Chirps from Center Ice

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

Go West, Young Man

Today, the AHL announced and confirmed the worst kept secret in minor league hockey for years now. There will be a new Pacific Division that will represent the AHL clubs of the Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks. In layman terms, here is what is going to happen in 2015-16.

— The Norfolk Admirals, affiliates of the Anaheim Ducks, are leaving town for San Diego, California.
— The Adirondack Flames, affiliates of the Calgary Flames, are leaving town for Stockton, California.
— The Oklahoma City Barons, affiliates of the Edmonton Oilers, are leaving town for Bakersfield, California.
— The Manchester Monarchs, affiliates of the Los Angeles Kings, are leaving town for Ontario, California.
— The Worcester Sharks, affiliates of the San Jose Sharks, are leaving town for San Jose, California.

It is expected that Norfolk, Adirondack and Manchester will have ECHL teams next season. There is no word on ECHL plans for Oklahoma City or Worcester yet. That league is scheduling a press conference Friday at 3 p.m.

From what I read, these NHL teams wanted a west coast pod for years now. They didn’t want a jet lagged player who just flew five hours across the continental United States the morning that their star players gets sick.

From what I believe, I don’t think that they necessarily care about attendance or if the teams are successful or not. When I think San Diego, I don’t think hockey. But AHL President Dave Andrews said at the AHL’s State of the League on Monday the following…

We’re going through a process we’ve never gone through before, which, if successful, will be difficult for a number of our markets, but at the same time, is probably critical to the health of our league from a stability point of view and maintaining a 30-team league.

The lynch-pin to that statement in my opinion was, “if successful.” It is still too soon to say that it will be. I think that what the AHL cares more about is pleasing their NHL partners and maintaining a healthy, 30 team league. The shine of having a brand new AHL team in San Diego, Stockton, Ontario and other places will be great for the first couple of years. But what happens say, five years in, if these teams start to struggle at the gate and struggle financially? What would it mean to the overall health of the AHL if close to 20% of the teams are struggling?

Wilkes-Barre wise, this westward movement will have little to no impact. You will probably see some realignment to the divisions again. I think that the five team divisions go away. You could see Wilkes-Barre in a division next year with usual suspects Hershey, Lehigh Valley and Binghamton and mix in any combination of Syracuse, Albany, Utica, Bridgeport, Rochester or even Toronto. You’re also going to see more of teams like Providence, Portland, Hartford and maybe Lake Erie, Hamilton or Charlotte on the schedule for next year.

Do the Penguins go the way of the Admirals, Sharks, Monarchs, Barons and Flames? I don’t think so. You are talking a four hour trip to Pittsburgh as opposed to a flight. Players from all over the AHL rave about Wilkes-Barre as a premier AHL destination. The Coal Street facility is a pristine asset to have in anchoring an AHL team like the Penguins to a city such as Wilkes-Barre. The Penguins lease with the Arena and affiliation with Pittsburgh expire in 2019, but I think it is safe to say that you can rest easy in knowing that something like this dark day in five AHL markets across the East will never happen in the Wyoming Valley.

While I have you, Pittsburgh sent Bryan Rust and Scott Wilson back to Wilkes-Barre Wednesday. Alex Boak was recalled from Wheeling Thursday.

Penguins play tomorrow in Springfield. Gameday for this hits the blog Friday at 3.

AHL All-Star Classic Recap — West WINS 14-12

I filled in for Tom Venesky from the Times-Leader tonight. You can read the game story in Tuesday’s paper.

Fighting internet issues in a cold arena stage sitting right behind the goal judge is the price that you sometimes have to pay. But who is complaining. The game story was filed without issue and I can finally decompress and write this blog post. More of my element.

Anyway, the Western Conference won 14-12 tonight over the Eastern Conference. There were four hat tricks. There were two penalty shots. There were co-MVP’s. Charles Hudon from Hamilton had a hat trick and an assist and Utica’s Jacob Markstrom stopped 14 of 16 shots in the first period to take home the awards.

