WICHITA, Kan. – Welcome to the new Tuesday Takeaways, where Samantha Hoffmann, Mike Campos, and I will give you a few of the significant storylines from the weekend across the American Hockey League, ECHL, and Southern Professional Hockey Leagues, plus give you our three stars of the week from each league.
Without further adieu, let’s get into it…
AHL TV Struggles
While still a noticeable update over the often-bemoaned Neulion AHL Live, now that every team has played at least a handful of games at home, there is no more reason for the bugs viewers have been experiencing. Some teams, like the Colorado Eagles, have an unfortunate camera angle which loses the action in the corners, while others, like the Toronto Marlies, are still having audio issues. They also need to fix the clipping issue on the streaming, which clips a certain time before and after you tag an event but can glitch at times, not actually capturing the event at all that you wish to use. The talked-about ViPr feature is still unavailable in most, if not all, markets.
In order to prove itself as the superior product (and potentially make a case to steal the ECHL streaming from Neulion), HockeyTech needs to work with all the American Hockey League teams to iron out the kinks.
This Week’s AHL Three Stars
★ – Victor Olafsson – Rochester Americans. After spending the first four-plus years of his career in Sweden, the North American game is suiting Olafsson just fine, thank you very much. In four games last week, Olafsson picked up eight points (3G, 5A), including a four-point effort last Wednesday night against Utica. For the season, he leads the AHL in scoring with 14 points (5G, 9A) in eight games and has helped Rochester to an unbeaten record in their last six games.
★★ – Vitek Vanecek – Hershey Bears. With the Bears in the midst of a seven-game road trip and winless, Vanecek came up huge last week. The fourth-year-pro went 2-0-1 in three road starts last week, stopping 94 of 99 shots for a 1.62 goals-against average and a .949 save percentage.
★★★ – Utica Comets Fans – The support Comets fans have given AHL hockey is unbelievable. This past week, the Comets bested the AHL record for consecutive sellouts with their 121st on Friday night, a record previously held by St. Johns.
“I go back to it all the time: It’s a solid fan base. It is a hockey hotbed,” Comets President Robert Esche told Ben Birnell of the Utica Observer-Dispatch. “I know a lot people talk about the size of the building, but we’re also the smallest market. It is very powerful when you can do something of this magnitude.”
The Comets’ home arena, Adirondack Bank Center at the Utica Memorial Auditorium, holds 3,917 for hockey. Each game night, over 75 percent of those seats (about three-thousand) are filled by season-ticket holders. There is no denying Utica and the AHL have a love affair going, and it’s a model for the rest of minor league hockey.
Early Success for Newest ECHL Franchises
One of the very early storylines of this ECHL season is the success the league’s two newest franchises; Newfoundland Growlers and Maine Mariners, are having. Early on, the Growlers are “Standing on Guard” of the North Division, locked in a three-way tie for first.
Offense isn’t a problem for the Growlers, who have four players, including three rookies, with point-per-game efforts so far. Giorgio Estephan is tied for second among rookies with four goals, and the Growlers have struck first in four of their six games so far. The defense is young and somewhat inexperienced, but one would expect that to get better as the season goes along. In net, the Growlers have two seasoned ECHLers; Michael Garteig and Eamon McAdam, who is currently up with the Toronto Marlies in the AHL.
After a slow start, the Maine Mariners got off the snide and won the franchise’s first contest on Sunday against the aforementioned Newfoundland Growlers. Team defense has been the Achilles’ heel for the Mariners so far, with the team a collective -32 through four games. The offensive load has been carried by Alex Kile so far, who has one-third of the Mariners goals (4 of 12) scored so far this season.
We’ll continue to follow Maine and Newfoundland to see if they can improve on their starts and potentially battle for a playoff berth.
Fort Wayne Stumbling Out of Gate
In a way, you could see the struggles Fort Wayne is currently having coming from a mile away after the on-the-fly rebuild the team had during the offseason. The Komets are off to a 1-3-0-0 start, have lost three straight contests and the natives are getting restless.
“It was very good defensive hockey most of the weekend for us and, all of a sudden, we just made some bad decisions in the third period. Guys have to know how to play with the lead. We’ve been in some tight games,” coach Gary Graham told Justin Cohn of the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette.
“Sometimes, you can want it so bad when you’re playing in front of a big crowd like that and you’re trying to make plays and go forward. And they’re coming at you and give up stupid odd-man rushes. If we would have just played a simple third period like we had been the whole game (Saturday vs. Kalamazoo), we would have been fine.”
This is a team that currently lacks an identity, something that they have not had to find for several years; since they played a high-paced, offensive, physical game, and it may take 15 to 20 games for them to find an identity. Unlike the last several seasons, when the Komets were championship contenders thanks to a deep veteran corps, this team has a lot more youth…and the kids need time and patience to grow into their roles.
Offense might be hard to come by at times for the Komets this season, but if they play smart defensively and make the timely saves, this is a team that should make the playoffs.
This Week’s ECHL Three Stars
★ – Braylon Shmyr – Allen Americans. The Americans’ rookie forward went off this past weekend, putting up seven points in three games (4G, 3A), including a hat trick against Wichita on Friday night, and is tied for second in league scoring. Just 14 games into his pro career, Shmyr has put up 12 points (5G, 7A).
★★ – Hunter Fejes – Orlando Solar Bears. The third-year forward is off to a red-hot start for the Solar Bears, with seven points in the team’s first five games. In four games last week, Fejes potted four goals and six points overall, while the team from the City Beautiful went 2-2-0-0.
★★★ – Matt Tompkins – Indy Fuel. The second-year netminder had a great weekend backstopping the Fuel to a pair of wins over Central Division foes Kalamazoo and Toledo. Tompkins stopped 72 of 76 shots faced (.947 save percentage) and had a 1.94 goals against average. For the season, Tompkins is 3-1-0-0, with a 2.47 goals against average and a .926 save percentage.
SPHL Hockey in the Quad Cities Got Off to a Great Start
The long-awaited debut of the Quad City Storm exceeded expectations. The first edition of the “Cold War on 74” between the Storm and the Peoria Rivermen – the two teams located less than two hours apart – began as a hard hitting, almost overly physical game before evolving into a fast-paced thriller. The 6,508 filling the TaxSlayer Center witnessed a two-goal third-period comeback to force overtime – an extra frame featuring penalty shots by both teams, which ended on Vladimir Nikiforov‘s backhand shot under the leg pad of Peoria netminder Mason Pulde. It’s rare to call an opening-night game a classic, but it’s exactly what we had the privilege of witnessing.
This Week’s SPHL Three Stars
★ – Ryan Marcuz – Pensacola Ice Flyers. The former winger from the Mississippi RiverKings opened up the 2018-19 season with an opening night hat trick in Macon, scoring the shootout winner against Jordan Ruby and the Macon Mayhem. Marcuz added an assist in Saturday’s home-opening loss against Birmingham for a four-point weekend.
★★ – Lucas Bombardier – Knoxville Ice Bears. The rookie forward scored two goals, including a dramatic game-winning goal on opening night against Evansville. Bombardier managed a goal in Roanoke on Saturday night, completing a three goal, one assist weekend.
★★★ – Caleb Apperson – Birmingham Bulls. The first-year blueliner from Laurentian (ON) University scored the Bulls first goal of the season against Huntsville on opening night, then followed up with the game-winning blast in the Hangar against Pensacola, putting the exclamation point on Birmingham’s 2-0-0 weekend.