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.
Though they never faced off head-to-head, the Worcester Sharks and Oklahoma City Barons are going to be linked in this unfortunate incident. As there are many changes in the AHL, mostly with teams moving out west– there are a lot of moving parts for the markets that the AHL is abandoning. Granted, for the majority of the markets, they will go to the ECHL; but for Worcester and Oklahoma City, they will be silent for all intents and purposes for at least next season. Neither team will be replaced by an ECHL team for next season (as far as we know) and for two cities that have an extensive minor league history– though there are pauses in when teams came in went.
For Worcester, the Sharks took over in the 2006-07 season; moving from Cleveland, a full year after the IceCats moved to Peoria to become the AHL Rivermen. While the IceCats saw declining attendance, which may have led to their demise, the Sharks were a bit more consistent; even though they never averaged above 4,602 in a season to the IceCats peak of 6,800 in 1996-97. It’s very possible that it was a middling attendance due to the Sharks missing the playoffs five of the nine seasons they were in Worcester. That said, they had a lot of prospects come through the DCU Center doors and move up to the NHL like Thomas Greiss, Tommy Wingels, Jonathan Cheechoo, Justin Braun, and Logan Couture to name a few who spend a decent amount of time in Worcester and made it as regulars in the NHL. With a bulk of the teams in the Northeast still, the Worcester area seems like a solid destination, even though it could be trouble in getting a proper deal to run out of the DCU Center. The questions for that is whether or not there will be some kind of connections to the people. For the IceCats, the Blues were at least somewhat closer for fans to track once they left– the Sharks were across the country and three time zones away. Not saying that was why the fans couldn’t relate or connect– because the team wasn’t the best at times; but it could be a reason why many didn’t pay mind to the newest tenant in the Worcester hockey landscape.
In Oklahoma City, it’s a market that the AHL was unfamiliar with, but with the success of the Oklahoma City Blazers in the Central Hockey League, it was a tough act to follow for the Barons; who, like the Sharks, came in a year after the previous team had left/disbanded. While the heyday may have been over for the Blazers, the legacy of two CHL championships in the modern incarnation of the league is something that fans would remember, not to mention the fans turning out in droves each year– only the first and last seasons dipping under the 8,000 per game average mark and two seasons of over 10,000 per home game. Whether it be just the disgust of not being able to work something out with the Blazers or just many more options in entertainment with the NBA’s Thunder coming into town and other thing popping up in OKC; the Barons couldn’t connect that well with the general public; peaking at only 4,155 in their first year in OKC for average attendance. Even in the lockout shortened NHL season which saw Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins suiting up for the team. Despite having their own stalwarts of Brad Hunt, Anton Lander, and Oscar Klefbom— there didn’t seem to be much connection outside of the die-hards for the Barons.
But would you consider these markets any kind of failure in terms of hockey?? For Worcester– most likely you can chalk up the fans not caring to the lack of winning and lack of action the team was able to provide. When you only make the playoff four times in the nine year term and only once in the last five years– that’s something that won’t make people run to the box office. In OKC, the bitterness of the Blazers leaving could be a thing that left a sour taste in the mouth of many fans there. While I don’t know the demographics and I’m sure someone much closer to the situation than I may attest, it just seemed that with the inclusion of a pro sports team in the NBA and the heritage of the Blazers falling by the wayside; the people didn’t seem as apt to want to go to hockey games over anything else out there.
That all said, these areas could be very viable markets in the future; with OKC being the front runner. With the ECHL being in the central part of the US, it could very well make them a possibility for expansion next season if something doesn’t develop at the 11th hour (which is something that is past from my sources). The Prodigal LLC group seems very eager to have hockey in OKC and under the right conditions could make it successful. There’s a solid fan base there and getting back into a league with instilled geographical rivalries like the Wichita Thunder and Tulsa Oilers; it wouldn’t make sense to leave that market dormant for too long.
Worcester could be more of a harder sell. While they are in prime area for travel in the AHL corridor; many of the teams that want that close distance already have it, especially with all the NHL squad in close distance already having established AHL teams. The ECHL could be a destination,
but Elmira and Reading would be the closest teams– which would be a big haul regardless (Thanks to Shane for pointing out that Manchester and Adirondack would be in the ECHL and closer than Elmira).Not only that, but finding ownership to put a team back in the area could cause some concern as well.
