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.
Better late than never for this Farm Report edition, as Scotty goes over the playoff fantasticness. The Utica area has been brought alive by the play of the Comets and the city is regaining some pride because of it. Looking forward to 2016, the Oklahoma City area is primed to be picked for minor league hockey; which is something that will happen sooner rather than later. It’s been a while for Scott Ford when it comes to getting to a championship series again, but he’s making sure he enjoyed every moment of the South Carolina Stingrays’ run. The FHL is a mess…and Scotty is trying to make sense of the league as a whole. All that, News and Notes, plus We Hardly Knew Ye.
This week, Scotty looks at the possible demise of the Federal Hockey League, what Kristers Gudlevskis will show up for the Syracuse Crunch (spoiler: not the good one), how Liam Stewart is forging his own path beyond his famous bloodlines, while Columbus and Lake Erie are forging for Ohio to be the next hockey hotbed. The Macon Mayhem are making their presence known in the community, while we go through the last of the yearly awards, a new coach in Brampton, and We Hardly Knew Ye.
Far be it from me to disparage things in minor league hockey, because I think it should all be in embraced– but the spin that 14News’ sports anchor Joe Downs puts on the Evansville Icemen signing of Justin MacDonald is amazing. MacDonald was signed from the Federal Hockey League’s Watertown Wolves and has 44 goals in 46 games. I’ll say that the FHL is a bit better than beer league hockey, but Downs is going crazy about MacDonald:
To put MacDonald’s season in perspective, the NHL’s leading scorer, Patrick Kane, has 64 points. The AHL’s leading scorer, Teemu Pulkkinen stands at 57 points. Chad Costello, the ECHL’s leading scorer is the closest to MacDonald’s numbers with 26 goals and 59 assists for 85 points. The SPHL’s leading scorer, Corey Banfield has mustered 54 points, four less than the number of assists that MacDonald has. MacDonald leads his closes competition in the Federal League by 21 points.
Look, I’m all for trying to hype up a guy coming onto a team who sits last in their division and second to last in scoring in the league, but to say that MacDonald’s accomplishments in the FHL is any way a comparison to any other league is a bit eye-rolling. It’s almost as if Downs thinks that MacDonald will keep the the scoring clip he has in the Federal Hockey League.
That said, any help to the Icemen is going to be welcomed in the last month and some change before the post-season. They are 29 points out of a playoff spot in their division and Jarret Lukin is the leading goal and point scorer for the team, as the Icemen have acquired a lot of guys through the season that have more points total, but not all with the Icemen. ECHL All-Star Game MVP and first year pro Myles Bell has been off and on with some stints in the AHL with Albany; so to have a consistent player with goal-scoring capabilities– MacDonald can only add to the Icemen line-up.
Yet, it’s almost a little bit of a misnomer and false hope to the Evansville fanbase to say that the 44 goals and 102 points MacDonald posted in the FHL is going to be the turning point for the Icemen. They have a lot of a ground to make up and this is obviously just an audition for MacDonald for next season and to see if he can stick to the ECHL or have to work his way back up through the ranks.
Back in October I told you about the Southwestern Pennsylvania Magic folding after only one game, but were brought back by the Steel City Warriors. However, it seems that it could be two team out before the end of the season in Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania.
Thanks to a tip from Justin Walden, the Steel City Warriors’ owner Annice Reeves has set up a GoFundMe fundraiser to get $30,000 for the Warriors to finish out the season due to the fact that the housing situation for the team was in shambled when the owners of the Magic bailed out and left a lot of the players scrambling and leaving Reeves with a lot of work on her hands in dealing with acquiring a team in mid-season with a lot of financial distress and less than zero time to do all of it. In the description of the GoFundMe page, Reeves deals it out for everyone.
The Warriors have faced everything from bus break downs to struggles for local support, and from broken promises to major injuries. While all teams face problems, the majority of ours stem from the fact that we tried to do in one week what typically takes eleven months to accomplish. What I had thought was going to be a a short term solution, housing twenty people in a hotel, has proved to be a more permanent one. Needless to say, financially our housing predicament has crippled our entire operation.
In the 30 games this season, the Warriors have won two games in regulation, one in overtime, lost two in overtime and 25 losses in regulation, accumulating for 10 points on the year, 28 points behind the next closest team. They have 92 goals for and 189 goals against.
