E-Mail Subscriptions to the Blog

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Winter Classic; Special Report

Happy New Year.

To celebrate the Winter Classic game being held here in Chicago, Jane Rickard and I are posting on each other's site a special series of articles, posted in a way that you can read from the top down.

Patrick Kissane
Jane Rickard

Rooftops ready for big game

The rink lies below, glistening in the sun. There is no ice there yet. That will come shortly. Already the Zamboni's have been dropped, literally, off the truck. On this morning, a cold wind blows. Looking at the stands for 41,000, you wonder how will those people survive this cold.

But Steve Alexander is happy. In the warmth of his rooftop club and the field across the street, his patrions will be able to knosh on cider, pizza and coffee inside, taking in the game as the weather allows on the rooftop deck. His arms wide, he says he is ready for the Winter Classic.

A veteran of the Greektown restaurant scene, Alexander says the rooftop gig has been the best place to work ever. He glides over to a wall, his speech is rapid and his excitement is viral, “here are pictures from the 1970's with the owner,” he says. He hardly allows a moment to examine the photos on the wall before racing elsewhere, the food is usually prepared outside in the summer he explains, talking rapidly.

“But, in January that won't be possible,” he explains, as he shows off the kitchen where the chili, mac and cheese and other winter favs will appear. “The staff is excited,” he explains, racing to the roof along a rear stair.

At the top of the stair, downtown glistens in the distance and an el train rumbles beneath us. Alexander is on the other side of the roof. Talking about what his guests will be seeing. Wrigley Field, frozen in snow and ice lies across the street and below. A rink runs from first to third base. It is quiet. A moment that is frozen.

Alexander is quiet for a moment, then his boots begin crushing the snow, “it will be 45 F here this weekend and this stuff will all melt,” he predicts. “Come here and look at this,” he is bursting with enthusiasm. Another kitchen, this is the summer kitchen. “And, we'll hang televisions from these poles too.”

Alexander rushes down a stairwell. Gasping to catch him, the sub-zero air is stinging my lungs. Alexander is a huge sports fan. At first, he says he doesn't understand hockey, but as he talks, he goes into a long discussion of the effects of constant hits on the player's body. He talks about Chicago Blackhawk players and Chris Chelios, the kid from the hood who did good.

“His parents were mall walkers and stopped by mom and dad's stand in the mall,” he explains. The old Greeks liked to talk to each other and grab a bite. They'd talk about their kid in the hockey league, Chris. Chelios, I explain, was assigned to the AAA Grand Rapids Griffins for conditioning. He might not play on New Year's Day. “Oh, too bad.” For a moment, Alexander is reflective.

He begins to talk again about the Cubs and the blessing of the business having this extra day of business. The city council had just approved the sale of tickets by the rooftops at its previous session. Although he had sold out, Alexander explained that prior to the approval, everything was tentative.

The poor economy is having its effect here too. Although Alexander has sold out, he says that some of the rooftops had tickets on the 20th. Tickets up here cost $300.00 USD each. For that the rooftop clubhouse Alexander runs opens an hour before the game till an hour after the game. All the food and beverage is provided.

The effort to be ready is exhausting. Alexander fields calls during the interview from supplier after supplier, arranging for the delivery of food, beer, soft drinks and other supplies. “Excuse me,” he apologizes, “I have to take this.” It is non-stop and there are more than ten days to go yet.

He says the rooftops host parties during concerts too, but that the view is terrible and it is by invitation of the owner (no income) for friends and clients. “We had to take the weather into consideration,” he says. He looks at the stands across the street. “People will be freezing if they stay outside long in this weather. They'll probably be going up (to the roof top view) and down (to the warmth of the clubhouse) a lot,” he predicts.

The building, originally a three-flat, was gutted to the walls. A similar project is occurring immediately next door. Inside, the walls are brick and mortar. Large windows keep the noise of the el train out, while pictures from Cubs history adorn the walls. Basically several floors of restaurants with bleachers on the top deck, only one apartment survives, on the first floor. And NO, you may not invite yourself up to the deck if you rent the apartment.

In the early days of Wrigley Field, the owners and tenants came up on the roof with lawn chairs and grills. Television gave the rooftops their romance, showing the rooftops and their occupants. It is a romance the National Hockey League hopes to capture. A little snow, some pictures of the rooftops with some cold people on them, and the ivy. You can see it now, in your minds eye.

Outdoor hockey at this level is about romance. The romance of a game played on ice. The romance of professional players, returning to their roots. It is a romance of the neighborhood kid, scoring the game winning goal or making the glove save at a critical moment-- at least in his head.

45 Years Ago in Wrigleyville

Sports trivia: When was the last time a professional championship game was played at Wrigley Field? Who won it, Chicago or the visitors?

The answer is the Chicago Bears won the National Football Championship December 29, 1963, 14-10 over the New York Giants. The Super Bowl wasn't started till 1967. It was the last championship game the Bears played in until they won the Super Bowl in 1986.

The game was moved up to a 12:05 start by the National Football League after the Bears refused to move the game to Soldier Field. The NFL was concerned that the end of a long game could be played in the dark as Wrigley Field had no lights. Mike Crivello, age 26 at the time, lived about a block from Wrigley Field in the 1100 block of Addison. The morning dawned with a temperature of -8 F and winds gusting to 15 mph. Local radio reported that the Bears game was sold out and Crivello knew, from living in the area, that the city was cracking down on scalpers.

He headed out to mass at Trinity Lutheran Church with his wife. Passing the ticket office, he noticed a line for tickets. When he checked out what was happening, he discovered that the game wasn't sold out, but the remaining tickets were too expensive for Crivello. The ticket agent pointed to a man on the sidewalk, a scalper. “He'll sell you a ticket for face value,” the agent said, explaining that the weather was discouraging people from attending.

Crivello purchased three standing room only tickets at $4.00 each. It was a half-hour till game time.

Rousing his cousin Chris and another friend who did not make it, Crivello headed to the Waveland Avenue bleachers in his hunting camouflage. “It was cold and there was no food service in the bleachers,” Crivello said. The only protection from the wind and the bitter temperature in the bleachers was the men's room. Crivello remembers entering the men's room and seeing a man warming his bare feet over a heater.

Crivello remembers Giants Quarterback Y. A. Tittle's scoring first quarter drive. It culminated in a touch down pass to Frank Gifford. But the Monsters of the Midway, led by Larry Morris, hit Tittle as he was throwing later in the quarter. A second hit by Morris, on another play and Tittle's knee was injured. Although he finished the game, he was lost for part of the first half and he began throwing off his back foot for the remainder of the game.

Morris was able to intercept a Tittle pass moments after the second hit. His 61 yard return remains a Bears record. It setup a quarterback sneak touchdown by Billy Wade, tying the game. Going into the second quarter, Crivello remembers that the temperature was sending people home early. A Giants field goal sent the ball out of the stadium onto Waveland. A crowd of perhaps 100 people scrummed for the ball near the firehouse. The score was Giants 10, Bears 7 at the end of the half.

In the second half, with Tittle back on the field, Ed O'Bradovich intercepted a Giants pass. That setup Wade's second scoring run, giving the 14-10 lead to the Bears. Richie Petitbon finished the Giants chances when he intercepted a pass, the fifth Bears interception of the game, in the end zone with ten seconds remaining.

George Allen, the Bears defensive coordinator, received the game ball. Bears coach and owner George Hallas received the NFL coach of the year award. Morris was the Most Valuable Player. Among the other athletes in the contest were Johnny Morris and future Bears coach Mike Ditka. Crivello kept the game ticket and an aerial photograph of the game in a frame until last year when he gifted them to a football loving friend. “I still remember the ticket, SRO #96,” Crivello said.

-30-

by Patrick Kissane and Jane Rickard

Wrigley Field; a 2008 timeline

Even without a World Series game, Wrigley Field had a historic year in 2008. Can 2009 be as historic?
(A tip of the hat to wikipedia.org)

• January 13, 2008: First sign the sale of the Chicago Cubs by the Tribune Co. will be delayed past opening day.
• March 4, 2008: The Tribune Co.'s plan to sell the naming rights to Wrigley Field set's off a political storm.
• April 3, 2008: Landmarks Illinois lists Wrigley Field as among the state's endangered sites.
• March 31, 2008: A sculpture of Cubs great Ernie Banks is unveiled outside the park on Opening Day. A typo on the sculpture, “Lets Play Two” is corrected to read “Let's Play Two.”
• May 16, 2008: Wrigley Field season attendance passes the million mark.
• June 12, 2008: To celebrate the 60th anniversary of WGN TV broadcasting, the Cubs host a "throw-back" game, in which the first two innings are broadcast in black and white as they were in 1948. The Cubs and the Atlanta Braves both wear period uniforms, and for the day the Atlanta Braves revert to the Boston Braves. The Cubs win 3-2 in the 13th inning.
• August 4, 2008: When a tornado warning sounds, the stadium is evacuated. It is the first time the stadium has been evacuated due to severe weather.
• August 25, 2008: Wrigley Field, with a scheduled day game, becomes the first major league ballpark to activate instant replay technology, a few hours ahead of some teams that had night games scheduled.
• October 1, 2008: A school reform group threatens to protest state education financing by staging a protest, surrounding Wrigley Field during a Cubs playoff game.
• October 4, 2008: The Chicago Cubs finish their 100th season since winning a World Series.
• December, 6, 2008: the US Attorney accuses Illinois Governor Rod R Blagojevich of attempting to extort the Tribune Co. through withholding a state financial package for Wrigley Field.

-30-

by Patrick Kissane

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Wolves 4, IceHogs 1 in darkened action

The Chicago Wolves defeated the Rockford IceHogs 4-1 Sunday afternoon at the Allstate Arena. The scoring started when a turnover in the Rockford defensive zone left Mike Brennan and Jordan Hendry scrambling for the puck. Wolves wing Spencer Machacek came up with the puck in the goal mouth and slipped it past Chicago Blackhawk prospect Antti Niemi for an unassisted goal.

Sean McMorrow and Mike Hoffman came to blows late in the period. The 6’ 4” McMorrow, weighing 225 pounds, took down the 6’ 5”, 248 pound Hoffman. However it wasn’t a clean decision and the chirping between the two continued throughout the game and even on the benches during play. McMorrow, who has not taken to the ice since his bout in Chicago on the 13th, is on a Professional Tryout with the IceHogs. His 527 penalty minutes last season with the St. Hyacinthe Top Design of the Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey (LNAH) was a career high. If the two take to the ice in the next game between the two teams, on Friday, expect more pugilism.

