Chirps from Center Ice

A fan blog about the AHL's Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins

Blog of the Year Nomination

Was notified this afternoon by the fine folks who run the annual NEPA BlogCon that this blog has been nominated again for Sports Blog of the Year. 

I want to personally thank first the people that nominated me again for consideration. I do this as a hobby. It’s not my profession. Just my observations of the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins put into words. How many people read, share or interact isn’t important to me because, again, it’s a hobby. I say that some people collect stamps. I write a blog. It’s a blog up for NEPA BlogCon’s Sports Blog of the Year again. 

If you’d like to vote, you can do so here. Thank you in advance for your consideration and your support.

2015-16 AHL Schedule Released

Like kids at Christmas, fans, bloggers and media look forward to this date every summer. The 2015-16 AHL playing schedule was released Thursday afternoon. We all can’t wait to see who is playing who, when and where. So instead of being the parent that only lets you open one gift at a time, let’s rip into the schedule and break it all down.

Question 1: Who do the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins play first this season?

Answer: The Providence Bruins, on the road, opening night in the AHL on October 9.

Question 2: The home opener is Saturday, October 17. Who do we play?

Answer: Same team as last year, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

Question 3: Any Western Conference flavor on the menu this year?

Answer: Keep in mind that Rochester, Toronto and Utica played in the Western Conference last season. They are all in the Eastern Conference this season. You’ll need to pretend that they are from the Western Conference because there are NO Western Conference teams on the schedule for the Penguins this season.

Question 4: What does the divisional breakdown look like against Bridgeport, Hartford, Hershey, Lehigh Valley, Portland, Providence and Springfield?

Answer: Twelve games against Hershey and Lehigh Valley, six against Bridgeport, Hartford, Portland, Providence and Springfield. Evenly split, home and away.

Question 5: What is the longest road trip? What about home stand?

Answer: Longest road trip of the season for the Penguins is January 12 through January 24 when the Penguins face off against St. John’s twice on January 12 and 13, Syracuse on the 16th, two against Portland on the 22nd and 23rd and one against Providence on the 24th.

The longest homestand for the Penguins is early on in the season, from October 24 through November 14 for a total of seven games.

Question 6: How many three games in three nights?

Answer: Eight, down from last seasons total of 9.

Question 7: My friend told me that you had charts of daily and monthly breakdowns. Let’s see them.

Answer: Here you go.

Home Road Total
Monday 0 0 0
Tuesday 3 2 5
Wednesday 6 3 9
Thursday 1 0 1
Friday 7 14 21
Saturday 16 9 25
Sunday 5 10 15

And the Monthly…

Home Road Total
October 4 4 8
November 6 4 10
December 7 5 12
January 5 9 14
February 4 8 12
March 7 5 12
April 5 3 8

Question 8: Any kids games?

Answer: Kids games are by definition games that start in the morning. The Penguins will not be partaking in any of those games this season.

Question 9: Where is the All-Star Classic at again this year?

Answer: Syracuse, New York. Skills Competition is January 31 and the All-Star Classic February 1.

Question 10: Are the Penguins playing in any special venues this season?

Answer: No. And by looking at the schedule from a league wide basis, it really isn’t happening a lot this year.

Question 11: What is the Penguins theme this season?

Answer: “Reinvented” which you can check out here. I like it, it matches well with the changes the team went through coaching wise. I’m looking forward to what they have cooked up this season.

Question 12: Anything else I need to know?

Answer: We play every team in the Conference at least twice. Rochester, Toronto and Utica, who weren’t on the schedule last year we play twice each. All 30 teams will be in action three times this season, on January 23, February 6 and April 9.

Penguins will announce a promo schedule soon, and I’ll have a blog about that when the schedule is released. Other than that, my yearly AHL Previews can begin to now form since I now know who the Penguins will be playing this season. You can look for those around the end of September or the beginning of August. I am planning on bringing back the AHL Power Rankings this season as well as the charting I did last season as well.

So take the month of September to gear yourself for another six months (or more, hopefully) of fun.

Let’s Go Pens!

A Rabbit and a Sestito Walk Into a Matrix…

The moment we have all been waiting for is nearly here. It was announced today that the 2015-16 AHL playing scheduled will be released Thursday at 1 p.m. I’ll have a full dissection of the schedule of opponents the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins will face starting in October here on the blog Thursday afternoon. Same workup as prior years with a question and answer session. If I think of any new wrinkles between now and then I will work them in. Fun times ahead.

Elsewhere, the Pittsburgh Penguins signed Tom Sestito to a professional tryout agreement. Sestito is a journeyman and part of a dying breed of one trick ponies who know nothing other than how to fight. You can take this news any which way you like. A protector for Sidney Crosby / Evgeni Malkin / Phil Kessel, or Daniel Carcillo redux. As you recall, Pittsburgh signed Carcillo to a similar professional tryout agreement last year before releasing him. Carcillo later signed on with the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that won the Stanley Cup last year. What I don’t see is Sestito a replacement for the currently unsigned Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond here in Wilkes-Barre. Sestito I don’t think is willing to settle for the AHL, as evidenced last season when his prior team, Vancouver, tried to send him to their AHL affiliate Utica. He refused and Vancouver sent him home. I think Sestito comes in with the intention of making the Pittsburgh roster and if not, he packs his bags and heads in another direction.

