Monday, April 28, 2003
No lack of news around the league -- Al Sims is back on board in Corpus and San Angelo got itself a coach in Ray Edwards. Given his background in Huntington we can wonder if, say, Van Burgess might set out for the Concho Valley. I guess we'll never know for sure whether Shaun Clouston pulled out or didn't really have the job, but I do hear Edwards was also in the running up in Lubbock.
And let's not forget, while everyone will continue to wonder if Doug Shedden and/or Brent Hughes has a chance to move on up, at least one other CHL head coach remains in play.
Here's my take on the Ice Bats' post-season awards.
Will win: Peter Brady.
Should win: Mike Olynyk.
As great as Brady was -- and the former Vancouver Canucks draft pick was great enough that I'm sure he'll start next year at an AHL training camp and bid for Austin's starting job -- he was also helped out by the team's defensive system, and made nine starts against the CHL's four last-place teams. But mainly, I figure his 17 appearances don't measure up to Olynyk's 60 nights of third-line effort. The forward had little in the way of numbers, especially compared to what Tab Lardner did last season. But he showed the same kind of determination, and joined Lardner, Smart and Greenlaw on the Bats' top-ranked PK -- no small thing.
Will win/should win: Darryl McArthur.
A poster boy for player development, as well as a testament to the teaching ability of Brent Hughes, Jeff Kungle and Ken McRae. His partner Pat Brownlee also deserves a shout-out; let's call him the Bats' most improved performer.
Will win: Kelly Smart
Might win: Dan Price
Should win: Brett Seguin
Smart had the best regular season, but last year's CHL scoring leader Price, more of a highlight-reel player, came on late. Some people vote for these things based on popularity rather than performance; so it could go either way. But since voting continued through the playoffs, that means they count, so I'm throwing my support behind Seguin. He joined Price as a point-per-game player during the regular season, and when he sat out for two weeks, the team looked awful. Like all his teammates, the veteran center didn't do much against Memphis, but for two rounds the STP was fully back in business, and he is the engine of the line, as well as the PP. Seguin finished fourth in total playoff scoring with 20 points, and third in goals with seven.
Will win/should win: Shawn Legault
The will of the people is all that matters here, though I personally would have voted for Tab Lardner, partly to allow for what comes next.
Will to Win
Will win: Tab Lardner
Should win: Gerald Tallaire
This award isn't meant for an offensive star. But the Lardners, Greenlaws and Sharugas of the world don't have a lock on grit and doggedness. Tally just happens to have first-line caliber wheels and hands as well.
Will win/should win: Matt Barnes
Saturday, April 26, 2003
Good god! The Mighty Ducks have yet to lose a postseason game.
President's Cup Finals Prediction Contest Breakdown
Obviously, the Hockey Blog readership skews towards Austin people, plus there are no Memphis fans around the CHL-U (except the ones who only showed up for the Finals, at least as far as posting goes).
So it goes without saying that clairvoyance was in pretty short supply -- to say nothing of objectivity.
49 people picked the Bats. One said Bats in four. Two said Bats in five. 32 said Bats in six. 14 said Bats in seven.
17 people picked the Kings. Four said Memphis in seven. Ten said Memphis in six. Three said Memphis in five.
And as Hockey Crazy surmised, none of the three picked Kahlil Thomas MVP, and his 25 goal projection came closer than wildmanblazer's 21, as well as Reevie's 44.
So score one for the cowbell ringing heckler!
As for the pundits, 14 said Austin, 10 said Memphis. Only Rayz captain Ken Richardson got it exactly right.
And sadly, dunlopyoustink will have to take this back.
Not much more to say -- I could revisit my "ten questions" but obviously Austin had the wrong answer to every single one, from dropping the first game at home (still the lowest moment of the series despite Game 3 and 4) to sub-par special teams to Greg Lakovic outscoring all 16 Austin players (Lakovic's four goals in the series equalled his career postseason output, and was one fewer goal than Austin's ten forwards had combined).
At least the series ended on a better note: as Hughesy said, if the Bats had played every game like that they would have never been in such a hole. When Matt Barnes said, everything they've gotten we've given to them that wasn't sour grapes, just an acknowledgment that his team simply didn't play well enough to handle the defending champs.
Friday, April 25, 2003
I was gonna write about it, but that was when I thought I'd be back at the computer by 11.
One pet peeve though: I hate when people say things like "a Philippe Boucher goal in the fourth overtime was nullified by an offsides call." Semantically speaking, if the play was offsides the goal never happened. And in this case that was absolutely true. I heard the whistle. Giguere heard the whistle. It was a split-second thing, but he'd already stopped playing.
Good luck to the Bats. I really do wonder if Hughes will think about a goalie switch, just to change things up. It's desperate, but the Bats are desperate. Take sentimentality (i.e. Barnes' retirement plans) out of the equation and it's sure something to chew on.
And yeah, before Don asks, damn right I'm choosing Flyers-Sens over CHLTV. Hopefully there's more hockey in Austin to look forward to, but if not, I've seen that movie before.
Thursday, April 24, 2003
Wednesday, April 23, 2003
Bats going on the PP early in the second. Door is open...
At this point I have to agree with my friend (and fellow Flyers' follower) Patty, who says it feels like Ice Bats-Red Wings '97. The Flyers had home ice. It was supposed to be a decent series. But it didn't take long before the evidence of Detroit's superiority was overwhelming, even when the Flyers had every chance to get back in the series. The only good thing you can say about Austin right now is they have yet to bring their "A" game. But the opponent has a lot to do with that, and they're running out of time.
Though like Hughesy always says, two goals is the worst lead in hockey!
Man, I never thought I'd miss the old "Foxtrax" puck, but that little blue dot/red trail thing would be handy for CHL TV.
Saturday, April 19, 2003
Check out In the Crease sometime Saturday for my Game 2 recap. Quotes here:
Did you feel like you let one get away here?
No, it could have went either way, the whole game, it was a pretty tight game all over. It was one where [the winner is] whoever's gonna get the lucky bounce and they got it. It's kind of like deja vu from last year really.
