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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sterling's hat trick lifts Wolves over Rivermen in 17th win of year

Brett Sterling scored a hat trick and the game winning goal to give the Chicago Wolves a 4-3 overtime win over the Peoria Rivermen in play Thursday at the Allstate Arena. In addition, Atlanta Thrasher teammate Kari Lehtonen stopped 30 Rivermen shots on goal.

The game gives the Wolves 17 wins in the first 20 games, positioning the team for one of the best seasons the franchise has ever enjoyed. The team currently leads the American Hockey League with 35 points.

But all eyes were on the NHL teammates playing in Wolves colors, Lehtonen, assigned to the Wolves from the Atlanta Thrashers on a three game conditioning assignment picked up his second win of the year. His play, not as brilliant as on Tuesday, was on enough to beat out the Rivermen who were led by Kelly Cup winning goalie Chris Beckford-Tseu.

The game demonstrated the team aspect of the sport as Lehtonen pushed back a Rivermen overtime man advantage, but it required the brilliance of Sterling’s play to finally seal the victory for the Wolves.

Since being assigned to the Wolves by the Thrashers, Sterling has led the team in scoring, notching 11 goals and 18 points in just 12 games. Sterling’s totals have pushed the 2007 Rookie of the Year into 31st scoring place in the American League, despite playing only about 60 percent of the games of the other leaders.

Peoria is one of just three teams to have defeated the Wolves this season, the others being Milwaukee in an overtime win and San Antonio. Tied at the end of the first period, following goals by both teams separated by just seconds, Peoria took a one goal lead in the second period on a power play goal by Jean-Guy Trudel.

In the third period, Chicago came from behind to take the lead from Peoria on unanswered goals by Sterling and Steve Martins. However, Julian Talbot tied the game for the Rivermen with 20 seconds remaining in the game when Peoria pulled their goalie for a man advantage.

In the overtime period, Peoria was awarded a power play following a trip by Brian Sipotz at the team benches. The Rivermen were unable to convert the advantage, however. The final goal by Sterling was a feed from college teammate Joey Crabb and Karel Pilar to the near circle. Sterling’s previous hat trick was March 14, also at home in a 4-3 win against the Peoria Rivermen.

Peoria 1 1 1 0 -- 3
Chicago 1 0 2 1 -- 4

First Period---1, Chicago, Sterling 9 (Krog, Schultz), 6:14; 2, Peoria, Stastny 3 (Porter, DuPont), 6:22. Penalties---DuPont, Peoria (cross-checking), 16:11; Woywitka, Peoria (holding), 18:37.

Second Period---3, Peoria, Trudel 5 (Glumac, Drazenovic), 13:57 pp. Penalties--- MacKenzie, Peoria (holding), 7:59; Valabik, Chicago (interference), 13:15; Painchaud, Chicago (holding), 17:21; Drazenovic, Peoria (tripping), 18:47.

Third Period---4, Chicago, Sterling 10 (unassisted), 4:05; 5, Chicago, Martins 8 (unassisted), 8:03; 6, Peoria, Talbot 9 (Glenn, DuPont), 19:40. Penalties---Martins, Chicago (hooking), 11:13.

Overtime---7, Chicago, Sterling 11 (Crabb, Pilar), 4:31. Penalties---Sipotz, Chicago (tripping), 2:56.

Shots on goal---Peoria: 9-11-13--33. Chicago: 6-11-7-2--26. Power plays---Peoria: 1-4. Chicago: 0-4. Goalies---Peoria, Beckford-Tseu (22-26). Chicago, Lehtonen (30-33). A---3,405. Referee---Chris Ciamaga. Linesmen---Justin Lyle and Chris Allman.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Lehtonen gets 1st win of season; Wolves crush QC

Kari Lehtonen received a fevered welcome from the Chicago Wolves fans at the Allstate Arena Tuesday night in his first appearance here in Chicago colors since the Calder Cup finals during the lockout.

Assigned by the Atlanta Thrashers to the Wolves on a conditioning assignment, I’d forgotten some of the little things that Lehtonen did during a game. The way he caressed the goal posts after a dinger, the way he snapped his mask into place without touching it when returning to the crease from a timeout and the way he would acknowledge some of the fans he recognized from his days here, three years ago.

He seems home here, or at least at ease in the Chicago nets, pointing, with the ease and knowledge of a veteran NHL player where the puck is going to appear next, to the benefit of the Wolves and the visiting Quad City Flames players.

He made some exceptional saves, including a butterfly save in the end of the first period, and defended the goal from a QC assault that saw them regularly leading in shots on goal. But it looked so easy.

In contrast, Matt Keetley, the 21 year-old Alberta native in goal for the Flames, looked desperate to stop everything, and he made it look hard too.

