New coach, new beginnings for Medveščak Zagreb

July 19, 2015

The ”Bears of Zagreb” are rumoured to possibly be playing their last KHL season in 2015/16 due to financial implications, and it promises to be their most difficult yet.

Their inaugural KHL season was something of a fairytale as an inspired Jonathon Cheechoo and his team-mates led Medveščak to the playoffs at the first time of asking. A quarterfinal loss was hard to take but probably brought about false expectations with many of the top players leaving.
Last year was a struggle as their stingy defence allowed many more goals, led to an early coaching change and a finish second from bottom of the Western Conference.

The overhaul heading into 2015/16 is even greater and so is the challenge facing inexperienced head coach Gordie Dwyer.

I’ve no idea of how many candidates there were for the head coaching job but I’m sure many were asking the question “who?” when the announcement of Dwyer was made, myself included.
Drafted twice, Dwyer dressed just 108 times in the NHL and only achieved notoriety in the league as a Tampa Bay players after receiving a 23 game suspension for leaving the penalty box to engage in a fight and then going on to verbally and physically abuse officials after a bench-clearing brawl in a pre-season game against the Washington Capitals.
He would go on to finish his playing career in Europe at a minor level before taking up a coaching job in 2009 for Summerside Western Capitals of the Manitoba Junior League.
Two seasons there was followed by four with QMJHL side Charlottetown Islanders (were P.E.I. Rocket) where after a bad first year, they would qualify for the playoffs each season after before Dwyer was relieved of duties on June 29.
Dwyer only other coaching experience was as an assistant coach with Team Canada, who won a bronze medal at the 2012 IIHF Under-18 World Hockey Championship.

When you consider his coaching profile compared to the likes of Mark French, Chuck Weber and Doug Sheddon then you recognise the size of the task he’s faced with and the leap of faith taken by Medveščak’s management.

The new head coach will have to rebuild a team and roster shown of it’s best players from last season.
Gone is leading scorer Pascal Pelletier to Admiral Vladivostok and second in points Bill Thomas, to Modo.
Brandon Segal and James Wright have also left and it’s looking likely that Martin St. Pierre will not return.
Add into the mix scoring defensemen Mark Flood and Mathieu Carle, then Medveščak will be without seven of their top eight leading points scorers in 2015/16.
Goaltending will be another source of concern as former regulars Barry Brust and Mark Dekanich are gone for good and Mark Owuya, who impressed in his short stint, is also gone.

There have been 19 signings and another eight on tryouts as pre-season is upon us.
No real superstar names amongst those and what jumps out at you is how inexperienced or young some of these guys are.
Blake Parlett has been a reliable defenseman in the AHL, strong is his own zone and puts up points but has no experience outside North America.
Marek Kvapil is a solid right winger with plenty of experience and he will produce to a degree.
Patrick Bjorkstrand returns for another stint with the bears and goaltender Danny Taylor signs after playing his first season in the KHL with Dinamo Minsk.

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Expectations then should be relatively low and Dwyer certainly hasn’t built them up during a recent interview. When asked what his goals were for the season the first part of this response was illuminating.
”To grow from game to game and to be competitive. This season the team will be focused on young players who we will develop into competitive KHL players, but at the same time we would like to be successful, especially on home ice in front of our fans.”

Any success will have to be had at Dom Sportova as the bears of Zagreb have generally struggled on the road during their time in the KHL and the incredible home support is often worth a goal or two.
Special teams have always been a problem for Medveščak and that amongst everything else will be a challenge for Gordie Dwyer.
He will have the assistance of the legend that is Alan Letang, who I’m sure he’ll be very reliant on, especially to begin with.

Pre-season games start August 7 with the season beginning for real with a home game on the 26th of the month.
In fact the schedule has been kind to begin with as nine of the first twelve games are at Dom Sportova and a chance to get off to a good start.


AHL Top Rookies 2014/15

July 17, 2015

Every season the American Hockey League throws up a surprise when it comes to those rookies who impress.

Before this past season I’d never paid as much attention as I should to the rookie scoring race as Toronto has never really featured in the category. Until that is, Connor Brown came to the party.

It’s never quite the players you imagine dominating the rookie category with the higher NHL draft picks often not producing in their first professional year..

The 2014/15 season was no different with the top twenty scorers almost evenly split between rookies drafted 1-7, although five undrafted rookies would dominate if you were to divide into categories.
The now defunct Calgary Flames AHL affiliate, Adirondack Flames, had the highest number of top twenty rookie scorers with four, although none of those were in the top ten.
The top twenty scorers combined for 37 games in the NHL when receiving the call, with three of those during the post-season.

Toronto’s 2012 sixth round pick Connor Brown led the way with 61 points and was tied for the most assists (40) with Brendan Leipsic who would join the Marlies via a trade with Nashville and finish fourth in the scoring charts. Considering Toronto’s torrid start to the season, allied with the stigma of “only good in junior because of namesake McDavid, Brown’s season was a remarkable achievement by the right winger

Leipsic’s former team-mate in Milwaukee, Viktor Arvidsson was the third highest scorer and ended the season second in rookie goal scoring. Arvidsson would also dress in six games for Nashville.

