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.
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.
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.
We’re getting closer to the end, with the playoffs wrapping up– Scotty talks about the Kelly Cup finalists and one-half of the Calder Cup finalists. Anthony Mantha is facing heat for his lackluster first professional season, while Dave Andrews talks about the AHL realignments and how the New York teams were necessarily going to be grouped in the same division, plus confirming the California teams will get less games. Speaking of California, Bakersfield and the Condors are gearing up for the AHL frontier, while Syracuse is gearing up for the AHL All-Star Game. All that, plus News and Notes, as well as We Hardly Knew Ye.
For the final four in the AHL, four of the top five teams are still left, including the two top seeds in the Western Conference. With two match-ups that provide high-powered offenses against tight defenses– these match-ups could very well an amazing set-up to the last gasps of the AHL season.
(1E) Manchester Monarchs vs. (3E) Hartford Wolf Pack
After a rough first series, the Monarchs were able to make short work of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in five games and return to the ice after a week and a day off. One guy who came through in the last series was David Van der Gulik, who put up two goals and four assists while scoring in all five games of that series. But the top guys for the Monarchs still were the contributing with Jordan Weal had five goals and three assists, including a hat trick in Game 4, while linemate and league MVP Brian O’Neill added two goals and four assists on the series. The defense has been on lockdown as well, with J-F Berube only facing 24.5 shots on average these playoffs, which can be chalked up to the play of Jeff Schultz, Derek Forbort, and Colin Miller for keeping the pucks away from Berube, though it does kill Berube’s stats; as he holds a .898 save percentage on the playoffs.
In the last three games, the series against the Hershey Bears turned into the Ryan Bourque show, who posed a goal and seven assists in those last three games, as the Wolf Pack rallied from a 2-1 deficit to win in six games. Not to be outdone in that series was Joey Crabb who put up all of his seven points (4g, 3a) in that Hershey series while Marek Hrivik posted his first three goals of the playoffs in the series clincher. But yet, Yann Danis still continues to contribute without taking away the focus, holding the highest save percentage of those left in the playoffs with a .931 percentage.
In the playoffs, these two are really no strangers. Granted, those were in 2002 and 2006, which is a lifetime ago– but the Wolf Pack hold the two series wins in that. With both teams well-rested and on a mission, this series could join those past series between the two in going the full seven games to complete. That said, with two different teams and two different mentalities; it could be a different outcome– which is what the Monarchs will be hoping for in this series.
(1W) Utica Comets vs. (2W) Grand Rapids Griffins
With each of their series going the distance, you have to wonder if the Comets have any left in the tank for this round and if possible the next round. However, one of the big things on the Comets sides is the play of Jacob Markstrom who was able to post a shutout in Game 7 against Oklahoma City, the 11th goalie to do that in a Game 7. The Comets are relying on their defense, only scoring more than three goals twice. One of the catalyst for the offense has been Alexandre Grenier, as he put up four goals (including the series winner) and three assists in the series against OKC, while also leading the team with ten points (4g, 6a) in the playoffs. The lack of scoring from the rest of the Comets– like Cal O’Reilly, Alex Friesen, and Sven Baertschi— could be the downfall of the team, unless they’re waiting until an even bigger stage like this.
On the flip side, the Griffins have the top goal-scorer in the playoffs in Teemu Pulkkinen, who put up seven goals and two assists in the five-game series with the Rockford IceHogs; which also put Pulkkinen tied for the top spot in the playoff points with Jordan Weal of Manchester. Not to be outdone, with a goal and six assists; Andy Miele was provide the set-ups for Pulkkinen, while Tyler Bertuzzi has been stellar in his games for the Griffins– putting up four goals and two assists in the last round. Tom McCollum has been able to shut the door when needed in net, only losing two games in these playoffs while taking the reigns in the first round over Jared Coreau.
