GB becoming perfect hosts

July 17, 2014

125px-GreatBritainIceHockeyThere’s a lot said and written about the state of GB’s national ice hockey teams but not enough credit has been given to the strides made by Ice Hockey UK in the last two years.

Since April of 2012, Great Britain have hosted four World Championship groups, encompassing Women’s Seniors, Women’s U18, Men’s U20 and U18.

The last three of those have been held at the Dumfries Ice Bowl in Scotland which is fast becoming GB’s new home and has been getting rave reviews from visitors and hockey dignitaries alike.

The Men’s U20 tournament held in December of 2013, marked the 100th anniversary of Ice Hockey UK and as part of the celebration the Stanley Cup was brought over by the keeper of the cup Phillip Pritchard. NHL legend and Hockey Hall of Fame official Jim Gregory was also in attendance and there was a whole host of memorabilia from the history of the game in the UK including GB captain Carl Erhardt’s gold medal and game jersey from the 1936 Olympic Games.

In no small part this was down to the hard work and diligence of General Secretary Andy French, who has helped GB make giant strides in terms of hosting international events.

That ball has been well and truly kept running as 2015 will see Dumfries once more hosting a World Championship group, as the Women’s Senior team make their second appearance in Scotland.

I was lucky enough to be reporting from the Men’s U20 tournament in December and it was a thoroughly well run event, with a few minor hitches dealt with promptly and efficiently.

Everyone I encountered through the tournament was profession, friendly, helpful and a credit to what Ice Hockey UK is trying to achieve.

I tip my hat to them and thank them for bringing international hockey to these shores. Surely it can only be a matter of time before a Men’s Senior World Championship is hosted in the UK.


AHL’s overtime reform

July 11, 2014

If you’ve read my previous articles or follow me on social media, then you’ll know I abhor the shootout as a way of deciding a hockey game. I’d much rather settle for a tie or revamp the overtime period to provide what I would view a hockey winner rather than a skills contest.

During the recent four day meeting the AHL discussed amongst other things the rule changes for the following season and came up with a surprising change to deciding games tied after the regulation 60 minutes.

Rule 85 (“Overtime”)

During the regular season, the sudden-death overtime period will be seven minutes (7:00) in length, preceded by a “dry scrape” of the entire ice surface.

Teams will change ends at the start of overtime.

Full playing strength will be 4-on-4 until the first whistle following three minutes of play (4:00 remaining), at which time full strength will be reduced to 3-on-3 for the duration of the overtime period.

If the game is still tied following overtime, a winner will be determined by a three-player shootout.

I confess I did not see such a radical change coming but I applaud the AHL’s board of governors for this enterprising idea. With almost a quarter of regulation season games going to extra hockey and an overall 15.6% being decided in the shootout last season, perhaps this is what provided the catalyst.

The shootout is also being scaled down for the five shooters to three, which will now mirror the NHL.

From the various media outlets reporting this story, the general consensus is that this new overtime rule is the work of the AHL of it’s own back, rather than a test for the NHL, but if it’s deemed a success by the league, teams and fans then perhaps the NHL may follow suit.

Two other rules were also approved and are as follows:

Rule 20.4 (“Major Penalties”)

An automatic game misconduct will be applied to any player who has been assessed two major penalties for fighting or three major penalties for any infraction in the same game.

Rule 9.6 (“Helmets”)

A player on the ice whose helmet comes off during play will be assessed a minor penalty unless he immediately (a) exits the playing surface or (b) puts the helmet back on with the chin strap properly fastened.

Both seem sensible decisions in my eyes and hopefully the former will eliminate the goon faction that does rear it’s head from time to time in the league.



AHL landscape changes again

July 10, 2014

As of last year, the American Hockey League’s conferences and divisions looked as follows.

AHL Conference List

Nest season we’ll have two new teams added into the fold as Adirondack Flames and Lehigh Valley Phantoms, replace Abbotsford Heat and Adirondack Phantoms.

Before the AHL officially confirmed it’s new alignment for the forthcoming season, I put together a list of how I would shape the alignment of the league and some reasoning behind my choices.

