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Monday, May 28, 2007

Wolves out of Calder Cup finals; Bulldogs advance to face Hershey

The Chicago Wolves are out of the Calder Cup playoffs, after losing game five of the best of seven series to the Hamilton Bulldogs at the Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario Saturday by a score of 3-1.

The Bulldogs played the Wolves nine times combined in the regular season and the playoffs, losing just one game in the regular season and one game in the playoffs. Fred Brathwaite played a brilliant game four 1-0 shutout of the Bulldogs on Friday.

Rookie Cary Price played in each of the games in the series. Although he was shelled out of the net in the first game of the series, better defense choked the Chicago first line starting in game two, keeping the score low. The speed shown by the Bulldogs in game one was abandoned in games two through five, to concentrate on keeping the Chicago sharp shooters in line. Not only were the games low scoring following game one, the number of shots on goal declined too.

The Chicago defense too worked better in games two through five, keeping the Hamilton shots on goal down. Hamilton’s power play special units were almost nullified in the series, with Chicago going seven periods of power plays without giving a goal up. Hamilton had three 5:3 power plays in the Wednesday game, plus a five-minute major. On Friday, the night it was shut out, it had a 5:3 it couldn’t convert again. The only goal of the game was on a Chicago 5:4.

On Saturday, the Wolves had two 5:3 power play opportunities that it couldn’t convert. The short-handed, empty-net goal at the end of the game occurred while Chicago was on its own power play, 6:4. In sum, Hamilton scored three goals on 37 power plays, including five 5:3 advantages and a five-minute major for an 8.12 percent effectiveness. While the Penalty Kill was operating at 16.67 percent. A disappointing special teams effort by both the Wolves and the Bulldogs. On Friday, too, the final stat, Hamilton out shot the Wolves 37 to 14 in the 1-0 loss. The Bulldogs should be especially alarmed, heading into Calder Cup final.

Moreover, the games were close, with Hamilton ending only one game, game five, with more than a one-goal lead. That short handed empty net goal occurred during a Chicago 6:4 man advantage in the final two minutes of play, when Chicago pulled Brathwaite to attempt a final tying of the score.

Chicago may have made the series tighter. Boat loads of penalties, particularly in game three and a very questionable call by referee Steve Kozari, these things all may have led to a different result for that game. However, in the end, a seven game series is proof.

The other Calder Cup finalist is the Hershey Bears who swept the Manchester Monarchs 4-0. The Bears are in their second consecutive Calder Cup final, having defeated the Milwaukee Admirals in last year’s championship. Teams from Pennsylvania have appeared in the Calder Cup finals each year since 2004.

The exit of the Wolves leaves no former International Hockey League teams in the playoffs, that is the first time that has happened since the six IHL teams joined the American Hockey League in the 2001-2 season.

Hamilton has not appeared in the Calder Cup since 2003 when the Houston Aeros won the Cup. A Canadian team has not won the Calder Cup since Saint John beat the Wilkes Barre/ Scranton Penguins in 2001.

IceHogs win Colonial Cup in 3-1 game 7 victory

Game seven of the Colonial Cup finals. On the line for the IceHogs was their first Colonial Cup ever and also their last as the team was decamping for the American Hockey League in the next season.

On the line for the K-Wings in addition to the Cup was the first road victory in the playoffs in the MetroCentre by an opponent and back-to-back wins of the Colonial Cup by the K-Wings. Since it was first awarded in 1992, three teams have won back-to-back Colonial Cups, including the Muskegon Fury in 2004-5 under current Wolves assistant coach Todd Nelson and the Quad City Mallards in 1997-8 under current Wolves coach John Anderson.

A predecessor to the IceHogs, the Thunder Bay (Ontario) Senators won back-to-back Colonial Cups in the 1994-5 seasons.

Kevin Ulanski scored the first goal of the game, an unassisted steal that scored at 2:47 of the first period. Nick Bootland replied for the K-Wings with a power play goal close to the ten-minute mark of the period. A 5:3 power play by Rockford was unconverted leaving the first period score tied 1-1.

K-zoo never had more than nine shots on goal in a period. In the second period the K-Wings fell to a low of seven shots on goal and failed to score. A power play early in the period failed to generate traction for the K-Wings. A Rockford goal at 6:11 and two second half power plays kept the momentum in Rockford’s favor throughout the period and gave the team a 2-1 lead on Jason Noterman’s goal going into the final frame.

You’d expect a close championship game in the United Hockey League to be a brutal affair in the final period. However the last 20 minutes, instead, went unmarked by any penalties. The K-Wings put just nine shots on goal in the period, compared to nine for the IceHogs.

An insurance goal by Nicolas Corbeil with 1:33 remaining seemed to take the steam out of an already sputtering K-Wings engine. Pulling the goalie from the net seemed an empty gesture. The final score, IceHogs 3, K-Wings 1.

Ryan Nie received the loss, stopping 29 shots. Frederic Cloutier received the win, stopping 24 shots. The Most Valuable Player award was given to Rockford’s Ulanski. He scored 21 points in the playoffs, leading his team, plus his crucial game seven goal.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

IceHogs to raise UHL banner in AHL; Has the UHL a future?

The Rockford IceHogs won the Colonial Cup in a 3-1 decision that demonstrated a lot of what is right about minor league hockey. It marked an exit for the IceHogs from the United Hockey League and capped a week in which another UHL team, the Port Huron Flags, folded. And a week that saw a second UHL team bolt the league, the Quad City Mallards. Currently, the UHL has just six surviving teams, the Chicago Hounds, the Bloomington Prairie Thunder, the Fort Wayne Komets, the Kalamazoo K-Wings and the Muskegon Fury.

The IceHogs will be raising the franchises’ first league championship banner next year in a new league. The team is now affiliated with the Chicago Blackhawks and will play in the American Hockey League against rivals in the Quad Cities, Des Moines, Chicago, Milwaukee, Peoria and Grand Rapids. Although the players will likely be given the opportunity to compete for a spot on the AHL affiliated IceHogs, even the best players will struggle to make the cut in the organization that played this season as the Norfolk Admirals.

Like the IceHogs, the Quad City Mallards ended the season exiting the UHL stage. That team affiliated with the Calgary Flames and takes on the persona of the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights. The Knights will be folding their tent in Omaha completely, the victim of too small a market supporting too many hockey teams.

The entry of the IceHogs and another team, the Cleveland Lake Monsters, into the AHL next season is promising a busy meeting of the AHL Board of Governors later this summer. The AHL, which has monopolized the development of players for the National Hockey League and is the only AAA level league in North America, is aiming to affiliate each of the league’s teams with an NHL team. With 29 AHL teams and 30 NHL teams that goal is nearly a reality.

Only the Rochester Americans have dual affiliations next season, splitting the team between prospects from the Buffalo Sabres and the Florida Panthers.