Tyson Marsh, who signed a PTO with the Wolves in November, scored the second goal. It was his first of the season. Marsh has four points with the Wolves in 15 games this season, and three assists with the Reading Royals of the ECHL.

Jamie Rivers continues to take body blows, throwing himself in front of shots. His numbers don’t show the effort he is putting into the play. He was largely responsible for frustrating one of the two failed Rockford power plays. Jack Skille, a Blackhawk prospect, was able to connect in a second period power play. Skille posted the most shots on goal for the IceHogs, with four. For the Wolves, Machacek, Junior Lessard and Joe Motzko had four shots on goal each.

Motzko and Colin Stuart were responsible for the other two goals of the game. Brett Sterling and Machacek posted two points each. This was the first start for Ondrej Pavelec since he was returned to the Wolves by the Atlanta Thrashers. The Wolves have four goalies on the roster, Pavelec, Brent Krahn, Dan Turple and Robert Gherson. Krahn, a number one draft pick of the Calgary Flames in 2000, was assigned to the ECHL Las Vegas Wranglers by the Dallas Stars, before being assigned by the Stars to the Wolves. Turple has a “hip injury” that is “not true hip injury” according to Hockey Future writer Holly Gunning. No word on why Gherson isn’t playing.

Krahn would be a nice pickup for the Wolves, but given the agreement with the Stars, don’t expect him to stay.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Recently this blog has been riding on the efforts of the other half of the team, Powderhornhockey. ChiTownDailyNews.org is running Jane's pieces there. And, hopefully, we'll soon be joined there by someone watching the Chicago Blackhawk affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs.

It is sort of a metaphor for the Chicago Wolves. I am annoyed and disappointed by the performance of the Wolves so far this season. In talking to the CTDN editor, Geoff, about the Wolves, he said to try to attribute the collapse of the team to something.

The funny thing is, the team isn't necessarily collapsing. They just suck. While they were in the hunt for a long time, the losing ways of the past few weeks have taken their toll and the team is now in fifth place, this morning, in the West Division of the American Hockey League.

Attribute it? How about poor performance in net. The net is guarded by Dan Turple and by Robert Gherson. Maybe I've never given Gherson much of a chance. I've thought he was in over his head since I first saw him on a North Division swing last season. Maybe that's unfair of me. Gherson has a 5-3 record this season, leading the team.

Turple played in Gwinnett. He really didn't shine in the ECHL and is having problems in the AHL. Yet, I think he is a better goalie.

Meanwhile, the defense has let these two gentlemen down. They are leaving chances for the side to side movement of the puck, lots of disappointment here. Brian Sipotz is the old hand, he's a disappointment this season. There is promise here, I look to Chad Denny and Arturs Kulda in particular. But you might disagree on that and point to Jamie Rivers. Anyway, the blueline is young and in need of work. Who is there to work with them? I'm not sure. The defense has never been a strong suit of the Atlanta system.

There have been some real nice nights on the blue line. The defense rarely gets a star of the game. The job of these guys is to stop the puck after all. And, there has been a few times when I thought, hey, real nice play out there tonight, why not give a blue liner a star?

Blue liners have gone down. They have sacrificed the body to block shots. Jamie Rivers comes to mind in that regard. (He's a bit controversial. I keep hearing other fans say he doesn't have what it takes. I disagree).

Finally, the guns of the past are mainly gone. So, everyone needs to step up to win.

And that's not happening.

Monday, November 03, 2008

PR key to turning Blackhawks around: PR Blog

Some nice coverage of the turnaround of the year in Chicago, how the Chicago Blackhawks have become the hot item in Chicago sports after more than a decade of hiding. It is a business operations oriented story and worth a look.

"When you are struggling for attention in a big market like Chicago, you have to give the media a reason to write about you..."

Sunday, November 02, 2008

A Chicago Tradition: National Anthem

Brad Boron has a nice piece on the tradition of clapping and cheering throughout the presentation of the National Anthem at Chicago Blackhawks games. It's a tradition that continues too at the Chicago Wolves.

"After dropping the first two games of the series on the road, Hawks fans entered Chicago Stadium on May 9 fully energized and ready to help their team get back into the series. The crowd was so excited they cheered all the way through the National Anthem..."

Wolves 2, Crunch 1

The Chicago Wolves defeated the Syracuse Crunch 2-1 in a game at the Allstate Arena early Sunday evening. Joey Crabb and Steve Martins each scored goals in the contest. Junior Lessard led an offensive output of four shots on goal. Robert Gherson, in net, stopped 19 shots on goal for the win.

Spencer Machacek, who is working with the Wolves on conditioning, had some ice time and was credited with a shot on goal.

The Wolves start a road trip this week. They do not return to the Allstate Arena till November 22.

Wolves PK: TERRIBLE

This is one of the stats I’m just beating on. In eleven games the Chicago Wolves have scored just three times with a man advantage. They only score 5.1 percent of the time on the power play. This is just incredible. It is terrible.

I’m trying to put together how bad this is. The Wolves have as many shorthanded goals as they do power play goals. The total number of goals scored in shootouts this season by the Wolves and their opponents is equal to the total number of power play goals scored by the Wolves. The Wolves power play has scored at home only once this season.

There are 15 players in the American Hockey League with as many power play goals as the entire team has. There are ten in the AHL with more power play goals than the Wolves. There is one AHL player who has to get only one short-handed goal to tie the total number of power play goals scored by the Wolves.

The Wolves defense is doing pretty well. It’s not great, but it’s good. For example the AHL penalty kill is averaging 84.2 percent currently. The Wolves have a PK of 87.9 percent. In real terms, they’ve given up six power play goals. Or, they only have half as many power play goals for as against.

If this continues, we’ll be comparing the chances of the Wolves scoring a power play goal to the chances of catching a tee shirt in the upper deck. It’s awful. Just terrible.

Wolves split two with Iowa; Power play still anemic

The Chicago Wolves split a series in Iowa, dropping a game on Friday night 2-1 to the Iowa Chops, and winning a Saturday night game 3-1 at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

The Friday game was decided by an Iowa power play goal in the third period. The two teams struggled in a stalemate throughout the game. Iowa Chop winger Drew Miller scored the first goal in the first period, but it was answered by Colin Stuart when he received a turnover and scored without an assist.

A lack of discipline on the Chicago side allowed the Chops to enjoy a greater advantage in power plays. That finally paid out in the third period when Bobby Ryan scored in the only third period advantage for either team.

Ondrej Pavelec received the loss, stopping 26 shots on goal. Jean-Phillippe Levasseur received the win with 25 saves. Jordan LaVallee and Stuart had four shots on goal each. The Chicago power play continues to be anemic, it failed on three chances to score in the game.

In the second game of the series, Dan Turple took the goal for the Wolves as Pavelec was called to Atlanta. Although Turple has been around the organization for several years, Chicago fans haven’t seen much of him. Most of his time was spent in the AA level Atlanta farm team, the Gwinnett Gladiators.

Because Pavelec needs rest, we are likely to see Turple play several times this season. Robert Gherson, who backed Pavelec to the Calder Cup last season, will be backing Turple.

Turple stopped 20 shots for the win in his first start of the season. There were six Iowa Power plays; he stopped each of them. Stuart came out with five shots on goal, but it was Riley Hozapfel who was the star for the Wolves. Hozapfel had four shots on goal, a goal and an assist for the evening. Grant Stevenson also scored two points, a goal and an assist. He had three shots on goal for the night. An empty net goal by Joe Motzko secured the win.

There is clearly a problem with the power play at this point. It is just not working. There have been only three power play goals by the Wolves since the season started. While the Wolves Penalty Kill is respectable, I cannot see this team moving far into the playoffs if it doesn’t get traction with the power play.

IceHogs drop two over weekend

The Rockford IceHogs dropped two home games over the weekend. The Chicago Blackhawk AAA affiliate is now tied with the Chicago Wolves for first place in the Western Division.

On Friday night, the IceHogs lost 2-1 against the Manitoba Moose. Power play goals by both teams kept the score even till Guillame Desbiens scored the winning goal in the second period. Pascal Pelletier scored a power play goal. He led the offence with five shots on goal. Corey Crawford received the loss, stopping 25 shots on goal. Cory Schneider received the win for the Moose, stopping 19 shots on goal.

Saturday’s loss 3-2 loss to the Syracuse Crunch featured Antti Niemi in net for the IceHogs. He stopped 24 shots on goal. Crunch goalie Steve Mason stopped 22 shots on goal. Mike Blunden and Pelletier each had an offensive of three shots on goal, but both players were pointless in the contest.

The IceHogs continue to be a physical team. They gave up 16 advantages to opposing teams this weekend. Looking at the stats for the league, there isn’t an IceHog listed in the top 20 players for penalty minutes. But watching these guys play, they are physical, finishing their checks and refusing to back down. The spirit of the old IceHogs from the United Hockey League just seems to have somehow lived on, but with greater skill.

As that skill level moves up to the Blackhawk, we should see a team that is more physically aggressive on the ice. That should be fun.

While the American Hockey League serves as a breeding ground for blue liners, fans also want to see some offence. What strikes me, looking at the weekend, is how the offence is spread around. In other words, the talent on the bench is balanced. Stars make it through this level to play at the next level. I want to see more from players like Jack Skille. They need to step it up.

Pavelec to Atlanta; Lehtonen is "ill"

Ondrej Pavelec has been called up to the Atlanta Thrashers. The Chicago Wolves, in turn, are depending on Dan Turple. Kari Lehtonen, who has had a rough season so far, is being benched due to being ill, according to several blogs, including the Atlanta Journal Constitution and the Blueland Blog.

The call for trading Lehtonen from Atlanta fans also means there is a possibility of losing Pavelec to Atlanta. What does Atlanta get, if Pavelec skates out there? This blog followed Pavelec through his season, which ended with a Calder Cup win in June. The Chicago defense last season was pretty good, with Boris Valabik, Nathan Oystrick and others, who are likely to see the NHL soon, in front of the net.

Nevertheless, at that level—post season and league championship, a team faces significant challenges. He made some spectacular saves at the right time. He was cool under fire. Losing a game didn’t phase him, coming back in the next game. He is not a guy who can be used every day for 82 games and is ready for post-season play. He definitely needs breaks to be at his best.

