Tuesday, February 25, 2003
Thursday, February 20, 2003
It's not just Austin: the Manitoba Moose may have to start the playoffs elsewhere. They've got a bigger back-up rink to work with -- still tiny by AHL standards though.
Actually, you can still buy yourself the Buzzards. No reserve (which is presumably why the other auction got cancelled by the seller).
Hey LvsRattlers, I know you want the best stuff on your own board, but why not post your playoff number-crunching here as well? And FWIW, my personal quibble with this week's Globe-News column was the fish-in-a-barrel shot at El Paso's low attendance ("pitiful"), which delivered the who/what/when/where, but not the why or how.
Word is the University of Texas wasn't interested in allowing the Bats to wear Longhorns-style sweaters for the upcoming Blazers game, or maybe Brent Hughes just realized it'd be bad luck (now if they played the game on neutral ice in Dallas, I'd be truly worried).
Recommended clicks: Hockey Jimm's site for a collection of WPHL jerseys, Classic Sports to buy newly made t-shirts for, among other things, old Central teams (who can resist the Albuquerque Six-Guns?) and Rampagefans.com, which is truly The Onion of minor league hockey.
Here's further confirmation of the CHL's interest in Lafayette (thanks to Hans Hornstein for the link). What's amazing is it's possible Express Sports could swoop right in and start anew, with no obligation to the Coast...Speaking of, I'd sure love to see this alleged "CHL" logo on the back of this Texas Wildcatters puck.
Gotta wonder if Lubbock has something up their sleeve with that U.K. player, since the ISL's regular season isn't over until the end of March. But like the release says, the team has never gotten a European signing here in time, so it could be the same old hedge... Reading about Savannah's hockey potential (or lack thereof) is a timely reminder of how much external crap the owners and GMs we all love to bitch about deal with every day.
If you didn't catch it a while back on The Farm Report, here's where Matt Mullin ended up. I just can't believe Peter Zezel doesn't have better things to do... Also, this is old news, but Kurt Wickenheiser and Al Rooney have both exited Jacksonville...This story about the UHL and the death of "goon hockey" asks some good questions about what the minors' entertainment mission should be. But it figures: a few nights later Flint played a game with more than 300 PiMs.
And finally, "There's More to Life than Hockey, Volumes 1-3": you'll want to read this devastating piece on Chris and Peter Ferraro and Chris' wife Jennifer, and this one about Brahmas owner Stuart Fraser, and this one about the Spokane Chiefs' Darren Lefebvre.
Wednesday, February 19, 2003
Tuesday, February 18, 2003
Never mind all the Naslund-for-Stojanov talk... it's obvious that Forsberg for Eric Lindros was the worst trade in NHL history, even without the $15 million and all the other players. And I disagree, Johnsson and what became Donald Brashear and Sami Kapanen is more than the Flyers might have hoped for, especially if Big E never returns to form.
Great story here about Paul Kruse and British hockey.
You San Angelo fans are slipping. I forgot to include Scott Reid on my list of ROTY possibilities, and no one called me on it. Not that he has a chance to win (a familiar predicament for the young netminder).
And the nominees for most unfortunate statement in the course of a DUI apology are...
Ok, there's just the one -- Craig Coxe, for the following: ...what I've done is nowhere near what last year's coach did.
Classy. Plus it leaves out one important detail... the beleaguered Buzzards boss seems to be acknowledging his guilt. Trent Eigner has done no such thing. Coxe doesn't know what Eigner "did," he knows what his predecessor has been accused of. You'd think that distinction would be meaningful to someone who'd just posted bond himself.
So anyway, as long as we're making tacky comparisons, two quick morals to this story:
1. Do your drinking on the bus, not before you drive to meet it. Worried that might set a bad example? Too late!
2. Alleged drug dealers make better hockey coaches than apparent drunk drivers.
FOUR FOR THE ROAD
1. Derek Hahn for Rookie of the Year? He'd get my vote, if I still had one. There really isn't a slam-dunk candidate: Morin, Sewell, Racine and Thinel are other likely nominees (if I've forgotten someone, I'm sure a fan of his will let me know). It depends how much the voters weigh personal stats vs. the overall team context, but Hahn's got both departments covered -- he's a +25, point-per-game player, and the Apes are 23-9-1 since he showed up in December (they were 8-8 without him). Morin's a strong candidate as well, which means Thinel could win it if the Northwest voters split.
2. New team, different part of the world, unique suburban market. Nevertheless, every GM in the league has gotta ask themselves, what are the Colorado Eagles doing that we can learn from?
