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.
In discussion with AHL president David Andrews, Jon Rosen of the Los Angeles Kings Insider was able to get the skinny on what is going to happen with the games for the California teams. There is a reduction, but it isn’t as horrible as many (me included) thought it would be.
That reduction will be a 68-game schedule for the California-based Ontario Reign, San Diego Gulls, San Jose Barracuda, Bakersfield Condors and Stockton Heat, American Hockey League Commissioner David Andrews confirmed to LA Kings Insider during the first intermission of Friday’s Calder Cup Finals game in Utica, N.Y. Teams outside of the Pacific Division will play 76-game schedules. At this time, it is unclear whether the Texas-based Pacific Division teams – the San Antionio Rampage and Texas Stars – will play a 68 or 76-game schedule.
Now, in the previous discussions, including one that was done by Lindsay Kramer from Syracuse.com, the 25 other AHL teams would play a full 76. That said, should the AHL decide that the divisional play is the way they want to go; then if San Antonio and Texas are able to get a 68-game schedule– it’s not all that bad and the Pacific is on a level playing field as the rest of their counterparts. Of course, who knows if those teams want to give up four home dates that they’re used to because of schedule imbalance, but that’ll be revealed when the schedule is put out.
This brings up the debate of why there is being special things in place for the California teams. The Alaska Aces are a team in the ECHL who never got special treatment, same went for the Abbotsford Heat and Utah Grizzlies when they were in the AHL and far away from other teams in their league.
From what I recall when this idea of California teams were bandied about, the big hold-up is whether or not it would be smart to have these teams in the AHL and not hurt the integrity of the rest of the league. For me, five (or seven) teams getting eight less games than the rest of the team is a little bit of an eyebrow raiser, regardless of the travel/profit involved in it. Granted, the NHL does have better transportation; but if this is a development league– one of the things the players coming up should have to experience is the travel that involved in the hockey life.
That said, I’m just a blogger/podcaster and I’m not paid to make the decisions the AHL is doing– which is something that I don’t envy because who knows what politics are involved when making these decisions for these new teams. It has to be hard on Andrews and the staff to make this, while trying not to alienate the rest of the league in the process. Whether less games will actually be helpful or a hinderance won’t be seen for about three years; but for a league that is coming up on their 80th anniversary, one would think that they wouldn’t bend the rules for the minority of teams after doing all they could to get them into the league in the first place.
The Final Four are set in the ECHL, with only one team being here before in this league. While the Allen Americans are coming off of back-to-back Central Hockey League titles, only the South Carolina Stingrays have lifted the Kelly Cup. The city of Toledo knows what it is to be in the Final Four, but not this Walleye squad, while the last hurrah for the Ontario Reign keeps on trucking on.
Photo via the ECHL
(1N) Toledo Walleye vs. (2E) South Carolina Stingrays
It’s a good thing that the Walleye have home-ice advantage, as they have lost all but one game on opposition ice; despite only being a minus-3 (16 goals for, 19 against) in those six road games. However, of the four games these two played against each other, the Walleye put up three wins in South Carolina. On the good side, Tyler Barnes broke out with four goals and four assists in the series against Fort Wayne, while Shane Berschbach kept rolling along with three goals and eight assists against the Komets. One question could be what happens with Jeff Lerg and Neil Conway. Coach Derek Lalonde turned to Conway for Games 2 and 6, which could show that Lalonde was either trying to shake up the rest of the roster or send a message to Lerg.
After taking the first three games, the Stingrays faced adversity in two multiple overtime losses against the Florida Everblades; but took all three road games in the 2-3-2 format that the series had. As much as the Walleye have had issues on the road, the Stingrays are the same at home; winning only three of the eight home games they’ve had in Charleston. With four goals and six assists last series, Wayne Simpson has come out as the leading scorer for the Stingrays, as Derek DeBlois had two goals and five assists and captain Andrew Rowe putting up three goals and seven assists. Yet, goaltending is a little suspect, which is something you wouldn’t expect from the league MVP– but Jeff Jakaitis has had a rough go about it this playoffs, though rebounded a bit in the last series.
This series could be a war of attrition. The Walleye and Stingrays have played the most games of the team remaining, as the Walleye have played the maximum amount of 14 games thus far, to the Stingrays’ 13. Also, the Walleye were the last team the Stingrays beat in their 23-game winning streak; which was the only game the Stingrays won out of the four they played Toledo this season.