Montreal’s Charles Hudon ended four points behind Brown for the scoring title, having set the pace most of the year, in a Hamilton Bulldogs season that ended in failure to make the playoffs despite his efforts

Rounding out the top five was T.J. Tynan of the Springfield Falcons, who led his teams in assists and points. The first time since 2010/11 that the franchise had a rookie in the top twenty when Tomas Kubalik finished with 24 goals and 53 points.

Connor Brown

1) Connor Brown (2012 6th round) Toronto Marlies 61pts
2) Charles Hudon (2012 5th round) Hamilton Bulldogs 57pts
3) Viktor Arvidsson (2014 4th round) Milwaukee Admirals 55pts
4) Brendan Leipsic (2012 3rd round) Toronto Marlies 54pts
5) T.J. Tynan (2011 3rd round) Springfield Falcons 48pts
6) Connor Brickley (2010 2nd round) San Antonio Rampage 47pts
7) Michael Mersch (2011 4th round) Manchester Monarchs 45pts

8) Conor Sheary (Undrafted) Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 45pts
The highest undrafted rookie, Sheary amassed his points tally in just 58 games and could have easily been in the top five. Twelve points in eight playoffs games sealed a terrific season and has now signed a two year contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Conor Sheary

9) Derek Hulak (Undrafted) Texas Stars 44pts
10) Chase Balisy (2011 6th round) St. John’s IceCaps 44pts
11) Ken Agostino (2010 5th round) Adirondack Flames 43pts
12) Emile Poirier (2013 1st round) Adirondack Flames 42pts
13) Rocco Grimaldi (2011 2nd round) San Antonio Rampage 42pts

14) Scott Wilson (2011 7th round) Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 41pts
The highest selection in this group (209th overall), Wilson made the step up from college hockey and would finish the season in the NHL. Making one regular season start and three in the post-season for Pittsburgh.

15) Nic Dowd (2009 7th round) Manchester Monarchs 41pts
16) Henrik Samuelsson(2012 1st round) Portland Pirates 40pts

17) Evan Trupp (Undrafted) Worcester Sharks 40pts
By far the oldest rookie at 27, Trupp was an ECHL regular until 17 starts for Abbotsford in 2013/14.
Still a rookie (under 25 games played) heading into this season for the San Jose affiliate, Trupp produced sufficiently for the Chicago Wolves to offer him a contract for the 15/16 season

18) Daniel Carr (Undrafted) Hamilton Bulldogs 39pts
The left winger and NCAA graduate, surprised the AHL by ending as the top rookie goal scorer.
As an undrafted free agent, Carr signed a entry level contract with the Montreal Canadiens in April.

19) David Wolf (Undrafted) Adirondack Flames 38pts
Calgary took a punt in signing this 25yo winger and it certainly paid dividends as Wold hit the twenty goal mark. Also a physical presence, the Düsseldorf native racked up 168 penalty minutes in 59 games.
Would play four games in the NHL for the Calgary Flames but his future at the time of writing is not set for next season

20) Bill Arnold (2010 4th round) Adirondack Flames 38pts

Although not featuring in the top twenty scorers, also worthy of mention are the following two gentlemen.

33) William Nylander (2014 1st round) Toronto Marlies 32pts
Nylander joined the Marlies from Modo despite clamour from media and fans alike to have him up with the Leafs. Played on the wing and after finding his feet put up his points tally in 37 games, finishing the season on a real tear. The 8th overall pick is to stay with the Marlies and play at centre in 15/16.

45) Chris Tierney (2012 2nd round) Worcester Sharks 29pts
A product of the CHL’s London Knights, Tierney wasted little time in impressing San Jose and was rewarded by starting the season in the NHL before being sent down to Worcester in November. A point per game producer in 29 AHL starts, the centreman deservedly garnered more NHL starts (43) than AHL, putting up six goals and 15 assists in the process.

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AHL’s 2015/16 rule changes

July 11, 2015

Each summer the American Hockey League’s Board of Governors meet in July to discuss which improvements or changes to implement for the following season.

This time around we will see three rule changes and a quite incredible adjustment to the playing schedule that will have severe consequences for many teams.
I’ll go through them one by one with my view on each

Rule 79 (“Video Review”)
• A team may use a “coach’s challenge” to initiate an official video review; only those situations which are subject to review by rule may be challenged.

• A team may only request a coach’s challenge if it has its timeout available, and the coach’s challenge must be effectively initiated prior to the resumption of play.

• If the coach’s challenge does not result in the original call on the ice being overturned, the team exercising such challenge will be charged with a timeout.

At first glance I really liked this new rule, which many have been calling for a long while now. At closer inspection I have some reservations, especially with part two of the ruling. Should a coach really be penalised by losing an “early timeout” on a call or not be able to challenge a call because he has already called his solitary timeout? I understand the league’s need to stop coach’s challenging just for the hell of it, but equally aren’t we also trying to make the game better by challenging poor calls?
The AHL’s use of video is nowhere near on the scale of the NHL and at times it’s been an arduous job for officials to check a goal review let alone any other call on the ice and unless the camera policy is to improve in every building, it makes this rule almost ineffective.
How it plays out should be fascinating to watch.

