Chirps from Center Ice

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

Birds of a Feather…

The two newest teams in the American Hockey League were announced this week. They are the Springfield Thunderbirds and the Tucson Roadrunners.

The Thunderbirds were announced Thursday. They are the relocated Portland Pirates team and will play as the affiliate of the Florida Panthers. It’s possible and highly likely that the Thunderbirds will remain in the Atlantic Division.

At first, when I heard the name and the logo, I thought it was a weak attempt at a rebrand of a team in Springfield. But then I read about it, in the link above, and understand where they are coming from.

The Roadrunners were announced Saturday in Arizona. They are the “old” Springfield franchise and are the affiliate of the Arizona Coyotoes.

Wait. Coyotes and Roadrunners. It is your Saturday morning cartoon past revisited.

The Roadrunners have embraced the hashtag, #meepmeep which I think is as cool as all get out. What wasn’t announced was a sponsorship with ACME. If that happened, that would be downright awesome.

The Roadrunners are slated to play in the Pacific Division and most likely will play 68 games joining their California counterparts.

The AHL may need to re-align again, as there now is an imbalance of 16 teams in the Western Conference and 14 teams in the Eastern Conference, with the loss of Portland and the gain of Tucson. News on possible realignment will come sometime later in the Summer.

Happy Father’s Day!

2016-17 Preseason Schedule Announced

I have to go back and look for comparison sake when the preseason schedule was announced in prior years but Coal Street announced theirs today. They are as follows:

Thursday, October 6 vs. Albany
Saturday, October 8 vs. Hershey
Sunday, October 9 at Hershey

Times for the home games start at 7:05. The Sunday game in Hershey starts at 5.

Regular season schedule won’t be announced until mid to late August, so we have a ways to go before the whole 2016-17 playing schedule is announced by the League.

Is that a Monster in my Closet?

No, it’s a trophy.

The Lake Erie Monsters have won the Calder Cup.

How good we as Lake Erie? They swept three of four series and lost only twice in the postseason. A 1-0 win over the Hershey Bears in Game 4 of the Finals Friday in overtime with 1.9 seconds left and the Monsters win Cleveland’s first Calder Cup since 1964 in the AHL’s 80th year.

No reason to hang your head if you are the Hershey Bears. The Bears gave the Monsters a hell of a fight and every game was close. There is no reason that it could not be the Bears celebrating their 12th Cup but the Monsters were that much better.

A feather in the cap for Ryan Craig, who captained Lake Erie and was the captain here in Wilkes-Barre for a year. Brad Thiessen was on that team but didn’t appear in a game.

So that does it for the AHL’s 80th season. In the ECHL, the Allen Americans defeated the Wheeling Nailers in sixth games on home ice Thursday. No reason to hang your head there either, as the Nailers gave the Americans a hell of a fight but again, much like Lake Erie, Allen was just that much better.

So enjoy these next few weeks of down time before free agency fires up again in July. More on that and what that means for the blog as the caldendar gets ready to flip to July.

Monsters Take Game 1 – Uher Bolts, Other Notes

How are you enjoying your summer?

Coupla notes to keep up with the goings on in the AHL and hockey world.

Lake Erie took Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals in Hershey Wednesday by a score of 4-1. Daniel Zaar scored twice, and Anton Forsberg stopped 26 of 27 shots as the Monsters steal home ice from the Bears and snap Hershey’s five game winning streak in the postseason. Game 2 Friday in Hershey. Lake Erie plays a heavy game and had multiple breakaways in the contest. If you follow the AHL on Twitter, there were GIFs of the goals and some of the breakaways. Hershey will need to respond Friday or else they could be in deep trouble against a Lake Erie team that beat Ontario in the Western Conference Finals, and the Reign are probably the masters at playing the heavy game.

We have our first defection in the offseason. Dominik Uher, set to be a restricted free agent this summer, comes home and signs with HC Sparta Praha of the Czech League. After a shoulder injury cut short Uher’s season at the end of January and the ascension of names like Jake Guentzel, Uher would have been playing from behind on the depth chart come the Fall. He could continue to fight and scratch it out over here or go home and get paid tax free money playing in his own country. He chose the latter, and who could blame him?

The 2016 Offseason Moves List has been updated appropriately.

The Wheeling Nailers are up 2-1 on the defending champion Allen Americans in the ECHL Kelly Cup Finals after a 3-2 win Wednesday at WesBanco Arena. Ty Loney, Anton Zlobin and James Melindy all tallied in the contest and Franky Palazzese stopped 28 of 30 to give the Nailers the 2-1 series lead. Game 4 goes Friday.

Stay cool.

Respect Your Elders – Hershey / Lake Erie Advance 

Unless you are a fan of either team, no one saw this one coming.

Lake Erie, tasked with going up against an opponent that they have never played in the regular season, not only beat the defending champion Ontario Reign, they swept them. After beating the Reign out in California twice, Ontario needed to respond in a big way.

They didn’t. They were shut out in Game 3 by a score of 4-0.

In Game 4, it went to double overtime and Lake Erie advanced.

In the East, people (myself included) were calling for Toronto to steamroll Hershey as they have steamrolled every team in the AHL this season, earning them the best record in the American Hockey League and home ice throughout the playoffs.

