Chirps from Center Ice

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

Category Archives: The AHL

NHL Free Agency, Day 1

Click. Click.

That’s the sound of the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins reloading for what is hopefully another successful campaign in the 2015-16 AHL season come this October.

It was a most active day. Several signings made today by parent Pittsburgh which could have a direct result on how the roster shapes up for the farm team. There was another team in the division that was really active on the wires as well, but it isn’t who you think. Let’s get into it.

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Departures included Kasperi Kapanen and Scott Harrington to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Phil Kessel, Tim Erixson and Tyler Biggs. This was the blockbuster trade of the day. Nothing really to get excited about regarding Biggs or Erixson. Biggs had 47 games with the Marlies last year and was 2-3-5. Erixson is a bit more polished, playing 42 games with the Blue Jackets, Blackhawks and Maple Leafs. In return, Toronto gets an NHL ready defenseman in Harrington and an exciting forward prospect in Kapanen.

But that was the only loss that affected Coal Street. What followed came quickly.

Defenseman David Warsofsky, late of the Providence Bruins and a likely replacement for Taylor Chorney, who signed a $700,000 one way deal with the Washington Capitals today. Warsofsky is a 7th or 8th option on defense at the NHL level. If not, look for Warsofsky to get top minutes in Wilkes-Barre. Warsofsky was #95 on the big board.

Center Kael Mouillierat – played last season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Was #15 on the big board. Automatic 20 goal, 20 assist scorer. Saw his first NHL action with the Islanders last season.

Left Winger Sergei Plotnikov – comes over from Russia and is probably ticketed for full time NHL work with Pittsburgh. If not, he’s entry level and could end up on Wilkes-Barre’s radar.

Conor Sheary got his NHL pact with Pittsburgh. #9 on our big board.

Center Kevin Porter – Played every game for Grand Rapids last year. Is good for about 40 points a year. #14 on the big board. Porter is a former Hobey Baker award winner and ex-captain of the Rochester Americans.

Defenseman Steve Oleksy – should need no introduction to anyone that reads the blog on a regular basis. Oleksy has been a mainstay with the Hershey Bears for years and served as their captain. He was #61 on the big board.

What a haul for the Pens. They lose a veteran center in Andrew Ebbett defecting to Europe but make up for it with Kevin Porter. Pens lose one veteran defenseman in Taylor Chorney and reload almost immediately with TWO veteran defensemen in Warsofsky and Oleksy.

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Not to be outdone, the Hershey Bears saw all of the moves made by the Penguins today, dialed up their parents in Washington, and announced the following moves…

Carter Camper, Sean Collins and Aaron Ness and re-signed Mike Moore. Camper was average on a bad Binghamton team last year but does have pedigree and should thrive under Troy Mann. Sean Collins comes over from Springfield and is good for 40 points a year. He’ll probably get that and more playing for Hershey. Aaron Ness is an underrated defenseman and former captain of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Was a point a game guy for the Sound Tigers when they were well out of things at the end of the season. Moore was Hershey’s Man of the year last season.

Camper, Collins, Ness and Moore were 54, 45, 38 and unranked on the big board.

For what it is worth, I do not see Taylor Chorney playing any games for the Bears next year. Not at $700,000 a year.

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It does seem silly that the Portland Pirates are in the same division with the Penguins, but they are and were a very active team in free agency. Here are the moves:

Goalie Mike McKenna. Ageless goaltender that doesn’t really go anywhere town wise as he played with the Pirates last season under the Arizona affiliation. 23 on the board, put up career numbers at age 32.

Forward Shane Harper – 19 on the big board – scored 32 goals with AHL Chicago and led the Wolves in points last season.

Defensemen Sena Acolatse, Brent Regner and Cameron Gaunce. Acolatse played with Worcester for a while. Recently with Adirondack Flames. Regner had 29 points and a +21 with the Wolves last year and Gaunce comes over from the Texas Stars and is a smart veteran defenseman. None of these players were ranked by us on the big board.

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Couple of well known names snagged by the Rangers.

Forward Jayson Megna, fan favorite of this blog, 26 on the board. Megna scored 39 points with the Penguins last year but fell out of favor with the NHL brass as there were more unproven names that were called up ahead of him. It’s a needed change of scenery for Megna.

Brian Gibbons – 91 on the board. Will want to stay healthy. He and Megna would make a dynamic duo on probably one of the quickest lines in the AHL.