Rule 76.4 (“Face-offs”)
• For all face-offs (excluding center ice), the defending player shall place his stick on the ice first; for face-offs at center ice, the visiting player shall place his stick on the ice first.

This new ruling came from left field and was certainly the only one to take me by surprise. Again I can see the reasoning but perhaps my thinking is old school with my reasoning for keeping the old ways of a home team having every advantage possible, making it tough for the visitors.
I wonder in time if this might be extended to line changes along a similar theme from face-offs/stoppages in play and I wouldn’t be in favour of that also.

RON JOHNSON/JOURNAL STAR  T.J. Hensick (7) of the Rivermen and Rob Flick of the Rockford Icehogs face off  in the first period.

RON JOHNSON/JOURNAL STAR T.J. Hensick (7) of the Rivermen and Rob Flick of the Rockford Icehogs face off in the first period.

Rule 85 (“Overtime”)
• During the regular season, the sudden-death overtime period will be five minutes (5:00) in length.

• Full playing strength will be 3-on-3 (plus goaltenders) for the entire period.

• Overtime will be preceded by a “dry scrape” of the entire ice surface.

• Teams will change ends at the start of overtime.

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

Most knew the first part of this rule was changing when the NHL adopted it for 2015/16.
Personally I didn’t see the problem with the rule from last year (Seven minute OT: 4-on-4 for three minutes with remainder at 3-on-3) as is made for some exciting hockey. Across the league it was the consensus of everyone from coaches to fans to play by play guys that it was the abolishment of the “dry scrape” that was required. The lull of the dry scrape after 60 minutes of hockey does nothing to enhance the experience of the game for the fan or the players, who doubtless go a little cold on the bench and even lose focus.

Playing Schedule/Standings 

• The 2015-16 regular season will consist of 1,120 games, played between Oct. 9 and Apr. 17. All teams will play 76 games each with the exception of the clubs which joined the AHL in January as part of the creation of a Pacific Division (Bakersfield, Ontario, San Diego, San Jose, Stockton); those five teams will play 68 games each.

• Teams will receive two points for a win and one point for an overtime or shootout loss. The top four teams in each division ranked by points percentage (points earned divided by points available) will qualify for the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs, with one exception in each conference: if the fifth-place team in the Atlantic or Central Division finishes with a better points percentage than the fourth-place team in the North or Pacific Division, it would cross over and compete in the other division’s bracket.

• The 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs will feature a divisional playoff format, leading to conference finals and ultimately the Calder Cup Finals.

• The division semi-finals are best-of-five series; all subsequent rounds are best-of-seven.

Those of us who follow the league knew the 68 game rule was coming for the new teams but the stark realisation is a bitter pill to swallow for the rest of the league.
It will be the second time a cut has been made to the number of games in the schedule in recent times, but the first where a select few teams will contest fewer games than the rest of the league.

I’ve no idea how the American Hockey League considers this system fair, especially to those competing in the Central Division of the Western Conference, where teams will have to win far more games than their “Californian Five“ opponents.
The Chicago Wolves finished 8th in the Western Conference (taking the last playoff spot) last season with a points percentage of 0.572, a record of 40-29-6-1. Playing 68 rather then 76 games, a team in the Pacific Division could equally win and lose four games less, finishing 36-25-6-1 with a points percentage 0.001 more than the aforementioned Chicago.
Any which way you cut it, wins carry more stature by teams in the Pacific Division, as per @100degreehockey victories for those five new teams are worth 1.47% in the standings as opposed to 1.32% for the rest of the league. By the same mark then, losing overtime points are again worth more to those Pacific teams.

The new system could also thro up more injustices in regards the finishing standings.
It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that a team that finishes sixth in the Atlantic or Central Division could miss out despite having a better points percentage than the fourth placed team across the way.
It’s all very unsatisfactory and the question marks don’t end there as regards the fairness of this.

What about individual awards or scoring races?
The veteran rule (320 games) will have to be looked at as guys in the Pacific will obviously take longer to reach that mark. In the same regard the rookie rule might also need tinkering with.
Salaries and Per Diems will be an issue
Those five Pacific teams will have lessened travel, fewer games and therefore less wear and tear on bodies, which is obviously an advantage through the season and heading into the playoffs.
As of now there is no CBA for next season which would encompass many of these issues but there really are so many unanswered questions at this point.

AHL 2015-16


Eakins flies into San Diego hot seat

June 28, 2015

One season your stock is hot, the next it’s a cold as ice with fans and pundits writing you off, left, right and centre.

Whilst coach of the Toronto Marlies, Dallas Eakins was a highly touted head coach who many Leafs fans wanted in charge during and after Randy Carlyle’s tenure in Toronto.
Eakins left the Marlies with a 157-114-41 record in four seasons where he took the team from a losing record to a Calder Cup final appearance in 2012.

The former defenseman’s reign in Edmonton as head coach of the Oilers did not go as he or the club may have hoped and he was fired in December of 2014, less than 18 months into the job.
A 7-19-5 start to the 2014-15 season was the reason for his departure but this was a team who never bought into his defensive systems, despite their obvious frailties in their own zone.