The Chicago Wolves are affiliated with the Atlanta Thrashers, the Peoria Rivermen with the St. Louis Blues, the Grand Rapids Griffins with the Detroit Red Wings and the Milwaukee Admirals with the Nashville Predators.

The West Division of the Western Conference had two Texas teams, San Antonio, affiliated with the Phoenix Coyotes, and the Houston Aeros, affiliated with the Minnesota Wild.

In addition the teams from Omaha, Des Moines, Chicago, Milwaukee and Peoria played in the division. At the end of the regular season four of the teams were selected for the playoffs based on their regular season records. In order, they were Omaha, Chicago, Milwaukee and Iowa. Peoria just missed the playoffs by a few points and would have replaced a team in another division if successful.

The incoming Norfolk Admirals, who replace the IceHogs, had a very successful season playing in the tough East Division. They were eliminated in the first round. However that round, in the East, saw three of the teams with the most regular season points compete in the first round and only two would advance.

For many hockey fans the question is how will the league align itself. That determines which teams play each other on a frequent basis. According to the Peoria Journal Star and the Quad City Times, the AHL indicated it would be using six divisions and two conferences next season. The current West Division of the AHL would be split between two divisions, with the Grand Rapids Griffins and possibly the two Texas teams playing in one of the two divisions. Illinois’ four teams, only New York State has as many teams in one state, would be split between the two divisions, possibly meaning the IceHogs and the Wolves would not play in the same division.

There have been a number of excellent summaries of the UHL problems this season. Earlier this year this blog discussed the UHL’s problems here. More recently, Bill Shaun covered the UHL story here and Justin Cohn discussed the problems in the Fort Wayne Gazette on May 17, “Be Patient with UHL Evolution.”


Looking back at the season: Michael Garnett was almost always hovering in the bottom quarter of the rankings of the league this season. Even in the playoffs, when he played his best, he wasn't up there among the best in the playoffs.

He was blessed by a high scoring offensive line in addition to having some great nights. The defense, which has also drawn the wrath of many people, did struggle. I noticed it was after the trade of Bradon Colburn that the defense found itself. Was that because Colburn's attitude, and I think it was attitude both here and in Atlanta that caused him to first be benched by the Thrashers and then traded, or was his abilty lacking?

We can debate Colburn on and on... He'll answer this question in the next season or two himself.

Fred Brathwaite held the team in line through the Manitoba trip. It was sometime after that trip he began really showing problems in the net. The game on Friday night was one of the most remarkable performances I can remember ever seeing. He was in the zone and I was so glad I went to Hamilton to witness that.

There has been alot of criticism of Assistant Coach Todd Nelson too. But, this is the best defensive group I've seen play for the Wolves in five seasons.

In sum, this season clearly demonstrates why sports is used as a metaphor for life. The problems of last season, the early success, the mid-season struggle and the struggle to hold on during the late regular season. Then, the Wolves just blossomed in a way I never would have expected.

The first series, defeating the Admirals in a sweep, was wonderful payback on a team that has had the number of this team all season. It promised a great playoff season.

It was a great playoff season. The Iowa series was a bit of a lull, though I'm not criticizing the Iowa team. It is just that emotionally, I became far more involved in the playoffs during the Milwaukee series and the Hamilton series.

I did not want to leave Hamilton for good on Friday. I wanted to come back on Saturday. That Friday night victory was very sweet, especially as it was a one goal shut out. It snapped the sweep. It was sweet to collect a discarded broom, it was in Hamilton colour, and have the team sign it.

I can tell you that just about every player wanted to break that broom. The only reason it survived is that it's handle was made of metal, not wood.

The fact is that the Hamilton fans had so much class, it is a trip I compare to the Manitoba trip with regard to the memories and friends we made here, and only adds to the season.

I come into the season demanding we aim for the Calder Cup. This year there were so many highlights to the year, from the development of rookies and the Haydar/ Krog/ Sterling line to the rehabilitation of Garnett and Brathwaite in the playoffs. I would be satisfied with the Calder. But I never expected it.

Next season promises a division filled with tough competition. For the last two seasons I've ended the season with the same call: DROP THE PUCK ALREADY!

I'll be wrapping the 2007 blog up in the next day or so. We have some great game photos from the Rockford MetroCentre of the IceHogs Colonial Cup win, the Wolves win on Friday and the final win, by Hamilton on Saturday night.

After seening the Bulldogs play six times this year, four times in the past week, I have some observations about them that the Hershey fans may find of interest too. So, while I'm not yet done for the year, I can see the end of the road.

From the Western New York State Thruway... till I have an extra three or four hours. Take care and thanks for reading.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Why no story on the Rockford win?

The IceHogs won the Colonial Cup, I have some observations and some great pix. But we are in Canada covering the final game of the Hamilton part of the series. We're doing the best we can... hang on there Hogs fans ;)

Same place, half a life ago...

The Hamilton Bulldogs beat the Chicago Wolves 2-1 Wednesday in Hamilton, playing game three of the Western Conference finals. However, two nights later, with a 3-0 lead, the Bulldogs could not clinch game four and the Western Conference championship, being shut out by the Wolves on Friday night 1-0.

On Wednesday, Chicago took three 5:3 penalties in a second period that saw a virtual revolving door installed on the sin bin. In addition it took a five-minute major. Despite spending 17 minutes of penalties, including six penalties taken in a row, Chicago gave up only one power play goal in the second period of the Wednesday game.

However that was enough as Hamilton first tied the game, then used that power play goal to leap ahead of the Wolves and hold the lead and win.

Chicago’s offense drew first blood in the contest when Chicago used one of its six power play opportunities to out muscle the Bulldogs in front of the net and allow Jordan LaVallee to score.

However, in the second period, referee Steve Kozari began whistling a parade of Wolves players to the sin bin, starting with Brett Sterling for holding the stick at 7.47. Three 5:3 power plays, a five-minute major and six players later, the Wolves succumbed and gave Hamilton a goal.

It could be termed one of the best defensive efforts by the team this year. It could also be called very poor discipline. Hamilton is probably shocked at how badly they play on the power play.

Leading 2-1, Hamilton was able to hold on as Chicago dinged their net 13 times in the last 20 minutes of play, compared to just three shots on the Chicago goal.

The winner of the game was Carey Price, the Canadiens rookie goaltender, stopping 35 shots. Fred Brathwaite received the loss, stopping 23 shots.

On Friday night, the hero of the game was clearly Fred Brathwaite. Brathwaite stopped 37 Hamilton shots on goal for a shutout over the Bulldogs. The win kept the Wolves hopes alive for another day. In the history of the American Hockey League only two teams have come back from a 3-0 deficit in the playoffs to win their series. The Wolves win brings the Wolves from 3-0 to 3-1.

The two teams are the Rochester Americans in 1960, defeating the Cleveland Barons. The Adirondack Red Wings in 1989 over the Hershey Bears.

