Monday, October 7, 2013

Preseason Game 1

Hockey was finally back at WesBanco Arena on Saturday night, as the Wheeling Nailers and Elmira Jackals. Unfortunately, the result didn't go the way of the home team, but it is preseason - a time when mistakes can be corrected and details can be learned, without having to worry about points being on the line. So, today, I figured I would take a few minutes and mention some of my thoughts from Saturday night.

Broadcast. Before I get into the actual game itself, I want to say that it was an absolute pleasure being able to work the game with Elmira's Ray Schmitt. He and I had a blast together, and I hope the listeners enjoyed getting to hear a game from two different angles at the same time. As for the play-by-play side, I will say that preseason games are far and away the hardest to call. Of the 40 players involved on Saturday, only three (Cianfrini, Fletcher, Noseworthy) had ever worn the number that they were wearing for that particular team. Luckily, there were a few other players (Torquato, Trottier, MacKay, Zollars) that I had seen for a significant amount of games, so they were easier to recognize, despite a change in number. But, as you can imagine, trying to remember all of those names with the new numbers presented quite the challenge.

Trapezoid Delay of Game. As I said on the air, the first two penalties (one on each team) of last year's Wheeling preseason were assessed for delay of game (goalie playing the puck in the trapezoid). That night, I thought to myself that I would never see that happen again. Sure enough, just 67 seconds into this year's preseason, Elmira's Mike McDonald was whistled for the exact same penalty. I guess I should be expecting it next year!

Special Teams. Six of the nine goals scored on Saturday came on the power play. That completely surprised me, because I feel like chemistry and practice have a lot to do with why power plays are successful. The quicker the puck moves around, the tougher it is to defend. Therefore, the more time that teams have to practice it, the better it should be. Then again, when thinking about Saturday night, the penalty kills were in the same position as the power plays (in terms of lack of chemistry and practice time), and they were the side with fewer players on the ice, so maybe I shouldn't be so shocked.

Five-Minute Major. Obviously, this turned out to be the game, and deep down, I felt bad for Tyler Fernandez and Joey Spagnoli. Fernandez was trying to make an impression by throwing a hit, and unfortunately, that particular hit didn't fall within the rules. Spagnoli has played in three FHL games in the last two years, so I'm sure he wasn't the most comfortable person in the world, having to face a 6-on-4 for nearly 2:30 of regulation, followed by a 5-on-3 in overtime.

Nick Niedert. I have only known Nick since February of 2012, and I could write page upon page about the guy. Simply put, I don't think I know a human being who loves what he does more than Nick, and who is willing to do literally whatever it takes to continue playing the game at a high level. Niedert appears to be headed to Danville of the FHL this season, and assuming he does, that will give him 14 teams that he's played for and 16 that he has dressed for (I think) in the last five years alone, and 21 overall. That's incredible. After the game, Nick told me that he wanted to prove to himself that he could still do this. I have now had the pleasure of calling seven games in which has played. His record in those seven games is 3-1-3, and he has stopped 166 of 180 shots for a .922 save percentage. Nick, I think you've proven to all of us that you can still do this!

With the exception of Niedert, I want to avoid singling out any players (for positives or negatives), as each player can probably look back at that game and find something that they did well, along with something that they can do better. So, with that being said, that's what stuck out to me. What stuck out to you?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Wheeling Nailers Player Tracker

(Most recently updated on October 2nd).

Training camp is officially underway, and roster moves have begun to take place. As was the case during the offseason, you will be able to track the rosters and player movement right here.

What it all means:
- At the top are the current Wheeling Nailers. These are the players who have signed an ECHL contract with the Nailers. If a player gets assigned to the Nailers by an affiliate, their affiliate is in parentheses.
- Next are the affiliates - Pittsburgh, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Montreal, and Hamilton. Regardless of what their contract status is, if a player is currently attending one of these teams' training camps, he is listed.
- Finally, at the bottom, are those players who spent time in Wheeling during the 2012-13 season, but have since signed elsewhere, for those fans who wish to keep track of those players.
- Players are listed alphabetically.