Matt Lindblad, Magnus Hellberg and Viktor Stalberg – coming over from the Providence Bruins and Milwaukee Admirals, respectfully, all unranked.

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Depending if they filter into Central Massachusetts, some solid signings for the Falcons in forwards Dustin Jeffrey (#5) and Craig Cunningham (not ranked) as well as defenseman Dylan Reese (#18)

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It almost looked like they weren’t going to do anything today but the Flyers made some big time signings today which could end up in the Lehigh Valley.

Ex-Penguins Chris Conner and Tim Brent. Conner was #8 on the big board. Brent comes back over from Russia, playing in the KHL. They also signed defenseman Davis Drewiske, who had 22 points and a +15 for Hamilton last year. Phantoms are going to need more help than this if they are going to want to stay competitive in Pennsylvania with the Penguins and Bears and afloat, with eight other teams in the new Atlantic Division.

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Re-signed Jeremy Smith. Smith was a free agent. Third on the Boston goalie depth chart, a consistent goaltender that can win 20 games and have a save percentage right around 92%.

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Forward Joe Whitney. 10 on the big board and led the Albany Devils in scoring all four seasons he played in the Capital District. Nothing official reported by the Islanders, but the reports were everywhere from all the reputable guys.

Here’s Coal Street’s recap on the guys added today that could have an impact on the farm this season and make sure that you bookmark their shiny new blog, Skating on the Susquehanna.

Jonathan Bombulie may write for the Pittsburgh Penguins these days, but here are his thoughts on the haul that could be assigned to Wilkes-Barre in the Fall.

The AHL Free Agent Big Board and the Offseason Moves Lists have been updated accordingly.

Depending on how Day 2 shakes out around the division, I’ll drop another blog update Thursday.

AHL Top 100 Free Agents — The Big Board

When Jonathan Bombulie announced earlier this year that he was taking a job in Pittsburgh to cover the beat of the NHL version of the Penguins, one of the things that he left behind was his yearly AHL Free Agent “Big Board” which is a massive list of minor league hockey players ranked, 1-100 and beyond, that debuts right before the start of NHL Free Agency.

Well, thanks in part to the efforts of many, it lives on.

This massive, massive project, doesn’t get completed without the help of a broad spectrum of bloggers and journalists alike, from nearly every corner of the American Hockey League. Jason Iacona connected with several bloggers from throughout the AHL and what you see today is the efforts of those who lended a hand in typing up a capsule on a player from the Eastern Conference that the Western Conference never sees, or vice versa.

Before we get to the list of the Top 100 Unrestricted Free Agents, thank you to the following people…

Stephen Meserve from 100 Degree Hockey in Texas who created the spreadsheet that everyone contributed to as well as his thoughts on the Texas Stars free agents.

Nathan Mallett from Runnin’ With the Herd, laid the groundwork for the Top 100 list and contributed greatly to the capsules of the San Antonio Rampage as well as other teams.

Heath Sorey of Beneath the Scope, who went above and beyond the call and provided capsules for not only the Anaheim prospects of the Norfolk Admirals team he blogs for, but several other AHL teams.

Special thanks to Daniel Lavender from Admirals Roundtable for his contributions on the Milwaukee Admirals, Matt Trust from Chocolate Hockey for Lehigh Valley and Hershey, Tracey Lake from Thoughts Inside the Box for Albany, Eric Rodgers from Tend the Farm for Oklahoma City, Darryl Hunt from 210 Sports for Worcester, Jenni Probst from Chasing Checkers for Charlotte and Chris Roy from the Maine Hockey Journal for Portland.

We all hope that you enjoy the list. After the jump, dive into the Top 100 AHL Free Agents Available, then the “Best of the Rest” list below. Note that any Restricted Free Agent not tendered a qualifying offer will be added in on future edits, most likely starting tonight or by noon tomorrow, when the market goes live.

Dive in…

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Monarch Coronation — Manchester WINS Calder Cup

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Blogger Note: Special to Bob Howard and the Power Play Post Show.

The Manchester Monarchs were the AHL’s best team all season long and finally reached the pinnacle of success tonight in winning the Calder Cup over the Utica Comets in five games.

Too fast, too tough, too good. These could be words used to describe the Monarchs in the regular season and post season as divisional foes St. John’s, Portland, Worcester and Providence all learned in the regular season and Portland, Wilkes-Barre / Scranton, Hartford and Utica learned in the postseason.