3. Midland Headline Writer Smacks Jacks With Disrespect: It's not really a shock when Odessa edges Austin in a shootout. On the other hand, Last-Place Buzzards Stun was perfectly appropriate (yup, El Paso is undefeated in games immediately following their coach's DUI arrest).
4. The Mudbugs could face the ultimate either/or: miss the playoffs entirely, or win another Cup. They're as good as anyone right now, 14-0-1 in their last 15. Logic says they won't quite make it, but logic is based on them going 10-5 or 9-6 to finish up. Who's to say they won't go 12-3? Doesn't leave much margin for error if you're not the Northwest winner.
Sunday, February 16, 2003
Better hurry up and bid on the El Paso Buzzards now, before E-Bay takes the listing down. While it could be legit -- Anchorage of the WCHL put itself up for auction over the summer -- somehow I don't think the bankruptcy court signed off on this one.
On the other hand, if the team itself is out of your price range, you can buy a complete set of home and road Buzzards jerseys, direct from OT Sports -- presumably because Billy never paid them for the last batch.
The Ice Bats' reign at the top of the ITC poll has ended. Idaho takes over #1, but the main reason Austin slipped is because a couple of CHL voters had Indy as the league's top team.
The puck's about to drop for Ice Bats-Mudbugs, and I can safely to say that anyone who's at the game will go home having heard the Expo Center is likely back in the picture for all but the first-round. Which, after all this fussing, the team had better win.
Ok, I know some folks are probably bored with all the Bats talk, so let's take a brief spin around the Saturday night games.
1. Break up the Brahmas!
2. Are "defense-first" teams supposed to score four unanswered goals?
3. And thus beating Austin means absolutely nothing. Nice win for El Paso though, they'd lost 7 straight to the Jacks since you-know-when.
4. Bossier is 13-0-1 since a loss to Memphis January 11. Will the streak end today? Will the Bugs get their revenge on Legs?
5. Memphis puts an end to Tulsa's five-game win streak and keeps on treading water.
6. But Amarillo seems a more likely playoff team, if only because they have two ways to do it (Northwest title, wild card) where Memphis and the Bugs have one. This would be a good time to rant about how unfair it is that Corpus, New Mexico and Lubbock have a chance to back in to the playoffs, but Fort Worth got there with a worse record than the Scorps and C-Kings last year.
7. This one looks like a Bats-Scorps game from 1997, except for the score that is. Austin is on track to break the CHL record for highest winning percentage (.781, set by Odessa last year) but would have to go 14-0-1 to get the points record (108, set by Columbus in a 70-game season).
8. And in a heated battle for 15th place, San Angelo takes two points in its fourth road win of the season, which is bound to have the clinically insane portion of the Thunder fan base issuing another call for Laxdal's head.
Saturday, February 15, 2003
Ain't irony a bitch? Even as the Ice Bats ponder playoff life without a building, the Express ask Round Rock for $1.8 million to expand the stadium and take their team to AAA.
A quote from Adam Zuvanich's Statesman piece:
The Ice Bats... close the regular season on March 15, but the Star of Texas Fair and Rodeo will have exclusive rights to the Expo Center through April 9. The CHL playoffs could last until May, giving Austin an outside chance of finishing its season in the Expo Center. A professional wrestling show is scheduled for April 12 at the Expo Center, but if the event is canceled and arena crews can lay ice quickly, the Bats might be able to return to the Bat Cave.So already, things are looking up. An "outside chance" is mentioned. Plus, there's the suggestion that the wrestling plans could change.
Now, the rodeo ends April 5, so why do they have the building until April 9? Is it just because it takes three-four days to get the dirt and gear out, and there's no reason for the rodeo people to accelerate the timetable and take on added labor costs to do so? 'Cause it seems to me you can have a wrestling show on a floor laid over ice -- the trick is to get the ice made and perfect before the 12th. Last year the rodeo ended on a Saturday and the ice was ready to go on the following Saturday (Game 1 of the first-round series was played the night before in San Antonio).
So I wonder, is there a way to speed things up and get the Bats in there on April 11, accomodate the wrestling, then play again on the 13th? Could the team or league just buy off the wrestling promoter? Better yet, let them set up the ring in the parking lot, have matches before and after the game and feature them between-periods. If Ryan Pisiak is one of the grapplers, all the better.
Anyway, in discussing all this with Ice Bats season ticketholder Mike Rice, who was in the rodeo long before he ever saw a hockey game, he came up with a solution: "Get The Dirt Out Day." It takes three days for the rodeo to clear the Expo? Not if a few dozen Bats fans show up Monday, ready to work.
