Everblades’ O’Donnell Continues To Have Under The Radar Season


It’s hard not to see the star-power of Brendan O’Donnell after this season. In his second pro season, the Florida Everblades forward seemed to figure out the transition in a short time and has made a HUGE impact not only on the team, but the league as well. Not only did O’Donnell rank in the top-ten in points for the ECHL, but his 41 goals was tied with Brampton’s David Pacan for the best in the league.

Hell, in these playoffs so far, O’Donnell has seven goals and four assists for 11 points in one round alone as he led the Everblades to a comeback series win over the Orlando Solar Bears.

This transition could be an interesting one, especially for observers of O’Donnell’s path to pro hockey from his time at the University of North Dakota. Having only 27 goals in his four-year career at UND, O’Donnell’s game was more in the energy role, after his time in midget hockey and Junior “A” where he was a team leader in scoring. There are some players who never have that ability to transition from one role of being a key scoring component to an energy/grinding player, then back again– but O’Donnell has seemingly that scoring stride again a big way.

Some of that could be contributed to Everblades’ coach Brad Ralph, who’s style of play has been much more offensive this season from what Greg Poss had at the end of the 2015-16 season in Florida. The Everblades as a whole had 49 more goals this season than last. Granted, the team also gave up 44 more goals than last season, offense will get the headlines when a team is winning in most cases.

On top of that, O’Donnell was poised to breakout, finishing the ’15-16 campaign strong with 14 goals and 10 assists in the last 16 games. While that finish may have been a foreshadowing of this year’s happenings, there’s times where players aren’t able to holster that hot streak, especially through the off-season.

Luckily for the Everblades, O’Donnell has never looked back from what he started at the end of last season and has been a big reason they’re in the second round of this year’s playoffs.


Are The Wolf Pack On The Move??


While the going away parties for the Albany and St. John’s hockey community in the AHL, thought both of them could be making the playoffs, there’s one area where not much news about the AHL coming back in 2017-18 and that’s Hartford.

In the middle of last season, the Wolf Pack and the XL Center announced a lease extension for 2016-17, which was the first of two possible option years from the previous agreement. There has not been much news about talks or anything in regards to the lease agreement coming forth in the 2017-18 season for the Wolf Pack.

There’s a reason to wonder if Hartford would be back in the AHL, especially with the push that is on to bring the New York Islanders to the XL Center and the possibility of huge upgrades needed in order to get the Isles into the old arena. Should XL Center be serious about it and the Isles take them up on that offer, obviously the Wolf Pack would be out. Yet, the Wolf Pack has been discussed in shuffling, too– with rumors of the Rangers moving their AHL affiliate to Bridgeport after the Islanders moving out their affiliate to the newly renovated Nassau Coliseum (though that has been denied by the Sound Tigers’ president).

(NOTE: Emails to the XL Center and Wolf Pack have not been replied to as of the time of this writing. This post will be updated if/when they are replied to) 

It has been a rough past couple of years for the Wolf Pack on the ice, as they are on the verge of missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons. Yet, in the only time they’ve made the playoffs, they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals– which they were swept by eventual champion Manchester. This season will also be the first time the Wolf Pack will not reach the 30-win plateau and not reaching the .500 mark since moving to Hartford in 1997. There has been some identity crisis with the Connecticut Whale being a thing from 2010 until 2013, they still had competitive teams– especially considering they’ve always been over-.500 until this year.

Though Nicklas Jensen has been leading the way on offense with Matt Carey as his secondary scorer (and only two with 20+ goals) as Taylor Beck is shuttled up and down to the Rangers, the defense has been pretty horrific. The goaltending has been a big let-down, with Magnus Hellberg ranked 31st in GAA…and he got called up for the Rangers’ playoffs. Rookie Brandon Halverson is ranked 45th out of 46 goalies qualified in the AHL in GAA. The loss of Mat Bodie to the NHL has been a huge hit to not only the defense, but as the captain of the Wolf Pack– it took away an important voice in the room for the young team. Chris Summers is the only defenseman who has played over 30 games and has a plus/minus under double-digits for that blue line. Much is needed for this team going forward– whether it’s in Hartford or otherwise.

