CANTLON’S CORNER: WOLF PACK OFF SEASON VOLUME 14

CANTLON’S CORNER:

Wolf Pack Off Season Volume 14

BY: Gerry Cantlon, Howlings

HARTFORD, CT – The 2017-2018 Hartford Wolf Pack season is just about a month away and much is going on in the hockey world to get them and all the other teams ready to drop the puck and play.

MORMINA READY FOR BIG NEW CHALLENGE

The Wolf Pack have a new assistant coach for the defense in Joe Mormina.

After an AHL career that spanned 670 games, Mormina has spent the last couple of seasons thinking about his post playing career and getting into coaching.

“I really started thinking about this the last few seasons. I wanted to get into coaching and I have made a lot of contacts over the years and when I did retire two years ago, I applied for several AHL and ECHL opportunities, but nothing materialized. Then the Mercyhurst University (AHA) job opened up and it was a great learning experience,” Mormina said in a phone interview this week. “I am very grateful I got the chance to get started there.”

His eleven-year AHL career was a major selling point.

“I have lived and breathed this league for many years and have first-hand knowledge. I know what’s it’s like to play three games in three days; to wake up on a Monday morning and know how that feels. I know what it’s like to play in an empty building one night, and playing for 10,000 in Hershey the next night. I have seen how a slump feels and know how much the league has changed since I first started playing in 2005. I’m close enough in age, so to speak, that I recognize what the playing life is like now.” commented Mormina, a father of a young boy and girl.

Mormina is a father of a young boy and girl.

At 6’6 during his playing days through today, Mormina has seen a major change in how a defenseman is supposed to play.

“There was obviously more fighting when I started than there is now and the focus on speed in the game has changed the role and the methods. That said, you still have to be physical, just apply it differently. You still have to get to the corners and take guys out and you really have to have layers of defense to support one another to be effective. You have to have a good stick to aid your defense in securing the puck first and then help get the transition started to get your offense going.”

Mormina’s hockey development started in Dollard-Des-Ormeaux, a suburb on the West Island of Montreal. He was selected by the QMJHL’s Baie-Comeau Drakkar, but instead, he chose to go to the US prep school route (Holderness Prep in Plymouth, NH). Four years at Colgate University (ECACHL) followed and it was the best road for him.

“If I had gone to the Q, I would have been eaten alive. I was 6’4 about 170lbs then. I would have had to fight a bit more. I wasn’t physically ready at that point. My parents are both college graduates, and education was strongly stressed in my family. So the five-six years in that direction allowed me to grow into my body, gain confidence, develop my game, and become a better player. It was absolutely the right move for me.”

He was the second member of the Mormina family to play in the AHL. His godfather, Robert (Bobby) Mormina, played two seasons with Springfield and Hershey (1983-1985). His cousin Roberto played one season at Hotchkiss Prep (Lakeville, CT) in 2008-09 and then went back to play four years of Canadian college hockey at Concordia University (2010-2014), one of the two colleges in Montreal.

Mormina will clearly have some family in Laval when the Wolf Pack make their first trip to the Place Bell Centre on January 12.

Mormina grew up in the shadow of the rouge, blanc, and bleue (French for red, white, and blue) of the Montreal Canadiens, but it was another Quebec raised star whom he admired.

“I was a big fan of Ray Bourque and his game. He was a leader and played so well in both ends of the ice solidly, though I didn’t play as well as he did,” Mormina said with a laugh.

The Pack’s flock of big, young, rearguards like Ryan Graves, Brendan Kotyk, and Sergei Zrobivsky will be getting their education on the finer points of defense from Mormina as they prepare for the new AHL season, the Rangers, and perhaps a life in the NHL.

PACK ANNOUNCE PRE-SEASON SCHEDULE

Even the pre-season schedule is shrinking.

The Wolf Pack announced just a two game pre-season slate to whet the appetite of fans. They will play just one home and one away game with their divisional in-state rival, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The team played three games for the last five seasons or more. They used to play as many as four and even five.

The home game will be at Trinity College at 7 pm at the Koeppel Community Center Rink on Thursday, September 28. The game is the annual Ryan Gordon/Hartford Wolf Pack Community Scholars Fund game. A donation will be accepted in lieu of an admission charge with all funds going to the charity. The rink is the home of the Division III Trinity College Bantams.

