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CANTLON’S CORNER: WOLF PACK AHL OFF-SEASON VOLUME 4

gerry-150x130BY: Gerry Cantlon, Howlings

HARTFORD, CT – The AHL’s Final Four teams are set.

It took seven games, but the team with the league’s best record, the Toronto Marlies prevailed with a late goal in Game 7 to win 4-3 and eliminate the Albany Devils.

The Marlies were the deepest and most talented team entering the playoffs and were tested in every way in Game 7 and throughout the series with Albany.

Tied at one entering the third period, Albany scored early as Nick Lappin,  just signed out of Brown University after the collegiate season ended in March, scored his fifth of the postseason on a rebound after Jim O’Brien on a face off.

Before a packed crowd at the Ricoh Coliseum, Kasperi Kapanen, son of Whaler great Sami Kapanen, showed off his incredible speed by zipping down the left wing and whistling a wicked wrist shot to the short-side on Devils’ goalie, Scott Wedgewood.

William Nylander, son of former Whaler and New York Ranger Michael Nylander, employed his considerable skill and raced into the Devils zone. Nylander curled in the lower left-wing circle and found Kapanen again as he was open on the left wing. Kapanen waited and found Connor Carrick coming off the right point and hit him with a perfect cross-ice pass and he zipped his shot to the top shelf to take a 3-2 lead.

The Devils didn’t go away as Paul Thompson, a right-handed shot on the left wing side, took Marc-Andre Gragnani’s right point pass and drilled it to the short-side past a partially screened Antoine Bibeau.

Marlies veteran Richard Clune got a fortuitous bounce off the backboards of Andrei Soshnikov’s shot and chipped the puck into the top part of the net with 2:30 left in regulation for the game-winning goal.

The Devils had three whacks at the puck in the waning seconds, but Bibeau was down of the ice and kept his pads stacked to preserve the 4-3 win.

The Marlies will play the Hershey Bears featuring the Bourque brothers, Chris, and Ryan in the Eastern Conference final starting with Games 1 & 2 in Hershey Friday and Saturday night. The series will see a rare schedule of 2-3-1-1 format because of building scheduling issues in Hershey with the circus.

What a difference a year makes by the way.

Despite a strong regular season for Albany, Yann Danis has been the backup this playoff after his spectacular run last spring with the Wolf Pack and played just one period in relief of Wedgewood.

It took seven games and overtime for the Hershey Bears to advance.

Dustin Boyd’s goal at 10:58 gave Hershey a 3-2 over their Keystone State rivals, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Boyd swung around from behind the left-wing side and fired his shot high to the short side earning the Bears the victory.

Hershey took a 2-1 lead on what certainly has to be among those considered for the Goal-Of-The-Year.

Carter Camper made a great move to free himself then made a beautiful forehand-to-backhand move on Casey DeSmith to score the goal.

The Pacific Division series ended in Ontario Saturday night with the Reign winning 2-1 and advancing in five games to the Western Conference title.

Justin Auger had the game winner in the 2-1 Game 5 clincher.

The San Diego Gulls had just one win, a 3-0 shutout in Game Three.

Matt Hackett is the nephew of a former winner of the Calder Cup’s Jack Butterfield Award as the MVP of the playoffs. His uncle is also a goaltender. He’s Jeff Hackett, who played for Springfield in 1990. They younger Hackett pitched a shutout with 29 saves.

The Reign won Game 4 in overtime. The final score was 4-3 despite a strong three-point performance by ex-Hartford Wolf Pack, Chris Mueller.

Mueller set up rookie Shea Theodore on the powerplay with a perfect cross-ice pass from the right wing circle to Theodore at the left point for the first goal of the game.

Mueller potted a goal to tie the game at two from the left side of the net. The shot came off a rebound off the stick of AHL All-Rookie team member, rearguard Brandon Montour, who outworked Ontario captain Vincent LoVerde and jammed the puck home.

The Reign went ahead with two quick goals at 3-2 in a 1:52 span both by Adrian Kempe. Mueller scored ten seconds later going down the left wing side and turned Nic Dowd inside out and beat the league’s best in netminder Peter Budaj, but like last spring in Manchester when they were the Monarchs, the Reign found a way to get the game winner in overtime.

The Lake Erie Monsters looked to complete the sweep of the Grand Rapids Griffins after amassing a 3-0 series lead.  The Griffins, however, fought back to make it to a game six, but the Monsters overtime victory prevented a Game 7 by the count of 4-3. The Monsters will now play the defending AHL Calder Cup champions, the Ontario Reign in the Western Conference final starting Saturday with Game 2 Sunday in California.

Lake Erie was down early 2-0 in the first 2:16 of the game and that became 3-1 early in the second. When that happened, the Monsters replaced starting goalie Joonas Korpisala, with veteran and former Springfield Falcon goalie, Anton Forsberg and he shut the door stopping all 23 shots he faced.

Zach Werenski, the young defenseman just signed out of Michigan after their season ended a month ago, helped in engineering the Monster’s comeback.

Werenski set up Lukas Sedlak’s goal early in the second period with a right point shot. Sedlak chipped in a backhand rebound. Werenski, had the game-winner at 12:32 of overtime getting his rebound of a backhand shot and with four Grand Rapids players all nearby, Werenski got to the loose puck, and he put his second backhander in for the victory.

