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Sunday, February 25, 2007

ICEHOGS RULE- 5 wins/ 5 games

This is a brief note about my beloved IceHogs, soon to be the dread of the Western Division of the AHL, five wins in five games, including a three game sweep of the Elmira Jackals in Elmira, New York for twelve points since a week ago Saturday.

Their last loss was February 16th against the Chicago Hounds, if you can believe it. Go Hogs! The Hogs are three points out of league second place, held by the Fort Wayne Komets, and have three games in hand.

The Hogs return home for a rare hockey double header. Suiting up with the Hogs will be the Chicago Steel, the Class A junior team. That game is Friday, March 2.

Wolves drop 3. Time to panic

When is it time to panic? The momentum of the season shifted this weekend from the Chicago Wolves to the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights with the Knights walking out of the Allstate Arena with two regulations wins against the Wolves and now are just three points back with three games in hand.

When is it time to panic? The Wolves didn’t look like the same team that has torn through the American Hockey League throughout most of the first part of the season. Let’s describe this as the second slump of the year. At three games it isn’t something that is as extensive as the slump that started in December, marked by the injury of Boris Valabik and the call-ups of Darren Haydar and Derek MacKenzie to the Atlanta Thrashers.

But it is a slump. And, like the previous slump, the warning signs were in Gwinnett and Atlanta Georgia. The Thrashers, who are still expected to enter their first post season in franchise history, are 2-6-2 in their last ten. Tampa Bay has roared into first place and the Carolina Hurricanes are right behind the Thrashers.

In Gwinnett, the Gladiators had stood atop their ECHL division for much of the season. Anchored by a strong scoring trio and a hot power play, they looked set to repeat their quest for the Kelly Cup. Admittedly, several of the best blue liners have been up and down to Chicago in the last weeks, including Jonathan Awe and Brian Lee. Also, center Brad Schell has been seeing time in Chicago. The Gladiators, who have a duel relationship, have also shipped Scott Mifsud to the Worcester Sharks.

Together Schell, Mifsud and the rookie Colton Fretter have dominated the top of the ECHL scorers stats this season at number one, two and eight, currently. The power play is still tops in the ECHL at a scorching 25.6 percent.

The Wolves slump started Friday night in San Antonio. Facing the San Antonio Rampage, a team like the Wolves expected a win. They were surprised when the Rampage took them 4-2. The Wolves put 30 shots on Rampage goalie David LeNeveu for only two goals. Fred Brathwaite, who has looked sharp throughout the last month, seemed to collapse under the weight of just 18 San Antonio shots on goal in the first two period, giving up four goals.

Someplace during the month long road trip called the Livestock Show, San Antonio found heart and discovered hockey. They are currently 5-5 in the last ten games and have moved out of the basement of the Western Division for the first time in years, pulling ahead of the Houston Aeros.

Blizzard conditions, a divisional rival and 14,113 in attendance. Saturday was a good night for the Wolves to shake off the Friday night Texas loss. Omaha, however, had different ideas. This was a classic contest, a showdown before the big showdown of the post-season. And Omaha, which was bested by the Wolves 4-1 so far this season, wanted to show the Wolves they could beat them in the Western Division playoffs.

The scoreboard said the Wolves had only five shots on goal in the first frame of Saturday’s game. I counted shots that, for example MacKenzie made in a short handed effort, that were never counted by the goal judge. Nevertheless, Curtis McElhinney made an outstanding effort for the Knights, stopping all the 29 shots on goal for a shut-out. Michael Garnett, on the other end of the ice, also had one of his best nights in goal of the season, but allowed a goal in, enough for the Knights to win.

Move forward to Sunday afternoon, another wet snowy day in Rosemont. The series this weekend was hard fought, and in the first seconds of play the gloves drop between Nathan Oystrick and Knight Brett Palin. But the Knights had none of the Wolves intimidation. Brandon Prust and Carsen Germyn both connected on Brathwaite, Germyn’s goal coming with just 12 seconds remaining in the period.

Jared Ross replied for Chicago in the second frame, but then Dustin Boyd uncorked the first of two goals of the night to win the contest. A final goal by Darren Haydar, late in the third frame seemed an empty threat as many in the crowd left.

So, when is it time to panic? This would seem to be as good a time as any. The Wolves need to end the slump with the next game, against a likely post-season opponent, the Hamilton Bulldogs. They enter March with a series of must win games against divisional opponents and conference opponents they will meet again in post-season.

They must win. Getting into the playoffs during a slump invites an early end to their season.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Aeros get Astro-burned 8-0

The Houston Aeros set a franchise record for their 8-0 loss to the Chicago Wolves Sunday afternoon: it was the largest home shutout loss the team had ever experienced. For the Wolves, it was their largest margin of victory ever.

Seven different Wolves players earned a goal or more, eight others a point or more on the 17 player bench. The two players without points were Kevin Doell and Boris Valabik. Frederic L’Ecuyler penalized an undisciplined Aeros for 51 minutes in the contest, versus just 17 minutes of penalties against the Wolves. Among the Wolves goals were two power play and one short handed goal, making the number of short handed goals this season 17, second in the league.