Something that I noticed in this game was a lackadaisical start in the beginning, an offensive display in the second period and then a frenetic pace in the final period. There were twelve goals scored in the second period alone. Five scored by the Western Conference in record time, 4:35. They scored six and the East scored six.

Really you could have, if you wanted to, made a case for Oklahoma City goaltender Richard Bachman to get the co-MVP if you wanted to. The East trailed all game, and really stepped on the gas in the final period. Bachman stopped 18 of 22 shots to preserve the West’s win.

But this is an all-star event, one that doesn’t count and this is Utica after all, so give the starting goaltender for the Western Conference the honor and call it a night.

Pouliot and Kostopoulos both had assists on the night. Kostopoulous actually had two but the second was taken away.

Anyway, there was other things to attend to today. Like half of the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins team being called up to Pittsburgh. Scott Harrington, Bryan Rust, Scott Wilson and Andrew Ebbett were recalled this afternoon. Wilkes-Barre doesn’t play again until Friday and there was talk about Pittsburgh getting healthy. so we will see who if anyone trickles down in time for puck drop at 7 p.m. Friday in Springfield.

I always like to come to these events to meet people and mingle with those I know. Another thing I like to do is get audio of the AHL’s State of the League Address with Dave Andrews, the AHL’s president. Bob Howard from the Power Play Post Show there this morning and posted audio.

Here is the link in raw format…

Nothing really to take out of it from a Wilkes-Barre perspective. Nothing has been finalized with the AHL’s movement out West yet. There could be some other teams shook up but not necessarily moving West. The deadline for all of this is in May, but they would like to have everything in place by April for scheduling and ticketing purposes.

He also mentioned scheduling. The AHL isn’t moving off 76 games any time soon. Some teams want 72 games but there are others that love 76. It’s about 50/50 and you need 75%.

There could be unbalanced conferences with teams like here in Utica and Rochester coming East to play. All of that is talk though with bigger challenges in the way.

It’s really interesting audio, so give it a listen if you have 54 minutes of time to kill.

I am back on the road Tuesday, heading home. We will pick up the real stuff again at the end of the week.

AHL Power Rankings: Week 16

It’s the All-Star break in the AHL, so how is your team doing?

There are a couple of teams that have been good all season long. Teams like Manchester, Utica, Rockford and Oklahoma City have been constantly at the head of their division class.

But there is a team, just west of where the festivities are taking place this weekend, that has been knocking and knocking and finally kicked the door down on the division lead on Saturday night.

It’s the Syracuse Crunch. One of the Eastern Conference’s most dangerous teams knocks off last week’s number one Hartford in a thrilling Saturday night battle at home and take over the Northeast Division and the number one spot in the Week 16 Chirps from Center Ice AHL Power Rankings. The Crunch are just a point off of the Manchester Monarchs for first overall in the Conference, too.

I don’t know how many times I use the word “break” in the rankings this week. It was a lot, though. Count them up and let me know in the comments. But first, you have to jump through if you didn’t link in direct….

Read more of this post

Happy Birthday! — Pens WIN 3-2 (OT)

WBS          @          NOR

3                                             2


Tom Kostopoulos celebrated his 36th birthday today. He’s heading to Utica Sunday to captain the AHL’s Eastern Conference in the league’s All-Star Classic.

But before he could sit back and celebrate a birthday and reflect on accomplishments that led him to be named captain of the AHL’s Eastern Conference and named starter, he had business to attend to tonight in Virginia.

His overtime game winning goal assured a sweep of the Norfolk Admirals by the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins by a 3-2 score.

Lines looked like this tonight…..

Conor Sheary – Nick Drazenovic – Tom Kostopoulos
Scott Wilson – Andrew Ebbett – Bryan Rust
Tom Kuhnhackl – Carter Rowney – Jayson Megna
Dominik Uher – Matia Marcantuoni – Bobby Farnham

Taylor Chorney – Brian Dumoulin
Reid McNeill – Barry Goers
Scott Harrington – Derrick Pouliot

Matt Murray – Eric Hartzell

J-S Dea took warmups but was scratched. Pierre Leblond served the third game of his three game suspension. So the lineup was unchanged from last night.

