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.

Farm Report Podcast 01.04.15

The first Farm Report of the new year will provide the story of how Sebastian Collberg used his time in the ECHL to hone his game and to shake off the rust for injury. Also, what Reverend Michael Bowyer is provide to the Hamilton Bulldogs, how Matt Dumba is dealing with getting passed over for NHL call-ups, how Prescott Valley can get hockey back, and the shuffle in net for the FireAntz. Also, monthly awards, weekly awards, coaching changes, Max Strang’s adventurous week, Dany Heatley’s full-time AHL debut, and how could we forget We Hardly Knew Ye??

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The Weekend That Was: November 28th-30th

AHL

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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.

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ECHL

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-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.

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SPHL

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-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.

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FHL

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-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.

FOHS Farm Report for 11.16.14

A very AHL-centric version, as Scotty Wazz goes down the stories from the road according to the Adirondack Flames. The first firing of a coach happened in Iowa this week, while the attendance in Worcester could prove the end for the Sharks if the AHL West happens. Two great stories about the odd way to get into professional hockey– one from Brandon DeFazio and one from 2nd Lieutenant Jason Fabian. The ECHL announced their Hall of Fame class for 2015, while the Milwaukee Admirals were the butt of some jokes for a good cause. All that, news and notes, and We Hardly Knew Ye.

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The Weekend That Was– November 7th-9th

AHL

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-With three straight wins, helping them have the most goals in the AHL; the Bridgeport Sound Tigers have been playing amazing hockey with 10 goals in this weekend games against the Albany Devils. With help of the 2nd best power play (29.3%, 17 PPG), the Sound Tigers are in the mix for top-three in the Eastern Conference. The play by Harry Zolnierczyk has been a catalyst for the Sound Tigers, with Zolnierczyk having points in his last six games (3g, 5a). Kevin Poulin has been solid in net, with a 6-1-1 record, with Aaron Ness playing well on both sides of the ice, leading defensemen in scoring thus far. One issue could be the defensive play of Griffin Reinhart, but the rookie should keep getting adjusted to the pro game after four solid years in the WHL.

-A few weeks back, I said that the Iowa Wild weren’t as bad as their record showed. After getting swept this weekend by the Chicago Wolves, I may have to retract this statement. Losing their fifth straight and eight in their last ten, the Wild are anything but. Despite Jordan Schroeder and Marc Hagel being the offensive contributors to the team, the Wild as a whole leave a lot to be desired. The goaltending could be an issue, despite Johan Gustafsson being 10th in the AHL in saves, the GAA for the team is 3.71 with a .885 save percentage between Gustafsson and John Curry. It definitely doesn’t help either that their penalty kill is 28th in the league (75%, 16 PPG against) and their power play is 19th (15.8%, 9 PPG). Still some time to turn it around, but by the looks of it– the Wild could have another rough season in Iowa.

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ECHL

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-After winning their first three games, the Orlando Solar Bears are winless in seven games with points in only two games. Possibly one of the big things is Garret Sparks being placed on the 21-day IR since that three-game win streak– which has left Kent Patterson and Maxime Clermont in net, which hasn’t been the best as they’ve combined for a 4.08 GAA and a .865 save percentage in those seven games. The offense hasn’t been great, either, registering only 2.5 goals per game in this losing streak as well. It’s not going to get any easier, as the Solar Bears are embarking on a 13-game road trip which see them away from the Amway Center until December 9th.

-The Fort Wayne Komets are looking like the team to beat in the East, as they have only dropped one game in their first nine and hold an amazing 6-0-0 record in one-goal games already this season. Since coming in after the first game, Mitchell Heard has been on fire with a three-goal, three-assist weekend against Reading and has only been held pointless in one of his eight games thus far. Not to be outdone, Shawn Szydlowski had an amazing weekend with a goal and four assists on the weekend. In his first game back from injury, Christian Ouellet posted three assists in his season debut on Saturday, but did not play on Sunday– which shows that there’s plenty of offensive power still to come for the Komets.