WHEELING NAILERS
Forwards (8):
Ryan Flanigan
Kyle Fletcher
Chaz Johnson
Max MacKay
Denver Manderson
Christiaan Minella
Justin Smith
Scott Zurevinski

Defensemen (7):
Paul Cianfrini
Barry Goers
Matt Grassi
Ryley Miller
Mike Ratchuk
Alex Velischek
Gentry Zollars

Goaltenders (1):
Mike Condon

WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON PENGUINS
Forwards (16):
Mike Carman (professional tryout agreement)
Chris Conner
Nick Drazenovic
Andrew Ebbett
Bobby Farnham
Brian Gibbons
Tom Kostopoulos
Tom Kuhnhackl
Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond
Jack MacLellan (training camp invite)
Jayson Megna
Adam Payerl
Zach Sill
Paul Thompson
Dominik Uher
Harry Zolnierczyk

Defensemen (10):
Nick D'Agostino
Simon Despres
Brian Dumoulin
Scott Harrington
Reid McNeill
Peter Merth
Brendan Mikkelson
Harrison Ruopp
Philip Samuelsson
Dustin Stevenson

Goaltenders (3):
Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers (professional tryout agreement)
Eric Hartzell
Peter Mannino

HAMILTON BULLDOGS
Forwards (20):

Akim Aliu (training camp invite)
Sven Andrighetto
Alex Belzile (training camp invite)
Mike Blunden
Stefan Chaput
Justin Courtnall
Ben Duffy
Gabriel Dumont
Stefan Fournier
Patrick Holland
Louis Leblanc
Stephen MacAulay
Maxime Macenauer (training camp invite)
Joonas Nattinen
Erik Nystrom
Jordan Owens (training camp invite)
Steve Quailer
Martin St. Pierre
Nick Tarnasky
Christian Thomas

Defensemen (8):
Nathan Beaulieu
Joel Chouinard
Darren Dietz
Morgan Ellis
Nathan McIver (training camp invite)
Magnus Nygren
Greg Pateryn
Drew Schiestel

Goaltenders (2):
Robert Mayer
Dustin Tokarski

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
Forwards (13):
Craig Adams
Beau Bennett
Sidney Crosby
Pascal Dupuis
Tanner Glass
Dustin Jeffrey
Jussi Jokinen
Chuck Kobasew
Chris Kunitz
Evgeni Malkin
James Neal
Brandon Sutter
Joe Vitale

Defensemen (7):
Robert Bortuzzo
Deryk Engelland
Olli Maatta
Paul Martin
Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik
Rob Scuderi

Goaltenders (2):
Marc-Andre Fleury
Jeff Zatkoff

Injured Reserve (3):
Matt D'Agostini
Kris Letang
Tomas Vokoun

MONTREAL CANADIENS
Forwards (14):
Michael Bournival
Rene Bourque
Daniel Briere
David Desharnais
Lars Eller
Alex Galchenyuk
Brendan Gallagher
Brian Gionta
Travis Moen
Max Pacioretty
George Parros
Tomas Plekanec
Brandon Prust
Ryan White

Defensemen (7):
Francis Bouillon
Raphael Diaz
Alexei Emelin
Josh Gorges
Andrei Markov
PK Subban
Jarred Tinordi