Overall, you have to hate it for the dedicated fan bases in each area. While sports are a business, the people do suffer when things move away; even if for a year. In both these markets, it was only a year buffer; but it seemed like they couldn’t recover all that well– circumstances being a player in that equation, too. That said, with the right management groups and the right location, these markets could thrive whether it be in the same league or in the ECHL– which still has two expansion sites available before they cap out at their 30-team limit.
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.
In the worst kept secret in the world, it seems that the official unveiling of the AHL West division will be rolled out tomorrow in San Jose, California at the SAP Center at 12:30 PM PT. This is from a release to the media from the AHL:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 28, 2015
AMERICAN HOCKEY LEAGUE TO MAKE MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The American Hockey League will be making a major announcement related to the 2015-16 season on Thursday, January 29, at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif.
David Andrews, President and Chief Executive Officer – American Hockey League
Bill Daly, Deputy Commissioner – National Hockey League
Michael Schulman, Chief Executive Officer – Anaheim Ducks
Bob Murray, Executive Vice President and General Manager – Anaheim Ducks
Brad Treliving, General Manager – Calgary Flames
Kevin Lowe, Vice Chair, Oilers Entertainment Group – Edmonton Oilers
Luc Robitaille, President, Business Operations – Los Angeles Kings
John Tortora, Chief Operating Officer – San Jose Sharks
Doug Wilson, General Manager – San Jose Sharks
Thursday, January 29, 2015 – 12:30 p.m. PT
Rinkside Room – SAP Center
This obviously means that the Calgary Flames have bought the Stockton Thunder and will move their team, currently in Adirondack, to Stockton to complete the all-California Division for the 2015-16 season. However, it shouldn’t stop there. Sportsnet insider and former executive at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment John Shannon tweeted the following:
Over the next year, we will hear that potential cities for AHL teams in the new division will include Prescott,Arizona and Boise,Idaho.
— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) January 28, 2015
Obviously, the Arizona Coyotes would be the team to put their AHL affiliate in Prescott Valley, but the interesting portion is to see what team will go for Idaho. Should the Avalanche pass on putting a team in Loveland– where the Eagles in the ECHL play– then you’d have to think that Idaho could be the place for the Avalanche. If not, then perhaps the Vancouver Canucks would be the team that would come calling to make Boise home.
This will be a monumental day for the AHL, as it will probably see their first foray out in the west work for the longer-term, as times in Abbotsford, BC and Salt Lake City, Utah went by the wayside in a short time. The big sticking point for the AHL to make this work is having enough support from NHL teams to put their teams out west and make sure that they stick.
Now, the big issue and concern is what will happen with the cities that are being vacated. Are they going to get swallowed up by other NHL teams looking for affiliates?? Will they switch and become ECHL areas instead?? What will happen with the other western ECHL teams??
While this announcement answers some questions, it leaves plenty left to answer and opens some new questions, as well.
-It was a perfect weekend for Richard Bachman. In the two games that he played of the three that the Oklahoma City Barons had this weekend, he stopped all 54 shots against him from the Rochester Americans and Hamilton Bulldogs. Plus, for the Barons– it was a perfect weekend with three wins, which includes a 5-4 OT win over the Adirondack Flames. Aside from Bachman, Andrew Miller had himself a weekend with three goals and two assists to go along with Ilro Pakarinen two goals and an assist. The win keeps the Barons five points clear of the Utica Comets for 1st overall in the Western Conference and one point ahead of the Springfield Falcons for 1st overall in the AHL.
-Despite all the news surrounding the team’s future in Norfolk, the Admirals went to Pennsylvania and took two of three games on the weekend with a win in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and split in Hershey. Emerson Etem racked up three goals and two assists, while captain Dave Steckel chipped in two goals of his own. Jason Labarbera stopped 54 of 57 shots with a shutout on Friday, while Igor Bobkov got his second win of the season on Sunday– his first since coming back from Utah. However, they’ll need a lot more than this weekend to salvage the season– as they are last in the Eastern Conference and 29th in the league in goals for.
-The giving season may be over, but no one told that to the Wheeling Nailers’ Zack Torquato who had six assists (along with one goal) this weekend as the Nailers won two of their three games this weekend. Not to be outdone, Morgan Ellis had three goals and three assists, while Derek Army notched a pair of goals with an assist. However, the Nailers lone blemish on the weekend was a part of history as they got shutout by the Indy Fuel– which was the first road win and shutout in franchise history for the Fuel as Shane Owen was the goalie who gets that recognition and shut the Nailers down for the weekend.
