Markets In The Market For Minor League Hockey

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During the podcast, I had mentioned that Biloxi, Mississippi and the people of Southern Mississippi Hockey LLC missed the deadline to get an expansion team into the SPHL for the 2015-16 season. While that might be a good thing in terms of not having to throw together an entire franchise in a limited amount of time– it does bring up the question of what areas could be prime for expansion.

There are some issues with it comes to that, though. The AHL pretty much as their affiliates set, baring a western expansion in the 2016-17 season, though it seems that most teams have multi-year deals locked up already. The ECHL has mentioned they want to cap their membership at 30 teams, and with Worcester and Oklahoma City out there for the picking– you have to think they will be next and last for the ECHL. The SPHL would need either a link that wouldn’t be too far from Peoria or the rest of the membership– but odds are those would be few and far between.

All that aside– let’s speculate for some place; Worcester and OKC aside.

When the CHL was still a thing, there was a possible chance for Casper, Wyoming to join that league– at least they had thought. The Casper Event Center put in an ice floor for the possibility to lure a team out there. While it would be a great place for the ECHL to put a team to have a better representation and better link to the western US; the odds of them putting a team or have the appeal for the ECHL is very slim with better, more established markets out there. It would probably be more likely to have a NAHL or NA3HL team in the US Junior system to be there.

An old market that could creep it’s way into an expansion role could be Atlantic City. They had the ECHL’s Boardwalk Bullies for four seasons and have hosted games for the Albany Devils in the past years with some very solid turn outs at the Boardwalk Hall. Of course, they could very well be a relocation destination over expansion.

Reno, Nevada has been on the “Future Markets” of the ECHL website for years now and there has been no movement one way or another from them to actually make a move. You’d have to think that their fate would be dependent on getting an owner who is serious about putting a team there and if Las Vegas gets a NHL team in their future.

Now, I said I wouldn’t talk about Worcester….but I kind of fibbed. It seems that my home state of Maryland and the County of Worcester is looking into building an arena to bring a minor league team there. Hat Trick Consulting have said it would be a great place to have a team and a new arena, which is usually mostly known for summer vacation. They have proposed a 6,200-seat arena and the thought is to bring in an ECHL team, but will most likely fit with the SPHL more likely– but both would be hard sells. The ECHL is very limited in teams, despite having Norfolk and the Pennsylvania teams not too far by. That is, of course, if the Maryland Stadium Authority says it’s a viable idea.

You would also have to think that if Maryland would get a team, Richmond, Virginia would be looking to get a spot because they would be close compatriots. Richmond hasn’t really given a hint of coming back into the minor league circle after the Richmond Renegades of the SPHL ceased operations in 2009. Granted, Richmond has had a strong minor league showing in the past; but that’s not to say that people will remember those times or actually want to have hockey back that’s isn’t of the ECHL variety they had from 1990 until 2003. The same could be said about the market in Roanoke, Virginia; who last had a team in the United Hockey League in 2004-05, but couldn’t draw the same numbers as their ECHL predecessors in the Roanoke Express. However, if Richmond could get something going; you can bet that Roanoke– their fiercest rivals– would want to be right there with them to try and rekindle not only a solid minor league turf war– but also revitalize pro hockey in Virginia.

When all is said and done, this is just spitballing ideas about what possible leagues could do. With the leagues being as handcuffed as they are when it comes to actually going through with expansions really hinders any kind of process, but it’s something that could spark what little debate there is to be had. For all intents and purposes, these markets would most likely be a relocation scenario over expansion. Not only that, but when you look at some of the areas mentioned– it could be up to the SPHL to actually take the reigns in terms of finding markets to be able to grown their brand a bit more.

Farm Report Podcast 05.24.15

In this week’s Farm Report, Scotty reviews the AHL and ECHL playoffs thus far, Danny Biega is feeling more confident in his game, all thanks to just ten games in the NHL; while the city of Biloxi is confident they’ll get another minor league hockey team– but not this upcoming season. All that, plus News and Notes and We Hardly Knew Ye

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Mayhem Making Their Foundation

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It’s a new dawn for the history of Macon hockey, as the Mayhem started their first true off-season with their expansion draft picks in front of a crowd at the local Wild Wing Cafe in Macon. The Mayhem couldn’t pick more than two players from each team in this draft, but they elected to only pick six players overall to put on their protected list.