The Penguins opposed recent stone in the shoe known as Jason Labarbera.

First Period: Norfolk jumped all over the Penguins to start. Emerson Etem rang a post then later on a busted Wilkes-Barre clear, scored to put the Admirals ahead 1-0. Then, the Penguins started to push back and Jayson Megna scored when Brendan Bell snapped his stick attempting to maneuver the puck out of his own end.

Wilkes-Barre seemed ignited prior to the Megna goal after a fight by Bobby Farnham with Joseph Cramarossa after Etem scored.

Second Period: No scoring in this period. Penguins had a few cracks at the power play but Norfolk was great in blocking shots.

Third Period: Scott Wilson put the Penguins ahead with this shot from the high slot off of a nice feed by Bryan Rust to give the Pens a 2-1 lead. It was Wilson’s fourth game in a row where he has scored a goal. Norfolk was able to edge back even with a power play goal from Nic Kerdiles on a deflection. A frenetic pace by both teams to finish.

Quick observations, John Hynes told Mike O’Brien in the pre show that one of the focuses the Penguins were going to work on after the All-Star break was special teams. The Penguins had multiple chances this weekend to take a lead with power plays but never could connect….Jayson Megna is usually the butt of my sophomoric jokes on the blog and elsewhere, but he had a hell of a game tonight. Nearly every chance he had was a Grade A opportunity.

Overtime: Tom Kostopoulos scored this goal on a deflection. This came after a John Hynes timeout. Before this, the Penguins had an opportunity to score on a power play but let it pass.

Three Stars: 3) Nic Kerdiles (goal, -1) 2) Scott Wilson (goal, +1) 1) Tom Kostopoulos (goal, +1)

Around the Division: Hershey beat Binghamton 3-2 in overtime to stay ahead of the Penguins by a point in the standings and lead the East Division at the break….Lehigh Valley beat St. John’s 4-3.

Standings: Hershey 51 — Penguins 50 – Lehigh Valley 45 — Binghamton 39 — Norfolk 37

Conference: 1) MCH (58) 2) SYR (57) 3) HER (51) 4) SPR (56) 5) HFD (53) 6) WBS (50) 7) WOR (49) 8) POR (49)

Wheeling Update: Nailers lost 4-1 to the Fort Wayne Komets.

SendToNews Highlights: Here is YouTube…

So that’s the break. Pens are in action again next Friday in Springfield. Here’s what you have coming at you this weekend and this week…

– Week 16 AHL Power Rankings at a special time, 2 p.m. Sunday.
— My big board chart page is already updated for your perusal.
— I may throw in a quick blurb of who won what at the Skills Competition Sunday night.
— I am pinch hitting for Tom Venesky from The Times-Leader Monday night. So buy a paper Tuesday to see my name and a bunch of words put together about the All-Star Classic. I will have a blog of the goings on Monday night after my duties for the paper conclude.
— I am planning on getting audio of the AHL’s Yearly State of the League. Stay tuned. I will probably make a blog out of that.

Let’s Go Pens!

GAMEDAY: @ Norfolk 1/24

Away Game: 21

AHL Game: 632

Who: Norfolk Admirals

Where: Norfolk Scope

When: 7:15 p.m.

Media Kit

Last Game / Last Meeting: Last night, the Penguins beat the Admirals 4-2. Andrew Ebbett scored two goals for Wilkes-Barre in his return to the lineup since November.

Record: For WBS: 22-17-1-3 (48 pts., 2nd place East Division) — For NOR: 16-22-2-2 (36 pts., 5th place East Division)

Why you should care: Penguins look to close out the weekend with a sweep of the Admirals. Last night was far from a cakewalk for the Pens and you know that the Admirals will be out for revenge and wanting to split the weekend.