Price received the loss. A poor performing Wolves offense put just 13 shots on goal for the entire game.

Brathwaite faced his own difficult path to victory on Friday, especially during the game four second period when the team was again sent to the sin bin six consecutive times giving Hamilton a 5:3 once.

Yet, again, Hamilton proved unable to convert the 5:3 or any of the man advantages to a goal advantage.

The lack of power on the Hamilton power play, and Brathwaite’s sudden transition into a wall, gave the Wolves an important psychological boost Friday. They will not be swept and even shut out their opponents in a series marked by overtimes and one-goal games.

Brathwaite won the One Star of the night before the record crowd. It is hard to give a second star of the game to another Wolves player, as so many of them spent time in the sin bin and so few put shots on the goal. However, let’s nominate John Kernaghan.

Kernaghan is a writer at the Hamilton Spectator. His page four profile of Brathwaite, titled “Same Place, half a life ago” remembered how a 17 year-old Brathwaite, then playing in the Memorial Cup for the Oshawa Generals, won a double overtime game in that series to claim the Cup in the Copps Coliseum. And, as well, an overtime game in the Copps Coliseum earlier in the regular season to win an overtime game against the Bulldogs, the only game, until Friday, won by the Wolves against the Bulldogs this year.

The Memorial Cup tournament between the best Canadian junior teams from the three main juniors leagues starts play each Rembrance Day weekend. That was last weekend, and it concludes on our Memorial Day weekend. So the 1990 Memorial Cup was awarded nearly 17 years ago to the 17 year-old Brathwaite.

Brathwaite is a hot commodity in Canada. His Memorial Cup wins and long odds to play in the NHL as a black Canadian, make him respected here, something you see every time you visit Canada and he plays.

The Wolves face the Bulldogs again Saturday in Copps, downtown Hamiton, Ontario for game five. The Bulldogs lead the best of seven series 3-1. Any win by the Bulldogs will send the Wolves home for the remainder of the playoff season. The game starts at 7 PM local, Eastern time. Game six and seven, if necessary, will be played at the Allstate Arena Monday and Wednesday at 7 PM local, Central time.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

6-2 K-Wings win; Colonial Cup on line for Thursday

It is all or nothing Thursday night in Rockford, as the United Hockey League Colonial Cup Final game seven needs to be played between the tied Rockford IceHogs and the Kalamazoo K-Wings. A 6-2 home win by the K-Wings Tuesday in K-Wings Stadium made certain of that.

The game was marked by a two goals within ten seconds of each other, two short handed goals and two goals by Kory Karlander that put the game away. Every game of the series has been won by the home team.

For the IceHogs, this is their final UHL game. Next season the team affiliates with the Chicago Blackhawks, who will be moving their Norfolk Admirals prospects of the American Hockey League, to Rockford. After that, the IceHogs will be playing, in the same league as the Chicago Wolves and the Milwaukee Admirals. A victory would raise a banner on a different team. None of the current players are expected to be signed by the Blackhawks.

For the K-Wings, a victory would clinch their second consecutive Colonial Cup.

In any case, the UHL has floundered with teams in Flint and Port Huron, Michigan likely to fold. The Elmira, New York team has joined the ECHL. The Quad City Mallards are exploring joining the AHL under the Calgary organization. If the league survives, only five teams could be playing next season.

Derek Ryan scored the first goal of the night Tuesday, a wrister that beat Frederic Cloutier and gave the K-Wings a 1-0 lead. TEN SECONDS passed before the Hogs tied the score, off the face-off, Kevin Ulanski fed a pass to Chaz Johnson who beat Ryan Nie. Nick Bootland put the Wings ahead again later in the period.

In the first minute of the second period, Ulanski, Johnson and Nicolas Corbeil led a 5:2 rush that Nie refused. But on the rebound Ulanski put it in the net to tie. At 8:48 Tyler Brown fired a rocket over the shoulder of Cloutier for the permanent lead. Four minutes later, Rockford on the power play, lost the puck. Lucas Drake picked up the loose puck and beat Cloutier with a short handed goal.

Rockford came back with a 5:3 power play late in the period. A goal by the Hogs was disallowed as Johnson was in the crease. Early in the third period Karlander, who leads the series with 13 goals, scored the first of his two. His second came on the Penalty Kill, mid-way through the period he scored on an empty net. A 5:3 power play by Rockford following, did not convert.

“We’re playing for everything now and I don’t think there is anyone in the (locker) room who thinks we can’t win in Rockford,” Karlander told the Kalamazoo Gazette.

“Every guy on this team has seen (the veterans rings) from last year,” Lucas Drake told the Gazette, “we’ve got pictures of that trophy in the (locker room). We know what we’re playing for.”

“We played great at home,” Rockford coach Steve Martinson told the Rockford Register Star, “Now we have to go back and make sure we’re ready on Thursday.

“Their big guys scored. That’s the way it’s been,” Martinson said to the Star, “When their line is scoring, we’re not getting enough from our other lines.”

“We just didn’t come out and have everybody playing. I’m flabbergasted. We need every guy on the ice,” IceHogs captain Nathan Lutz told the Rockford Register Star. “They (the K-Wings) played an unbelievable game against the other team’s top line.” Only one Rockford line produced any goals. “Our other lines have to produce, plain and simple,” Lutz said, “we’re not going to get it done unless they do.”

Cloutier received the loss with 25 saves on 30 shots. Nie received the win, stopping 24 of 26 shots. Game seven, the winner of which receives a banner, rings and the Colonial Cup, will be played at the Rockford MetroCentre Thursday 7:30 PM.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Easily the most talked about goalie of the American Hockey League is Jason LaBarbera. He has started both East Conference final games in net for the Manchester (New Hampshire) Monarchs. Frederic Cassivi has started in the pipes in both games for the Hershey (Pennsylvania) Bears.

Like the Wolves v Bulldog series, this is set-up as a 2-3-2 series, with the Bears hosting the first two games. Unlike the Wolves series, the home team has taken both games and leads the series 2-0.

The winner of this series plays the winner of the Wolves v. Bulldog series for the AHL championship, the Calder Cup.

Patrick O’Sullivan, who Wolves fans will remember as a stand-out rookie on the Houston Aeros last season, is playing for the Monarchs. He is responsible for 13 of the 59 shots on goal of the team, and has a goal and an assist in the first two games.

Oleg Tverdovsky is another person who the Bears may have noticed, with six shots on goal in the first two games.

The Monarchs have only scored one special team goal in 20 tries. Moreover, in game two the Monarchs had three 5:3 advantages and were only able to convert one.

The Bears have dominated the Atlantic Division team putting 11 goals through in the two games, versus just three for the Monarchs. Mike D. Green, Dave Steckel and Kyle Wilson have all scored two goals for the Bears in a single game. Wilson has scored three total in the series. Tomas Fleischman had three points in game one, while Tyler Sloan has four points in the series and Scott Barney a goal and two points.