Lehtonen was in net here last in 2005. His defense led the Chicagoans to march through the West to meet Antero Niittymaki and the Philadelphia Phantoms in the finals of the Calder Cup. Niittymaki, a player I understand was always a little older than Lehtonen in their native Finland, with a more physical team in front of him, matched Lehtonen once again that June.

Tuesday, in the Allstate, Lehtonen looked totally in control. A final call on Chicago seems staged by the referee, who explained it first to Steve Martins and then to Lehtonen. Yards away and behind the glass, I wonder what Chris Ciamaga is saying to Lehtonen. The body language seems to say, “you’re an NHL goalie. Let them have a chance at breaking the shutout…”

And after 59 minutes 51 seconds of shutout behind him, Lehtonen finally lets a goal in and allows the Flames to light the scoreboard.

It is so empty and meaningless. The night belongs to Lehtonen; the hamburgler is back.

Quad City 0 0 1 -- 1
Chicago 1 1 2 -- 4

First Period---1, Chicago, Giroux 7 (Martins, Lehtonen), 6:08 pp. Penalties---Peters, Quad City (hooking), 0:57; Maki, Quad City (interference), 4:21; Pardy, Quad City (hooking), 6:08; Sterling, Chicago (interference), 6:40; Pelech, Quad City (holding), 11:38; Sipotz, Chicago (hooking), 15:49.

Second Period---2, Chicago, Giroux 8 (Martins, LaVallee), 19:01. Penalties---Kwiatkowski, Chicago (double-minor hooking), 4:29; Martins, Chicago (high-sticking), 7:59; Prust, Quad City (hooking), 11:53; Kwiatkowski, Chicago (tripping), 16:31.

Third Period---3, Chicago, Kwiatkowski 4 (Krog, Sterling), 1:32 pp; 4, Chicago, Krog 9 (Schultz, Sterling), 4:46; 5, Quad City, Pardy 2 (Ramholt, Stevenson), 19:50 pp. Penalties---Peters, Quad City (tripping), 0:13; Prust, Quad City (hooking), 7:26; Krischuk, Quad City (holding), 13:47; Giroux, Chicago (roughing), 19:03; Cunning, Quad City (fighting), 19:59; Valabik, Chicago (fighting), 19:59.

Shots on goal---Quad City: 13-8-7--28. Chicago: 8-7-14--29. Power plays---Quad City: 1-7. Chicago: 2-8. Goalies---Quad City, Keetley (25-29). Chicago, Lehtonen (27-28). A---4,734. Referee---Chris Ciamaga. Linesmen---Justin Lyle and Bryan Pancich.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Wolves on top of AHL; Lehtonen to Chicago for 3 games

While the strange Canadian virus that led me to take ten days off was in full bloom, the Chicago Wolves continued their victory march. A quick reload:

· November 16th, Wolves 7 at Iowa 5 in the final game of the circus road trip. Stephan Tobias is unable to hold an early 2-0 lead as the second period sees the Wolves start firing five consecutive goals. Fred Brathwaite gets the win.
· November 17th, Wolves 4, Houston Aeros 0. The last two seasons have seen the once mighty Aeros shot down time after time. They actually lost the last season to the San Antonio Rampage. This season is no better for the Aeros. The Wolves put more than 20 percent of the shots past Barry Brust. Everything seems to work for the Wolves as Robert Gherson picks up his second win of the year.
· November 18th, Wolves 0, San Antonio Rampage 4. New Rampage coach Greg Ireland continues to make the Rampage a tough team. They are in second place in the Western Division, immediately behind the Wolves and have been tough all season. As the month comes to a close, the Rampage face a schedule where they spend more than a month at home or in the state of Texas, the so-called rodeo home stand. Granted Ireland is a great coach, but who would have believed he could turn this situation around so- completely. The loss here goes to Gherson. It is just the first regulation loss and second loss of any type for Chicago.
· November 21st, Wolves 2 at Peoria Rivermen 1. Chris Beckford-Tseu may have been considered for the St. Louis Blues at one point, but he seems to have lost something since his Kelly Cup victory two seasons ago. Gherson wins this game. Brathwaite isn’t even dressed for this one as the Atlanta organization sends Craig Kowalski up from Gwinnett.
· November 23rd, Wolves 3, Peoria Rivermen 7. The Rivermen ain’t gonna be the Wolves bitch no more. This game marks the first Peoria regulation victory over the Wolves since, umm…. Well it was at least the 2006 season. A victory for Beckford-Tseu and a loss for Gherson. It also marks only the second regulation loss of the year for the Wolves.
· November 24th, Rockford 3, Chicago 8. A drubbing as the Rockford IceHogs only play about 15 minutes of the game and the Wolves deck ‘em. The game is won by Brathwaite.

In the hockey news, Kari Lehtonen is expected to start for the Wolves in their game on Tuesday, November 27th, against the Quad Cities Flames. Lehtonen, the backbone of the Atlanta Thrashers net minders, was injured prior to Atlanta Coach Bob Hartley being let go. He is expected to be in Chicago for a three game conditioning schedule. The other games in the line-up are versus Peoria at home on November 29 and December 1st at home versus Iowa.