On the marquee, the Mayhem picked up three-time President’s Cup winner and former SPHL First Team All-Star Ryan Salvis. With the Ice Bears this season, Salvis posted 45 assists and 57 points in 54 games, though he did go a bit quiet in the playoffs with only three assists in seven games en route to his third-straight championship. In his 244 games in the SPHL, Salvis has a total of 66 goals and 163 assists for 229 points.

The next member of the team is SPHL First Team All-Star from this year in Matt Whitehead. As a big force for the Mississippi RiverKings this past season, Whitehead had 21 goals and 56 points in 56 games, as well putting up a goal and two assists during the playoffs. Whitehead has seen his fair share of call-ups, though he didn’t get any this past season– he has seen time in the ECHL and the extinct CHL.

To start the blue-line off right, coach Kevin Kerr plucked Steve Bergin from Pensacola and Jason Cohen from Peoria. Bergin was the leading scorer on defense for Pensacola with 23 assists and 25 points in 56 games for the Ice Flyers. Cohen split his time with the Louisiana IceGators and the Peoria Rivermen, posting nine goals and 28 points in 51 games, while also receiving a call-up from the Tulsa Oilers of the ECHL this season for six games, registering two assists.

To end the draft, the Mayhem picked up two players coming out of college. From Ryerson University in Toronto, the Mayhem picked up defenseman Mark Corbett, who had nine goals and 34 points in his four-year career at Ryerson. From the US college ranks, John McLean was selected from Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota. McLean, who is 6’9 and 210lbs, was 36-18-7 with a 2.00 GAA and .927 save percentage in his four-year college career, while winning two during his three-game stint with the Pensacola Ice Flyers this season.

While there is still work to do (of course), the Mayhem are getting their foundation strong and picking some guys who do have plenty of connections to players around the league in hopes of luring them to Macon and try to make this expansion team successful from day one.

Olauson Out, But What’s The Fix For Fayetteville??

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Photo by Carrie A. Kirkpatrick

For the 2015-16 season, the Fayetteville FireAntz will be on their six coach in as many seasons with the dismissal of Emery Olauson as their head coach. Despite having the best record from December onwards, as well as dealing with call-ups from the ECHL and many injuries– the FireAntz’s brass did not feel it was good enough for Olauson to continue for a next season. Despite team GM Kevin McNaught saying he wasn’t disappointed in the coaching or recruiting, but for a team who has missed the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons; they apparently need more out of their coaching.

While coaching in any sport is a cut-throat business, there’s always a wonder if there’s just an over panic for some teams when it comes to their coaching situation. Granted, the SPHL is a league where you have to be really bad when it comes to not making the playoffs when 3/4th’s of the teams make it in. That said, it’s also the league with the most level for disparity when you have to deal with the pick of the litter being moved up to the ECHL and then there’s a scramble to find someone as good to fill that spot; which is something that is even rougher to do. Especially when you look at ten guys on the final roster (20 on the team as a whole) had under 20 points on the year– the talent is hard to find. One great pick-up was Matt Robertson, who was picked up from Huntsville early in the year and contributed to the bulk of the offense that the FireAntz created.

For the FireAntz, losing their goaltenders; especially down the stretch like they did– it was their undoing…but you can’t really hold that on Olauson when trying to get a goalie to North Carolina from Canada (while also getting visa paper work in order for him to play) or someone from a local North Carolina rink to fill the void that an all-league goalie would bring to the team. As much as the FireAntz relied on Kevin Murdock later in the season and Sean Bonar at the start– it’d be hard to make up for that talent in goal.

While they have 13 player protected for the 2015-16 season, it will be interesting to see how much it changes without Olauson. Both Murdock and Bonar are protected despite maybe not coming back, as Robertson and youngster Austin Daae were protected in hopes of building a core off of it. Should they be able to get Zach Carriveau back healthy, the team will be completely different. One of the big things is that the FireAntz lost 200 man-games, which for a league that only plays 56 games in the year– is mindboggling. While many think it’s a bad move, and rightfully so, but should the FireAntz turn it around– then revisionist history will be the subject of the day.

President’s Cup Finals: Mississippi RiverKings vs. Knoxville Ice Bears

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It’s all come to this, as the first (to me) minor league hockey season comes to an end and with plenty of questions surrounding the placement of the games, especially since the lower seed team will get all three games in their barn. That said, it’s not as if home-ice has been nice to the Knoxville Ice Bears all season, but in the playoffs; a home crowd is always a nice boost.