Referee(s): Mark Lemelin

Linesmen: Shandor Alphonso / Jud Ritter

Twitter: @wbspenguins / @WBSGameDay / @NorfolkAdmirals /

Facebook: /WilkesBarreScrantonPenguins // /NorfolkAdmirals

Instagram: wbspenguins / NorfolkAdmirals

Beat Writers: @CVBombulie and @TLTomVenesky

Broadcasters: For WBS: Mike O’Brien @MikeOBrienWBS / For NOR: Pete Michaud @AdmiralsVoice

Fan Bloggers: @nafsnep / @BeneathScope / @ShawnDulin

Radio: For WBS: WILK NewsRadio / For Norfolk: AM 1650 WHKT

Television: AHL Live

Other Game to Watch: Hershey, a point ahead of the Penguins for first in the division, host the Binghamton Senators.

Next Five Games: @ SPR 1/30, LV 1/31, SPR 2/3, @ HER 2/7, @ BRI 2/8

Hey, Ebbett! — Pens WIN 4-2

WBS          @          NOR

4                                             2


The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins have been slumping as of late. They just sloughed off a six game losing streak when they beat the St. John’s IceCaps at home back in Wilkes-Barre.

You don’t all of a sudden just snap out of a losing streak and look like world beaters again. You may have gotten lucky in the game that saw your losing streak end. A bounce here or there and, you got lucky. Usually, what plagued you in the losing streak rears its ugly head once again.

Well, for the Penguins, they almost got caught in the closet with the ghosts that brought them that losing streak.

Enter Andrew Ebbett. Down from Pittsburgh during the NHL All-Star break. Ebbett has been a point producer for the Penguins at the AHL level. That continued tonight as his two goals ignites the Penguins over the Norfolk Admirals by a score of 4-2.

Ebbett wasn’t the only player down from Pittsburgh. Derrick Pouliot and Scott Harrington were down too. It was the strongest lineup in months for the Penguins. Lines looked like this…

Conor Sheary – Nick Drazenovic – Tom Kostopoulos
Scott Wilson – Andrew Ebbett – Bryan Rust
Tom Kuhnhackl – Carter Rowney – Jayson Megna
Dominik Uher – Matia Marcantuoni – Bobby Farnham

Taylor Chorney – Brian Dumoulin
Reid McNeill – Barry Goers
Scott Harrington – Derrick Pouliot

Matt Murray – Eric Hartzell

Injured G Jeff Zatkoff’s status is “officially week-to-week” per Obie. Adam Payerl started skating this week and is still, “week to week” and is on the trip with the Penguins.

Josh Archibald took warmups but was scratched. Other healthy scratches were J-S Dea and Nick D’Agostino. Pierre Leblond served the second of his three game suspension.

First Period: Penguins really jumped on the Admirals from the start, getting pucks and bodies behind the Norfolk defense. Finally Nick Drazenovic chipped this pass to Conor Sheary who had John Gibson out of position and backhanded it by him for a goal and a 1-0 Penguins lead. Wilkes-Barre was the beneficiary of two power plays, but failed to score. Bobby Farnham was in the middle of everything early on and drew the second penalty called on the Admirals.

Second Period: Felt like an exact opposite of the first period for the Penguins, who looked lifeless at times during the period. They got scored on. Twice. The first goal was a weird one. The Penguins just killed a penalty and the Admirals were streaking up ice, Chris Wagner tries a cross ice pass that deflects off of Scott Harrington and in past Murray and in.

Teams traded some more power plays. Late, Barry Goers goes into the box for a high stick and Andrew O’Brien slams home a big rebound left by Matt Murray to put the Admirals up 2-1.

In the final minute, with 37.1 left, Andrew Ebbett scored this goal to bring the Penguins even again. It was a nice shot that went cross bar and in.

Wilkes-Barre was lucky to come out of the period tied. Just a forgettable period by Wilkes-Barre standards.