There were two pieces about Hartley’s rocky relationships with his goalies that I’ve read recently. It is hard to discuss Kari Lehtonen’s relationship with Hartley, being so remote from Atlanta hockey.

However, here is a link to the PowerPlayPost Show that contains an interview with Billy Gardner, the Wolves television color analyst. LINK TO PPPSHOW MP3 Gardner explains in the interview that Hartley had told Brathwaite that if Hartley had had his way, Brathwaite would never start in goal.

It is widely assumed that all goalies are head cases, although in the few interactions I’ve had with Brathwaite, he seemed to be among the most collected and mature hockey players I’ve met.

Yet, here is the coach of Atlanta basically blowing off Brathwaite, according to Gardner. Am I reading too much into this? A year in which Brathwaite has had spectacular success in the American Hockey League? Is this the source of the funk noticed in Brathwaite last January?

Don Waddell, it is being said in the Atlanta blogs, is allowing the Thrashers to play to their brilliance. And, I believe that one of the beautiful things about hockey is the inspired play of the geniuses of the game. They seem to see the play develop, to react to it and anticipate it. A great player may need to see things in X’s and O’s, a genius imagines it as it develops.

Hartley’s style, his X’s and O’s, it is said, bore down on Lehtonen. And, it seems as though it also constrained the greatness of Ilya Kovalchuk and the Thrasher’s organization. Up and down the organization, it seems that freeing the organization of Hartley has freed the minds and playing skill of the players. Brathwaite playing well could be a giant “fuck you” to Hartley. Or, it could be Brathwaite finally playing to his potential. Or both.

Hartley’s termination has become a model for the NHL, if it worked in Atlanta, why not in Washington? Why hasn’t it worked better in Chicago? Let’s take Washington first. If pressed at the end of the 2007 season, I would have said three coaches had generally been among the best in the AHL every season: Bruce Boudreau, Claude Noel and John Anderson.

Now, in part, that shows a Western Division bias, because I see John Anderson a lot and also because I saw Claude Noel a lot.

In any case, of those three, only Anderson is still working in the AHL. That could be blindness on my part. But Anderson has a real chance of moving up; perhaps as the duties of being a GM take more time from Waddell and he uses his assistant, who will, in turn, perhaps, need his own assistant.

Looking over the AHL now, Anderson is still among the top-tier coaches. Randy Cunneyworth of the Rochester Americans and Don Lever of the Hamilton Bulldogs, all Western Conference, would fill out my list of top AHL coaches today.

And the B’hawks? Well, they are playing a better game than last season. But, I’m not a fan of Coach Denis Savard. I wish him well, but don’t see the ‘Hawks doing that much better than if they had gone outside the organization last season in a search for a new coach. But that wasn’t the way of the organ-I-zation last season. Under Rocky Wirtz, things may be different now.

When I think about a great coach, I consider what I do and have done for years. Currently done for fun, I have written professionally. I think an editor for a writer can be like a coach for a professional athlete. Some editor’s work is destructive, some is constructive. What is the difference? A good editor makes everything easier to write and easier to read. Their efforts don’t create problems, they resolve them.

Whatever Waddell has done in Atlanta, the players have reacted with wins. Right now, tonight as I write this, I can anticipate the Thrashers in the Stanley Cup finals. Hartley—destructive. Waddell- constructive. Pat Conacher- destructive. Greg Ireland- constructive. John Anderson, Claude Noel and Bruce Boudreau- constructive. Don Lever and Randy Cunneyworth- constructive.

Savard too has a winning team on the ice. But, I don’t think Savard has the skill to get the Blackhawk players to play to the level they need to play at to win the Stanley Cup. Maybe they will be in the playoffs, but tonight as I write these words, I don’t see a Blackhawk playing beyond the second round. Savard has a place in hockey management. But, I don’t see it being behind a bench. Constructive, but not nearly as much as some of his fellow coaches.

Anyway, that’s the ruminations after taking off for a week. We are very behind on photos from the Western New York/ Hamilton road trip and the last few days of hockey. Bear with us. We will post pictures of Lehtonen and current games first.

From Jane and I, best wishes to our readers for the holidays.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

1840 Miles to Hockey

Grand Rapids, MI--- It is Tuesday at about 2:30 AM in New Market, ON. The 400 runs a few feet from the motel with a car every few minutes headed either to Barrie or Toronto. I'm under the weather from some ailment, perhaps flue and the next game is at noon, today, hundreds of miles to the west.

All the google maps and trip tiks are saying I could leave here at 7 AM and just make the game. But there is that flue to contend with and also the Blue Water Bridge to cross.

I pack and leave.