Rumours had been banded about that Eakins was due to take a job in the WHL, with Vancouver Giants specifically, but it was announced via the Twitter account of the San Diego Gulls that he was to take their vacant head coaching position.
In the seemingly cyclical nature of hockey, Anaheim moved their franchise to San Diego from Norfolk, who Dallas Eakins Marlies lost to in the aforementioned Calder Finals (Norfolk were Tampa’s affiliate at that time).

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It will be no easy task for Eakins in his new role for various reasons. Norfolk finished last season with the second least amount of victories in the AHL and were the lowest scorers with a mere 168 goals.
The Pacific Division that San Diego find themselves in might just turn out to be the toughest in the AHL.
Bakersfield Condors (were OKC Barons): A winning record in five years of existence, making playoffs each season.
Ontario Reign (were Manchester Monarchs): Consistently top AHL team and current Calder Champions.
Texas Stars: Former Calder Cup Champions and been a force during last three seasons.
San Antonio Rampage, San Jose Barracuda and Stockton Heat: Each will be a unknown force but have promising rosters for next season.

With expectations so low perhaps this is the perfect job for Dallas Eakins to rebuild his slightly broken reputation, in what is hardly a hotbed of hockey.
I’m sure he’ll have learnt a lot from his experience in Edmonton and will be looking to replicate his previous success in the AHL.

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Your guide to the AHL realignment 2015/16

June 22, 2015

The latest round of changes in the AHL have even the most devout followers of the league in a spin.

Brand new teams, changes of affiliations, switching the league format to four divisions and conference movement, has led to many being confused.

With this article I’ll look to break it down as simply as possible, with an explanation for each individual team and where, (if at all) they will be competing in 2015/16 along with any other details of note.

Albany Devils

A relatively easy one to begin with as the Devils will still be the affiliate of New Jersey and remain in the Eastern Conference. They’ll move from the North-East to the new North division and will be competing against some new foes in the process.

New Jersey Devils – Albany Devils (North Div/East Conf)

Adirondack Flames

The Calgary Flames affiliate will move after just one season as the Flames and will become the Stockton Heat, playing in the newly formed Pacific Division of the Western Conference.

The Calgary organisation acquired the Stockton Thunder ECHL team and will move them to Glen Falls, replacing the Adirondack Flames and they will now be called the Adirondack Thunder.

DEFUNCT: Becoming ECHL team Adirondack Thunder (Calgary Flames affiliate)

Binghamton Senators

The Binghamton Senators remain the affiliate of Ottawa and also stay in the Eastern Conference. They will be shifted into the North Division to compete with variety of different rivals than recent seasons.

Ottawa Senators – Binghamton Senators (North Div/East Conf)

Bridgeport Sound Tigers

The Sound Tigers continue to be the farm team of the New York Islanders, staying in the Eastern Conference but switching to the Atlantic Division. They will however keep their instate rivalry with Hartford, as they too make the switch.

New York Islanders – Bridgeport Sound Tigers (Atlantic Div/East Conf)

Charlotte Checkers

Will continue to operate as the Carolina Hurricanes affiliate and will still compete in the Western Conference. Geographically they are the hardest team to position in the league and with other’s switching it was no surprise to see them stay in the West and placed in the newly formed Central Division. The only change should be where the Checkers play their home games as it looks like they are returning to Bojangles’ Coliseum, a venue the team played at up until 2005.

Carolina Hurricanes – Charlotte Checkers (Central Div/West Conf)

Chicago Wolves

Very much like Charlotte, Chicago will remain in the Western Conference and be placed in the Central Division. Still affiliated with the St. Louis Blues, although this season will be the last of the three year agreement between them.

St. Louis Blues – Chicago Wolves (Central Div/West Conf)

Grand Rapids Griffins

The Griffins remain affiliates of the Detroit Red Wings. Staying in the Western Conference, they will join the new Central Division, losing rivals like the Toronto Marlies but will face off against the new Manitoba Moose.

Detroit Red Wings – Grand Rapids Griffins (Central Div/West Conf)

Hamilton Bulldogs

In a deal kept very quiet, the Hamilton Bulldogs will no longer be an AHL team.

The Montreal Canadiens have been affiliated with the Bulldogs since 2002 and bought the franchise from the owner, Michael Andlauer.

Montreal are moving the franchise to St. John’s, where they will become the new IceCaps, replacing the Winnipeg franchise which has now moved to Manitoba.

There will still be hockey in Hamilton as Andlauer purchased the Ontario Hockey League’s Belleville Bulls and they will take resident at the First Ontario Centre, taking the Bulldogs name.

DEFUNCT: Becoming OHL(CHL) team Hamilton Bulldogs

Hartford Wolf Pack

After having their best season in ten years, Hartford’s re-alignment will barely cause a ripple of change.

They stay in the Eastern Conference and will line up against many familiar faces in the Atlantic Division.