Third Period: Penguins had to kill about 1:45 of a Norfolk power play to open and nearly got scored on. Louis Leblanc appeared to have scored a goal, but referee Mark Lemelin lost sight of the puck and ruled that the puck had entered the net after the whistle had blown.

Huge break for the Penguins there. Wilkes-Barre had to go back on the kill again and Norfolk came dangerously close to scoring again, but the Penguins killed the penalty successfully.

Then, the Penguins edged ahead on a Norfolk turnover. Scott Wilson was looking for a streaking Carter Rowney but instead found the stick of Andrew O’Brien who inadvertently directed the puck into his own net past Gibson to give the Penguins the lead. 

Penguins had a late power play. I have said it on a number of occasions before, but if Wilkes-Barre had anything that resembled a decent power play, they could use that to put teams away. Tonight would have been a prime time to do so.

With under a minute to play, the Penguins possessed the puck for a good :30. Norfolk finally got Gibson out of the net, but Ebbett won a neutral zone face-off that went the length of the ice and into the empty net to extend the lead for the Penguins to 4-2 with about 10 seconds left to play.

Three Stars: 3) Mark Fistric (-1) 2) Andrew Ebbett (two goals, +2) and 1) Scott Wilson (goal, assist, +2)

Around the Division: Hershey was idle tonight, so the Penguins have played now three more games than the Bears. St. John’s beat Binghamton 5-2 and Syracuse beat Lehigh Valley 4-2.

Standings: Hershey 49 — Penguins 48 – Lehigh Valley 43 — Binghamton 38 — Norfolk 36

Conference: 1) MCH (58) 2) SPR (56) 3) HER (49) 4) SYR (55) 5) HFD (53) 6) POR (49) 7) ALB (48) 8) WBS (48) 

Wheeling Update: Nailers win at home 5-4 over the Fort Wayne Komets. Riley Brace had 4 assists.

SendToNews Highlights: Admirals put out a YouTube package, so let’s run that instead…

These two teams rematch tomorrow at 7:15 in Virginia. Gameday for that will be up at 3:15.

Let’s Go Pens!

GAMEDAY: @ Norfolk 1/23

Away Game: 20

AHL Game: 618

Who: Norfolk Admirals

Where: Norfolk Scope

When: 7:30 p.m.

Media Kit

Last Game: Wednesday in Wilkes-Barre, the Pens beat the St. John’s IceCaps 5-1. Conor Sheary had two goals and was named first star of the game. For Norfolk, they hosted the Charlotte Checkers Wednesday and won 3-2 in overtime. Josh Manson scored the overtime winner with a second left on the clock.

Last Meeting: Friday, January 9 the Penguins were shutout by the Admirals 2-0. Jason LaBarbera had a 27 save shutout

Record: For WBS: 21-17-1-3 (46 pts., 2nd place East Division) — For NOR: 16-21-2-2 (36 pts., 5th place East Division)

Why you should care: The Penguins six game losing streak started right around the last time these two teams met two weeks ago. Does that trend continue tonight into this weekend in Virginia?

Referee(s): Mark Lemelin

Linesmen: Shandor Alphonso / Jud Ritter

Twitter: @wbspenguins / @WBSGameDay / @NorfolkAdmirals /

Facebook: /WilkesBarreScrantonPenguins // /NorfolkAdmirals

Instagram: wbspenguins / NorfolkAdmirals

Beat Writers: @CVBombulie and @TLTomVenesky

Broadcasters: For WBS: Mike O’Brien @MikeOBrienWBS / For NOR: Pete Michaud @AdmiralsVoice

Fan Bloggers: @nafsnep / @BeneathScope / @ShawnDulin

Radio: For WBS: WILK NewsRadio / For Norfolk: AM 1650 WHKT

Television: AHL Live

Other Game to Watch: The Toronto Marlies are in Hamilton in a key North Division matchup against the Bulldogs.

Next Five Games: @ NOR 1/24, @ SPR 1/30, LV 1/31, SPR 2/3, @ HER 2/7


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