Did it seem Austin was still flat until they finally scored?
That's alway the way it goes. We had a 1-0 lead and all of a sudden it seemed like they woke up a little a bit and they started working a little harder. The tying goal -- we have guys who aren't paying the ultimate price. There's no way that Gaffney shot should get through, our guy should have blocked it. Basically a couple of small mistakes. Y'know, if you want a championship you got to have everybody paying the ultimate price, and we didn't have that tonight.
Given what happened last year do you still go home with a lot of confidence?
At the end of the day are you happy for a split? Yeah. I'm not happy that you had a chance to really put the foot down on them and not bury them, but really you have an advantage where they have to win two out of three in our building. But now it's a series again, so what are you gonna do? They're a great team, nobody thought it was going to be a four game sweep. We won seven games in a row and now we've got to get our heads back there and do something again.
Did you feel like it was a different team, about midway through the second and especially after the goal?
It definitely was. It was good to see us bounce back. We've had a lot of overtime games this year, and I think that does help out when you get in these situations. We've played a lot of one goal hockey games too. We had guys who logged a lot of minutes tonight like Johnson and McCallum, that don't usually and they did a great job, and Brent Hughes, I decided to put him up between Pricer and Tally and he did a great job too. It was great to even the series and get back to where we needed to get from last night. We've still got a long road ahead of us.
Did you have to think twice about putting a brand new rookie like Hughes out there so much, as far as mistakes, or not playing the right way?
I tried to work him in a little bit slower, I made him watch the first game, and I let him know when he makes mistakes. But he's done a good job. He's a young kid, he's hungry, and I like the way he moves with speed, he makes some good decisions under pressure and doesn't turn the puck over a lot.
Is it fair to say that if the previous 120-some minutes had been like the shift leading to the game-winner you'd be in a whole different position?
You're exactly right. Going out I said guys, you know it's going to be a greasy one or a garbage goal. Not that it was a garbage goal but we had three great opportunities to score, never did, throw it from behind the net and it goes in. It's good to see Legs score a big goal. It gives us all confidence. I've preached all year long, shoot the puck and good things will happen.
It was almost like you took a page from Shedden changing up the lines so much?
You learn from good coaches, but he's got a different line out there all night long, I did it because we hadn't scored in five periods and figured I'd try a different look for a while. At least we got the goal we needed.
You've had a great system on the power play all year, do you change anything now?
Yeah, I'm gonna have to look at the game tapes. They're pressuring us more than any other team, taking away Brett Seguin, who is our trigger guy. We had the same problem against Laredo and we kind of went into more of a cycle and scored some goals.
Status on Pat Brownlee?
He's day to day. I assume the day off tomorrow and Sunday will help.
Is [amateur rookie] Sal Letteri available?
Yeah, he might meet us in Memphis Monday. We're trying to make arrangements.
Give me a recap of the goal
Just sort of battling for the puck down in the corner, it popped out to me, I passed it out in front to Greenlaw who got a pretty good shot off and the rebound came out to me and I just fired it at the net. Somehow it snuck in. The puck trickled in, I was laying in the corner looking at the net, I thought it was in his pads and all of a sudden I saw the ref pointing at the goal.
Did changing up the lines have an effect?
Yeah, you shake things up, get a little momentum going, 'cause we were kind of flat. You get a little fired up, a little bit pissed off, you want to go out there and prove something.
Any idea why the team didn't play like this in Game 1?
Well, y'know, one of the main things is the series in Memphis last year, with Memphis winning 4 games to 1, I think they were a little bit intimidating to some of the guys. But now that we've proven to ourselves we can beat 'em I think it's going to be a different series.
Are you real comfortable in one-goal games?
We've had enough of them during the year. It's not just me that's comfortable, it's everybody on the whole team. I'm confident in all these guys, we all have different jobs to do and it's nice when guys like Legault kick in a goal here or there.
We needed this. We know we can beat them if we play 60 minutes. We had a lot of heart tonight. The longer the series goes I think the better for us, they're bigger, and they play Landmesser and Nasato a lot, they may get tired. We've got to go to Memphis and try to win the first game, it would be great to get the upper hand in the series.
How do you like Brent Hughes?
He reminds me a lot of Ron Newhook from Central Texas. He's got a lot of patience. He can be a real good player here in the future, no doubt about it.
Avs-Panthers, will there be Rampage players and so forth
The Salt Lake Tribune -- Utah's Statewide Newspaper
Friday, April 18, 2003
In the Crease Game 1 story is up.
Do I want to change my prediction?, a fellow Austin fan asked me after Game 1 of the President's Cup Finals.
Of course, I can't do that (nor will I). But I can say that if Game 2 is like the opener, the Bats will go the way of Indy. And they know it, which means it shouldn't happen.
I guess Brent Hughes gave the first wave of interviewers the standard pissed-off coach's "go ask those guys," but I managed to catch him a few minutes later, along with others from both sides. Game story at In the Crease; quotes here.
They kind of owned us in the first, we kind of owned them in the second and then the third we were just kind of protecting a good lead there.
Were you surprised how much you dominated the second, outshooting them 25-11?
Not every team plays great for 60 minutes. You can capitalize on a team maybe when they're having a lapse. That's what we did.
Does it remind you of last year?
Well, it's a long way to go. You can't compare last year. They've got some different players, especially Barnes in net. We're happy tonight and we're gonna celebrate for about another 15 minutes and then get ready for tomorrow night.
How do you mix up your line combinations and keep them on the same page?
I tell 'em, we have no lines. Our lines are whoever's being sent out there next. I like doing it that way. It's hard to defend against, it's hard to match against, especially on the road. At home I don't do it as much because I can get last change. It's a bit of a dog's breakfast but they don't mind it.
Seven wins in a row in the playoffs is pretty impressive.
Yeah, I'll tell ya, I think the Oklahoma City series, which was a good series -- two real good teams, could've went either way -- put a scare into us, and ever since that fourth game, when we were down 2-1 and could have been eliminated, we've played very well
Were you conscious at the beginning of the year that a repeating team can take longer to warm up again?