The game started downhill for the Aeros quickly when a hooking penalty on Clayton Stoner and a delay of game on goalie Dieter Kochan put the team on a 5-3 penalty kill. Nathan Oystrick, near the point, shot through a crowd to the back of the net for the game winning goal. Less than five minutes later, Andre Deveaux made a wrap around goal and a minute after that it was the turn of Brad Schell, recently up from the Gwinnett Gladiators, who forced a turnover in the defensive zone that turned the game into 3-0 Wolves.

The Schell goal drove Kochan out of the net in favor of Miroslav Kopriva. Kochan, who received the loss, stopped five on eight shots in his eleven minutes in the net. The Aeros went on a man advantage late in the period, as calls were made on Steve Martins. However, the Wolves held on to see the a power play of their own as penalties were called during the kill on Matt Foy and Stoner and Wolves Haydar. Haydar, fresh from the sin bin, scored his only goal of the night on the power play early on the fresh ice making it 4-0.

A fight broke out between the frustrated Joey Tetarenko and Valabik after the goal leading to a quiet ten minute period during which the Wolves did not score. It was ended as Deveaux was called for slashing with 5.54 left in the period. On the penalty kill again, Steve Martins picked up the puck and raced towards the Aeros goal taking a short handed mark away for the effort.

The final period saw Colin Stuart get two additional marks and Derek MacKenzie one. The winning goalie was Michael Garnett who faced only twenty shots on goal, ten of them in the first period and five in each of the next two. It was Garnett’s first win in three outings and second shutout of the year.

Kopriva stopped 33 shots, letting five goals past in a performance that was colder than Kochan’s.

The Wolves finish their Texas roadtrip, and this month-long road trip, welcoming the San Antonio Rampage back home to San Antonio on Friday. The Rampage last played at home January 21st. Their road trip, the longest in the American Hockey League, is caused by the San Antonio Livestock show. The Wolves, who end their Ice Capades road trip with the game, started their road trip January 21st. However, it was interrupted by one game against Syracuse, February 11th and the AHL All-Star game. It was the longest road trip in franchise history. The team was 7-2-1-2 on the road, earning 17 points and expanding its lead over the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights. The team has only six road games and 16 home games left in the regular season.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Feathers fly, Hogs 3, Mallards 2

Dickie Dunn, the great hockey writer, once said, “I tried to capture the feel of it…” The feel of the United Hockey League game Saturday night at the Rockford MetroCentre can be established with a single stat: 56 minutes of penalties—in the first minute of play.

Now how in the world can two teams create such mayhem in the first sixty seconds of play that they have as many penalty minutes as most games have? A fight at three seconds, a fight at four seconds, another fight at six seconds, at which time you’re wondering one, did I actually get tickets to a hockey game? And, two, what took them so long to drop the gloves?

In addition, there was the slashing at nineteen seconds and the goalie interference at 49 seconds and the game misconduct which followed that.

“Ref you suck” is so seldom heard before the first minute of play anymore. Don’t you miss the Federal League?

Now, obviously these are two teams, the Quad City Mallards and the Rockford IceHogs, with a lot of love to express. And, fans nearby talked to me about the sadness they’ll feel as they move from the UHL to the American Hockey League next season. It is, I suppose, like a son-in-law entering the family. You know things will be different, that you’re supposed to be happy. But you’re not sure if you like it or not.

How can any AHL game compare to something like this eight year old rivalry that has pitted two proud communities at each others throats? Only the rivalry between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears exceeds the intensity of the two teams when they play.

What is remarkable too, is that the Hogs were down five players after that first minute, on a 15 person bench.

The game itself was actually marked by a high level of play. The intensity of the first minute injected the players, leading to some great back and forth play. This is why people become UHL fans. It was fast, there were some astounding checks and hard hitting action.

The first goal of the game was scored on a power play by Kevin Ulanski who shot one past Mallard goalie Jason Tapp at 9.20 left of the first frame. Tapp had a great game, stopping four IceHogs shots in the first period. The Mallards put nine shots onto Frederic Cloutier in the first period, scoring their first goal on their own power play with 2.13 left on the clock. Sergei Durdin opened up on Cloutier for the count of 1-1.

The second frame saw more back and forth action on the ice. Four minutes in Rockford went up 2-1 on a second power play goal by Matt Gens. Rockford had nine shots on goal in the period, with Tapp stopping eight Hogs shots. Cloutier stopped all seven Ducks shots as the period ended with the Hogs up.

The cheese is what happens in hockey games between periods. Perhaps the organist plays Lady of Spain… In Rockford they fully support chuck-a-puck. Usually a charity with a large prize for the person who throws a soft rubber puck onto a target at center ice. The Hogs also include perhaps a hundred children in the clean-up of the pucks on the ice surface. And new to this event apparently is the ceremonial stoning of the inflatable Hammer the Hog.

Yes, hockey fans, about twenty children started pelting the walking inflatable mascot on the ice with the pucks. A good time was had by all.

The third period of play continued the intensity. Both goalies and teams showed great work, defending their goals and attacking the opposition goals. Only three penalties were called in the period. Late in the period however, the Mallards took the last penalty opportunity and scored off of Cloutier when Andrei Lupandin was able to launch a puck into the net.

