Tuesday, December 31, 2002
Use the force, Blaz! Check out the Cotton Kings' excellent ad for tonight's Return of the Macker (thanks for the image, LCKBooster).
Sunday, December 29, 2002
Go here for the big news of the day, and an unabashedly joyous reaction to it ('tis the season, and all that).
That's right, the 2002-2003 campaign has finally claimed a coach -- on the team with the fewest points in the league, which is generally how that works, even when the bench boss on the hot seat has better social skills. The "removal" of Todd Lalonde was not really a surprise -- it was right there between the lines in GM Mike Barack's letter to the fed-up Brahmas fans.
Fort Worth's new coach is Bill Inglis, who spent many, many years with the Michigan K-Wings of the IHL, and also played the game. Even more intriguingly, Lalonde's longtime but recently discarded righthand man Craig Johnson has signed on as an assistant.
Wednesday, December 25, 2002
Happy Holidays. And yes, for those of you who read this closely, I did fail to give Amarillo credit for beating Austin twice (since corrected).
Gotta admit, between Bill McDonald, Corpus Christi, and the kettle boiling in El Paso, the Brahmas were the last thing on my mind, but you've probably noticed that hardy Fort Worth fans have a "dump TL" movement under way.
The Brahmas did get value for Mike Tilson, so much so that I'm half-expecting a Fort Worth-New Mexico transaction as Part 2 of the trade. But apparently, there was drama, too.
Speaking of drama, how 'bout the coaching deal at Clarkson University? A story worthy of the bush leagues.
OK, which of you three jokers voted for Craig Coxe?
Brutal headline: 500 See Scorps Fall. IMO, that's questionable editorial judgement, considering the game was originally scheduled for December 21, and the real story that night was the debut of Bill McDonald. Perhaps sales and marketing could have done a better job adjusting to the date change, but is that news? Maybe, but only in the proper context.
"I told the guys (Tuesday) we're looking up at Odessa, not down to New Mexico. Forget about who's behind us. We're looking ahead all the time." - Tracy Egeland
Take that, Macker!
"''If my guys can play hard for 59 minutes and 59 seconds every night, we'll be in good shape." - Brent Scott
Still, most teams try to play 60.
"Players in the Central Hockey League, their days are numbered. They're playing to have a little fun and make some money. If you've got 400 players in the CHL, you have 395 that don't have a chance of going anywhere." - Joe Coombs (Link credit to TFR).
Let's be fair -- more like 375. And a majority of USHL players will be right there with them -- or retired -- in six years.
CLEANING OUT DECEMBER'S BACKLOG
I don't care what the team says, the new Flyers sweater is not "burnt orange"... The Bush League Factor web site is gearing up again, at least in part because of "Rayz" and Killer Bees... Hope Dorian Anneck finds his scorer's touch under the tree today... Here's a Marvel Comic I would like to see: What If the Austin Ice Bats had hired Todd Lalonde?... They ought have some kind of sports journalism prize for best "Sky is Falling" minor league story, since everybody gets to write one at some point or another... Finally, three fun features I've been meaning to single out forever, on Zambonis from Laredo (thanks for the plug!), plus/minus out of Lubbock and fantasy camps via Edmonton.
Friday, December 20, 2002
Read my latest Faceoff.com article for proof positive that Macker's settled in.
Wednesday, December 18, 2002
I can only assume Recchi and Primeau's ears were burning from Monday's entry. That Hitch, he can be so droll: "We talked about his girlfriends and things like that," he said of Mo. It's probably good for JR (and good for Hatcher's wallet) that the Flyers and the Stars don't meet again (until late May, of course).
The Ice Bats' impressive three-in-three weekend gives Brent Hughes a shot at All-Star coach for three straight years. Unless, that is, a certain league media guru jinxed him with this press release! Of course I believe Austin will win both its games, but Corpus has beat 'em twice, and the Saints, unbeaten in three, has played some of its best hockey against the Bats at home (albeit in losses).