When I was in Wichita we found it a lot harder the second year to win than obviously the first year. The second year, every rink you go into they want to beat the championship team. So our record wasn't very good but also, it wasn't the way we were playing -- it was how hard other teams were playing against us. Our guys battled hard. I think there's only one or two games I can look at over the course of the schedule where we didn't play well.
Did you feel tested tonight?
Yeah, definitely. They're a good offensive team and a good all-around team. We knew they were going to come out hard and they did. We kind of weathered the storm and got a quick goal on them, which helped. Then we played great in the second period.
What's it like to share the load during the season, then know this is your time of year?
I don't know, I try not to think about it. I just like playing in the playoffs. It's a fun time of year to play hockey and you want to be playing longer than everybody else. We were kidding around last night that we outlasted the Red Wings, which is kind of cool. This is what everybody plays all year long for, and you got to be ready for it. Hopefully you can have your best games of the year during that stretch.
We didn't come out and play how we thought we'd play tonight. They capitalized on their chances and we didn't, we didn't bear down enough. It's disappointing to get to this point of the year, come out and get shut out in our own building, but it's a long series. Tomorrow is a must win for us. We got to come out and be ready to play tomorrow.
It had to be frustrating not to convert the shorthanded breakaway
Oh definitely, that would have made it 2-1 right there and I didn't score. I gotta bear down and put that in. I thought it did go in, but he squeezed it right at the line. Tomorrow, if I get a chance like that I have to score.
Obviously a surprising lack of intensity tonight
Big time. It's no one's fault but ourselves. I tried to preach for three days that we need excitement, which I didn't think would be a problem in the finals. A lot of guys didn't have any fire tonight, didn't have any enthusiasm. They certainly didn't play the way we played to beat Laredo. I think they know that. I don't know what the case is, but maybe we'll have some meetings tomorrow. I thought if we would have played our game we maybe would have been up in the first period. From our top line to our bottom line we just didn't seem like we wanted it as much as they did.
With tomorrow a must-win does the game plan change?
Yeah, we need to win tomorrow, no question about it. The game plan doesn't change because we didn't play our game plan tonight. I feel if we play our game plan the way we played against Laredo we won't have a problem. Memphis is a good team, but I think we gave them a lot of room tonight.
What did you think on the first goal -- "you gotta be kidding me?"
Exactly. I didn't let it frustrate me, I know things happen, I figured we'd tie it up somewhere along the line. We had some good chances, Smarty had the breakway but Richards made a big save when he needed to, and on the power play the guy was unconscious in net. But we can score goals, we have all year, so I'm not worried about that.
It's gotta be tough to play pretty well and give up a couple where there was not much you can do
That's the way it goes. Unfortunately tonight the bounces didn't really go the way I wanted to, the second and third I got a piece of both of them and they ended up bouncing off something and going in. I don't think we worked hard enough to get really good chances ,and as far as the goalie is concerned that's the way it goes sometimes. There's gonna be times that the guys play great and I don't play so well for them. Tonight I kept the game close but if you don't score you're not gonna win. I'm not blaming anybody by any means, I'm just simply saying tonight wasn't our night for whatever reason. We've got to work harder to get better chances.
The team's had to bounce back from one game down every playoff series
Yep. Hopefully tomorrow's no different. I don't think it will be. Again, let (tonight's game) speak for itself.
Thursday, April 17, 2003
Chris Grenville, Laredo Bucks
Austin in 7
And Todd Vinyard at the Commercial Appeal says: Memphis in 7.
One thing to remember about Memphis, they beat the Bats last year without Gagnon or Pahlahnuk. In that sense, they are better than last year.
Also, what I said about Game 1? There have been 47 best-of-seven match-ups in combined CHL/WPHL history. The Game 1 winner has taken the whole thing 39 times (82.9%).
Adam Doyle, Odessa Jackalopes
Only fitting that the two best teams in each respective conference made it to the final. Memphis is such an explosive club, Austin must play a very patient game to win this series (stay out of the box Bats). The X factor is that Memphis knows what it takes to win while Austin has the payback in mind. The key to the whole series is the defensive corps for Austin -- they will have to be physical from the get go, keeping the skill of Memphis to the outside. Would love to see ex-mate Dougy and Reeser win one. Austin in seven, 36 goals and Seguin MVP.
First reaction? With the RiverKings coming off its sweep of Indy, and the Bats barely one goal (and two injuries) better than Laredo most nights? Repeat.
And yet, Memphis was barely one goal better than Austin most nights last year, and the 2003 Bats are better than 2002. I don't think you can say that about the Kings, even if they are on something of a roll.
Most importantly, I don't think we've seen the Ice Bats' best. They have another level. Memphis may not let them reach it, but it's certainly within their grasp.
10 questions about the finals, from my Austincentric point of view.
1. Can the Bats win Games 1 and 2?
Because if not, worst case, we know what happened last year. Best case, Austin figures to be down 3-2 going home. I'm gonna say yes -- if Matt Barnes plays his best game of the season tonight. The Bats are 0-4 in Game 1s since beating the Iguanas some 13 months ago (and that was on the road). What good is home ice advantage if you don't take advantage?
2. Who's got the power?
Is Austin's PK that good, or did Laredo (1 for 25) just go cold? With Memphis operating at 29%, we're gonna find out fast. Even if the Bats cut that number in half, that still could be a goal per game, so the Bats need to continue their own extra-man success (22%). With no shorties!
3. Will Nasato and Tucker get into their heads?
I'd like to think not, but Legault, Sharuga, Price and Greenlaw are gonna have to prove it. Against a team as talented as Memphis there are going to be enough hooking and obstruction calls. No need to add a bunch of roughings (or interference penalties caused by overzealous banging) to the ledger. Hit the hell out of them, but initiate, don't retaliate. Or turn the tables. If Sharuga or Greenlaw take Nasato or Landmesser to the box with 'em, that's ok. And if I recall, their goalie has a temper (as in mean streak, not tantrum).
