Thursday, April 17, 2014

Idaho Steelheads Report: Playoffs Incoming Friday...

ECHL Rookie of the Year William Rapuzzi (Credit: Idaho Steelheads)
John Mulhern previews the Idaho Steelheads first round playoff matchup against the Colorado Eagles in this installment of the Idaho Steelheads Report...

Let the real season begin! Of course, for the teams that didn’t make the playoffs, the real season has just ended for them. For the Idaho Steelheads, they qualified fourth for the Kelly Cup playoffs but have known that they would be in the postseason after the San Francisco Bulls folded earlier this season. It marks the eleventh straight season the Steelheads have made the postseason in their ECHL history.

They finished their season winning seven of their last ten games and had a chance at the number three seed if they could have swept the Utah Grizzlies in the last weekend. They lost on Friday in regulation, and that took care of those aspirations.

The end result may have worked out for the best as the Idaho Steelheads drew the Colorado Eagles for the second year in a row in the Conference Quarterfinals. They defeated the Eagles 4-2 last year with three of those games going into overtime.

If Idaho finishes 3rd in the standings or if Bakersfield won their last game of the season, it would have been Idaho against Bakersfield and ECHL Rookie of the Year runner up goaltender Laurent Brossoit. So perhaps things worked out for the best for the Steelheads, as now Utah and Bakersfield will play each other in the other side of the bracket. Utah has Aaron Dell and Igor Bobkov on their team, who are both top 10 goaltenders in the ECHL this year. Let them knock each other around and out.

Two awards have been handed out to Idaho so far this season. Both of them going to rookie William Rapuzzi. He made the ECHL All-Rookie team and followed that up with the Rookie of the Year award. For the season, Rapuzzi finished tied for second in rookie scoring with 58 total points which led the Steelheads. He was also at the top of the entire league when it came to power play scoring. He beat out the previously mentioned Brossoit in that category.

Idaho’s playoff roster will consist of 13 forwards and 8 defenseman along with 2 goaltenders.
Goaltenders: Josh Robinson, Pat Nagle

Defensemen: Patrick Cullity, Damon Kipp, Russ Sinkewich, Ryan Button, Charlie Dodero, Dalton Reum, Eamonn McDermott, Scott Czarnowczan

Forwards: Mitch Wahl, Tommy Grant, William Rapuzzi, David deKastrozza, Luke Judson, Justin Mercier, Gaelan Patterson, Jason Bast, Anthony Nigro, Brett Robinson, Rob Linsmayer, Brock Montgomery, Andrew Conboy.
For the playoffs, teams are allowed a maximum number of 23 players. If Idaho wanted to add players later, they would have to leave an open spot on the roster. Head Coach Brad Ralph decided to fill all 23 of his roster spots prior to the start of the post season, so there is no room for Austin Fyten or Taylor Vause to be added at a later date. With both Texas (Vause) and Oklahoma City (Fyten) in the playoffs or fighting for a playoff spot, Ralph is not expecting either of those players to become available early enough to where they will be able to help the team.

With regards to Colorado, the Steelheads went 7-2 against them this season including winning all five games at home while splitting thefour road games. Tommy Grant led all Steelheads in scoring against the Eagles with 9 points (4g,5a) while Kevin Young led Colorado against the Steelheads also with 9 points (4g,5a). It would be a severe overlook for the Steelheads to forget that Colorado still have the likes of forwards Trent Daavettila and Kyle Ostrow, both with 66 points, and defenseman Mark Nemec who had a +37 rating on the season.

This series is going to be won with goaltending. Both teams like to play more of an offensive brand of hockey and while the Steelheads have more “stay at home” defenseman than the Eagles do, four of them are rookies and two of them have been with the team for less than a month (McDermott and Czarnowczan). The Steelheads can throw out the goaltending duo of J. Robinson and Nagle, while Colorado will have to throw out the likes of Dustin Butler and Eric Williams.

I can’t see a reason why Ralph would not go with Robinson in net, but in my mind no matter which goaltender Idaho starts, the advantage in net has to go to Idaho and with that in mind, I believe that Idaho will advance to the second round of the playoffs.

In the ECHL the format is a straight one through eight seeding with no re-seeding after each round. The winner of the Idaho/Colorado series will play the winner of the Alaska Aces/Las Vegas Wranglers series. The other side has the Ontario Reign and the Stockton Thunder meeting in the 2/7 match-up and Utah/Bakersfield in the 3/6 with those winners playing each other.