Eastern Conference


Providence Bruins

Hartford Wolf Pack

Manchester Monarchs

Portland Pirates

Worcester Sharks


Adirondack Flames (new)

Albany Devils

Springfield Falcons

Syracuse Crunch

Utica Comets


Binghamton Senators

Bridgeport Sound Tigers

Hershey Bears

Lehigh Valley Phantoms (new)

Wilkes/Barre Scranton Penguins

I would incorporate Hartford into the Atlantic to make way for the departing St John’s, and change up the Northeast by including Utica and Syracuse from the East and West Divisions respectively as they are close rivals, just an hours drive apart. Another sensible decision in my view would be to include the Adirondack Flames in this Division.

The East would see old stalwarts Hershey, Binghamton and Wilkes/Barre welcome Lehigh Valley Phantoms, and with the reshuffling of the other Divisions, Bridgeport would join this party

Western Conference


Hamilton Bulldogs

Lake Erie Monsters

Rochester Americans

Toronto Marlies

St. Johns IceCaps


Chicago Wolves

Grand Rapids Griffins

Iowa Wild

Milwaukee Admirals

Rockford Icehogs


Charlotte Checkers

Norfolk Admirals

Oklahoma City Barons

San Antonio Rampage

Texas Stars

With the switching of Utica from the North, I’d include St. John’s in this Division, in what is looking like their last season in the AHL. It would be fitting if they would face more of the Toronto Marlies if that was the case and if the Winnipeg franchise were to end up in Thunder Bay then that wouldn’t be a terrible fit.

It make little sense to alter the Midwest, while the only change left would be unfortunately sliding the Norfolk Admirals into the West Division for the time being.

I say for the time being as there has been talking of making at least one proper West Division, which is something the AHL should have been proactive about before now and I shall allude to later.

What the AHL decided on is as shown on the graphic below.


Changes from last season include:

  • Calgary’s affiliate (Adirondack Flames) relocating from Abbotsford, B.C., to Glens Falls, N.Y., and playing in the North Division
  • Philadelphia’s affiliate (Lehigh Valley Phantoms) relocating from Glens Falls, N.Y. to Allentown, Pa., and playing in the East Division
  •  Syracuse moving from the East Division to the Northeast Division
  •  Lake Erie moving from the North Division to the Midwest Division
  •  Iowa moving from the Midwest Division to the West Division

I give credit to the AHL for being responsible enough to place the two new teams in adequate divisions but I’m less enamoured by the moves placed on Lake Erie and Iowa, although I can see some sense to those.

The truth is that their needs to be bigger changes in the AHL landscape than those put in place for next season.

There has been talk for a little while of a “real” West Division for a little while now and this is perhaps going to come to fruition sooner than later.

As per, the Coyotes, Ducks, Kings, and Sharks, are on board with the idea and possibly another two western teams.

There are rumours of the Los Angeles Kings moving their AHL affiliate to Ontario, California where their current ECHL team resides and is very successful in drawing a crowd.

Edmonton have just purchased their ECHL affiliate and possibly could follow the L.A route.

With markets like Houston (who deserve another team to support) and Seattle to consider there are plenty of choices and opportunities to explore.

With Vancouver’s and Calgary’s affiliates still out way to the east, the AHL still has a very lopsided look to it, although from a personal point of view, having a division comprising Calgary, Montreal, Buffalo, Toronto and Vancouver’s affiliate’s is certainly intriguing.

I hope these are the first of many changes made in the next few years to make the league even better.


Syracuse Crunch happy with Allen

July 9, 2014

The Syracuse Crunch have signed goaltender Allen York to a two-way AHL contract.

Syracuse will be looking for a more steadying presence between the pipes during the 2014/15 season after having a total of eight goaltenders on their books in the last campaign.

York himself will be hoping for some stability in what’s been a “journeyman” type career for the 25 year old thus far, no better encapsulated than last year.

He spent time with four AHL clubs (Charlotte, Texas, Rockford and Syracuse), two ECHL teams (Evansville and South Carolina) and represent Team Canada in the Spengler Cup held between Christmas and the New Year.

Allen York

A sixth round pick by Columbus in 2007, York has only played a total of 40 career AHL games with a 21-12-3 record, 2.57 GAA and .907 save percentage with three shutouts.

One of those shutouts would come with the Syracuse Crunch in a loan spell this past February, as he turned aside 39 shots to blank the Hershey Bears and compiled a 1-2-1 record in four outings.