New York Rangers – Hartford Wolf Pack (Atlantic Div/East Conf)

Hershey Bears

The longest continuously operating member club in the league will be staying in the Eastern Conference and like Hartford will compete in the Atlantic Division.

Washington Capitals – Hershey Bears (Atlantic Div/East Conf)

Iowa Wild

This two year old team will stay in the Western Conference but with a move to the Central Division, will be facing some new foes as only Charlotte follow them across.

Minnesota Wild – Iowa Wild (Central Div/West Conf)

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Lake Erie Monsters

It’ll be more of the same really for the Lake Erie Monsters as they stay put in the West and move to the Central Division where all the former Mid-West team will be competing.

However the Monsters will no longer be associated with the Colorado organisation and instead are now the affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and shall be looking to break their four year playoff drought with a new multi-year agreement.

Columbus Blue Jackets – Lake Erie Monsters (Central Div/West Conf)

Lehigh Valley Phantoms

Lehigh Valley will continue to the Philadelphia Flyers affiliate for the second year of their operation and stay in the Eastern Conference, switching from the defunct East to the Atlantic.

Philadelphia Flyers – Lehigh Valley Phantoms (Atlantic Div/East Conf)

Manchester Monarchs

The Manchester Monarchs finished their 14-year AHL tenure as Calder Cup champions

The Los Angeles organisation will be switching their two affiliates and the Monarchs will now become an ECHL outfit.

DEFUNCT: Becoming ECHL team Manchester Monarchs (L.A Kings affiliate)

Milwaukee Admirals

Milwaukee will continue to the affiliate of the Nashville Predators, as they have been since 1998. The Admirals stay in the Western conference, switching to the Central Division

Nashville Predators – Milwaukee Admirals (Central Div/West Conf)

Norfolk Admirals

Three years after the winning the Calder Cup (Tampa’s affiliate at the time) Norfolk are being shipped out by the Anaheim Ducks to pastures new.

The Admirals will become the San Diego Gulls, while the Bakersfield Condors, formerly of the ECHL, will be moving to Norfolk, using the Norfolk Admirals name as the ECHL affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers.

DEFUNCT: Becoming ECHL team Norfolk Admirals (Edmonton Oilers affiliate)

Oklahoma City Barons

There will be no hockey in Oklahoma as it stands, with the Edmonton Oilers relocating the Barons to Bakersfield to become a part of the Pacific Division. There are rumours of an ECHL team in Oklahoma (possibly the Blazers) but that wouldn’t be until 2016 at the earliest.

DEFUNCT:

Portland Pirates

Despite numerous unrest in the teams history, Portland will continue as the Pirates but they are no longer affiliated with Arizona (was Phoenix). In the merry-go round that entailed with the announcement of the new Pacific Division, the Florida organisation and Portland were left without dance partners and so the following collaboration entailed. In a deal that will last four seasons, this will be the fifth different NHL affiliation in Portland’s history.

Florida Panthers – Portland Pirates (Atlantic Div/East Conf)

Providence Bruins

Same old, same old for Providence, who shall stay in the Atlantic Division and continue to be the affiliate of the Boston Bruins, as they have been since 1992.

Boston Bruins – Providence Bruins (Atlantic Div/East Conf)

Rochester Americans

In a move that makes total sense, Rochester are amongst a host of teams switched to the Eastern Conference. The fourth oldest franchise in the AHL will continue to operate as Buffalo’s affiliate.

Buffalo Sabres – Rochester Americans (North Div/East Conf)

Rockford IceHogs

One of the newer franchises in the league ,Rockford will continue to operate in the West but switch to the Central Division. The IceHogs remain Chicago’s affiliate in what has been a profitable collaboration with many players making the step up to play a part in Chicago’s recent Stanley Cup victories.

Chicago Blackhawks – Rockford IceHogs (Central Division/West Conf)

St. John’s IceCaps

The Winnipeg Jets moved their affiliate from St. Johns to Manitoba in a not unexpected move except the final destination. What happened next was a surprise as the Montreal Canadiens, packed up and shipped their affiliate from Hamilton, Ontario to St. Johns for the next two seasons, where they will keep the original IceCaps name but with some colour changes to mirror the NHL club.

Montreal Canadiens – St. John’s IceCaps (North Div/East Conf)

San Antonio Rampage

The Rampage will be one of only two teams to play that last, that help make up the new Pacific Division.

San Antonio second’s stint at Florida’s farm team is officially over and a new affiliation with Colorado Avalanche will come into effect next season in a deal reported to be for five years.

Colorado Avalanche – San Antonio Rampage (Pacific Division/West Conf)

Springfield Falcons

Springfield will have the third different NHL affiliate in their history but yet again it’s not an ideal situation as regards to distance. Following an agreement with Columbus since 2010 (700 miles away), a new deal has been struck to become the farm team of the Arizona Coyotes for three seasons. The 2500 miles distance between the two teams is only bettered by the 3000 between Vancouver Canucks and Utica Comets. The Falcons will stay in the Eastern Conference but there could well be a new jersey design with Columbus having influenced the current one.