Had there been a seventh game, it would have been played in Columbus because the NBA Cleveland Cavaliers had a playoff game scheduled for Tuesday the same night that would have forced a date and venue change.

The Griffins rallied from a 4-1 deficit in Game Four with a three-goal third period to win 5-4 and avoid the playoff sweep. Anthony Mantha had a goal and an assist.
Five different Grand Rapids players scored with Andreas Antanasiou tallying the game-winner with 1:55 to go in regulation.
Game 5 was all Grand Rapids a 6-1 win paced by a Tyler Bertuzzi hat trick.

STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS

French Connection II watching ex-CT Whale Jonathan Marchessault setting up former Ranger Anton Stralman to tie the game at two in Game 2 Monday night. Then Jonathan Drouin, banished to Syracuse in the AHL at midseason, sniping a goal off the right side to tie the game at two.

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

The Pack’s Nicklas Jensen continued the same strong play he showed down the stretch in Hartford’s failed playoff push helped Denmark engineer an upset win over the Czech Republic 2-1 in a shootout.

Jensen helped Denmark engineer an upset win over the Czech Republic 2-1 in a shootout.

He assisted on the game-tying goal, and he scored a shootout goal to keep Denmark alive in the extra round before Nikolas Ehlers scored the game winner.

Monday, Denmark beat Kazakhstan 4-1 with Jensen scoring again and had seven shots on goals, and the Danes secured a quarterfinal appearance because the Swiss lost 5-4 to Czechs on Tuesday. Last Friday, he scored his second goal, a shootout goal, to lead Denmark to a 3-2 win over Latvia. In six games he has five goals (tied for fourth in goals scored with Tomas Plekanec Czech Republic/Montreal) and seven points for the Danes.

Last Friday, Jensen scored his second goal, in the shoot-out to lead Denmark to a 3-2 win over Latvia. In six games he has five goals (tied for fourth in goals scored with Tomas Plekanec Czech Republic/Montreal) and seven points for the Danes.

The quarterfinals start Thursday Denmark plays Finland in St. Petersburg.

Ex-Pack Nigel Dawes continues to do well for Kazakhstan he scored the lone goal in a 3-1 loss to the Czech Republic on Friday and again in a loss to Denmark. He has eight points with four goals, good for tenth place in the tournament.

The best scoring defenseman still in the tourney is the Wolf Pack’s Raphael Diaz with six assists for Switzerland. Diaz played the most minutes (19:14) and had four shots on goal in a crucial 5-4 loss to the Czechs eliminating the Swiss from the medal round.

Ex-Sound Tiger Nino Niederreiter is right behind for the Swiss with three goals and five points.

The second best goalie so far is Canada’s and former Wolf Pack, Cam Talbot. In four games, Talbot has a microscopic 0.75 GAA, given up just three goals, pitched two shutouts and has a spectacular 96.0 % save percentage.

The Czech Republic’s Dominic Furch has a 0.65 GAA and a 97.2% save percentage. His numbers are better than Talbot’s, but he has played in only three games while Talbot’s played four.

Reminds you of Talbot’s AHL playoff debut when he shutout the Sound Tigers in three straight in an opening round series.

The US, despite a two-game slump, made the quarterfinals in Group B.

The US lost to Slovakia 3-2 on Tuesday despite getting the games first goal from ex-Sound Tiger, Brock Nelson.The game-winner came off the stick of ex-Springfield Falcon, Marko Dano.

The US plays the Czech Republic on Thursday in Moscow (9:00 am NBC Sports Network).

RANGERS SIGNING

Much heralded right-wing, and third round pick, 75th overall in 2013, Pavel Buchnevich, inked an NHL entry-level deal with the Rangers last week.

The 21-year-old split the year with his hometown KHL team Severstal Cherepovets before being traded to St. Petersburg. For the season, he had 16 goals and 31 points in 58 games. St. Petersburg made it to the KHL Western Conference final of the Gagarin Cup playoffs.

His three-year standard entry-level contract has an NHL salary of $925K and an AHL salary of $70K, but the contract according to General Fanager-dot-com has a European assignment clause which could mean if he doesn’t make the Rangers he would likely return to Russia.

ON THE MOVE

Former Hartford Whaler, Randy Cunneyworth, was replaced and reassigned from Rochester as the Buffalo Sabres named Dan Lambert (Kelowna-WHL) as their new AHL head coach.

Congrats to another former Whaler and longtime AHL coach, Tom Rowe, who became GM of Florida (NHL) as part of a major Panthers organizational shuffle.

Curiously, Eric Joyce was named as an assistant GM; he was also the GM of the Portland Pirates last year. When Rowe was given his promotion on January 1st to Assistant GM in Florida after coaching the Pirates in the first half of the season.

Joyce retained the title GM of their of their AHL affiliate, but the team remains unnamed in the press release. The move of their member team from Portland to Springfield is still under review by the AHL, which is set to reconvene in ten days on the matter. The sale was made by the local owner Ron Cain to a yet publicly unidentified ownership group, but Cantlon’s Corner has learned former Falcons owner Charles Pompea and long-time face of Springfield hockey, Bruce Landon, are two of the primary investors.

Sam Ftorek, son of former Nighthawk coach and player Robbie Ftorek, was named the first head coach for Roanoke (SPHL). He was the assistant coach for Kalamazoo (ECHL) last year.

Bridgeport Sound Tiger Sebastian Collberg heads back home to play with Rogle BK (Sweden-SHL) next year making him the sixth AHL’er to sign to play in Europe next season.