My quick picks for the other 3 series are Alaska in 6, Stockton in 6 and Utah in 7.

Now that the “real season” has begun, stayed tuned for more frequent updates. I’ll be doing a live write up of the Idaho home games and writing down my thoughts immediately after each period ends for that “at the game feel.”

All of us out here in Idaho are hoping for not only a first round win but also another deep playoff run to back up the run to the conference finals last season.

Until next time…

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Texas Stars Clinch League's Best Record with 2-1 Win in OKC

William Wrenn was plus-2 tonight. (Credit: Steven Christy)
Texas needed two points to clinch the best record in the league facing the Oklahoma City Barons in what could be their first round matchup in the Calder Cup Playoffs. It was tight. It was grinding. It was a win. The one-goal victory sealed up the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy, awarded to the AHL club with the best record, for the Texas Stars in their fifth season. It is the first time Texas has won the award and the first time a Western Conference team has won it since 2009's Manitoba Moose (featuring Maxime Fortunus).

Toby Petersen and Kevin Henderson were the goal scorers in the contest. Cristopher Nilstorp got the start, stopping 24 of 25. The Stars rested many of their top regulars, including Travis Morin, Brett Ritchie and Maxime Fortunus, for maintenance.

Texas opened the scoring early in the first period with just their third shot of the game. Taylor Peters slipped the puck over the Toby Petersen, who scored his fifth of the season in just his second game back from injury. Oklahoma City held the puck in the Stars' zone to start the game but a defensive lapse by the pair of Musil and Klembom led to that first goal for Petersen.

Texas managed to outshot the Barons 11-2 in the opening frame and held them to a single shot for the first seventeen minutes of the game. The second period saw a little more offense. Alex Guptill took a penalty for hooking, which was the start of the tilted ice on the penalty front for Texas. Anton Lander appeared to have scored on the power play but it was called a no goal on the ice and on review. Less than a minute later, Steve Pinizzotto scored his twelfth of the year off a rebound from the Taylor Fedun shot on the same power play.

As the period wore on, the Stars and Barons were more even on shots in the frame. The final shot of the second period for Texas put them ahead 2-1 in the contest. Kevin Henderson jammed home a rebound off the initial work by Taylor Vause and William Wrenn with just 33 seconds left in the period.

There were a number of uncalled physical plays in the second period. The third period saw the ice tilt toward OKC with the Barons earning two power plays in the early period. The Stars weathered the storm on the penalty kill and held down the lead against the desperate Barons. Steve Pinizzotto got a late game misconduct call for abuse of officials, the second time in as many games that an opposing players has taken such a penalty. Greg Zanon took one in San Antonio and was suspended for two games afterwards.

Texas had one final penalty to kill off as Toby Petersen was called for boarding with less than a minute remaining in the third. The Barons went 6-on-4 against Nilstorp and Texas but could not get the equalizer, giving Texas the league's best record.

The Stars will play their final regular season game on Saturday at home against Abbotsford.

Tonight's lines:
Hedden-Dowling-Glennie
McKenzie-Vause-Ranford
Henderson-Faksa-Stransky
Guptill-Peters-Petersen

Jokipakka-Meech
Oleksiak-Gaunce
Labrie-Wrenn

Nilstorp

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Sceviour, Jeffrey, Nemeth, Mueller (callup)
Morin, Ritchie, Fortunus, Troock (scratched)
Klingberg, Hulak (injury)

Today's attendance was 3,067.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas at Oklahoma City - April 16 2014

Gameday Preview: Stars at Oklahoma City Barons

Texas Stars
47-17-3-7, 104 pts
#1 Western Conference
atOklahoma City Barons
34-28-2-9, 79 pts
#8 Western Conference
April 16th at 7:00 PM
Cox Convention Center, Oklahoma City, OK

Both teams need these two points. The reasons why are starkly different. With two points, Texas will end up with the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy for the league's best record. With two points for OKC, the Barons will find their chances at the playoffs much improved. They have a magic number of three to make the postseason for their fourth time in four tries.

Helping their case is the fact that all remaining games are at home for the Edmonton affiliate. ALso, their last two games are against the last-place Iowa Wild. They may not need these two points tonight ultimately if they can collect three points this weekend against the Wild.