Manchester will soon come home to a celebration for their fans and when the confetti and noisemakers are cleaned up, the team will re-locate about 3,000 miles West and set up operations in Ontaio, California with four other AHL teams making the journey out to the Golden State.

For Manchester, a 14 year run in the AHL concludes with a championship. A 2-1 win over Utica in five games.cc15champs_200

All of the scoring was done in the first period.

Zach O’Brien created a turnover and Nick Shore won a puck battle in the Utica zone and dished to Adrian Kempe who scored at 10:02 to put the Monarchs up 1-0. It was Kempe’s fourth goal in three games this series and the sixth consecutive time on the road where he has scored.

Manchester scored on a power play 3:07 later when Vincent LoVerde scored on a one timer to make it 2-0.

Manchester starting goaltender Patrik Bartosak turned away 31 shots, with the only blemish coming with 14.8 seconds left to play in regulation by Cal O’Reilly with Utica’s starting goaltender Jacob Markstrom pulled for the extra attacker.

Undeterred, the Utica Memorial Auditorium was filled to capacity again, as 3,835 fans packed the Aud in the hopes of cheering their Comets to a win.

Jordan Weal won the Jack Butterfield trophy as MVP of the playoffs with a league best 22 points (10-12-22) along with a +12 in 19 playoff games.

So ends another season of AHL hockey. The 80th season will be here before we know it and the face of the league completely changed with five California teams and a total of eleven affiliation changes or relocations.

Is it October yet?

Comets on the Brink — Monarchs WIN 6-3

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Blogger Note: Special to Bob Howard and the Power Play Post Show.

Coming into Game 4, given the state of affairs that the Manchester Monarchs were in having lost Game 3 without the AHL MVP and losing their workhorse goaltender to injury, doubt started to creep in. Were the AHL’s regular season champions in trouble? Was Utica back in the series?

The answer was a resounding no.

Manchester takes Game 4 with an impressive 6-3 win and lead the best of seven series three games to one and can win the Calder Cup Saturday.

Lineup notes…. Brian O’Neill was back from his injury from Game 1 that forced him out of Game 2. Steve Mastalerz backed up Partik Bartosak with J-F Berube still out from the injury to him in Game 3.

A fracas between the two teams as the blood was boiling early. Out of it, Brian O’Neill hit the post behind Jacob Markstrom but the officials reviewed it and confirmed no goal.

Sean Backman pounced on a Utica defensive zone cross-up and scores on a turnover to make it 1-0 Utica at 12:45.

:32 later, Nic Dowd did the same thing and doubled the lead for Manchester. Utica head coach Travis Green called his time out after that.

Utica cycled a puck down low and found Frank Corrado at the point for a one time shot that went in and the Comets were on the board at 14:09.

A torrent pace. Three goals in 1:24.

Sven Baertschi scored on a power play with 1:06 left to bring the 3,835 fans that packed the Utica Memorial Auditorium to their feet as the home team just tied the game.

Manchester broke the game open with a three goal second period, buoyed by two power play goals.

Colin Miller scored a power play goal in the second period to edge the visitors back in front.

A Kent Huskins tripping call found the Manchester Monarchs on the power play again. With sustained zone time, Nick Shore jammed in a rebound of a puck in a pile and the Eastern Conference Champions had a two goal lead.

Nic Dowd sprung out of the neutral zone off of a turnover and fired a shot over Markstrom’s glove to make it a three gaol lead for Manchester with 10.3 seconds to play in the second.

Adrian Kempe made it 6-2 Manchester in the third period on a nice feed by Nick Shore and that ended Markstrom’s night. Enter Joacim Eriksson.

Will Acton scored his first of the playoffs on a rebound of a Peter Andersson shot from the point to cut the Monarchs lead to 6-3.

Now Utica must do the unthinkable. Win three straight against a team that hasn’t lost three straight in months.

Game 5 is Saturday night in Utica.

Home Ice Holds Serve — Comets WIN 3-2

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Blogger Note: Special to Bob Howard and the Power Play Post Show.

The Manchester Monarchs had never played a game at the Utica Memorial Auditorium in their history. Prior to Game 3 tonight, all the Monarchs knew about the arena known as, “The Aud” was that it was a historical building that sat in downtown Utica, located in central New York.

Once the puck dropped though, it was the equivalent of walking into a beehive full of angry bees.