Special teams have been largely responsible not only for the Bear offense, five of the 13 goals, but also defensively, as only one goal has been scored on the Bears on the PK. The PK is responsible for a shortie.

Cassivi has allowed three goals on 59 shots, winning both games. LaBarbera was shelled out of the net in game one after the sixth goal. He has given up nine goals in 59 shots. Barry Brust, who played in game one after LaBarbera was shelled, has allowed one goal in four shots.

A former member of the Chicago Wolves and the Rockford IceHogs this season, Tim Wedderburn, currently plays for the Bears. He is responsible for an assist in the series. Other former Wolves include Kip Brennan, Troy Milam, Cassivi, and Barney.

Game one score, Hershey 7, Monarchs 2. Game two score, Hershey 4, Monarchs 1. The series moves to Manchester, NH for games three through five.

Bulldogs take 2-0 series lead; 2nd win in OT over Wolves

The Hamilton Bulldogs are within two games of advancing to the Calder Cup finals after a 3-2 over time win over the Chicago Wolves Sunday at the Allstate Arena. An advance into the Calder Cup by the Dogs would mark the first time a former International Hockey League team had not made it to the finals since the six teams from the league joined the American Hockey League in 2001/2.

The two home losses to the Bulldogs mark just the third home loss by the Wolves since April 14th.

Hamilton got a lead on the Wolves at just 2:07 into the game when Fred Brathwaite stopped a Matt D’Agostini shot. The loose puck ricochet to Duncan Milroy who put it past Brathwaite in heavy traffic. Less than five minutes later, Hamilton enjoyed a 5:3 power play on the Chicagoans for 1:20. When they were unable to convert that, the Chicago team gathered momentum and scored its first and tying goal at 9:14 thanks to Jordan Lavallee.

In the second frame, D’Agostini scored another Hamilton lead at 2:32. Then on the penalty kill, Chicago got hold of the puck and swiftly descended on Carey Price. A determined short handed effort came up without a goal however. Then, 13:41 on its own power play, Darren Haydar was called for slashing, ending the Chicago power play.

In the final minutes of the period, Chicago again received a power play, this time a 5:3 advantage. Fireworks went off and the lights and… it was no goal. Referee Brian Pochmara claimed he whisteled the play dead before the puck passed the goal line.

Behind by one and in the clear ice of the third frame, Chicago converted its power play, finally, into a goal when Darren Haydar put the tying puck in the net. A very disappointing third frame for Chicago, only four shots on goal. Not much better for Hamilton, six shots on goal.

Overtime, again, Ryan O’Byrne puts a shot on goal, tipped by Michael Lambert for the score. Chicago recorded no shots on goal in the overtime. Fred Brathwaite received the loss, stopping 27 shots of 30. Price received the win, stopping 22 shots on 24 attempts.

Only 17 teams in the AHL have come back from a 0-2 deficit in a best of seven series to win the series. Chicago was one of the teams, however. In the 2002 Western Conference Semifinals Chicago took the series 4-3 over the Syracuse Crunch and advanced to win the Calder Cup.

The last team to successfully come back was the Manitoba Moose who defeated the Crunch in the 2006 North Division Semifinals. Wilkes Barre/ Scranton has done it three times, in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

The North Conference Finals move to Hamilton, Ontario’s Copps Coliseum for the next three games, if necessary, of the best of seven series. Game times are Wednesday at 7:30 PM local (Eastern) time, Friday at 7:30 PM local (Eastern) time and if necessary Saturday at 7 PM local (Eastern) time.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

IceHogs one win from Colonial Cup championship; Down K-Wings 6-1

The Rockford IceHogs continued to dominate home ice, winning another playoff victory and edging closer to a Colonial Cup championship with a decisive 6-1 win over the Kalamazoo K-Wings Sunday at the MetroCentre.

Kevin Ulanski scored two goals. The IceHogs scored twice in the 151 seconds and the Hogs play forced the K-Wings to pull rookie goalie Ryan Nie. And Matt Gens and Jason Ralph each scored two points in the win.

Ulanski scored with less than 70 seconds on the clock of the first period, unassisted, when he intercepted a pass and put the puck past Nie. Less than 90 seconds later Rockford scored again. Mike Letizia putting a shot in the twine, his first of the playoffs.

Then the K-Wings, on the power play, put a pass from Tyler Kindle to Glenn Detulleo for a score. Later in the period the K-Wings killed a Hogs 5:3 power play, bringing the period to the last four and half minutes of play. In the final 42 seconds, Ulanski scored again, adding insurance and making the lead 3-1.

In the second period Gens made a long pass to Ralph at 2:08. Ralph completed the score, making it 4-1 Rockford. Then just 2:44 later, Bryce Cockburn scored on a Nathan Lutz rebound.

In the first two periods of play the K-Wings only put 15 shots on goal, compared to 27 shots on goal for Rockford. In the final period of play, although Kzoo had three power plays and put an additional 14 shots on goal, it was unable to convert anything to the scoreboard. Following the end of the second period, the K-Wings pulled rookie goalie Nie in favor of Tom Askey. Rockford, converted just one of its seven third frame shots, a power play goal by Preston Mizzi, to make the final score 6-1.

Nie received the loss, stopping 22 of 27 shots. Askey stopped six of seven Hog shots. The winner was Frederic Cloutier, who stopped 28 of 29 shots on goal.

Only three K-Wing players had more than three shots on goal in the contest, Kindle had five, Kory Karlander and Nick Bootland had three each. Among Rockford players, six registered at least three shots on goal.

The United Hockey League Colonial Cup is present at the contests and will be awarded on ice when the series is completed. If Kzoo wins, it would represent back-to-back championships for the K-Wings. If Rockford wins, it will be bitter sweet as the Norfolk Admirals will be displacing the players when it moves to the American Hockey League next season.

Rockford now leads the series 3-2. The series moves back to Kalamazoo for game six. Scheduled in a 2-2-1-1-1 format, that game is scheduled for Tuesday at 7:00 PM local (Eastern) time. If a winner take all game seven is held, it will be held Thursday in Rockford at 7:30 PM.

Saturday nights all right for fighting; Colonial Cup series tied

The United Hockey League Colonial Cup series between the Kalamazoo K-Wings and the Rockford IceHogs returns to Rockford for game five today with the series tied. But how to capture the spirit of the thing? Two Gordie Howe Hat Tricks; two goalies given penalties for leaving the crease; 154 minutes of penalties, including two game misconducts on Tyler Willis and four other game misconducts; three goals scored within a 91 second stretch; two broken pieces of Plexiglas and two goals; one an empty net goal and the other a shortie, within 24 seconds to finish the game.

Clearly words are not enough. Thank god for pictures!