Now tied 2-2, with less than five minutes to play, the excitement and intensity actually increased. Mike Doyle was able to raise the score to 3-2, Hogs, with only 1:08 on the clock. Although the QC team pulled their goalie and put Cloutier under a lot of pressure, the Hogs held on for their ninth home win in a row.

The game attracted 5,882, the largest crowd of the season for the IceHogs. Cloutier stopped a total of 18 shots for the win, while the loser was Tapp, who stopped 23 shots. An outstanding effort by both goalies. The win puts the Hogs into a third place tie in the league at 67 points. They are in second in the Western Division, behind the Fort Wayne Komets, who have 72 points. The Mallards trail the Hogs with 56 points and third in the division.

Although the two rivals are slated to meet each other three more times in the regular season. The last regular game being at Rockford on Sunday, March 25th. They would probably play each other in the first round of the UHL Western Division playoffs for the Colonial Cup.

Houston's hot goalie: Aeros 4, Wolves 1

The Houston Aeros defeated the Chicago Wolves Saturday night, 4-1, in front of the second largest home crowd ever to see an Aeros game, 12,021.

The Aeros, who have been in the unusual position of struggling this season, are currently tied at 50 points with one of the dogs of the league, the San Antonio Rampage. And, the size of the crowd, filling the lower bowl and spilling into the usually closed upper bowl, is certainly a sign of the interest Texans have for the Northern sport of hockey.

A hot goalie was the key for Houston. Although he allowed 35 shots on goal for the game, goalie Dieter Kochan was strong in the net, stopping 34 shots for his second win of the season in eight games played. Kochan has been covering, along with Miroslav Kopriva, the missing Josh Harding—on callup to the Minnesota Wild. When Harding is gone, the Aeros are 3-12-1. Harding himself is 17-16-4 this season in Houston.

The game also marked the end of Darren Haydar’s 25 game road point streak. The lone goal by the Wolves was scored by Kevin Doell, unassisted. It was only the 14th regulation loss by the Wolves this season.

Houston scoring started in the first period when Houston scored on Fred Brathwaite penalty. The ensuing face-off was won by Jason Morgan. Roman Voloshenko picked up the puck and fed it to Curtis Murphy at the point who dished it to Mattias Weinhandl. Weinhandl let loose with a fast low shot that went through several players to score on the screened Brathwaite.

At the end of the period Morgan won another face-off in the defensive zone. Weinhandl picked it up, skated between the circles and let a high shot go that Brathwaite couldn’t stop. In the second period Weinhandl nearly scored a hat trick when his shot on Brathwaite was stopped, then Brathwaite froze the puck as Weinhandl was heading in for the rebound. Houston went up 3-0 later in the second period when Aeros blueliner Erik Reitz picked up a lose puck on the power play and shot it past the sprawled Brathwaite.

Kevin Doell made the game 3-1 minutes later on an unassisted goal over Kochan’s shoulder.

There were only 11 shots on goal total in the third period. Chicago was unable to convert any of its seven man advantages. Late in the period Weinhandl had yet another opportunity for a hat trick, missing an open net after being nudged in the circle. Late in the period Wolves coach John Anderson pulled Brathwaite to create a man advantage. However, Aeros wingers Danny Irmen and Benoit Pouliot popped the puck to Matt Foy who fired it into the Chicago empty net with 1.36 left to play. Pandemonium broke lose behind the Aeros net less than 30 seconds later as Braydon Colburn, Boris Valabik and Doell mixed it up with John Scott, Pouliot and Foy. Valabik skated away from a confrontation with Scott while Pouliot and Colburn took fighting penalties.

Brathwaite stopped 24 shots on goal for the loss, his eighth of the season. Kochan stopped 34 shots on goal for the win.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Tired Wolves thrash last place Crunch 6-2

The Syracuse Crunch were beaten soundly by the Chicago Wolves Sunday afternoon at the Allstate Arena, losing 6-2. Newly acquired Wolves Andy Delmore and Andre Deveaux each notched a goal while Colin Stuart had a short-handed goal.

Delmore, acquired by the Atlanta Thrashers in a trade February 1, from the Tampa Bay Lightning, had his second goal in Wolves colors to start the scoring with just 36 seconds on the clock. He currently leads American Hockey League blue liners with 14 goals. The Wolves continued to pressure the Crunch with ten more shots on goal during the period. The Crunch replied with just five shots of their own, all of which were stopped by Wolves goalie Fred Brathwaite. AHL referee Brian Pochmara called 16 minutes of penalties in the period.

In the second frame Crunch winger Darcy Verot took a pass in the slot from Marc Methot and fired it past Brathwaite, putting the score at 1-1. Chicago replied on one of its several second frame power plays when rookie Jordan LaVallee received a pass from Alex Bourret. Splitting two defenders, he beat Crunch goalie Dan Lacosta to put the Wolves in the lead 2-1.

Deveaux received a penalty at 9.31 leading to a Crunch power play. However, Colin Stuart and Delmore made a break for the Crunch net with Stuart potting a short handed goal for a 3-1 score. Deveaux, Steve Martins and Joey Crabb increased the Wolves lead to 6-1 in the third frame. Mid-way through the period Derek MacKenzie received a five minute major penalty for high sticking. A further two minutes was given as the penalty wound down to Braydon Colburn, leading to roughly six minutes of advantage before the Crunch were able to convert that into a goal.