Everybody mocked that line, "as a season ticket holder, you're not just part of the crowd, you're part of the team." Here's a way to really make it so, if it gets the Bats back in the place where they belong.
Meanwhile, I gotta respond to this post.
Fort Worth's Reunion game against the Outlaws was one of the first things I thought of when I heard about the Chaparral deal (though IIRC, the Brahmas also played a game at Blue Line once, or maybe that was the Fire). But that was just one game. The Bs would not have been able to play all of their games at Reunion, what with the primary tenant being in the middle of its Stanley Cup run. The building wouldn't have been available, and even if it was, the organization probably wouldn't have been inclined to pay for it, especially if it meant putting down a deposit for dates that weren't guaranteed to happen (as turned out to be the case -- the Brahmas won that great OT game at Reunion, but not the semifinal series).
Andy Moog's relationship with the Stars was a crucial factor for Fort Worth. And Reunion already had ice, a huge consideration both logistically and financially. The only analogous venue in Austin, the Erwin Center, is run by a University that wouldn't be looking to do the Bats any favors. It would cost a ton and has no ice pre-made.
And I mean c'mon, gimme a break, most of the Brahmas fans -- if not you personally -- spent all year complaining about your owner's handpicked coach: the way he treated fans, the way he treated players, his demeanor in general.
Point being, that situation doesn't reflect on the "class" of Brahmas ownership, and this one doesn't reflect on John McVaney. This was just a bad decision brought on by a nearly unworkable situation. It doesn't automatically erase all the good things the organization has done over the last four years. Is there room for improvement? Yeah. Are the Bats underachieving as a business at the moment? Yeah. But it's still good hockey and good people. Most of the folks sending angry e-mails still realize that.
Don't get me wrong, IF the Bats make the finals and IF they still end up at Chaparral it would be a low moment for the franchise. But it wouldn't be the lowest (see everything that happened between Jim Burton's firing and McVaney's purchase of the team). And it won't change the fact that Austin's fans are lucky.
They don't have the worst record in the league like Fort Worth. They've got a great coach who they are totally behind, unlike San Angelo. The owner isn't bankrupt and corrupt, unlike El Paso. And neither bad attendance nor the team's relationship with Travis County can compare to the horrible stuff the Louisiana Ice Gators are going through (Average attendance in 1997: 9,713. This year: 2,460. And yeah, of course the CHL is interested, though I think we need to be cautious about the ECHL cast-offs, how many "rehab markets" does one league need? Meaning, we already have some of our own).
Wednesday, February 12, 2003
Several Austin fans have already suggested the Bats play all their playoff games on the road, with a portion of the gate. I won't ponder the pros, cons or complexities of such a notion, 'cause I've got a better idea: play all the games at the El Paso County Coliseum! The Buzzards pay (or don't pay) $1500 a game. Very affordable.
BK has provided the financial details of Austin's playoff plans.
As for me, I was pro-Chaparral when it was just for the first round. But for the entire playoffs? Anyway, I've stumbled onto a secret, unedited version of the team letter (tongue firmly in cheek).
Dear Season Ticket Holder:
The playoffs are upon us and with the Bats' sporting the BEST RECORD IN ALL OF PROFESSIONAL SPORTS, isn't it a shame that we're going to stage what could be the greatest postseason in team history at a beer league venue? It is a certainty we will be making another run at the Central Hockey League Championship, though every fan, team employee and league administrator outside of Austin is probably rooting against us, since Laredo or Odessa would be better President's Cup hosts. Maybe we can win the Cup in five, on the road. That way more people can see it, and unlike our home contests, the game will be on radio.
The Bats are bigger, faster, and tougher than ever: a great team that will probably have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, something that's usually a boon for the players and a nice thing for the fans. Oh well. Anyway, we have never been more excited by our prospects entering the post-season. With limited group sales, it's hard to make much money in the playoffs, so this Chaparral thing isn't so bad as far as that goes.
As we look ahead and prepare for the post-season run, we are pleased to bring you some important information. First, we are offering our most valued customers-season ticket holders -- the benefit of seeing this year's first two home playoff games for FREE! Of course, to do that, you'll have to give us even more of an interest-free loan than usual on next year's tickets. But we'll get to that later. Second, the Bats are proud to announce that there will once again be no price increase on next year's season tickets. Hey, we may not be willing to move heaven and earth to give our players and fans a suitable postseason venue, but we're not completely off our rocker. Third, the great benefits you received this past season will continue to add great value to your 2003-2004 season ticket package. Did we already mention you have to buy that package now to get the most important benefit? Oh wait, that's next.
