WICHITA, Kan. – Welcome to Tuesday Takeaways, where Samantha HoffmannMike 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 after it…

Time to Hit the Panic Button

There are three teams in the American Hockey League who have yet to win their third game of the season – the Syracuse Crunch (2 wins, 7 games played), San Antonio Rampage (2 wins, 10 games) and Ontario Reign (1 win, 8 games). Though the season is young, after about 10% of the games having been played, all three need to figure something out if they hope to salvage their playoff hopes. It’s still early enough for at least one of these teams to turn it around, as shown by the Chicago Wolves last season who went from last in their division to first, but time is running out. For the Reign, it’s simple – stop leading the league in penalties while being 25th in penalty kill. The Crunch and the Rampage have a little more difficulty due to just how good the top teams in each of their divisions are.

Waiting on the Youth

A cursory glance at the AHL scoring leaderboard reveals something interesting – there is not a rookie until 12th, Springfield’s Henrik Borgstrom, and only one other rookie figures into the top-20 at 18, Belleville’s Drake Batherson. For a developmental league, it appears as though most teams are leaning heavily on their veteran players to contribute while the youth get the same games under them. For the many players fresh out of juniors, college and the European leagues, there is almost a guaranteed adjustment period. But, after a few weekends of play, you can now expect the rookies to be figuring out the game and to start contributing on the score sheet. The two youngest teams in the league, the Tucson Roadrunners (22.96 years of age) and the San Jose Barracuda (22.67 years of age), are the second and third-best teams in the Western Conference by points percentage, but Tucson has just one rookie in its top-15 scorers, while San Jose has six in its top-15.

Three AHL Stars of the Week
★ – Conor Garland and Matteo Gennaro (F’s for Tucson) – Garland posted seven points (2G, 5A) in two games over the weekend, while Gennaro had four points (3G, 1A) in a game on Friday night.
★★ – Cameron Hughes (F – Providence) The rookie also posted a four-point effort on Sunday afternoon as the Bruins thumped the Bridgeport Sound Tigers 6-1.
★★★ – Jordan Greenway (F – Iowa) Even though he was down with the Wild for a cup of coffee, the 2015 second round pick made an immediate difference in the Wild lineup this past weekend. He posted four points (3G, 1A) as the Wild upended the Colorado Eagles.

The Most Surprising Unbeaten 

If you were to peruse the ECHL standings, you’ll notice that 24 of the 27 teams have lost at least one game in either regulation. At the start of play Tuesday, there are three unbeaten teams (in regulation) in the ECHL, with the most surprising unblemished team residing on the First Coast of Florida, the Jacksonville Icemen. They are off to their best ECHL start ever at 5-0-0-0, besting a 3-0-0-1 start back in 2014-15.

Jason Christie‘s team seems to have a good balance to the roster early on this season, with three players averaging over a point-per-game (Alexis D’Aoust has 12 pts — 6G, 6A in 5 games) so far. The Icemen defense has been incredibly stingy, allowing just 27.2 shots per game on average, which is third-best in the ECHL. Finally, the netminders have been stellar, allowing a league-low 1.80 goals per game with a combined save percentage of .934.

The Icemen have a tough weekend test coming up, when they host the defending Eastern Conference champion, Florida Everblades, for a pair starting on Friday night. With the start the Icemen are on, you might wonder what kind of success will this have in the playoffs? Let’s look, with the help of Joe Babik from the ECHL office:

Year Team Record Result
2017-18 Wichita 6-0-0-0 Lost in Division Semifinals
2016-17 Florida 10-0-1-0 Lost in Division Finals
2015-16 Adirondack 7-0-0-0 Lost in Conference Semis
2014-15 Evansville 3-0-0-1 Did not make playoffs
2013-14 South Carolina 8-0-0-1 Lost in Conference Quarters
2012-13 Cincinnati 7-0-2-0 Lost in Conference Finals

Of the teams that qualified for the playoffs, three of the four had home-ice advantage in the first round and won at least one round of the playoffs. Last year’s final unbeaten team, Wichita, qualified for the playoffs on the final weekend of the regular season and was eliminated in the opening round by the eventual champion, Colorado Eagles.