If you feel inclined to help this team and maybe save them for another season– I urge you to contribute if you have the means to. This is a tale that is all too common in lower-minor hockey and it’s something where in order for players and leagues to flourish, they need the support from hockey fans both near and far. While this is just one situations, who knows what it could mean for the rest of the FHL not only for this year, but for the future.
Also, a shoutout to Annice Reeves for using new media to get the word out, but also to use it in order to keep the team where they are and keep these players’ jobs in tact. It’s easy for someone to do like the SWPA Magic’s owner did and bail– but Reeves is going about it in a great way to not only interact with the fans, but to keep the league and players from losing another team and some jobs.
Photo by Wendy McCann/Springfield Falcons
-The hottest team in the AHL is the Springfield Falcons, who added to their nine-game winning streak with two wins this weekend, while getting the scoring from a various amount of sources. Domenic Monardo had two goals Saturday after missing Friday’s game and Anton Forsberg stopped 54 of 57 shots thrown at him this weekend for two wins. The Falcons are on the verge of history in a local sense, as no Springfield based team has ever won ten games in a row. Shocking considering there have been solid teams around in the Springfield area, including Calder Cup champions; but it’s promising for the Columbus Blue Jackets farm club– who are coming off a 100-point campaign last season; their first since the 1995-96 season.
–Josh Harding made his long awaited Iowa Wild debut and stopped 50 of 54 shots in a 5-4 shootout loss against the San Antonio Rampage. In his first game action of the year, it seemed that Harding played well enough to possibly make some more starts over Johan Gustafsson for the slumping Iowa Wild. After being sent down by Minnesota following a suspension for a mysterious foot injury that was self-infliceted, Harding was quickly shuffled out of the trio of goalies in Minnesota. Should this keep up, he’ll be able to get a quick recall and push for starting time in the Twin Cities.
-Keep your eyes peeled at the play of Clarke Saunders for the Colorado Eagles. Saunders played both games this weekend and only surrendered one goal on 60 shots by the Ontario Reign, putting his win streak to five games this season. Even with a long lay-off that Saunders had, as he hadn’t played since November 1st, Saunders was able to keep his hot hand going and registered his first pro shutout of his career. The tandem of Saunders and Doug Carr have led the Eagles to having the second-lowest goals-against total in the ECHL– but may need some more goal support to keep the good times rolling.
-With three goals this weekend, Anthony Luciani ended a strong November with 10 goals and and nine assists for the month, helping the Toledo Walleye get to second in the North Division, with two game in hand over the Fort Wayne Komets. It’s been quite the turnaround season for the Walleye, who have 12 wins this year when it took them until January 12th, 2014 to get their 12th win in the ’13-14 campaign. Whether it be the fact they are down to only one parent NHL organization or the wisdom of Derek Lalonde, but the Walleye are the second highest scoring team in the league with 73 (Orlando Solar Bears are first at 76), but are tops in the league with 4.56 goals per game. Add that to the play of surprising starter Jeff Lerg, the Walleye have bounced back in a huge way.
-The battle of the SPHL titans this weekend, and predictably it ended in a split as both Peoria and Pensacola took a game in their weekend set. On Friday, it only too seven seconds for Peoria’s Ben Warda to end the game with an overtime winner, despite Max Strang stopping 49 of 52 shots thrown at him by the Rivermen. However, Strang bounced back big on Saturday with a 32-save shutout, his fourth of the season. Adam Pawlick added two goals, putting his SPHL leading total to 13 goals on the season.
-It looks like the Columbus Cottonmouths have cured their hangover from reaching the Finals last season, as they have won six straight games, including the four games they had this week. In the two games over the weekend, Matt Gingera put up a goal and three assists, Neilsson Arcibal potting a goal and two assists, and Bryce Williamson putting up two goals of his own. The six-game win streaks has the Cottonmouths up to 5th in the SPHL and the hottest team in the league looks to be striking in a big way now.
-Look out for the Berkshire Battalion. After this weekend, which included a big victory over the top team in the Federal League, the Watertown Wolves, the Battalion have moved their way up to fourth in the league. With 14 goals on the weekend– three from Tyler Prendergast and two from Martin Uhnak— the Battalion are slowing getting their game together with four straight wins, as the FHL is closing in on the mid-season mark.
Locations of SPHL and FHL Teams in 2014-15
During my ranting and raving about how the Peoria Rivemen’s beat reporter is constantly irate when it comes to the decisions the SPHL when it comes to catering the Rivermen– who are the most distant team in the SPHL– there was one good point that Dave Eminian made is that there needs to be something done in order to make Single-A hockey a more desirable destination for NHL teams too look at when it comes to going down the line of development for these players. With more and more talent out there in the hockey landscape, there is going to come a time where Single-A hockey will definitely become a more viable option for some teams out there, as if it hasn’t happened already.
