Onward and Upward

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On Wednesday, I was happy to accept a spot with The Sin Bin, a blog for minor league hockey. Joe and Matthew over there have been gracious enough to have me as a writer there and I couldn’t pass up that opportunity. I’ve interacted with them on Twitter and have admire they and their staff have provide to the minor league hockey landscape that it looks like it’ll be a solid fit over there.

So, what that mean for this place here?? The short answer is I don’t know.

However, the long answer will be a little bit more clear. Basically, I’ll be using this space as landing spot for the work I’m doing over there and I’ll be continue to do a weekly round-up of news that I won’t be doing over there and maybe some other stuff here and there. We’ll see how it all pans out, but basically this will be mostly use for linking to my stuff over there. Podcast stuff and the Weekend That Was will be here, as will maybe my affiliation breakdown. It’s all still fresh, so no clue what will come of it– but we’ll play it all by ear.

Thanks to all the people who have watched this space and hopefully you’ll follow me over to The Sin Bin with all the shameless plugging I’ll be doing. This is a great chance for me to expand and my hope is you will be there to share in the enjoyment.

Until then, take care of yourself and someone else.

Farm Report Podcast– 07.05.15

After some time off, Scotty Wazz is back to give you the news that happened since he was gone– like all the coaching changes in the AHL and ECHL. Speaking of change– Lamar Hunt, Jr. has some thoughts on the changes he’s made since taking over the Missouri Mavericks. More change is happening thanks to winning for the cities of Toledo, Utica, Manchester, and Rockford; while there are a lot of names changing in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s media guide next season. But nothing ever changes in the Federal Hockey League, as it is still a gongshow. All that, a little news and notes, and We Hardly Knew Ye.

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Coaching Carousel in the AHL

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With the coaching jobs getting less and less in the minor league hockey, the one constant remains– Roy Sommer will be coaching the San Jose Barracuda, putting his tenure with the Sharks’ AHL coach at 18 seasons, which has carried him through Kentucky, Cleveland, and Worcester. Outside of that, the trend with the most recent hirings by AHL teams is that of former NHL coaches who weren’t able to keep afloat in the NHL by their own doing or circumstances beyond their control.

The Grand Rapids Griffins got the top name out there in Todd Nelson, who gets back into the AHL after a subpar first outing in Edmonton; which is something no one could have salvaged. Nelson did the smart thing and decided to bail out of Edmonton with their sweeping changes to head to the Grand Rapids side, who should fit Nelson’s style perfectly. With the Oklahoma City Barons, however, Nelson was stellar with a 176-111-46 over four-plus seasons and if given a better goaltender and defense, maybe have been able to stick with Edmonton. However, with Grand Rapids having stellar prospects in their line-up already, it’s a matter of Nelson not getting too far off course from what the Griffins already have and get back to his winning ways in the AHL.

After surprisingly letting go their entire coaching staff, the Arizona Coyotes will start with a new coach in their new affiliation in Springfield, as Ron Rolston will take the helm there. Rolston, who was last seen behind the bench of the Buffalo Sabres– but only for 20 games, gets back the AHL after three seasons away. From 2011 until 2013, Rolston was behind the bench of the Rochester Americans, where he led them to a 79-55-18 record during that time. However, Rolston hasn’t really got himself into a head coaching style. Even with his short stint as the Sabres coach, Rolston is better regarded as an assistant, as he went through the college ranks as one and only has 206 head coaching games to his resume. It will be interesting to see how much rope the Coyotes give Rolston in developing their young stars.

In Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Mike Sullivan will be taking over for John Hynes— who departed for the New Jersey Devils. Sullivan, who was a player development coach with the Chicago Blackhawks this season, will return behind the bench in the head gig for the first time since 2006 when he coached the Boston Bruins. However, Sullivan has been behind the bench as an assistant in New York, Tampa Bay, and Vancouver. The AHL is where Sullivan had a great year with the 2002-03 Providence Bruins (41-17-9-4), which was all Boston needed to promote him to the NHL. Sullivan does have tough shoes to fill, as Hynes was a stalwart for the Baby Pens and led them to five straight playoff appearances and two conference finals. Whether or not Sullivan can revive his magic that he had back in 2002-03 remains to be seen, but odds are he will have to make sure this transition goes off without a hitch, lest he finds himself back looking for another job.

There are a few jobs in the AHL left, with Lehigh Valley having an opening with the exit of Terry Murray to Buffalo, as well as the other shuffling affiliated teams and a couple of the California teams– but I wouldn’t expect much out of those except a change of address for the AHL coaches in the previous markets moving to their new locale. As per usual in minor league hockey, the minute the season ends; the next season inevitably begins. No clue what that means– just needed something to end it out and it failed horribly.