What I’m describing is a young goalie that is very focussed. Why is he playing in Chicago and not the NHL? Because Lehtonen is still a better goalie. Or he was last season.

So what changed? Well, here is a non-hockey story. You connect the dots.

Years ago, when Lehtonen was in Chicago, he purchased a new car. I don’t remember what the make or the model of the vehicle was. But it was a luxury car and it was new.

Lehtonen was young and flush with cash. After a month he traded the vehicle in for another new car. Again another luxury model. He accepted a trade-in value for the month old car that was about 1/3 of its new value. He was taken.

John Anderson, who was still the coach of the Chicago Wolves, and is now the coach of the Atlanta Thrashers, took Lehtonen to task. He even used this incident in talking to reporters and fans about how immature players in the AHL are.

I suspect that Anderson regrets shooting off his mouth now. I suspect Lehtonen will play much better somewhere else. Yes, the Wolves have lost a great goalie. But so has Atlanta.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Power plays and shorthanded goals

The Wolves are stopping 88.1 percent of power plays, good enough for fifth in the league. Their power play, at 4 percent, however is dead last.

The Wolves have scored three shorthanded goals this season. That is tied with the Albany River Rats for second most in the league. The Hamilton Bulldogs lead the league with four short-handed goals so far this season.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wolves in 6-0 shutout of P-Bruins

The Chicago Wolves shelled Tuukka Rask from the net, winning a contest with the Atlantic division leader 6-0 in play this evening at the Allstate Arena.

It was nearly all Chicago Wolves, all night long, as scoring started early and ended late. With a power play to their advantage, the Providence Bruins gave up the puck to Colin Stuart who swept in to score on a P-Bruin goalie who looked out of his depth. Although there were nice body shots by the Bruins, they were unable to prevent numerous shots on goal in the period, with Rask deflecting the shots upward and out of his control.

Boris Valabik was on his game all night, starting with a boomer from the blue line that was deflected in by Junior Lessard through the five hole. Within a minute, Chicago was back with yet another scoring opportunity. A big check sent the puck skittering in front of the net and resulted in a 3:2 breakaway by the Bruins. But they could not convert it as they bungled the effort in front of Ondrej Pavelec.

Then, late in the period, with the teams playing 4:4, Joe Motzko fired a slap shot from the left circle, assisted by Valabik, for the third goal of the period.

The Bruins settled down in the second period, with Kevin Regan replacing Rask in net. Allowing the Wolves just ten shots on goal, they took a number of breakaway opportunities to attack Pavelec, yet failed to score.

In the third period, Motzko pops an easy wrister from center ice. It should have been stopped, but somehow finds the five-hole for another goal. Regan just looks pissed, he should have stopped it and he knows it. Seconds later, Valabik dings the goal posts in a boomer from the blue line. The Wolves are just dominating the Bruins now. A shutout looks likely. Bruins Levi Nelson hammers on the puck, trying to pound it through Pavelec’s leather. But Pavelec kneels on the puck, preventing it from moving.

Then, the Bruins get a man advantage, Pavelec is able to stop their shots in the goalmouth. A second power play follows. Again, Pavelec stops the Bruins. The Wolves are looking tired from all the penalty kills. The second PK is not as well orchestrated. And then a third PP by the Bruins. Pavelec is a wall. Nothing is getting past him.

Now, a breakaway by Matt Anderson. He skates through the right circle on the attack and blows a tire. On one knee, he fires backward toward the side of the goal. The puck finds a hole through the leather of Regan. As he looks around for it, the referee spots it, in the clear, just inside the goal line. The Baby Bruins just can’t get a break tonight.

Now, with just a little over two minutes to play, it is Valabik again. He booms another shot from the left side. He must be taking lessons from Denny. It is now 6-0. The P-Bruins appeared relieved that there are just two minutes to play.

What a change for Valabik. Three points. The score sheet credits him with three shots on goal, but you can read this narrative and see it was at least four shots on goal. Stuart is credited with eight shots on goal and Anderson with five shots on goal. Lessard, Anderson and Motzko receive two points each. Pavelec stops 35 shots for the victory. Both Rask and Regan stopped 15 shots each. I suppose the loss goes to Rask.

Hockey moms: Don't speak for me...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Wolves-- Less bang for the buck

The fireworks at the Chicago Wolves have always been one of their draws. Now complaints from fans that they are too quiet. Unlike at other arenas that use horns, the Wolves celebrate goals with fireworks, usually a brief three or four bangs. However, the bang is softer, according to fans.

Leading to a new marketing theme for the Wolves, Less Bang for the Buck.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

IceHogs take Wolves 3-2 in shootout

The Chicago Wolves fell 3-2 in a shootout to the Rockford IceHogs in Sunday matinee action at the Allstate Arena. Wolves Joe Motzko and IceHogs Jack Skille had two goals each in the regulation periods. Skille also scored a shootout goal, along with fellow Hog Tim Brent and Wolf Junior Lessard.

Petri Kontiola panned a pass to Skille in front of the Chicago crease for the first of the goals and again from Kontiola to Skille for the second goal. Kontiola had two shots of his own on goal, while Skille and Mike Brennan had four shots on goal each. Brent and Pascal Pelletier each took three shots on Ondrej Pavelec in the contest. Brennan and Bryan Bickell received assists in the contest.

Motzko scored his second goal during a battle in the crease, picking up a rebound for the goal. Motzko, this year’s go-to guy, had seven shots on goal in the game. Illinois native Colin Stuart had six shots on goal. Jordan LaVallee, Joey Crabb, Jamie Rivers and Grant Lewis notched three shots each.

Anderson was credited with two assists in the game while Lewis and Arturs Kulda received one each.

Antti Niemi was given the win, stopping 34 shots on goal, compared to the 29 stopped by Ondrej Pavelec of the Wolves.

Boris Valabik, the third year blueliner, showed grit, working on the four successful Chicago penalty kills. The Hogs killed one power play.

The Hogs offensive posture in the PP ended up almost costing them, as there were four serious shorthanded attacks during the power play, with turnovers in the defensive zone leaving Niemi open to a quick Chicago probe. In addition, the side to side weakness of Pavelec and the poor Wolves defense in the short area in front of the goalmouth led to the two Hogs goals.

The sudden defensive end change of possessions showed Niemi to be cool under pressure, with nice pad saves and good deflections of the puck to prevent rebound opportunities.

The Hogs had a line of Brennan, Skille, Bickell, Kontiola and Jean-Claude Sawyer out for each of their goals. The Wolves defensive line was different for the two goals, but the offensive line was Motzko, Matt Anderson and Spencer Machacek.

Wolves take MAds 5-3

The Chicago Wolves defeated the Milwaukee Admirals 5-3 at the Bradley Center last night. Joe Motzko and Colin Stuart, who had five shots on goal each, led the offence. Junior Lessard had two goals for the Wolves. Blue liner Chad Denny scored an unassisted goal in the first period. Motzko had a goal on a late power play. Grant Stevenson scored an empty net goal for the Wolves.

Ondre Pavelec stopped 18 shots on goal for the win.

For Milwaukee, d-man Alexander Sulzer had four shots on goal and an assist. Nick Spaling scored a power play goal. Geoff Peters and Josh Gratton also scored goals. Vet goalie Drew MacIntyre stopped 28 shots on goal for the loss.

IceHogs sink NAds 4-0

The Rockford IceHogs in action at the MetroCentre last night crushed the Norfolk Admirals. The 4-0 loss was the first meeting between the two clubs. The Norfolk Admirals were the AAA affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks prior to the 2007-8 season. The IceHogs are the current AAA affiliate of the Blackhawks.

Michael Blunden had seven shots on goal for the IceHogs, followed by Tim Brent and Rob Klinkhammer at five each. Blunden and Brent scored a goal and two assists each in the contest. Tim Hambly also had two assists. Jean-Claude Sawyer and Petri Kontiola had a power play goal each. Brent’s goal was a short-handed goal.

Antti Niemi stopped 26 shots for the shutout.

For Norfolk, Mike McKenna stopped 39 shots on goal for the loss. Jamie Heward had four shots on goal, Brandon Segal and Paul Szczechura had three shots each.

The IceHogs lead the Western Conference with 12 points in seven games. They are tied for first place in the league with the Hershey Bears.

Niemi is third among AHL goalies, with a 95.3 save percentage.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Politics and hockey don't mix well

Time for hockey to restart, in fact it has restarted. First though, how can anyone ignore the new connection of hockey and politics? Certainly not Manny Legace, who did ignore the connection, apparently tripping on the red carpet laid out by the St. Louis Blues for GOP Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

According to the AP writer Jim Salter and as reported in Salon, Legace was warned that the carpet hadn’t been rolled up yet, but proceeded onto the ice in any case and promptly tripped on the carpet. Now he is injured. The sense of the story is that he was injured in his fall on the carpet.

There aren’t that many opportunities to write about politics and hockey and I promise to try to keep these non-political. You can always look at the personal blog for a sense of how I swing, if that matters (google the name Patrick Kissane, I’m sure you’ll find it). But there is also a great political cartoon out there on Governor Palin that I think expresses every sports fan’s idea about the Philadelphia sports fan: http://content.cartoonbox.slate.com/?feature=38dc37300da25400d07b9f0387b43e9c

Due to copyright, I won’t reproduce it, but please, it is funny as hell and worth the click. (Slate has a great library of editorial cartoons, if you like that sort of thing. There have been several on the hockey mom issue that are worth a look: www.slate.com. Look for the editorial cartoon link).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Granato to be new Wolves coach

Don Granato is rumored to be the next Head Coach of the Chicago Wolves. Granato won the Louis A R Pieri Memorial Award in 2001 while at the helm of the Worcester IceCats. He has generally been associated with the St. Louis Blues organization. Granato was at the helm of the IceCats in 2005 when he was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma, a form of cancer that spreads in the lymph nodes.

The cancer was defeated with chemotherapy at Loyola University Medical Center and a second round as part of a trial called Stanford V. Granato told the Peoria Journal Star’s David Eminian “Chemo is hard. I was sick to my stomach every moment, every day, couldn’t look at food.”

“I thought I was going to die,” Granato told the Journal Star.

Granato says he was cheered when “he looked at his Peoria championship ring, and (read) the single word Granato and the team chose to have engraved on its side panel: ‘Relentless,’” Eminian wrote.