I'm certain Doug Frank is a different breed, both as a person and a businessman, but does dual ownership ever go well around these parts? The Horn Chen CHL is a separate issue, but in Wiffle history, you had Austin/Little Rock, which almost killed the Bats, Shreveport/New Mexico, which was meant to "save" the Scorps but did enough damage that Frank had to save 'em again, and Corpus Christi/El Paso, which was meant to "save" the Buzzards, but did so much damage that Frank now owns the Rays, with El Paso still waiting for salvation.
Which, by the way, could start taking shape as soon as Friday, depending who you ask. The CHL says no. Other sources, and I'm not just talking about a fan, somebody's wife or 1997's stickboy, say "si."
Last word on Bill McDonald -- it is kind of amazing Lubbock didn't get a player, or at least a future, for him. Look what Al Davis got, and that wasn't in the middle of the season. Incidentally, if you are in ABQ, Macker makes his first major appearance tonight. Read the rest of that release and you'll be reminded that the Scorps play Amarillo Thursday, a game originally schedule for December 21, while Sunday, the team christens a new outdoor rink with a scrimmage in Los Alamos.
Tuesday, December 17, 2002
Ok, everything is finally official. Bill McDonald is the new coach of the Scorpions, and Pat Dunn is back in Corpus Christi (where, incidentally, the Rayz are in the hiz-ouse. So cheer up, Hidalgo -- it could have been "Killer Beez").
Anyway, now we know why a formal announcement took so long: it's harder to get Ken Hitchcock on the phone than it is to get Keith Primeau and Mark Recchi scoring goals.
The bottom line, with sports as well as The Sopranos is, "it's just business." Doug Frank, Mark Adams and Bill McDonald made this deal happen in a perfectly straightforward manner -- no tampering charges, and apparently, no buyout -- which is how you know, despite his glowing PR comments, that Adams did it while whistling a happy tune -- he probably would have paid for the movers too.
Obviously Macker thought long and hard about it, and unlike Dennis Franchione, he was up front with his players. So in the end, the only people entitled to bitch about things are those 18 guys, and the Lubbock fans.
In the big picture, even if the whole thing feels a little bush league, or at least bizarre (imagine if Dave Tippett had quit the Stars to take over the Sharks), the good outweighs the bad. Two important CHL markets have been stabilized. The healing can begin, not just in Corpus Christi, but in Albuquerque, where Frank and his staff can now go full-bore rebuilding what was once the WPHL's second-best city (before the double-gauge damage of indifferent owners and the Martino cap scandal).
And now for the even bigger picture (warning: complete guesswork follows). First, check out one of my very first blog entries, back when Austin and the Dallas Stars were bound for Cedar Park.
Ok, now digest these quotes:
Down the road, I want to be a AAA developmental league -- Frank, when the Scorps' deal with Phoenix was announced.
The big thing is, they want me to get out and really try to get a full-fledged affiliation - McDonald, Saturday.
Now consider that Jim Lites, one of the movers and shakers behind the Phoenix deal, is back at his old gig with the Stars. And that New Mexico's press release went waaayyy out of the way to play up Macker's Dallas ties. It's not like everybody doesn't know about 'em. Sure, the Hitch quote was a nice touch, but do we really need to know what Les Jackson thinks?
We know the Stars need a place to put their prospects in 2004. So never mind Cedar Park, and forget about OKC -- who's to say New Mexico won't go AHL, or form the cornerstone of a Global Entertainment/ICC-backed "AAA" league? All that talk about what a great opportunity this was for Macker, how he simply couldn't turn it down? Maybe it wasn't about titles, money or authority. Maybe it's about something much, much bigger.
The CHL pace must have looked easy to Mike Gaffney after his two-game call-up: 2Gs, 1A, +4, OT-winner. Wow!
Didn't I just say Gunner ought to get in goal? (link courtesy of TFR).
You know things are bad for the Rangers when they pick up one of the Flyers' most pathetic cast-offs.
How 'bout Ilya Kovalchuk, who had this to say about Craig McTavish: "He was the last one to play without a helmet; so he had his brains knocked out long ago." Had enough brains to play defense though.
One correction to the Albuquerque Tribune story, Macker was not the 2001 WPHL Coach of the Year, that was the other guy with white hair. McKee, McDonald and Brent Hughes did tie for first in the Best of the Best, however.