Photo via ECHL
(1C) Allen Americans vs. (2P) Ontario Reign
With a relatively easier match-up in the first round– the Americans seemed to be caught off-guard, which was noticeable in their Game 1 loss, which could have also been chalked up to the long break between rounds. With five goals and seven assists against Rapid City, Gregor Hansen has been a nice surprise going into the Conference Finals, especially with Chad Costello‘s scoring clip slowing down in the playoffs, even though Costello had two goals and seven assists versus the Rush. Though Joel Rumpel started the series and had another chance to regain his crease– Riley Gill stepped up to reclaim the starting role, but each goalie seems to know that if they keep winning; they’ll be starting.
The Reign made short work of the Utah Grizzlies in only a five-game series, but they have started to come into their own in their last hurrah. With two goals and four assists, Matt Register took over the team lead in points, which is a shock for a blue-liner in the playoffs, while Garry Nunn posted three goals and six assists against the Grizzlies; which could be a scary thought for a team that is playing for a lot in these playoffs. With the way that Jussi Olkinuora has been playing in goal, the Reign look like the perfect combination of high scoring and tight defense which will be a nice mix for the Allen squad they’re facing.
This is the first time these teams have been in the Conference Finals; Allen because this is their first year and Ontario is making the most out of their last run in the ECHL. These teams only met twice in the thrown together schedule, but it was a split between them. There wasn’t much to go on with that small series. While it seems that there is a little bit of a hiccup happening for the Americans, the Reign seem to be getting stronger with each round– with the rest between rounds being very crucial for this series coming up.
This week’s Farm Report has Scotty talking about the AHL and ECHL playoffs, the Ontario Reign not getting the support like they did in the regular season for the playoffs, reactions for clean-out day for some eliminated teams, a urge by the Springfield Falcons to support the team, plus coaching changes. Not only that, but the SPHL has their expansion draft, Manitoba has the Moose back, and We Hardly Knew Ye.
(1C) Allen Americans vs. (2C) Rapid City Rush
It’s not as if the Allen Americans needed more of a rest, but this is a team who hasn’t played since last Tuesday. Whether or not the 10-day rest will prove to put rush on this usually well-oiled machine remains to be seen. The Rapid City Rush, however, played Game Seven on Wednesday– but have also played the Americans fairly close, despite only winning four of the 12 match-ups this season.
There’s an embarrassment of riches for the Americans, especially with the return of Spencer Asuchak— who came back from the AHL to put up three goals and eight points in five games. When you add Asuchak to Chad Costello and Gary Steffes‘ already potent offense– the Americans look like they will be the offensive spark that is usually unseen in most playoff series. Gregor Hansen has been solid on both sides of the puck for the Americans, with defenseman Konrad Abeltshauser being the main contributor for the blue-liners. One interesting thing is how Joel Rumpel has replaced Riley Gill as the netminder of record, which could continue into this round for Steve Martinson‘s squad, but to have Gill as a back-up will be a nice bonus for an Americans squad who looks as solid as any team has been in the ECHL.
Rapid City will probably live and die by the play of Danny Battochio in net. He was solid against an underrated Quad City squad, but will be really tested in this match-up with the high octane Allen team. With not a lot of goal contributions, the Rush will need to shut down the Americans early and often. The responsibilities will fall on the shoulders of Michael Young and Dallas Ehrhardt to help Battochio, while Cody Ferriero and Winston Day Chief will need to help wake up Jesse Schultz to provide the offense for the Rush.
(2P) Ontario Reign vs. (4P) Utah Grizzlies
After a big upset, the Grizzlies are in the Division Finals against a team in the Reign that they match-up well against. With the Reign being pushed to seven games against the Colorado Eagles, it could be a good sign for the Grizzlies to play a team that was worn down a bit in the first round. That said, the Reign have been scoring at an impressive clip. However, it will be a match-up of the Grizzlies top penalty kill unit in the playoffs and the Reign’s second overall power play unit.
The offense has been spread around a bit amongst the trio of Judd Blackwater, Matt Register, and Matt White; but haven’t gotten the too much other goal-scoring help. With Garry Nunn still waiting to break-out, the Reign seem set to provide a lot of offense. However, the Reign have not been good on the penalty kill and were the most penalized team in the playoffs with 36 called against them that resulted in power plays, which resulted in eight power play goals against. At full-strength, the Reign have been solid– especially on defense with rookies Alex Roach and Dennis Brown holding down the defensive side. The combo of Jussi Olkinuora and Joe Cannata will need to be much better, especially if they have to get into a platoon situation.