4. Can the Bats shut down Parsons/Gagnon as well as they did Grenville/Schneider?
No way. But the Smart line will do a decent job. However, Smarty led the Bats in goals all season. He has to find a way to get that donut off his stat sheet without completely shirking two-way play. In other words, be a little more like Kahlil Thomas.
5. Can the STP line keep it up?
Sure. But in the Laredo series, they were often out against the Lundbohm/Gilmore/Petruic line, which had its share of opportunities. Thomas and Stastny will have more. Which makes the next question critically important.
6. Who's the third line hero?
Jeff Greenlaw, Matt Sharuga and Mike Olynyk, step right up. Or how 'bout Brent Hughes? "Little Hughesy" is already a faceoff revelation (with him, Seguin and Smart, the Bats should have an edge in that crucial department). He's bound to pull an Eric Labelle (two goals against the Kings last playoffs) one of these games. The Kings have equally proven depth players, but I'm taking a flyer on the Bats with this one.
7. Ok, Mark Richards is Patrick Roy. Can't Barnes be Ed Belfour?
Of course he can. But it's true that Barnes' regular-season record means nothing now. Richards is a playoff horse, and especially good at making the biggest and most timely saves. At the same time, you can put three or four past him, 'cause the Kings know how to win that way. We all know that with Barnes in goal, last year's series at least goes back to Austin. He absolutely has to steal a game or two. He's probably gonna see more rubber than he has all season -- and I'm sure he'll love it.
8. What about the d-men?
It's a whole new world compared to last year. First of all, there's nobody on the Austin roster who can play any worse than Daniel Tetrault did last year (sorry Tetsy). And while the Bats' ballyhooed additions were veterans Mike Rees and Doug Johnson, the continued evolution of Darryl McArthur and Pat Brownlee was equally important. They both looked green at times last playoffs. They don't now.
9. What about the refs?
What refs? Just play the RiverKings. Don't like a call? Penalty-killing is the best revenge. The Bats seemed to learn this after Game 1 of the New Mexico series. And Hughesy has been a calmer sort all year (funny what the most wins and best goaltender in the league will do for your composure).
10. Who wants it more?
Far be it from me to say a coach with four rings can't find the magic to repeat. No way a team with six straight playoff wins doesn't have its eyes set firmly on the prize.
But Austin's been due for seven (well, six out of seven) years. The key components of the current squad have been around for two or three or four. Jeff Greenlaw has played 16 NHL, AHL, WPHL and CHL seasons without a ring. He will probably retire. Matt Barnes definitely will. Seguin, Tallaire, Price, Smart, Gaffney, Rees, Johnson and Legault will all be vets next season. The coach is hoping for an AHL job. And then there's the matter of revenge.
So are the Ice Bats more determined? That's what the players' friends say. Of course, I doubt Don Parsons' best pal is walking around going, "I don't know how much he wants it this time." But let's give the Bats the edge.
To win this thing, Barnes is gonna have to turn in a couple of one or two-goal games. Otherwise, the offense needs to chip in four or five. I'm not convinced that's gonna happen.
But I'm picking with my heart. Bats in 7. Barnes MVP ('cause he pretty much has to be if the Bats are gonna win, no matter what the STP does). 37 goals.
Wednesday, April 16, 2003
A couple more:
Terry Ruskowski, Laredo Bucks
Austin in seven
W.D. Frank, Scorpions/Rayz owner
This will be a very physical series of games between two great teams. 6 games and a coin toss before game seven might forecast the outcome. I've just tossed the coin, and ... it's Memphis.
I kind of missed the most obvious point regarding Jasmin Roy, which is that you can't protect every single player in a futures deal. There'll be more of that to come, from such teams as Corpus, Lubbock, Memphis, Oklahoma City and Wichita.
And speaking of the Thunder, though the league hasn't announced it, Derek Laxdal says the basic CHL roster guidelines are to stay the same. Welcome to vet status, Scott Hillman, Mike Gaffney, Dan Price and Mike Tilson. One game, Tilson had to miss. But he was on an injury-prone team that was fighting for the playoffs 'til the final day.
Another batch of picks:
Mitch Cooper says Bats in 7, in his team preview at In the Crease.
Barry Lewis, Tulsa World
Memphis in six games; Shedden won't be denied his fourth CHL title.
Bob Hersom, Daily Oklahoman
Memphis is so hot, I'm surprised the RiverKings can keep ice. They swept four straight from Indy and have won their last six playoff games. They had to win Games 4 and 5 to beat Oklahoma City and they did that to advance to the semis. In nine playoff games center Kahlil Thomas is plus-11, right winger and two-time MVP Don Parsons has scored eight goals and left winger Jonathan Gagnon has made 7 of 24 shots. That trio has 19 goals and 41 points in nine playoff games. Memphis goalie Mark Richards isnt quite as good as Austin's Matt Barnes, but Austin doesn't have near enough offense to stay with the Kings. Memphis in seven.
Rick Mauch, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Austin in six. The Ice Bats have it all, scoring, defense, goaltending -- especially goaltending -- and they are well-coached. Perhaps the thing they have going for them the most is they are starving for a championship, as are the fans. Memphis, a veteran team, is crafty, though. They didn't get this far by luck. But I just don't see them keeping up with the Ice Bats over the course of seven game series.
John Kaltelfleiter, Amarillo Globe-News
I'm taking Austin in seven games. At this point, goaltending is what wins championships, and Matt Barnes is pretty hot, right now. Just ask the offensive-minded Bucks. Don't get me wrong, Memphis is a great team. Landmesser is awesome and Parsons is, well, the most dangerous scorer in the league. The Bats, though, get my vote.
Roland Flores, Laredo Morning Times
Austin over Memphis in six games.The BIG difference this year is Matt Barnes. The Bats are a veteran club that has played consistently all season and shows no signs of letting up soon, while the Kings managed to get in late in the season. Bats defense is tough.
Tuesday, April 15, 2003
Truly, they are Mighty. Don't you love this time of year?