Ex-Pack Tomas Zaborsky goes from HIFK Helsinki (Finland-FEL) to Brynas IF (Sweden-SHL), nd defenseman Ilkka Heikkinen goes from Vaxjo (Sweden-SHL) to TPS Turku (Finland-FEL).

Old New Haven Knights forward, Alexei Lazarenko, 40, signed for another year with Vityaz Kharkov to play in the Ukrainian Hockey League. He is just one of seven players left actively playing who wore a New Haven uniform between the AHL and UHL.

AEG Europe announced its team the Hamburg Freezers (Germany-DEL) will not operate next season despite an average attendance of 9.002 (tenth best in Europe) last year when they missed the playoffs.

The team GM is former Nighthawk, Stephane J.G. Richer and ex-Pack, Sam Klassen, played on the team. AEG also owns another team in the DEL Eisbaren Berlin who have the second best attendance of all hockey played in Europe with 13,022 per game.

Rich McKenna was hired as the new head coach for the Division III powerhouse University Wisconsin-Superior. McKenna was an assistant coach at both UConn (AHC years) and Wesleyan University. There are thirteen former UConn players and coaches in the coaching ranks nationally collegiately (Division I and III), juniors, and prep and public schools

US JUNIOR HOCKEY PLAYOFFS

Former UConn player, Trevor Stewart, guided his Fairbanks (AK) Ice Dogs to their third NAHL Robertson Cup title after a 2-0 win over Wichita Falls (TX) Wildcats on Sunday in Edina, MN in the national championship game.

Each team won both semifinal games Fairbanks over Aston (PA) Rebels and Wichita Falls over Bismarck (ND) Bobcats.

In the USHL’s best of five Clark Cup Finals, the Tri-City (NE) Storm are up 2-0 over the Dubuque (IA) Fighting Saints. In Game One, Yale-bound Evan Smith scored the first goal of the game for Dubuque,b ut Tri-City scored the next five goals in a 5-1 victory.

Then in Game 2, Tri-City won 4-2. Smith and his twin brother, Mitchell (also heading to Yale) had five and four shots respectively and former prep school teammate at Salisbury Michael O’ Leary, who is committed to Notre Dame had three shots at Tri-City.

Games 3 and maybe 4 are in Tri-City Friday and Saturday.

The 98th edition of Canadian junior hockey’s Memorial Cup tournament is all set to start in Red Deer, Alberta on Friday night as the host team and city Red Deer Rebels (WHL) play the London Knights in the opening game.

The Rebels join WHL playoff champion Brandon Wheat Kings, QMJHL champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and the OHL juggernaut winners of 13 straight games London Knights coached by Dale Hunter.

The tourney starts Friday and the NHL Network will air the games live with Red Deer in the Mountain time zone. Saturday Brandon plays Rouyn-Noranda and Sunday Red Deer plays Rouyn-Noranda at 7pm.

If you haven’t watched it you should it’s a fantastic view of some future NHL stars already drafted, those to be drafted and of course new names emerge.

ALLAN CUP

Congrats to the Bentley Generals coached by former Wolf Pack, Ryan Tobler, winning their second consecutive Canadian senior hockey title in beating the tournament host Southeast Praire Thunder in Steinbach, Manitoba.

The Generals also featured former Wolf Pack, Matt St fashion, who scored six goals in four games in the tournament. He played most of his season with Big Valley in the North Central (Senior) Hockey League and was added to the Bentley roster for the post season when Big Valley’s season ended.

Former Sound Tiger Adam Huxley was also on the team and he played for his hometown senior team Wainwright (SASHL) in the regular season and was also added for the playoffs.

CANTLON’S CORNER: WOLF PACK AHL OFF SEASON VOLUME 3

gerry-150x130WOLF PACK AHL OFF SEASON VOLUME 3

BY: Gerry Cantlon, Howlings

HARTFORD, CT The minor league hockey map is changing again as the shifting sands continue.

On Tuesday, the AHL Board of Governors (BOG) met in Chicago and conditionally approved the sale of the Springfield Falcons to the Arizona Coyotes. They also approved the team’s relocation to Tucson, AZ where they will start play in the fall at the Tucson Convention Center (TCC).

The Rio Nuevo Board, which oversees the TCC, approved $3.2 million for use in renovation and upgrades to the TCC. It’s a mere formality. They will become the sixth member of the AHL Pacific Division with the release of conference alignments likely coming in July.

The Tucson City Council is expected to finalize a lease. Once it’s approved, that would be the second hurdle cleared on the way to a full approval from the AHL BOG.

The other sale on the agenda is that of the Portland Pirates.  However to a yet un-named investor group in Springfield was tabled for another two weeks before a vote would take place.

The sale of the Pirates is to an unnamed investor group in Springfield. That move was set aside for another two weeks before a vote will take place.

Two versions have emerged regarding the hold-up.

The first is that the Florida Panthers are steamed about the sale and expected to be in Portland as their affiliation agreement stipulated.  The Panthers are threatening to break the 30-30-30 balance of NHL and AHL teams and eventually the 30 ECHL teams in the new model minor league arrangement.

The other is the local investor group in Springfield needs more to show the financial capabilities for purchasing and maintaining the franchise.