“I looked at the ring and there was that word, and it’s what I needed,” Granato said. “When you are fighting for your own survival, you discover how much you have to live for.”

Granato led the Green Bay Gamblers to back-to-back national championships in the USHL in 1995 and 1996. He led the ECHL Peoria Rivermen to the Kelly Cup in 2000. St. Louis named him to be the first head coach of the AHL Peoria Rivermen, but removed him prior to the 2005-6 season, due to his illness. He was offered a scouting job with the organization instead.

With other members of his family, he runs a hockey camp based at Seven Bridges Hockey Rink in Woodridge, Ill. aimed at developing women’s hockey skills. The Granato family is deep into the hockey world. His sister, Cammi Granato, is the all-time leading scorer in women’s International tournament games. She captained the Gold Medal US Team at the Nagano 1998 Winter Olympics. Tony Granato, his brother, is the head coach of the Colorado Avalanche. Rob Granato was a captain on the University of Wisconsin hockey team. The Chicago Wolves did not return calls seeking comment.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Hockey in July

Normally at this time of the year, the hockey blog is on vacation. Between the end of the professional season in mid-June and the early July camps for prospects, the next big event is usually the September training camps.

A few items may be newsworthy of course. Today, for example, the Chicago Wolves said they’d agreed to a deal with Brian Sipotz, a native of South Bend, IN.

Meanwhile the Chicago Blackhawks and the NHL dragged some boards out into Wrigley Field yesterday and talked about the outdoor game planned for New Year’s Day, 2009. As has been mentioned in several articles, how long has it been since hockey made the front of the sports pages in this town? IN JULY?

Sipotz had the leading +/- for players in the AHL regular season in 2007.

The Blackhawks President, John McDonough, the former President of the Chicago Cubs, returned to Wrigley for the first time since he joined the Hawks. The players were wandering around talking about what it would be like to play outdoors. They used the word “fun.” Tickets will probably be priced, according to a story in the Chicago Sun-Times, at $250.00 each and will be hard to get anyway.

Sipotz has played for the Wolves for several seasons. He isn’t an Atlanta prospect. His contract is owned by the Wolves.

In a 2006 game played at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, WI, 40,890 attended. The game held on New Year’s Day 2008 attracted 71,217 to Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, NY. “At Lambeau, the ice got chopped up real fast, and if it snows, it’ll be even worse, “ Hawk winger Adam Burish told the Sun-Times. “But who cares? It’s the experience.”

At a meeting of the Chicago Wolves Booster Club yesterday, team representatives had no news about a replacement for John Anderson, the four-time championship coach who is now in Atlanta.

“We’ll play like we’re young boys,” Denis Savard told the Sun-Times. “It’s the fun of a lifetime.”

The Wolves reps told the Booster Club Tuesday the summer was the busiest time of the year for the sales staff. Until the Hawks started generating news, it was the quietest period of the year for the hockey blog.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

New aggressive BHawks threaten Wolves

The Chicago Blackhawks are promoting themselves in a much more aggressive marketing campaign, according to a story in today’s Chicago Tribune. With a slogan of “One Goal,” the team has announced it engaged the leading advertising agency of Ogilvy & Mather. This follows the decision, last season, to hire Chicago Cubs President John McDonough as the president of the Blackhawks.

Following the success of the outdoor game between the Buffalo Sabres and the Pittsburgh Penguins on New Year’s Day, 2008, McDonough is understood to have pitched the idea for an Original Six game between the Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings to the NHL. That game was announced at the Chicago Blackhawks first fan convention, held last weekend.

Other significant moves include the decision last season, by the BHawks, to reverse the long-held policy on television broadcasting: all Hawks games will now be broadcast. And the team has a high-quality outlet in place with WGN AM 720 broadcasting the games. Pat Foley, the team’s former broadcaster, has been hired away from the Chicago Wolves and returns to the broadcast booth too this season.

It could be the biggest turnaround ever for a sports franchise. Ridiculed for years, the team was named the worst major league franchise by Sports Illustrated. The death of team owner Bill Wirtz was met by dances and laughter on Chicago sports radio. But, now, in mid-July, the team is back in the news, with front page coverage of the new on-ice captain and a Business section front page story in the Tribune.

Proof of greater interest in the Blackhawks is also evident in the note, in the Tribune story, that season tickets increased threefold, currently to between 9,000 and 10,000 from about 3,000 – 4,000 in the previous season.

The “One Goal” mentioned in the ad? Not the playoffs, which eluded the team last season, but the Stanley Cup. It is a worthy rejoinder to the Chicago Wolves campaign reminding fans of its recent Calder Cup victory. The Tribune article, which completely forgets the Wolves, may be a warning sign to the Rosemont team: a winning Blackhawks team may eclipse the Wolves as completely as a poorly managed major league team was bested for years by a smaller, feisty minor league team.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Fankhouser moves from Manchester to Bloomington

Scott Fankhouser, one of several goalies to play briefly with the Chicago Wolves in the 2004-5 season, has signed with the Bloomington Prairie Thunder. Trivia question, how many goalies from that season can you name? Fankhouser spent the most recent season in the English Elite League with Manchester Phoenix. You can learn more about the English Elite League reading Jane Rickard's blog. But, the Internet hockey database doesn't show him as having played any games there. So the question is, does he still have those huge orange pads?

Wrigley to host outdoor hockey: Star- Tribune

It is the worst kept secret of the Chicago Blackhawks prospect camp, the NHL and the Blackhawks will use the first ever Chicago Blackhawks convention next week to announce that the Hawks will host the 2009 outdoor New Years Day game at Wrigley Field. The Minneapolis Star Tribune broke the story on July 7th with Chicago media outlets rushing to play catch-up.

Monday, June 30, 2008

AHL annual meeting changes rules

The AHL annual meeting in Hilton Head, SC approved a number of rule changes for the coming season, including a new one minute minor for use in overtime play and an increase in the number of skaters a team may dress to 18 from 17.

The league also approved the transfer of the Peoria Rivermen ownership to the St. Louis Blues and of the franchise owned by the Edmonton Oilers to Rexall Sports Corp. Rexall had been approved to own the Oilers by the NHL board of governors at its meeting last week.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

John Anderson to be new Thrashers Coach

Well, sitting in Europe having a cup of tea in Dublin and discovering on-line that John Anderson has been named the next coach of the Atlanta Thrashers my first thought is, all my material on JA is back home. The next thoughts involve the new GM for the Thrashers and then of course how this all effects the Chicago Wolves.

John's record was recorded several posts below on the win of the Calder Cup by the Wolves. Clearly this was a great team to work with and it was clear, early in the season that the Wolves were headed for the playoffs. The wild card was that what was probably the next best team was sitting on their heals throughout the season and also just 70 miles away: The Rockford IceHogs.

The victory in the West Division finals almost promised that one of the teams was going to end up in the finals. It didn't promise a cup, but merely that either the Wolves or the IceHogs were going to the finals. The North division was irrelevant, perhaps even an annoyance, between the games between the Wolves and Hogs and the finals.

Anderson's naming to coach was threatened, I think, by the wins of two straight games by the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the finals. If the Wolves were unable to win the sixth game NHL level owners, the Atlanta Spirit does not have a General Manager at the moment, would have been correct in reconsidering whether to offer Anderson the job.

But, to his credit, Anderson pulled it off.

The GM position still appears to be open. But news of someone being named GM may not yet be reaching our ears here.

Kevin Cheveldayoff would be a great choice. He has the minor league chops, building a powerhouse in Chicago. In fact, it is difficult to see why the Atlanta Spirit would hire any other GM, having already named Anderson.

Anyway, it is a sweet moment of vindication and victory for John Anderson. It is his moment in the lights.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

WOLVES WIN! WOLVES WIN






Bonvie's last turn on ice memorable

Several final thoughts before we go into the summer sleep mode. I watched Dennis Bonvie leave the ice Tuesday, with the Calder Cup in the background, about to be awarded. He is one of the most memorable people to play, like Billie Tibbets, Fred Brathwaite and others I've written about.

It must have been painful to end his career without that ring, without that chance to hoist the cup. The enforcers are often the nicest people you meet in hockey. They are Samurai-like, living with a code that only they fully understand. It is understandable how, with the seventh man backing him, Bonvie was able to tip the games in Pennsylvania in favor of the Pens. The Wolves couldn't afford to pay attention to him because as a player he isn't a star, but they couldn't ignore him, because of the crowd.

We had a noted enforcer in Chicago several seasons ago and I remember his antics as he would head to the sin bin. It is the act and the movement of players and fans in ways that can be described, but not necessarily understood, that gives these players their power in the game.

There are purist who demand we end their reign. But the game will be poorer for it.

WOLVES WIN; WOLVES WIN!

The Chicago Wolves defeated the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 5-2 Tuesday at the Allstate Arena, securing the 2008 American Hockey League Calder Cup Championship. Jason Krog, who was awarded the Jack A Butterfield Trophy as the post-season Most Valuable Player, had a hat trick and an assist, leading the Wolves to their victory.

The Wolves entered the game with a 3-2 series lead. A three game away stand in Wilkes-Barre had been split 2-1, with the Penguins getting the better end of the deal. The presence of veteran enforcer Dennis Bonvie on the ice, starting in game four, was credited with knocking the Wolves off-balance. The Chicago affiliate of the Atlanta Thrashers, which had played a disciplined game in the Toronto series and in the first three games of the Wilkes-Barre series, began to sputter under the weight of lack of discipline and also poor officiating.

Things reached a fever point after one of the away games when Wolves Coach John Anderson said the Wolves couldn’t cover the best Penguin on the ice, and referred to the number worn by Dean Morton, 36. But Morton’s calls were not an issue on Tuesday. He only made six penalty calls and awarded just four power plays in the game.

In fact, during the first of these special team advantages, due to a call on Bonvie, John Curry made a remarkable play that could have gotten into the Wolves head if it had been quickly followed by a goal. During the PK, the Penguin goaltender lost his stick. When he was handed a stick by one of the Penguin blue liners he decided he would prefer to play without it and flung it away, defending against the Chicago attack with his mitts only.

The Chicago power play rode along the edges of the PK unit, taking sniper shots at Curry, but without being able to put one past him. Finally, one of the WBS defenders was able to put a stick on the puck and send it clear of the zone, allowing Curry to retrieve his stick.

