After some time off, Scotty Wazz is back to give you the news that happened since he was gone– like all the coaching changes in the AHL and ECHL. Speaking of change– Lamar Hunt, Jr. has some thoughts on the changes he’s made since taking over the Missouri Mavericks. More change is happening thanks to winning for the cities of Toledo, Utica, Manchester, and Rockford; while there are a lot of names changing in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s media guide next season. But nothing ever changes in the Federal Hockey League, as it is still a gongshow. All that, a little news and notes, and We Hardly Knew Ye.
With the coaching jobs getting less and less in the minor league hockey, the one constant remains– Roy Sommer will be coaching the San Jose Barracuda, putting his tenure with the Sharks’ AHL coach at 18 seasons, which has carried him through Kentucky, Cleveland, and Worcester. Outside of that, the trend with the most recent hirings by AHL teams is that of former NHL coaches who weren’t able to keep afloat in the NHL by their own doing or circumstances beyond their control.
The Grand Rapids Griffins got the top name out there in Todd Nelson, who gets back into the AHL after a subpar first outing in Edmonton; which is something no one could have salvaged. Nelson did the smart thing and decided to bail out of Edmonton with their sweeping changes to head to the Grand Rapids side, who should fit Nelson’s style perfectly. With the Oklahoma City Barons, however, Nelson was stellar with a 176-111-46 over four-plus seasons and if given a better goaltender and defense, maybe have been able to stick with Edmonton. However, with Grand Rapids having stellar prospects in their line-up already, it’s a matter of Nelson not getting too far off course from what the Griffins already have and get back to his winning ways in the AHL.
After surprisingly letting go their entire coaching staff, the Arizona Coyotes will start with a new coach in their new affiliation in Springfield, as Ron Rolston will take the helm there. Rolston, who was last seen behind the bench of the Buffalo Sabres– but only for 20 games, gets back the AHL after three seasons away. From 2011 until 2013, Rolston was behind the bench of the Rochester Americans, where he led them to a 79-55-18 record during that time. However, Rolston hasn’t really got himself into a head coaching style. Even with his short stint as the Sabres coach, Rolston is better regarded as an assistant, as he went through the college ranks as one and only has 206 head coaching games to his resume. It will be interesting to see how much rope the Coyotes give Rolston in developing their young stars.
In Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Mike Sullivan will be taking over for John Hynes— who departed for the New Jersey Devils. Sullivan, who was a player development coach with the Chicago Blackhawks this season, will return behind the bench in the head gig for the first time since 2006 when he coached the Boston Bruins. However, Sullivan has been behind the bench as an assistant in New York, Tampa Bay, and Vancouver. The AHL is where Sullivan had a great year with the 2002-03 Providence Bruins (41-17-9-4), which was all Boston needed to promote him to the NHL. Sullivan does have tough shoes to fill, as Hynes was a stalwart for the Baby Pens and led them to five straight playoff appearances and two conference finals. Whether or not Sullivan can revive his magic that he had back in 2002-03 remains to be seen, but odds are he will have to make sure this transition goes off without a hitch, lest he finds himself back looking for another job.
There are a few jobs in the AHL left, with Lehigh Valley having an opening with the exit of Terry Murray to Buffalo, as well as the other shuffling affiliated teams and a couple of the California teams– but I wouldn’t expect much out of those except a change of address for the AHL coaches in the previous markets moving to their new locale. As per usual in minor league hockey, the minute the season ends; the next season inevitably begins. No clue what that means– just needed something to end it out and it failed horribly.
In this week’s Farm Report, Scotty talks about the patience in net for the Capitals’ farm hands, Joe Devin‘s venture back from Europe to South Carolina, Keith Seabrook‘s venture back into hockey overall, and Tom Kostpoulos‘s possible last adventure in the AHL. All that, plus News and Notes and We Hardly Knew Ye.
With the top-four seeds advancing in the East, the best of the best are going to be out there to take the conference. With a couple teams having troubles in the first round, it’ll be interesting to see if there’s going to be any upsets or trouble for these teams moving forward.
(1E) Manchester Monarchs vs. (4E) Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins
The Monarchs squeaked out a series victory over the Portland Pirates, where the home team won every game. The Monarchs were able to get their offense up to snuff, but their lack of road presence could be something that bites them the further along they go. The Baby Pens made short work of the Syracuse Crunch in their three-game sweep, outscoring the Crunch 14-3. With the team rolling at the right time, the Baby Pens could be the team to be reckoned with this post-season.
Though they went to distance, the Monarchs did get a lot of scoring– led by rookie Michael Mersch and Jordan Weal, while Sean Backman has been taking the role of breakout star for these playoffs. Regular season MVP Brian O’Neill will still need to contribute a bit more, despite being a point-per-game already. One main concern has to be the defense, who allowed two or more goals in all of the five games, which could be the penalty kill issues– which is 12th of the 16 playoff teams and last amongst the teams still remaining. J-F Berube will have to be a little better for the Monarchs if they still want to have success in the rest of these playoffs.
For the Baby Pens, they keep their hot streak rolling. Led by rookies Conor Sheary and Kasperi Kapanen with Sheary leading in points with five and Kapanen leading in goals with three. The secondary scoring in Carter Rowney, Andrew Ebbett, and Jayson Megna still have a lot of show still, I’m sure, which– with rest– could cause trouble for Manchester. Matt Murray, which is a shock to no one, has been solid as usual, have a 1.00 GAA and .965 save percentage through the first round. With as solid as he has been, Murray’s play could be key should the offense falter slightly against a tougher opponent.
(2E) Hershey Bears vs. (3E) Hartford Wolf Pack
With the Bears decisive win in Game Four, they showed that they weren’t going to let up on the competition, which could prove solid when it comes to needing a killer instinct. The Wolf Pack however played all but one of their games with one-goal margins; two going into overtimes in their five-game series with the Providence Bruins. Those close games and dealing with overtimes could battle harden the Wolf Pack quickly. Luckily, these two teams are facing off as their parent affiliations are facing off, as well.
One of the questions will be what the health status of Philipp Grubauer will be. He left during Game One, handing the reigns over to Pheonix Copley, who did an admirable job in relief. Grubauer said he will be ready for these series, but who knows if he’ll aggravate the injury again. The offense should be much better for the Bears, though they are getting it from all sources involved in the action. Cam Schilling has led the way from the blue-line, but Casey Wellman, Chris Brown, and Liam O’Brien have been the top guys; while Stanislav Galiev is still waiting to explode on the scoresheet.
There have been a lot of tight checking games for the Wolf Pack, which shows by only one goal scorer having more than a goal (Chris Mueller), as the team has had nine different goal scorers through the first five games. As Oscar Lindberg and Danny Kristo have been solid, they still need an extra gear in the playoffs. The loss of Ryan Bourque to the Rangers is a big deal, but they will need to counteract it somehow. Surprisingly, the play of Yann Danis has been solid. The veteran netminder has been solid while facing as many shots (175) as he has. He’ll be tested again by the Bears, but his prowess in these playoffs will be a nice edge as Hartford moves forward.
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.
In a bit of a truncated show, Scotty talks about the SPHL Playoffs, the leap that Cole Bardreau has made to Lehigh Valley, what its like to live in the AHL/NHL bubble like Andrew Ebbett, plus News and Notes and a bonus We Hardly Knew Ye.