Arizona Coyotes – Springfield Falcons (Atlantic Div/East Conf)

Syracuse Crunch

Syracuse will continue to operate as Tampa Bay’s affiliate for the fourth season after a short association with the Anaheim Ducks. The Crunch will remain in the East but face some brand new divisional opponents (switched from the WEST) in the north in the shape of Rochester, Toronto and Utica.

Tampa Bay Lightning – Syracuse Crunch (North Div/East Conf)

Texas Stars

The Stars will head to the new Pacific Division to join San Antonio Rampage as the only two existing teams from last season to make up the numbers. Other changes to come are some brand new logo’s and colour scheme’s to closely match their NHL affiliate (Dallas Stars) as now both organisations are owned by Tom Gaglardi.

Dallas Stars – Texas Stars (Pacific Div/West Conf)

Toronto Marlies

The Toronto Marlies have competed in the North Division since the teams inception in 2005 and will continue to do so following the switch to the Eastern Conference.

Toronto Maple Leafs – Toronto Marlies (North Div/East Conf)

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins

The three-time Calder Cup finalists remain affiliated to the Pittsburgh Penguins. A no-brainer that they remain in the East and switched to the Atlantic Division.

Pittsburgh Penguins – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Atlantic Div/East Conf)

Worcester Sharks

The Worcester Sharks are to be know more after San Jose moved their franchise to the new Pacific Division. Despite having a previous AHL team in the form of the Worcester IceCats from 1994-2005, there are currently no plans to host another hockey team of any level in Worcester.

DEFUNCT:

Utica Comets

The 2015 Calder Cup finalists will continue to be the affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks.

Utica will follow their fellow North Division rivals from 14/15 into the newly formed North Division, now placed in the East. Vancouver and Utica have the greatest distance between an NHL team and it’s affiliate (3000 miles).

Vancouver Canucks – Utica Comets (North Div/East Conf)

AHL 2015-16

The following six teams will be playing their inaugural AHL seasons.

Bakersfield Condors

The Edmonton Oilers purchased the Norfolk Admirals franchise and have moved it to Bakersfield to replace the ECHL incarnation of the team, keeping the Condors name however.

This will be the first time Bakersfield have hosted an AHL, having previously had twelve seasons in the ECHL and a WCHL team before that.

Edmonton Oilers – Bakersfield Condors (Pacific Div/West Conf)

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Manitoba Moose

It’s a welcome back to the Manitoba Moose, who were a part of the AHL from 2001-2011 as Vancouver’s affiliate. They are the only “new” team not to feature in the Pacific division but the Moose will be headed to the Western Conference. Home games will be played at Winnipeg’s MTS Centre for the foreseeable future. During their previous tenure, Manitoba made the Calder Finals once, but fell to Hershey in five games.

Winnipeg Jets – Manitoba Moose (Central Div/West Conf)

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Ontario Reign

The Los Angeles Kings are switching their two affiliates with the Manchester Monarchs AHL franchise now switching places and leagues with the Ontario Reign. It’s a straight swap as both teams will keep their original names but there will be logo and jersey changes. The Reign will continue to play at the Citizens Business Bank Arena and Calder Cup winning head coach Mike Stothers will still be in command.

Los Angeles Kings – Ontario Reign (Pacific Div/West Conf)

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San Diego Gulls

The San Diego Gulls shall be the affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks, with the NHL organisation having moved the franchise from Norfolk, Virginia. This will be the fifth occasion that the Gulls name has been used by a San Diego hockey team with the current WSHL team changing their names to Sabers for next season to accommodate the change. Home games will be played at the Valley View Casino Centre, built in 1966.

Anaheim Ducks – San Diego Gulls (Pacific Div/West Conf)

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San Jose Barracuda

After nine seasons in Worcester, San Jose have moved their AHL franchise closer to home, in fact much closer as the newly formed San Jose Barracuda will play home games in the SAP Centre, current residence of the Sharks. Roy Summer, head coach of the Worcester Sharks for the entirety of their history, will be taking the reigns of the Barracuda.

San Jose Sharks – San Jose Barracuda (Pacific Div/West Conf)

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Stockton Heat

Not even four months into Adirondack’s inaugural season as Calgary’s farm team, it was announced that the NHL organisation would be picking up sticks and moving the franchise to Stockton, California, replacing the ECHL team nicknamed Thunder. After a naming contest it was decided the team in Stockton would be called the Heat and they will play home games at the Stockton Arena, former home of the Thunder.

Calgary Flames – Stockton Heat (Pacific Div/West Conf)

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Below is an alphabetical list of all NHL teams with their AHL affiliates for next season, along with which division and conference they will be competing in.

I hope this is article is of some hope as we enter a new age of the American Hockey League.