-It’s a little unusual for two goalies to get their first game action of the season in the same weekend on the same team, but Tate Maris and Troy Redmann did just that for the Colorado Eagles, who were hampered by the call-up of Doug Carr and the injury to Clarke Saunders. On Friday, Maris got the start– his first in seven years– and had a shaky first period before settling down and letting the defense help him out– letting only 17 shots get to the Colorado native in a 5-3. With Saunders ruled out on Saturday, the Eagles signed Redmann that morning and he went on to stop 27 of 28 shots in a 4-1 win.
Photo by Jim Purvis, via Ice Bears Booster Club
-The dominance on the road by the Knoxville Ice Bears continued as they went into the Huntsville and took both games on the weekend. The games on the weekend were one-goal affairs, including Josh Cousineau‘s overtime winner on Saturday, which capped a great performance by Braely Torris— who stopped 42 of 43 shots. On Friday, Knoxville came back with goals from Berkley Scott and Lucas Van Natter to cap a 3-2 win in regulation. This was after Huntsville kept Knoxville home record dismal by winning on Thursday in Knoxville 4-2.
-Despite being shutout on Saturday, the Mississippi RiverKings took two of three from the Peoria Rivermen this weekend, holding the Rivermen to only four goals on 92 shots on the weekend. Matt Whitehead kept his team scoring lead alive with two goals and an assist on the weekend, with Peter Di Salvo picking up both wins on the weekend, even though Adam Courchaine only allowed one goal in the lost Saturday.
With the holidays coming up, so are the international holiday tournaments. Of course, the World Junior Championships are one of the big focuses, but in the minor league world– the focus is on the Spengler Cup, which is considered the oldest invitational tournament in all of international hockey. The tournament is put on by HC Davos in Davos, Switzerland and consists of six teams– HC Davos, Team Canada (a conglomeration of Canadians playing in the AHL, ECHL, and Europe), and four other teams from around the world. Last year, the Rochester Americans took the journey, but didn’t get past the first playoff round.
This year, Hockey Canada announced that six players from the AHL will be included in this years Spengler Cup roster. Goalie Drew MacIntyre (Charlotte), defensemen Brendan Mikkelson (Toronto) and Ryan Parent (Ontario/St. John’s), along with forwards Curtis Hamilton (Oklahoma City), Jerome Samson (Syracuse), and Ryan Martindale (San Antonio) will be playing under the coaching prowess of Guy Boucher in this tournament which starts on December 26th against host HC Davos.
MacIntyre, who just got his 200th career AHL win, has been so-so for the Checkers with a 9-11-2 record, 2.59 GAA, and .916 save percentage, but should be safe with a European game which will see a lot of shots from the outside. Mikkelson will provide a stay-at-home aspect for the Canadians, as he has three goals, three assists, and an even rating on a otherwise dismal Toronto team; while Parent– who had just signed in the ECHL with the Ontario Reign and was called up by the St. John’s Ice Caps due to their issues on the blue line from Winnipeg– should be a wild card who can put up points, but also be somewhat solid in his own end.
Up front, Hamilton will provide a solid two-way game, as he has 16 points in 27 games with the Barons, but also provides solid minutes on special teams, as well. Samson has been lost in the shuffle on a strong Springfield team with only a goal and seven points, but is in the top five in shots on goal for the Falcons, while Ryan Martindale will a little bit of a spark to the Canadians, as he has two goals on the power play, a goal short-handed, and should adapt well to a lot more ice around him to work on the forecheck.
With the exception of MacIntyre and Mikkelson, the other teams may not miss these players that much– though Parent leaving a team that’s in need of defense is very interesting. However, the big deal for these players is to go out and play of their country and, who knows, it could actually spark something in them to get them going from the second-half onward. Of course, it could also spark some bad traits in them going to the bigger ice surface, as well. Time will tell, but getting constant playing time over a week tournament will be an eye-opener one-way or another.
Big news this week out of Oklahoma City and not just from the head coach being promoted. Scotty discusses how the Barons ceasing operations could bring major changes to the minor league hockey landscape; especially the possible fast-tracking of the AHL West. Not only that, but the Hamilton Bulldogs were in the news for remarks made during the ground-breaking of a new arena in Laval, Quebec. In better news, the Fort Wayne Komets could have found the best parent affiliation they can handle as the Colorado Avalanche are happy with the early results thus far. Two goalies end it out, with Allen York playing better due to stability and Parker Milner having the fastest promotion and demotion known to man. Not to be outdone, some news and notes, plus We Hardly Knew Ye.