The Grizzlies have not lost in regulation this playoffs, which shows how much of a tough out they will be. More over than that, they have been a solid offensive team, getting a lot out of Ryan Hayes and Danick Paquette, who have combined for nine goals in the first round. Even the likes of Mathieu Aubin and Alex Krushelnyski have produced a lot, but overshadowed by Hayes and Paquette. It could be a little alarming that the blue-line hasn’t contributed much, but they have been steadfast in their own end. Yet, it’ll come down to Igor Bobkov, who has been solid down the stretch, in order to keep the Grizzlies season alive. Bobkov didn’t fare great against the Reign, only winning two of six appearances– yet, his 9-2-2 record in the last 13 games coupled with the Grizzlies offensive output should be enough to push them to the Conference Finals.
It all starts today with the ECHL’s Kelly Cup playoffs, as the Central Division kicks off the Western Conference side of things. As two of the newer teams are going to drop the puck tonight; it seems like the easy place to start for a playoff preview, with the Eastern Conference coming tomorrow.
(1C) Allen Americans vs. (4C) Tulsa Oilers
As they have the goalie with the most wins in the league (Riley Gill), the forward with the most goals in the league (Gary Steffes), the forward with the most points in the league (Chad Costello), and the top goal-scoring team in the entire league; the Allen Americans are going to be a hard out in these playoffs, especially in the Central Division play-downs. Especially to have someone like Gill, who has won a Kelly Cup two years ago in Reading; the Americans are primed to really take the playoffs by storm.
Yet, Tulsa has been able to play the Americans pretty close in their 17 match-ups, winning five games, losing two in extra time, and also playing several one and two-goal games. The Oilers are bring 40-goal scorer Adam Pleskach, 50-plus assist-man Drew Fisher, and solid rookie Jeff Jubinville to the fold and will give quite a task to the Americans’ defense. Thanks to Kevin Carr in net, the Oilers had their highest win total in team history since 2002-03.
That all said, with Chad Costello having himself an amazing year and putting up 15 goals and 31 points in the 17 games against Tulsa, it could be just a question of how many games the Americans will win this.
(2C) Rapid City Rush vs. (3C) Quad City Mallards
There might be no hotter team in the ECHL as the Rapid City Rush. The second half of the season, the Rush went 23-8-5 after the midway point of the season. Outside of the Jesse Schultz and Cody Ferriero up-front, one of the guys who played well against Quad City was Daniel Barczuk who had six goals and 10 points in the 13 match-ups the two had. With Mathieu Brisebois on the back-end contributing on the power play, the Rush are solid for scoring. One main questions is what can Danny Bottochio do in net, as he was only 5-3-3 in his appearances against the Mallards., but had a GAA under 2.00.
One thing for the Mallards is that they have two solid options in net with Parker Milner and Evan Mosher, which could be the determining factor for the Mallards when all is said and done. Yet, there’s a nice well-rounded aspect to the Mallards game, as they have gotten solid play from Mario Lamoureux, Justin Fox, and rookie Joe Perry, along with special teams’ help from Kevin Baker and defenseman Matt Duffy— the Mallards could very well will their way to win this series.
In a tight series like the Mallards and Rush have played this season; it’ll come down to how teams do in extra time, where the Mallards took three of the four extra time games. With their goaltending solidified with Milner back, the Mallards may have the edge– even with the Rush being the hottest team in the season half of the season.
(1P) Idaho Steelheads vs. (4P) Utah Grizzlies
When it comes to output, the Steelheads got plenty out of Wade MacLeod; who not only lead the team in scoring and ended up second in the league; but he also took control during the series against the Grizzlies with nine goals and 19 points this year against Utah. With the addition of Jason Bast off the IR for the playoffs, the offense should be solid for the Steelheads; who will also get plenty out of goaltender Olivier Roy and blueliner Gaelan Petterson in terms of keeping the Grizzlies off the scoresheet.
If anything, the Utah Grizzlies will rely on tight-checking and defensive play, as only the Wheeling Nailers and Quad City Mallards have less goals for the season than the Grizzlies had (213). The acquisition of Jacob Johnston early in the year helped the blue-line throughout the season, especially when through 13 defensemen in the season, many of whom are on the younger side of the age scale. It will be a test on Alex Krushelnyski and Michael Pelech if the Steelheads are able to neutralize leading scorer Mathieu Aubin.