Chicago kept the momentum going throughout the first frame, taking the lead in shots 13 to 9 and finally, on a goal by Nathan Oystrick, going ahead at the 17:39 mark of the period 1-0. Early in the second frame, at the 2:05 mark, Krog made his first goal. The Penguins then shut down the crowd, battling back with a goal by Luca Caputi and then after being unable to convert a 5:3 advantage, getting a goal a second after the 5:4 advantage started, to make the game 2-2 going into the locker room for the break.

In the final period of play, Krog scored again at the 4:44 mark and then after a spirited WBS assault, again at 15:23. This last goal was a beautiful play, with Krog firing into the open side of the net while prone on the ice. With the game now 4-2, WBS played desperately to regain a final shot at the Calder Cup, but a goal by Brett Sterling at the 17:42 mark put the game out of reach.

The Penguin bench seemed to concede the inevitable as it allowed the face of the franchise for so many years, Bonvie, to play through the end of the game. Bonvie was the last player in the traditional handshake line and the last Penguin off the ice as numerous Pennsylvania television stations interviewed him on his way to the locker room. It was the final turn on the ice for the veteran who had announced his retirement from hockey at the end of the season. Bonvie, in all of his years, had never raised either a Calder or a Stanley Cup. For many players, he was the heart of the team and added reason for winning this championship.

But it was Chicago’s night, not Wilkes-Barre. Ondrej Pavelec, the rookie goaltender, is only the third goaltender in AHL history to have won 16 post season games. He is also the second rookie goalie in a row to win the trophy, following Hamilton Bulldog Carey Price last year. An informal on-line poll of a Wolves’ fan chat site, Wolfkeeper.org, indicated fans thought Pavelec should win the MVP, followed by vet Steve Martins.

Darren Haydar, the Wolves captain, has now won two Calder Cups, the previous cup being hoisted for the Milwaukee Admirals when Haydar captained their team successfully in 2004. The team the Admirals defeated that year was also the Wilkes-Barre Penguins.

Krog has also made two visits to Chicago for a Calder Cup championship. He was on the losing 2002 Calder Cup finalist, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, when they lost to Chicago that year. He went on to play in the Stanley Cup finals with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 2003. Krog was named the 2008 AHL Regular season MVP in addition to his post season MVP.

John Anderson has led the Wolves to all of their championships: 1998 and 2000 in the International Hockey League for the Turner Cup and in 2002 in the AHL for the Calder Cup. He is the 12th AHL head coach to win more than one Calder Cup Championship.

The Wolves win capped a season in which they won the AHL West Division with 111 points. The Wolves defeated the Milwaukee Admirals 4-2 in the first post-season bracket, the Rockford IceHogs 4-3 in the second bracket, and the Toronto Marlies 4-1 in the semifinals. It was the third visit to the Calder Cup finals for the Wolves since the team joined the AHL in 2002.

Monday, June 09, 2008

John Anderson: Time to show up

There has been a consistent chorus of Wolves fans who have been calling for John Anderson’s ouster. Even this year, as the Wolves are one win from the Calder Cup Championship, they have raised their voices, in a minority, to say that it is time for Anderson to go.

I suppose the chances of pleasing everyone are none, especially if you coach a team. From the mommy in pee-wee demanding you play HER kid to the fat geek who looks as though he never played ping-pong, everyone has two things in common. One of them is that they have an opinion.

So, over the years I’ve tuned these people out. If you don’t have anything new to add to the discussion, and typically the argument involves the loss in the lockout finals against the Philadelphia Phantoms and the inability (independence?) to work within the Atlanta system. That’s the same system that has never gone to the playoffs. Well, if you don’t have anything new to add, sit down and shut up.

But the chorus sings on. Joined by voices such as Craig Constance of the Atlanta Journal Constitution this spring when he said the Wolves semi-independence has hurt the Atlanta Thrashers. Bloggers who follow the teams have disagreed with his method of analysis. “Professional” writers who haven’t followed the Wolves have joined with Constance in piling onto the Wolves. It’s a civil war and I know what side I’m on.

Till this weekend. During a chat room session on Wolfkeeper someone demanded to know what the chances of Anderson being offered an NHL coaching job if the Wolves can’t clinch the Cup.

It was a damn good question. I had to listen to the chorus again.

I think the chorus may have it right this time. If the Wolves can’t clinch the Cup Tuesday, Anderson may not be asked to coach an NHL team for years, if ever. He really can’t wait till Thursday, that would show perhaps the players did it. Anderson has to make the changes in strategy and lines and maybe bench some stars that haven’t shown enough during the playoffs. I don’t know. But he has to win.

I suppose some team will consider him for a job as an assistant if he wins on Thursday. But he has to win this week or his career will be launched of a cliff.

I’ve liked Anderson, when I’ve come in contact with him on road games. But his business is brutal. Winning is not just everything. It is the only thing. And there is someone with him on this ride-- Kevin Cheveldayoff, the Wolves' GM.

The fallout from not winning a Cup could spell plateau for Cheveldayoff too. Cheveldayoff is among the nicest people in the Wolves organization, and the brains behind so many of the Atlanta system tweaks. I’ve always felt he should be given a shot at an NHL job too.

But if the Wolves lose on Thursday, that will not happen.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Bonvie's last moments in WBS on ice/ in sin bin

Dennis Bonvie played two games on ice in the Calder Cup finals. It was unexpected, as he had only played five post-season games prior to the Chicago series. Bonvie is retiring at the end of the season, so last night was the final possible game for him on ice at the Wachovia Arena.

I don't know if it was Bonvie's presence on ice, but this series has changed since he began skating with his guys Friday. I'd wanted to see him play, wanted him to have a turn at Boris Valabik (I was convinced they'd agreed to fight during a shift last night) or perhaps even better, a rookie such as Arturs Kulda.

As the turn of the game became obvious, and the Pens had wrapped it up, the fans demanded something that Bonvie has rarely enjoyed, a turn on the ice during the power play. Over the television, you could hear the call of Bonvie, Bonvie, Bonvie. And the team responded.

I think that was point at which Bonvie, open on the near side, received a pass and let rip. The stats sheet indicates no shot on goal. It doesn't matter, that's how I'll remember it. Bonvie, in the closing moments of a winning effort, taking a shot on goal.

It might still happen that Bonvie will get a turn at Valabik or Kulda. But it won't happen in Wilkes-Barre. After playing what may have been the best game of the series for the Pens, Bonvie was given an equalizer penalty when the game was out of reach for the Wolves. He sat out the last minutes of his last game in a place he'd spent so much of his career: the sin bin.

Goodbye Dennis. I wish you well. I'm glad I saw you play.

Pens big win 5-1; make series 3-2

The Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins face the Chicago Wolves in a surprise game six at the Allstate Arena Tuesday following a 5-1 victory at the Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza Saturday night. The Wolves, who lead the American Hockey League championship series 3-2, were unable to put the Penguins down in two tries and must now face them at home.

The Wolves attacked the Penguins goalie John Curry determined to end the series Saturday night. Yet Curry was able to turn the Wolves shots back with astounding ability. It was another night of Penguins defense breaking down, Wolves attacking and Curry being the hero. Curry, who gave up a beautiful goal by the Wolves about mid-way through the first period, held them scoreless for the remainder of the game. Momentum definitively shifted in the third period when only the second Penguin penalty kill of the game failed to gather a Wolves goal. The 5:4 turned into a big Wolves advantage as the two wingers on ice for the Pens broke their sticks, leaving the Wolves facing just Curry and two blue liners.

But Curry was able to stop the Wolves long enough for play to be whistled dead. After that, the flow of the game was all Penguin.

By that time, the game had already been lost in points, although if the Wolves had been able to score, they would have been within two and might have come back.

Following the first goal of the game, a lovely shot by Bryan Little that went in the back door, the Pens responded, putting two in the net within less than three minutes. Wolves Coach John Anderson told Jonathan Bomboulie of the Citizens Voice, Gove’s goal “was a 3-on-3 and we went to pick up the trailer and went to the wrong guy and they banged it in. Great play. Then Connor James comes down about 2,000 mph, made a beautiful shot top shelf and changed the whole complexion.”

Wolves’ goalie Ondrej Pavelec was beaten by going down early on several goals. In the third goal, in particular, Luca Caputi was on a near side breakaway. He was challenged behind by Brian Sipotz. Pavelec not only went down early, he also went to the back of the crease instead of cutting down the angle.

It takes nothing from this big Pens win to note that again on-ice officiating was questionable. Either the Wolves discipline has broken down in the last two games or the referee is just not paying attention to the action in white. Last night saw nine calls against the Wolves and three in their favor.

The win was the first in AHL history; no team has ever been down 3-0 before and forced a game six. No team has ever been down 3-0 and won the championship. However, these Penguins have a history of coming from behind to win. As noted earlier in the series, they do not generally quit when they are down.

The Wolves too, of course, have a come from behind thing going. This is the first time the Wolves have played at home in a championship game that could award the cup since the Calder Cup victory against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in 2002. The Cup has been at the games since Friday, ready to be awarded. The Tuesday night game at the Allstate is at 7 P.M. NHL Network and Comcast Cable Sports Network will be broadcasting the game live.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Last Journalist standing?

Time to take another journalist to task. Jonathan Bombulie has continued to say he is the only beat writer covering hockey left working this season. AHEM. What the hell is going on over at ChiTownDailyNews.org?

Oh, maybe because we have the passion to pursue our craft without pay, we don't count.

Pens win 3-2; Wolves lead series 3-1

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins won their first playoff game against the Chicago Wolves in the Calder Cup Championship, 3-2. The game at the Wachovia Arena at Casey Center was a nightmare of poor officiating marked by the Penguins being able to keep the Wolves off their game.

Dennis Bonvie, in a huge play, checked Boris Valabik on one end of the ice in the first period, cruised across the ice to smash Brett Sterling from behind. They were both clean hits and huge body crushing hits worthy of a man of Bonvie’s reputation. The Wolves immediately took two penalties giving the Pens a 5:3 power play. As the Wolves defended their goal Colin Stuart broke his stick. Only a miracle could have prevented the first goal, and the Pens didn’t allow the Wolves a miracle at this point, Chris Minard potted a beauty against Ondrej Pavelec.

Bonvie, who took a penalty apparently during the checks, finally took to the sin bin, but the damage was done. A second 5:3 followed in the second period, and the Pens scored again. The second unanswered goal came after the first power play expired. Again Stuart broke his stick. Then a shot from near the blue line was redirected off of Valabik’s foot and in.