Hershey stunned Toronto 3-1 in Game 1. Toronto played a near perfect Game 2 and lost in overtime. The Marlies needed to respond in a big way in Game 3 back on home ice, got smoked 8-2 and embarrassed.

Toronto beat Hershey 5-0 in Game 4 and were disposed of in Game 5 by a score of 3-2.

So you have the two oldest cities in the AHL in Hershey and Cleveland, meeting in the Calder Cup Finals in the League’s 80th season.

Schedule:

More here.

No idea how one can predict this series. Lake Erie has played a strong style of playoff hockey, sweeping division foe Rockford in three games in Round 1 then beating a streaky Grand Rapids Griffins team in six games after going up 3-0 in that series. Sweeping Ontario is nothing to discount either.

On the Hershey side, they took Portland to the limit in Round 1, Wilkes-Barre to the limit in Round 2 and beat a Toronto team many had pegged as the Champions back in February.

So expect the unexpected in the Calder Cup Finals.

If they announce a TV schedule instead of tape delay on NHL Network, I will run a blog post to inform those if they are so inclined to watch.

Now back to my summer. It’s nice sitting outside, smoking cigars in flip flops, without the stress of the playoffs.

One would be nice, though.

Kostopoulos Returns 5/24

He’s back. Again.

Coal Street with the first major re-signing of the offseason, announcing Tuesday afternoon that team captain Tom Kostopoulos has signed on for the 2016-17 season.

Here are some thoughts from Kostopoulos, as told to Coal Street.

And more to the WBS media…

And a nice video montage on Kostopoulos, which I have to believe they had at the ready no matter what his decision was ultimately going to be.

You have to wonder what type of free agents Kostopoulos will attract back to Coal Street this offseason. I’d imagine that there is a list of quality players that would love to play for Kostopoulos in Wilkes-Barre. Time will tell.

The 2016 Offseason Moves list has been updated for the first time this season.

2016 Conference Final Previews

There are four teams left in the Calder Cup Playoffs. The Penguins (sadly) aren’t one of them, packing up and heading home on Wednesday, but to keep sharp on the blog and to occupy my time, here is my Western and Eastern Conference Final Previews and predictions…

button_ont200   Ontario (P1) vs. Lake Erie (C2)   button_le200
Western Conference Finals

How the Reign got here: They beat San Jose in Round One and dispatched rival San Diego in just five games. Ontario is a big, bruising team that halfway through, has yet to be challenged.

How the Monsters got here: In what looked like a sure sweep of the Grand Rapids Griffins in the Division Finals, Grand Rapids beat the Monsters in the next two games and forced a Game 6 before Lake Erie put the Griffins to bed in overtime and ended their season.

How they matchup: The two teams did not face each other in the regular season. Ontario won the Western Conference and the Monsters finished second in the Central Division and third in the Conference. Lake Erie played a structured game all season long and never got too high or too low. Perhaps it’s a style that matches up well against the Reign.

Key player so far for Lake Erie: This team was built to be balanced, and that’s what they are, with no player at the top of the scoring board sticking out. Could be an interesting thing to watch in who starts in goal in Game 1. Joonas Korpisalo started Game 6, but was pulled after allowing three goals on nine shots. Backup Anton Forsberg came on in relief and shut down the Griffins from there, not allowing another goal.

Key player so far for Ontario: Peter Budaj. The reigning Goaltender of the Year has a paltry 1.72 GAA and a .918 SV% in the postseason. With how big and bruising Ontario is as a team, no Monster may see the whites of Budaj’s eyes and live to tell about it.

Prediction: Ontario in six. The fairy tale ride that the Monsters has been on turns into a black and silver nightmare. Lake Erie steals one of the first two, then wins at home, but the Reign close out the series before it gets to seven games.

TOR   Toronto (N1) vs. Hershey (A1)   HER
Eastern Conference Finals

How the Bears got here: They took rival Wilkes-Barre / Scranton to the limit and won in overtime in Game 7. It was about as evenly matched as two teams could be as playoff opponents.

How the Marlies got here: They, too, went the distance against an Albany side that could have beaten the AHL’s best team all season.

How they matchup: They met twice in the regular season with each team winning by multiple goals.

Key player so far for Hershey: Carter Camper. Chris Bourque’s center man ran wild against the Penguins who did a good job of limiting the AHL MVP to just two goals and two assists in the series, not allowing Bourque a goal at even strength, but it was Camper who stole the show and sent the Penguins packing with seven points (4-3-7) in the series.

Key player so far for Toronto: Connor Carrick. The ex-Bear has 14 points for his Marlies team so far in the postseason. He’ll be playing for something extra, looking to send his old team packing for the summer.

Prediction: Marlies in five. Toronto played their worst game of the season in Game 6 last round against Albany, then battled back from behind in Game 7 and advanced. This team is deep and talented. Hershey took a Wilkes-Barre lineup with an unknown goaltender from the ECHL with a lineup filled with college and junior kids to the limit and won. They now face a Toronto machine that had been the AHL’s best team all season long in the Conference Finals. The Bears steal home ice away from the Marlies in Game 1 or 2 but Toronto adjusts and puts the 11 time Champions away in five games.

If you still have a team in this, enjoy.

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