However, the big factor is if the rest or rust will be present for the Mississippi RiverKings, as they have not played since April 4th and could have to deal with a lot of rust on their legs. However, the RiverKings can provide offense; as six players put up points in the first three games, Byron Paulazzo being the top goal-scorer with three and Matt Harrington setting up the RiverKings with four assists. Having Easton Defenseman of the Year Andrew Randazzo will be a nice boost to help protect Peter Di Salvo, who has the best GAA in the playoffs so far with 1.70 in his three games. Di Salvo has stood strong for the RiverKings and even though it was a debate between him and Adam Courchaine; Di Salvo has proved himself embedded into the crease.

For the Ice Bears, they’ll need continued success from Ben Power and Francis Drolet, both of whom are on three-game point streaks and really have stepped up for Knoxville with Ryan Salvis and Berkley Scott not getting their offensive stride in the playoffs yet. Bryan Hince has taken over the crease from Braely Torris and has put up a solid save percentage when getting the chance he has gotten in net. However, with Salvis still not hitting his stride; it could be the time for him to actually step up and regain the performances he has had in Pensacola in years past to put on a show in the Finals.

Yet, the RiverKings will be in tight– losing four of the six games against Knoxville during the season; even though the IceBears won four of them before Christmas. All of the games will be in Knoxville, which the Ice Bears are 2-0 at in the playoffs, but were only 16-11-1 during the season. That’s also the same record the RiverKings have on the road, which may or may not mean anything when all is said and done.

It could be a soild series, despite it being in one place over a neutral site or going back and forth– but these two teams were in the middle of a hungry pack for the playoffs. With rest, the RiverKings should be ready to actually out skate the Ice Bears; but it’s not a sure thing as long-layoffs can be good for the body, but shotty for the play. Puck drops in Knoxville at 7:35 PM ET with Mississippi as the “home” team– creating even more confusion.

Farm Report Podcast 04.12.15

The SPHL season is winding down, as the Finals are set. The road between Wheeling and Hamilton has been a well traveled path, while Scooter Vaughan is taking an alternative route to success in his first AHL season. Columbus Cottonmouths’ coach Jerome Bechard talks about his team’s season as a whole, while more yearly awards were given out. All that, the ECHL playoff bracket, news and notes, plus We Hardly Knew Ye.

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SPHL Semi-Final: Knoxville vs. Louisiana

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Tonight is the start of the SPHL semi-final to see who will face the Mississippi RiverKings in the President’s Cup finals. The best-of-three series starts tonight in Louisiana and moves onto the weekend to Knoxville for Game Two and maybe a Game Three. On the surface, it looks like another close match-up, as the Knoxville Ice Bears took four of six games against the Louisiana IceGators, but all minus two games were one-goal games. Both the Ice Bears and IceGators had wins of three-or-more goals.

All six games were late in the season, the first match-up being on February 13th and ending with the last series of the season. Even though the Ice Bears took the series, they were outscored 18-17 by the IceGators. One of the big hang-ups for Knoxville is that the top guys for the Ice Bears were shutdown by Louisiana’s defense. Ryan Salvis, Eric Satim, and Francis Drolet combined for four goals in those six games, but did contribute on the assist side with Salvis adding four helpers, while Satim and Drolet added two each. Josh Cousineau added two goals and two assists, but hasn’t been seen on the scoresheet for most of the year. Drolet has been able to contribute in the playoffs thus far with four goals, along with Satim’s four assists– but Salvis has yet to really make his mark, with only two assists.

On the Louisiana side, Jake Hauswirth and Jeremy Boyer really took it to Knoxville, tallying three goals and five assists a piece in their six meetings, as Matt Viola added two goals and three assists in three meetings after being traded from Huntsville (which is where the IceGators shipped him earlier in the season). Viola added a goal and three assists in four games with the Havoc against the Ice Bears. One noticeably absence scorer against the IceGators is leading scorer Adam Stuart, who only mustered a goal and two assists, while also being held off the scoresheet in the first round.

In net, Bryan Hince won all three games against the IceGators he played in and was thrown into Game Three against the Columbus Cottonmouths. Braely Torris got the first two starts, but the rookie stepped aside for the veteran Hince. One of the big questions for Louisiana is to go with Scott Diebold or Marco Di Filippo, as both have a win and loss against Knoxville, but Di Filippo has gotten into more games– as he let up seven goals in his four appearance against the IceGators. Diebold has been the guy down the stretch and in the playoffs, which could be the best play since the IceGators seem to know how to get to Di Filippo.

Much like the first round, this series should be close scoring and very entertaining. All the while, the Mississippi RiverKings lay in waiting hoping that this series goes the distances and they can wear each other out for a bit of relief going into the championship series.