The chess match of this series when it comes to defense in Utica and offense in Grand Rapids should be interesting to see. For what it’s worth, it could be competitive as a series can get and go the full seven or Utica will be out of gas and lead to the Griffins to run roughshod over the Comets. Working for the Comets is how Markstrom has been strong in net regardless of the offense– but this will be the first real test from one of the top teams in the Western Conference and not one of the lower seeds that Comets have had trouble with thus far.
Yesterday, the East were profiled and now it’s time for the Western Conference, as top-seeded Utica starts off the conference against the Chicago Wolves in some pretty even match-ups through and through.
(1) Utica Comets vs. (8) Chicago Wolves
One of the cornerstones of the Comets’ big season was the solid goaltending from both Jacob Markstrom and Joacim Eriksson. Both had 22 wins in the regular season and was the big factor for Utica getting the top-seed in the west. Also a key to that was the defense of Bobby Sanguinetti, who also chipped in with 40 points and six power play goals. Offensively, Alexandre Grenier potted 11 of his 17 goals with the extra-man, while Cal O’Reilly lead in scoring with Brandon DeFazio being the only 20-goal scorer on the squad.
Conversely, the Wolves are bringing a lot of scoring to the table, only being nine goals below the Comets overall. Those duties to try and break the Comets goaltending will be the three-headed monster of Shane Harper, Ty Rattie, and Jeremy Welch with Magnus Paajarvi adding his own touch just in time for the playoffs. The Wolves aren’t that bad defensively either, with Brendan Bell‘s acquisition being a strong addition at the deadline to help Jordan Binnington in net. Brent Regner has been solid on both sides of the puck, adding another cavet to the Wolves line-up.
(2) Grand Rapids Griffins vs. (7) Toronto Marlies
With league-leading goal-scorer Teemu Pulkkinen, you can tell that the Griffins are a high-scoring team; especially with Andy Miele on the roster and a possible reappearance by Landon Ferraro. The Griffins are getting help from all angles, though, as they got a lot of help from their youth movement– such as Anthony Mantha and Mark Zengerle— and should be ready to play “next man up” on their roster. That’s most evident from Tom McCollum stepping up in net with Petr Mrazek going to and from Detroit.
TJ Brennan could be the biggest pick-up of the deadline and he has come in to put up 16 points in his 19 games with the Marlies, back in his comfort zone that he made for himself. Brennan’s veteran leadership will help rookies like Connor Brown and Brendan Leipsic as the scoring leaders on the Marlies. There will be a lot of heat on Chris Gibson in net, but with Brennan and Brendan Mikkelson and surprising rookie Viktor Loov; Gibson will get plenty of support.
(3) San Antonio Rampage vs. (6) Oklahoma City Barons
Depth scoring is going to be the key for the Rampage. While Connor Brickley and Bobby Butler led the way, they were able to get key scoring from Garrett Wilson and Logan Shaw in way of goals, with Quinton Howden and Rocco Grimaldi playing the roles as set-up men. One question is whether or not Dan Ellis is the man who is going to help lead the way between the net. Despite Greg Zanon having a solid year as a veteran force, Ellis could be a hot-and-cold guy during the playoffs– which could be the worst time for it.
Since this is their last season in OKC, the Barons are going to try their best in order to prolong the end as much as possible. One of the questions could be who will be the top guy in net– Richard Bachman or Laurent Brossoit. Brossoit has played more games, but Bachman has the better numbers overall. A bigger loss offensively could be the knee-injury that hampered Ilro Pakarinen when he was in Edmonton. That said, Andrew Miller and Jason Williams have been the driving force up front, as Brad Hunt will be the defenseman who will be in charge of most of both offense and defense for the Barons.
(4) Rockford IceHogs vs. (5) Texas Stars
With their first playoff back in a while, the IceHogs are going to rely on their defense in order to win the series. Michael Leighton has been solid while taking over for Scott Darling, while Antti Raanta has been getting his footing underneath him despite his demotion. Rookie blueliners Stephen Johns and Ville Pokka have been solid, especially with TJ Brennan getting traded for Spencer Abbott (who put up 12 goals in 19 games with Rockford). Johns has been solid in his own end, while Pokka has been lethal on the power play with six power play goals.