Rynnas returns to North America

July 8, 2014

Perhaps one of the more surprising signings this summer was announced yesterday, with Dallas acquiring Finnish netminder Jussi Rynnas on a two year-one way contract.

A two way or AHL contract may have made more sense but Dallas have injury concerns over Lehtonen, wanted competition for the number two slot with Lindback, Campbell has struggled to put a whole season together in the AHL due to injury and Nilstorp now gone.

I see their logic but Rynnas is a gamble and far from a certainty to challenge hard for an NHL position.

He’s the archetypal type of goaltender teams seem to be looking for these days, at 6’5” and around 215 pounds, he’s an imposing figure in the net.

After spending his youth in Finland with Assat Pori, Rynnas signed with Toronto in 2010.

His time with the Marlies was a harder battle than most face as he regularly faced competition from not one but two or more goaltenders and in his rookie season he had to battle with Reimer and Scrivens.

His first three starts were rocky but November of 2010 brought success with a 5-2-0-2 record and impressive stats (1.33GAA/.957SV%).

That’d be as good as it got for Rynnas in his first season as those wins represented half his total for the season ending with a 10-15 record.

I would describe Rynnas as a streaky goaltender, and this would be no better encapsulated than in 2011/12. At his best he recorded a pair of shutouts in consecutive games, book-ended by two starts where he allowed just a solitary goal in each. Once more he had to battle Scrivens and added into the mix was young Mark Owuya, which meant Rynnas ended with an 11-9 record.

The beginning of the end was early in the 2012/13 season for Rynnas as the lockout meant the same competition remained in place and he earned just seven starts. To be fair to Jussi he was outstanding in those seven games as he posted three shutouts and five wins.

With the NHL back to work and Scrivens up with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Rynnas was given more opportunities but his level of play diminished, recording a single win in six starts.

With Reimer then an injury doubt, the Finnish net minder was called up to the Leafs as cover, and in the mean time Toronto signed Drew MacIntyre to a PTO. An injury back with the Marlies on the road in Milwaukee would curtail Rynnas in that game and it would be the last time he’d dress for the blue and white before signing back in Finland


By all account, Rynnas worked his socks of during last summer and had a very impressive 2013/14 season with Karpat.

He led all Liiga goaltenders with a 1.51 goals against average and a .939 save percentage, while he finished second in the league with nine shutouts and third with 28 wins.

An injury curtailed his post-season play and lost his place when back to fitness.

In a way that’s the most frustrating part of having watched Rynnas play, he’s incredibly hot or cold but when he’s on his game he’s very good indeed but he’s developed this habit of getting an injury when in the midst of one of his good spells.

His record in the AHL doesn’t make for exceptional reading at 31-33-5, 2.64 GAA and .910 SV%, and he never really looked at ease in the NHL to my eye, but he was backstopping the Leafs! (Spoken as a Leafs fan).

I wish he and Dallas all the best in this venture but I cannot see anything other than Rynnas being sent down barring injuries above him and then come the issues (if he isn’t claimed off waivers) with wanting the up and coming Jack Campbell to be the AHL starter.


Three new AHL coaches

July 5, 2014

The wheels of the AHL moved fast last week as three teams announced new head coaches for the coming 2014/15 season.

Troy Mann was appointed as the new man to lead the Hershey Bears in what was a home coming for the 44 year old.
Mann missed out on the head coaching job last season after four years as an assistant, when Mike Haivland was given the role.
Upon losing out on the top position, Mann headed to the ECHL for the second time in his career, having previously been head coach with Columbia Inferno between 2006-2008.
In the second of his seasons with Columbia, he would lead them to the Conference Finals, a feat he would equal last season with Bakersfield Condors.
A choked-up Mann was clearly happy to be back with Hershey and said “Sorry, I told my wife (Lori) I wouldn’t do this,” Mann said. “It’s a real emotional time to come back to Hershey. I want to thank the Washington Capitals and the Hershey Bears organization, and especially Doug (Yingst) here, for giving me my opportunity.”
Yingst confirmed that Mann had come out on top of what had been a long process going through 71 applications for one of the most sought after and prestigious head coaching jobs in the AHL

During his four years as an assistant, Mann’s expertise mainly lie on the defensive side of the game including the penalty kill and during his time the Hershey Bears won the Calder Cup in the 2009/10 season. The captain during that championship year was Bryan Helmer and Mann wasted no time in appointing him as new assistant coach. Helmer was recently an assistant with the OHL’s Peterborough Petes but will be more known for his AHL playing exploits including all-time points leader for a blue-liner (564) and the third longest tenure in the league with 1,117 regular season games to his name.
Mann will be looking to replicate the success of when he was last with Hershey as the team finished in the AHL’s top ten for all four years and won a championship.

