WICHITA, Kan. – It’s been days since Thanksgiving, but we are still enduring a stuffing and tryptophan hangover. Somehow, Samantha Hoffmann, Mike Campos, and I have managed to put together some Tuesday Takeaways for you from the Thanksgiving weekend.

Let’s get it started!

Started From the Bottom…

While they’re still at the bottom of their respective divisions, the San Antonio Rampage and Hershey Bears are making progress. They’ve been outscored 50-63 and 50-65 so far this season, respectively, but luckily for fans of both, they’re a stone’s throw away from .500 now. The Bears are now winners in eight of their last 13 games, while the Rampage strung together five consecutive wins before dropping Sunday’s match against the Texas Stars. In fact, Jordan Binnington is eighth in the league’s goaltending standings, posting a 2.43 goals against average and .912 save percentage even with his team being so strikingly outshot and outscored. Likewise, Vitek Vanecek, seventh in the league for goaltending, has been a bright spot for Hershey, possessing a 2.36 GAA and .919 SV%. While both teams could stand to have more impressive scoring support, the flashes of brilliance in net have been a good way to start.

AHL Three Stars of the Week

★ – Connor Ingram – Syracuse Crunch – Three Wins, One Shutout, Three Games. The goaltender recorded his third shutout of the season this past week, and allowed a total of four goals on 90 shots in three wins.

★★ – Mason Marchment – Toronto Marlies – Three Goals, One Assist, Two Games. The winger picked right up where he left off, posting back-to-back two-goal games, and tallying another goal the following game.

★★★ – Fans of the AHL – The parity in the AHL this season has not been as striking as anyone foresaw. Though there have been a few large margins of victory, aside from the Charlotte Checkers, almost every team has experienced a few upsets already. Unfortunately, it’s the time of year when games become a little more predictable, but it’s been an interesting season already to say the least.

The Wichita Thun__er: In Search of the ‘D’

With the ECHL season just past the quarter-mark, there are many storylines to be had, including; Newfoundland’s success under both Ryan Clowe and John Snowden, the slow starts by both Florida and South Carolina (though it appears both squads are pulling out of that), and the horrific season Allen is having (about time.)

But, the other big storyline in the Mountain Division lives in Wichita, where the Thunder are in the midst of a five-game winless streak and are on the outside-looking-in at the Kelly Cup Playoff field. The Thunder’s 5-8-3-1 start and 2-7-0-1 run in their last ten games leave a lot to be desired for a team that had visions of being at the top of the Mountain come April.

But there is one major aspect of the game giving the Thunder the blues and another big stat staring the team in the face.

The team defense has been atrocious. Entering Tuesday night’s game against Kansas City, the roster is a collective -55 on the season and has allowed 48 goals in 12 games this month (4.00 goals per game on average).

With the exception of the 4-1 win in Allen on October 20 and the 4-0 shutout win over the KC Mavericks on November 16, the Thunder defense has struggled mightily when it comes to playing positionally sound for a full 60 minutes. A prime case in point is when the Thunder battled back from two goals down in three of the four games this past week, only to allow the next goal on a major defensive breakdown.

Another equally impressive stat is the number of wins in regulation Wichita has. Of the five overall, the Thunder have only won twice in 60 minutes. The other three wins have come via the shootout, which does not count toward playoff positioning. Of the four playoff teams from the Mountain Division (including Wichita) one season ago, all of them had at least seven wins in regulation or overtime by this point in the season.

Suffice it to say, there’s much work to be done if the Thunder have designs on being serious Kelly Cup Playoff contenders.

ECHL Three Stars of the Week

★ – Joe Cannata – Utah Grizzlies – Cannata posted shutouts in both of his appearances last week, making 18 saves in a 4-0 win against Allen on Wednesday and stopping 35 shots in a 5-0 victory over the Americans on Friday. The 28-year-old has recorded shutouts in each of his last three appearances and enters the week on a 193:18 shutout streak while making 88 consecutive saves.

★★ – Matt Berry – Utah Grizzlies – Berry scored four goals, added five assists and was a +8 last week. The 26-year-old native of Canton, MI has 18 points (10G, 8A) in 17 games with the Grizzlies this season.

★★★ – Tomas Sholl – Idaho Steelheads – The rookie netminder had a pair of shutouts this past week against the Rapid City Rush. Overall, Sholl went 2-1-0-0, with a 1.33 goals against average, .965 save percentage, to go with the two shutouts in the three-game series.

The SPHL Says Goodbye to Jim Combs

At the end of this week, SPHL President Jim Combs – involved either as the commissioner or league president since 2007 – will depart the league office. Combs has been the steady hand in the sometimes chaotic world of A-level pro hockey, guiding the league from its rough roots to becoming the primary feeder league to the ECHL. Under Combs tenure as president, the league grew beyond its southern roots and expanded north to Peoria, Evansville, and the Quad Cities.

One of Combs’ biggest successes has been empowering teams to draw more fans to the game in non-traditional hockey markets. The average league attendance has grown under Combs’ tenure by 20 percent since the 2010-11 season and the league has seen successful expansion launches in Peoria, Roanoke, and the Quad Cities region.

On a personal note, I’ve found Combs to be one of the most accessible league executives to work with and also one of the most candid. We’ve enjoyed the openness and cooperation from the league for several years and we look forward to working with Combs’ successor. We wish Combs all the best as he moves on to his next adventure.

SPHL Three Stars of the Week

★ – Mavric Parks (Birmingham Bulls) – Parks backstopped the Bulls’ winning streak to 11 games last week while getting his first shutout win on Friday night against Macon. Parks went 2-0-0 for the week with a 1.50 GAA and a .946 save percentage.

★★ – Danny Cesarz (Knoxville Ice Bears) – Cesarz scored in all three games last weekend. Last week, the Ice Bears’ leading scorer scored a goal with five assists with a +6 rating over three games.

★★★ – Eric Levine (Quad City Storm) – Levine notched his first win of the season and his first shutout in a year by blanking the Evansville Thunderbolts in a 1-0 goalie duel. Levine made 23 saves in his first clean sheet since November 25th, 2017, when he shut down the Mississippi RiverKings during his time with the Peoria Rivermen.

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