One of the major principals in the sale is former Falcons owner, Charles Pompea, and the former Director of Hockley Operations, and the long-time face of Springfield hockey, Bruce Landon. There is also potentially MGM-Springfield, who will be begin running the Mass Mutual Center as of July 1st.

MGM Springfield needs a team as, Spectra, the soon-to-be former management company of the building, has no bookings of any kind scheduled beyond July 1st.

Meanwhile, Portland has already begun the process to gain entry into the ECHL in 2017-18, the same time when Worcester will make it’s entrance.

In a story, in the Portland Press Herald, (HEREthey identify the Pirates GM this past season Brad Church and C. Godfrey Wood, involved in hockey in the region going back to the WHA Whaler days. Cantlon’s Corner has learned through two sources that Wood’s business partners are none other than the Baldwin boys—Howard, Sr., and Howard, Jr.

The group made a bid for the Worcester (ECHL) franchise in the spring and were denied by the city. They tried again recently with the Portland (AHL) sale and according to a source, “were blown out of the water.” Another source, with long-time hockey connections, when confirming Baldwin and Wood were working together in a bid to gain an ECHL franchise for Portland, said, “there are no two better thieves than those two…look out Portland!”

The Baldwin’s left a trail a debt from their last run in Hartford. The trail was more than $3 million to banks, vendors, employees and even the State of Connecticut while running the CT Whale as Hartford Hockey, LLC and never repaid a dime of the money.

CALDER CUP PLAYOFFS

The Toronto Marlies have begun to demonstrate their offensive firepower in smashing Albany Devils 7-2 and 5-1 in the last two games to take a commanding 3-2 in the series. The Devils forced a game seven with a 4-1 win on Saturday.

In the 5-1 win, Milford native and Yale grad, Mark Arcobello, posted three assists and had five points in the last two games.

Andrei Soznikov’s two goals help engineer the 7-1 drubbing. Connor Carrick, William Nylander, Connor Brown and Sam Carrick have posted multiple-point games in the last two as the depth of the Marlies has been on full display.

What a difference a year makes. Despite a strong regular season for Albany, Yann Danis has been the backup this playoff series. After his spectacular run last spring with the Wolf Pack, he has played just one period in relief of starter, Scott Wedgewood. That appearance came in the 7-1 loss. Wedgewood went the distance in the game six win in Toronto and will likely start Game 7 in Albany on Monday.

Albany defenseman, Dan Kelly, was hit with a ten-game suspension for a wicked elbow to the head of Toronto’s Andreas Johanson in that 7-2 loss. Johanson had a brief stay in the hospital. Kelly’s is out for the rest of the series and will miss seven more playoffs games should Albany win and advance or the rest of the games will be served next season.

It’s the second longest suspension of the year. The longest went to the Ontario Reign’s Kurtis MacDermid, youngest son of former Whaler Paul MacDermid, who got twelve games for an illegal hit to the head.

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins won Game 6 6-2 over the Hershey Bears on Friday night. That series will see a Game 7 at 5:00 pm on Sunday.

Game 5 Hershey with an intense third period, rallied past the Penguins with Zach Sill having a goal and two assists for the contest in the 5-3 win.  Ryan Bourque, the former Wolf Pack captain, tallied the empty net goal to seal the win.

Lake Erie looked to finish off and sweep Grand Rapids but was stunned as the Griffins rallied from a 4-1 deficit with a three-goal third period in Game Four to win 5-4. Anthony Mantha had a goal and an assist.

Five different Grand Rapids players scored with Andreas Antanasiou scoring the game-winner with 1:55 to go in regulation. The two teams hook up for Game 5 in Cleveland at the Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday, and the Griffins kept the series alive with a 6-1 drubbing of the Griffins to send it to a Game 6 on Monday night. A Game 7 would be played on Wednesday if it became necessary.

-The Pacific Division saw the Reign close out the San Diego Gulls with a 2-1 win. The Reign have former Wolf Pack center Kris Newbury on their roster. The Gulls feature ex-Pack Chris Mueller and Stu Bickel on their team.

The Gulls had a 3-0 shutout in the last game played on Sunday with Matt Hackett nephew of former Calder Cup Jack Butterfield playoff MVP goalie Jeff Hackett (Springfield 1990) pitching a shutout with 29 saves.

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

Current and former Wolf Pack are making quite the impact at the Hockey World Championships.

The Pack’s Nicklas Jensen continues to play well as he showed down the stretch in Hartford’s failed playoff push.

On Friday, Jensen, who scored during regulation, tallied a dazzling goal in the shootout, to lead Denmark to a 3-2 win over Latvia.  In five games for the Danes, Jensen has four goals and five points.

Ex-Pack and Ranger, Nigel Dawes, is doing well for Kazakhstan. Dawes scored the team’s lone goal in a 3-1 loss to the Czech Republic on Friday. He has three goals and four assists (seven points) in five games. That puts Dawes in a five-way tie for the fourth spot in scoring to this stage in the tournament.

The best scoring defenseman in the tourney thus far is the Wolf Pack’s Raphael Diaz with six assists for Switzerland.

Ex-Sound Tiger, Nino Niederreiter, is right behind Diaz for the Swiss. Niederreiter has three goals and five points.

The best goalie to this stage in the tournament has been former Wolf Pack, Cam Talbot. In four games for Team Canada, Talbot has a 1.00 GAA and a spectacular 94.7 % save percentage.

RANGERS SIGNING

The much-heralded, right-wing and a third round pick (75th overall) in 2013, Pavel Buchnevich, inked an NHL entry-level deal with the Rangers.