Attendance hasn’t been a big drop-off by Wolf Pack standards as they are around 4,200 a game and last season they were around 4,400– so the losing has hit them a bit, but not enough to say losing is the reason for a box-office problem.

If nothing else, should the Wolf Pack move, it wouldn’t be the first time in this team’s lineage. They are considered the oldest continuous AHL team despite the Wolf Pack not recognizing the past. This team started in Providence as the Reds in 1926 until 1976, then moved to Binghamton from 1977 until 1997 when they moved to Hartford. Where they land next is anyone’s guess, but wherever that is– that’s some useless info to carry with you despite not recognizing it in the rafters or record books.

Can Minor Leaguers Play Major Role in Olympics??


How feasible is it that minor league players go to the 2018 Winter Olympics?? With the NHL declaring they won’t be going, this opens up plenty of opportunity for players to get into the Olympiad– but who knows which way the governing bodies would go with picking their roster. Many think they’ll go for the World Juniors approach, but I doubt they would want to face the best of the KHL, as well as the Finnish and Swedish leagues.

[Full disclosure– I couldn’t care less that the NHL isn’t going. I understand people get upset not seeing the top players in the Olympics, but for business– which is what sports are now– it doesn’t make sense with how the IOC and IIHF are not giving the NHL anything to make them want to go to the Olympics. To shut down a league for two weeks in the middle of the season and to have a risk of losing a top player (right John Tavares) on top of the having to truncate the schedule seems like a recipe for disaster. But more importantly…money. Not enough going the NHL’s way which– rightly or wrongly– is the bottom line. And let’s be honest, how many of these guys take a pass when they get a call to represent their nation in the World Championship??]

In any case, the minor leagues could be the next reasonable step for governing bodies to look at where they want to pluck the players. Sure, Hockey Canada could go the Spengler Cup route and get the best Canadians playing in Euro Leagues– but I doubt they want to do that. Nor do they want to put their World Junior teams out there and get eaten up by the best in the KHL, Finnish, and Swedish leagues. We’ve even seen minor leaguers in the last Olympics with Henrik Odegaard (Missouri) and Kristers Gudjevskis (Syracuse) appearing for Norway and Latvia respectively.

The US Olympic teams in 1992 and 1994 had plenty of minor league involvement with eight players in the AHL and IHL going to play in ’92, while that number doubled to 16 in the ’94 Games. The Canadian team, however, had an established national team of their own made up of overaged players out of Major Juniors, as well as players who were holding out on their NHL clubs. They played exhibition games and other random worl tournaments to tune up for the Olympics.

However, another hurdle that would need to be jumped would be the NHL teams releasing their players to the national teams, which could be worse if the players are guys who are shuttled back and forth to the NHL or AHL frequently.  That said, it could be a giant opportunity for some of these guys who may never have thought about representing their country based on their peer group. Not just those from the US and Canada, but Finnish and Swedish AHLers may get a sniff should there not be enough talent over in Europe…hey, they can dream, right??

I believe that the minor leaguers win in all of this, regardless of what happens. If there are NHL players who are allowed to go somehow, someway (looking at you, Washington Capitals); a slew of guys on the Hershey Bears will get called up to play in the NHL. If the NHLers do stay, then it’s a chance for some AHLer to go ahead and maybe get the call to play for their nation; they get a boost in any instance

While I’m not about the NHL-pro guys going to overshadow the other amateur athletes who’s only goal is to participate in the Games, the idea of young talent in the AHL or ECHL going over is something that intrigues me. If not only for the underdog story of these guys going over and facing off against the other best in the world– but it’s their hardwork being promoted on the big stage and have their stories shared to across the world. Thus, when it is all over, maybe even having people pay more attention to those players in the minors when they get back to playing there.