The road through Toronto is quiet, almost like the ETR-407. The road to London is filled with giant trucks. I'm playing the PPPShow on the MP3 and counting the number of tires on the trucks as I pass them: 34? I count the next truck.

And so I pass the miles. I take a single stop, outside of Sarnia, in case the bridge is full and the line long to enter Michigan, I'll be able to relax and not be looking for bushes. But, while the truck line is several kilometers, I'm able to drive up to the gate for passenger cars without incident and with only one car in front.

"Nationality?" US Citizen.

"What are you doing?" I just want to go home.

"Where's that?" Chicago

"Are you bringing anything in?" No

"What were you doing in Canada?" Visiting friends, watching some hockey.

"How long were you there?" About 24 hours.

"Have a nice day."

The car is on fumes when I pull off of the interstate to stop at the Speedway at the foot of the bridge. Gas in Canada is $1.01 a liter, compared to about $3.15 a gallon in the US. I've been trying to do the math in my head, but the best I can do is figure that it is still cheaper in the US.

I've burned through three or four bottles of water, two bottles of Starbucks Vanilla Frapacinno, half a bag of cheese cubes, a half a bag of bagel crisps, an unknown quantity of prezels and a banana since leaving New Market. I'm still sick and now I'm hungry too.

It is 7 AM.

It appears that I'm about three hours from Grand Rapids. I'm still sick too and use the Big Boy near Flint to recharge for the final drive. The Big Boy was a staple for me when I got out of college. I haven't seen one since moving from Colorado, outside of the south and Michigan. But I repeat myself.

It is Tuesday and that means if I can move out of Grand Rapids and on to Chicago, I'll finish this trip with an evening of HNIC.

I don't pick anything fancy. My stomach is delicate, but not sensitive. Some bacon, it's bad for me, but I love it. Some scrambled eggs and some potatoes. Some coffee.

A fellow rolls into the restaurant and sits across the aisle. I can smell him from my seat. He is ripe. He is sitting with about half a dozen local women, who have all squeezed to the end of their long table, giving him all of his end.

I'm fotunate, I can leave him and his stench behind. I wonder how many gifts of soap he'll receive for the holiday? He won't take the hint.

The drive continues, hour six, seven, eight. Now, I'm about thirty miles east of Grand Rapids. I now am desperate to rest at the game. I'll sleep in the car after the game, right in the lot. That hour or so will refresh me enough to make it home tonight.

But, I get lost in downtown Grand Rapids, following a school bus to a building that I at first think is the Van An. I begin moving again, but need to find my way. Finally, finding a street that sweeps me behind the Van Am. But now, I'm discovering that because most of the lots here are used during the day for business parking, they are full.

Why am I doing this? Oh yeah. I want to rest before pushing on to Chicago and a noon hockey game is rather unusual.

It is in fact education day for the Griffins. 5400 school children are in the upper bowl of the Van Am. A school teacher offers me tickets for $10, but I point out that I'd like to be able to hear at the end of the game.

And, it is loud. And the pitch is higher than normal. But they aren't the only ones taking the day off. Around me I hear business being discussed. The guys sitting next to me admit they are playing hookey too.

On the ice, a perfect recrods goes against a weak record in a game which is likely to be ugly. The Griffins are perfect, 0-5 at home. And their opponents, the former Western Division regular season champions, the Quad Cities Flames, have among the worst records in the league. Who will win? I'm one of the fortunate few here tonight, with nothing invested in this game.

There is less of using the game as an education experience than I expected. There are no explanations of the calls. There are no interviews with the players about line changes or the game. This could be more than it is. But as the weak explanation goes, it is what it is.

The second period sees the two teams finally begin to score, with the game winner put up by the effort of Ian Croft. Croft, the referee, fails to call a tripping immediately in front of the Grand Rapids goal and seconds later, the go-ahead goal is scored by Adam Pardy.

2025 Miles-- Chicago-- I'm exhausted. Home after a final leg that I can hardley remember. The bags are everywhere and I head to bed. Lulled to sleep by HNIC's telecast of a game between the Maple Leafs and the Canadiens.

The road trip ends here for me. The Wolves, home for a few days, though, continue to Des Moines on Friday for a game against the Iowa Stars.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Wolves win 11th game; Success on the road

ROCHESTER, NY--- The Wolves came from behind to force overtime against the Rochester Americans in action here tonight, and, after holding on in a penalty kill during overtime, came back to win the game in a shootout, 2-1.

Robert Gherson played the role of net minder tonight, giving Fred Brathwaite a break after he played nine games straight. Gherson, who earned one of the stars of the game, last played in the ECHL for the Columbia Inferno. Picked up as a free agent to replace Andrej Pavelec who is in Atlanta and Dan Turple, who was sent back to Gwinnett, Gherson was an unknown for a team that has largely stuck together since last season.