The 21-year-old split the season with his hometown KHL team, several Cherepovets, before being traded to St. Petersburg. For the season, Buchnevich had 16 goals and 31 points in 58 games. St. Peterburg made it to the KHL Western Conference final of the Gagarin Cup playoffs.

In what might be a related story, Russian media reports have stated the Rangers have made an offer to former WolfPack/CT Whale defenseman, Pavel Valentenko. The Russian, who had a monster shot, but little control over it while in Hartford, split the KHL season with Avangard Omsk and Spartak Moscow. The expectation is that should Valentenko sign; he would return to Hartford once both sides agree to a deal.

While the Rangers are looking to getting younger in New York, they also want to add more depth on defense, perhaps Valentenko would have something to do Buchnevich, who does not speak any English.

ON THE MOVE

According to Czech media reports, Richard Nejezchleb is close to signing a deal with HC Litvinov in the Czech Elite League (CEL) for next season. Nejezchleb started last season with the Wolf Pack and scored only one goal in thirteen games before being reassigned on November 17th to Greenville (41-8-15-23).

Carl Klingberg, another ex-Pack playing in Russia, has left Torpedo Novgorod. His departure for the KHL, after last season, truly caught the organization off guard. According to reports, the Rangers are making overtures to him.

Former Wolf Pack/CT Whale Chad Kolarik goes from financially troubled EHC Kloten in Switzerland (LNA) to Adler Mannheim (Germany-DEL) next season.

Benoit Groulx, the highly successful QMJHL coach with the Gatineau Olympics, is making a second stab at coaching in the AHL. His first go was for two years in 2008-2010 with the Rochester Americans, but that didn’t end well. On Thursday, Groulx was named the new head coach for the Syracuse Crunch, the top affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

RANGERS AGREE TO TERMS WITH FORWARD PAVEL BUCHNEVICH

Buchnevich PavelRANGERS AGREE TO TERMS WITH FORWARD PAVEL BUCHNEVICH

Rangers’ third round pick in 2013 NHL Entry Draft signs entry-level contract

BY: The New York Rangers

NEW YORK, May 13, 2016 – New York Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton announced today that the team has agreed to terms with forward Pavel Buchnevich on an entry-level contract.

Buchnevich, 21, split this past season between Severstal Cherepovets and SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), registering 16 goals and 21 assists for 37 points, along with 24 penalty minutes in 58 games. He established KHL career-highs in games played, goals, assists, points, game-winning goals (three), power play goals (four), and average ice time (16:10). Among KHL players younger than 24 years old, Buchnevich ranked third in assists, ranked fourth in points, and tied for seventh in goals. He tallied three points (one goal, two assists) in the Gagarin Cup Playoffs while helping SKA St. Petersburg advance to the Western Conference Finals. Continue reading

CANTLON’S CORNER: FINAL CSB RANKINGS BEFORE THE DRAFT

gerry-150x130BY: Gerry Cantlon, Howlings

HARTFORD, CT – With all the end of the season goings-on, there hasn’t been much time to digest the final Central Scouting Bureau’s (CSB) draft rankings before the upcoming NHL Draft in Buffalo, NY on June 25th.

There are a few names in the top tier rankings who hail from the state of Connecticut.  The top name from the Nutmeg State also played for the University of Connecticut, and he is Orange native, Tage Thompson.

Just completing his pure academic and athletic freshmen year at UConn he is a player on the upside. Thompson showed a powerplay prowess and led the nation in power play goals with fourteen. Thompson also had fifteen goals in his first year in college.

The 6’5 winger is a prime-time talent possessing size, a hard shot, and a pro hockey pedigree. Thompson’s father, Brent is a former Hartford Wolf Pack defenseman and for the second time is the current head coach of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (AHL). Continue reading

CHAIMOVITCH: AMERICAN HOCKEY LEAGUE ANNOUNCES FRANCHISE TRANSACTION

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AMERICAN HOCKEY LEAGUE ANNOUNCES FRANCHISE TRANSACTION

Board of Governors conditionally approves Arizona Coyotes’ purchase, relocation of AHL affiliate

BY: Jason Chaimovitch, AHL VP of Communications

SPRINGFIELD, MA – Convening today in Chicago for its Spring Meeting, the American Hockey League’s Board of Governors unanimously granted conditional approval of the transfer of ownership of the Springfield Falcons AHL franchise to the National Hockey League’s Arizona Coyotes. Also, the Board also approved the relocation of that franchise from Springfield, Mass., to Tucson, Ariz., beginning with the 2016-17 season.

Should all conditions of the transaction be met, the Coyotes’ AHL franchise will begin to play this fall at the Tucson Convention Center Arena.

The Board of Governors is also currently reviewing an application for the transfer of ownership and relocation of the Portland Pirates AHL franchise from Portland, Maine, to Springfield, Mass., for 2016-17. The Board expects to reconvene to vote on that request within two weeks.

Founded in 1936 and now with franchises in 30 cities across North America, the American Hockey League serves as the top development league for the players, coaches, managers, executives and broadcasters of all 30 National Hockey League teams. More than 88 percent of today’s NHL players are American Hockey League graduates, and for the 15th year in a row, more than 6 million fans have attended AHL games in 2015-16.