Troy Mann


Derek Laxdal has the somewhat unenviable task of taking the reigns of the current Calder Cup Champions Texas Stars, replacing Willie Desjardins who heads for his first NHL top job with the Vancouver Canucks.
Laxdal’s stock has never been higher than it is right now having had three extremely successful seasons in charge of the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings.
The 20010/11 season would see the Kings record a losing season and a first round playoff exit but with Laxdal at the helm things quickly turned around as they went on to three straight seasons of 50+ wins, two championships and a finals loss.
It should come as no surprise to those in the know that Laxdal was in the running for this job as 5-6 years previous he’d also been interviewed before Texas hired Glen Gulatzan.
The Stars know all about Laxdal as he coached their ECHL affiliate, Idaho Steelheads for five seasons , taking them to the playoffs every year and recording a finals loss as well as a championship
At 48 years old, Laxdal is one of the older coaches to make the leap into the AHL and although having a great set-up and long term contract in place with the Oil Kings, he knew this might be his only chance to progress his coaching career.
Hockey has a way of bringing coaches and old players back together and with Texas being in the same division as Oklahoma City Barons, who they will face 12 times, Laxdal will likely be up against some former Oil Kings in Travis Ewanyk, David Musil, Martin Gernat, Laurent Brossoit and Mitch Moroz.



Mike Sothers is the new head coach of the Manchester Monarchs.

The 52 year old replaces Mark Morris, who although has the best record in the teams history, perhaps didn’t being the playoff success that the brass demanded.
Sothers is an extremely experienced man with 30 years in hockey and started his coaching career ten years ago starting with the Hershey Bears and then the Philadelphia Phantoms (who won a Calder Cup in 1998), both in an assistant capacity. Two years as an assistant with the Flyers in the NHL followed before taking the step down to the OHL with the Owen Sound attack.
Four years with Owen Sound led to the top job with the Grand Rapids Griffins in 2007/08 but his tenure was short after a losing season. Sothers would not be back in hockey 2010 whereupon he was named assistant of the Atlanta Thrashers. It’d be back to junior hockey, this time in the WHL with Moose Jaw Warriors, who after a very successful first season which ended with a conference final loss, the team was in rebuild mode and has struggled since, failing to make the post-season.
Sothers has the perfect opportunity to find some head coaching success with this franchise if his “firm but fair” approach works for the Monarchs.






AHL coaches on the rise

June 27, 2014

As well as preparing players for the rigours of the NHL, the AHL does a fantastic job of doing the same for coaches who ply their trade at this level.

I take a look at the coaches I think should be getting the chance to step up sooner than later.

Keith McCambridge – St. John’s IceCaps

Despite just 40 years of age, McCambridge has been coaching in the professional game since 2003.
A late round pick by the Calgary Flames, his playing career never reached any great heights and he spent his last three years on the ice as Player-Assistant with the Alaska Aces of the ECHL.
In the last of those seasons , the Aces won the Kelly Cup upon where McCambridge hung up his skates and became an Assistant coach in 2006 before being named head coach for the 2007/08 campaign.
His two years in charge of the Aces were relatively successful with a Round 3 and Kelly Cup final loss , where he was unlucky to come up against the dominant South Carolina Stingrays who had a certain Travis Morin amongst their number.
Two seasons as an Assistant coach in Manitoba would follow, where McCambridge served under Scott Arniel and Claude Noël.
When the team was relocated, McCambridge became the first ever coach of the St.John’s IceCaps in 2011 and almost capped a fairytale inaugural season before losing in the Eastern Conference Finals to the incredible powerhouse that was the Norfolk Admirals.
The lockout season was a struggle for many AHL teams and the IceCaps failed to make the post season but McCambridge guided his team this season all the way to the Calder Finals were they pushed the Texas Stars hard in a series that may have only lasted five games, but included three straight overtime finishes.
Being coach of the IceCaps brings it’s own set of unique problems, travel and weather to name but two and huge credit to McCambridge for the teams 121-84-23 record under his reign.