Richard Bachman has led the Barons for most of the way this season. Eight different goaltenders have gotten into games for OKC this season, but Bachman has played in 50 of the 73 so far. He's having an atypical season stats-wise. The former Star is 25-18-6, which is pretty good, but he's also sporting a 3.01 GAA and .907SV%.

One of the top threats for the Barons will be out of the lineup in tonight's game. Mark Arcobello, who has 10+18=28 in just 15 games this season, is out with injury. Of course, that may not matter as much with all the additions from the now-golfing Edmonton Oilers. Those include Anton Lander, Oscar Klembom, Roman Horak, Steve Pinizzotto, Tyler Pitlick, and Will Acton. You can read more about those assignments on Tend the Farm.

The Barons have also added Darnell Nurse, the Oilers' top pick last year, on defense. The young blue liner had a rough initiation to the pro ranks, according to Neal Livingston and Tend the Farm. Still, he wasn't a top pick for nothing.

Coach Desjardins has been alternating starts for his goalies for a while. Cristopher Nilstorp would get this one, if that holds. In my opinion, the Stars will bring their A-team tonight, as opposed to resting guys, to give themselves a better chance of not facing these Barons in the first round.

Stars injury/call up report:
Sceviour, Mueller, Jeffrey, Nemeth (call up)
Hulak, Klingberg (injury)

Website: okcbarons.com
Blog: Tend the Farm
Twitter: @OKCBaronsHockey

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Texas Stars Add Dallas Pick Branden Troock on ATO

Troock
(Credit: Dallas Stars)
The Texas Stars have signed Dallas draft pick Branden Troock to an amateur tryout agreement this afternoon. The fifth round pick in the 2012 draft just completed his major junior career with the Seattle Thunderbirds after they fell in the second round of the WHL playoffs to the Kelowna Rockets. Earlier today, the right winger signed a three-year entry level contract with the Dallas Stars.

Troock really busted out of his shell this season for Seattle, scoring a point per game in the regular season (24+34=58). He added four goals and three assists in nine playoff games. He was limited in prior seasons due to serious hand and neck injuries that cut his games played to just 19 in the 2012-13 season.

Troock will join the team in Oklahoma City. I do not expect he will play, however. Texas has a chance to hold OKC out of the playoffs with a win, so they are likely to bring their best squad.

Here's the release:
The Texas Stars, proud American Hockey League affiliate of the Dallas Stars, announced today that the club has signed right wing Branden Troock to an amateur tryout contract.

Troock, 20, recently completed his fourth season with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL, finishing third on the team with 58 points (24 goals, 34 assists) and 69 penalty minutes in 58 games played. The Edmonton, Alberta was tied for the team lead in goals (4) and tied for second in points (7) during the 2014 WHL Playoffs, as he helped Seattle reach the Western Conference Semifinals before being swept by the Kelowna Rockets. Troock played in 144 career WHL games and registered 101 career points (45 goals, 56 assists) and 175 penalty minutes. The six-foot-three, 195-pound right wing was drafted by Dallas in the fifth round (134th overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Stars earlier today. Troock represented Canada at the 2012 IIHF Under-18 World Championships in the Czech Republic, helping Canada win a bronze medal, beating Finland 5-4 in the bronze medal game.

AHL's Heat Leaving Abbotsford Amid Financial Losses, Attendance Issues

(Credit: Clint Trahan/Abbotsford Heat)
In a press conference this morning, the city of Abbotsford, the NHL's Calgary Flames and the Abbotsford Heat announced that the Heat would no longer play in Abbotsford. Following the conclusion of the AHL playoffs this season, the Heat will relocate to a destination still to be determined.

The general consensus is that the destination will be Glens Falls, New York, the current home of the Adirondack Phantoms. The Phantoms will be relocating to Allentown, Pennsylvania, next year, leaving a vacancy at the Glens Falls Civic Center. Officials from the Calgary Flames, the Heat's parent club, had meetings in Glens Falls in the last two weeks. All signs point to the team moving much further east and another definite realignment for the league this summer.