CANTLON’S CORNER: SPRINGFIELD HOCKEY SAVED AGAIN

gerry-150x130BY: Gerry Cantlon, Howlings

HARTFORD, CT – All is not quite as it seems.

What appeared to be a genuinely miraculous last minute save to keep the hockey alive in Springfield, MA  has devolved into a potentially divisive issue in the AHL. The ramifications of this move could be lasting and powerful.

After Springfield had lost the Falcons two weeks ago to Tucson, Arizona, amazingly, as of Wednesday, they seemed like they had regained a franchise.

BUT, that situation has become hazier the day after. The Florida Panthers are expressing a very tepid, lukewarm response (at best) to the developments.

“I was informed by Portland CEO, Ron Cain, (Thursday) that he’s signed a letter of intent to sell the Pirates, pending league approval,” Panthers Executive Chairman Peter Luukko said. “We will be in contact with the American Hockey League regarding the sale process. In the meantime, Florida will begin exploring all our options to put our players in the very best developmental situation. We have enjoyed the city of Portland, the venue and the incredible fan support.”

The latest is the team claims it told local officials of a possible sale back in February when seeking changes and concessions on its current lease. No mention of whether or not the Florida Panthers were aware of this conversation. Read about that HERE.

There are many and varied issues at hand.

The Pirates have just completed Year Two of a five year lease arrangement with the Cumberland County Civic Authority after a $34 million taxpayer-dollar-funded upgrade was completed on the Cross Insurance Arena (nee Cumberland County Civic Center) two years ago.

Ironically, the Pirates last game of the regular season was against the Springfield Falcons at the MassMutual Center on April 17.  If the sale goes through, it would be the second year in a row an affiliation has moved from Portland to Springfield.

The Pirates have been in Portland for 23 years except for a brief one-year stint in Lewiston, Maine while the team was in a lease dispute with then-Pirates CEO Brian Petrovek.

The AHL first came to Portland in 1977 as a farm team for the Philadelphia Flyers. That team was called the Maine Mariners and played until 1983 when they became the affiliate of the New Jersey Devils before they moved to Utica in 1987. The Boston Bruins followed, and they sold the Mariners and moved them to Providence in 1992.

After a year hiatus, the Pirates were reborn until potentially this past Sunday. The Pirates saw the Hershey Bears end their season in Game 5 of their first-round AHL playoff series.

The old saying goes, “the devil is in the details” and that’s certainly the case when it comes to a lease contract. Is there an attendance clause in that says if the Pirates fell below (29th this year and 30th last year) in the AHL that voids the deal without penalty? Was there a buyout provision in their affiliation agreement with Florida if the Pirates ran into financial difficulties? Is the potential ownership group in Springfield responsible for paying out the remaining three years on the lease?

Did the AHL assist in the deal to facilitate it without consulting the Panthers?

Numerous questions need to answering. Without a copy of the lease or affiliation agreement its speculation, but something has apparently gone wrong.

Cantlon’s Corner wrote last week that Charles Pompea, the soon-to-be former owner of the Falcons after selling the team to the Arizona Coyotes two weeks ago, is now going to purchase the Portland Pirates. We referred to it as Northeastern city and from our sources the sale would be announced next month.

Our sources also indicated the team would stay in Portland NOBODY saw the turn of events that transpired yesterday.

Late Wednesday afternoon, it was leaked out to a Portland TV station, WCSH, and the local newspaper, the Portland Press Herald, that the team was sold and moved to Springfield for this coming season.

In fact, office staff in Portland were actually conducting business with a fan when they abruptly shut the team offices down. Read about that HERE

As of 2:00pm,  based on the Twitter account of the Maine Hockey Journal, it is believed the Portland arena officials were still in meetings with their lawyers regarding the final three years left on their lease deal.

The Pirates COO and former player, Brad Church, said the team was not sustainable in Portland. He hasn’t released any statistics regarding the team’s finances either negatively or positively.

Former Falcons Director of Hockey Operations, Bruce Landon, who’s been the face of the franchise since the mid-80’s, seems to have helped engineer another victory for Springfield hockey. 23 years ago, Landon helped create the Falcons when the Springfield Indians, then owned by Peter Cooney, was sold to the late Roy Boe and moved to Worcester.

Landon formed a local ownership group and brought an expansion team and kept it in Springfield.

Seems Landon’s invaluable connections in the AHL and within the Springfield business community paid off huge dividends yet again for the city’s hockey community who are making his enshrinenent in the AHL Hall of Fame and Springfield Hockey Hall of Fame all the more apropos if this deal holds together.

Cantlon’s Corner reached out to Landon on Tuesday before the news broke and was asked directly if Pompea was purchasing the Pirates. “I never deal in rumors and wild speculation. I never have and never will. I shook Charlie’s hand last week said thanks for everything and now I am retired.”

The former goalie deked beautifully from forehand to backhand and went top shelf. Save the rocking chair for another day.

In fact, Pompea, Landon, and several soon-to-be-announced-investors could potentially include the new MGM Springfield, the casino people scheduled to take over the MassMutual Center operations on July 1s. The expectation is they will have a casino down the street from the building opening in 2018.

Landon was contacted again on Wednesday evening. “I can’t comment on anything at this time. We’ll have more to talk about in the next day or two.”

