WICHITA, Kan. – After three weeks away, the Tuesday Takeaways are back! We hope all of you had a safe and enjoyable holiday season with family and friends. From who is dominating in the AHL, addressing the ECHL All Star Classic name, and a rather odd plea by a coach in the SPHL, this week in minor league hockey whets your appetite in headline news.
Now, let’s get after it!
The reigning AHL Player of the Week, San Antonio’s Jordan Binnington, finally got his first start in the NHL yesterday with the St. Louis Blues. After blanking the Chicago Wolves and allowing just one goal against the Manitoba Moose (2-0-0, 0.50, .984), Binnington got the call up to start at the NHL-level. In his first NHL start, the goaltender posted a 25-save shutout. Yes, the netminder posted two consecutive professional shutouts, and because of this, was named by ESPN as the best hockey player in the world this week.
Through 38 games played, it’s clear that the Charlotte Checkers might just be the best team in the American Hockey League. They have 57 points on the season – a 0.750 points percentage – which is 9 more than the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, who are both second in the Atlantic Division and the AHL. With 559 PIMs and a +29 goal differential, the Checkers are not a team to underestimate in any respect. This past week alone, Charlotte has put together a 4-1, 6-3 and 5-0 series of wins.
The most impressive part? The Checkers are scoring by committee. They have just one player, Andrew Poturalski, who appears on the AHL’s scoring leaders (15 goals, 23 assists, 38 points good for 6th overall). After Poturalski, there are seven players sitting at 20 or more points, and two at 19. Alex Nedeljkovic continues to be a workhorse with 17 wins on the season, first in the league by three.
In 20 games where Charlotte has scored the first goal, the team has a record of 17-3-1-0. With the league’s 10th-ranked power play and 7th-ranked penalty kill, the Checkers have depth in every area of the ice.
All-Star Classic vs. Best Prospects Game
Monday afternoon, the ECHL released the rosters for the 2019 ECHL All-Star Classic in Toledo. With the selections, the league is continuing the trend set since the event’s relaunch of having more youth than veterans in its game. With that comes some criticism from those in ECHL media circles who feel the mid-season event is incorrectly branded and should be called a “Best Prospects Game”. According to ECHL Commissioner Ryan Crelin, the moniker for the event is set by the host team, not the league.
Overall, the event does a good job of displaying the wide array of talent possessed on each team in the league, regardless of age. Scouts from all over will be at this game, identifying players who they can target for bringing into their organization during the coming offseason. With yesterday’s announcement, the combined roster was comprised of 14 rookies, eight “tweener” players and four veterans. This year’s roster is slightly older than last year’s was, when 13 rookies, 11 “tweener” players and three veterans were selected.
More to the point, when one looks at it from the league angle, it is hollow to say that they are a “developmental partner of the National Hockey League” if their premiere in-season event is filled with veteran players. From the league’s perspective, the messaging and branding of the event and the league’s overall purpose needs to be one and the same.
The bottom line is this: if coaches, fellow players, team media representatives and outside members of the media all agree the best players are rookies and slightly older players, then it doesn’t matter what the event is called since the best players are on-ice representing the league.
Finally, if you were one to count the number of players announced (like I was,) you would have noticed a slight disparity in the total number of players for the Eastern Conference versus the Western Conference. According to ECHL Director of Communications, Joe Babik, the reason for the disparity is there are 14 teams in the Eastern Conference, and 12 in the Western Conference, not including Toledo which doesn’t have a representative since they are encompassing the other two teams in the event. The shortage only affects the number of reserve players, not the actual roster.
Moran’s Message to the Evansville Faithful
The struggling Evansville Thunderbolts 2018-19 campaign took a turn for the bizarre over the weekend as Ian Moran – the coach of the 4-20-2 Thunderbolts – took to social media to plead his case to the fans. Moran’s message, posted before their January 5th game against the Peoria Rivermen, tried to explain why the team has been short-staffed lately. According to the message posted by the Thunderbolts, the team has ten healthy players, eight on ECHL callups, two on injured reserve, two off IR but still not cleared to play, five either on suspension or illness, and two who were traded to Evansville but not yet in town.
The message received mixed reactions from the Evansville fanbase and for good reason. Callups to the ECHL, injuries, and illnesses are normal occurrences during the season and it’s the responsibility of coaches to account for such things. Yes, there are times during the season when teams play severely undermanned for short stretches during the season – it’s part and parcel of the long grind of the regular season.
Perhaps I would be more understanding of Evansville’s plight if the team was undergoing short-term difficulties on the ice. However, Evansville over their last ten games are 1-8-1 and ten times during the season the Bolts have lost by three or more goals. The problems with the Thunderbolts this season are more prevalent than just a short-term staffing issue. Evansville is ninth in the SPHL in goals scored, last in goals allowed, last in goal differential, last on the power play, and ninth on the penalty kill.
I hate to kick a team when they’re down, but perhaps Moran should have explained to the fans why the team is on a pace to have the worst season in SPHL history, rather than short-term staffing issues. Perhaps the Thunderbolts’ ownership should explain to the fans their vote of confidence in Moran as their guide in turning the franchise around.
Footnote: The night after Moran’s message to the fans, the Thunderbolts – with 12 skaters – lost to the Rivermen, 7-1, in their most lopsided defeat of the season and tied for their worst defeat in team history.
The Sin Bin’s Coverage from the 2019 ECHL All-Star Classic in Toledo, Ohio begins Saturday, January 19.