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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


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.


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).