We’re getting closer to the end, with the playoffs wrapping up– Scotty talks about the Kelly Cup finalists and one-half of the Calder Cup finalists. Anthony Mantha is facing heat for his lackluster first professional season, while Dave Andrews talks about the AHL realignments and how the New York teams were necessarily going to be grouped in the same division, plus confirming the California teams will get less games. Speaking of California, Bakersfield and the Condors are gearing up for the AHL frontier, while Syracuse is gearing up for the AHL All-Star Game. All that, plus News and Notes, as well as We Hardly Knew Ye.
This week, Scotty looks at the possible demise of the Federal Hockey League, what Kristers Gudlevskis will show up for the Syracuse Crunch (spoiler: not the good one), how Liam Stewart is forging his own path beyond his famous bloodlines, while Columbus and Lake Erie are forging for Ohio to be the next hockey hotbed. The Macon Mayhem are making their presence known in the community, while we go through the last of the yearly awards, a new coach in Brampton, and We Hardly Knew Ye.
It’s the last season to get their playoffs underway, but the AHL is primed to have a solid showing with plenty of teams that could very looked at as very elite when all is said and done. However, to quote a great man– to know where you’re going, you’ve got to know where you’ve been. Today, we start out East and then move out West tomorrow and my bleak attempt to break it down from a fundamental standpoint.
(1) Manchester Monarchs vs. (8) Portland Pirates
After completing their third 50-win season in franchise history (first since 2006-07 when it was an 80-game season), the Monarchs are loaded up with plenty of offense, leading the East with 241 goals, as well as have four 20-goal scorers. AHL MVP Brian O’Neill and Mike Mersch will be joined by Nick Shore, who was reassigned by Los Angeles and has registered more than a point-per-game in the AHL during his limited time over in Manchester. On the back-end, J-F Berube will be supported solidly by Derek Forbort with Andrew Bodnarchuk providing the first pass out of the zone and Colin Miller adding scoring and power play prowess from the point.
They needed a last game win in order to make it, but the Pirates could be considered a team playing for their playoff lives for almost a month now. Despite a six-game losing streak, the Pirates were able to battle back and lot of that was on the back of Mike McKenna in net, who went 8-4-4 in the last two months. The defense will be a big thing, especially with the Pirates not producing many goals– especially on the power play where they were 27th out of 30 in the league (48 for 345; 13.9%). Though Alexandre Bolduc and Brendan Shinninmin had 20-goal seasons, it’ll be on Dylan Reese and the defensive corps to keep the series close.
(2) Hershey Bears vs. (7) Worcester Sharks
The Bears haven’t been torn too apart this season from call-ups, which means they could be one of the more complete teams in the playoffs. With Stanislav Galiev returning, their offense is as potent as anything in the league. Going along with Galiev is Casey Wellman, both of whom had 25 goals. Chris Conner‘s season half of the season helped him down the stretch; as Steve Oleksy and Cam Schilling have been solid on the back-end in front of Philipp Grubauer. However, Grubauer is up with Washington, which means the duties will be loaned to Pheonix Copley until Grubauer gets back.
When it looked like the Sharks were out of it, Aaron Dell came up to pretty much save the day for the Sharks; who are in their last season in Worcester. Dell went 13-6-1 since February 1st and helped the Sharks get to the playoffs, despite a three-game losing streak to end the season. Even though they had no 20-goal scorers, the Sharks did get plenty of contributions up and down the roster– mostly from captain Bryan Lerg, Micheal Haley, and rookie Evan Trupp; while also having Taylor Fedun contribute on the defensive side.
(3) Hartford Wolf Pack vs. (6) Providence Bruins
One of the interesting things about the Wolf Pack is that they had only a +7 goal differential, which means while they put pucks in the net; there were times they had trouble keeping them out. Yet, since Yann Danis was brought into the fold and settled down– the Wolf Pack have been solid, taking the Northeast Division. Luckily, Chris Bourque and Oscar Lindberg were solid when it came to the forward presence, though Conor Allen will have to stay out of the penalty box to help the defensive play, though rookie Mat Bodie was tied for points (with Charlotte’s Trevor Carrick) for rookie defensemen.
The potential for the Bruins to score goals is there, but it wasn’t for the regular season. Barely two 15-goal scorers, but they also lost David Pastrnak for most the season; which probably hurt a lot and will give Providence a nice boost when it comes to the playoffs. Helping Pastrnak will be Alex Khokhlachev, who lead the team in scoring, and Colin Stuart, who lead the team in goals. With not much support, there could be a lot of weight on Jeremy Smith‘s shoulders– who seemed to distance himself from Malcolm Subban in net in their 1a/b situation. The veteran prowess of Steve Eminger could help the young team go ahead and steal a couple games from Hartford.