He quickly raised questions about his play when an early offensive attack ended with a goal by Tanner Glass off a Dylan Hunter rebound. However, Gherson composed himself and stopped 24 shots on goal, a 5:3 power play and two different power plays in the overtime period.

Facing Gherson, on the other end of the ice was Amerks goalie David Shantz. Shantz also came up from the ECHL to help the Amerks as they’ve also had callups. It was his third game of the year. Shantz held the Wolves off, keeping them scoreless through 59 minutes of hockey, including nine power play opportunities.

However in the last minute of play, Chicago received a power play opportunity, pulled Gherson to make it an empty net 6:4 advantage, which allowed Steve Martins to score the tying goal.

In the overtime, Boris Valabik, springing from the penalty box, was fed the puck, but was unable to handle it on the breakaway against Shantz. The Wolves missed a second chance to put the game away before the shootout when a cross-ice feed to Brent Sterling, who had an open net, went poorly.

During the shootout, Gherson raised the hopes of the local crowd, missing a high shot by Marc- Andre Gragnani. However, it was the last successful shot by the Americans, as the Wolves Jason Krog evened the score and then Kevin Doell put the winner in past Shantz.

Chicago 0 0 1 0 (1) -- 2
Rochester 1 0 0 0 -- 1 Shootout

First Period---1, Rochester, Glass 2 (Globke, Hunter), 6:40. Penalties---Crabb, Chicago (fighting), 2:39; Kaleta, Rochester (fighting), 2:39; Glass, Rochester (roughing), 12:27; Henry, Rochester (roughing, hooking), 16:24; Martins, Chicago (roughing), 18:05; Card, Rochester (roughing), 18:05; Weber, Rochester (cross-checking, unsportsmanlike conduct), 18:15.

Second Period---None. Penalties---Giroux, Chicago (hooking), 0:43; Kwiatkowski, Chicago (roughing), 2:33; Bench, Rochester (too many men), 7:05; Lojek, Rochester (hooking), 8:59; Martins, Chicago (unsportsmanlike conduct), 10:51; Stewart, Rochester (Slashing), 12:26; Weber, Rochester (hooking), 19:44.

Third Period---2, Chicago, Martins 4 (Giroux, Krog), 19:01 pp. Penalties---MacDonald, Rochester (holding), 18:20; Valabik, Chicago (tripping), 19:18.

Overtime---None. Penalties---Bench, Chicago (too many men), 4:26.

Shootout---Chicago 2 (Krog G, Schultz NG, Sterling NG, Doell G); Rochester 1 (Gragnani G, Mancari NG, MacDonald NG, Zagrapan NG, Glass NG).

Shots on goal---Chicago: 15-9-14-2-1--40. Rochester: 5-11-8-1--25. Power plays---Chicago: 1-10. Rochester: 0-5. Goalies--Chicago, Gherson (24-25). Rochester, Shantz (39-40). A---5,985. Referee---Dean Morton. Linesmen---Tim Kotyra and Peter Feola.

1,000 miles to hockey; Wolves take 3 more games

I’ve had to cancel the first leg of my trip, from Chicago to Moline, IL as the traffic on the expressways leaving the city are too much to make the 7 PM game time. So, let’s set it up as a Wolves victory, 2-1 over the Quad City Flames, the second win by the Wolves over the Flames this season.

In addition to that news is the addition to the team of Brent Sterling. Sterling was sent down from Atlanta apparently due to a lack of production. Rookie of the year while playing with the Wolves in the 2007 season, and American Hockey League scoring champion, the key question is whether he will produce back on the Wolves or merely mess up the lines. This first night, in Moline, Sterling is credited with a single shot on goal and no points or assists.

Windsor, Ontario, November 8, 300 miles from Chicago--- The St. Michael’s Major’s set up a wall in the Windsor Arena as Anthony Grieco, 18, stopped forty shots on goal in a 3-2 overtime win against the home team Windsor Spitfires here.

The Spitfires offensive play was frustrated by an inability to penetrate Grieco, who played for the University of North Dakota last year, but did not receive ice time there. This year, he is putting up a 93.6 percent save percentage.

Syracuse, New York, November 9, 800 miles from Chicago--- I noticed, as I entered the rink in Windsor the number of banners hanging from the ceiling. It is a sign of the quality of the team if it has a lot of banners. The Spitfires had three. Syracuse, as established and well known a hockey team as any in the American league, has just two. And neither is for the Calder Cup.

A banner hangs in the rafters for a 1954 NBA championship.

The crowd is smaller than I expect and not nearly as knowledgeable about hockey as I’d hoped. Several college-aged kids drop down in seats next to me, beer spilling on the floor, and attempt to taunt the Wolves.

The building was described on-line at Wolfkeeper as a bandbox, and the Onondaga County War Memorial does not disappoint there. Somewhat larger than the auditoriums I see at the Chicago Public Schools, I think that it might comfortably fit inside the footprint of the auditorium at Lane Tech High School.