Neither Roy nor Utah’s Igor Bobkov saw much time in net during the head-to-head match-ups, nor did they fare all that well when they got the chance. But with Roy back at full strength and the top offensive players for Idaho coming back; the Grizzles may be in an uphill battle to win this series.
(2P) Ontario Reign vs. (3P) Colorado Eagles
Though they haven’t faced the Eagles since February, the Reign have been quite solid since then– especially with Jussi Olkinuora playing solid down the stretch for Ontario. With the pick-up of Garry Nunn, the offense has been a little more explosive, as Nunn put up 21 points in his 15 games for Ontario. With Judd Blackwater and Matt White riding alongside, the offensive side is covered; even getting contributions from the blue-line from Matt Register and with forward Maxim Kitsyn— who had eight goals against the Eagles this year.
With the rotating net for the Eagles, it seems that Clarke Saunders has been able to overtake the crease from Doug Carr; especially when it comes to the Reign where he went 7-2-0; though he had an inflated 2.49 GAA. The one good thing for the Eagles is their spread out scoring with set-up man Trent Daavettila dishing to Brock Nixon and Taylor Vause; with Collin Bowman having the touch on the power play from the blue-line. There is also a lot of grit on the Eagles with both Darryl Bootland and Teigan Zahn putting up more than 200 PIMs this year on the 4th most penalized team in the ECHL.
If Saunders can stay healthy and hot against the Reign, the Eagles will only need to put up points in order to get past the Reign. That said, the Reign will be playing for pride, as it is their last season in the ECHL and they would want to go out with a bang before they move to the AHL.
Photo by Chris Marion/Springfield Falcons
-With their backs against the wall during a huge freefall on the the season, the Springfield Falcons were only able to muster one point in their three games; losing two of those to the Worcester Sharks; who have passed them for the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference standings. A lot of this could be attributed to the injuries that the Falcons have had, as well as their parent club in Columbus. One of the main injuries was to Anton Forsberg, who was lights-out in net for the Falcons. The trio of Oscar Dansk, Scott Munroe, and newcomer Joonas Korpisalo haven’t gotten the job done as of yet. With the addition of Sonny Milano to the offense to help combat those call-ups and injuries; the Falcons will really have to dig in to make sure this collapse from the regular season won’t be the last memory of the year.
-With the Eastern Conference having the Sharks surging; the Chicago Wolves have made their way into a playoff spot, despite only being five points up on 12th place Lake Erie. The Wolves swept the home-and-home with the Milwaukee Admirals this weekend and then came back home to beat the Iowa Wild. Jeremy Welsh had three goals and three assists this weekend, with Magnus Paajarvi notching a hat-trick Saturday night, and Ty Rattie putting up two goals and five assists on the weekend. Matt Clime had two book-end wins with Jordan Binnington putting up the win on Saturday.
-The Stockton Thunder were swept over the weekend against Alaska. The Bakersfield Condors have lost eight-straight. For two of the three teams leaving the ECHL next season, they are going out with a whimper rather than fanfare, as they would have hoped. Luckily, the Ontario Reign were able to go ahead and make the most– they even swept Bakersfield this weekend, as Judd Blackwater had a hat-trick on Friday, then another goal on Saturday. Rocco Carzo (1g, 3a), Matt White (2g, 1a), and Gary Nunn (3a) played a supporting role as Jussi Olkinuora won both games in turning up for the playoffs.
-There’s something about the East Division. The South Carolina Stingrays finally had their 23-game win streak broken by the Indy Fuel, but were able to get back on the horse the next day. The Reading Royals had a 12-game winning streak earlier in the year and now the Florida Everblades have gotten points in 14 straight games, only losing in a shootout last weekend. All three of those teams have clinched a playoff spot, only leaving one left for Orlando and Greenville to fight over.
Photo from Huntsville Havoc Facebook
-Despite having the worst record in SPHL history, the Huntsville Havoc beat the Columbus Cottonmouths twice this weekend– even though the Cottonmouths were possibly thinking ahead to the playoffs. Jordan Reed put in three goals on the weekend, while Stuart Stefan and Nick Wheeler added two assists. One of the big performances was Kevin Genoe‘s play on Saturday, as he stopped all 51 shots on Saturday night, his first of the year in the last game of the year.
-As the playoffs start on Wednesday, you can check out my first round primer for the SPHL action.