The Wolves put two goals on the board, both power plays by Darren Haydar, before the end of the second period, tying the game at 2-2 at the end of the second frame. Seconds after Haydar was tripped, he was called himself for tripping, no there was no penalty for what happened to him. The resulting power play put the game winner in the net off of the foot of Wolves blue liner Brian Sipotz.

Although the Wolves pressured the Pens, no further goals could be scored. Steve Martins and Brett Sterling were both scratches. The next game in the best of seven series is in WBS on Saturday at 6:35 PM. The game is being broadcast on both the NHL Network and Comcast Sports Cable.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Who should be MVP?

Well this is very pleasant crow to eat. First, the seventh-man advantage I’d forecast would be crucial to the Wilkes-Barre/Penguins in a projected game six victory over the Chicago Wolves? Well, they left the Wachovia Arena in WBS at the end of the second frame last night. Not a factor.

It was among a string of misperceptions I’ve written about the baby Pens. Unless a miracle occurs, the Calder Cup is coming to Chicago and the Chicago Wolves. Consider that Ondrej Pavelec was able to maintain his composure in game one. That game was opened with a tribute to Manitoba Moose player Luc Bourdon. Apparently Bourdon and Pavelec were close in juniors. Pavelec, standing alone in the crease, first learned of Bourdon’s death during the on-ice tribute.

I bring this up because it is clear this series is over. But we need to consider who is the MVP? There are lots of worthy candidates. The fact that the blue line stepped up, basically holding onto their discipline in the face of two out of control teams: Toronto and the WBS Penguins, is remarkable. This didn’t happen last year and it didn’t happen earlier in the playoffs.

The Wolves blue line, if an MVP could be given to a group, would deserve the MVP.

And the various offensive lines of the Wolves all performed. The opposition has been able to limit the success and the goals of the first line of Jason Krog and Darren Haydar. Play put Joe Motzko and Brett Sterling off the ice with another standout, Steve Martins. Martins, who was on the Wolves team that won its first Turner Cup championship ten years ago has added so much heart to the ice. Again, if a group could be chosen, this group deserves an MVP.

But only one person can receive it. I’ve thought about it and talked about it with Jane Rickard. I’m sure she has her own ideas about this. If I could vote it would be for rookie goalie Ondrej Pavelec. Time and again he has been the key to the Wolves winning and the series of games in which he has nearly shutout the opponents or given up one goal--- well I’ve enjoyed watching him.

There isn’t one point or play that I can remember that is the turning point. There is just a gradual awareness that we have seen excellence on ice in this posed young goalie. He has survived 5:3 plays, shaken off the occasional goal, listened to the news of the death of a friend, and he has moved from the young goalie that went down to early in September to a guy who will be a great asset for an NHL team.

Clearly, the Wolves season would have been different if Pavelec hadn’t been given this chance. I hope the people who do vote agree.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Wolves one win from Cup

The Chicago Wolves are one game away from winning the American Hockey League championship, the Calder Cup, following a romp, 6-1, over the Wilkes-Barre/ Scranton Penguins at the Wachovia Arena at Casey Center in Wilkes-Barre tonight. Jesse Schultz potted two goals and rookie Matt Anderson potted one of the Chicago goals in a game that marked the first Chicago victory ever in Wilkes-Barre.

Ondrej Pavelec let just one goal in, in fact the first goal of the game. He stopped 11 shots in the first game, telling Comcast that the Wolves were lucky to not be further down in the first period. Three regular players were scratched for the game, including Steve Martins, Brett Sterling and Joe Motzko. They were replaced by Matt Anderson, Guillaume Desbiens and Mike Hamilton. Those Black Aces stepped up in the game, each earning at least a point, with two goals between them.

On the Wilkes-Barre side, vet winger Dennis Bonvie played what may be his final professional game. Bonvie, known and respected as an enforcer, had no penalties, shots on goal or significant action with Wolves players. Rookie Alex Goligoski was sent down from the Stanley Cup contending Pittsburgh Penguins; he had an assist in the game. He now leads all AHL defensemen in points scored during the post season, at 27. He is just one point from tying a record for rookie points, 28, set by Mike Sillinger of the Adirondack Red Wings in 1992. (At posting time, the result of the Detroit v Pittsburgh game was not known.)

WBS went ahead in the first period, and was able to hold the Wolves off the board in the period, dominating the Wolves, who had only five shots on goal for the first frame. However in the second frame, the Wolves launched a blistering rain of shots on goal, 19, recording five goals. For once, the Wolves power play unit was shut down, but it didn’t matter as a well rounded Wolves beat on John Curry, driving him from the net.

Only four penalties were charged in the game. A shell shocked Penguin team put minimum resistance up in the third frame as the Wolves scored a sixth and final goal. Only two teams have been able to come back from a 3-0 deficit, according to the AHL. This is the second series in this campaign that the Wolves have had a 3-0 advantage over their opponents. The Wolves and the Penguins face off again Friday. The game, played again at the Wachovia Arena, is being televised on Comcast and also by the NHL network, starting at 6:30 P.M. A game five, if necessary, is scheduled for Saturday at 6:30 P.M.

Monday, June 02, 2008

60 minutes of play, discipline wins games

The battle between the Chicago Wolves and the Wilkes-Barre/ Scranton Penguins may come down to which team is willing to play 60 minutes. Based on the two games in Chicago, that team is the Wolves. The Penguins have twice started play after 20 minutes of hockey, putting them goals behind the Wolves.

Plus, although the fans of the WBS Pens are talking about the grittier style of play in the Eastern Conference, the Pens play has been more about cheap shots than following through on checks. I don’t like to say another team is taking cheap shots, but the Nathan Smith hit, from the bench, on Andre Deveaux in game two was Slap Shot hockey.

If the Pens hadn’t scored two goals, quickly threatening the Wolves lead, there probably would have been retribution for violating the Code. Wolves players going down left and right, that’s not proof of a grittier style of hockey. That’s just mean and dirty play. The Wolves are winning because of discipline.

The other thing to note, about the WBS fan’s arguments, the Wolves have a very physical style of play. They have taken more penalties per game than any other team except the Syracuse Crunch in these playoffs. What we are seeing in the championship finals is a disciplined team that has taken the physical abuse of the opposition and won. I can only assume that if the Wolves find themselves up 3-0 or 3-1 in this series that there will be payback for these tactics.

Wolves 2 wins from championship; Haydar gets another crown

The Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins lost their second game at the Allstate Arena Sunday, putting them behind 2-0 in the seven game Calder Cup Championship series versus the Chicago Wolves. Darren Haydar put two goals in during the first frame. He is now the most prolific goal scorer in American Hockey League post season play, surpassing Jody Gage’s 51 playoff goals and Willie Marshall’s 119 post season points in the same game (53 goals and 121 points).

The physical game was scarred by an ugly Slap Shot style hit on Wolves player Andre Deveaux. He was checked into the Penguins bench during play, and Pens captain Nathan Smith apparently stuck his stick into Deveaux’s neck. Deveaux left the ice, returning later. Smith, on his next shift, was checking Nathan Oystrick into the far boards. Oystrick came up saying something to Smith and the two immediately dropped their gloves.

Several other Wolves also were taken down in a game that was spinning out of the control of referee Dean Morton. Especially of concern was Steve Martins, who went down behind the far net and didn’t move for about a minute following a hit from Ryan Stone.

WBS fan board predicted the Wolves will pay as the gritty Eastern Conference team becomes increasingly physical. However, it was discipline that marked the play of the Wolves, who held back their anger and the roar of the Allstate crowd, using the power play opportunities presented by the Penguins to gain the upper hand.

Like the first game, the Pens phoned in the first period of play, putting them behind the Wolves 2-0 at the start of the second frame. A third goal finally led to a goal spark, as the Pens regained two goals from the Wolves in less than 33 seconds. The power play goals started by a 5:3 Pens advantage.

Joel Kwiatkowski was able to scoop up a rebound, late in the period, and put it in for a fourth insurance goal. Despite pulling the goalie, the Pens were unable to gain any friction to threaten the Chicago position again.

The next three games move to the Wachovia Arena in Casey Plaza of Wilkes-Barre. The NHL network has been carrying the finals, as broadcast by the home team. Game time is 6:30 PM Wednesday.

Goligoski assigned to Pitts Pens

The fans of the Wilkes-Barre/ Scranton Penguins have been hoping the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins finish their season soon, the idea being that several of the NHL Penguins could be reassigned to the WBS Baby Pens in their Calder Cup run.

Things can go the other way, however, and did. Jonathan Bombulie, a beat writer on the Baby Pens for the Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice reports that rookie standout Alex Goligoski has been recalled to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Rob Scuderi, a blue liner, has a “lower body” injury and Kris Letang will be taking the next game off for the funeral of Manitoba Moose Luc Bourdon.

Goligoski, who played three NHL games, is having a great post season, registering 25 points in 19 games. He could return to the Baby Pens if the Pittsburgh Pens lose to Detroit before the end of the Calder Cup season, and if he is no longer needed. Any win by the Detroit Red Wings will send the blue liner back to Wilkes-Barre. (At post time, the Detroit Red Wings lead the game by a goal with about five minutes remaining).

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Wolves win 1st game of finals 5-4

Chicago’s power play again dominated a game to allow the Chicago Wolves a 5-4 win against the Wilkes-Barre/ Scranton Penguins at the Allstate Arena Thursday night. Three unanswered first period goals by the Wolves and a penalty kill of a 5:3 power play led to the team being wildly applauded as they exited the ice at the end of the first frame. However, the baby Pens came back in the second period, scoring early in the period, with just a minute, 15 seconds between the first and second goals.

The second and third goals of the Pens effort seemed to be set plays, almost identical, even to the lines, although the credits for the goals were awarded to different players. Off the face-off, the Pens brought the puck back to the right side blue line, then passed cross ice where the puck was teed up and fired through traffic for the goal.

After being taken advantage of twice by the play, the Wolves didn’t allow it to happen again. Goals by Joel Kwiatkowski and Bryan Little kept the Pens at a distance. But a third period goal by the Pens brought them within one of the Wolves. Then a sloppy penalty by Kwiatkowski with less than two minutes to go, gave the Pens a final chance at the power play.

The WBS goalie, John Curry was pulled, allowing the Pens to put a 6:4 advantage against the Wolves. Still, it was a near thing, as the Wolves almost put a loose puck into the empty Pens’ net.