Chicago was two for nine on the power play, while Syracuse was one for nine. There were a total of 39 minutes of power plays in the game. Thirteen different Wolves players had points in the game. Brathwaite received the win with 26 saves on 28 shots, while Lacosta, who was named player of the week last week, received the loss with 23 saves on 29 shots.

The Crunch continue to stew in the basement of their division, with just 43 points this season, the team is tied for 25th out of 27 teams in points, 25 out of 27 for penalty minutes and 26 out of 27 for goals allowed on the road. Unless a miracle occurs in Syracuse, the Wolves will not meet the Crunch again this season.

The win gives the Wolves an 11 point lead on their nearest rival in points in the West Division, the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights. The Wolves are tied for second place in the league, trailing the Chicago Blackhawk affiliates, the Norfolk Admirals and tied with the Manchester Monarchs. The team starts another road trip this week, playing the Houston Aeros on Saturday and Sunday and the San Antonio Rampage a week from Friday before returning to the Allstate Arena on February 24.

They sing, they dance, they score...

At its best, it is small town hockey. They sing, they dance, they score goals and they win. At its worst, the Rockford IceHogs are the scariest games in the state. The fans can be toothless homers who are willing to fight over their team.

This is the best thing that has happened in local sports since the White Sox won the World Series. The Rockford MetroCentre has to clear up some details, but the fans there are getting a great team and some built in rivalries unlike anything they’ve seen in the United Hockey League.

And the American Hockey League fans in Chicago, Peoria and Milwaukee better be prepared for what is going to be visiting their arena in the near future. It is a beautiful thing to be sure.

It is 40 minutes before they open the gates. Although the MetroCentre is still closed, about 100 people are huddled in the cold outer lobby, waiting for the doors to open. The Rockford IceHogs are playing the Muskegon Fury tonight and the local credit union is giving away 1,000 piggy banks featuring the IceHogs mascot, Hammy.

There are lots of kids in line already. A young woman talks to me about the disappointment her family feels as the team moves to the AHL. “I won’t follow them,” she says. “I love them, but I’m so mad about what they’ve done…”

The players that the fans have grown to love, such as Robin Big Snake, Frederic Cloutier and Preston Mizzi, are unlikely to remain with the team next year. They aren’t AHL caliber players. Big Snake, a native of the Siksika nation of Alberta, played two games in the Milwaukee Admirals last year. He’s been having an off and on year with the IceHogs, recently scoring a hat trick plus one, but also in occasional trouble with the coach.

Cloutier too has been playing in the AHL with the Admirals this year, helping them through their goalie problems. More experienced than Big Snake, Cloutier has played with several AHL teams and may find a place in the minors and, especially as he is a goalie, may have a shot at the NHL still.

Mizzi, too, has been in the AHL and ECHL with a number of teams, including the Chicago Wolves and the Milwaukee Admirals. Still a young man by everyday standards, he is a very good AA player. But time is ticking and his future is uncertain.

The players in the UHL play in a bus league. They don’t make much in compensation. This is a brutal life of hope.

A man with a trumpet, it’s middle valve stuck in the open position, talks about playing instruments at the game. Sometimes he doesn’t blow, especially when the Hogs are losing. But that doesn’t seem to happen too often as the IceHogs are in second place in their division, third place overall.

Tonight they are playing the first-place Fury. With 79 points versus second place Fort Wayne at 66 and third place Rockford at 62, the Fury seem secure in the mastery of the league.

A boy, about ten is jumping around. His fists fly through the air as he describes the fights he likes to see at the game. He is wearing his jersey, signed and given to him after a recent operation. His father explains that coach Steve Martinson is a neighbor and their sons play together.

“If I were on the ice, I’d show them,” the boys yells, his fists beating on his father’s stomach. My extra tickets are sold to a fan club member. Her jersey adorned with the faces of the players, LEDs flashing inside them. The line moves forward, inside the building’s vestibule, crowding the ticket agents who do not allow it to enter the seating area.

Boxes of Hammy piggy banks are readied as the operations crew works feverishly. They will stay, the MetroCentre decided that if the bid to become AHL succeeds, the staff will stay.

Finally, we move forward. An adult man cuts around the line, impatient to receive his piggy bank, he goes all the way to the front of the line and, after receiving the gift, he sprints sideways, avoiding the crowd. Like a running back he is up the stairs and out of sight.

The upper lobby of the MetroCentre is full of places to sign up for promotions, purchase alcohol and food and see and be seen. Several Hogs players are scratched, and mix with the crowd. At the counter for the souvenirs, jerseys are selling briskly. The manager explains that the team is unsure what it will be called next year. So, they don’t want to order new promotional items.

Hoodies, he says, are 20 percent off.

Signing up for all the promotions, I stand in line to have Hammy autograph my piggy bank. His hand can’t manipulate the pen and the character turns the bank over to sign the back. A trivia contest asks who scored multiple hat tricks with the franchise. The answer is in the media guide and, jotting it down, I reflect on the short list.

The IceHogs have been around since 1999. Before that, it had been known as the Thunder Bay Thunder Cats, founded in 1991. Finishing first in the Western Division in 2006, the team had been knocked out of the playoffs. The regular season first place was good enough for the team’s first banner.