Lalonde Helping Iowa Climb From Obscurity


When Derek Lalonde got hired by the Iowa Wild, there were many people scratching their heads. Not so much in wondering why Iowa would want Lalonde as their coach, but more why would Lalonde leave a great situation like he had in Toledo with the Walleye to go to a team that was limited success in the AHL?? One could only assume that not only did Lalonde like the promotion, he welcomed the challenge of trying to elevate a that has festered in the basement of the AHL standings, while also employing a system that will work not only on the AHL level, but in the NHL as well.

So far, so great for Lalonde’s vision.

On Saturday night, the Iowa Wild won their 29th games of the season, thus setting a franchise record for wins in a season with 16 games left to play. They sit in 4th place in the Central Division, four points up on Cleveland, though Cleveland has two games in hand. This is after a trade deadline which saw Iowa’s leading scorer Teemu Pulkkinen get dealt, along with secondary scoring center Grayson Downing, as well as Zac Dalpe being lost to waivers. Couple that with injuries and call-ups, the Iowa roster has taken a licking, but keeps on ticking.

While they’re not the most offensive team in the league (ranking 26th in the league in goals-for), the defense has been superb for Iowa, ranking 9th in goals-against with 158 goals given up on the season. That has put a lot of the spotlight on Alex Stalock and Steve Michalek, both of whom have performed admirably. Yet, defense has always been the calling card for a Lalonde coached team. In his short time as a head coach, Lalonde’s teams have only one given up more than 200 goals-against, and that was the 2012-13 Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL.

However, the modus operandi of Lalonde seems to be that when he takes over a team, he makes them better. While he took over a rather successful Green Bay Gamblers team in 2011-12, he was able to make them better by winning six more games than the year before, while also helping them win a championship in the same year. When he took over the Toledo Walleye, he helped that team get out of the one-year lurch by more than doubling the team’s win total in a year (21 wins in 2013-14, 50 in 2014-15), while also helping the team capture their first Brabham Cup for most points in the regular season in the ECHL. The model continue to work in Iowa, as I stated before, with the team eclipsing their top mark for wins in a season with 16 games to spare.

As Iowa play in the ultra-competitive Central Division, it remains to be seen whether or not the playoff streak of Lalonde’s continues (he has made the playoffs in all five seasons he’s been a head coach), the success that Laldone has already had with Iowa is showing by locking down the defensive side that Iowa has had in its existence (235 GA in 2013-14, 245 GA in 2014-15, 225 GA in 2015-16), while also make this team a winning commodity. Players have bought into his system, also getting help from Minnesota in stocking their AHL affiliate with solid talent with experience in the AHL to help the team climb out of the basement of the league. The fans have seen it, too, as Iowa has cracked the 6,000-person average attendance mark as the time of this writing, proving that winning helps attendance.

Chuck Fletcher has also helped Iowa by helping the team stock up with some AHL veterans (Pat Cannone, Jeff Hoggan), as well as bright, young talent (Alex Tuch, Sam Anas, Mario Lucia) to help Lalonde’s success. The last time a Minnesota AHL team had this much success was in 2012-13 when the Houston Aeros had the likes of Justin Fontaine, Charlie Coyle, Marco Scandella, and Jason Zucker on their squad– all of whom made the jump to become regulars in the NHL. With the NHL parent club caring for the AHL squad, it helps immensely in the AHL squad trying to have success on top of development. 

The future is bright for Lalonde, especially if this turnaround ends in a playoff run for Iowa. While there’s always the issue of what could happen if an NHL goes after the AHL “Flavor of the Month Coach” as they have in the past with Dallas Eakins and Jared Bednar (though the situations weren’t keen to success for either), the success Lalonde has had in the past at every level should help his cause a little bit, so long as his players buy into his system as they have before, however– only time will tell if that long-term vision becomes maintained success.

Moving and Shaking


In the past few days, there’s been some thing that have happened that may shake the minor league hockey landscape, both from an AHL and ECHL standpoint.

The first such move was the news that broke Wednesday night that the Albany Devils will be moving to Binghamton. With the Senators moving their AHL affiliation to Belleville, the ownership group in Binghamton had said they would look for a partner to move into Binghamton. With the Albany area not having solid turnouts over the past few years, it was only a matter of time before they were without an AHL team.