Not sure if I really believe this, but I'm gonna go with my heart and a hunch: Flyers 4, Stars 3
R.I.P., Wild Bill.
Sunday, December 15, 2002
My oh my -- Saints alive!
"Dress-Wearing Scorpion Knifed at Nudie Bar?" They'll be jealous of that one at the New York Post for sure.
I'm writing from El Paso, where the Ice Bats' play tonight was about what I expected. It's a total Catch-22 – great teams are almost always gonna beat a struggling team even with a so-so effort. The players know that, so they end up giving one. Austin's game plan for tonight was simple: don't take 'em lightly, don't look ahead to Memphis, play it like any other road match.
"That's what I told the guys before the game," Bats coach Brent Hughes acknowledged. "And during the game. And after the first period. I have a hard time figuring it out. We didn't play well as a team tonight."
But as Jim Burton once told me, if he could unfailingly bridge the gap between what players say they're gonna do (and know they're supposed to do) versus what actually happens, he'd be coaching in the NHL.
Tonight, the Bats fell back on goaltending – from Peter Brady, not Matt Barnes (with that 3pm game on Sunday, it's too bad Hughes couldn't put Barnesy on a Southwest flight home, and just dress Gunner as the back-up). Austin's rookie netminder was flawless – he saw the puck well, kicked out everything sideways, turned back a total breakaway and got lots of clears and poke-checks from his D. He made two big saves before the goal that ruined the shutout, a back-door rebound into an open net.
"As long as we win I don't care," Brady said. "If they score 7 goals and we win 8-7 I'm happy."
And with the game tied at 1-1, victory was hardly guaranteed. But Brett Seguin put things away with a shot that bounced softly off and over a Buzzards defenseman and Matt Carmichael's pad before going in the net. "Pig" received first star of the game for that – except according to his coach.
"He was last star in my book," Hughes said. "Seguin and Pricer never had any legs tonight. They're just having trouble gettin' her going. Peter Brady should have got first star. He kept us in the hockey game."
"I thought they played pretty good hockey tonight," Hughes said of the Buzzards. "I think we gave them light at the end of the tunnel after the first period. They slowly got momentum and kept coming, kept coming. For six wins on the year they played a pretty good game."
"We outplayed 'em, and outshot 'em 2 to 1," El Paso coach Craig Coxe offered. "Unfortunately, we couldn't get the puck in the net. That seems to be the case for us a lot of times this year."
The night did not lack for good drama. Shawn Legault, who can't seem to buy a fight at home, got two. The first-period tilt with Josh Tymchak was entertainingly civil, as the smaller Buzzard hung on, took his beating and finished with a few shots of his own. Then both players agreed to let the linesmen in. Scott Mahar fared better, as well he should have – #10 was fairly fresh in the third period, whereas Legault, bad foot and all, took a regular shift in his first game in three weeks.
"Craig Coxe was a tough guy in his time so I knew he'd have one or two guys who wouldn't turn away from Legs," Hughes said. "Any time you go into somebody else's building, someone's going to step up to the plate."
There was also a penalty shot, with Carmichael stopping Tab Lardner with a gutty poke check. It was a bad call to begin with, after some great hustle by Lardner – he was hooked, but by the end of the play, he'd either gotten off his shot (high) or not taken one at all. That calls for a minor. Since the Bats were about to kill off three minutes of a Mike Olynyk high-sticking major, lopping 120 seconds off that might have been a better deal.
"That's what I said on the bench, the guys looked at me like I was crazy," Hughes said. "Obviously if we had scored it would have been a great situation."
Oh and as usual, the El Paso fans are super. They really gave it to the ref (and Olynyk), and it's fun to spot the long-timers (guys with Hilton and Trewand Eigner jerseys). On a personal note, the staffers there (Ellen, Delia, all three Michaels, Strelz, Brian and many others) always treat me beyond good. Though I'll admit, it was kind of depressing to be there and not get déjà vu – that's how far removed the franchise feels from last year's playoff run, for fairly obvious reasons.
Saturday, December 14, 2002
Bill McDonald, meet Dennis Franchione.
