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.

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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 02.08.15

On this edition of the Farm Report, Scotty talks about the purchase of the Missouri Mavericks by powerful local businessman who is determined to expand the brand of the team. Justin Cseter returned to the scene of his horrific injury and talks about how, to him, it’s not that big a deal anymore. The Canadian AHL teams are feeling a big pinch due to the declining dollar, while the ECHL reformatted their divisions for the 2015-16 season. Monthly awards, weekly awards, Arizona minor league craziness, and We Hardly Knew Ye.

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Farm Report Podcast 01.25.15

This week, the ECHL All-Star Classic happened in Orlando and Scotty will have results from the event and what some reserves who didn’t get a chance to go did during the break. The South Carolina Stingrays are going to the city of Charleston are talking about keeping the team in town the financial losses to a minimum. The William Nylander Show is in town in Toronto and he seems to be adjusting to the media and game slowly but surely. Oh, and a little thing call the AHL West could be voted upon today….not big deal. All that, News and Notes, plus We Hardly Knew Ye on the 1st Anniversary Edition of the Farm Report.

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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.

Better Know An Affiliate: Toronto Maple Leafs

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As we get ready for the the 2014-15 season, it may be time to get yourself reacquainted with your team’s minor league affiliates and what could be in store for your team should they need a call-up or two. I’ll go through them team by team in hopes that this enlightens some people to their affiliate teams. Today is a little bit of a short trip, as we profile the affiliates of the Toronto Maple Leafs; located in Toronto, Ontario and Orlando, Florida.

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TORONTO MARLIES
Affiliate Since
: 2005-06
Distance From Parent Team (Arena to Arena): 2 miles

Last Season: 45-25-2-4, 1st in North Division, 3rd in Western Conference

After a solid season and taking home their third straight North Division title, the Marlies swept the first two series in the playoffs, eventually losing to the Calder Cup champion Texas Stars in a thrilling seven-game series.

Surprisingly enough, the team was lead by defenseman TJ Brennan, who lead the team in points, goals, and power play goals; which allowed him to win the Eddie Shore Award for most outstanding defenseman, which is interesting considering his minus-10; the second worst on the team. Stuart Percy and Korbinan Holzer where a little bit more consistent in their own end and made up for the Brennan mishaps that may have happened.

Up front, Spencer Abbott was the set-up man with 52 assists on the season, while Josh Leivo and Jerry D’Amigo were the two 20-goal scorers on the Marlies roster. The power play was solidly distributed out with Greg McKegg, Carter Ashton, Trevor Smith, Leivo, Brennan, and Abbott all had five or more power play goals on the season.

In net, Drew MacIntyre shouldered most of the load and being second in the AHL in wins with 29 in his 48 appearances. During his spot duty, Garret Sparks went 11-6-1 in 21 games, provided an adequate back-up work; with rookie Christopher Gibson getting into 12 games on the season, but was only able to garner five wins in his tenure last season.

Leading Scorers: TJ Brennan (25g, 47a), Spencer Abbott (17g, 52a), Greg McKegg (19g, 28a)

Possible Frequent Flyers: When given the chance to let someone who is more apt with a team, I outsource it out to them, which is why I turned to the Mysterious and Handsome Stranger of Pension Plan Puppets for his input. I was alerted that Stuart Percy and Tom Nilsson will be the guys who will be shuttled to and from. The big deal that PPP mention was that if Brandon Kozun is able to stick with the team; Greg McKegg, Carter Ashton, and Sam Carrick are going to be the most likely candidates to be called across the way in order to be the next Leaf.

Outlook: With a young goaltending tandem, the Marlies could see themselves dealing with Sparks and Gibson and their learning curves. Also, with Brennan being off the roster, there’s going to be more chances for Leivo and Abbott to step up their offensive game. This will be a season for proving themselves for the likes of Andrew MacWilliam, as he will be under a microscope to see if he’s worth the time being put into them in the minors.

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ORLANDO SOLAR BEARS
Affiliate Since:
2013-14
Distance From Parent Team (Arena to Arena): 1,280 miles

Last Season: 43-24-2-5, 2nd in South Division, 4th in Eastern Conference

After being acquired from Fort Wayne, Mickey Lang contributed big to the Solar Bears with 27 goals and 51 points in 37 games with Orlando, as well as adding 13 power play goals. Jacob Cepis was part of the secondary scoring with 20 goals and 56 points, with rookie Taylor Matson contributing 43 points in only 39 games.

The goaltending was interesting with eight goalies being used including Garret Sparks and Christopher Gibson, but Cory Reichard making the most of it with a 13-4-1 record, despite having a 3.04 GAA. John Curry also put up some numbers with a 10-2-0 record in his tenure with Orlando. On defense, Blake Kessel contributed well with seven goals and 35 points after coming from Bakersfield, with Cody Wild being a solid contributor in his own zone.

Leading Scorers: Jacob Cepis (20g, 36a), Mickey Lang (27g, 24a), Taylor Matson (18g, 25a)

Possible Frequent Flyers: There’s going to be a good look at Cepis from AHL teams, who will be looking to get a lot of scoring in to improve his stock. Defenseman Gleason Fournier will be able to get some looks after he had some AHL experience in him already.

Outlook: With a big turnover, the Solar Bears will be looking at new sources of offense, specifically lead by Cepis. Brock Montgomery coming into the fold will bring something to the Solar Bears, especially with a leadership quality he brought from his time in the WHL. Kent Patterson is coming over from the Central League for his first turn at the ECHL and will be looking to prove himself with higher competition around him.