There is no jumbotron in the arena itself. In fact, two hand-operated scoreboards on the end of the ice, and a harder to see electronic scoreboard, track shots on goal for the fans. The pregame show has pounding music, strobes, an inflatable pig head for the players to skate through, and Hammy holding the American flag.

The owner of the Hogs stands in front of the crowd. It boos. Dr. Kris Tumilowicz is not a popular person here any longer. He starts singing the national anthem, it is seriously off-key at the beginning, but Tumilowicz recovers and ends well.

It is time to drop the puck.

Immediately a fight breaks out. It is Erick Lizon and Kelly Thompson. Everyone on the ice seems to realize the fight was on, they must have decided to “do it” when the puck dropped. Four seconds had elapsed on the clock.

The two skaters circle each other, their gloves and helmets scattered. Finally they embrace and dance for what seems to be a minute, without landing blows. Then the Hogs’ Lizon starts slinging the shots. The linesmen finally separate the two, tired pugilists who will spend the next five minutes in the sin bin.

The crowd is roaring now and the game has hardly started. Below, a fan is pounding away at the glass. Every call is a personal affront to him. It is hard to blame him either as referee Scott Bokal mismanages calls repeatedly. Big Snake is called for hooking just seconds after the fight. Twenty minor penalty minutes are called in the first frame. On one, a five on three advantage allows Nathan Lutz to score the first goal of the night, putting the Hogs in the lead.

Muskegon puts only four shots on goal in the first frame, all of which Cloutier stops. The second period starts with the Fury on the power play, which allows them to tie the game. But that is their high water mark. They put six more shots on goal which Cloutier stops. Eleven shots total in two periods, and with all those power play opportunities…

Removing the two fights, a second fight breaks out after a hard third period open ice hit, there are 44 minutes of penalties called. With ten power plays each, the teams are able to convert just two into goals.

My companion is called to the ice for a promotion, but refuses to take part in the hog calling contest. Too bad, that could have been funny as she has a great set of lungs.

The final period starts with the two teams tied. Goals by Matt Gens, Jason Ralph and Jason Notermann in a space of 3 minutes 20 seconds put the Hogs up 4-1. On the first goal, I’m announced as the recipient of a power play jersey if the Hogs score on the power play, but Gens misses the goal by two seconds. Damn him!

Two other promotions are called that either my companion or I win. In total, four promotions and two winners on the night. In the last minute the Fury pull their goalie and put Cloutier under pressure. The shot total has climbed to 15 this period by the Fury, more than the previous two periods combined. Tim Wedderburn, a Chicago Wolves blue liner assigned to the Hogs, grabs the puck and fires it at the empty goal. Nothing like an empty net goal to finish off an opponent. With 25 seconds left, the crowd is again on its feet singing and dancing. A fan throws a bottle on the ice and security quickly arrives. People point at the fan and he is whisked away.

As we leave the dancing team is handing out more goodies. Dancing girls, two fights, lots of swag, and a hockey game marred more for the on-ice officiating than the excitement of play. It has been a very good night in Rockford.

Next week, the most exciting game, currently, in Illinois hockey: the IceHogs host the Quad City Mallards and there is a potential for the fights to move into the stands.

Cloutier receives the win, stopping 25 Fury shots. Clayton Pool receives the loss for the Fury, stopping 19 shots. The final score 5-1 IceHogs.

Wolves drop another Shoot Out; END THIS FORMAT!

A tired Chicago Wolves came from behind to tie, but were unable to finish off the Toronto Marlies in a game Saturday at Ricoh Coliseum. The extra period game was decided by a shoot out that Chicago lost. Chicago has lost five of six shoot outs this year, and two of its six over time games.

The shoot out is not a format that has been kind to the Wolves. In the previous season, the team engaged in 11 shoot outs, winning only three of them.

Justin Pogge held the Wolves at bay, stopping 11 shots on goal in the first period. Boris Valabik, who returned to play Saturday for the first time since a December injury, was called for roughing at 4.23. That set up a power play opportunity for Erik Westrum. Firing from the boards, the puck ricocheted off of Aleksander Suglobov and past Fred Brathwaite. Brathwaite faced just four other shots in the period.

The second frame saw the Wolves answer the goal when they had a power play opportunity of their own. With just under two minutes into the start of the period, Alex Bourret cross passed to Mark Popovic at the top of the circle who top-shelved it past Pogge. Pogge stopped 14 Wolves shots in the period. Brathwaite shut the Marlies down, stopping seven shots in the period.

In the final frame of regulation play, Jeremy Williams, returning to the Marlies from his own injury, passed the puck up the ice to Westrum. Westrum, on a breakaway, took an off-angle shot that went through Brathwaite’s legs, giving the Marlies a 2-1 lead. With less than a minute to go, Brathwaite was pulled from the goal, giving Chicago a man advantage. Jared Ross found the puck loose in front of Pogge. He hammered on it until he scored.