Of course, many SPHL and even Federal Hockey League teams have had the ECHL used them as a feeder in order to replenish their rosters. The big deal now is whether or not NHL teams will buy in or want to put prospects in something deemed a Single-A in fears the confidence could be broken for not being called up to the ECHL quicker.
That aside, the Single-A model could be a very solid thing to look into, so long as teams, leagues, and everyone around it do the right things. Here’s what I believe could be the right things that would make Single-A hockey a strong entity for the future and for development of players overall:
Keep It Regional….
The best thing with the SPHL is that it has carved out a niche for itself below the Mason-Dixon line. The inclusion of Peoria and Bloomington in 2013 couldn’t have been worse for the league, not so much from a travel standpoint (which is a true story); but just it takes away from the regional appeal that the SPHL had. The FHL has a very strong Northeast corridor presence, but as it starts to go towards the Midwest and Great Lakes region– that’s when they lose the plot of their locational prowess and start to strain the wallets of owners who may or may not have the money to deal with the expansion to other regions.
Minor league baseball has five leagues (three advanced) and all of them are kept within a regional basis. Single-A hockey can do that– SPHL in the South, FHL in the Northeast, then you can create a Midwest region minor league; especially with the thought that Michigan area teams are looking for minor leagues to join– which would be nice for Peoria in terms of travel, and then have a wild card league that’s regionalized; maybe Montana, Wyoming, Northern Colorado area. With this regional ideal, you can have teams keep tabs close at home or close to the ECHL team in order to have easier access to the players going up and down to develop.
…But Make It Uniformed
There’s a big difference when it comes to the SPHL and FHL. The SPHL has the “normal” point system of two points for a win of any kind, one point for an overtime or shootout loss, and no points for a loss overall. The FHL has a more European point system with three points for a regulation win, two for an overtime win, one for overtime or shootout loss, and none for a loss. Obviously, a streamlined system is going to need to put into place and of course each system has their advantages and disadvantages. Yet, if you’re going to have it more like a NHL system– then the SPHL way to do it will be the way to go for points until the NHL or other league above them change.
Mind The Roster
The AHL and ECHL have veteran rules when it comes to their rosters and usually it’s something where there aren’t too many veterans in the line-up on a nightly basis. The AHL has a little more interesting take on their veteran rules, while the ECHL is very strict on their four players labeled veterans on a roster at any time. For a Single-A dynamic, of course you want to be able to have veteran guys and rookies in a mix; but which do you limit?? With a smaller roster size it’s a bit of a trickier thing and you may actually want to limit the number of younger players so that the league doesn’t turn into a total instructional league and completely alienate the fan base you built up with recognizable veteran players.
Allow Time For A Buy-In
There were many years where the ECHL wasn’t really looked at as a viable option for prospects because it almost seemed like they were being buried there. However, with time and with the amount of good prospects being available and drafted by teams, the ECHL has flourished and the league has gotten better. That talent has trickled down to the SPHL and FHL, as the speed of those games have gotten better in the years they’ve been established. That said, it will take time to sell NHL teams to put some of their prospects in a Single-A entity, but patience will be a virtue on both sides of the coin– patience for NHL teams to see results from Single-A leagues as a key developmental course and patience by the Single-A leagues and teams when it comes to getting players and support from NHL teams.
Expanding The Brand
Off the ice, the big thing could be teams going into markets and using their NHL brand for an area that may not know a lot of about it. Conversely, it could be used by the Single-A teams to have the NHL market get to know their teams. Just look at what the Knoxville Ice Bears and Huntsville Havoc were able to do in playing in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. That game drew around 6,000 people with a mix of NHL and SPHL fans– which only builds the hockey community more-so. Just check out this YouTube video review of the event, showing off a solid atmosphere for a pre-season game.
With news of Division I hockey expanding into Arizona with Arizona State and possibly into other club elite club teams like the University at Buffalo, there’s going to be a lot more talent and could provide a lot more players for not as many teams. It would only make sense for Single-A league to expand and for the NHL too look at that as a developmental option, especially if those areas, teams, and leagues are ripe for the picking in terms of drawing attention to the game and expanding their own brand beyond the NHL crowd.