But, within 7:50 of the first period, former Wolves captain Derek Mackenzie has scored a goal, a second goal has been potted and the Wolves are trying to kill their third 5:3 power play, led by Sterling. I’m thinking of whether Sterling will force me to lead with a piece on how former NHL players return to the AHL with a chip on the shoulder.

Behind 2-0, Fred Brathwaite, who has had to deflect too many rebounds in the first eight minutes, and has had to let two in—the scorers never seem to be able to count all the shots on goal correctly—begins to stand firm and with him, the Wolves too.

As the Wolves begin to turn the tide on the Crunch, scoring a goal first through the efforts of Andre Deveaux. Jaimie Koharski demonstrates to the crowd how wrong a referee can be. Brathwaite gets into a battle in front of the net and ends up on his belly, with the puck slipping out and out of his grasp. But Koharski can’t see it because Koharski is on the other side of Brathwaite. And, Koharski doesn’t skate up to take a closer look, whistling the play stopped.

Watching this, as the crowd explodes into “ref you suck,” you have to pause and wonder what would have happened to this game if the Crunch had been able to take another goal in the first period? The puck was just sitting there, steaming. All it needed for the fireworks was a Crunch player who wanted to be a hero.

By the end of the first frame, the Wolves have recovered the two goals and tied the game. The scoring is over for the Crunch as the scoring machine that consists of the various Wolves lines begins to bear on the hapless Crunch goalie, Adam Monro. The singing, the dancing and the spilling beer are all pointless now. The Crunch seemed doomed to fail tonight as Sterling redeems himself with two goals, making up for the two 5:3 situations he helped create. And Alexandre Giroux puts two in also. In fact, it is obvious as the game wears on that Giroux and perhaps Sterling too, is trying desperately to score a hat-trick tonight. And it is with frustration that they see the final penalty of the game against the Wolves by Scott Lehman prematurely ending their efforts.

The final is a 5-2 Wolves victory, with Lindsey Cramer of the Syracuse Post Standard saying the next morning, “Chicago is a deep, fierce, offensive team, a pseudo-NHL team in Wolves clothing. Chicago was cool even in the face of its early hole, pressuring the Crunch into defensive mistakes and make its comeback more a matter of time than talent.”

Hamilton, ON, November 10, 1,000 miles from Chicago— The Copps Coliseum has been the home to some great moments in Brathwaite’s career, a Memorial Cup win in juniors and last year’s 1-0 shutout of the Bulldogs during the Calder Cup semi-finals come immediately to mind.

Brathwaite seems home in the older building, drawing strength from it and a crowd that is appreciative of hockey and his place in its history. In the wings, stands a young goalie, just 24 years old, Gherson looks like he would be more at home playing for the Windsor Spitfires than the Wolves or the Atlanta Thrashers.

Brathwaite is in net again tonight, the second of three games in a row for the Wolves on the road trip. Along with the Toronto Marlies, the Wolves remain undefeated in regulation play in the AHL.

The Bulldogs owned the Wolves throughout last season, earning a point in every matchup with the Chicago team in the regular season and allowing them only one victory in the semi-final.

But, the Bulldogs aren’t the same team now that won the Calder Cup in June. And the Wolves jump to a 2-0 lead in the first frame of the period as Sterling potts his third and fourth goal of the season, which for him is just three AHL games.

The Bulldogs reply with three goals, bringing the Niagara Peninsula team ahead 3-2 at the end of two frames, including a very physical goal that starts as a wrap-around against Brathwaite that is hammered in by Janni Lahti.

The Wolves reply in the third frame with their second and third lines each adding a goal and then holding on as the Bulldogs attempt to bring the game into extra time for the win.

The smog fills the hollows and gathers around the lamp posts as we head back to the border. We do not return to Hamilton again in the regular season. The fans express their frustration at losing. Losing a game against the Wolves. Losing a franchise despite the deposit of an extraordinary number of season tickets for the Predators.

We express our hope to return here again in May. And, the answer to our questions about Sterling seem satisfied. He is here to play.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Stories under consideration as top local hockey stories of 2007

Top local hockey stories of the year

Here is the link to last year’s list: LINK and also here: LINK

1 Bill Wirtz dead at age 77
2 Rocky Wirtz assumes head of Chicago Blackhawks
3 Dale Pulford reassigned by Rocky Wirtz
4 Chicago Blackhawks affiliate with Rockford IceHogs
5 Rockford IceHogs defeat Kalamazoo K-Wings in seven game final to win Colonial Cup
6 Darren Haydar ends his point streak at 39 games
7 Darren Haydar named regular season AHL MVP
8 Brent Sterling named AHL Rookie of the year
9 Chicago Hounds quit the Sears Centre; will not play in 2008
10 Atlanta Thrashers fire Coach Bob Hartley; Don Waddell takes the reins
11 Rockford approves multi-million renovation of MetroCentre, acquisition of IceHogs
12 Blackhawks fail to make playoffs for fifth consecutive year [This sentence originally said tenth consecutive year]
13 Wolves fall to Bulldogs in fifth game of Western Conference finals
14 United Hockey League falls to six teams
15 Wolves sweep Admirals in Western Division quarter finals
16 United Hockey League assumes name of International Hockey League
17 Quad City Mallards affiliate with the Calgary Flames
18 Nashville Predators unravel financially. Milwaukee loses Coach Claude Noel