(4) Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins vs. (5) Syracuse Crunch
There’s no doubt that the story of the Baby Pens’ year is the emergence of goalie Matt Murray– who not only took home top goalie honors, but also top rookie honors. Another breakout performance was the 26-goal campaign by Jayson Megna, who had 11 goals and five assists in the last two months of the season, most in the absence of Andrew Ebbett; who was travelling back and forth to Pittsburgh. With two veterans on the squad in Tom Kostopoulus and Danny Syvret; it could help out the young-ish team. This is all not even talking about Conor Sheary— who led the team and was 8th in rookie points.
After winning only one of their last 10 games, the Crunch picked the wrong time to start slumping. That said, they are better than their record with plenty of talent. Yanni Gourde, Jonathan Marchessault, and Mike Angelidis have led the way in every facet of offense since Vlad Namestnikov was called up to Tampa for the rest of the season. However, the fact the Crunch only lost once to the Baby Pens this season should be a nice motivator, but they will need Kristers Gudlevskis to get back on his game in order to keep the pucks out of the net.
The SPHL Playoffs got a little crazy and Scotty will run down the after effect of that, plus give you the low-down on the Yearly Honors the SPHL handed out thus far. Carter Rowney is on doing his best to ply his trade and go beyond most odds to get a NHL contract from first only signing an AHL-only deal. Consistency is Mike Monfredo’s mantra…and if it isn’t– it should be as he’s been more than consistent for the Quad City Mallards. The monthly awards came down, as did the weeklys, the new San Jose AHL team name, plus Syracuse’s push for the 2016 AHL All-Star Game. All that, and We Hardly Knew Ye.
-It’s been an up and down year for the Portland Pirates, but this weekend was a big leap for them, who extended their winning streak to four games with big wins over the Springfield Falcons 5-3 on Friday and a 1-0 shootout win over the Providence Bruins. Mike McKenna got the nod both games, stopping 57 of 60 shots on the weekend, with a 34-save shootout win on Saturday. Justin Hodgman was the offensive star with three assists on Sunday, while Lucas Lessio added a goal and assist in Friday’s win. The four-game win streak has boosted the Pirates to 2nd in the Atlantic Division.
-Working overtime was the big thing for the Syracuse Crunch, who came away with two wins– one in a shootout on Friday and in overtime Saturday– to help them close the gap between them and the Springfield Falcons. Andrei Vasilevskiy was stellar Friday with 35 saves, while Kevin Lynch ended the 10-round shootout between the two teams. On Saturday, Mike Blunden was the star with a hat-trick on six shots, while Jonathan Marchessault scored the game winner with 12 seconds left in overtime.
-With points in their last six games, including two this weekend, the Ontario Reign are on top of the Pacific Division right now. Geoff Walker had three goals and an assist in wins over the Bakersfield Condors and Stockton Thunder, while Gasper Kopitar (1g, 2a) and Rocco Carzo (0g, 3a) added three points of their own on the weekend. Jussi Olkinuora and Joe Cannata split the duties for the weekend and each took away a win.
-There were power outages at home for the Indy Fuel and Colorado Eagles. The Fuel only scored a goal a game in losses to the Reading Royals and Toledo Walleye, while the Eagles were shutout in both games against the Idaho Steelheads. Indy’s defense gave up 29 shots on goal each game with letting up eight goals against Toledo and three against Reading, Mac Carruth trying to hold the fort after Cody Reichard’s rough start Friday night– but with little success. The Eagles let up seven goals on the weekend with 57 shots let up on Doug Carr and Clarke Saunders.
-Despite getting trounced by the Pensacola Ice Flyers Friday night, the Mississippi RiverKings took the home-and-home against the Louisiana Ice Gators. Dan Delisle had the game-winning goal Saturday and a hat-trick Sunday to help boost the RiverKings, with added help on Sunday from Sean Jones— who had two goals of his own. The two wins also added to the five wins in the last six games they’ve had– putting them in the hunt for the playoffs as they have finally caught the tail end of the field.
-Woe are the Huntsville Havoc, who lost three straight games to the Fayetteville FireAntz; a team who lost both their goalies in the past week. While the first loss was on New Year’s Eve, the weekend wasn’t good for the Havoc as they dropped a 4-2 and 4-3 decisions to the FireAntz. Drew Akins has been showing some life for the Havoc with a goal and two assists this weekend– putting him at eight points in eight games with the Havoc; while Jacob Johnstone scored three goals on the weekend. The Havoc only have four wins on the year, one win in their last 17 games, and points in five of those 17 games.
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.