Monday, April 14, 2003
I'll be publishing picks from beat writers, broadcasters, coaches and players from now 'til Thursday, so why not join in?
Post your prediction here: winning team, length of series, playoff MVP and, for a tiebreaker, combined number of goals scored in the series.
Grand prize to be determined: perhaps something unique from the Zamboni Rodeo warehouse, perhaps a President's Cup Finals souvenir, maybe even a pair of Dallas Stars tickets.
Entries must be posted by 7pm Thursday (April 17).
And now, on with the prognostication!
Josh Evans, Oklahoma City Blazers
Having seen Memphis in the first round and the ability of their special teams, they are strong. Mark Richards isn't playing outstanding, but he is making the saves he needs to make and he is certainly getting the offensive support. I like the fact that Seguin, Tallaire and Price are finally starting to click. Matt Barnes is obviously picking up where he left off. If Memphis takes advantage of its power-play opportunites, they will win. If the series is played mostly at 5-on-5, I think Austin will do fine. Ice Bats in six.
Greg Rajan, Central Texas Stampede beat writer emeritus and Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Memphis in six. The reason is because I like Mark Richards by a smidge in goal over Matt Barnes. I covered Matt during his first two pro seasons and have seen him this season. I think he's a great goalie (and guy), but Richards has a few rings and is more playoff-proven at the Double-A level than Barnes. Plus, I like Memphis' scoring depth with guys like Thomas, DiPalma and Gagnon over the Bats' STP Line-dominated scoring right now. It should be a tight series, but a championship coach like Shedden and the mental toughness the Kings have from winning last year and coming back on Oke City this year gives them the edge. And being from Austin, this is a very hard pick to make.
Chris Perry, CHL Underground
Bats in 7
Ken Richardson, Corpus Christi Rayz
Memphis in 5. Austin's not deep enough with offense, the only possible way for them to win is if Seguin, Tallaire, and Price turn it up even more. Legs needs to turn it up in playoffs too. First he has to take care of business with Lakovic, then walk away from everything except for standing in front of the net and pounding home the rebs on the pp.
Tom Schettino, In the Crease/Just Hockey
Austin appears to have shaken their early playoff slump, but they are going to have to be on top of their game against the RiverKings. All those OTs are going to catch up with Barnes. The key to beating the IceBats is getting inside of their defensive shell, and if there is a team that can do that it is the RiverKings. Look for a big series from Don Parsons, Jonathan Gagnon and Kahlil Thomas, but it will turn on Mark Richards. Austin is a fine club and their defensive crew from top to bottom is one of the best I have seen at this level. But I am going to stick with the defending champions in six.
Joel T. Lomurno, Wichita Thunder
Memphis in 7.
Lou Lafrado, In the Crease
If I am Austin I am concerned about the ease with which Memphis dispatched Indy. Austin showed early trouble with both NMX and LAR. They cannot afford that against the Kings. Memphis in 5.
Rick Dames, Rayz broadcaster
Austin in six - Matt Barnes has to go out a winner!! Great defense wins playoffs!
Jeff Bowerman, Fort Worth Brahmas
Austin in seven -- home ice advantage will come into play in this series that I expect to be very tightly contested. Although Richards has stepped up in the playoffs for Memphis, I strongly believe that the Ice Bats have the edge in net with Matt Barnes. McMullen's shaky play cost the 'Bats last year, and Barnes will make a difference. Offensively, both teams are loaded, with two excellent scoring lines. Austin has an edge depth wise on defense, with blueliners such as Mike Rees, Pat Brownlee, and Doug Johnson giving them the ability to match up consistently with the high scoring RiverKings forwards.
Jim Talamonti, Laredo Bucks
I think the Bats will have to play a lot better to beat Memphis. RiverKings in 6.
John Erfort, Odessa American
I'm going to say Austin. I think it's a toss up, but I just can't imagine that Memphis is as good as it was last year. And from what I've seen of Austin, they're just very impressive. They have everything a contender needs, and I've been so impressed with Barnes this year. I think he'll steal a game for Austin by himself and that will be the difference in the series. Plus I think the IceBats are just due.
Dan Weiss, Corpus Christi Rayz
The Ice Bats showed a lot of character to come from behind against Laredo, the best offensive team in the league, thus further proving the statement that offense wins games and defense wins championships. I like Austin's maturity (8 guys who've been with the team 3 years or more) and they know that this could be their last great oppportunity to win a championship with the core they have, which makes them a hungry team. Austin wins in 6.
Neverthless, I'll take the same tack I did after Game 1 and figure this is gonna be a 2-2 series (ditto Oilers-Stars).
And how 'bout that hero's welcome for Mike Weir?
Sunday, April 13, 2003
Q: How do you knock hockey off of Canada's front pages?
A: Win the Masters.
I guarantee you, Mike Weir just became as beloved as Mario and Wayne.
Ok, now everybody make fun of Jeff. It's a shame -- I know they weren't the Iggies and the atmosphere at the SBC left a lot to be desired, but Torchetti, Allen and the Panthers put together a nice little AHL season.
Also, looking at the AHL (and ECHL) playoffs, with the byes and best-of-threes and multiple best-of-five rounds, reminds me how much I love the CHL format.
Okay -- how 'bout Mitch Ahearn, Jaroslav Jabrocky, Simon Duplessis, Marc Varteressian, Matt Smith, Neil Breen, Andrew Oke, and Jean-Francois Picard.?
That's should make it easy. You're looking at a full roster's worth of guys who almost were or used to be Laredo Bucks. That was one of the most impressive things about the job Ruskowski did -- remarkable in-season recruiting that had no effect on chemistry, from Ask and Gilmore to getting Lundbohm from the Rampage to the Petruic trade to the late addition of Stefan Keski-Kungas (it's more fun when you say his full name). And yet, it's not like they weren't good from the start, and fairly stable. Ten players from October made it to the playoffs (Kotsopolous would have been the 11th), including five defensemen.