Goaltenders (2):
Peter Budaj
Carey Price

Injured Reserve (2):
Davis Drewiske
Douglas Murray

2012-13 NAILERS WHO HAVE SIGNED ELSEWHERE
Cody Chupp - retired (Assistant Coach at Utica College)
Tim Corcoran - retired
Paul Crowder - Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
Richie Crowley - Briancon Diables Rouges (Ligue Magnus)
Scott Darling - Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
Peter Delmas - Orlando Solar Bears (ECHL) - assigned there by Hamilton
Ben Farrer - retired
Zach Hansen - retired
Chris Higgins - Belfast Giants (EIHL)
Andrew Hotham - Dusseldorfer EG (DEL)
Philippe Lefebvre - Cincinnati Cyclones (ECHL)
Peter Lenes - Dornbirner Bulldogs (Austria)
Daultan Leveille - Evansville IceMen (ECHL)
Tyler Pilmore - Toledo Walleye (ECHL)
Luke Pither - KalPa (SM-liiga)
Chris Rooney - retired
Adam Ross - Cardiff Devils (EIHL)
Ian Schultz - Training camp invite with Portland Pirates (AHL)
Carl Sneep - Idaho Steelheads (ECHL)
Joe Stejskal - Florida Everblades (ECHL)
Joe Tolles - Arizona Sundogs (CHL)
Keven Veilleux - Training camp invite with Portland Pirates (AHL)
Cody Wild - Orlando Solar Bears (ECHL)

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Strong Start to Free Agency With Fantastic Reactions

August 18th has passed us by, meaning we are now less than two months away from dropping the puck on the 2013-14 regular season at WesBanco Arena. I'm sure that I speak for most of you when I say, "It's about time!" For fans in Chicago, Grand Rapids, and Reading, this has likely been the fastest summer ever. However, here in Wheeling, the 2012-13 season ended way too quickly (March 30th), leaving us chomping at the bit to get back at it.

While this summer has been longer in time than last summer, the level of excitement and anticipation about the upcoming campaign has probably stretched it out even longer. Think about a kid who knows what he/she is getting for presents, and is dying to play with his/her new toys and see how they work. Well, that's what we have with the Nailers, as Clark Donatelli has some new toys (or players, if you will), and we are all anxious to see how they work.

Once all of the dust settled from affiliates and coaches being in place, the real fun got started, when we began to announce player signings. Obviously, my job in public relations (PR, as you'll hear me refer to it) is to make everything sound good. Whether a player has fifty goals or zero goals, he is a good addition to this team, because of fill in the blank.

This summer, I got spoiled. Just like in games, you want to get off to a strong start, as it sets the tone for the rest of the way. Our strong start came in the form of Chaz Johnson's signing, which I'm pretty sure everyone knew about well before it became official. And you know what? That's great. The amount of hype surrounding Chaz put it on a tee for us to announce him first, because we knew that the reaction would be extremely positive. Sure enough, it was. So, to steal a term from baseball, that was a lead-off home run.

As nice as the one signing was, the Nailers weren't content to run with that, and I think the following week really started to cement the fact that yes, change is happening, and yes, 2013-14 will be different than 2012-13. The three signings in week two (in order) were: Barry Goers, Chris Rooney, and Mike Ratchuk. Despite playing in only three games last season, Rooney's grit made him a fan favorite, while Goers and Ratchuk will give the blueline an instant upgrade in scoring and puck movement.

There it was. Eight days in, four big bullets fired. I'd say we did a pretty good job in getting attention right off the hop!

Of course, after that, the key is to keep the momentum going, which the most recent four signings have done. Over the last eight days, Alex Velischek, Kyle Fletcher, Max MacKay, and Ryley Miller have joined the team, bringing the current list up to four forwards and four defensemen. Those four newest players also help to complete the overall puzzle, as they all excel in specific roles, while possessing other strong attributes. One of the players specializes in face-offs, one plays well in the offensive zone, one is a solid two-way defenseman, and one isn't afraid to get nasty. Look at any contending team, and you will find a plethora of roles that go well beyond the typical "scorer" and "tough guy" that most people try to toss around.

At this point, I think the best news in all of this is that the transactions are far from over. A few more players have been signed, others are getting close, and I still haven't even talked about the players we might see from the affiliates (which includes one goalie from each side)!