The K-Wings returned home dropping two games to the IceHogs in Rockford. The discussion in Rockford was the team was going to sweep the defending champions in K-Wings stadium. That didn’t work out. A K-Wing team, rejuvenated by home town crowds, won game three. Now, Saturday night and game four. Kory Karlander breaks away from an IceHog attack on the K-Wing goal with the puck. Alone, he faces Frederic Cloutier and scores at 4:25. Mike McLean then scores 32 seconds later and 59 seconds after that it was the turn of Nick Bootland. Leading 3-0 the K-Wing stadium is going nuts.

Another attack. As god is my witness it would have been 4-0. Unfortunately, god intervened, cracking a piece of Plexiglas where an earlier body check had occurred. In the perhaps twenty minutes it took Mo, Larry and Curly to replace the glass, the momentum slipped away from the K-Wings.

After turning aside a 5:3 Rockford power play that at one point went 6:3, they finish the frame up 3-0. Three penalties for the K-Wings, compared to one for the Hogs.

The K-Wings start the frame with Karlander getting his second goal of the night, making the score 4-0. Then Rockford rallies. Nathan Lutz scores a goal unassisted, followed by Jason Notermann and a power play softy by Benoit Doucet to bring the score to 4-3 Kzoo. The attack continues but a fourth goal by the Hogs is not allowed as they push Ryan Nie, the Kalamazoo goalie, into the net with the puck, ending a 5:3 power play. On a power play of their own, the K-Wings open the lead again, when Ryan Mahrle scores a goal. And, the period is marked by roughing penalties. Fourteen minutes of roughing penalties out of 18 total.

Final period of play. The K-Wings have opened the lead to 5-3. Another Ryan, Ryan Gillis this time, puts the K-Wings on the defense for a double minor at 7:47. Seconds after he exits the sin bin Ryan Mahrle enters. In fact the only Ryan not to see sin bin time in the game turns out to be the rookie that helped win game three for the K-Wings, Derek Ryan. What is it with the name Ryan?

The Hogs score three seconds after the penalty on Ryan, Mahrle that is, expires. Once again the Hogs are within one. With about 88 seconds remaining the Hogs pull Frederic Cloutier and put a 6:5 advantage on the ice. That doesn’t work well as Tyler Willis breaks away with the puck and scores on the empty net. Before the celebration has even gotten started, every player on the ice starts fighting, including Cloutier who skates to center ice and drops his equipment. Ryan Nie is held back by the linesman. However, both goalies have left their crease and receive penalties. The new goalie for the Hogs, Jake Moreland, he skates to center ice during the cleanup of the debris and attempts to call Nie out too.

At this point the ref, Jim Hawthorne, hands out 105 minutes of penalties, including five game misconducts, two to the goal scorer, Willis, and two to Kaleb Betts. This results in that true rarity of hockey. Not only was there almost a goalie fight, but Tyler Willis, with a goal, an assist, two game misconducts, a fighting major and a roughing call for a total of 27 penalty minutes receives a Gordie Howe Hat Trick. In addition, a second Gordie Howe Hat Trick was awarded to Nick Bootland. He scored a goal, two assists, a game misconduct, a fighting major, and a roughing penalty good for seventeen minutes of penalties.

An honorable mention must be given to Cloutier for attempting to call Nie out for a dance.

At this point, with just 65 seconds remaining on the clock and the K-Wings leading by two, most people would call the game. Thankfully that didn’t happen, because it was at this point the ref noticed that another sheet of Plexiglas had cracked at the site of the altercation. Instead of delaying the end of this event further as Mo, Larry and Curly once again tackled the tricky problem of glass replacement, the crew decided they could patch something together temporarily.

And so, with a patch on the broken Plexiglas, play resumed. Beside for losing their goalie, the IceHogs also couldn’t play Betts, Preston Mizzi and Jason Notermann. The K-Wings had lost three players too. Shorthanded, the Hogs managed to score a final goal with 41 seconds left, officially a short handed goal. Making the final score K-Wings 6, IceHogs 5.

Nie received the win, stopping 26 shots on goal. Cloutier received the loss, stopping 20 shots. Jake Moreland was credited with playing 33 seconds in the Rockford goal.

The two teams are now tied in the best of seven Colonial Cup championship series. The series was set-up in a 2-2-1-1-1 format. It moves back to Rockford, today, for game five at 5:05 PM local (Central) time. Game six is scheduled for Kalamazoo Tuesday at 7:00 PM local (Eastern) time and game seven, if necessary, will be played in Rockford Thursday night at 7:30 PM.

If the IceHogs win the championship, a different team would enjoy the banner raising as none of the current players are likely to be playing for the Blackhawk and American Hockey League affiliated team next season. If the K-Wings win, it would mark a repeat of their championship from last season. Good tickets are still available. Fun for the whole family.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Bulldogs, Wolves battle to 2nd OT; Bulldogs win 6-5

The Hamilton Bulldogs took an early 2-0 lead, lost it to be down by two and then came back to tie, forcing two overtimes before finally defeating the Chicago Wolves 6-5 at the Allstate Arena Friday night in the first game of the Western Conference finals of the Calder Cup championships. The Bulldogs have a 1-0 lead in the best of seven series.

Ajay Baines scored the first goal with less than 90 seconds on the clock of the first frame. His goal was an unassisted completion of a poke check turnover. Darren Haydar and Kyle Chipchura both scored two goals, with Dan Jancevski scoring the game winning goal. Carey Price, the 19 year-old rookie who has led the Bulldogs to the series was shelled from the net. The score rocked back and forth, with Hamilton losing the lead, tying the game, falling behind, then coming back to win.

Hamilton is a very speedy team. It used that speed to convert puck possession into the first two goals by constantly pressuring the Wolves on offense and defense. Great checks or simple poke checks were causing numerous turnovers for the Wolves who then had to race their faster opponents. It was a period of turnovers and loss of control for the Wolves marked only by Maxim LaPierre getting two of the three penalties he was registered with. It was a period when the Bulldogs stepped up to the Wolves physically drawing a fighting major on LaPierre.

With a 2-0 lead, Haydar and the first line stepped up. Halfway through the period they dented the twine to bring the score to 2-1. A key moment in the first period occurred afterwards when Chicago was given a 5:3 power play opportunity but was almost unable to move the puck out of the defensive zone.

At the end of the first period, Chicago had registered one goal on 12 shots, to two goals on eight shots for the Bulldogs.

In the second period Chicago got its act together against the Hamilton speed and shelled the rookie goalie with 12 more shots and three goals. It was enough for Hamilton coach Don Lever, who pulled Price for the first time in the playoffs, in favor of Yanis Danis at 13:00 following Cory Larose’s unassisted goal.