In the shoot out, Cory Larose and Brett Sterling scored for the Wolves, while Westrum, Colin Murphy and Suglobov scored for the Marlies. It was Brathwaite’s first loss in six starts. In the American Hockey League, shoot out losses are not counted against the goalie. Brathwaite stopped 33 of 35 shots on goal. Pogge, who has not won his last four starts, stopped 26 of 28 shots on goal.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Wolves score 3 to tie in 3rd; Hamilton game winner in OT

Five Wolves registered goals on the Hamilton Bulldogs Friday, coming from a three goal deficit to tie the game. But the Hamilton Bulldogs pulled the game out with an overtime win.

The Copps Colliseum game was a penalty laden festival of scoring. Cory Larose got the Wolves on the scoreboard first with a pass from behind the net to Brett Sterling who sliced the puck high into the net. The second place North division Bulldogs answered 38 seconds later when Jean-Phillippe Cote passed Wolves blue liner Brian Sipotz and fired a wrister to score on Wolves goalie Michael Garnett. Late in the period, the Bulldogs were given a five on three power play. Matt D’Agostini had a rebound goal on Garnett. Then, just 39 seconds later, in the next period, D’Agostini had another goal on Garnett, this time through his five hole.

D’Agostini missed the franchise record for two fastest goals by just four seconds.

A second frame fight between Jordan LaVallee and Bulldog Dan Jancevski marked the energy of the game. The mid-frame goal by Andrei Kostitsyn put the Hamilton team up 4-1. Late in the period the Wolves scored a short handed goal by Derek MacKenzie, which cut the lead to just two goals.

MacKenzie currently leads the American Hockey League with five short handed goals. Four skaters share second with four goals each, including Kevin Doell.

An early power play goal in the third period seemed to end the Wolves chances. Kostitsyn earned his second goal of the night on a passing play that out foxed Garnett. Andy Delmore began the Wolves surge with his first Wolves goal, a power play notch at 5.32. Colin Stuart put the Wolves within one at 7.33. Then Alex Bourret tied the game five-all with a goal from a backdoor pass at 17.16.

Stuart received a minor penalty in the overtime, but the Wolves held the Bulldogs off through the power play only to lose the game with 14 seconds on the clock. Duncan Milroy made a wrap around attempt on Garnett, which Cory Locke picked up and fired high into the corner.

The Bulldogs were three for seven on the power play, while the Wolves were one for ten. Garnett stopped 23 shots, including seven in the extra period, for the loss. Bulldog goalie Yann Danis earned the win, stopping 25 Chicago shots on goal.

The Wolves conclude the Canadian tour with a game Saturday in Toronto versus the Marlies before returning to Chicago for one game against the Syracuse Crunch. The Wolves then start a three game Texas road trip next weekend.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Last minute Bulldogs goals force overtime. Wolves pull it out 4-3

A last minute come from behind effort sent the Chicago Wolves into overtime against the Hamilton Bulldogs Wednesday at the Copps Coliseum. But the Wolves hung on to win the game 4-3.

Led by Fred Brathwaite in goal, the Wolves and the Bulldogs had a quiet first frame, marked by just two minor penalties. Brathwaite stopped seven shots on goal in the period. With less than three minutes remaining in the period Brett Sterling captured a turnover in the Bulldogs defensive zone. Sterling’s shot was wide, but Steve Martins shoveled the puck into a wide open net giving the Wolves a 1-0 lead. Jaroslav Halak, who leads the list of American Hockey League goalies stopped eight Wolves shots in the first frame.

A more active second frame provided Martins his second goal of the night on a power play. A shot by Cory Larose from the slot deflected off of Sterling to Martins who scored. Hamilton blue liner Danny Groulx shot a wrister at Brathwaite three minutes later. It was deflected in by Jonathan Ferland through Brathwaite’s five hole.

Nathan Oystrick returned the Wolves to a two goal lead with only 38 seconds remaining in the period. Stripping the puck from the Bulldogs at the redline, Oystick’s slap shot scored. Brathwaite stopped ten Bulldogs shots while Halak stopped six Wolves shots in the period.

A quiet third frame seemed to spell the end of the Bulldogs. Three minor penalties, and 12 Wolves shots on goal was the story for people leaving up to the nineteen minute and 37 second mark. Then, the Bulldogs scored twice in 23 seconds, the last goal occurring with just four seconds left to play, putting the game into over time. Andrei Kostitysn, who fired a bullet from the circle to score through Brathwaite’s five hole, scored the first of the goals. Then, Kyle Chipchura was working the boards. He lost and then regained the puck. He passed the puck to Mathieu Biron who fired at Brathwaite. Ferland then deflected the puck past Brathwaite to score.

In the overtime, Brian Fahey’s shot was deflected for the game winning goal by Mark Popovic. Brathwaite stopped four Bulldog shots in the overtime period. His win, the 17th this season, leaves him among the top ten active goalies in the league. Brathwaite stopped a total of 30 Bulldog shots. The Wolves were one in six on the power play.

The Bulldogs, a possible post-season opponent of the Wolves, stopped 27 shots on goal for Halak’s loss. They were one for five on the power play. The Wolves play Hamilton again on Friday night before ending the Canadian road trip with a game against the Toronto Marlies on Saturday.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Wolves vent on Marlies. Win 8-1

The Chicago Wolves continued the Canadian portion of the Ice Capades road trip, trouncing the Toronto Marlies 8-1 Monday at the Ricoh Coliseum.