The Pack and the Sound Tigers will take their act on the road up to Worcester, MA to play in a game at the new practice rink for Bridgeport’s new ECHL affiliate, the Worcester Railers HC, the Fidelity Bank Worcester Ice Center. That game is on Saturday, September 30th at 7 pm.

The Wolf Pack open the season the following Friday, October 6th against the Charlotte Checkers on the brand new ice surface that was put in over the summer at the XL Center.

PLAYER & COACHING MOVEMENT

A real good news story for the summer.

Heading to Asia to continue to play pro hockey is former CT Whale defenseman Logan Pyett. He will skate for the Tohoku Free Blades (Japan-ALIH).

Pyett has been out of hockey for more than two years after successfully beating sarcoma cancer, a bone cancer in the leg. He was in full remission at midseason last year, and he called Lehigh Valley head coach and former New Haven Nighthawk, Scott Gordon, seeking some video on defensive zone coverages and systems as he was going to start to get back on the ice.

The children’s version of the disease, Ewing sarcoma, which affects primarily youth from ages 16-22 claimed the life of Hamden High hockey star Donald Perrotti in 1998 at the age of 22 after a six year battle against the disease.

All time fan favorite PJ Stock is going behind the bench as an assistant coach with his new hometown junior team, the Junior A level, St. Lazare Revolution (QJAAAHL). Stock played 235 NHL games with 523 PM all earned in five- minute increments. He would always joke about, “My five big NHL goals and 26 points.” He was a fan favorite everywhere he played.

He gained his fame in Hartford right off the bat as a training camp invitee to the first Wolf Pack team. Stock scored the first goal in team history playing 160 games with 25 goals and 70 points with 742 PM.

Good news for the Stock family coming up on the one year anniversary of the passing of his older brother Dean from complications of MS.

Former UCONN goalie in their AHA years (2009-2014), Matt Grogan, becomes a volunteer assistant coach with Holy Cross (AHA) located in Worcester.

Grogan played a few years of minor pro hockey in the ECHL (Ft. Wayne, Orlando, Tulsa) and SPHL (Mississippi and Peoria) and one summer in Australia on a poor Sydney Ice Dogs (AIHL) team.

Ex-Pack Jeff Taffe leaves HC Slovan Bratislava (Slovakia-KHL) and signs with HC Ambri-Piotta (Switzerland-LNA).

AHL to Europe continues with the latest addition being Jeremy Morin, who split the year with Tucson/Syracuse. Morin signs with Yugra Khanty (Russia-KHL) while William Wrenn of Toronto signs with Dynamo Riga (Latvia-LHL) after absolving his deal with HC Bolzano (Italy-AEHL). Chris DeSouza of Rockford signs with HC Bolzano (Italy-AEHL) in his place.

Two players from Utica got new hockey addresses. Cody Kunyk heads to EHC Straubing (Germany-DEL). Borna Rendulic, the first Croatian-born player to play in the NHL, will skate for the Lahti PelIcans (Finland-FEL).

To date, 71 AHL’ers have signed overseas. 26 of the 30 teams have lost at least one player.

Spiro Goulakos who played eight games with the Wolf Pack on a recall from Greenville signs a deal with the Belfast Giants (Northern Ireland-EIHL).

Goalie Marcus Nylander, no relation to the former Whaler Michael Nylander, and who played for the Hartford Junior Wolf Pack, goes from Phoenix (WSHL) to Kiekkokopla (Finland Division-2).

Another US collegian signs in Europe. Sam Rothstein goes for Colorado College (NCHC) and Rapid City (ECHL) where he played a few games, to sign with SHC Fassa (Italy-AlpsHL).

Four more have signed North American pro contracts. Frankie DiChara of Yale University signs with Worcester (ECHL). Tanner Pond of Northeastern (HE) inks his name on a contract with Atlanta (ECHL) while Connor Reilly of Minnesota (Big 10) signs with Indy (ECHL). Zach Stepan of University Minnesota-Mankato (NCHC) signs with Kansas City (ECHL).