There will be no Manchester Monarchs sweep. The Utica Comets take Game 3 by a score of 3-2 and trail the best of seven series two games to one.

In front of a sellout crowd of 3,835, most of which stood in line for hours for tickets to Game 3, the home crowd was deafening to start, whetting their appetite with the taste of Calder Cup Finals hockey for the first time.

Cal O’Reilly opened the scoring for the home team just after a Utica’s first power play. He created a turnover from the high slot and fired it home at 5:45 of the first period for his first goal of the playoffs, he had 16 straight assists prior to. That goal by Utica snapped a streak of eight straight games in which the Monarchs had scored first.

There was a bit of collateral damage for the Monarchs on the sequence as starting goaltender J-F Berube needed assistance off of the ice with an apparent injury. He was replaced in net by backup Patrik Bartosak, making his first appearance in the playoffs.

Utica continued the relentless pressure and made it 2-0 after the Comets won a defensive zone draw. Bobby Sanguinetti found Alexandre Grenier up the ice and Grenier streaked in and scored to double the lead for the home team at 18:58.

But Manchester got one back :37 later after a lazy defensive zone exit by the Comets that was tracked down at the blue line. Adrian Kempe collected his fifth goal of the playoffs on a rebound of a Derek Forbort shot.

The question coming into the second was whether or not the late Manchester goal from the first would carry any momentum over. The Monarchs opened in waves and Markstrom was forced into making a tough save 1:30 in on Colin Miller. They were slowly rounding into the form of the team that came in with a 2-0 series lead and was the regular season champion.

Utica slowed the pace back to their comfort level, won a face-off and Niklas Jensen scored his second of the game off of a shot from the slot to make it 3-1 Comets at 6:18 and the two goal lead was restored.

It nearly became a three goal lead, but the Monarchs made it 3-2 as they transitioned to a two on one 1:04 later when Adrian Kempe scored his second of the game. Manchester was meeting adversity with a goal, but still trailed by one.

The second period broke with the Monarchs still trailing by one, but the pressure they were building intensified.

Despite an 11-7 shot advantage by the Monarchs in the third period, the Comets were able to stymie Manchester from finding the equalizer, including killing a late Manchester power play with under five minutes to play.

Three stars were Manchester’s Adrian Kempe with two goals, Alexandre Grenier with a goal, assist and a +2 and Cal O’Reilly with a goal, an assist and a +3.

Notes… Utica’s Brandon DeFazio and Manchester’s Brian O’Neill both left the game with injuries and didn’t return.

Game 4 will be Friday from Utica followed by Game 5 Saturday night.

In Just the Nic of Time — Monarchs WIN 2-1 (OT)

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Blogger note: Special to Bob Howard and the Power Play Post Show.

Heading into Game 2 of the Calder Cup Finals, the Manchester Monarchs were 8-0 at home while the Utica Comets were 7-0 coming off of a playoff loss.

Something had to give.

Nic Dowd from the Manchester Monarchs continued the trend for the home team as the Manchester Monarchs take Game 2 by a 2-1 score and lead the best of seven series two games to none.

There were lineup changes for both sides. Kevin Raine drew in for the injured Jeff Schultz on defense for the Monarchs and Nicklas Jensen drew in the lineup for Wacey Hamilton at forward.

No change in goal for either side, as it was Jacob Markstrom for the Comets and J-F Berube for the Monarchs in net.

A much tighter first period defensively for the Comets ultimately saw Zach O’Brien break though on a power play goal in the final minute of the first period at 19:05.

Utica brought the affair level with a goal by Nicklas Jensen unassisted at 1:12 of the second period on a Monarchs turnover. Jensen had been a scratch for the past three games for the Comets but made his appearance in Game 2 count in scoring the tying goal. Neither team was able to capitalize during long stretches of power play time awarded by the referees.

Machester outshot the visitors 8-3 in the third period, but were unable to solve Jacob Markstrom. Utica controlled pace in the first half of the third period, but the Monarchs wrested away the momentum and managed everything they had to re-gain the lead.

The Monarchs were gift wrapped a power play to open overtime when Peter Andersson cleared the puck over the glass in his own end with one second left in regulation. However, the Monarchs did not score.

Finally, Nic Dowd tracked down a David Van der Gulick clearing attempt and was in a foot race with Utica’s Cory Conacher in the corner, to the right of Markstom. Dowd out hustled Conacher, spun towards the net, threw a shot on goal the Markstrom stopped, but no one picked him up in front, Markstrom never corralled the rebound and Dowd poked the game winner home falling down.

