Saffron Allen Interview 2014

July 25, 2014

At just 19 years of age, Saffron Allen has already represented Team GB at junior and senior women’s level, whilst also recovering from a career threatening injury. She kindly gave up some of her time to speak about her short ice hockey career thus far and what the future holds.

 

At the end of 2012 during the Olympic qualification campaign, you suffered a terrible injury with two slipped discs early in the game against China. How did your rehab go through 2013 and are you now back to where you were before the injury?

The rehab was extremely difficult in more ways than one. When I returned from China I was unable to walk or sit down and so spent a number of weeks laid flat in a bed in our living room. I had a number of scans and began a rehab program as soon as I could. Kirsty Hopgood, GB Sports Therapist, was a huge support. She provided me with the rehab plans (lasting up to 5 hours a day) and made the 2 hour drive after work weekly to visit me to check progress and support. Not only did I lose ability physically but also mentally I struggled. I was unable to attend college and so had to complete the year from home and so apart from the odd visitor, I really had no social contact. On returning from China I was told I would never play again and so this motivated me more to prove everyone wrong. It was an extremely slow and painful recovery but I’m so grateful to be back playing and really do not take any shift for granted.

 

You returned from the injury to play at the 2013 University Winter Games and had some personal success. Was that a vital morale booster for your career moving forward?

The FISU Universiade Games were incredible. It was a completely different atmosphere to what I have been in before at World Championships. We were really treated like elite athletes and the whole team had a great time. Having a number of GB athletes from different sports out there meant we were able to travel and watch other sports and support our athletes in their competitions too and that was brilliant. Having now just been accepted into University for September, it will allow me to be eligible for the team next trip in Granada, so I look forward to the trials for that.

 

The year of 2012 had otherwise been a great one for you until the China incident. A place at the IIHF High Performance Camp (1 of 100 selected) and scoring vital goals for GB U18 at the WC in Dumfries, but would you say having the honour of carrying the Olympic torch was the highlight?

The Olympic torch really was the highlight of 2012. To be involved in such a high profile event and have a part like that was amazing. To have been nominated by my Senior School head teacher for not only my sporting achievements, but also for my academic side, was a real honour. It is something I will treasure forever.

 

You’ve spent most of your career up till now playing with and against boys. Do you think this has given you the edge in what you’ve been able to achieve thus far?

I have always been mainly involved in male hockey. From the age of 7 I grew up and competed in every junior age group club team for Telford and also was part of the Midlands Conference teams and England teams. I feel that I have had a great development and coaching in hockey and some that have given me an enormous amount of dedication and passion. The men and women’s games are very different, however to transfer and play for both is great. I have no plans of stopping my men’s hockey as I do feel that it develops me a lot and gives extra to my game that I can then produce within the women’s game.

 

Your GB career has been one of rapid improvement. Two personally successful U18 World Champ campaigns and making the full step up in 2014 you recorded a goal and an assist. How big is the leap in the women’s game between junior and senior?

I actually played Senior Women’s GB before I played U18s GB. My first senior tournament was back in Caen, France 2011 and have been in the team ever since (missing the Strasbourg 2013 due to my back injury). I find the step from u18s to Senior a big, but reachable one for most players. The Seniors setup is now at a stage that players are being welcomed into at an earlier age and are able to attend the training camps whilst still u18s and I feel this is a huge positive for potential players. If players are willing to put in the effort and dedication to reach it, there is no reason why they won’t.

 

For many of your teams you’ve either been captain or wearing an “A”, do you see yourself as a leader on and off the ice, despite often being the youngest on the team?

I have been very honoured in the past to be awarded such leadership roles. When I have these roles I feel that you carry a lot upon your shoulders and I like to have responsibility. Whether I have a letter upon my shirt or not my game doesn’t change and neither does my attitude. Players are put into different roles for specific reasons and so whatever role I am given within a team I follow and try and fulfill it to the best of my ability.

 

It’s summer as we speak, so are you well into you off-season training and do you have any specific plans for parts of your game or physical fitness to improve for next season?

My season ended just after we returned from Asiago, Italy in late April. During the off season I usually work on a specific weakness I feel I want to improve and work with both club and National coach to agree what area this should be. I then create a training plan around that weakness whilst including all other areas too, so that I can maintain my fitness. National camps are about to begin again for this coming year and so to keep as fit as possible is important to gain selection for the coming World Championships.

 

Saffron image

 

GB will be hosting their Senior Women’s World Championship group in Dumfries over Easter of 2015. How excited are you at the prospect of representing GB at a senior women’s WC at home and what do you believe should be the team’s expectation for this tournament?

I think expectations are high, and so they should be. Last year in Italy we were playing as the unknown team, even from our point of view after the change of setup and staff. I feel that having come so close to being promoted straight back up into Div 1b, this coming year as hosts is our time. Playing at home is always a great feeling. Having played in Dumfries with the u18s in the qualification tournament and in Hull with the Seniors for the World Championships, I know what atmosphere and feeling it brings. This year with the World Championships falling over the Easter break, we hope to see a big crowd there for all of our games. Being in our own Country also means family members that cant otherwise always get to watch us, are more able to and by having the 8pm game every night it allows the team to get into a very comfortable routine and allow us to be fully prepared for every game.

 

Your first taste of qualification didn’t end too well for you personally but for you is it the ultimate dream to play at the Olympic Games?

Absolutely. An Olympic Games would be my dream. It is a very tough road to qualify however it is not impossible. As a squad we have intentions to progress as much as possible and push to reach everything we can. I really feel that with the setup and stability in place, the team could be part of an Olympic Games one day.

 

Is there any significance to wearing the number 16?

I have always played number 16. Many players have certain superstitions and lucky numbers etc. and this is one of mine.

 

Where will you be playing next season and do you have future plans to play abroad and turn professional?

Next year is a little unknown at the moment. I will be moving to Gloucester University in September to begin my degree and so my teams and schedule will change. Throughout the summer I have trailed for a few teams, both men and women, and so I will soon be making the decision to decide where I will be playing.

Playing abroad is always a players dream. If a professional contract was offered, I would definitely love to take some time away and experience the true athlete life however I’m currently extremely excited to start my degree and stick to hockey here for now. I know, especially after having my back injury, that a career can end within seconds, so to have an academic career as well as athletic is very important to me.

 

Many thanks to Saffron for her time and I wish you all the very best for this season and beyond.

 

 


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

 


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

Atlantic

Providence Bruins

Hartford Wolf Pack

Manchester Monarchs

Portland Pirates

Worcester Sharks

Northeast

Adirondack Flames (new)

Albany Devils

Springfield Falcons

Syracuse Crunch

Utica Comets

East

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

North

Hamilton Bulldogs

Lake Erie Monsters

Rochester Americans

Toronto Marlies

St. Johns IceCaps

Midwest

Chicago Wolves

Grand Rapids Griffins

Iowa Wild

Milwaukee Admirals

Rockford Icehogs

West

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.

NEW AHL

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 http://www.MayorsManor.com, 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

Jussi+Rynnas+NHL+Rookie+Tournament+Chicago+JDa8qY7u83pl

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.

Laxdal

 

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.

Sothers

 

 

 

 


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