Stepan, a Nashville draft pick, is the cousin of former Ranger, Derek Stefan.

171 Division I players have now signed North American pro contracts. Toss in 21 players from Division III and that makes 192. Add in 43 from Europe for 235 total.

Tommy Thompson, who played three games on a recall last year, was traded from Greenville (ECHL) to Idaho (ECHL) He canceled his contract to play for HC Nova Zamsky in Slovakia.

The son of Wolf Pack, Kirill Ulanov, the son of Igor, goes from Toronto (OJHL) to Ottawa (CCHL) in junior A hockey. Father is an assistant coach with Spartak Moscow (Russia-KHL).

A new category, the son of Danbury Trashers. Dalton Duhart, son of Jim, goes from Michigan based Belle Tire U-16 team to London (OHL) who drafted him in the spring OHL Priority Draft as their 3rd pick 48th overall in the fall.

Former Sound Tiger. Sven Butenschon, elevated late last season to interim head coach, is now the full-time head coach for the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds (CWUAA).

Cederick Desjardins, a former Wolf Pack goalie from three years ago, has taken up coaching with Levis (QMAAA), the team he started out with as a teenager. He also played some Canadian senior league hockey last year for Jonquiere Marquis (LNAH) as well.

Troy Smith, a one time Danbury Trasher, moves over from Hamilton (OHL) to be the new head coach of the Saginaw Spirit (OHL).

Another Trasher in the coaching game is Sergei Durdin. He retired this summer and is now the assistant coach of HK MOGO (Latvia-LHL) where he played the last six years and was the captain last season.

Just two players from those two wild years of the UHL Trashers are still actively playing as of the end of last season. Jean-Michel Daoust Thetford Mines (LNAH) and Jared Mudryk with ERC Selb (Germany Division-3).

The ECHL added a new affiliation as the St. Louis Blues signed a one year deal with the Tulsa Oilers. The Blues will send some players to it former primary AHL affiliate Chicago next year and will scatter the rest of their prospects around the AHL this year. They will get a new primary affiliate – likely Kansas City, MO – for 2018-19 at the Sprint Center run by AEG. A final lease contract is still being worked out.

As we first reported last month, the New Jersey Devils made the Adirondack Thunder their new secondary affiliate to the Binghamton Devils when the new team starts up in the fall after moving from Albany. Adirondack lost their affiliation with Calgary which moved to Kansas City (ECHL).

Adirondack announced former AHL player Brad Tapper as its new head coach to replace ex-Sound Tiger and Wolf Pack Cail MacLean, who was promoted to an assistant coach in Stockton for this season.

Now all 26 ECHL teams have an NHL and AHL affiliate (except St. Louis) leaving four AHL affiliates without an ECHL team and those would be Springfield, Syracuse, Belleville and Lake Erie.

There will be more fine tuning in the next two years until there is an NHL-31, AHL-31, ECHL-31 arrangement. That number will go up one when Seattle eventually files for an NHL expansion franchise.

Portland, ME (announced) will be in the ECHL next year as will Albany (unannounced).

NHL CONFIRMS OLYMPICS PLAYER RULES

The NHL has clarified their position on eligibility for the upcoming Winter Olympics. They declared that any player under an NHL or two-way (NHL-AHL) contract will be ineligible to play in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Games in South Korea.

Ryan Graves and Adam Tambellini (both of Canada) or recently signed goalie Alexander Georgiev (Russia) cannot play for their respective countries.

Players on AHL contracts-only can participate. That will include ex-Wolf Pack players Chris and Ryan Bourque (who hold dual citizenship US-Canada), Chris Mueller (USA), Chris Summers (USA) or the recently re-signed Daniel Catenacci (Canada) as eligible to be on a roster.

This scenario will create phone calls for Pack GM Chris Drury. He will be getting calls and texts as will the other 29 AHL GM’s from the national teams of the ten countries in the Games as their rosters get fleshed out and inevitable injuries occur before the Games. Each country will hope to stock their roster with the best team possible to represent them.

This is also playing havoc with the AHL trying how to have an All Star game in format and location which still are undetermined at this point.

The rosters of all the Olympic teams could see quite a few names from past Wolf Pack and Sound Tigers sprinkled over several countries.