So, what was my motive for writing this today? Simple - keep the positive mojo going! Over the past few weeks, I have seen tons of positive comments all over social media, and I can't even begin to say how happy that makes me feel. First, it puts me into less of a "defending" mode, of having to explain why the team did what it did. Second, but perhaps more importantly, it means that you fans believe that what is happening will lead to success.

We have reached a point in time in society when word of mouth is perhaps as impactful as it ever has been. Thanks to social media, everyone has the opportunity to have his/her voice heard, and those opinions can be delivered in a matter of seconds. To me, it's those opinions that affect other opinions in and around the fanbase the most. Why? Think of a restaurant. If a cook tells you his/her restaurant is awesome, but one of your friends thinks it's terrible, you're more likely to believe your friend, because they are looking at it in an unbiased manner. The same applies here. Like I said earlier, my job is to make it sound good. The rest is up to you the fans to decide whether or not it tastes good.

So, to those fans who have been giving all of the positive feedback, we appreciate it. It has gotten noticed, and we hope that you keep it up! And yes, we do appreciate the constructive comments as well, because it shows that you care about what is happening with our product. To all of you out there in Nailers Nation, keep on counting down those days - the season will be here before you know it!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Farnham Earns NHL Contract

The National Hockey League's free agency period opened up last Friday, and with it, the Pittsburgh Penguins immediately made noise, signing defenseman Rob Scuderi to a four-year contract, while also re-upping forward Craig Adams for two seasons. While those transactions may have dominated the headlines, a member of the 2012-13 Wheeling Nailers also signed on the dotted line. Forward Bobby Farnham inked a one-year, two-way contract with the Penguins, marking the first NHL contract of his career.

Farnham, 24, spent four seasons at Brown University, before his collegiate career came to an end during the spring of 2012. At that time, Bobby made the immediate jump to the professional game, joining the AHL's Providence Bruins for three games in March, and also suiting up with the AHL's Worcester Sharks for three games in April, all while finishing off a degree that concentrated in Commerce, Organizations, and Entrepreneurship.

In the fall of 2012, Farnham attended training camp with the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs as an invite, but failed to make the team, leaving him as a free agent on October 8th. The North Andover, MA spent less than three days on the market, as Wheeling's Clark Donatelli immediately scooped up the player that he had seen play, while coaching with in-state rival Providence College. By October 13th, Bobby was in the lineup for the Nailers, as they opened the season against the Cincinnati Cyclones.

After a scoreless and penalty-free opener, Farnham made a bit more noise in game two, as Wheeling visited Elmira on October 19th. The rookie netted his first professional goal at the 27-second mark of the middle frame, then dropped the mitts just 3:23 later. Two disappointing road tilts for the team followed, before the Nailers returned to West Virginia for the home opening weekend against the Reading Royals on October 26th and 27th. Bobby quickly made a name for himself in front of his new home fans, scoring a pair of goals in the Friday game, while also duking it out with former Nailer David Marshall in both of Wheeling's victories against the eventual league champions. By the time October ended, the 5-foot-10 forward had six-game totals that read, "3-0-3-35."

Three games, one assist, and one fight later, Farnham found himself headed to the American Hockey League, as the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins signed him to a tryout. Once again, it was game two when Bobby made his first large impression, as he dished out an assist, and also threw down the gloves, as a crowd of over 5,000 fans witnessed the in-state rivalry between the Penguins and Hershey Bears.

Approximately one month into his time with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the high-energy forward received what he was hoping for two months earlier - an AHL contract. From that point on, Farnham was a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguin, finishing the season with three goals, eight assists, 11 points, and 274 penalty minutes in 65 regular season games, while also helping the squad reach the Eastern Conference Final.

Now, less than one year after being released from an AHL training camp, Bobby Farnham finds himself on the brink of reaching hockey's highest level, carrying an NHL contract in hand.