Luke Richardson – Binghamton Senators

Richardson’s long playing career in the NHL came to an end early in the 2008/09 season and he was immediately hired by the Ottawa Senators as an assistant coach.
After three seasons he was then given the job at head coach of the Binghamton Senators, who were in a rebuilding phase after the Calder Cup Championship team of two years previous had been broken up.
Despite having an extremely inexperienced roster, Richardson has led the team to successive 44-24-8 records, qualifying for the post season in the process.
The lockout season started well as Binghamton were able to use top prospects like Jakob Silfverberg and the team held the best record in the AHL at one point before January when the NHL got back to work. The playoffs would see a tough 3-0 series loss against a street wise Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins.
This past season would see Binghamton cope with losing their best players to Ottawa at different times this season, with notable losses being top scorers Hoffman and Da Costa towards the back end of the year.
Beating their rivals WBS Pens in the penultimate game of the season would see Binghamton clinch the divisional title and the third seed but this would set-up a second consecutive match-up with their rivals in the playoffs. The first three games of the series would be decided in overtime but once more WBS would come out on top, this time by three games to one.
Two round one losses may not sound like success but Richardson has achieved this with a roster averaging less than 23 years of age, and with the loss of five to six of the teams best players at times.
Richardson’s ability to get Ottawa’s young prospect NHL ready has been well noted this year and another year of success in Binghamton may well see bigger opportunities for him.



John Hynes – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins

John Hynes isn’t your archetypal coach. With no playing career to speak of, from 1996 – 2009 Hynes coached in the NCAA and USDP, with the majority of his time spent in the junior side of the game.
During that time he also coached the USA U18 and U20’s teams, winning gold as head coach on two occasions.
In 2009, Hynes took a step up into the AHL as an Assistant coach for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, serving under Todd Reirden.
The following season would see Reirden promoted to the Pittsburgh Penguins with Hynes taking the Head coaching duties in Wilkes-Barre.
Under his leadership, WBS Penguins have been the model of consistency and an extremely tough team to play against.
His rookie season in charge saw a monumental 58-20-0-1 record (80 game season) and in the process top the Eastern Conference.
The following year would see his team keep up their consistency by finishing second in the East.
Both playoff runs in those years would see round two exits to Charlotte and St. John’s respectively.

The 2012/13 season would bring another divisional title and the third seed in the East.
Going one step further in the playoffs before falling to Syracuse Crunch in the Conference Finals.
This past season was a tougher affair for WBS, making the playoffs with just four points to spare.
Despite being seeded sixth, they blew past Binghamton 3-1 before coming out on top in an epic battle with top seeded Providence Bruins which went all the way to seven games.
St. John’s in the conference finals would prove a step too far as they fell in six games but perhaps in context of Hynes four years in charge, this was their best season.
Hynes hard-edged coaching style made him a candidate for the Pittsburgh Penguins job this summer but he was passed over in favour of Mike Johnston. With Hynes confirmed as staying with WBS for 2014/15 it’ll be interesting to see the direction the team takes but I find it hard to believe there won’t be an NHL gig for him soon.



Jeff Blashill – Grand Rapids Griffins

Former NCAA goaltender Jeff Blashill has 15 years of coaching experience at just 40 years of age.
Nine years of being an Assistant coach in the NCAA for Ferris State and then Miami University’s, was followed by his first Head coaching job in the USHL with Indiana Ice. A first season in charge would see his team crowned Clark Cup Champions and they would come close to regaining their championship the following year.
Blashill’s success would result in an NCAA head coaching job with Western Michigan.
He would lead the team to a top-four finish in the CCHA, the CCHA Championship game, and the 2011 NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament, the best season for Western Michigan in 15 years.
Blashill would be lauded with personal plaudits after that season as he was named USCHO Coach of the Year, Inside College Hockey Coach of the Year, and College Hockey News Coach of the Year.