One Tough Mountain to Climb

With all due respect to the rest of minor league hockey, the toughest division is the ECHL’s Mountain Division. It is there where you find some of most hard-nosed, close-quarter hockey played. Last season, Mountain Division teams claimed five of the top eight spots in overall penalty minutes, and six of the eight teams had over 50 major penalties most for fighting).

In the standings, the overall winning percentage in the division was .549, third-best in the ECHL, behind the North (.568) and Central (.562) divisions. Scoreboard being what it is, however, the Mountain Division can lay claim to housing the last three Kelly Cup Champions (Allen won one as a member of the Mountain Division, Colorado won two).

The Mountain continues to live up to its reputation of being a rough-and-tumble division in the early going of this season. Four of the seven teams in the division are among the league’s penalty minute leaders and have more than five majors so far.

What has changed in the standings, at least for now, is the lack of separation between the teams. All seven teams are separated by four points. With each of the teams playing more than 70 percent of their schedule in the division, it will be interesting to see whether the separation grows through the season, or if the teams stay tightly bunched up. Either way, whichever team comes out of the Mountain division will be very battle-tested and a tough out in the later rounds of next spring’s Kelly Cup Playoffs.

Three ECHL Stars of the Week

★ – T.J. Hensick (F – Toledo) It didn’t take long for the former NHL forward to immediately make an impact on the Toledo offense. Hensick has goals in three straight contests and posted seven points (3G, 4A) in three games last week. The offensive jolt has helped Toledo surge to their rightful place atop the Central Division.
★★ – James Henry (F – Adirondack) The Adirondack captain is off to a great start to the season, putting up 12 points in the Thunder’s first eight games. In three games last week, Henry posted six points (2G, 4A) as the Thunder continued their red-hot start.
★★★ – Shane Starrett (G – Wichita) In what ultimately was a one-off game for Starrett, thanks to the goaltending logjam in Bakersfield, the second-year pro put on a show in Tulsa Saturday night, stopping 52 of 54 shots, as the Thunder somehow managed to eek out a point against the Tulsa Oilers.  It was a sharp-angle shot by Charlie Sampair that gave Starrett a tough-luck loss, and likely a bitter taste in his mouth on the plane ride back to Central California.

Reasoning Behind Light Schedule

The Southern Professional Hockey League had a very light schedule this past Saturday, with only the game between Macon and Pensacola slated. In a way, this was smart planning by the league. Down in the south, college football reigns supreme. Combine gridiron Saturdays with all of the Halloween festivities and it makes sense the league doesn’t run a full schedule of games on Saturday until November 10th.

Storm Silenced by Rivermen

On opening weekend, we saw an inspired performance by the Quad City Storm in their overtime win over Peoria. In last week’s rematch of the “Cold War on 74,” we may have seen the Storm at their worst, dropping a 6-1 decision to the Rivermen. If there is a lesson to be learned for the fledgling franchise, it’s that they saw in Peoria the team they strive to be. Good thing Quad City has a coach who is well versed in how Rivermen head coach Jean-Guy Trudel does things, and we’ll see how the Storm prepare for their upcoming home-and-home with Peoria.

Three SPHL Stars of the Week

★ – Gordon Defiel (G-Macon) Defiel notched his first shutout since December 26, 2017, with a 23-save blanking of the Ice Flyers. Defiel, formerly with the Ice Flyers during the 2017-18 season, faced his former team for the first time and looked sharp.
★★ – Mike DeLaVergne (G-Huntsville) DeLaVergne won his second game of the year in a brilliant 40-save performance against Pensacola on Friday night.
★★★ – Joe Osaka (RW – Fayetteville) The rookie winger rung up a Gordie Howe hat trick with a two-goal, one assist, and one fight game against Roanoke on Friday night. Osaka’s performance also earned a contract with the Marksmen for the rest of the season.

 

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