Farm Report Podcast: 06.15.15

In the last weekly podcast for the season, Scotty wraps up the playoffs in all their forms. Former Ontario Reign president Justin Kemp breaks his silence and talks about how he knew Ontario would host AHL hockey some day. Paul Bissonnette played a key role in the mentoring of Adrian Kempe in his first venture into North American hockey. Derek Hulak hasn’t forgotten about his friends, especially Cody Smuk. All that plus, News and News and We Hardly Knew Ye.

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Finding Solace in Second

There can only be one champion, but even with that– the accomplishments of the runners-up in the Calder and Kelly Cups aren’t something that should be thrown by the wayside. These teams were able to get that far and be it no fault of their own– just got outplayed, were unlucky, or just ran out of steam during the grind. Yet, even with the loss– the season shouldn’t be overlooked and the progress the teams made shouldn’t be scoffed at in hindsight.

(Utica Comets photo by Lindsay A. Mogle)

(Utica Comets photo by Lindsay A. Mogle)

The rise of the Utica Comets was on great display in the playoffs, especially in the Calder Cup Finals, where they were playing in the Finals just two years after they were granted acceptance into the league. The group that Robert Esche put together and Travis Green coached has been solid through the first two season and they should have a solid crop of returnees for next season. With the local business and fans turning out in a big way due to this success; the future looks bright overall in Utica.

Not only that, but this season was a revitalization for the career of Jacob Markstrom. Formerly in San Antonio, the one highly-touted prospect was able to finally display what his hype was all about and get a hang of the AHL game with 23 wins in 32 games and his first 20-win season in North America. Markstrom wasn’t the only one to find solid footing in Utica, as Cal O’Reilly led the team in scoring both in the regular season (10g, 51a) and playoffs (2g, 17a), while Sven Baertschi looks to be gaining a second-wind after being traded to Utica from Adirondack.

With a boost of young talent on the horizon, the future could look bright for the Comets…so long as Vancouver doesn’t do a complete overhaul and deplete the roster of the Comets to a shell of itself. Not only that, but Markstrom will probably be looked at by other teams, as will coach Green. The downside of playing so well and getting a big playoff run is people will notice the valuable assets and stop at no cost in acquiring them.

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For the South Carolina Stingrays, this is a team who may not have been in a position like this if not for their incredible mid-season burst. Their 23-game winning streak was a new ECHL record and the play of Jeff Jakaitis was amazingly stellar– enough to get him the ECHL MVP award. This was a team who, if not for that run, may not have even gotten into the playoffs, as they were playing .500 hockey throughout the season leading up to it.

Then you get to the playoffs where this team played almost the max amount of games, as all series except for the division finals went to seven games. Because of that, Wayne Simpson was able to break the ECHL playoff scoring record with 38 (13g, 25a), while captain Andrew Rowe tied the old record at 34 points (15g, 19a), if not for the play of Simpson. Even rookie Derek DeBlois kept his hot regular season going with a solid playoff, leading all rookies in points with 29 (11g, 18a).

Despite the team being in a bit of financial trouble, the fact they were able to have a big run during the season and in the playoffs brought excitement to North Charleston and should keep the buzz there into next season. As one of the last originals in the ECHL, the Stingrays know how to go through the ebbs and flows of life in the ECHL– which means they will be able to counteract any obstacle in their way.

While these things may be of no consolation, they are something to be admired. They outworked the rest of the league in order to get to a spot of winning the championship– which is something that should be commended. Not only that, but because of their runs, these places are now destinations for possible free agents and spots where players may not mind being sent down to rework their game because they know they’ll be in a top-notch organization.

New League, Same Result for Americans

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It’s one thing to come into a new league at the last minute and be successful to the next change. It’s a completely different thing to come into a league, be successful, appear to be solidly dominant during the playoffs, and then win a championship in the process. However, the Allen Americans did just that and took home their third championship in as many years with a 6-1 win in Game 7 over the South Carolina Stingrays to claim the Kelly Cup.

Granted, towards the end– you could see either fatigue or competition start to get to the Americans. The Ontario Reign seemed to give them some trouble in the Conference Finals and the Stingrays gave them all they could; but even through it all– the Americans were able to bear down and push through their adversity to win the title.

When you look at how the Americans did it, the scoring and heroics came from different sources. Gregor Hanson won the MVP of the playoffs for his stellar offensive output (12g, 17a), which continued from his consistent performance during the season. Chad Costello was dominant during the regular season, but did slow up his torrid pace in the playoffs with only 28 points in 25 games (9g, 19a), while Gary Steffes was very silent in the playoffs after having a solid regular season. Coach Steve Martinson had a goalie carousel for a decent amount of the playoffs with Riley Gill finally winning out as his go-to guy; despite Joel Rumpel playing solid in his time on the ice and was helpful to the Americans performance.