Pittsburgh also announced Tuesday the roster for the rookie tournament. Notable names like Derrick Pouliot, Bryan Rust, J-S Dea, Connor Sheary and Anton Zlobin are among the participants who will face off against the Canadiens, Maple Leafs and Senators prospects in London, Ontario in September.

In other minor league hockey news, the Greenville Road Warriors are no more in the ECHL. Instead, they reincarnated as the Greenville Swamp Rabbits. No, I am not joking. Link to the official news from the ECHL here. Yes, the logo includes an angry rabbit holding a carrot that is also being used as a hockey stick. The Wheeling Nailers will face off against the Swamp Rabbits just once this upcoming season, February 26 in Wheeling.

Check back tomorrow for full dissection on the Penguins schedule Thursday afternoon. Hockey season will be here before you know it.

American Top 40

Today, the Sports Business Journal released their biannual rankings of the Minor League Markets. Out of 212 U.S. markets reviewed, the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton market came in 37th, up 122 spots from 159 two years ago.

There are a number of factors that go into how they develop the rankings. One of them is tenure. The Penguins have been playing at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza since 1999 and the RailRiders / Yankees / Red Barons have been around longer than that, since 1989.

Remember that the Rankings only look at Markets who do not host a major league franchise. So teams that host NBA franchises (i.e. Charlotte, Milwaukee, etc.) are not ranked.

The top markets from an AHL perspective ahead of Wilkes-Barre / Scranton are Des Moines, Iowa (home of the Iowa Wild) Inland Empire, California (home of the Ontario Reign, but the study included the team as an ECHL franchise) Hershey-Harrisburg, PA (home of the 11-time Calder Cup Champion Hershey Bears) Grand Rapids, MI (Grand Rapids Griffins) Bakersfield, California (Bakersfield Condors, but same criteria apply to the Ontario Reign as an ECHL franchise the year prior) Binghamton, Rochester, Austin (the Texas Stars play out of Cedar Park, TX, part of the Austin market) Providence then Wilkes-Barre.

Personally, I consider most of the towns ranked ahead of Wilkes-Barre larger towns. Des Moines, Harrisburg, Austin and Providence are all State Capitals, for example.

Can Wilkes-Barre ever be a Top 10 minor league market? I don’t think so, personally, but Top 40 is a pretty decent accomplishment.

The AHL schedule should be out some time next week, so but for other major breaking news this week, check back then.

Mike Sullivan Interview on NHL Network Radio

I didn’t see it anywhere else on the internet, and I don’t even know if I am could post the audio, but it’s my audio I recorded on my iPod that I used to take off of Sirius XM which I am a subscriber to, but here is the Mike Sullivan interview from Thursday.

If you are a copyright ace and I for some reason can’t post this audio for whatever reason, let me know and I will take this post down. If not, here’s the interview.

Some highlights…

— His called his return to head coaching was, “the right time.”
— He sees his role of developing players in the AHL for the NHL, “really important.”
— The interview goes a good fifteen minutes. Sullivan says all the right things you would expect out of a coach.

All in all, it sounded like he has a solid plan in place. Sullivan comes from a cloth of experienced coaches from all facets of hockey. He sounded confident. I’m sure he can’t wait to get started.

With the preseason schedule already out and the main schedule expected in a few weeks, hockey season is right around the corner.

2015-16 Preseason Schedule Announced

Coal Street announced a four game preseason slate Thursday against three opponents. Here are the details:

Wednesday, September 30 at home against Lehigh Valley at 7:05
Friday, October 2 at home against Albany at 7:05
Saturday, October 3 in Hershey at 7:0
Sunday, October 4 in Allentown against Lehigh Valley at 5:00.

Venues are Mohegan Sun Arena for both Penguins home games, GIANT Center against Hershey and PPL Center against Lehigh Valley.

Ticket information will be announced at a later date.

Now, go back in your pool.

Fosters. Australian for…Who?

Knowing that Jeff Zatkoff is going to be Marc-Andre Fleury’s NHL backup and the uncertainly of carrying a sophomore goalie in Matt Murray and a rookie goalie in Tristan Jarry, the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins were in the market for a veteran goaltender.

There are a few names left on the Top 100 AHL Free Agent Big Board that rolled out last month. Familiar names like Rob Zepp and David Leggio and AHL veterans like John Muse, but the Penguins went in a different direction.

They signed Brian Foster.

Yes, dear reader, I had vaguely or never heard of him either. You can check out his hockeyDB page here and find that he has all of 20 games of AHL level or higher experience. The numbers are, to put it plainly, not good. The numbers in the ECHL are pedestrian at best as well.

My reaction on Twitter was met with, “well, maybe it’s a WBS signing that is really meant for (the ECHL affiliate) Wheeling.” I don’t think so. I think if it were, then it’s Wheeling that announces Foster’s signing and WBS signs him under emergency conditions only. Your goaltending tandem heading into the home opener set for October 17 in Wilkes-Barre appears to be Matt Murray and Brian Foster, barring the extraordinary.

My guess is that Pittsburgh wants Murray and Jarry to be 1A options in goal as they continue to develop. Since Wheeling doesn’t share a dual affiliation with Montreal anymore, they can have Jarry start down in the ECHL while Murray gets the load of starts in the AHL. If Jarry sets a pace at the ECHL level that Murray set in the AHL, then you probably see a swap of Foster for Jarry in the future.

Now, back to summer.

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