While the Binghamton side stayed true to their word, it does suck for the people in Albany who did wholly support the teams that came in and out of the Times-Union Center. The AHL has been in Albany proper since 1993 and in the area since 1990. However, in those years, the people never really came out to the arena to see the River Rats or Devils play in those times. You could tell times were lean when Albany and the Devils organizationw would hold games in Atlantic City rather than in Albany. Despite stopping those games, the fact they would take two or three games a season away from their home ice in the first place should have shown some danger signs.

As for Binghamton, this is a chance for the city to support the team, regardless of what NHL team they have in there. Through the Whalers, Rangers, and Senators, fans have in Binghamton have been very supportive of the team with at least 3,500 people turning out for their games. With the added note that there will be local ownership running the team in lieu of the Devils own people will keep that at-home feeling to the club and not just people put there from New Jersey to try and get the lay of the land. It’s a big win for Binghamton and AHL, while those few proud Albany hockey fans will now have to wait for their next team coming through.

An official announcement should come this weekend at the All-Star Classic events.


The next report comes from The Florida Times-Union that the ECHL could be coming back to Jacksonville. According to the reports, Jacksonville will be getting the team from the ashes of the former Evansville IceMen, who were supposed to play in Owensboro, but due to the lack of new arena— former owner Ron Geary needed to move the team, which will result in selling off the franchise.

Back from 1995 until 2000, Jacksonville was home to the Lizard Kings, whom had some great TV ads for their team. After the first season, where the Lizard Kings made the Kelly Cup Final, they missed the playoffs three of the next four season before suspending operations. Jacksonville has housed the Jacksonville Barracudas of the ACHL, WHA2, and then SPHL from 2002 until 2008.

The history in the area hasn’t been the best, but with a new landscape, there’s a possibility to have the team succeed now. Geographically, they’re kind of in a zone on their own. While it’s close enough to Orlando, Jacksonville is quite far from Estero and Gwinnett County, while the SPHL would be the same distance when it comes to distance with Macon and Columbus being the closest rivals there.

Of course, any movement will have to be approved and then delegated to whether or not it’ll work for travel, fan base, and all of that fun stuff.

Silly season is well underway, which should prove to be an exciting and nervous off-season for many markets who are wondering if they should put deposits on next year’s season tickets or not.

Attendance Thoughts on the ECHL All-Star Classic


There are few who will disagree that what the people of Glens Falls have had to deal with when it came to minor league hockey. Three teams in three seasons over two leagues with the last and current team being a level down from the other two teams– I could understand why fans would be fed up to an extent. However, when the spotlight of the league is on your arena and it’s just a bit over three-quarters full, it doesn’t look good overall for the support of the league/team.

On Wednesday– which is a day that could be one of the worst for putting an All-Star Game together, just ask the NHL’s failed mid-week ASG in Dallas years ago– the ECHL All-Stars squeaked out an 8-7 victory against the Adirondack Thunder. The game showed defense on full-display, as the ECHL team had only 23 shots, which was the fewest shots by a team in an All-Star Classic. The combined 53 shots were also an all-time low for the league’s mid-season game.

Yet, the most interesting number was the attendance. The attendance was announced as 3,767 in the 4,794-seat Glens Falls Civic Center, which means it was only at 78.6% capacity. For a premier event, that seems very low and very undesired for the league and the team hosting the event. Again, the mid-week spot is definitely not the best time to hold a game, but weekends are the way teams get their income for home dates, so it’s understandable why teams wouldn’t want to give up their weekend revenue for the event.

Looking back on past All-Star Classics, this is how they stack up

  • 2015, Orlando: 9,288 (97.2% capacity)
  • 2013, Colorado: 5,289 (100%)
  • 2011, Bakersfield: 7,397 (84.2%)
  • 2010, Ontario: 7,615 (81.1%)
  • 2009, Reading: 5,693 (86.6%)
  • 2008, Stockton: 7,455 (76.6%)
  • 2007, Boise: 4,371 (87.3%)

These are from the ECHL’s website and shows that there has been one worse percentage at capacity, the sheer lack of mass for a priemere event is a bit disheartening. Of course, The Sin Bin’s Barry Janssen has said that the league as a whole has been down in their attendance figures, aiming for the lowest average in a decade.