Rockford loses home opener in SO

Rockford, Ill.--- The Rockford IceHogs started their home play, after a road trip of nine games, losing a shootout to the San Antonio Rampage 3-2. Despite the loss, the IceHogs are well positioned in the Western Division, with their entire home stand in front of them and almost a quarter of the road games complete, the team had 14 points on Sunday morning, with a 63.6 percent win ratio.

The sell out crowd at the Rockford MetroCentre was greeted to an opening video noting the history of Rockford sports championships, drawing a roar of crowd approval on the Colonial Cup victory of the IceHogs in the United Hockey League last season. Then the video announced: “that was then—this is now!” leading into a segment of Chicago Blackhawks legacy.

After several minutes of Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and other ‘Hawks greats, the theme of the season was announced: “the road to Chicago starts in Rockford.” As the Indianhead logo was stitched together on the new jumbotron, a rock band started to play and the crowd saw their IceHogs and the Hawks become joined on screen with quick shots of Rockford players and Blackhawks.

Then the band came on for a video, playing in their IceHog sweaters.

An opening ceremony with American Hockey League President Dave Andrews and members of the Blackhawk front office came on ice followed by a moving rendition of the National Anthem played by a six-year-old.

But game on. The MetroCentre has lost the aisle that separated the lower bowl and the upper bowl to “luxury boxes.” Really, placed between row M and N, these represent a wide table height counter and office chairs placed in the old aisle. The concourse of the MetroCentre is that much more crowded now, and a sell-out crowd of just 6,500 people demonstrates the age and lack of amenities in the building.

Still, the Rockford crowd is among the best in hockey, and they did not allow that to dampen their spirits. The game featured two of the heavy weights in the AHL: the Rampage’s Peter Vandermeer and Rockford’s Colin Fraser. It was a disappointment to me that these two did not have a go at each other in the game, although Fraser did pick a fight with the Rampage’s Cam Paddock late in the second period.

The two teams seemed evenly matched in the first period, with San Antonio registering ten shots to just five for the IceHogs, and both teams coming out of the period tied 1-1 after a power play goal for the Hogs by Troy Brouwer, assisted by Cam Barker and Evan Brophy, and an answering score for San Antonio by Enver Lisin.

The second frame saw the Hogs keep the puck in the Rampage end for much of the period. Late in the period, the Rampage put pressure on the Hogs goalie, Corey Crawford. A breakout by the Hogs saw David Aebischer go post to post to stop Rockford rebounds before finally giving up the 2-1 goal by Kris Versteeg, assisted by Jack Skille and Brophey at 17.48.

San Antonio returned to the Hogs zone immediately after this, and after a collision involving Dustin Byfuglien, Byfuglien gets into a dance in front of the Hogs net. In jumps Vandermeer, a third man in! But it is Byfuglien, Vandermeer and another Hog, Jordan Hendry who get sent to the sin bin, all with minors. Apparently Nigel Pelletier, the referee, was not looking.

With the second frame ended, the Hogs are now up 2-1 in a tightly matched game. Mid-way through the period, Chris Durno gets sent to the box for two minutes, giving the IceHogs one of their five power plays of the night. But the puck is stolen, fed across the Rampage blue line by Freddy Meyer to the racing Bill Thomas who fakes Crawford out for a short handed goal, tieing the game at 2-2.

Two other important penalties take place, both against Rockford. At 19.15 Bryan Bickell is called for interference, giving the Rampage the power play for 1:15 of the overtime. Then, after that expires, Skille is called for hooking at 3.10 of the OT, giving the Rampage another 1:50 of power play in the OT.

Despite this, the Rampage are unable to convert their opportunities. In the shootout, Joel Perraul and Keith Yandle scored for San Antonio and Versteeg for the Hogs, allowing the Rampage to win. Crawford stopped 28 shots on goal. Aebischer received the win, stopping 15 shots on goal.

Hogs Squeels— Dustin Byfuglien was the first Hog called up since the home opener. He is the second Hog to move down I-90. The Hogs are averaging more than 30 minutes of penalties per game, more than any other team in the AHL.