The closest thing to a confirmation came to the Springfield Republican’s veteran reporter, Ron Chimelis. He was told by, Frank Fitzgerald, the attorney for the new investor’s group who’s handling the legal end of securing the Pirates for new ownership group. “I can confirm that a broad-based local investor group has signed a letter of intent to purchase the Portland Pirates. We are currently working on a definitive agreement that would bring the team to Springfield. This contract would be subject to league approval and an agreement with the Florida Panthers, the Pirates’ parent organization,” Fitzgerald said.

The Pirates clearly had financial difficulties under the current owner, Ron Cain. Clearly the Pirates were going to have new local ownership. The sale would solve several short term issues.

For the AHL having a team in the city of the league headquarters puts off any potential move for at least a few more years.Two. it helps makes the schedule-not released till August-better for the four other remaining Northeast AHL teams Hartford, Bridgeport, Providence and Albany keeping it somewhat stable for the lance sheet.

Two, it helps make the unreleased schedule in Springfield, which is not released until August, a better one for the four other remaining Northeast AHL teams, the Hartford Wolf Pack, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Providence Bruins and Albany Devils.

It would make for a lot more games than fans would like against those teams, but maintains the travel budgets, which have already been inching upward, from exploding.

Is a distinct possibility that if the deal gets scuttled in any way or not approved by the AHL BOG, both Portland, and Springfield could be without teams.

The only thing remotely close to this in recent AHL history was 16 years ago when the Islanders announced they were changing their affiliation from Lowell, MA, who they were sharing with LA at the time, to Bridgeport, CT after the 2000-2001 season and failed to give Lowell a heads up on the change.

This led to a major profanity laced fight from then Lowell GM/Head Coach Tom Rowe (ironically the current assistant GM in Florida and who coached Portland the last year and half before the promotion on January 1st) and then NY Islanders GM Mike Milbury who abruptly pulled five players from the Lowell roster and placed them in Springfield in December 2000, a team in their own division.

HAWK’S EYE: 2015-2016 SEASON REVIEW, A SEASON OF GROWTH FOR HWP

Bench2015-16 was a Season of Growth for Wolf Pack

BY: Bob Crawford, Hartford Wolf Pack

HARTFORD, CT – As Hartford Wolf Pack head coach Ken Gernander and his staff began their off-season last week, they were still dealing with the sting of falling just short of a 2015-16 playoff berth.  The Wolf Pack made a strong playoff push, and kept their hopes alive as late as the final weekend of the regular season, but ultimately ended up an agonizing two points shy of a postseason spot.

The ultimate result of the season is undoubtedly the source of significant frustration, but there are some positives to be taken from the second half of the year.  After January 8, at which point the Wolf Pack were 14-19-2-0 and in last place in the Atlantic Division, the team played nearly .700 hockey, going 27-13-1-0 in their last 41 games.

That is a point of pride for Gernander, but also makes it that much more vexing that the club was not able to get over the playoff hump.

“We can take some solace in the fact that I think we did grow and develop as the season went along,” the Wolf Pack bench boss said recently.  “It is a development league, so that’s one of the markers we use as far as evaluation.  We did grow, and it’s still a little bit of a sore spot that we didn’t make the playoffs.”

Growth is obviously a keyword in a player-development environment, and Gernander feels that his collective group increased its rate of progression as the season went on, and that was the key to the club’s second-half surge.

“Some of our younger players grew,” he said.  “We had a young defensive corps, but I think they were one of the strengths of our team at season’s end.  Our goaltending kind of came together there at the end, after a little bit of an up-and-down start, and I think we added a couple of players that created some depth for us up front that were helpful, and part of our success.”

The biggest of those additions was Nicklas Jensen, whose first game with the Wolf Pack after being acquired in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks organization was January 9.  The Wolf Pack beat the Bridgeport Sound Tigers that night, 5-4, to begin what would turn out to be an eight-game winning streak and the turnaround of their season.

Jensen would amass solid numbers for the Wolf Pack the rest of the way, 15 goals and 25 points in 41 games, but the team’s record after he had joined the group would seem to indicate that his impact went way deeper than that.  To Gernander, that just highlights what a big difference one quality player can make to a team in the game of hockey.

“Go through any NHL roster, I’m sure there’s one or two players that they would really hate to see lost for a big game, or a big series, or anything like that, and the same holds true here,” he said.  “You’ve got a couple of players who certainly can make a difference.  They can either shoulder a big part of the burden on their own, or certainly complement players to the point where they make everybody around them better.  You can’t underestimate the impact that certain players can have on a team.”

By the end of that strong second-half run, the Wolf Pack had compiled the eighth-best goals-against-per-game figure (2.62) in the AHL. The club, though, was never able to develop quite enough of a consistent finishing touch at the other end of the ice, scoring only 2.66 goals-per-game, which ranked them 25th out of the 30 AHL teams.

“If we’re going to look for shortcomings, it was offensive numbers and offensive output,” Gernander said.  “The other numbers are certainly in the ballpark in terms of where you’d like to finish.  Unfortunately, we just didn’t score a lot of goals or generate a lot of offense.”

One pleasant surprise on offense was the production of Chad Nehring, playing his first full season of AHL hockey at age 28 and in his fifth year as a pro.  After contributing four goals and 12 points in 53 games with the Wolf Pack last year, Nehring led this season’s Hartford club in both points and goals, with 22-26-48, and played in all 76 games.