Once again, the heart of the team was team vet Steve Martins. Martins was awarded a penalty shot during the closing seconds of the first period when a turnover during the power play had to be stopped by Wilkes-Barre. Ondrej Pavelec had 30 saves for the win. Penguins rookie Alex Goligoski, who has had an outstanding post-season, had a goal and three assists in the game.

Let's Go Wolves!

It’s an hour till the puck drops. We met some fans from the coal city here at a dinner the Wolves organize. As I’ve said before, best fans in the American Hockey League. The spirit of these people, flying in to Chicago to watch their team shows the stuff necessary for a win.

That’s not to slag the Wolves fans, many of whom will be trying to nab tickets at the Wachovia building in Wilkes-Barre next week. Last time I saw the WBS Pens in the finals, a 2004 match against the Milwaukee Admirals, they were camping in state campgrounds, trying to hold down costs.

We’re blessed that our teams are playing this late in the season and that despite the economic challenges; we are able to follow our teams to these finals.

It takes a winning attitude to make it this far. And the teams frequently do not see each other during the regular season, leading to a first game of testing each other, probing for the weakness. It must be found, developed and exploited quickly. Any loss, especially on home ice, is hard to make-up.

Let’s GO Wolves.

Seventh man advantage favors baby Pens

The Chicago Wolves v Wilkes-Barre/ Scranton Penguins final of the Calder Cup Championship starts tonight. Chicago fans haven’t seen the Penguins play since last season when the team made a West Division swing. That’s prehistory in hockey. So much changes, especially in minor league play.

Although the home advantage has been huge in the playoffs, and that goes to the Wolves, I think that the seventh man advantage is strongly in the Penguins favor. The Wachovia building that the Penguins play in is routinely sold out. The Penguins have one of the strongest fan bases seen in the American Hockey League. The white out seen in Mellon Arena when the Detroit Red Wings played game three? The same advantage is going to be on the Baby Pens favor too.

That favors a long series, with the Wolves taking the Chicago games and the Pens taking the Pennsylvania games. I don’t see Chicago having an easy time, even if they take a lead in the Pens home.

The Pens on the other hand, have come to Chicago and won. Okay, I said that is prehistory. But it’s happened. I’m predicting the Wolves have tough wins at home, but drop one home game, and lose each of the games in Pennsylvania. The series goes six or seven. The series ends in Chicago.

Now, that’s what I think is going to happen. Chicago plays a disciplined game, plays its game, not WBS’, and finally, is able to take the oxygen out of the Wachovia building with early goals in games three and four, that will change things. That is how the Wolves can win this thing. That’s what I want to happen.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Spencer Anderson plays in Memorial Cup championship; Dad in crowd

While John Anderson has been coaching the Chicago Wolves to the Calder Cup finals his son Spencer has been playing for the Memorial Cup Championship. The Kitchener Rangers faced the Western Hockey League Champs the Spokane Chiefs. Rogers Sprots Net reports that John Anderson watched his son play in the finals game.

Unfortunately, for the Andersons, the cup was won by the Spokane Chiefs, who immediately broke the cup.

Spencer has not yet been drafted by any NHL team. He was wearing an Atlanta jersey during the Traverse City tournament last September. John Anderson said at the time that he was talking to scouts but that nothing had yet transpired.

Penguins previewed

I reviewed all of the Wilkes- Barre/ Scranton Penguins video available on line. It really doesn’t tell much, as it consists of lots of fight highlights and very short clips of the Penguins goals against various opponents.

If you insist on showing, as a highlight, the final seconds of a goal and focus on the celebration, it is difficult for anyone to analyze what happened. Jane Rickard, whose blog Powderhornhockey, watched the clips with me and commented that the Penguins seemed, at one point, to be celebrating all of the high sticking penalties missed by the refs.

The coming series isn’t likely to see the Penguins taking a lot of penalties, illegal, or otherwise. I won’t argue that the Penguins aren’t a physical team, but in the post-season, the Chicago Wolves have averaged about 23 penalty minutes per game. Only the Syracuse Crunch have averaged more penalty minutes per game, in the post season, than the Wolves. The Penguins, despite the videos of fights and hits and high sticking, have averaged just 12 minutes in penalties per game.

The Wolves have done well in the post season against undisciplined opponents, notably against the Toronto Marlies. The Rockford IceHogs, who faced the Wolves in a very emotional series that proved to be a physical and emotional high for the season so far, were able to defuse the Chicago special teams, even taking advantage of the man advantages to beat the Chicago PK unit.

So, the first thing I expect, in this series, is that we’ll see fewer opportunities for the Chicago PP unit to score against a more disciplined team than they have faced before.

At the same time, the Penguins are accustomed to a physical form of hockey in the form of the Hershey Bears and the Philadelphia Phantoms. These two teams were unable to shock the Penguins. I don’t think Chicago physical play is going to be able to be used as an advantage against the Penguins.

Now there are two other things I saw in the videos. First, the practice video showed a play that we saw bits and pieces of in the highlights. The puck was taken across the blue line close to the left center of the ice. A cross-ice pass to the far right was immediately dumped down the right boards. The lively boards in Chicago are likely to let the puck leak into the left corner, although the video indicates the Penguins want to play the puck in the right corner.

The Wolves have fought very well in the corners and against the boards. Boris Valabik, in particular, can create plays behind the net that confound the opposition. The other thing I’m thinking about this play, it can be easily thwarted with defense in the neutral zone. It can be forced further to the point and cross ice presence can make it difficult to complete.

The other interesting feature of the video is a short piece, posted by the Penguins on YouTube of a recent practice. Is it for real or is it disinformation? Time will tell, but it shows the players practicing shots high, especially to the right side of the goalie.

I don’t recall any weakness by Ondrej Pavelec on the right side, but months ago he had a tendency to go down early. Looking at highlights from January is like examining fossils. Maybe it has some interest to the current situation. Maybe not. The Rockford IceHogs publicly said they planned to challenge Pavelec by shooting high, after drawing him to drop.

That didn’t work.

Now, the AHL will require the two teams to name 17 players. Here is a list of the players expected to play, based on the stats. I don’t believe any are currently injured.

Tim Brent C
Ryan Stone C
Kurtis McLean C
Nathan Smith C
Connor James C
Dave Grove C
Dustin Jeffrey C
Mark Letestu C
Now, that is 8 centers. I am mystified. Why does this team have so many centers? They must be playing wing.
Here’s a list of their wings, as you might expect, it is a light list, as there are so many centers.
Chris Minard LW
Tim Wallace LW
Luca Caputi LW

Finally, on the blue line:
Alex Goligoski D
Mark Ardelan D
Ben Lovejoy D
Alain Nasreddine D
Ryan Lannon D
Deryk Engelland D

And in net, John Curry.

Goligoski has had a great post season. He is a rookie and is averaging, as a blue liner, two points per game; He only averaged about half point per game in the regular season. Missing is Dennis Bonvie. He has appeared in five of the post season games.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

4-2 win puts Wolves in finals; Home Ice & PP leading factors in wins

A 4-2 win Friday night at the Allstate Arena against the North Division champs, the Toronto Marlies, is sending the Chicago Wolves to the American Hockey League championship game. It will be the third time the Wolves have played in the AHL championship finals since joining the AHL in the 2001-2 season.

The series, won 4-1 by the Wolves, started with a pair of convincing wins by the Wolves at the Allstate Arena and a pounding of the Marlies at the Ricoh Center earlier this week. However, the Marlies came back to crush the Wolves in the second game at the Ricoh Center. Home ice advantage has been a key factor, in the wins in the league, as only the opponents of the Portland Pirates, seeded third in their division, have not been able to win the series.

Portland is still in the playoffs, the last Cinderella team. They are tied 3-3 in the Eastern Conference finals with the Wilkes-Barre/ Scranton Penguins. The winner of a game seven, tonight at the Wachovia Arena in Wilkes Barre, plays the Wolves next week starting Thursday.

The power play was a key feature, again, in the Wolves victory over the Marlies on Friday. Each Wolves goal, except the final empty net goal, was on a power play. Toronto has been unable in this series to effectively use its man advantages against the Wolves. The Marlies, in fact, were leading the game 2-0 at the end of the first frame. It seemed a dangerous tipping point in the game as the first goal has also been a deciding factor in many of the post season games played, according to NHL analysts.

The discipline of the Marlies began to breakdown midway through the second period. An elbowing call on Phil Oreskovic at 7:52 was followed by a hooking call on Buffalo Grove-native Andy Wozniwski at 9:12, giving the Wolves a 5:3 advantage. The Wolves used it to score twice within sixteen seconds.

Joel Kwiatkowski’s power play, which broke the dam, was his fourth in as many games. The Marlies were given ample opportunities to catch the Wolves, including a five minute major called for kneeing against Andre Deveaux at about the six minute mark of the third frame.

However it was another of those soft penalties that Toronto has not learned from, called against Alex Foster at 14:47 into the period that put the game out of reach for the Marlies. Darren Haydar, assisted by Kwiatkowski and Jason Krog lit the lamp for the game winner. Later, Kevin Doell, on a breakaway, potted the empty insurance goal with 42 seconds remaining on the clock.

The Chicago Wolves have won three league championships since their first campaign in 1993-4. Two Turner Cups were won under the old International Hockey League. In their first season with in the AHL the team won the Calder Cup championship. The Wolves returned to the Calder Cup finals, in the lockout season, when they lost to a Philadelphia Phantoms team loaded with players who are now in the NHL.

John Anderson, the Wolves coach for each of their championships, also won a Colonial Cup championship in the United Hockey League (now the International Hockey League) behind the bench for the Quad City Mallards.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Marlies edge back from golf game w/ 6-1 romp

Finally, Wednesday night, American Hockey League fans saw the Toronto Marlies team that came back from a 3-1 deficit against the Syracuse Crunch and that offered Chicago a big loss in April.

A 6-1 loss in the Ricoh Center in Toronto has set the Chicago Wolves back to a 3-1 series lead. The Marlies, who started Justin Pogge in this match, were able to stop the Chicago power play on Wednesday, giving up only one goal against the Chicago special teams on eight attempts.

A dominant Marlies put 12 shots on Ondrej Pavelec in the first period, penetrating him three times, once on the power play. Chicago was able to return one point to the scorecard in the period. The Marlies then added three more unanswered goals to their point total in the next two periods. Colin Murphy had two goals and an assist. Pogge was credited with 27 saves.