For those keeping track of affiliates, here is the list of players that have been signed since free agency opened on July 5th:
PITT/WBS: Craig Adams, Chris Conner, Nick Drazenovic, Andrew Ebbett, Bobby Farnham, Rob Scuderi
MTL/HAM: Daniel Briere, Stefan Fournier, Stephen MacAulay, Robert Mayer, George Parros (traded for), Martin St. Pierre, Nick Tarnasky

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Thanks for Everything, Ben!

https://mail-attachment.googleusercontent.com/attachment/?ui=2&ik=7e0393ca54&view=att&th=13f6363ea5032b2f&attid=0.1&disp=inline&realattid=7dc4b666fbf6f322_0.1&safe=1&zw&saduie=AG9B_P-AGmJZTaZrCXFmnNs3NizE&sadet=1371778296121&sads=7Hzs3dSA_KvDfrnK3AStkU8BlbY&sadssc=1For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed the other day that I passed along the informational nugget that Nailers forward Ben Farrer has retired from playing professional hockey. I found this out from Ben himself, after Clark Donatelli and I had a conversation about the upcoming season. However, rather than simply replying to my text message with another text message, Farrer took the time to call me and tell me about his plans. During that conversation, he mentioned that he didn't want a press release or anything fancy done, and while I will respect those wishes, it's unselfish people like him that do deserve recognition for what they do.

For starters, let's take it back to where it began, in the middle of October, 2011, when I arrived in Wheeling. While Alex Reed did as best as he could to prepare me on the players that he broadcast with the Nailers, I was basically going in blind with a roster of players that I had never seen play before. Off to HockeyDB I went, figuring out where these guys came from, who they played for, and based solely on statistics, what I might be able to expect from them in Wheeling.

When I landed on Ben Farrer, I immediately started scratching my head. Ben had 25 goals and 60 points in his final season with the AJHL's Calgary Canucks, but then mustered just five goals and 26 points over four seasons of college hockey with the Providence College Friars. Questions started flying through my head like crazy. Did PC not utilize this kid right? Was college hockey not his thing? Is there something the stats aren't telling me? Sure enough, question number three took me somewhere (which is why the eye test wins every time). Over the course of his two years on the ice with the Nailers, Farrer turned out to be an excellent defensive forward, as well as a phenomenal penalty killer. Go ahead and find that on a stat sheet!

However, everything comes with a process, and I certainly didn't find that information out overnight. After playing on opening night in Greenville, Ben sat, and sat, and sat again, before finally returning to the lineup in game seven at Trenton. He also did not take the trip to Florida, leaving him with two games played by the time the season was ten games old. But then, Farrer caught fire, netting his first career goal on November 15th against Elmira, starting a stretch of four straight games with a goal. One of those tallies was also an overtime winner against Trenton on November 18th. Statement made. After sitting out eight of the first ten games of the campaign, Ben missed just seven of the final 66, including the playoffs.

Unfortunately, 2012-13 wasn't as kind to Farrer in the games played department, as two punishing hits by the opposition left him on the sidelines for 51 of 72 games. Despite that, he was able to register one goal and four points, giving him regular season career totals of 12 goals and 23 points. Simply put, this past season was just bad luck. As someone who spent just 31 minutes in the penalty box in two years, Ben didn't run around recklessly, putting himself in compromising positions, or making enemies with opposing players. I still remember watching his lone fight (2/25/12 at Toledo vs. Mike Thomas), thinking to myself, "Wow, someone really must have ticked Benny off!" Don't get me wrong, at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Farrer knew how to hit. Point is - he did it the right way.

When he wasn't in the lineup, Ben continued to make use of his time, getting involved in the community, while also becoming close friends with those in need. Whenever I put a community event on the board, I could always count on seeing #14 written nearby (hence, him winning the community award each of the last two years). However, what Farrer did went beyond the call of schools, hospitals, and the such. Upon hearing about Randy Stephens' condition, Ben and many of his teammates (Zach Hansen, Matt Lombardi, Andrew Hotham, Zack Torquato, and the list goes on) made it a point to become close friends with Randy, giving him inspiration in his most trying of days. Ben, Zach, and Zack were also the leaders of the bunch when it came to raising money for former teammate Chris Kushneriuk. As I said on the radio countless times this season, that was something the players did on their own, because they cared about their friends.