The period ended with Chicago up 4-2. Hamilton had only three shots on goal in the period. The Wolves put only two shots on goal, in the period on Danis, compared to 10 on Price. Two of the Chicago goals were power plays. Cory Larose’s goal was unassisted.
Coming onto the clean ice in a power play, the Bulldogs were unable to convert. In the first two periods of the game referee called 34 minutes of penalties, resulting in ten power play opportunities. Someone must have stolen referee Frederic L’Ecuyer’s whistle at the second intermission. From then to the end of the game there were only four additional power plays and eight minutes of penalties. Yet, I didn’t notice a change in the physical action or the possible rule violations.

Relaxed, with a 4-2 lead, the Wolves seemed surprised that their opponents had come to play for another period. Let’s review some of the history of the Bulldogs. A short history: On February 7, in a game at Copps Coliseum, the Bulldogs fell behind the Wolves 3-1 in the second period. In the 19th minute of play of the third period the Bulldogs came back to tie the game with two goals within 19 seconds. The Wolves had to go to overtime to win the game.

As recently as April 22, in a game at Copps against the Amerks, the Bulldogs were behind 3-1 in the second period. They scored three goals in the third frame to tie and then take the lead from the surprised Amerks.

Two days later, again at Copps, the Bulldogs gave up an early lead to trail the Americans 3-2 in the second. They came back to tie the game before the Amerks scored again to win.

At the MTS Centre in Winnipeg on May 6th the Moose lost a 2-1 lead and the game. On May 12th at Copps, the Bulldogs again fell behind 2-1 and came back to tie. And in game six of the North Division finals, the Bulldogs came back from a 2-0 deficit to end the season for the Moose.

The Wolves need to be aware that this is a team that does not give up and has late rallys.

And so it was in the third period as the Wolves let three Hamilton goals tie the game. From almost doubling up on the Bulldogs on SOG, the Bulldogs came back to have 13 shots compared to just five for the Wolves. One of the Bulldog goals was on the power play.

With the score tied, the game moved to overtime. A brief explanation is in order as the playoffs have a rule change regarding overtime. The OT in post season play is a full period, followed by additional full periods of play, until a goal is scored.

Brief comment: no goals in the first overtime. Two penalties and two power plays. The Wolves appear to be tired. During one attack on the Wolves net Michael Garnett breaks his stick turning aside a shot. Momentarily without a stick, blue liner Nathan Oystrick gives up his stick. The Wolves hold on…

That seemed to be a big momentum builder for the Wolves. But it wasn’t enough. In the second OT Brian Fahey got called for a high sticking that looks more like a hold. Just eight seconds later, Jancevski scores. Game over. 6-5 Hamilton.

Although Price was shelled from the net, he wouldn’t have received the loss as the Bulldogs were able to catch the Wolves. He played just under 33 minutes of hockey and gave up four goals on 22 shots. Danis received the win, stopping 17 shots and giving up one. Garnett gave up six goals on 39 shots.

The Wolves were able to shut down Corey Locke and LaPierre, neither of who registered a shot on goal or an assist. Locke is the highest ranked skater on the Bulldogs with 14 points and seven goals. LaPierre has six points and five goals in the post season.

On the Wolves squad, only Joey Crabb was shut down in a similar fashion.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Well matched pairs fight for shot at Calder Cup; Hamilton a second city on another lake

The Hamilton Bulldogs, Chicago Wolves, Manchester Monarchs and Hershey Bears have entered into the final four of the American Hockey League championships. The Calder Cup is just eight wins away from one of these teams. Tonight the Wolves start a best of seven series against the Bulldogs. The winner plays the Eastern Conference winner for the Calder Cup.

Hamilton, a large industrial suburb or a small industrial city, on the shore of Lake Ontario lies within the marketing reach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Much like the Chicago Wolves compete against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Bulldogs compete against the marketing muscle of the Maple Leafs and the Marlies.

In addition, the city is also close to Buffalo, New York and its final four team, the Sabres.

So, if Chicago has a second city complex, and the Wolves are the fan favorites, perhaps the Bulldogs have a second city complex and are the fan favorites too? Well, not if the attendance in the playoffs is any indication. From a playoff low on Mothers Day of just 1,703, the average attendance for Bulldog playoff hockey has only averaged 2,459. In comparison, the Wolves have attracted an average of 3,671 to the playoffs.

Perhaps it’s the lack of home ice victories in the playoffs. The Bulldogs took six games to finish the Rochester Americans, taking two of the three games at home, including the final. In the series against the Manitoba Moose, the Bulldogs defeated the Moose only once at home, out of three games.

The parent club of the Bulldogs, the Montreal Canadiens, did not send goaltender Jaroslav Halak back to rejoin the Bulldogs at the end of the regular season. Instead, the Hamilton team has started rookie Carey Price in net every game. Price, was drafted by the Habs in the first round, fifth pick overall, in 2005. Although he only played 12 games in the regular season, he has been outstanding in goal for the Bulldogs, marking a shutout in his first game against the Amerks, and posting a 2.19 GAA for the playoffs. His GAA and his saves have actually improved during the playoffs, to 1.98 GAA and a 93.9 percent save from a 2.39 GAA and a 91.7 percent save in April.

In comparison, Michael Garnett has recorded a 2.24 GAA and a 91.9 percent save record in the post-season.

At most, Price has given up four goals in a game against the Amerks twice, posting one win. Against the Manitoba Moose he only allowed 12 goals. He is the real deal. He will probably not play in the AHL for long.

The backup goalie for the Bulldogs is Yanis Danis. Danis played only one game in the regular season against the Wolves, March 3rd. He won the game 6-3 against Fred Brathwaite, stopping 26 pucks.

The Bulldogs are sporting many of the same players, otherwise. Corey Locke, who scored twice against the Wolves in the regular season, is leading the team in points with 14 and in goals scored with seven. Fourteen other players have registered at least four points for the team. However, Ajay Baines has hurt the Wolves before with two goals and five shots. Cory Urquhart has put five shots on the Wolves goal, good for a point this year. Matt D’Agostini has put two shots on goal and received two assists. And Mikhail Grobovski has a goal, several assists and seven shots on goal.

Now the line that includes Grabovski, Duncan Milroy and D’Agostini has played hot and cold during the playoffs. The Hamilton coach said, during the Amerks series, that the line needed to step up. However, the scoring line that includes Locke has often scored with defensemen assisting, especially Mathieu Biron.

Andrei Kostitsyn was out with a groin injury. He is skating with the team and may make the series. His brother joined the team from juniors. Sergei Kostitsyn played for the London Knights of the OHL before joining the Canadiens organization. J.P Cote is out with an ankle injury and is not expected back for the series. The team has enforcer Zack Stortini playing. He had a key goal in the first game against the Americans.

The junior Habs power play has been roughly the same as the Wolves. The Bulldogs have had 58 attempts and ten goals, or 17.2 percent. The Wolves have had 65 attempts and 11 goals, 16.9 percent. Also matching up well is the penalty kill. The Bulldogs notching 84.7 percent on the PK, versus 87.5 for the Wolves. The Bulldogs were in two overtime games in the post season and won both.

