The Magic Number is 68

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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.

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Calder Cup Playoffs: Western Conference, Round 1

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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.

Farm Report Podcast: 03.22.15

More moving and shaking rumored in the AHL, as we get in the thick of Silly Season. Jeff Malcolm is doing his best to prove he belongs in Hartford once King Henrik returns to his Broadway throne. Though a man of few words, Winston Day Chief is commanding respect in the Rapid City locker room, while Jayson Megna is making a name for himself in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Meanwhile, in Toronto– patience is the name of the game for the Marlies. All that, plus news, notes, and We Hardly Knew Ye.

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Farm Report Podcast: 03.01.15

In this week’s Farm Report, Scotty looks at how Dany Heatley has been able to transition from the NHL spotlight to the AHL bus trips. The Indy Fuel have been making noise in the standings, but how about at the box office?? Tyler Brown used this summer to readjust himself and his game, while RG Flath is using the move to the ECHL as a learning experience in his leadership role. All that, plus News and Notes and We Hardly Knew Ye

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FOHS Farm Report Podcast 12.28.14

The Toledo Winterfest started with the Walleye hosting the Kalamazoo Wings in the first of two ECHL outdoor games. Scotty Wazz has the results, reactions, and some stories from the lead up to the first ECHL outdoor game. Tulsa’s Kevin Carr has had himself the journey from Buffalo State University to the ECHL and the rookie goalie isn’t going to stop there. The Toronto Marlies are trying to stop their slide of mediocrity this season, but will now go for a new method going into the new year, while Rocco Grimaldi is trying to make a bigger name for himself than he already has thus far. All that– but the AHL West could be picking up steam, the Las Vegas Wranglers front office takes a huge hit, the AHL OT is a huge hit, and of course– We Hardly Knew Ye

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Six From AHL Heading To Spengler Cup

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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.

FOHS Farm Report Podcast 11.23.14

The Frozen Dome Classic broke some records, so we have to start with that– all the reaction from the game and what it could mean for Syracuse in the future. Justin Fox was sly like a fox when it came to taking the summer to play hockey in Australian, which has helped him to a great start in the ECHL. Matt Case is constant in Idaho, while Eriah Hayes knows the trip from Worcester to San Jose very well. The AHL Hall of Fame class was named for this year, while it was a record setting night for the SPHL on Friday with the women in that game taking center stage. All that, plus Rocco Grimaldi’s double-header, shake-ups in the Wild minor league nets, and We Hardly Knew Ye.

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