“That makes for a nice story, too,” said Gernander of Nehring’s ascent.  “He came to us last year on an AHL tryout, and we asked him to play a role, kill penalties and take big faceoffs.  He really embraced the role and became a very important part of our team coming down the stretch and in the playoffs, because he was so reliable defensively, and this season just continued to grow his game and grow his game, to the point where he’s a pretty solid two-way player and eventually ended up leading our team in scoring, which is a real feather in his cap.”

Another good story surrounding the Wolf Pack was the finish of Marek Hrivik’s season, which saw the Slovakian import get his first shot at NHL action with the parent New York Rangers, after nearly 250 games in the AHL.  Hrivik ultimately logged five games with the big club, generating one assist and almost universally positive reviews.

“Hopefully, Marek’s a bit of a late bloomer, and where he left off this season, that’s hopefully where he set the bar and his play never dips below that again, he just continues to grow from there,” Gernander analyzed.  “That all remains to be seen, but he was certainly a real reliable player for us, an important part of our team, and it was great to see him get rewarded and do as well as he did at the end of the season.”

Before the 2015-16 season, only one Wolf Pack goaltender had ever chalked up a 30-win season, and that was Jason LaBarbera, who did it twice, winning a franchise-record 34 games in 2003-04 and 31 more the following year.  Magnus Hellberg, all of whose previous AHL experience had been in the Western Conference with the Milwaukee Admirals, joined LaBarbera in that exclusive club this year, going 30-20-3, with a 2.40 goals-against average, a 91.8% save percentage and three shutouts in 53 Wolf Pack games.

“We didn’t know him real well coming in here,” Gernander said of Hellberg, “coming from Milwaukee, wasn’t a goalie we were real familiar with, but he just took the reins there toward the end of November and really played some good hockey for us.”

Hellberg, a trade acquisition by the Ranger organization last summer from the Nashville Predators, finished the 2015-16 campaign third among AHL goaltenders in wins, minutes played (3,098) and saves (1,383), and had the sixth-best GAA in the league.

Few goaltenders can be successful without plenty of help from their defense, and the work of the defense corps was a consistent positive for the Wolf Pack throughout the season.  The top six for much of the season consisted of Chris Summers, the “grizzled vet” of the group at age 28. Then there were rookies Brady Skjei, Ryan Graves and Calle Andersson, a second-year pro, Mat Bodie and third-year man Tommy Hughes, with Raphael Diaz, who endured an injury-marred season, seeing significant time as well.  Assistant Coach Jeff Beukeboom, who runs the Wolf Pack defense, rotated the pairings for much of the season, ensuring all of his blueliners were comfortable playing with alongside regardless who was next to them.

“They shuffled around a bit, but I think we had a good mix of lefties, righties, veterans, younger kids, bigger guys, puck movers,” Gernander said of the blueline crew.  “Beuk (Beukeboom) did a good job balancing them, or meshing them together, and I think they were one of our team’s strengths.”

Bodie, despite his relatively tender pro experience level, became a trusted leader on the backline and had the honor of being named the Wolf Pack’s official full team leader March 2.  That was when the 26-year-old former NCAA champion at Union College had the captain’s “C” sewn on his jersey after the trade of Ryan Bourque.

“It’s only his second year, but he does have a certain level of maturity to him,” Gernander said of Bodie.  “He’s 26; he’s been around and certainly has a pretty good resume, with a national championship on his record and being a captain at Union.  So he has a lot of experience to draw upon.  Obviously, a very important part of our team, and really picked up the torch there when Ryan was traded, and we didn’t really miss a beat, I think, from a leadership standpoint.”

In addition to Hrivik’s becoming part of the Ranger mix near the end of the season, Skjei also found himself on an extended tour of NHL duty as the year wound down.  The University of Minnesota product and 2012 Ranger first-round pick was recalled April 5, after Blueshirt captain Ryan McDonagh was injured, and stayed the rest of the season, seeing action in each of New York’s last three regular-season games and all five Ranger playoff contests.

“I think he made real good strides,” was Gernander’s comment on the rookie season of his fellow ex-Gopher.  “To be able to compete and play where he did at the end of the season is ultimately the goal of your development club, to get him to the next level.  And hopefully that’s just a starting-off point for him, and his game continues to grow there (with the Rangers).  If he shows the same growth at that level that he did this level, he picked things up real quickly; he’s going to be a good player for a long time to come.”

Not far behind Skjei on the development curve was Graves, who at 20 years old was the Wolf Pack’s youngest player.  A fourth-round draftee by the Rangers in 2013, Graves carried the momentum from an excellent last Junior season in the QMJHL into this year and used his hard shot to lead Wolf Pack defensemen in goals with nine.

While Graves’ number did not come up for an NHL taste, Gernander was happy with the 6-4, 220-pound youngster’s progress.

“I think defense is a little bit tougher position than forward, and your mistakes seem to stand out a bit more,” he said, “since you’re the last line of defense before the goaltender.  And that being said, I thought he (Graves) did a real good job this season defending, and actually, for a first-year guy, generated some offense for us as well.  Pretty solid two-way effort, pretty good season for him.”

So there are more than a few positives for the organization to hang its hat on, and, in a bit of a mixed blessing, much time to break down the good and the bad, and to use that analysis to plan the future.  According to Gernander, that process has started in earnest already.

“It’s a full-time deal,” he said.  “We’re still trying to recap and learn, assess, from this current season, where we could be better, what things we did well, where we go from here.  Then it becomes time to turn the page and start looking forward, and put all that into good practical use.”

PHOTO BY CHRIS RUTSCH