When I was going through some of the names in that last paragraph, and thinking back to the 2011-12 season, I noticed something interesting. At the beginning of last season, five players lived together - Ben Farrer, Zach Hansen, Patrick Johnson, Matt Lombardi, and Joe Tolles. Three of the five were considered "rookies" by league standards. Would you believe that 21 months later, three of those five (Farrer, Johnson, Lombardi) have now retired from playing professional hockey? It is truly amazing how short of a window it can be, and how hard these players have to work to continue doing what they love.

In closing, here are my top three Ben Farrer moments from on the ice. And yes, they are all goals. #3- The overtime winner against Trenton on 11/18/11. Overtime goals are my favorite, and on this particular goal, he was able to fish out a loose puck on the left side, flipping it over Dave Caruso, whose one-piece stick failed to make it to the dressing room. #2- His game winning goal with 1:07 remaining in game one of the playoffs against Kalamazoo on 4/3/12. Christiaan Minella won a puck battle in the right corner, before centering it to Ben, who had his stick on the ice for the redirect. Huge goal at a huge time - it's the playoffs! And to top it off, his parents were in attendance to see it. #1- A shorthanded goal against Toledo on 3/11/11. This is one of my favorites of all time, because Farrer's stick broke as he shot the puck into the net. His reaction was priceless, as he just tossed the stick into the air as to say, "I've gotten all the goals I can out of that one." To this day, that remains the only goal I've called, where someone has actually broken their stick in the process of shooting and scoring. Thank goodness for composite!

I hope that gives all of you a nice perspective on the man that thanks to Clark Donatelli's beautiful accent, we know as (go ahead, say it with me), "Benny Faaahhh." In all seriousness though, thanks Ben for everything you've done here in Wheeling. It was a pleasure working with you, and best of luck with the next steps in your life!https://mail-attachment.googleusercontent.com/attachment/?ui=2&ik=7e0393ca54&view=att&th=13f636379dc2f275&attid=0.1&disp=inline&realattid=91cae9bfe4b917bb_0.1&safe=1&zw&saduie=AG9B_P-AGmJZTaZrCXFmnNs3NizE&sadet=1371778353510&sads=4un_IC3FU01nPHWTL_md82fppWI

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Lockout is Here... Now What?

The day that we all dreaded has finally reared its ugly head, along with the news that most of us have anticipated for the majority of this summer. The National Hockey League has locked out the National Hockey League Players' Association.

So, what happens from here? To be honest, there are lots of possibilities, and most of those options depend on the length of the lockout. Some people, teams, and leagues could be affected greatly, while others may not. Regardless of what positive affects this situation may have for some (increased revenue for minor league teams), the fact of the matter is that the lockout is the worst possible scenario for hockey as a whole.

Simply put, every single game lost (not played) is money down the drain, from your tickets, to your concessions, to your souvenirs, and even at some venues, your parking spaces. And that's just the money that the teams are losing. What about the poor souls, who make ten dollars an hour, pouring your sodas, when you attend the games? $10/hour, 5 hours/game (figure an hour to set up, and an hour to clean up), 41 games/year - that's an extra $2,000 that those folks will never see.

But enough about the money, what about the impact on the players, teams, and leagues? As we've seen so far from this past week's transactions, each level of hockey is going to see a significant rise in talent, compared to what they were originally expecting. For example, if you're looking for something to do on October 12th, before the Nailers open the regular season the following night in Cincinnati, a trip to Cleveland may not be a bad choice, as the Lake Erie Monsters will face Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, and the Oklahoma City Barons. Those two, along with a dozen or so other players, will surely give the AHL some top notch players to watch.