Anaheim Ducks – San Diego Gulls (Pacific Div/West Conf)

Arizona Coyotes – Springfield Falcons (Atlantic Div/East Conf)

Boston Bruins – Providence Bruins (Atlantic Div/East Conf)

Buffalo Sabres – Rochester Americans (North Div/East Conf)

Calgary Flames – Stockton Heat (Pacific Div/West Conf)

Carolina Hurricanes – Charlotte Checkers (Central Div/West Conf)

Chicago Blackhawks – Rockford IceHogs (Central Division/West Conf)

Colorado Avalanche – San Antonio Rampage (Pacific Division/West Conf)

Columbus Blue Jackets – Lake Erie Monsters (Central Div/West Conf)

Dallas Stars – Texas Stars (Pacific Div/West Conf)

Detroit Red Wings – Grand Rapids Griffins (Central Div/West Conf)

Edmonton Oilers – Bakersfield Condors (Pacific Div/West Conf)

Florida Panthers – Portland Pirates (Atlantic Div/East Conf)

Los Angeles Kings – Ontario Reign (Pacific Div/West Conf)

Minnesota Wild – Iowa Wild (Central Div/West Conf)

Montreal Canadiens – St. John’s IceCaps (North Div/East Conf)

Nashville Predators – Milwaukee Admirals (Central Div/West Conf)

New Jersey Devils – Albany Devils (North Div/East Conf)

New York Islanders – Bridgeport Sound Tigers (Atlantic Div/East Conf)

New York Rangers – Hartford Wolf Pack (Atlantic Div/East Conf)

Ottawa Senators – Binghamton Senators (North Div/East Conf)

Philadelphia Flyers – Lehigh Valley Phantoms (Atlantic Div/East Conf)

Pittsburgh Penguins – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Atlantic Div/East Conf)

Tampa Bay Lightning – Syracuse Crunch (North Div/East Conf)

Toronto Maple Leafs – Toronto Marlies (North Div/East Conf)

San Jose Sharks – San Jose Barracuda (Pacific Div/West Conf)

St. Louis Blues – Chicago Wolves (Central Div/West Conf)

Vancouver Canucks – Utica Comets (North Div/East Conf)

Washington Capitals – Hershey Bears (Atlantic Div/East Conf)

Winnipeg Jets – Manitoba Moose (Central Div/West Conf)


Jacob back making his mark

June 20, 2015

On March 4, 2014, Swedish netminder Jacob Markstrom was traded along with Shawn Matthias to Vancouver in a deal that saw Roberto Luongo and Steven Anthony head the other way to the sunshine state.

Markstrom, a 31st overall selection by Florida in 2008, left the organisation after four years with a losing NHL record and less than flattering statistics to boot, having never really established himself.

He would make three starts for Vancouver before the season end, allowing a combined eight goals in two losses but would garner a win on home ice, allowing just a goal on 22 shots against Calgary.

With Vancouver signing Ryan Miller during the summer and preferring Eddie Lack as his number two, Markstrom was to start the season in Utica, a full 3000 miles from Vancouver.

Out of sight out of mind? Well Markstrom made sure that wasn’t the case as he began 2014/15 like a man possessed between the pipes.

He would record four shutouts in his first six games and go eight games unbeaten in regulation to begin the season.

For a man whose AHL win record was only three games above .500, Markstrom responded well to his run being broken(shelled by Rochester for six goals), by winning five of his next six, allowing just six goals in those victories.

The backend of January wasn’t so kind to the Swedish netminder as he endured his worst losing run of the season but a record of 5-2 in February, allowing just thirteen goals during that period, led to a call-up due to injuries in Vancouver.

It was the first of three call-ups in a short space of time for Markstrom, which didn’t begin at all well on his seasonal debut for the Canucks. The visiting San Jose Sharks chased him from the net just 7:45 in, as they tallied three times on just four attempts, with their players admitting afterwards that was their well executed plan. Markstrom would have to wait 19 days for his next start and on March 22, he showed some of the excellent form he’d been exhibiting in Utica, allowing just one goal on 27 shots on the road in Arizona.

It would be back to the AHL and helping the Comets propel themselves to the Western Conference title with a scorching run to finish the season.

VANCOUVER, BC - APRIL 13: Goalie Jacob Markstrom #35 readies to make a save during NHL action against the Calgary Flames on April 13, 2014 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

 (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

Almost inevitably Markstrom’s return resulted in his fifth shutout of the season, repelling a desperate Chicago team on the road. He would go on to win every start to finish the regular season but failed to go the distance in a quite remarkable game in Binghamton. A hit from Kramer on a Utica player in the Comets zone drew a crowd including Markstrom who was ordered back to his net. The fighting continued in front of him and eventually Markstrom dropped the gloves with Binghamton goaltender Peter Manino, who himself was only in net after coming in as relief ten minutes into the game.

With both men ejected, Joacim Eriksson took to the net for Utica but allowed five goals on nine shots as the Comets let slip a late lead to lose in overtime.

Jacob Markstrom would finish the regular season with a record of 22-7-2 and statistics in the top five of all AHL goaltenders.

His play in the playoffs would step up a notch as he helped see off Chicago in the first series that went all the way to five games.

In the two rounds that followed versus Oklahoma and Grand Rapids respectively, Markstrom would record a shutout in the game decider of both series.

In fact through the opening three rounds of the playoffs, only on three occasions did the Swedish goaltender give up more than two goals. Against a top notch Manchester Monarchs in the Calder finals, Markstrom gave everything he had but even he had no answers to the constant firepower of the Los Angeles affiliate as Utica fell in five.