How 'bout the New Mexico Scorpions? Macker's club has an ad in this week's Hockey News (the April 18th edition), seeking "an aggressive and mobile defensive defenseman" with at least one year of junior "A", major junior, major college or professional hockey experience. Send those references and three letters of recommendation to Travis Van Tighem by April 31.
Sounds like Eric Schneider could have at least one more game to play, though the Rampage did bring someone in from Jackson. Hope the Rampage keep it going, I was thinking about going Tuesday now that there's no Game 7.
Good little piece for the Bats to read as they prepare for Nasato, Tucker, etc.: "Self Control a Winning Quality" by Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News.
No finals schedule yet. Apparently, both the Memphis and Austin web sites jumped the gun (since rectified). Hopefully the two teams and the league can get things settled before U.N. representatives become involved.
Saturday, April 12, 2003
Congratulations to Memphis. And what a shocker for the Ice. Credit them for never giving up. That they didn't really have a chance to win tonight is another echo of Austin-Bossier 2001, but I also remember what Ken McRae said after the Bats went down last year -- "you can't win in the playoffs without a power play." Obviously, over four games Memphis had much better special teams.
And Mark Richards is the Claude Lemieux of minor league goaltenders.
What can I say about the Bats except, woo-hoo! Another series where special teams were huge, with the breaks and bounces of Game Four a giant turning point.
Game Six summary at In the Crease.
Stat of the day -- Austin's regular season record when allowing three goals or more was 8-10-2. Remarkably, they allowed two, one or zero goals in the other 44 games. But that's 71% of their regulation losses -- and also highlights the fact that they won a lot of games without much scoring, which is why the PP has been so crucial for them.
So yeah, the Bats have taken the last two Southern Conference Final contests 4-3, but their target tonight should be to hold the Bucks to two -- a difficult task down at the LEC. A lot depends on the status of Morten Ask and Andy Lundbohm. Good luck to both teams.
Yeah, what is up with Trent Eigner's case? The county web site has court dates for Rodolfo Alarcon and Melissa Eigner, but not the former Buzzards boss. One might suggest several scenarios worthy of an episode of Law and Order, but this is not an area for idle speculation (as opposed to, say, coaching rumors in Odessa and San Angelo).
Dean Larson is the Joe Burton of Alaska.
WHA, the ACHL turning into the WHA2, the Canadian Federal Hockey League... is your head spinning too?
Friday, April 11, 2003
Laredo-Austin Game Four recap at In the Crease. FWIW, Barnes told me the whistle blew, and I did hear the league had no problem with the call. But I'm sure Gilmore feels differently.
Anyway, such are the breaks and bounces. Regardless of who wins, I would have been disappointed if this series did not go six or seven.
And I am disappointed the Northern series isn't guaranteed to. Ken McRae must be feeling big-time deja-vu with the 2001 Austin-Bossier first round, during which the Bats had a chance to win every game but didn't (including three overtime losses). Needless to say, no team has ever come back from 3-0 in CHL/WPHL history.
I propose we get Bonnie Bernstein to ask Shedden and Hughes about the Toronto and Boston AHL jobs.
I know Bill McDonald liked Jasmin Roy, so either there isn't room for him on the protected list, he plans to play in another league or he'll just get more ice time with the Brahmas. Something tells me this won't be the last Fort Worth-New Mexico deal we see, given Macker and Bill Inglis' past history.
Thursday, April 10, 2003
Meant to remind y'all: there's hockey on TV at 11am Central.
Attention Bats fans: you are welcome in Laredo, and the team needs bodies after the game on Friday to get the ice covered up for wrestling (part of the deal that got them back into the Cave). Also, whatever season ticketholders think of buy one get one free, it sure would be nice if every die-hard took advantage of it. Drag some new faces to the building!
Hey, weren't the Stars undefeated in the postseason when B.J. Thomas sang, or did that end in 2001?
And did you know the playoffs are a marathon, not a sprint? I did not realize that.
Ah well. It's just one game.
Same goes for the Flyers. It's true Cechmanek was no good, he said it himself. But his teammates didn't always play "Hitch hockey," which put the Leafs in a position to do damage. Anyway, I don't believe the Flyers will play that loosely Friday. They'll take it to them.
Back in our little corner of the hockey world, I have a hard time believing Brian Kennedy is gung-ho to ditch the CHL (I figure he's just doing his job, protecting the county's interests and negotiating stance). But I disagree with the notion that El Paso wouldn't be attractive to another league. You can't rule out anything with the current ECWCHL, especially if SMG gets in on a second-go-round at a new arena. Even if that doesn't happen, how could a league with teams stretching from Beaumont to Boise but nowhere in between not take an interest?
Gotta respect the fact that the Oklahoma City paper can simultaneously deify Joe Burton and realistically peg him as the Blazers' third most valuable player. I'm sure the Hardy-bashing contingent (a group to which I do not belong) howled at that one, while every fan kinda wishes a goalie had been one of the top three.
Also, if you missed it, check out the Fort Collins paper's road trip feature on Sauter and the boys (as a colleague joked, "I think some guy even wrote a book like that").
Ok, let me get this straight -- the Jacks purposefully sat out John Bossio to preserve his non-vet status (a common but not often openly acknowledged practice) while implying that other CHL teams don't follow the rules to a T? I'm confused.
Er, comment vous dites "Maineiacs" en français?
Finally, congratulations to former San Angelo/Macon d-man Rob Sandrock and the Ice Hockey Superleague Playoff Champion Belfast Giants. Now U.K. hockey is headed for some changes.
Wednesday, April 09, 2003
I can't believe "would Doug Shedden take the St. John's job?" is even a discussion, entertaining though it might be. If an organization like the Maple Leafs offers Shedden an AHL head gig and his goal in life is to make the NHL (which it is), he's gonna take it. Period.
More than likely, he'd take it from the Thrashers, Predators or Flames as well. So would Brent Hughes, Ken McRae or any other ambitious CHL coach.
