Lalonde Helping Iowa Climb From Obscurity

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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

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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.


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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

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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

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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.

How Long For Halak in Bridgeport??

NHL: DEC 06 Rangers at Islanders

Will Jaroslav Halak be long for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers??

That’s a question that should be the main focal point for the Islanders goalie after being demoted to the AHL following a 6-8-5 start which saw him get pulled in three of his last 11 starts. With a GAA over three and a .904 save percentage, it’s definitely a time for Halak to get some retooling. However, it seems that the Islanders went for a different approach other than putting him on IR and then getting him some “rehab” starts in Bridgeport– they went full waiver wire-to-AHL with him.

While it was something that was needed, the question is how professional will Halak be about the demotion and furthermore, how will his agent Allan Walsh advise Halak for the future of his client.

Walsh, who is no stranger to rattling the cages of management, has been very outspoken about how Halak has been treated in the three-goalie system the Islanders have had with Halak, Thomas Greiss, and J-F Berube. You would think that it would challenge Halak more and make him better…but apparently, it’s not the case. Walsh wanted a trade for Halak, which he hasn’t gotten, and now we’re at this point.

You may remember what happened last time a client of Walsh was demoted to the AHL when the agent clearly didn’t think he needed to be demoted– that’s right, Jonathan Drouin left his AHL team and then was suspended by the Tampa Bay Lightning for a time while they figured things out. In Drouin’s case– he’s a young talent who the Bolts wanted to keep around, but felt he needed to work on the finer things of his game in the AHL. Walsh wanted a trade. The Bolts won out because Drouin is still with the team and being an impact player.

Right now, the question is whether Halak will report to Bridgeport and whether or not the Sound Tigers want any kind of bad attitude in their locker room when this is a team who has lost eight of their last ten games and need to find some kind of spark to stay within striking distance of the last playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.

Another factor is how long is it before Walsh goes and pulls something like he did with Drouin and have Halak play a little bit and then leave the team in order to not risk having his client hurt, thus hurting any trade value. That, or how long will it be before the Halak camp suggests a loan to Europe for the rest of the season. With Walsh at the helm, it’s anyone’s guess what could come next in this situation.

If Halak wants to get back to the NHL this year and is willing to work with the demotion, it could give the Sound Tigers a nice little boost and allow them to steal some games. It also works two-fold, as it will show other teams that Halak is going in with a good attitude and is willing to be a team-player when times get tough. That said, with one more year remaining on his contract, I’m sure that Halak will be tough to move via trade and make the Islanders hope he’s picked up in the Expansion Draft.

Media Plans for 2017

In the words of Staind….it’s been a while. I’m sorry for getting that earworm stuck in your head.

But for me, there has been quite the stalling for me when it comes to writing due to a lot of things in real life that have gotten in the way. Some of which I can talk of (writer’s block, work being demanding) and some of which I can’t. The point is that I haven’t written anything meaningful in three months and haven’t produced a minor league specific podcast in about six. However, that’s all going to change in the upcoming new year.

First, I’d like to thank Joe Rozycki and Matt Harding of TheSinBin.net for their help and patience during my downtime, as they were the lead guys of the place I migrated my writing to and I really haven’t been pulling the weight I used to. Their understanding helped a ton in this process.

In any case, I’ve made a plan for the upcoming year in hopes that it’ll happen since it’s out there in the ethos. In no particular order, here’s what’s up:

  • Face Off Hockey Show will have no change on my end and continue rolling. However, we’ll be adding things to our podcast feed, as I’ll go ahead and explain later on.
  • The Farm Report blog will be brought out of its coma and used as rehabbing stint for my stuff over at The Sin Bin. If there’s something I think is worthy enough for The Sin Bin, I’ll broadcast it over there. However, since it’ll be more musings to start, I’ll save the clutter of the actual solid pieces the team over there have been producing to get my stuff together.
  • The Farm Report podcast will start up in mid/late January and be put on the FOHS Network in its usual weekend spot.
  • The biggest news: NEW PODCAST!!!! Starting in that same mid/late January area, The Soderstrom Bubble (@SdrstromBubble on Twitter) will debut on the FOHS Network. Jen Conway (@NHLHistorygirl) will be the co-hosting with me on this delve into retro hockey, current hockey, book reviews,  and whatever randomness we think about. It should be fun for both of us.

And that’s that. Hopefully, you all will come along with me on this journey and whatever comes of it should be fun and somewhat exciting. Here’s to 2017 because….hell, why not??

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Month in the Sin Bin

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So, it’s been a month since I joined TheSinBin.net and it’s been pretty solid overall. Here’s what you may have been missing if you haven’t checked it out yet.

-The Stockton Heat not only are going through a change on the ice in their league play, but also off the ice in renovations to get the Stockton Arena up to AHL caliber.

-The AHL schedule was announced and boy howdy, it’s as bad as you think it was and it will cause a plenty of confusion with math and stuff to determine the playoffs.

-With the possibility of expansion in the NHL, it means the AHL and ECHL will need expansion as well to have a “One Team, One Affiliation” gimmick going. Hat Trick Consultants are looking at different markets to see what is actually viable.

-And, it’s two weeks– so the podcast is up and going.

It’s been a great time and the people there have been super supportive and we’ve been noticed– with is the main goal. Hope you keep coming along for the journey.