Confidence and belief are such huge characteristics in hockey and no more so than for goaltenders.

Markstrom’s ability to put bad goals or defeats behind him was no better encapsulated than during the first three rounds of the post-season as Utica went 7-0 after recording a loss.

An RFA heading into the summer, Markstrom has certainly done himself no harm in helping Vancouver find a new suitor should they wish to part company. At 25 years old, he’s certainly not reached his peak and for the first time in his North American career he found a level of consistency, albeit in the AHL.

All the talk is that he is ready for the NHL level and having seen him play a great deal this season I don’t disagree with that view.

If Matt Murray was the number one goaltending story in the American Hockey League during 2014/15, Markstrom certainly wasn’t far behind him and it’ll be interesting to see where both ply their trade next season.


Manchester Monarchs clinch the 2015 Calder Cup

June 14, 2015

In what was essentially a very close series between the two best teams during the regular series, it was Manchester’s extra power in front of net that saw them hoist the Calder Cup in five games.

Four of the five games were decided by a single goal as the Manchester Monarchs ended their 14-year AHL tenure with a championship.
The opening two games of the series saw Utica visit Manchester and it was the home team who prevailed on both occasions in overtime.
Despite being heavily out-shot and outplayed at times, Utica twice responded in quick fashion to going a goal behind in game one, scoring just 1:01 after Manchester’s opener and 3:01 after the second, five minutes into the final frame. The Monarchs dominated the four minutes of overtime played and tallied on the fourth attempt as Michael Mersch potted his 13th goal during the playoffs.

Game Two was a far more balanced affair for the most part and the Comets were unfortunate to fall behind after being the better side for the most part during the opening period, as Zach O’Brien struck on the powerplay. Utica responded to tie the game just a minute into the second and there would be no more scoring during regulation. Manchester were on top during the final twenty minutes and then through overtime and perhaps deservedly took the win through Nic Dowd’s goal.

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The series headed to Utica with the Comets needing to register a win to avoid the possibility of being swept at home.
They were given the perfect start as Cal O’Reilly, usually the assist king, scored his first of the post-season inside six minutes. Manchester then lost netminder Jean-Francois Berube to injury and in came Patrick Bartosak. The Czech goaltender faced a barrage from the home team who were being roared on by a fervent and passionate crowd. Their 17 shots during the opening frame would provide a second goal, this time from Aleixandre Grenier but against the run of play Manchester’s Adrian Kempe potted one with 25 seconds to play.
Nicklas Jensen restored the two goal advantage for Utica at 6:18 of the second period but just over a minute later Kempe struck once again. That was as close as Manchester would get however and the scoring was done as both netminders were excellent, especially Markstrom as he backstopped Utica to their first victory of the series.

Game four was perhaps more reminiscent of the way Manchester prefer to play and it certainly wasn’t to Utica’s taste. It was certainly a feisty affair, as tempers flared with 64 penalty minutes accrued.
Sean Backman and Dowd struck within 32 seconds to put Manchester up 2-0 but Utica also put a pair of quick goals(inside five minutes) to ensure a tied game after twenty minutes.
Another rapid double for Manchester early in the second period restored their previous advantage and this time there was no let-up and with 11 seconds remaining in the middle frame they struck a fifth and a killer blow through that man Dowd again.
A sixth goal from Kempe six minutes into the third period saw Markstrom replaced and Utica would only muster a consolation late in the piece as they fell 6-3.

With everything on the line in their last home game of the series whatever the outcome, Utica came out firing but would shoot themselves in the foot. A horrible turnover allowed Kempe to open the scoring at the midway marker of the opening frame and just three minutes later a powerplay tally doubled Manchester’s lead. Whatever the Comets threw at young goaltender Bartosak, the Czech goalie was turning aside in a performance that showed a great deal of poise and promise. His thirteen saves during the middle frame ensured his side’s two goal advantage with twenty minutes left to play.
Both team’s exchanged gilt edge chances and some of the saves made bordered on the ridiculous.
Bartosak’s shutout bid was denied with 15 seconds left on the clock but there wasn’t to be one more comeback from the Comets as Manchester deservedly hung on for the win and the championship.

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(Photo Credit: Manchester Monarchs / Facebook)

Manchester’s dominant firepower did prove the difference as I suggested in my preview and the following guys came up big when required.

Nick Shore put up seven points during the finals with six helpers.
Dowd, Mersch and O’Neill all had five points to their name with the former two also tallying an overtime game winner a piece.
Kempe led his team with four goals, all coming in the final three games of the series.
Jordan Weal was held to just three assists during this series but he was awarded the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the MVP in the Calder Cup Playoffs for 10 goals and 12 assists for a league-best 22 points in 19 playoff games.
A special mention must be given to Patrick Bartosak, thrown into this series after the injury to Berube and after a shaky effort in game four at times, he was superb in the decider.

It was a hell of a season for the Utica Comets and they were only defeated by another outstanding team.
I’ll have more to come on the season Comets and the impressive Jacob Markstrom in upcoming articles.

Many congratulations to the Manchester Monarchs on a well earned Calder Cup victory.


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