The first period was marked by 18 minutes of penalties, one fight and six goals. The teams had 34 shots on goal in the period. Fred Brathwaite, stopped 19 shots, only letting Jeff Corey’s lone goal in at just past five minutes into the period. Jean-Francois Racine, meanwhile stopped nine shots, while letting five pucks pass including a short-handed goal and a power play goal.

Andre Deveaux, acquired by the Atlanta Thrashers in a trade on Thursday from the Tampa Bay Lightning, opened the scoring up for the Wolves by skating behind the net to pick up a pass, spinning and flipping it into the goal. Tied, the Wolves scored six more times in the next twelve minutes. Additional goals were scored by Joey Crabb, Kevin Doell and Brian Fahey before the Marlies pulled Racine.

Not stopping, the Wolves continued to score on Marlies goalie Justin Pogge when Brett Sterling potted two goals in a space of three minutes.

Derek MacKenzie continued the scoring in the third frame and Troy Milam ended the slaughter of the baby Leafs with a power play netter. In all, 19 points were awarded to 15 of the 21 players on the Wolves bench, including an assist to Brathwaite. Sterling received three points. Alex Bourret, MacKenzie, Doell and Cory Larose received two points each.

Sterling is now the leading active scorer in the American Hockey league with 42 goals and 70 points in 49 games this season. Brathwaite’s win propels him among the top ten goalies of the AHL, with a save percentage of 92 percent and a 2.56 Goals against average.

The power play unit was two for six on the night. The Wolves power play is now at 21.3 percent and an astounding 23.1 percent on the road.

The win gives the Wolves 69 points. The trailing Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights have five games on the Wolves, and 61 points. Since January 19th, when the Wolves ended a 1-7 stretch with a decisive victory over the Peoria Rivermen, they have gone 6-1-2 and allowed 19 goals in 9 games while helping themselves to 44 goals in the process. During this entire period, they have been without Jason Krog, and in the last three games, Darren Haydar.

Additional meat has been added to the blue line with the presence of Andy Delmore. Delmore was acquired as part of the previously discussed trade between the Thrashers and the Lightning. Boris Valabik, the 6’ 7” blue liner who was injured in late December, was practicing with the team in Winnipeg but has not returned to the ice for play. Despite his absence, the defense has only allowed 2.11 goals per game since the 19th. That is about 31.2 percent less goals allowed than the AHL average of 3.06 per game. In the first half of the season, the Wolves were the fourth worst team for allowing goals.

Brathwaite stopped 39 shots on goal for the win. Pogge stopped 20 shots, all in the second and third periods. The loss went to Racine. The Wolves play the Hamilton Bulldogs, second place team in the North Division, on Wednesday and Friday before returning to Toronto to complete the Canadian swing with another game against the Marlies on Saturday. The road trip is interrupted by a single game at home against the Syracuse Crunch on Sunday. The Crunch game will be the seventh game in ten days for the Wolves. The Wolves then play three road games in Texas ending on February 23 against the San Antonio Rampage.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Moose, Wolves split two on Super Bowl weekend

We’re flying north, into the darkness. A Canadian winter and daily high temperatures of –9 degrees and a long Canadian night await. But there is also hockey on this Super Bowl weekend.

Canadians are not by nature big supporters of minor league hockey. They prefer their hockey pure. It should be National Hockey League or preferably junior league. So support for an American Hockey League team is unusual.

Winnipeg, however, was the home to the Jets, a World Hockey Association team that saw the Golden Jet, Bobby Hull, skate in the waning years of his career. It is a town that is hoping another hockey god smiles on it again, Mario Lamieux and his Penguins.

The trip was planned long ago, when the idea of the Chicago Bears being in the Super Bowl, of playing this weekend, was little more than wishfulness. And so, amid the orange and blue crowds at O’Hare Airport, heading south for a weekend of partying, we clutched our passports and, like missionaries, headed north to proselytize on the true religion to the natives of the Great White North.

How would they take this invasion of their home turf by people who should more properly be planning what dip to serve on Sunday than discussing the possible Second Coming of the national sport?

As we fly across the international border the sun sets on hundreds of backyard hockey rinks, the glint creating temporary snow blindness. We are not in Kansas anymore, or indeed any state. Below lies the province of Manitoba and the subjects of Queen.

The Manitoba Moose play in the MTS Centre, a home fit for an NHL team. It is a temple, set amid the sacred grove of seats, awaiting the Second Coming of hockey.

But it is not to be. No matter the national support or interest in Canada. No matter the greater penetration of the game into the hearts and homes of its citizens, Gary Bettman and the cabal of businessmen who run this game will select another home for teams that are pulling up stakes. Be it Kansas City or Houston. It will take several teams deciding to leave their homes before the game returns to its roots. It will take the end of the attitudes of owners and a commissioner that measure with a ruler, what can only be measured by Global Positioning.

And, it will take a change in the attitude of local fans. Are they prepared to spend twice as much for a season ticket?

The game is on. The Chicago Wolves and the Manitoba Moose have a long history in another league, the International Hockey League. It was a failed attempt to challenge the dominance of the NHL. Six teams survived the transition, five remain in the AHL, including Chicago and Manitoba.