With those players being allowed to go to the AHL, along with all of the players on two-way contracts (NHL-AHL or AHL-ECHL), and any of the players who decide to sign an AHL only deal, the roster sizes for AHL training camps have suddenly become rather large. This past week, NHL clubs assigned upwards of 20-25 players each to their AHL affiliates, who are only allowed to dress a maximum of 20 on any given night. This is where the trickle down affect works its way to the ECHL.

For an example close to home, let's look at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The Baby Pens currently have 27 players that will attend training camp, with a possibility of six more, assuming Bortuzzo, MacIntyre, Strait, Tangradi, Thiessen, and Zatkoff all sign AHL contracts. That would make for a total of 33 (to see the full list, check out Jonathan Bombulie's work here: dlvr.it/28qqXk). Now, take into consideration that 20 players are allowed to dress each night, and for the sake of argument, let's say that they keep one full line of extra players (C, LW, RW, D, D) as healthy scratches. That would leave as many as eight players, who could possibly wind up with the Nailers. And that's just one affiliate, out of the two associated with Wheeling. You have to figure that Montreal/Hamilton would also produce somewhere from three to five players.

But wait! The ECHL only allows you to dress 18 per game, and the Nailers already have 12 players under contract (Cianfrini, Corcoran, Darling, Farrer, Fergus, Hansen, Lenes, Merth, Minella, Ross, Schepke, Torquato), with a few more likely on the way. So now, what do you do? Everyone wants to play, so scratching a handful of players each night could be a tricky move. At the same time, Wheeling doesn't have a Single-A affiliate, so if a player were to go elsewhere (CHL, FHL, SPHL, etc.), and the lockout were to end, there's no guarantee of getting said player back.

So, what we're dealing with here is essentially a two-edged sword. Nobody that I have spoken to has any idea how long this work stoppage will last. Some people have said it will be settled by Thanksgiving, others say we could be in for another full season without the NHL, and for the rest, throw a dart at a calendar, and see where it lands. With that being said, teams will have to be as creative as possible, keeping either possibility in the backs of their minds. For those looking for a silver lining in all of that, everyone in the Eastern Conference is on relatively even terms, as all 12 teams have at least one affiliate. The interesting part is that six teams have two affiliates (Wheeling, Cincinnati, Evansville, Florida, Kalamazoo, Toledo), and six teams have one affiliate (Fort Wayne, Greenville, Gwinnett, Reading, South Carolina, Trenton).

And just when you thought things couldn't be crazier, allow me to throw the junior hockey (QMJHL, OHL, WHL) picture into our bowl of lockout stew. Jonathan Huberdeau was selected third overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Florida Panthers, and was basically a lock to make this year's club. However, he's only 19, and he didn't play in the NHL last year, so his only option is juniors. So, the Panthers assigned him back to the Saint John Sea Dogs, with whom he hoisted two President's Cups and a Memorial Cup. Due to that recent success, Saint John is in rebuilding mode, as most of the players involved have moved on to the pros. In a normal season, the Sea Dogs' best option would be to trade Huberdeau to a contender, and get a wealth of young players and draft picks in return. But what if the trade gets made, the Q's trade period closes, the lockout ends, and Huberdeau goes to sunny Florida? Now, Saint John looks like a terrible trading partner, because with the trade period closed, they can't just apologize and give back what they got. Thus, more hands become tied.

In closing, what we have here is one gigantic mess. Of course, the simple solution would be an agreement between the NHL and NHLPA, but your guess is as good as mine, as far as when that will happen. But, with that being said, regardless of what happens at the top, we are less than a month away from the start of the ECHL season, so get ready for hockey in Wheeling, or wherever your local rink might be!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Puck Stops Here

Today's blog is all about the goaltending, as earlier this afternoon, Wheeling Nailers goaltender Peter Delmas was named ECHL Goaltender of the Week. Last week, Delmas stopped 58 of the 60 shots he faced, picking up two of the teams three victories, as they moved back into a first place tie with the Elmira Jackals.