Three stars were Zach O’Brien with a goal, J-F Berube with 24 saves on 25 shots and Nic Dowd with an assist and the game winning goal.

Now the Comets face an unenviable task of trying to beat the Manchester Monarchs four times with five tries remaining. For a Manchester team that has only lost back to back games in the Calder Cup Playoffs just once (Portland in the Conference Quarterfinals) the Cup is almost theirs.

But the Monarchs face a sellout crowd and a Utica fan base which will have the Utica Memorial Auditorium packed to the gills on Wednesday night when this series resumes in Utica, NY for Game 3.

Notes: This was Utica’s 8th overtime game, they were 3-4 in the previous seven contests…. Manchester was a perfect 2-0 in overtime coming into overtime tonight… Attendance for Game 2 was 6,078.

Have Mersch-y!! – Monarchs Take Game 1 3-2 (OT)

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Blogger Note: I was asked by Bob Howard of the Power Play Post Show to throw together a few paragraphs on the Calder Cup Finals between Utica and Manchester. I obliged.

The two best teams in the AHL all season long locked horns for the first time all season up in Manchester, NH for Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals in front of 8,155 fans at the Verizon Wireless Arena.

The home crowd went home happy, as they have every game they have witnessed this postseason. Michael Mersch’s game winning goal at 4:10 of the first overtime ensured that the Monarchs extend their record to 8-0 at home in the Calder Cup Playoffs with a 3-2 overtime win in Game 1 of the 2015 Calder Cup Finals.

For the visiting Comets, who vanquished the Chicago Wolves in five, Oklahoma City in seven and Grand Rapids in six, they may have had a bit of tired legs coming into Game 1. They were outshot 37-17 for the game and were run all over the rink tonight.

First Period: Monarchs opened with some early pressure but Utica accomplished what so few before them couldn’t, and that was keep the Monarchs out of their nets in the very early goings. Utica settled and then had some chances in close on Berube, but he was up to task.

Manchester defenseman Jeff Schultz was injured in the opening sequences of the game and did not return.

The first period of a game where two teams who have not seen each other usually features lots of hits and lots of scrums. This game was no different, with both teams playing playoff hockey for nearly two months and reaching the pinnacle, neither wanted to be knocked off early.

As they have done to so many teams before, the Michael Mersch, Jordan Weal and Brian O’Neill line struck again. A shot from Jordan Weal was slammed home by Brian O’Neill at 16:00 of the first period.

But 1:01 later, Utica responded with a Sven Baertschti power play goal to bring the Comets back even.

Second Period: First ten minutes in there were no goals, but the Monarchs held a 7-1 shot advantage and the game had a feel like Manchester was on an extended power play. That shot advantaged crept to a 10-1 advantage and the Monarchs headed to an actual power play but did not register a shot. Manchester really took over and dominated the pace of the game. They play fast and if you can’t keep up then it’s usually to your peril.

The goaltenders were becoming the story of the game. Jacob Markstrom of Utica, denied the virtual firing squad of rubber sent his way from Manchester shooters and then J-F Berube, who didn’t see much action, was called into action with a dazzling glove save as Alexandre Grenier walked in a ripped one but Berube snared it with the glove.

Third Period: Manchester cashed on a power play as Michael Mersch scored his twelfth goal of the playoffs at 2:23. But the resiliency of the Utica Comets was on full display as Cory Conacher unleashed a slick wrist shot that Berube had no chance on 3:01 later at 5:24.

Just like the second period, time was in fast forward mode. Neither team wanted to make an error to cost their team. Both goaltenders were up to the challenge with Markstrom seeing more rubber than his counterpart Berube.

In the final minute of the period, the Monarchs took a delay of game penalty when Colin Miller cleared a puck over the glass from his own zone. Utica didn’t have any time to draw anything up in regulation so it was off to…

Overtime: Manchester continued to push the pace, and it paid off. A Weal shot at the net was pushed in by Mersch for the game winner. After a video review for possible net dislodgment, it was ruled a good goal.

Three Stars: 3) Jacob Markstrom (34 saves on 37 shots) 2) Brian O’Neill (goal, assist, +1) and 1) Micheal Mersch (two goals, one a game winner, assist, +2)

Game 2 goes Sunday afternoon at 5 p.m. in Manchester.

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