The defending Calder Cup champs had a rough go about it early in the season, but Travis Morin and the Stars bounced back and have rounded into form at the right time. Morin, Brendan Ranford, and Justin Dowling were solid after a bit of a hiccup, while Jussi Rynnas weathered the storm when Jack Campbell had to readjust his game in the ECHL. One of the bigger issues will be if the defense can stand up the IceHogs offense– as Derek Meech, Maxime Fortunus, and Julius Honka, while contributing to the offense– lacked help in their own end. That said, there’s a decent amount of returnees from last year’s team– so the switch will be flipped as the games get underway.
-Expect Petr Mrazek to be named the Player of the Week in the AHL as he only let in two goals this week and shutout both the Milwaukee Admirals and Chicago Wolves this weekend in his three games played. A taste of the NHL has gotten Mrazek a more competitive edge to his game since returning to Grand Rapids and shows he could be ready for the prime time next season. However, Mrazek got some solid help from Tomas Nosek and Landon Ferraro, who potted two goals this weekend in the victories. The Griffins sit first in the Midwest Division and second in the Western Conference after this weekend.
-With three wins this weekend, the Hershey Bears moved to the top spot in the Eastern Conference and AHL. Each weekend’s game had different offensive stars, with Friday having Casey Wellman pot two goals and an assist, Saturday showed off Chris Conner having a goal and two assists, finished on Sunday by Dustin Gazley and Stanislav Galiev having the only markers in the game. Philipp Grubauer let all but one of the 66 shots he faced in two games in, while Pheonix Copley 24 of the 26 shots he faced on the weekend.
-If not for a subpar start, the South Carolina Stingrays could be running away with the East Division. Yet, their 13-game winning streak, which is fourth-longest and ties a franchise record that was set in 2009, has bolstered them back into playoff position and only seven points out for tops in the division. The team their chasing, in the Reading Royals, strung together a 12-game win streak earlier in the season and pulled a bit away from the rest of the field. The Stingrays took care of the Florida Everblades this weekend, closing the gap between those two teams in 2nd and 3rd in the division. Andrew Rowe and Brandon Wong both had a goal and two assists this weekend for the Rays, with Jeff Jakaitis getting both wins in net while only facing 47 shots all weekend.
-In their sixth attempt this season, the Brampton Beast finally beat the Allen Americans on Saturday in overtime 6-5. Previous to this, the Americans outscored the Beast 29-6. On Saturday, however, Chad Painchaud’s hat-trick with Jason Pitton’s two goals and an assist help lead the way. Jeff Brown had two assists and Bobby Hughes added a goal and two assists. It has been a forgettable season for the Beast– who lost Friday to Wichita– but with less travel next year; it could be a set-up for a solid 2015-16 campaign.
-As the last month of the season starts for the SPHL, there is plenty of room for teams to bandy back and forth between spots in the standings. Though the Peoria Rivermen have a nine-point lead on the second place Columbus Cottonmouths; there’s still very little breathing room between second and seventh– 11 points being that margin. With the top-six getting in and an odd playoff format where the highest seed who wins after the first round getting a bye into the Finals, you can bet teams want to be able to improve their standing and hope they don’t get upset in the process.
-Though they are pulling away, the Rivermen are still digging to make sure they are at the top of the table when the season is over. With 18 goals in three games against Fayetteville this weekend (two of which were win), the Rivermen are showing they have the offensive firepower to beat teams week after week. Josh Harris led the charge this weekend with three goals and five assists, Matt Summer had six assists, and Grant Vermeersch potting a hat-trick with four total goals on the weekend and two assists. Though Dustin Carlson got knocked around Friday, he bounced back with a 27-save win Sunday. Kyle Rank came in for Carlson relief on Friday and stopped 27 in his win on Saturday.