The Heat lasted five years in the league at their far western outpost. They entered the league the same year as the Texas Stars. The main contributing factor to their demise was a badly structured deal with the city. Essentially, the city agreed to keep the team in the black financially, making up any losses that they felt each year. With the Heat in the bottom five of attendance league-wide for four of their five seasons in BC, the city was estimated to have paid CDN $5.24 million (USD $4.77 million) to the team to keep them afloat. The city will pay a buyout fee of CDN $5.5 million, which is half of their estimated CDN $11 million losses for the remaining five years on the contract.

Ryan Pinder, former play-by-play broadcaster for the Heat, also points out that attendance was probably hurt by having the team branded so heavily to match the Flames while placing them inside the geographic fanbase of a traditional rival, the Vancouver Canucks. If the Heat were affiliated with the Canucks, this might have been a different story. Maybe that comes to pass sometime in the future but not this year.

Travel costs certainly did not help the team, whose closest matchup was over a thousand miles away. There was a chance at a reprieve last year as the Peoria Rivermen considered a move to Seattle, but that did not materialize. The arena was deemed to be 'unavailable' for an AHL tenant at the time. They were holding out for a deal that never came in the form of the relocation of the Phoenix Coyotes.

All this puts an interesting spin on a story that continues to bubble to the surface every few months, the possibility of an AHL Pacific or Western Division. At one point, it appeared Abbotsford was a foothold into the start of that strategy. Now it appears those plans will have to wait. Cities in mix could include new markets Seattle, Sacramento, and San Diego, and existing ECHL markets Ontario, Bakersfield and Salt Lake City. The Abbotsford Heat prove that such a move cannot happen piecemeal. In order to do it within the next few years, several teams will have to be uprooted from the East and hauled out West all at once. That's going to be painful.

Chaparral Ice Announces Temporary Closure to Replace Ice Surface

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Chaparral Ice, the home of Austin's only public full-sized sheet of ice, announced today in an email to their customers that they will be closed for all on-ice activities for two weeks in late May to completely remove and replace their ice surface. The closure will run from May 23rd until June 5th.

The ice surface at Chaparral Ice has not been completely re-done in several years and is far overdue for a replacement. Years of skating and resurfacing have made the red lines, blue lines and faceoff dots difficult to see for players. Further, the ice that sees the most public skating traffic, the edges of the rink, have been scraped up repeatedly, leading to rough conditions in those spots.

Austin previously had three full-sized sheets before the closure of the Chaparral Ice facility on I-35. The Pond Hockey facility on United Ave, which has a smaller 'pond-sized' rink of 150 feet by 70 feet, will be open during this closure. A full-sized rink is 200 by 85 feet. Cedar Park Center is also used for some amateur adult league games when it is available.

This could present some issues if the Stars make it to the third or final round of the playoffs. The Cedar park Center calendar is pretty crowded around then with Disney on Ice May 21-25 and high school graduations May 30-31. The Stars use Chaparral to practice when the Cedar Park Center is unavailable. When you combine that with when the Stars will play the actual games during those stretches, there is an incoming logistical nightmare here if Texas makes it that far into the playoffs.

Here is the email:
Chaparral Ice will be closed for all on-ice activities from Friday, May 23, through Thursday, June 5, for a planned major maintenance project.

It is standard procedure for all rinks to completely remove and replace their ice surface every few years. As we have been the only year-round provider of ice in Austin for several years, we have hesitated to take this necessary break so as not to disrupt your individual skating and training needs. However, the time has come when this simply must be done.

The decision for when to perform this project was difficult and was not arrived at lightly. There is no time during the year when some who depend on our ice would not be affected by a closure. We regret any inconvenience this hiatus may cause you.

During the time our ice is down, staff will be in the rink to attend to as many of your needs as possible, and our Chaparral Gear pro shop will be open for business. In-Person and Online Registration for all our programs, including summer camps, will continue as usual.

Check the website frequently for updates during the closure. If the project goes smoothly and quickly, we may be able to reopen before June 5. We look forward to continuing to serve your ice skating needs and will be ready to hit the ground running for an amazing summer!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Texas Star Curtis McKenzie Named AHL Rookie of the Year

Curtis McKenzie (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
The AHL announced today that Curtis McKenzie has been named the Dudley "Red" Garrett Memorial Award winner, awarded to the league's top rookie. McKenzie stormed the league with a 26 goal, 38 assist campaign that isn't over yet. He has resided in the top ten of scoring for most of the season despite his rookie status and has anchored the wing of the league's top power play and top line all year.