No matter how you slice it, the Baby Leafs job is a plum. Shedden is still young (42). Given his four, possibly five, championships and his success in every single "AA" league without ever moving up, he might even consider an assistant's role if he felt good about the organization's long-term commitment to him. Just being in the league (and in Canada) offers a huge learning experience and networking advantage, and things change quickly -- look at Mike Sullivan and former Iggies coach John Torchetti.
As for the loss of authority, may as well get used to it -- unless your name is Pat Quinn or Glen Sather (and maybe not even then) there's always a GM or owner who controls your roster in the Show. It's a totally different kind of job, one where a Calder Cup is no more or less important than getting players ready for the NHL -- both for the future, and for next week's injuries.
Lots of changes for the Leafs front office this year, and maybe more coming. So the question is, who makes the decision on the AHL job, and who is Shedden's connection to the organization in the first place? Is he even a candidate?
And didn't everybody's favorite former CHL columnist stir this pot first?
Well, Ken McRae has been through this before. Problem is, his team isn't playing El Paso this time.
Neither are the Bats. Not hard to understand why Hughes didn't want to start the series at the LEC -- or go 2-3-2. He's spoken in the past about the pivotal nature of Game Fives, but right now that one isn't even on the radar. Blowing a late lead on the road then losing in OT is tough, but I don't think the Bats will hang their heads. It's been a counterpunching series of razor-thin advantages. It ought to go six or seven regardless of who wins.
And what's the secret to Roscoe's goalie rotation, divine guidance? Going back and forth is not supposed to work this time of year -- a nugget of wisdom you can now put in the same place as all our Bucks pre-season picks.
Btw, Stefan Keski-Kungas is my favorite name since Melissa Auf der Maur. Go ahead, say it out loud. "Keski-Kungas." It's fun!
Though it also drives me nuts, 'cause it always looks like Laredo had an extra player in the Pointstreak boxscore.
Tuesday, April 08, 2003
How 'bout those Orangemen? I'm just out of the car -- kind of depressing, seeing all the highway signs for defunct, possibly-defunct and not-what-they-used-to-be Louisiana hockey towns (Lake Charles, Monroe, Alexandria, Lafayette, Baton Rouge, New Orleans). Also saw Beaumont's arena going up.
Anyway, it's time to fire up the CHLTV, which has both Austin-Laredo and Memphis-Indy on the air. I'll get back to blogging later (by which I mean tonight or tomorrow afternoon).
Friday, April 04, 2003
I'm about to get into the car and drive to New Orleans (well, Houston for now), so all I can say is, the better team won. Barnes was amazing, and so was the Bats PK, but I thought Laredo got the better of things more minutes than not.
Until OT, when the Bats should have scored at least twice (one just wide, one post), but didn't. Andy Lundbohm now has three winners in a row and Lance Leslie came back from his hiatus with a shutout.
Six more like this would be fine by me (except for the score of course).
Thursday, April 03, 2003
Bill Inglis will remain behind the Brahmas bench.
Nice tribute to Smokin' Joe from a Thunder fan. 708 games played out of 728 is truly unbelievable. To do what he did you've got to be good, you've got to be consistent, you've got to play hurt. Less glamorously, you have to stay in the minors (see Don Parsons' unvarnished point of view) and stay in the same league. I was amazed to realize the other day that Brett Seguin, who spent his first four seasons in the Colonial (now United) Hockey League, has more career points than Burton in the same number of seasons. (So does Parsons. And all three have more than all-time ECHL leader Rod Taylor.)
But that's why Joe is such a treasure, he did stay in the same league, and most importantly, played for the same team. And oh yeah, won two Cups. I can still remember back in '97, the second season of the WPHL, hearing that Garry Unger's Scorpions were gonna pick up this guy who was a real good player for the Blazers. All I wanted to know was, is he related to Jim Burton? Crazy, huh?
Though I do think retiring 19 league-wide would be a little much. He's not Jackie Robinson or Gretzky -- more like a cross between Cal Ripken and Rocket Richard. Besides, then Andy Ross will never make the Austin rafters!
Hey, Chris, think you can get Express Sports to let you do a comprehensive financial analysis like the L.A. Kings let one of its fans do? Fascinating stuff.
Oh, and I forgot the two most important things about the Bats-Bucks match-up.
1. Matt Barnes. He just has to be his usual self to make the difference.
2. Hitting. It's hard to compare sitting 2 feet from the boards at Chaparral to being high up in the LEC, but I swear, New Mexico and Austin finished more checks in one period than the Jacks and Bucks did in all of their Game 4. But when you hit Laredo's forwards A) you can't miss and B) you can't take yourself out of the play just to get a lick in.
Bravo to the Oklahoma City fans who aren't (too) bitter, don't view their team through rose-colored glasses and haven't been complaining (much, or so far) about the refs. 'Cause the Blazers are. Anyway, I'm sure my CHL-U colleague who predicted a first-round loss at the All-Star break is taking no satisfaction in that. Sorry dude.
I don't know why this fan is so bent out of shape about Eric Schneider's status. Just because you can't find the transaction doesn't mean the faxes weren't sent. It's all right here. Schneider was loaned to Laredo after the Rampage game on the 28th, recalled back to the AHL after Game 4 on the 30th, returned to the Bucks for Game 5 and recalled again on Wednesday.
So will he be in Austin tonight? I doubt it. Unless Florida sends reinforcements by tomorrow, I'm thinking he's unavailable until Game 3. Schneider played in Houston Wednesday, and now San Antonio has three-in-three away, starting Friday in Chicago. The Rampage has clinched a playoff berth, but is fighting for a first-round bye. I guess he could catch a flight from Austin to O'Hare on Friday, especially if Laredo's owners pay, but at what point do the extra games and travel limit his AHL effectiveness? Anyway, we'll know soon enough, maybe even by the time you read this if it's in the Morning Times.
By the way, that's really cool that Stan Drulia has come to San Antone after leading Orlando to the ACHL title. He's a Rick Dudley guy all the way, having played for the '97 IHL champion Detroit Vipers as well as Tampa Bay.