For the first time ever, the Bats have also combined the playoff ticket process with the season ticket renewal process. Many CHL teams do this and it is advantageous for many reasons. To begin, it allows us to offer the great discount on playoff tickets that we are offering this year (see, we said you'd be getting something for free, but it's really just a discount). Secondly, it allows us to address any issues you may have with the season ticket renewal process, our performance on the ice and/or our performance as an organization overall. Just don't bitch about Chaparral, 'cause that issue isn't open to discussion. It also allows us to focus our off-season sales on generating new accounts and growing the fan base. 'Cause, y'know, we can't use this terrific team's potentially terrific postseason an an advertisement for itself – no room at the inn. The media doesn't cover us enough already, how high will their interest be in the "President's Cup No One Can See?"
Finally, as many of you know our annual rodeo displacement has moved to playoff time this year. While not ideal it is truly beyond our control. Well, the timing of the rodeo is. But that ends April 5. We could play most of the second round and all of the third round at the Travis County Expo Center, but our relationship with the county has gone to hell. Honestly, we thought we'd be owned by Mr. Hicks and bound for Cedar Park by now. Times are tough, so we can't afford to guarantee playoff dates that might not happen. Consequently, the indoor football team, whatever the hell they're called, has locked up three Saturday dates in April and early May, while something called Lab Wrestling is at the Expo on the 12th. Can you believe this stuff gets priority over a team that's been there seven years? Now, we could maybe lay down the ice and make the best of it with a patchwork schedule, but it's an outlay of time and money that we're not willing to make, and the county certainly isn't gonna go out of its way to help us.
Fortunately, since the Austin community in general doesn't really care about us, there won't be much of an outcry at the fact that the Bats will be playing the playoff games at Chaparral Ice. Hey, at least when we don't get enough media coverage this year, it won't hurt ticket sales. A certain editor at a certain local paper has said the reason the Bats don't get more coverage is he believes there are only eight or nine hundred people in town who really care about the team enough to thirst for column inches. Coincidentally, that's about how many fans we intend to accommodate this postseason.
We have explored all the options available and this is truly our only choice that doesn't cost us money. Look, average attendance is down 1000 a game from Austin's hockey heyday. Multiply that by 32, and then, by say, 10 bucks. It's not a pretty number. You fans and journalists can bitch about the situation, but you're not the ones losing hundreds of thousands of dollars, so give us a friggin' break. We can't afford to play in our own building, we can't afford the Erwin Center (if it were even available to us), we can't afford to go to Belton or San Antonio even if it was acceptable to play the games so far from home.
We are actually very excited by the prospect of making these games a great event. Those of you who witnessed our games in New Mexico a few years back at a similar arena know how electric a small facility can be during the playoffs. Of course, only 20-50 of you were there -- the rest of you don't know that that rink had twice as much seating as Chaparral, was an hour-plus from Albuquerque and didn't sell out. But hey, at least we're not gonna charge 40 bucks a head like Plaman did. Give us a little credit. And it will certainly be better than those so-called crowds of 3000 we've had some days at the Cave. Also, remember how loud those Mudbugs and Iguanas fans could get, cheering on their team in our house? Sorry Bucks, Jacks, Rayz, Scorps or C-Kings fan. No tix for you! Talk about home ice advantage! We're also hoping Chaparral's smaller dimension will give our boys an edge, but then again, Laredo doesn't seem to have much trouble on the Corpus ice.
In this package is a detailed description of how the playoffs will work at Chaparral in regard to seating priority and pricing. Seats will be limited and we cannot guarantee a seat to anyone who does not have a playoff strip. Additionally, playoff seats will be significantly discounted for season ticket holders at Chaparral.
To take advantage of seeing the Bats in action this post-season for FREE – if we keep saying it, you might believe it -- you simply need to do one of the first two options on the following page.
Thanks for your support and GO BATS!
Someone who works for John McVaney
President and Managing Partner
It's official: the 2004 All-Star Game goes to New Mexico, with Laredo locked in for 2005.
Also official: every Ice Bats playoff game will be at Chaparral. Here's the season ticketholder letter. More on this another time.
Sunday, February 09, 2003
My my my...perhaps we can't have the playoffs without a little etouffe. They still need a lot of help, but there's no doubt this is the Mudbugs' time of year. They have the coaching and the system, they have the postseason mystique, and certainly Ken Carroll hasn't been the problem. I can see the headline already:"KISS Line Leads Bugs to Game 5 Win."