Wolves lead 3-0 in series; Earn 4-1 win in Toronto

The Toronto Marlies, unable to exert discipline, dropped the third game in the Western Conference series of the Calder Cup tournament last night. The Chicago Wolves took advantage of the Marlies, winning easily 4-1 at the Ricoh Center in Toronto.

Only two teams have been able to come back from a 3-0 deficit, according to the American Hockey League. Any loss in the next four games ends the season for the Toronto Maple Leaf farm team and advances the Wolves to their third Calder Cup final since joining the AHL in the 2001-2 campaign.

The Wolves took advantage of four of the ten power plays presented by Toronto, earning all of their points with a man advantage. The Wolves, now, lead the league in power plays in both percentage and in raw number, being awarded 105 advantage opportunities in the post season, compared to 86 for the Marlies, the closest team in opportunities. 22.9 percent of the power plays are successful.

The Wolves lead successful power plays on the road by an even more dramatic 27.5 percent.

On the penalty kill, among active teams, the Wolves have given 100 power play opportunities to opponents, but lead the active teams in percent of kills with 89 percent. The Marlies place first, having given opponents 105 power play opportunities. They have the worst penalty kill among active teams, successfully stopping 77.1 percent of plays.

A key to the Wolves domination of the Marlies in this series is their ability to kill penalties and take advantage of their power play chances.

Another big component of the Wolves play is the dump and chase. The Wolves have used this method with abandon against the Marlies and the IceHogs, rarely carrying the puck across the line. While the Marlies have crumbled in the first three games, the first game and first period showed a determined forward defense by the Marlies that forced turnovers and the dump and chase.

However, the Wolves have successfully battled in the corners against the Marlies. The Wolves have taken possession of the puck from the Marlies corner, and beat the Marlies on their own side of the ice.

Finally, the Wolves have successfully used a cross ice passing plan that seems to demand that the player leading the charge pass to another player, even when they have an open shot on goal. You’d think this is a bit of madness, but it has led to a string of victories since the Wolves adopted it during the IceHogs series.

With everyone from the Canadian media to the coach of the Marlies noting the need to stop taking undisciplined penalties, you would assume the Marlies’ captain would be standing up telling his players to hold their tempers.

But it was a stupid penalty by Ben Ondrus in the final frame of the Tuesday game that lead to one of the Chicago goals.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Marlies back against the wall--- again

You need to wonder who will receive the MVP, if the series between the Toronto Marlies and the Chicago Wolves ended today. Offensively, Jason Krog has scored five goals, driving the Marlies goalie from the net in game two and leading the league in post season scoring.

On the other hand, defensively, the Marlies can’t seem to figure out Ondrej Pavelec. Pavelec has only allowed two goals in the last three games, going four periods at present without letting anything in.

This is a team game, of course, and the Wolves have been hot both offensively and defensively since game seven win against the Rockford IceHogs. They’ve taken advantage of the Marlies lack of discipline with power play goals and just grinding the Marlies down. A great example of that was the third period of the second game. A new goalie in net, the Wolves didn’t test him with an offensive effort, but rather ground the offensive edge of the Marlies for 20 frustrating minutes.

The Marlies didn’t help things either, allowing further Wolves power plays in the third period, which basically took any oxygen out of the effort of the to even score. In the final moments of the second and third periods, it looked as if the Marlies were completely out of gas, playing a defensive game as if they were on the penalty kill.

The Marlies’ back is against the wall now, behind 2-0 and heading home. They haven’t played particularly well at home in the post season, dropping two games in a row to the Syracuse Crunch in the previous series. They had to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win that series. And that showed heart, but maybe it was also the end of the string for this team. Maybe the win against the Crunch was the final hurrah.

If they drop the Tuesday night game, in Toronto, to the Wolves, it will be statistically impossible for them to come back. Even a win on Tuesday must be matched by a big effort on Wednesday for the Marlies to have a hope of winning this series.

It is early yet, but this just doesn’t look good for the Marlies.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Hat tricks

Let’s start with the idea of a hat trick. Jason Krog’s hat trick in the previous game was almost matched by another on Sunday as he scored two goals within about seven minutes in a spanking of the Toronto Marlies. Hat tricks are relatively unusual in standard play, rare in the playoffs. So what is a hat trick?

Much of this information comes from Wikipedia, standard hat trick, three goals of any color in a game.

Gordie Howe hat trick, a goal, an assist and a major penalty in a game. Gordie Howe is reputed to have only scored one of these during his career.

Texas hat trick, four goals in a game. I think it is better to call these a hat trick plus one, as the Chitown Daily News does. That of course leads to a hat trick plus two or plus three… Pretty simple and descriptive. Texas? What does Texas have to do with anything big?

Okay, a natural hat trick. There seems to be some discussion of this. Three goals in a row. Three goals, one in each period. And finally, three goals, all in the same period. I had several discussions with people about whether Krog’s goals, separated by the goal of an opposing player, might qualify as a natural. Apparently not.

Mario Lemieux hat trick. I also heard this called a full cycle. In a single game and in any order, a goal, a short handed goal, an empty net goal, a penalty shot goal and a power play goal. Mario Lemieux is reputed to have scored one of these on a day he also had a treatment for his cancer.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Krog hat trick; Wolves 4, Marlies 1

Jason Krog scored a hat trick and a point to lead the Chicago Wolves to a 4-1 win over the Toronto Marlies in the first game of the Western Conference finals of the American Hockey League Calder Cup championship, Friday night at the Allstate Arena.

Krog’s hat trick was the ninth hat trick by a Chicago Wolves player in post-season play. Darren Haydar scored a goal and an assist in the win. Joe Motzko scored a pair of assists. Ondrej Pavelec stopped 26 shots on goal for the win.

The Marlies held the Wolves scoreless in the first period. A fierce defense of the blue line largely prevented the Chicago team from penetrating the offensive zone, even during power plays. Chicago was held to just eight shots on goal in the first period, compared to nine shots on goal by the Marlies, this despite three Chicago power plays to the Canadian team’s one in the period.

In the second frame, the Chicago team scored on a power play with just a minute and a half into the period. Krog’s first goal, at 7:15 into the period was matched 21 seconds later by the sole Toronto goal of the game.

Scott Clemmensen, who stopped 28 shots in the game, does not have a butterfly save, looking more like a Catholic kneeling in prayer when he closes his five hole. His rebounds were beautifully deflected away from the action. However, as shown against Pavelec in the Rockford series, the better players can anticipate this and we can expect Chicago to park a Sterling, Motzko or Steve Martins on the weak circle waiting to rebound on the empty net.

Krog’s final two goals came with less than two and half minutes remaining. His final goal was a short-handed and empty net score. The best of seven series continues on Sunday with a 3 P.M. game at the Allstate Arena.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Wolves are pumped; Oh! Canada! Here we come!

Game seven between the Rockford IceHogs and the Chicago Wolves highlighted two different styles of play. That was clear by looking at the game sheets of the series. Although the Wolves were outshot almost throughout the series, and particularly in game seven, they won.

That goes against hockey sense. You put the puck on the net and good things happen. But, not for the IceHogs in this series. I used the term desperation hockey to describe the play of the Hogs. I meant it as a complement. It is another of the myths of hockey that to win a championship you need to play desperation hockey.

It was desperation hockey for the Hogs; they were on the wrong end of the score almost throughout the season at the Allstate Arena. And there is nothing to get you thinking about winning and losing quite like a game seven.

So the Hogs, they played hard. They finished their checks; they took every opportunity they had to shoot the puck at Ondrej Pavelec.

This was a great foe. And what made it even more intense was the background radiation in this series. Wolves’ fans have said, from time to time, for example last season I said, the Wolves could take the Chicago Blackhawks in a series. I still believe last year’s BHawks would find it very difficult to face the Wolves or several other American Hockey League teams.

Last season the crest said NHL team, but the play didn’t.

I haven’t said that this year.

Here was the baby Hawks, if we can use that term in a gentle way, and the Wolves were able to put them away.

Barely.

I felt the Wolves were cruising through the end of the regular season. From about March 1st on, they played without passion and without heart. I was worried about what would happen in the post season with this team.

Sure, they were a great team. This is probably the best Wolves team I’ve ever seen. Granted, I’ve only been watching them for about five years. But they lacked that special character, the heart of a champion. They seemed to be playing to finish the season.

Unfortunately, this was brought home even more, as players, the contracts with the Atlanta Thrashers ending at the conclusion of the season, announced they were signing on to European teams. Maybe, they didn’t want to get hurt, maybe they didn’t care about a championship. Those words came from the discussion boards and they percolated in my head and I hoped they weren’t true.

I don’t want to be a homer about this, but I wanted the Wolves to win the series. I didn’t want these European signings to be the end of the road for this team. I figure next year is the year for the IceHogs. This year belongs to the Wolves.

Then we played the Milwaukee Admirals in the post season. Series one, leading to the West Division Crown. The Admirals have a long history with the Wolves, going back to the original International Hockey League. They were a team that could find the weakness in our best. And when they were hot and we were the cellar dwellers, we found the way to win against them.

It’s a great rivalry, although I wish there were better interaction with the fans.

I could see this team growing and accepting the increase in adrenaline needed to win as the series progressed. Thank you MAds, you helped push the Wolves to a higher level of play.

Still, when the series started against the Hogs, the Wolves won the first two games and it seemed as though it would be an easy series. The boys relaxed. Thank you Hogs for winning three games. Thank you for making them realize they wanted to win. Thank you for forcing them to play some of the best hockey I’ve seen all season.

What could have been better? Well, if the Hogs had managed to make it into the North Division finals, I think this would be a Conference final between Rockford and Chicago. That would have been excellent.

Also, I’ve wanted to see the Manitoba Moose make it to the Conference Finals. But they seem to fade away in the post season year after year. Even the Grand Rapids Griffins would be a great North Division foe to face, though I’ve always liked playing the Moose best.

Those are all IHL rivalries. But okay, we’re taking on the Marlies. Second City USA v. Toronto. The big apple, if you will, of Canada. Nothing gets me more in the mood for a great game than hearing O’ Canada. The boys appear ready to win a ring and hang a banner. Let’s take the Marlies guys! Eight more wins and you hang your championship banner. Eight more wins and you get sized for a big ole’ ring. Eight more wins and you’ll have something to remember and cherish when your career is over.