Instead of being a development league, accepting the challenge of growing young hockey prospects into NHL professionals, the IHL was also seeking veterans. The fans nearby talk about names that created respect and spilled blood, Jimmy Roy, Steve Maltais and Rob Brown included. The local sports writer later talks about threatened gun play, bench clearing brawls and other threats of violence.

But there are no fights tonight. Without their stars, Darren Haydar of the Wolves and Jason Jaffray of the Moose, the teams slug it out under the eye of referee Jeff Smith, who seems allergic to calling penalties. Only 20 minutes of penalties called in 60minutes of play. Smith misses Kevin Doell, his stick stuck in the visor of a Moose--- and the man bleeding to boot.

The game moves back and forth. A first period goal by the Moose answered by just five shots on goal by the Wolves. Freddy Brathwaite, the Wolves goalie, more lucky than good. Lee Goren finishes a frozen puck play by patting Brathwaite on the head.

They were here together on the Moose in Brathwaite’s last visit. And the Moose won that game. Now they are playing against each other. Tomi Santalla is here too. A former Wolf, he was traded to the Moose NHL affiliate. Injured, he happens to be here on a short conditioning assignment.

The second period. Drew MacIntyre is in goal. He was injured and is also in rehab this game. He stops seven of eight Chicago shots in the second period as Nathan Oystrick scores on a power play. MacIntyre and Julien Ellis protect the iron here in Manitoba. Wade “Flats” Flaherty himself now injured. Flats had spent the season in Manitoba, prohibited from going to the NHL by the arcane waiver rules. He had negotiated too good a contract and was subject to waivers going up, as Manchester Monarchs goalie Jason LaBarbera is too.

The third period of play. Manitoba is ahead of Chicago 21 shots to 13. Without their power line, the Wolves are competitive but not in charge. Mike Brown scores on Brathwaite. On a power play, the Wolves knock it past MacIntyre. The puck stops, a foot from the goal. MacIntyre looks around for it, while Brett Sterling skates in behind and pots it. My god was it beautiful!

The score is tied now. Chicago has managed to keep up with the Moose, despite only 26 shots on goal, versus 36 for the Moose. In Overtime Smith gives a hooking penalty to Yannick Tremblay. It is a terrible call. The Moose are short a man and the next goal wins. Smith seems to realize his mistake, and less than a minute later, puts Brett Sterling in the sin bin. Now even up and playing three on three hockey, the teams square off. Brian Fahey puts the game winner past MacIntyre. Wolves win 3-2.

We head back to the hotel. Billy Gardner is explaining how the press box has steel I-beams blocking the views of some of the commentators. A local fan discusses how the MTS building didn’t even invite the Penguins to the city to inspect the facility.

Saturday morning… the weather channel says it is –46 (Celsius) outside. Can spit freeze in such temperatures before it hits the ground? The hotel water is cut off as a pipe break floods the dining facilities. We head into the cold to find poutine and bacon. We must be in Canada.

Game two. A group of school children sing a spirited version of “Oh Canada!” Then, the Moose honor local hero Jonathan Toews. It is another Chicago tie-in. Toews was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL draft. The headline reads “Blackhawks can wait.” I wonder how long till it reads “Blackhawk down…”

Toews was a key player in the Canadian victory in the 2007 World Junior Ice Hockey Tournament, including scoring three goals in a semi-final shootout to defeat the US. He was named to the tournament’s all-star team.

There is nothing like the national anthem, followed by a great video, and in this case, a local hero, to get the crowd excited. The Moose take the ice with MacIntyre back in goal, but Jaffray on the ice. Jaffray, it turns out, had taken the night off on Friday to be with his wife on the delivery of his daughter Kennedy.

On the Chicago side, Michael Garnett is in goal. Immediately the difference between Brathwaite and Garnett is evident. The Moose do not have as much respect for Garnett and he battles in a more physical game.

Chicago comes out firing, out shooting the Moose 13 to 9 in a first period remarkable for only two penalties, both on the Moose. Colin Stuart scores near the end of the period, putting the Wolves up by one.

In the second frame, Moose Pretin Ryan and Lee Goren allow the Moose to take the lead. Mike Brown and Guillaume Desbiens are sent off for five minutes for fighting. Again, Smith allows the game to flow, calling only one other minor penalty in the period. Mark Popovic manages to tie the game late in the period, followed almost immediately by Jordan LaVallee and Ryan being sent off for fighting.

Period three. Jon Awe scores a goal with just over five minutes past. Lee Goren answers with a Moose goal about three minutes later. The score is still tied. A back and forth battle starts at center ice. Both teams play hard hockey for a good five minutes, with neither gaining the upper hand. How long can this continue? Even with their seasoning, they must be getting tired? Finally, a letup and the play continues at a lower level.

With less than three minutes left Tremblay scores. Moose lead. Just a minute later and Moose standout Colby Genoway gets two minutes for high-sticking. If the Wolves pull the goalie, they will have six on four till the end of the game, or they tie.

Garnett sits in the net as the players are called over to the bench. Play starts. Suddenly, John Anderson gives Garnett the call. It is six on four hockey. Intense pressure is put on the Moose, but in the end MacIntyre stops them. Moose win 4-3.