The one thing that did seem interesting is the fact that after getting out of the Central Division, the Americans were able to see the true talent of the ECHL– though it was deep in the playoffs and fatigue was able to set in. That said, Coach Martinson was right when he said to me this was a team geared up and ready to take over the ECHL— which what they did. It also helped that guys like Spencer Asuchak came back to the line-up and Chris Crane was able to step-up and contribute as he was able to do.

For the next act, the Americans are going to have a nice task to get through the entire ECHL. No one will sleep in them (if they even did before) and they’ll be hard-pressed to retain players in the ECHL since you can assume that Costello and Asuchak will be highly looked at for AHL gig. Lucky for the Americans is that they’ll be a prime destination for players coming into the ECHL or for free agents looking for a solid place to play. So, if the San Jose Sharks do call a lot of guys to play on the Barracuda– the cupboard should be restocked pretty quickly by Martinson.

To have a team that has won three championships in three years– the fan base has been treated to some great things from this team and they turned out in a big way in Game 7 in order to make sure the Americans had the home-ice advantage. They have been treated to some great hockey and really haven’t known much of losing– which could be a good thing for them or a bad thing if it should happen in the next season or two. It doesn’t look like it would happen or that the organization would let it happen– but it’s always a case of injury or bad luck that could derail this dynasty of a team that Allen has right now.

When all is said and done with this era of hockey in Texas, the Allen Americans are going to be on the top of the list for what they have given to the minor league hockey community and help contribute to hockey gaining popularity in a region that’s primed for the picking when it comes to harvesting new talent for USA Hockey in the future.

Manchester Leaving AHL on Top; What Will the ECHL Bring??

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Photo by Jon Rosen

Even before they knew the Los Angeles Kings would move their AHL operation to Ontario, California; the Monarchs looked like a team ready to finally make a big run at the Calder Cup. While this past season wasn’t their best in terms of wins and points (51 wins and 110 points was reached twice in 2004-05 and 2006-07), it is the first season they were able to have the highest wins and point total in the league (50 wins and 108 points). And while this team didn’t have a win past the first round in four previous playoffs– there was something a little more determined by the team to give their fans a good send-off to the AHL. Though, it was the first round that almost did the Monarchs in again, as they were pushed to a decisive Game Five against the Portland Pirates, but were able to make it out of their alive and then cruise through the rest of the Eastern Conference and then play a hard-fought five games to defeat the Utica Comets and win their first Calder Cup in their last season.

More over, though, is what the Monarchs have done in terms of development and who the fans have been able to see. From Jonathan Quick, Mike Cammalleri, and Matt Moulson; the Monarchs produced a decent amount of NHLers and many who have gone on to win a Stanley Cup with the Kings. Even to the end, with playoff MVP Jordan Weal, defenseman Colin Miller, goalie J-F Berube, and breakout performer Michael Mersch were all Manchester products who will be an asset to the Kings in the future. The fans lucked out big time when it came to the Kings drafting and signing great young talent for them to watch since 2001.

And the fans did turn out for this team, even though after the first few years– they weren’t able to pull in the big 8,000+ average. In the last few years, the Monarchs were at the middle of the AHL charts with attendance at the 5,500+ mark. Much can be put towards the downturn in attendance– the economy, people moving away from the area, more things to do in the area– but the die-hard fans were there to the end and were rewards with this Calder Cup victory.

Yet, the big question is whether or not they’ll turn out in the same numbers with the ECHL team in town. That has been one of the main concerns with the swaps of team is if people who had enjoyed AHL hockey for years will enjoy the “downgrade” of leagues and embrace the new players that will come in, but under the same moniker they feel is familiar with the AHL. While there are few entries in this, the numbers don’t really help the cause for support– as the Peoria Rivermen saw a drop-off of around 1,500 fans not attended the SPHL incarnation the season after they left the AHL. When the Utah Grizzlies went from the AHL to the ECHL, they saw about a 1,000 person drop-off, though their numbers were steadily declining in their last few AHL years. That said, the Grizzlies have rebounded the past few years with better teams and management decisions.

The Monarchs will join the 1967 Pittsburgh Hornets, the 1970 Buffalo Bisons, and 1982 New Brunswick Hawks as teams who won the Calder Cup and not play in the AHL the next season. It will be interesting to see how the Manchester Monarchs go about raising their championship banner. Will they do it during their parade celebration in a couple weeks or will they wait until ECHL opening night to raise their 1st Calder Cup winning banner from the rafters of the Verizon Wireless Arena?? Regardless of the decision, to leave a league out on top is anything that anyone in that organization could have hoped for as the transition happens.