Hans Hornstein points out that Fort Worth was eliminated from the playoffs over the weekend. In fact, even if the Brahmas win every game from here on out, the 54-point finish would be no better than seventh.
Alternate title for this piece on Canadian tough guys in the minors: "Dallas Anderson's guide to bulletin board talk."
Maybe if the upcoming Bats-Oilers game was at Chaparral someone would have paid that price.
Things don't look good for Coach Wickenheiser. Funny thing is, if you throw Canadian coins, your suspension is 35% shorter.
You gotta love this, even if it was an All-Star game: Ken Hitchock and Jacques Martin miffed at the other team for playing defense-first.
Fans of Slap Shot -- and really, who isn't? -- should check out the Slap Shot Tribute for info on a charity auction benefiting Louise Arters, the actress who played one of the "Sparkle Twins."
Affiliate, or don't affiliate? That's the question
IMO, Austin fans have enjoyed these last two season without a formal Houston tie. I would even go so far as to say Matt Barnes and limited call-ups are the two biggest reasons why this year's club is better than the last two (though there were other factors). I'd also say call-ups cost the Bats playoff seeding in 2001 and Bobby Brown's focus in 2002. On the plus side, Austin landed Mike Gaffney, Kelly Smart and Dan Price with the affiliation, then hung onto them for good.
Affiliations provide a recruiting advantage, but do the Blazers need one? They also provide a salary cap loophole, and a way to get non-vets or rookies who are more talented than your average player. Memphis has a great affiliation, but they also won the Cup with three guys missing (though the third hadn't really played for them, he was something of a ringer). Laredo has been fortunate -- they brought in a good player (Gilmore) when they lost Gove, then San Antonio gave them another (Lundbohm). They also lost a D-man to a Rampage trade.
In other words, there's no right or wrong answer. Affiliations help, affiliations hurt. They fatten up the roster, they thin it out. They give a team good players, but it's still up to the entire line-up and the coach to get it done.
And finally, I guess this means my new favorite team is the Peterborough Rink Rats
Thursday, February 06, 2003
There's little doubt that Austin's first-round home games will be at Chaparral Ice.
Traditionally, the Bats finish up the season with a crushing bus trip, anywhere from 10-15 straight away from Travis County. This year, changes in the rodeo schedule put an end to that insanity. The trade-off? No rink in the first round.
Sure, there are five hundred hardcore fans out there who would gladly drive to Belton or SA. But that's it. And while the standings would have to change a lot for this to happen, what if the first opponent was Laredo? At SBC or Freeman, they'd have more fans than Austin would.
More to the point, I doubt the team feels like paying rent for someone else's building, even if there is availability. With temporary bleachers and other adjustments, Chaparral should accomodate around 1000 bodies.
The bottom line is:
1. With no advance sale time, postseason attendance is historically low.
2. This year, the Bats' numbers are worse than they've ever been.
3. Even when there's 5000 in the building, the majority of those fans are with a group, or there for one-time fun.
4. Many business and some individual season ticketholders let their playoff package slide.
So 1000 may leave out some of those fans who go to every game, but don't buy season tix. On the other hand, it may not. Either way, you'll have more local fans than you would in Belton. And for two or three nights (depending on whether there's a Game 5), the Bats faithful get to create the most hostile, claustrophobic building in the league.
What fans should really wonder about -- even though it's getting ahead of things -- is round two. The last night of the rodeo is Saturday, April 5, which means Austin would start out on the road (as was the case with Bats-Iguanas last year).
I'm not sure this is bad: 2-3-1-1 against Laredo or Odessa (with the first two in their barns) might be better than 2-3-2 (with the first two in Austin). The latter format was no help to the Bats in last year's final, while the former didn't stop 'em against the Buzzards (though the idea is to leave town with a split, not in a 2-0 hole).
Problem is, with indoor football at the Expo Center on April 19 and rumors of another booked event before then, Chaparral or Belton could stay in the picture right up the finals. Stay tuned.
Monday, February 03, 2003
And so we have another trade deadline anti-climax, as is usually the case.
Tulsa traded D Kevin Livingston to Wichita for D Andrew Oke and F Peter MacKellar.
New Mexico trade D Mario Dumoulin, D Dominic Plenzich, D Leigh Dean and Future Considerations to Wichita for D Vladimir Hartinger
Oklahoma City traded F Jasmin Roy to New Mexico to fulfill earlier future considerations from Mike Payne trade.