Wolves 7, Flames 1; Wolves 7th season win

The Chicago Wolves remain one of just two teams in the American Hockey League undefeated in regulation play as they burned the Quad City Flames 7-1 in a game, Friday night in Moline, Ill. Jesse Schultz scored a hat trick, Jason Krog scored three assists and Joey Crabb and Steve Martins scored two assists each in the win.

The game marked the return to the Quad Cities of Coach John Anderson. In his final season with the Quad City Mallards, Anderson took the team to its first of three Colonial Cup wins. He has coached the Wolves since then, and he has taken them to two Turner Cup wins and a Calder Cup win in the International Hockey League and the AHL respectively.

The Mallards organization became the current Quad Cities Flames this season when the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights decamped for Moline’s iWireless Center at the end of the 2007 season.

The Wolves went up 1-0 in the first minute as Jordan LaVallee and Martins assisted Schultz with the first goal. A second power play goal by LaVallee occurred just three minutes later, assisted by Krog and Brian Fahey. Then the Wolves potted a second power play goal by Nathan Oystrick, the d-man’s first of the year, assisted by Krog and Crabb, less than three minutes later. At the end of twenty minutes, the Wolves were up 3-0.

The first period saw four of the five minor penalties against the Flames. The Flames gave the Wolves a total of four power play opportunities and the Wolves took advantage of two of them. The Wolves are good for 20.6 percent of their power play opportunities, fourth in the league, and 86.7 percent of their penalty kills, eighth in the league.

The Flames, 27th in the league in penalty kills, became a more disciplined team in the second frame, going through the rest of the game with just one penalty. The Wolves added to the score with a goal by Andre Deveaux, assisted by Kevin Doell and Boris Valabik before the Flames answered with their only goal of the night, Cam Cunning’s power play goal at 16.12, assisted by Derek Couture and Tim Ramholt.

Entering the final period, the Wolves led the Flames 4-1. LaVallee, assisted by Krog and Crabb scored at 10.31. Then Schultz potted his second of the night at 17.44, assisted by Martins and Brian Sipotz and then scored his hat trick unassisted at 17.56.

Despite his hat trick, Schultz was not named one of the three stars of the game. Although he was named one of the three stars of the night on the AHL website. Fred Brathwaite picked up his fifth win of the year and the third consecutive one-goal win of the season. He stopped a season high 37 shots on goal. Kevin Lalande received the loss, stopping 23 shots.

The Wolves continue their circus road trip with another game against the Quad Cities Flames in the iWireless Center of Moline Wednesday, November 7 at 7:00 P.M.

Chicago 3 1 3 -- 7
Quad City 0 1 0 -- 1

First Period---1, Chicago, Schultz 4 (LaVallee, Martins), 0:54; 2, Chicago, LaVallee 4 (Krog, Fahey), 3:55 pp; 3, Chicago, Oystrick 1 (Krog, Crabb), 6:43 pp; Penalties---Prust, Quad City (roughing), 2:31; Germyn,
Quad City (hooking), 6:29; Deveaux, Chicago (interference), 12:08; Germyn, Quad City (holding), 18:06; Pelech, Quad City (roughing), 19:58.

Second Period---4, Chicago, Deveaux 2 (Doell, Valabik), 10:32; 5, Quad City, Cunning (Couture, Ramholt), 16:12 pp. Penalties---Fahey, Chicago (tripping), 14:25.

Third Period---6, Chicago, LaVallee 5 (Krog, Crabb), 10:31; 7, Chicago, Schultz 5 (Martins, Sipotz), 17:44; 8, Chicago, Schultz 6 (unassisted), 17:56. Penalties---Sipotz, Chicago (high-sticking), 0:17; Anderson, Chicago (high-sticking), 2:18; Doell, Chicago (slashing), 10:35; Deveaux, Chicago (roughing), 17:02; Chucko, Quad City (roughing), 17:02.
Shots on goal---Chicago: 12-10-8--30. Quad City: 6-18-14--38.
Power plays---Chicago: 2-4. Quad City: 1-5.
Goalies--Chicago, Brathwaite (37-38). Quad City,
Lalande (23-30).
Referee---Jeff Smith. Linesmen---Craig Kneale
and Bryan Pancich.

Wolves notes-- Fred Brathwaite is ranked fifth by the AHL among goalies. Jesse Schultz is ranked fifth in goals. The team's ranking in the standing is second place in the Western Division with a 93.8 percent win ratio, trailing the San Antonio Rampage who have a 66.7 percent win ratio. Placement in the AHL is determined by game points, and the Rampage have played 12 games this season, compared to just eight for the Wolves. Only two other teams have played as few games as the Wolves: the Hershey Bears and the Worcester Sharks. The other team with a perfect regulation season record is the Toronto Marlies. [This sentence originally said regular. Whoops!]

[Late edit: WTF, Ondrej Pavelec gets his first NHL start, stopping 30 shots on goal in Tampa Bay, receives the win, but isn't noted as a star of the game? These things, the stars of the game, are next to useless.]