However, the stats for Adirondack is up by 13% by the time those figures were put up and it seemed like the league and area were pushing hard– so is it a cause for concern that the Civic Center wasn’t fuller than it actually was??

With a confusing format and mid-week date, you could see why people wouldn’t want to go ahead and head out to the rink for this game, as gimmicky and fun as it turned out. I’m sure that when the numbers come out, the city will be happy with the revenue they got from people visiting to see the game and paid for local hotels, restaurants, and the like– but internally…is it a good, bad, or status quo result for the ECHL and Thunder brass?? With fans making the arena look solid in the beginning, the length and format may have gotten to folks, who seemed to thin out after the first-half of play, before the other parts of the format happened.

Next year, surprisingly, the ECHL will have another All-Star Classic next season– which breaks their ideal of holding it every other year. The hosts will be the Indy Fuel, which has a fanbase that has been dwindling a bit this season (as seen in Janssen’s article) and with a team that hasn’t been close their best this season, as well as a record that has gotten worse each season. Have to wonder how much more fans could take and if they’d be able to push their personal feelings of the team aside for a league event that’s in their backyard. The game will be on a Monday (January 15th) and we can only wait and see what happens in 361 days while hoping the Fuel gets better to bring more fans out and that the league simplifies the game so even the casual fan can understand it.

The ECHL All-Star Classic: King of All Gimmicks


I enjoy a good gimmick– whether it be in the wrestling world or in the hockey lexicon where things are tinkered with to get some kind of appeal to the masses. Shootout, skills competitions, outdoor games– I enjoy it all. This is why when I look at the ECHL All-Star Classic, it’s a tailor-made for someone who likes all kinds of wacky BS in their hockey games.

First, it’s one vs. all in this, as the Adirondack Thunder take on the ECHL All-Stars. That’s right– one team vs. the best of the best from the rest of the league. Right off the bat, you have to think it’s a bit outmatched, but the All-Stars have precious little practice time ahead of the game, while the Thunder actually know what they’re going to be doing in all of this.

Second, the game itself is a hodge-podge of different things. The first half (yes, half) is 25 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey. Just like a normal period, but five minutes longer. The half-time show is going to be the skills competition that includes the hardest shot, fastest skater, and the skills relay. Following that, the second 25-minute half will consist of ten minutes of 5-on-5, then five minutes of 4-on-4, then topped off with ten minutes of 3-on-3 action. For a more visual aspect, here’s an infographic the ECHL put out.

The only thing this thing is missing is the outdoor game element and this would be the Gimmick Grand Slam.

You have to hand it to the ECHL, as they are making their every-other-year showcase stand out from what the NHL and AHL are doing, which is using divisional aspects to their all-star teams, while also having a tournament feel to the process. The ECHL All-Star Classic is more akin to the Canada/Russia Challenge that the Canadian Major Juniors play, pitting remnants of the Russia U-20 team against the WHL, OHL, and QMJHL.

Yet, the most important thing is that even with all the gimmicks; the ECHL All-Star Classic will be broadcasted on the NHL Network. This will give the NHL-only fan a chance to not only see young, undiscovered prospects in the hockey world, but to give them a taste of ECHL hockey if they don’t often pay attention to the lower minor leagues. That kind of exposure benefits the league and players, hopefully getting some fans another option for their hockey dollar should their local team be out of town for a stretch or just plain out stink for the season.

While the rules may be convoluted and very out of the ordinary– the fact remains that people who usually scoff at the idea of All-Star Games can maybe let this game into their hearts and see how it goes for them. Maybe the one-night gala that happens every two years will be something for them and could give ideas to some other leagues who may need the help garnering attention for the league and its stars.