The Bulldogs have allowed 27 goals against in their two divisional series, defeating their opponents by a margin of nine goals. The Wolves have allowed 22 goals against, defeating their opponents by a margin of 19 goals. Seven of the 12 post season games played by the Bulldogs have been won by one goal. Two empty net goals increase that to nine games decided in close contests. The Bulldogs took five of them. In contrast, only three of the games Chicago has played were that close. A May 3rd game with two empty net goals would add that to the total. Chicago won three of those four games.

The two teams only played four games in the regular season. Hamilton had a point in each game, winning both games in Chicago. They have never met in the post-season before. Hamilton has been to the Calder Cup finals twice before, in 1997 and in 2003. In the ten meetings between the two teams prior to this season the Wolves have won six and lost four.

Expect the Bulldogs to take a non-physical approach. The team stays out of the penalty box. They like to use speed. They have a hot goalie. Expect the series to go to six or seven games. Although it appears the Wolves have an edge, it is a thin edge depending on scoring and a stronger defense. Home ice does not appear to be an asset for the Bulldogs, with a home record of 3-3 versus an away record of 5-1. The Wolves have done well on home ice in the playoffs, with a record of 4-1 at home and 4-1 away. The Bulldogs appear to have a stronger man in the net.

Drop the puck!

K-Wings shut down Hogs in 3-0 win; Put away the brooms

Put away those brooms. The Rockford IceHogs will not be sweeping the Kalamazoo K-Wings in the United Hockey League Colonial Cup finals. The K-Wings, in fact, came back big with a 3-0 shutout of the Hogs in play on Wednesday.

Backed by rookie Derek Ryan’s two goals and the stellar performance in net of Ryan Nie, the K-Wings suffocated a big early effort by the Hogs and held on to win.

The IceHogs blasted out of the gate with five shots on goal in the first ten minutes, two of which dented the iron. However Nie hung on in a first period with no penalties, no goals and a combined 17 shots on goal, ten by the Wings.

Then in the second period, Ryan knit the twine with two goals. Ryan, the scoring leader for the Western Hockey League Spokane Chiefs, told the Kalamazoo Gazzette “It was a little weird at first (on the wing) because I’ve been playing center…” Nie has played just nine of the K-Wings post season games. He has been a healthy scratch for the other games.

“It’s pretty hard (to sit in the stands)” Ryan told the Gazzette, “you don’t know what you did wrong, sometimes.”

The 3-0 win puts the K-Wings back in contention for their second consecutive championship Colonial Cup. If the IceHogs win the trophy, it would mark the first banner the team has ever won. Next season the IceHogs are affiliating with the Chicago Blackhawks and playing in the American Hockey League. The current AHL team, the Norfolk Admirals, will largely replace the on-ice players and coaches in Rockford.

Coach Steve Martinson told the Rockford Register Star the bad bounces had a big effect, “a couple of those (shots) go in and it’s a different game.”

Martinson promised a faster and more physical game Saturday night when the two teams face off again at the K-Wings Stadium, “We’ve got more speed we can get in the lineup… and I think we can skate better… That was our least physical game.”

There were a total of only four power plays in the game, three for the K-Wings. It was also the smallest number of shots on goal for the IceHogs in the playoffs, 19. Kalamazoo registered 35 shots on goal. Nie received the win. Frederic Cloutier received the loss.

The IceHogs lead the best of seven series 2-1. Game four occurs in Kalamazoo on Saturday at 6:30 PM Eastern Time. Game five is scheduled at the MetroCentre of Rockford Sunday at 6:05 PM Central Time. Game six, if necessary is scheduled to be played in Kalamazoo Tuesday at 6:00 PM Eastern Time.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

QC -- IceHogs rivalry not dead yet; Flames may move Knights

The hockey rivalry between the Quad Cities and Rockford may not be done after all. Media outlets in the Quad Cities and in Omaha, Nebraska are saying that the Calgary Flames have scouted the Mark of the Quad Cities and intend to move the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights to the Mark, probably by the 2007-8 season.

The Omaha World-Herald reported this morning it had obtained a memo from Calgary President Ken King outlining the reasons the Knights would be moving from Omaha. The Calgary Flames own a majority interest in the Knights. The memo said the Knights had operating losses of $4 million over two years, season ticket renewals were disappointing, lagging attendance and the inability of the Omaha market to sustain three hockey teams.

Omaha is also home to the junior level Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League and the University of Nebraska at Omaha Division 1 NCAA team.

Separately, the Quad City Times reported Darryl Sutter, the general manager of the Flames, was spotted by reporters at a downtown Moline hotel. Two sources close to the Omaha Knights organization told the QCTimes.com that the Knights would not return to the Omaha Civic Auditorium.

The Knights are also owned by a local benevolent group, the Knights of Ak-sar-Ben, which would have its interest bought out. The Omaha World-Herald indicated the Knights would displace the Quad City Mallards, which have played at the Mark since 1995. However, the QCTimes piece indicated talks are underway with the Mallards management.

The Mallards management had examined moving to the American Hockey League last season. However, the team felt the financial requirements of moving leagues, such as upgrading the Mark to increase the size of the rink, would make the move prohibitive. In addition, the Mallards had applied for membership in the ECHL. However, that application was rejected as the closest rival to the Mallards was the Dayton Bombers, about an eight hour bus trip away.

The Peoria Rivermen had moved to the AHL from the ECHL two seasons ago. The move would leave the United Hockey League with just eight teams, several of which are considered financially unstable. Earlier in the season Richard Brosal, the UHL Commissioner, had indicated he was leaving at the end of the season. The only remaining UHL franchises in Illinois are the Chicago Hounds and the Bloomington Prairie Thunder. Both teams are expansion teams, and just ended their first season.

If the Knights move to the Quad Cities, Illinois would have four American Hockey League teams. Teams would play in Des Moines, Peoria, Rockford, Chicago, Milwaukee, Grand Rapids and Moline. Just a little further east is the new Cleveland team and two established teams in Ontario and four teams in New York State.

Among states with AHL teams, Illinois and New York lead with four each. Massachusetts and Pennsylvania each have three teams. There are two teams each in Texas, Ontario and Connecticut. An additional Canadian team is located in Winnipeg.

Monday, May 14, 2007

IceHogs hold 2-0 series lead; Blow out K-Wings 6-1

The Rockford IceHogs continued their post-season home win streak in spectacular fashion Sunday night at the MetroCentre, defeating the Kalamazoo K-Wings 6-1 and taking a 2-0 lead in the best of seven championship series.

Kaleb Betts had two goals in the game, one a power play and an assist. Nicolas Corbeil registered three points for the IceHogs including a goal. Three other IceHogs players registered a goal. Matt Gens and Kevin Ulanski registered two assists each and three other Rockford players had assists. Goalie Frederic Cloutier stopped 30 Kalamazoo shots for the win.