With the way the Wheeling goaltending has been going as of late (and all season, for that matter), it's really no surprise that the Nailers are among the elite teams in the Eastern Conference Standings. As I noted before, Delmas is coming off of a terrific week that saw him win back-to-back games with 29-save efforts, lowering his goals against average to 2.51, and upping his save percentage to .908. At the same time, Patrick Killeen is also putting together one of his better stretches of the season, having allowed just ten goals in his last six games, while posting a 5-1 record, which includes two shootout victories.

Once all of the dust settles, and you lay out all of the numbers, you are left with two goaltenders, who both own records that are five games over .500, and both are the property of one of the Nailers' NHL affiliates. I would say that it also leaves a headache for head coach Clark Donatelli, but at this time, I have to believe that he feels confident whichever way he goes. Plus, with at least three games in each of the remaining eight weeks in the regular season, both men behind the mask are likely to get somewhere in the range of 10-15 appearances, as they lead the team toward the playoffs.

While this is my first season in this league, one of the first things I've noticed (and teams like Alaska and South Carolina will immediately ruin my theory) is that having a dual affiliate can be extremely beneficial, especially when it comes to goaltending. Typically, NHL organizations go about five or six deep at that position, which leaves two in the NHL, two in the AHL, one in the ECHL, and one in either college or juniors. So, quick math will tell that in all likelihood, an ECHL club with a dual affiliation will land a quality netminder from both clubs.

For further proof of that argument, take three of the four teams in the Atlantic Division as examples. The Wheeling Nailers have Patrick Killeen (PIT) and Peter Delmas (MTL), the Elmira Jackals have Brian Stewart (OTT) and Timo Pielmeier (ANA), and the Reading Royals have gone through various different goaltenders, from Michael Hutchinson (BOS), to Mark Owuya (TOR) and Jussi Rynnas (TOR). While success is never a guarantee, and the goaltenders have to have good teams in front of them, it is certainly nice when the NHL affiliates lend a huge helping hand.

Then again, as I mentioned earlier, there will be teams that take this thought and throw it out the window. The Alaska Aces are the perfect example of that, as the Aces are not directly affiliated with any NHL clubs, yet they currently own the top record in the ECHL, with strong contributions from their goaltenders, Gerald Coleman and Adam Courchaine. The Las Vegas Wranglers also did their own dirty work, and came up with Joe Fallon, who currently leads the league with 25 wins.

Goaltender is a unique position, especially when it comes to the pipeline. Only two goalies can dress in a game, and with that, there are usually only two on a roster (although, a few teams will temporarily carry three).

When you look at some of the names in the NHL, it almost makes you wonder why anyone would want to become a goaltender, knowing that if they land in a certain organization, their chances of reaching the NHL (let alone being a number one goalie) are insanely slim. Martin Brodeur has been the man with the New Jersey Devils since 1993, which makes you wonder just how many netminders have been in the Devils organization that have never even sniffed New Jersey.

While that theory may seem bleak, it can also be turned around to a positive, as having only a handful of goaltenders in the organization can present opportunities a lot quicker than it can for skaters, if a player were to go down with an injury. A perfect example of this is Ben Scrivens. Scrivens started his pro career last season with the Reading Royals, and was outstanding, posting a 10-3 record. When Jean-Sebastien Giguere got hurt with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Scrivens was recalled to the AHL's Toronto Marlies, giving him an opportunity to prove himself at the next level. His performance last season earned him a spot on the Marlies' opening night roster this year, and when James Reimer went down with an injury with the Maple Leafs in November, Scrivens got the shot he had been waiting for, appearing in eight NHL games.

When you go through the 20-year history of hockey in Wheeling, nearly one-third of the Nailers and Thunderbirds that have reached the NHL have been goaltenders (12 of 42).

For more insight on goaltenders, and the connection between the ECHL and NHL, check out my friend, Mike Ashmore's work, which can be found here.