"That wasn't the role I thought I was going to play, certainly not to this extent," McKenzie said this weekend after scoring his first professional hat trick in San Antonio. "I had confidence in myself that I could come in and be an impact player for the team, but I definitely didn't think about anything like All-Rookie teams or anything like that coming into this year."

After a four year college career where he scored a total of 80 points in 158 games, McKenzie has 64 points in just 73 AHL games this season.

McKenzie deflected praise to his linemates, also fellow All-Stars, "A lot of it was the opportunity playing with Travis Morin and Colton Sceviour and on the first power play unit. We had a lot of success there. That gave me confidence in adjusting to this level."

(Credit: Darren Abate/AHL)
The sixth-round pick played just five games last season on an amateur tryout. He picked up an assist but was more noted for his fights. That led many to believe that would continue to be his role in the 2013-14 season. Coach Desjardins is frank in admitting he didn't know that McKenzie would turn into this sort of player when given the opportunity.

"It's not the kind of player I expected him to be when we started the year," said Desjardins. "We knew we'd get a good, hardworking player, maybe a guy who would grind a little and finish some checks for Morin and Sceviour. He's proved to have more skill than we thought he would early, and it's great for him. He's battled hard."

This marks the first individual end of season award for the Texas Stars franchise. McKenzie is one of several rookie of the month winners for Texas. McKenzie won the award in December 2013. Previous Texas winners include Reilly Smith and Jamie Oleksiak last season.

Here's the release:
The Texas Stars, proud American Hockey League affiliate of the Dallas Stars, announced today that left wing Curtis McKenzie has been voted the winner of the Dudley (Red) Garrett Memorial Award as the AHL's outstanding rookie for the 2013-14 season. The award is voted on by AHL coaches, players and media in each of the league's 30 member cities.

McKenzie, a 2009 draft pick by the Dallas Stars, has recorded 26 goals and 38 assists for 64 points in 73 games for the league-leading Stars this season. McKenzie is currently tied for ninth overall in league scoring, and among AHL rookies he ranks first in points, assists, power-play points (33) and power-play assists (23); second in shots on goal (210) and tied for third in power-play goals (10). A 23-year-old native of Golden, B.C., McKenzie was the CCM/AHL Rookie of the Month for December, and was named to the AHL All-Rookie Team last week. He made his pro debut with Texas at the end of the 2012-13 season following four seasons at Miami University.

Here is a link to a highlight package of McKenzie from this season, courtesy of SendtoNews.

This award, which was first presented by the AHL in 1947, honors the late Dudley (Red) Garrett, a promising young player who lost his life during World War II while serving in the Royal Canadian Navy. Garrett split his only pro season, 1942-43, between the AHL's Providence Reds and the NHL's New York Rangers.

Previous winners of the Garrett Award include Terry Sawchuk (1949), Wally Hergesheimer (1951), Jimmy Anderson (1955), Bill Sweeney (1958), Roger Crozier (1964), Gerry Desjardins (1968), Rick Middleton (1974), Darryl Sutter (1980), Pelle Lindbergh (1981), Steve Thomas (1985), Ron Hextall (1986), Brett Hull (1987), Felix Potvin (1992), Darcy Tucker (1996), Daniel Briere (1998), Rene Bourque (2005), Teddy Purcell (2008), Nathan Gerbe (2009), Tyler Ennis (2010), Luke Adam (2011), Cory Conacher (2012) and Tyler Toffoli (2013).

This is the first time in franchise history that a Texas Stars player has been selected as the AHL's Rookie of the Year and the fifth time a Texas Stars player has received a year-end AHL award. All previous selections have been for the AHL All-Star or All-Rookie teams. The first came last season when left wing Matt Fraser was selected to the 2012-13 AHL Second All-Star Team. Last week, McKenzie was selected to the 2013-14 AHL All-Rookie Team and Travis Morin and Colton Sceivour were both named to the 2013-14 AHL First All-Star Team.

In operation since 1936, the American Hockey League continues to serve as the top development league for all 30 National Hockey League teams. Nearly 90 percent of all players competing in the NHL are AHL graduates, and through the years the American Hockey League has been home to more than 100 honored members of the Hockey Hall of Fame. The 2013-14 regular season ends on Saturday, and then 16 clubs will continue to vie for the league's coveted championship trophy when the 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs get underway next week.