Yup, another thing to blame on Billy D. I can't really fault Macker – just as Franchione couldn't resist a better deal while shedding the unbearable albatross of NC Double A probation, Macker got a better deal while shedding the unbearable albatross of someone who used to be on NC Double A probation.
But there's no way to sugarcoat the situation: Corpus wins. New Mexico wins. Mark Adams and Bill McDonald win. Lubbock's fans and players get the shaft. The only thing that makes this different from the Lalonde Affair is Macker's better-liked (arguably, TL had a more compelling reason, but handled things so poorly).
If you aren't clicking on the links, you're probably confused, so here's the story: Macker's resignation is a done deal. Or shall I say, a "Dunn deal." Pat Dunn is apparently headed back to Corpus Christi as GM. This was expected. With Bill McDonald replacing him in New Mexico -- not expected.
Presumably, Tracy Egeland will take over as head coach of the C-Kings (think he'll demand the same salary as his former boss?). It will be interesting to see how much time McDonald needs to get the amazingly talented, but inconsistent and injury-plagued Scorps playing a more hard-nosed brand of own-zone hockey. It will also be interesting to see if he brings in any players, off the Kings or otherwise.
I'm sure Egeland will do fine. But what if McDonald puts New Mexico in the playoffs at Lubbock's expense? For now, mark your calendars: New Year's Eve at the Kingdom, January 5 at Tingley.
Oh yeah, and one suggestion for the Scorps – no initiation night for new coaches.
What, the Ice couldn't find Tone Loc a pair of skates? Frankly, I prefer Young MC, though I dug Tone's thespic turn in Heat.
I may be alone on this, but I think Killer Bees is by far the best of all the brand new team names, and way better than the other RGV candidates.
The above link (yet another article by Canadian Press reporter Neil Stevens, btw) was courtesy of The Farm Report, and so is this one, in which a miserable Stars performance earns them a comparison to the Brahmas. That seems unfair: the Brahmas would probably lose to the L.A. Kings 10-0, or 15-2. I realize it's a local angle, but using Austin instead would have firmed up the analogy.
Guess you can't say Long Beach put Dube in goal to boost attendance.
How 'bout starting off a shootout with two defensemen? How 'bout not using any of your top forwards, including the two guys who were hot during the game? Guess Scott was afraid his team would somehow give up a goal if Peach took his green jacket on the ice. He got the win, so kudos.
Trade suggestion: Alexander Daigle for Fedor Fedorov.
And finally, it's either really honest or really stupid, admitting you used to be pro-Billy, and almost went to work for him. But hey, let's welcome back the Warrior!
Thursday, December 05, 2002
Saints fans may be licking their chops at tonight's turmoil-plagued opponent, but hey, the last time Corpus didn't get paid on time, they beat Bossier and Austin on the road. What you've got right now is a team and a coach that couldn't be more unified. Plus, every time they hit someone they can pretend it's Taylor Hall. Every time they shoot, they'll see Billy D where Reid is. The Saints ought to win at home, but it'll be a tough one.
The Canadian Press CHL bonanza continues with this story on Brent Hughes...Never mind the failed Cedar Park vote -- here's a reminder of the time when the Ice Bats were gonna build their own rink. Would've been nice.
Hmmmh, maybe I cut the Buzzards too much slack. Anyway, since I posted Monday night, the IceRays situation has really gone kablooey. Stay tuned. Again. There's nothing there right now, but I'm guessing if you visit the Caller-Times on Thursday, there will be a story.
The Great White North hockey web sites are on a bit of a low-minors kick, thanks to Neil Stevens of the Canadian Press. His story on Terry Ruskowski got big play today. He's also written about WCHLer Mark Pederson and told the priceless tale of Mike Willerding, a 34 year-old auto mechanic who put in emergency time as the Columbia Inferno's back-up goalie.
The CHL merch shop is pretty cool. How 'bout a defunct team section next? No reason why the Waco Wizards can't be like the Washington Senators... Ok, so Tom hasn't been following Sandis Girvitch too closely this season, but is the guy really not good enough to crack anybody's line-up?... Hockey in the Concho Valley is not about the Saints this weekend -- the Coliseum is hosting a high school hockey tournament, with teams from Amarillo, Lubbock, Midland-Odessa and Corpus Christi, among others. Geez, if only that school bus was leaving one day sooner -- the IceRays could have hitched a ride.