Of course, the rising tensions with North Korea could be a major factor in whether the Games actually go on at all.

BLUEFISH OUT TO SEA

The announcement that Live Nation, and ex-Sound Tigers President, Howard Saffin, was the winning group from among three bidders to win the management contract of the baseball stadium at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport. They have proposed the facility to be renovated into an outdoor amphitheater a la the X-Finity Center in Hartford. This announcement ends the 20-year experiment of the independent Atlantic League Bridgeport Bluefish.

The Bluefish rode the craze of minor pro baseball specifically Independent league in the mid-1990’s, but after their fourth season as statistically happens in Connecticut attendance fell off sharply and never recovered. The team never made money. There were many issues regarding how the team was being run from its unaccounted for parking lot money to poor corporate sales and in some cases not collecting sponsorship fees. Add in some bad teams/product in general by a league that’s owned by just two people. The team has been limping along the last ten of the twenty in the Park City.

Live Nation will pay the $15 million dollar renovation of the building with many problems that take the state and city off the hook for that mess.

Since 1990, the graveyard of pro and minor pro sports teams in CT will add a 27th tombstone when the Bluefish finishes its season in September, and they are currently in first place in the eight team league. The previous names on those tombstones include;

The previous names on those tombstones include:

1- NHL team (Hartford Whalers)

3-AHL teams (New Haven Nighthawks, New Haven Senators and Beast of New Haven)two UHL teams (New Haven Knights, Danbury

2-UHL teams (New Haven Knights, Danbury Trashers)

2-FHL-Federal Hockey League (Danbury Whalers, Danbury Titans)

1-NEPHL hockey (New England Stars)

1-EPHL hockey team (Danbury Mad Hatters)one roller hockey team the RHI (Roller Hockey International) Connecticut Coasters, four (EL) Eastern League baseball teams (New Haven Ravens, Norwich Navigators, Connecticut Defenders, New Britain Rock Cats), one Can-AM independent league baseball team (New Haven County Cutters), independent team in the (NEL) Northeast League (Waterbury Spirit), three AFL-Arena Football League (AFL) teams (Connecticut Coyotes,New Haven Ninjas and the New England Seawolves), one AFL-2 team (Mohegan (Uncasville) Wolves), one (MLL) Major League Lacrosse team (Bridgeport Barrage), one (ABL) American Basketball League the New England Blizzard, two (CBA) Continental Basketball Association teams (Hartford Hellcats, Connecticut Pride) one (USBL) United States Basketball League team (New Haven/Connecticut Skyhawks) and one World Team Tennis (WTT) squad, the Hartford FoxForce.

1-Roller hockey team the RHI (Roller Hockey International) Connecticut Coasters

4-(EL) Eastern League baseball teams (New Haven Ravens, Norwich Navigators, Connecticut Defenders, New Britain Rock Cats)

1-Can-AM independent league baseball team (New Haven County Cutters)

1-Independent team in the (NEL) Northeast League (Waterbury Spirit)

3-AFL-Arena Football League (AFL) teams (Connecticut Coyotes, New Haven Ninjas and the New England Seawolves)

1-AFL-2 team (Mohegan (Uncasville) Wolves)

1-(MLL) Major League Lacrosse team (Bridgeport Barrage)

1-(ABL) American Basketball League the New England Blizzard

2-(CBA) Continental Basketball Association teams (Hartford Hellcats, Connecticut Pride)

1-(USBL) United States Basketball League team (New Haven/Connecticut Skyhawks)

1-World Team Tennis (WTT) squad, the Hartford FoxForce.

For the sports landscape in Connecticut, the only teams still on their feet are the Eastern League Hartford Yard Goats (nee New Britain Rock Cats), NYPL (New York Penn League) Connecticut Tigers in Norwich, one Atlantic League team (New Britain Bees), two AHL teams, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and the Hartford Wolf Pack, two teams operating out of the Mohegan Sun Arena, the WNBA Connecticut Sun, the NLL (National Lacrosse League) New England Black Wolves and the NPSL (National Premier Soccer League) Elm City Express and the CT Whale of the NWHL (National Women’s Hockey League).

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