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SPHL

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-If there is one team feeling the Finals hangover worse than the ECHL’s Alaska Aces is the SPHL’s Columbus Cottonmouths. The Cottonmouths are winless in this first four games of the new season while only scoring six goals in those four games, all by different players. The tandem of Andrew Loewen and Shannon Szabados haven’t been tearing up the league either, though Loewen has been in net for three of the four– letting up 12 of the 17 goals against. Loewen has faced the 4th most shots in the league (98 shots against, 86 saves), which means that the defense is definitely not doing their job in keeping pucks away from their own net.

-Maybe the Louisiana IceGators should see if they can go ahead and play the Fayetteville FireAntz all year. The IceGators four wins have come all against the FireAntz, putting up 16 goals and only letting up five in those four meetings. In their other games against Huntsville and Peoria, they only registered one goal and let up eight. With only two more games against Fayetteville (not until February) and not having faced the Pensacola Ice Flyers yet– the IceGators could be in for a rough go the rest of the season.

Farm Report Podcast for 11.03.14

This week, we’ll take a look at the Quad City Mallards attempt to get back to the top of the mountain both on and off the ice, the Iowa Wild trying to make an impact in the same way in their new home, as well as the Bourque brothers playing side-by-side on an organized team for the first time. Sarah Leaitch has quite the task ahead of her for the Hamilton Bulldogs, but has been handling it in stride, while the Syracuse Crunch are looking to take a possible record-setting event in stride, without too much hype….kind of. All that, plus news and notes and We Hardly Knew Ye.

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The Weekend That Was: October 17th-19th

AHL

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-Going into the weekend, the question was what was up with Jeff Zatkoff after a winless opening weekend and letting in nine goals in those two games against Lehigh Valley and Manchester?? Travelling to St. John’s and Zatkoff bounced back in a big way, letting in two goals in two games and gathering two wins for the WBS Penguins. Despite having a .871 save percentage, Zatkoff’s goals-against average dropped from 4.51 to 2.72

-The Bridgeport Sound Tigers took two of their three meetings this weekend and are the highest scoring team in the AHL right now with 19 goals, while also having three players in the top-ten in points: Harry Zolnierczyk, CJ Stretch, and Anders Lee. However, this is a team that could win a lot of games 6-5, as they are only ahead of the Adirondack Flames in goals against. That’s not to say that Kevin Poulin and David Leggio won’t get better as the year goes on, but I wonder if there needs to be more coaching addressed to the defense at the early going.

-Don’t let the 0-4-0 record fool you, the Iowa Wild are playing better than their record indicates. Only getting blown out on Saturday, the Wild’s other three losses have been one or two goal losses. Trying to find a stable scorer will be the thing that the Wild will have to search out. Jordan Schroeder has five assists, but all seven goals on the year for the Wild have been from different sources, which could cause great variety, but also great headaches when it comes to who the go-to guy will be for Schroeder to set-up.

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ECHL

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-Definitely not the championship raising banner weekend the Alaska Aces were hoping for, dropping all three games to the Ontario Reign, while only scoring two goals in those three games– both by rookie Quinn Sproule. It’s going to be a learning experience for the Aces, who had a huge turnover in the off-season and have two new goalies in net, but it’ll be on the shoulders of the returnees like Ross Ring-Jarvi and Brendan Connolly to wrangle the Aces back into the winning tradition that they have been known for since their inception in the WCHL.

-An interesting team to watch for will be the Orlando Solar Bears, who have been led in this young season by former NHL prospects like Brad Ross and Stefan Della Rovere. Add in Tyler Biggs and the reigning ECHL MVP Mickey Lang, and the offense could be huge for the Solar Bears and definitely get the attention of the Eastern Conference as the season goes along. Yet another Maple Leaf prospect in Garret Sparks played amazingly in the first two games, too– posting a shutout in the back-end of the weekend set against Greenville.

-The Central Division of the ECHL is going to have a hard act to follow when it comes to the Rapid City Rush showing off to their new league, taking one of their first two games against the Colorado Eagles. And the scoring is very spread out, with 11 players chipping in on the seven goals on the weekend, showing that a balanced attack will go forward and helping the Rush go ahead and succeed in the Central Division.