Tuesday, December 03, 2002
And here we have my latest Faceoff.com article, featuring the Ice, the Memphis goaltending gaffe and other news and notes.
Don't believe the hype re: Corpus Christi? Actually, I'm thinking that you should. Just because someone says something is going to happen in two weeks and it takes two months, or even two years, doesn't mean it isn't true. The WPHL and CHL did merge. Michael Jordan did come out of retirement. R.C. Slocum did get fired. And yeah, sure, nothing's happening with the Rays.
Hey, do you think someone with an Ivy League education would be more qualifed than most retired hockey players to work in a front office? Just wondering.
So when Craig Coxe said he had something in the works, I figured the Buzzards had a bead on Eric Lindros, or at least Mike Danton.
Instead, they get Blaine Russell, who I guess is one of the best goaltenders in North America if that means the top 200 (nothing personal Blaine, there's 20 other CHLers you could say the same about). Meanwhile, Joey Grasso and Mathieu Paul both made a difference in their Buzz debut.
But alas, the Buzzards' winning ways lasted just one night, and really, there was nothing impressive about beating on a team that's probably playing the worst hockey in the CHL right now (and definitely the worst road hockey).
Nevertheless, I don't completely disagree with my favorite blindly optimistic booster. The new additions by themselves -- Kenny Moore is another -- are no big whoop, but once Linna and Guzior are back, at least the team will have three competent lines.
Plus there's trade talk. What's significant about all this activity is not the quality of the moves, but the mere fact that El Paso would swap an unproven rookie goalie for a former starter (a choice they refused to make in training camp), and actually pick up salaries while also paying two guys on IR (if only for a week).
Who knows, maybe the increased attendance means the Buzzards have some cash in hand. Or maybe there's more to go around 'cause someone is about to, oh, I dunno, sell another business he's involved in?
Sunday, December 01, 2002
Ok, before I start, does everyone own a copy of my book?
Yeah?... Promise?... Ok, then I can go ahead and recommend another one.
One of the most common responses to Zamboni Rodeo was from players, who would say, "y'know, my whole career, crazy stuff would happen and I'd sit there on the bus and say, I gotta write a book." Well, Doug Smith did it.
Not that he had much of a career. A teenage boxer who's now a suburban Boston cop, Smith (not to be confused with the former Central Texas player) put on hockey skates for the first time when he was 19. His book's called Goon, and that's exactly what he was.
With nothing but sheer determination, a shelf full of fight videos and enough skating ability to (barely) stay upright, Smith brawled his way from a Cape Cod summer league (where pro and college players scrimmaged) to the fledgling ECHL, still a cowboy loop in those days.
And that was pretty much it. But he made enough of an impression on various teammates and coaches that for the next eight years, Smith got in a few games here and there. He toiled in a New Brunswick semi-pro league, was a temp worker for Doug Shedden in Louisiana and even skated in the AHL.
"The true story of an unlikely journey into minor league hockey," indeed. I'll admit, I was skeptical at first. Goon is pricey for a paperback. It's published through one of those quasi-do-it-yourself Internet houses. And there was no way to know if the writing would be good (Smith penned it with his longtime friend Adam Frattasio, a sportswriter who has signed copies available). But it was 20 bucks well spent. Goon is a funny, passionate, plainspoken story that gives you a real feeling for what it's like to do the blue-collar job of hockey fighter.
It's all there -- the injuries and insecurity, the on-ice conversations, the crazy off-ice machinations. Most of all, the book reinforces what a small world U.S. minor hockey is. Fans of every league will recognize dozens of player names. I don't want to spoil the surprises (there are some truly great ones, especially for CHL fans) but among the cameos are John Torchetti and Scott Allen, teammates of Smith's back in that first season, as well as Jacques Mailhot, Ron Aubrey and NHLer Bill Huard. There are countless others.
I guess you could say Goon is the autobiography Ogie Oglethorpe never wrote.