the first time last year when their team did not make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. The story seemed assured to occur in early March, however, on March 18th Michael Garnett won against the Manitoba Moose, starting a nine game winning streak and leading the Wolves to win 12 of their last 15 games. Losses to Iowa and Milwaukee in the final week of the campaign put an end to the Wolves amazing late push. Garnett went down in the franchise record books with his streak of wins. This year, Garnett has been lackluster in the pipes. Although he has played in only 20 of the 36 games so far this season, he accounts for 63 of the 120 goals against, averaging 3.25 against average. In addition, the Wolves and the Atlanta Thrashers put some money into the organization this year. As a result, the Wolves have the top scoring line in the AHL and have the best start in franchise history with a record of 25-8-3 for 53 points this New Years Day.

Here are a few other stories that were overlooked by the MMO in 2006:

- Steve Poapst took over head coaching duties for the Chicago Steel, replacing former head coach Chris Imes. This has been rumored, but just occurred, December 22. The Steel are the junior level United States Hockey League team that skates out of Bensenville’s Edge.

- Milwaukee Admirals fail to close the deal on 2nd Calder Cup. The Admirals fell to the Hershey Bears, at home. During the summer, the Admirals lost Darren Haydar to Atlanta and Simon Gamache to a Swiss League team, decimating the "Hobbit” line. Although the Admirals started slow this year, they are threatening to enter post-season again. Obviously good teams have more than good players.

- St. Louis Blues decide to dump 2005-6 season. They have to race the Blackhawks, who are actually trying to win, to the bottom of the charts. It is one thing to be a season ticket holder of a team that cares. How would you like to spend $1000 or more and have the season actively sabotaged by ownership? This was a crime against the season ticket holders. Blues ownership has since changed, but they still suck.

- Gwinnett Gladiators reach Kelly Cup finals. The Gladiators are the ECHL affiliate of the Chicago Wolves. Many of their prospects end up in Chicago. The Glads are having another terrific year, with a current record of 17-10-4 and 38 points, fifth place overall in the ECHL.