The Detroit Red Wings came calling and an Assistant coaching job under Mike Babcock for the 2011/12 season. With Curt Fraser leaving the Grand Rapids Griffins for the Dallas Stars, Blashill was installed as the Griffins Head coach for the 12/13 season. The rest is history as Blashill enjoyed more first year success as he guided the Griffins to their first ever Calder Cup Championship.
With a lot of the top talent Blashill had help mould during that championship win now gone, the Griffins weren’t quite as dominant in 2013/14 but still made it to the second round of the playoffs before falling to eventual Calder Cup Champions, Texas Stars.
There would be more personal achievement however as the young coach was awarded the Louis A. R. Pieri Memorial Award as the AHL’s most outstanding coach .
His record as head coach of the Griffins stands at a combined 88-49-15 during the regular season.

The Detroit Red Wings obviously think of a lot of his work as they tied Blashill up to a three contract contra which will see him through until the 2016-17 season, but I would not be surprised if an NHL GM comes calling before then.



Todd Nelson – Oklahoma City Barons
A fourth round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Penguins, Nelson’s career hits no heights higher than three NHL games. His varied playing days took him to Germany and Finland before returning for one last season on the ice as player -assistant coach for Muskegon Fury of the UHL.
The following 2002/03 season saw him back at his old stomping ground in Michigan as an Assistant-coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins before returning as Head coach of the Muskegon Fury the next year.
Three seasons in charge would bring two championships and a second round loss in the post-season.
His success would see him back in the AHL as Assistant coach for the Chicago Wolves for two seasons before taking the step up to the NHL, holding the same position with the Atlanta Thrashers for the same term.

Nelson was then offered a job as Head coach the Edmonton Oilers newly formed affiliate, the Oklahoma City Barons.
It was never going to be an easy job as the previous affiliation (three years) with Springfield had been a total disaster, including one campaign which saw the team lose 17 straight games and finish rock bottom of the standings.
It was nothing short of a miracle then when Nelson turned things around in his first season as OKC recorded 40 wins and made the playoffs.
A first round exit was perhaps inevitable but topping the Western Conference the following season certainly wasn’t. A 45-22-0-9 record (76 game season) meant they dominated during the regular season and they would continue to do so in the playoffs as they dropped just two games through the first two rounds. The Toronto Marlies would prove their stumbling block in the Conference Finals.
The 2012/13 campaign saw another 40 wins during the regular season and once more they would fall in the Conference Final, this time to eventual Calder Cup Champions Grand Rapids Griffins.
The past season was a topsy-turvy one for OKC with injuries and call-ups a plenty, but they still managed a fourth straight winning season and another shot at the playoffs. They would encounter the Calder Cup Champions once more, this time in the form of the Texas Stars, and despite the 3-0 series loss they pushed Texas hard with the opening two games only decided in overtime.

Nelson is a coach who really get’s the most out of his players and his success/changing the fortunes of Edmonton’s affiliate, brought his name to the attention of Carolina Hurricanes this summer.

Willie Desjardins – Texas Stars

The Vancouver Canucks beat me to the punch as they made Desjardins their new Head coach
The 57 year old had a varied coaching career before making it into the establishment of the professional game. Nine seasons split being an Assistant and Head coach at the University of Calgary, was ended in 1994 as he headed to Japan to coach Seibu Bears Tokyo. He would win consecutive championships before coming back to North America to coach Saskatoon Blades midway through the 1997/98 season and named Assistant coach of Team Canada the year after.

Desjardins wouldn’t return to hockey until 2002 and nine successful years followed as Head coach of the Medicine Hat Tigers. In his first season in charge he led the team to their first playoff appearance in five seasons and would bring two championships in total.
His reward would be getting hired by the Dallas Stars as an Assistant coach where he held that position for two seasons before taking up the reigns of the Texas Stars who had finished 29th in the AHL the season before. Desjardins turned the teams fortunes around immediately as the Stars accumulated 43 victories in winning the Western Conference. A shock second round loss to Oklahoma City Barons only seemed to spur efforts for this year as Texas dominated the Western Conference once again, this time surpassing the 100 point barrier. This time they carried on their dominance as they won the Calder Cup for the first time in the team’s five year history and Desjardins deservedly took much of the credit and earned his first shot at a Head coaching job in the NHL.





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