ORLANDO, Fla. – The holiday season is a time for reflecting and dreaming. The generous souls at The Sin Bin want to help the sometimes battered and bruised squads get into the Christmas spirit, and we are doing so by putting together our third annual special wish lists for Santa. If that North Pole miracle-worker can bring at least some of these treats in his sleigh, it will make the New Year bright. We started with the South and North Divisions, and this installment takes us to the Mountain. Stay tuned for when we wrap things up with the Central.
Healthy Bodies and Defensive Consistency
It’s been one of the major storylines of the 2018-19 season-to-date, the Allen Americans — a team known for whooping up on everyone else — is getting whooped up on by everyone else.
The issues for Steve Martinson‘s squad started early when the centerpiece of their team, Casey Pierro-Zabotel was indefinitely shutdown with an injury after the team’s game against South Carolina on November 2nd and snowballed from there. Kevin Sundher, Thomas Frazee, and several others have spent significant periods of time on the mend with injuries. Interestingly, the only veteran who has not missed time this year is Spencer Asuchak. The lack of good health has forced Martinson to remake the roster several times over, bringing players in from Europe, making several trades, and scouring the league’s waiver wire. While the playoffs may be out of reach, the Americans can still have an impact on who’s in the top four come playoff time, but they’ll need healthy bodies to do it.
The other thing that’s high on the Allen wishlist is consistency, especially in the defensive area. The Americans have allowed a league-high 133 goals in 33 games this season (just over four goals per game) and are on pace to allow 290 goals. Should the Americans break the dubious 290 goals allowed mark, they would join Johnstown (307 GA), Brampton (298 GA) and Stockton (296 GA), Indy (290 GA) and Quad City (295 GA) as the only teams in the last 10 years to allow more than 290 goals. C.J. Motte has been impressive (considering the defense playing in front of him) for Allen this season, but the men in front will have to play much tighter if they hope to avoid having the league’s worst defense in 2018-19.
Continued Success…and a Mountain Division Crown
The last time Idaho won their division was back in 2014-15 during their one and only season in the Pacific Division (with the likes of Alaska, Bakersfield, Ontario, and Stockton). Home-ice advantage would bode well for Idaho throughout the playoffs, as their best-of-seven series with Allen last year came down to games 6 and 7 at CenturyLink Arena Boise. If Idaho can endure rough-and-ready clubs like Utah, Tulsa, and Rapid City, a divisional crown (and home-ice throughout the playoffs) could be within their grasp.
Some Road Kill to Accompany its Sweet Home Cooking
The Mavericks’ Christmas wish this year is more family visits. The boys always play better with home cooking. They currently hold a remarkable 11-1-0-0 record when playing in the friendly confines of the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena. They need some help on the road, however, where they are sputtering at 4-8-1-1. If Santa could bring some added strength on the road, Kansas City will be jingling those bells.
An Injury-Free Second Half
Seems the magic formula is working for the Rush so far this season. The biggest wish on their list would be to get the entire team vaccinated from the dreaded “injury bug”. The team is on pace for a much improved season if everyone can stay healthy. Maybe Mrs. Claus can mix up some of that magical reindeer food and give it to the Rush. That special fuel keeps Santa’s flying team running injury-free during his annual trip, so I’m sure it can do similar wonders for the boys in Rapid City.
No Deja Vu All Over Again
This year’s season is looking eerily like previous years, which is not a good thing when you are the Tulsa Oilers. Once again, the Oilers got out a hot start, but here we are at mid-season, and they are crumbling. They have sunk to fifth place in the Mountain Division. They have a respectable 13-10-4-2 record, but they are now in the midst of a ten-game winless streak. They desperately need Santa to send them some of that charm that they had when the season was young so they can get out of this nightmarish time loop.
Can We Keep Herbert and Ully for the Rest of the Season?
It’s no secret that the Utah Grizzlies have been significantly buoyed by their affiliation with the Colorado Eagles, the former two-time Kelly Cup Champion-turned-AHL-franchise. This summer, the Eagles signed both Caleb Herbert and Cole Ully to AHL-ECHL deals and they have paid off in spades for the Grizz, who currently sit atop the Mountain division.
For Grizzlies fans, they hope and wish they have for the jolliest of elves is to leave Herbert and Ully in West Valley City the rest of the season. At the Christmas break, the two have combined for 28.4 percent of the team’s offense (71 of the team’s 250 points so far) and are on pace to pile up 200 points (81G, 119A) between them.
If Herbert and Ully miss minimal time due to call-up or injury the rest of the season, and the team gets Matt Berry back from AHL San Diego and Kevin Davis back from AHL Colorado, then this team could make a run at representing the Western Conference in the Kelly Cup Finals.
Roster Stability and an Experienced Netminder
The Wichita Thunder roster has been a paint shaker since opening weekend, with many different combinations each game night and sometimes, even within games. But there are signs of at least two lines being stable. The line of Dyson Stevenson – Steven Iacobellis – and PC Labrie have been driving the team for most of the season, but recently, the trio of Cam Reid – Mark MacMillan – Ralph Cuddemi have shown signs of life.
The test for head coach Malcolm Cameron will be to find a combination that makes the third line work. Lane Bauer has taken a major step back in his sophomore season, while Ryan Van Stralen has gripped the stick so tight it’s become fiberglass, and Nolan Vesey has struggled with consistency. It’s possible you could see a complete overhaul of that line, with players like newly-acquired Aiden Muir and Eric Freschi supplanting Bauer and Vesey on that line.
On the back end, the group has endured several injuries that have changed the look of the defense for Wichita. At the time of this article, Travis Brown and Gabriel Verpaelst are on the shelf with injuries, while Dylan Labbe has been sidelined with a lower-body injury since November 8. Once this group gets healthy, it will be one nasty corps to play against.
While Dylan Wells and Stuart Skinner have matured nicely this season (Wells is currently up with AHL Bakersfield,) the two have allowed back-breaking, somewhat soft goals through the course of the season. With the style of hockey Wichita plays, they need an experienced netminder who can make the big save when needed and be the stabilizing force between the pipes. When you look at the talent up front and on the blueline, it could very well come down to the duo in net that is the difference between Wichita making a deep playoff run and potentially missing out on the playoffs altogether.
I would like to thank Matthew Harding, Samantha Hoffman, Paige Stewart, Mike Crook, and C. C. Hawkley for their help in writing this article.