If the IceHogs sweep the series, the Sunday night game would be the played by this team in the MetroCentre. A new team formed on the base of the American Hockey League Norfolk Admirals will take the players uniforms and positions in the next season. All that remains could be 120 minutes of championship hockey in K-Wings Stadium in Kalamazoo.

Rockford scored first in a physical game that saw just 11 power plays but a hit that a Rockford fan said took out a pane of glass. That lit lamp came on the power play from Betts at about 7 ½ into the first period. In the second frame the K-Wings had a power play on clean ice. Kory Karlander, who has totaled points in eight playoff games, tied Nick Bootlander's record for consecutive points in games in the playoffs.

After tying the game just 18 seconds into the second frame, however, it was bye-bye K-Wings as the Hogs went wild. Betts scored his second goal of the night on another power play at 6.55. Then over the next 12:39 minutes, the Hogs scored four more times to bring the score to 6-1 at the end of the frame. Rockford shelled K-Wings goalie Ryan Nie from the net after the fourth goal. He was replaced by Tom Askey.

Additional goals were scored by Corbeil, Corey Hessler, Dan Boeser and Bruce Watson. The IceHogs have dominated the second period of play, according to the Rockford Register Star, out scoring opponents 24-9 in the second frame, half of the goal output of the entire playoffs.

“If I knew why the second periods were so good,” Rockford coach Steve Martinson told the Register Star, “I’d make it like that in the third periods.”

Nie received the loss, stopping 20 shots. Askey stopped ten shots.

Game three of the United Hockey League Colonial Cup finals moves to the Kalamazoo K-Wings Stadium Wednesday at 6 PM, local (Eastern) time. Game four occurs Saturday at K-Wings Stadium at 6:30 PM local (Eastern) time.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


There are many photos we have never posted. Some of which beg to be posted. Yet, what we have posted are not being used, probably due to the lack of indexing. Starting with the Iowa-Chicago game of 5/12/2007 and eventually extending back through the season, I'll mark the posts with photos.

The format will be IA Pix (Iowa Pictures) or CW Pix (Chicago Wolves Pictures) and so on.

So many of our photos stay on our increasingly full hard drives (we take an average of 600 shots a game) because they are "butt shots." Great photos of the back of the sweater and the player's butts.

Jane is very concerned with the rights to photos. I don't think either of us are concerned with mom downloading a picture of her player son. However, we don't want to see a picture being sold or published somewhere without our approval. Standard concern, right?

What do you think of the photos we are publishing? Are they getting better? They take a lot of time to prepare. We'd love to hear back from you.

Patrick Kissane
Jane Rickard

Chicago advances to semi-finals; Iowa loses final game 5-1

The Chicago Wolves advanced to the Western Conference Playoffs, sending the Iowa Stars home for the summer in a convincing 5-1 victory Saturday at the Allstate Arena. The Wolves wait for the victor of the Manitoba Moose versus Hamilton Bulldog series which will not end prior to May 14th and in any case by May 16th.

The game got off badly for the Wolves, who gave up their only goal at two minutes plus change into the first period. A long pass from behind the Stars goal line by Mark Ardelan found Chris Conner camped on the Wolves blue line. Wolves defender Boris Valabik was caught flat-footed as Conner advanced on the net, manned by Michael Garnett. Faking Garnett down, Conner twisted around the front door to the side and easily lit the lamp.

Iowa took two penalties in the first period, compared to just one for the Wolves. Neither team was able to capitalize on them. The Iowa penalty kill seemed to consist of spacing four men across the width of the blue line. Two of the players would force the Wolves into the boards by cutting the angle. Often a poke check would cause the puck to bounce loose from the Wolves into the Iowa team’s possession, where it was cleared. The Wolves began battling back against this by dumping the puck and chasing it down. Although, as discussed earlier in the year, this too often results in a turnover of the puck.

Late in the first period Andy Delmore was working to keep the puck in the offensive zone. He passed into the zone to Darren Haydar, who passed to Jason Krog on the back door for a tie score 1-1 with fifty seconds remaining. Just six seconds into the second frame, the Wolves lit the lamp again. Off the face-off Niko Dimitrakos received the puck and put the puck onto Stars goalie Dan Ellis. The rebound found Jordan LaVallee who put it in. From this point the wheels began to come off of the Stars bus quickly. Haydar put an unassisted goal in three and half minutes later, making the score 3-1. Then near the halfway mark of the period the third member of the top line, Brett Sterling put the score at 4-1 on a power play goal.

Three minutes into the final frame, Mark Popovic made the Wolves win certain with another power play goal. Wolves coach John Anderson sent in some players who hadn’t seen much ice time in the playoffs during the closing minutes. The game ended with Boris Valabik receiving a roughing call as a final Iowa push for a goal failed in the last seconds of the game. For his trouble Valabik received a vicious slash after the game from Konstantin Pushkarev.

Valabik was able to hold his temper this game, the bad penalties being taken instead by Marty Wilford, leading to the fourth Chicago goal. Chicago has played two teams in the playoffs with defenses that some people expected to overcome their offense. In the case of Milwaukee, Pekka Rinne was a clearly better goalie than Michael Garnett. Yet in each case the Wolves dominated their opponents.

Dominate might be open to debate by Stars fans. However, three of the four wins in the series were very convincing wins: a 7-0 shutout, a 6-1 and a 5-1 win. The other Chicago win is very problematic for the Wolves and the Stars. The Stars clearly dominated the game, however they were unable to put it away, and the Wolves squeaked out a win. If that game had gone to Iowa, this series would still be on and the Wolves might have been fighting back.

This season, the Wolves have not done well fighting back.

The other key in the last game was Valabik finally holding his temper. As the playoffs heat up it seems the ability of teams to get under each others skins also improves. If Valabik is going to advance in his career he must learn to control his temper. The long layoff will surely help this as Valabik is probably playing through an injury which occurred earlier in the season.

Garnett has held the nets nicely, only losing it in game five of the series. When Garnett is hot, he is dead on. It should be remembered that Garnett has not only played in the National Hockey League, he has also backed the Wolves previous effort to win the Calder. His experience now is paying off.

The defense has performed well in both series, holding Iowa and Milwaukee to 22 goals in ten games. (2.2 goals per game). However, it has also shown some holes, for example the first goal of the night and just about all of game five of this series. That the wheels went flat on the offense in game five, simultaneously, also needs to be marked as the team advances.

Garnett received the win, stopping just 17 Stars shots. Ellis received the loss, stopping 29 shots on goal. The Wolves next game waits for the decision of the North Division playoffs. If the Manitoba Moose win, they would hold home ice advantage. While Chicago would hold home ice if the Bulldogs win. In either case, the series would be set up as a 2-3-2 series.