Going back to Schneider, a lot depends on him for the Bats' game plan as well. If he's there, I expect the Smart line would go at him and Grenville, and Hughes will try to set the STP loose against Gilmore/Lundbohm/Petruic. If he isn't, Sharuga's checking line could see more even-strength ice time against both of Laredo's scoring units, freeing Smart and Lardner to think a bit more about offense while putting in their usual massive minutes on both sides of special teams.
I'll be watching out for Gilmore, who was a strong player against the Bats during Bossier's 2001 sweep. The Bucks may have never won in Austin, but he has (ditto Matt Van Horlick). And for a guy with 270 PiMs, Dave Myson has been mighty productive. He's the kind of player who invariably scores a big one in the playoffs (saw him do it Saturday). The Bats will need the same from Jeff Greenlaw or Mike Olynyk.
And they need to stay out of the box! Power-play goals were the difference in all four Austin-New Mexico games (counting the 10-seconds later Game Three OT winner), and as great as the Bats PK is, there's no need to give the Bucks' offense extra help.
Further reading: Austin's head-to-head stats vs. Laredo, and Laredo's vs. Austin. Two things that jump out at me: the Bats' second and third lines ended up as minus players in the season series, and Laredo's record in one-goal games (they were 1-4 in one-goal games against Austin).
Also, the Bats can feel good about dealing Laredo three of its four home losses, while LeClerc has to feel good about the last time the teams met.
So anyway, I'll say Bats in six. I was 87.5% right last round (having picked the Bucks in four, but Odessa if it got to five). Just don't bring up the Final Four.
Wednesday, April 02, 2003
Bob, Bob, Bob ... don't you understand? Just like plants need carbon dioxide to stay alive, the Warrior needs people to notice he exists, even when they trash him.
TW must have bashed the Jacks pretty good on a message board or via private e-mail, 'cause he hasn't written a column in six weeks (and apparently will not again, I've heard that too). He got under Bob Hards' skin so good that after Game 5's final buzzer, a time when the Odessa broadcaster was otherwise taking heartfelt and appropriate stock of a trying but inspired season, he referred to the Warrior as "persona non grata," then devoted a minute of airtime to him, concluding with this priceless homily: "I've got a mistletoe in my back pocket." (Get it?) Score another one for Howard's ego.
And speaking of ego... people like to say that certain refs make themselves "bigger than the game." Shoot, if I was Dan Boyd and I heard 2000 people chanting BOYD YOU SUCK, BOYD YOU SUCK, I just might start to believe I was!
And folks, DirkDigler isn't eating crow, he's laughing his ass off. Don't be sucked in by his shtick. He's not really an Odessa fan, he just likes winding people up, under several screen names. So Jeff, who you gonna jaw with this round, your favorite farm team's followers or your good old pal BB?
Anyway, my heart goes out to the Jackalopes for sure. After taking one in Laredo I really thought home ice, Gorman and the memory of a year ago would get it done. It's certainly no coincidence the Bucks were 3-0 with Schneider. As coach Roscoe said Saturday, his presence helps the second line get better match-ups, and sure enough, Andy Lundbohm had the winner once again. CHL Most Outstanding Defenseman Michel Periard also had a terrific series. And how 'bout that Marc-Andre LeClerc? He'll have to lose a game to sit again, and maybe not even then. Who knows, perhaps Leslie will be Arturs Irbe to his partner's Kevin Weekes. It's gotta be tough for the vet to sit this time of year.
Another guy with the hot hand is Jonathan DuBois. You could do worse than pick him for the winner Wednesday. Obviously Joe Burton or Don Parsons would also be good choices. Or how 'bout Anthony DiPalma, in OT? It's been quite a series -- ten majors in four meetings. I believe the other six teams combined for just two (the Frid-Sewell dust-up) in 13 games.
So now we'll see if home ice holds. I already picked the guys with the funny hair to win in five, but in the long run, I'm pulling for Ken McRae. So from my perspective, if the Ice happen to lose it may as well be to the Blazers -- an easier trip from Austin, and I can catch a Stars playoff game along the way (lest you think I'm looking ahead to the finals, I would make that trip for Blazers-Bucks as well). On the other hand, I sure do love pulled pork.
Great article about the Maple Leafs and refs. So who's the Pat Quinn of the CHL? Cast your vote!
Hey Scorpsfan, that's what I was gonna say! Specifically, that reading about Doug Frank's wish for an arena made me think of the WNBA deal in Connecticut. Seems like there's pueblo gaming every 10 miles around there. By the way, mark it down now: New Mexico is next year's Southwest champ.
Congratulations to former Ice Bats Dan McIntyre, the ACHL Goaltender of the Year, and Ryan Anderson, proud member of the ACHL champion Orlando Seals. Also, good call by Mike Sanderson, not going to El Paso.
And thanks to Monique Griffin and Jennifer Messick Rogers for helping spread the word about ZR.
Finally, go Rangers! (Seriously. It would amuse me. But it's never gonna happen, anymore than the Flyers are gonna overtake the Devs. Then again, tell that to Lubbock and Corpus Christi).
Tuesday, April 01, 2003
Don't ya love a good conspiracy?
Well I'll tell ya, I had a layover in Arizona the other day, and tucked inside the paper toilet seat covers in a men's lavatory at Sky Harbor Airport, I found this leather folder. "WTHM" was embossed on the cover in gold letters, and inside were the minutes of the last Central Hockey League Board of Governor's Meeting. Turns out it's all true!
Item 1 was:
Which team can we plot against now that Bossier isn't in the playoffs?
My sources tell me that in a close 9-7 decision, Memphis won out over Austin. The weird thing is, the RiverKings voted for themselves -- in exchange for an agreement to make eye-gouging legal.
Item 2 was:
Let New Mexico win a couple of rounds in return for W.D. Sports "saving" Corpus Christi.
Guess they never got the memo.
And Item 3, well, it had "CLASSIFIED" stamped on it and a bunch of words blacked out with magic marker, but when I shined a flashlight on it I could clearly make out the following words:
Operation Smokin' Joe's Third Cup.
Personally, I'm outraged!