Out of the Box: Gato Numero Uno!

Today, we’re going Out of the Box for a special reason.

For those that have been following me for quite awhile, you know that my main hockey offseason activity revolves around the Tri-City ValleyCats, the local New York Penn League franchise.

And on a chilly Sunday night in Dutchess County, the Cats would finish off a two game sweep of the Hudson Valley Renegades with a nerve wracking extra inning win, taking home their third NYPL title since joining the league in 2002.

For the first time in my life, I got to experience in person my team winning a championship on the field (or on the ice, for that matter).  Sure, I got to watch on TV when the Yankees and the Devils won their respective championships.  I watched on TV when the River Rats won their only Calder Cup in 1995.  I had to rely on phone calls from friends when the Cats won their titles in 2010 and 2013.

I was at the park when the Cats lost the championship to Mahoning Valley in 2004, and again to State College in 2014.

But Sunday…I experienced it live.  And it felt AMAZING.  Euphoric, awesome…you get the idea.

As I watched the Cats first baseman, Alex Holderbach, get a go ahead two run single in the 12th inning, the feeling of anticipation began.

When the bottom of the inning arrived, I moved from my seat above the Cats dugout to the front row down the third base line.  I had to see the moment up close.

Two of the Cats pitchers, Austin Hansen and Brett Conine, had also moved to that row from behind home plate, where they had been charting their teammates for most of the night.  They were ready to jump onto the field.  Brett’s hand was visibly shaking, he was so anxious.

Manny Ramirez (no not THAT Manny) got the first two outs by strikeout.  ONE MORE OUT!

Then, the walks began.  Three of them in a row to load the bases.  One swing by the Renegades batter could mean game over or an epic battle in extras would continue on.  Manny came out of the game in favor of Jacob Billingsley.  Three pitches later…

(Disclaimer: yes that would be me screaming my head off.  You might want to adjust your volume.)

After the initial celebration, it was time for the trophy presentation at home plate.

Now it’s time to pop some bottles!

Afterwards, after the celebrating finished and the boys packed up the bus to head back to Troy for the last time this season, those that hung out by the bus got to see the NYPL trophy up close.

Catcher Oscar Campos and the hardware. —Tracey Lake

To me, the win not only gave me my first live celebration, it also avenged some past deeds.  Back in 2012, the Renegades beat the Cats in the NYPL Championship Series.  That Cats team was probably the best team I have seen at Bruno Stadium.  Not only were they a great group on the field, they were off as well.  I made quite a few friendships that summer, and my favorite player that year, Preston Tucker, eventually made it to the bigs with Houston before he was traded to Atlanta.  The 2012 squad also coined the phrase Vamos Gatos–Let’s Go Cats in Spanish, a battle cry started by the team’s Latin American contingent.  It’s become the team’s identity ever since.

Every time I made the hour and a half trip south to Dutchess Stadium, I would constantly be reminded every time I went through the gate, seeing the 2012 NYPL Champion banner by the main entrance.

I saw that banner again Sunday, with the feeling that I wouldn’t be bothered by it that much longer.  And I was right.

Not a bad way to finish off my baseball season and start the transition to hockey season, I guess.

Once more with feeling…VAMOS GATOS! (clap clap clap)


Playing Catchup: You Must Be New Here.

In the final (for now) playing catchup post, let’s meet another group of players that will suit up for the Thunder for the first time in October.

Jordan McNaughton

McNaughton is a 24-year-old defenseman who will be making his North American pro debut this fall.  Last season, he appeared in 18 games for Marseille in France, picking up 15 points (3 G, 12 A), and an additional 3 goals and 3 assists in 5 playoff games.  The Ontario native took 2016-17 off after playing one season for Mount Royal University, and two seasons in the Maritime (Jr. A) Hockey League with Truro.

Matt Salhany

Salhany joins the Thunder after splitting last season between Reading and South Carolina.  The 25-year-old forward began the year with a 5 game stint with the Royals, going scoreless.  He joined the Stingrays in mid-December and appeared in 20 games, with 1 goal and 2 assists.  Prior to turning pro, the Rhode Island native played collegiately with the University of Alabama-Huntsville.

Michael Sdao

The most experienced professional on the Thunder roster, Sdao comes to Glens Falls by way of Rapid City, where he appeared in 30 games for the Rush, going scoreless.  The 29-year-old defenseman is a former 7th round pick by Ottawa, and Binghamton fans may remember him from his 2+ seasons in the Southern Tier.  Prior to turning pro, the Colorado native spent 4 years at Princeton.

As of this writing, the Thunder roster now sits at 16 players signed–11 forwards, 5 defensemen.  The goaltending situation is a little unpredictable at this point, with Cory Schneider not ready to start the season in New Jersey.  Mackenzie Blackwood and rookie Cam Johnson will likely both be starting the season in Binghamton, leaving Adirondack to find some temporary help between the pipes until that situation is settled.

Binghamton also has three players–two who have spent time with the Thunder–on AHL deals that are also candidates to come down depending on camp: forward Ryan Schmelzer, who made a splash during the Kelly Cup Playoffs and lead the Thunder in playoff scoring; forward John Edwardh, who appeared in 3 games late in Adirondack’s season; and defenseman Tariq Hammond, a free agent signee from the University of Denver.

Playing Catchup: Getting The Band Back Together, Part 2

In this edition of Playing Catchup, more player capsules!

So who’s returning from last year’s Thunder?  As of this writing, there are six returnees from last year’s North Division champs.

James Henry

The only holdover from the team’s days in Stockton, Henry returns for his fourth season in Glens Falls, and sixth overall as a Thunder skater.  He would appear in all 72 games for Adirondack last season, with 19 goals and 35 assists, and he was named as an ECHL All Star replacement after an injury to Ty Loney.  He would score two goals and pick up 13 assists in 17 Kelly Cup playoff games.  Henry also became the franchise’s all time leading scorer, and will enter the season with 148 career Adirondack points.

Shane Conacher

Conacher returns for his second full season with the Thunder on an ECHL contract after a huge year offensively.  He would finish 2017-18 as the team’s leading scorer, with 20 goals and 43 assists in 55 games, while on an AHL/ECHL pact with Syracuse.  He would also appear in 10 games for the Crunch, going scoreless.  He played in 7 playoff games with 2 goals, before a leg injury during the second round against Manchester ended his season.

Conor Riley

Back for his third season is Riley, who had a solid second full year.  In 58 games, he scored 5 goals and added 14 assists, while having to play out of his natural position-defense-in several games due to injuries and recalls.  In the postseason, Riley would appear in 13 games with 1 goal and 4 assists.

Blake Thompson

Thompson began his first professional season with Cincinnati, but would come over to the Thunder via a trade in mid-December.  He would appear in 44 games for Adirondack, with one goal and six assists.  He played in 10 playoff games with an additional goal and three assists.

Desmond Bergin

Bergin returns to the Thunder for his second season after a breakout 2017-18 campaign, his second as a pro.  In 65 games, the defenseman would score 15 goals and add 28 assists, then added 7 points in 11 playoff games.  He would also make his AHL debut, skating in two games for Hartford and going scoreless.

Mike Szmatula

Szmatula returns for his first full professional season after joining the Thunder in late March  from the University of Minnesota.  He would pick up two assists in 6 regular season games, then appear in all 17 playoff games, scoring his first pro goal in Game 3 of the first round in Worcester.  He would finish with 5 goals and 3 assists for the postseason.


Playing Catchup: Getting the Band Back Together, Part 1

Let’s continue our catching up series and meet more Thunder signees!

Today, we’re focusing on some of the returning players.

In part one, these three skaters are returning to Glens Falls after spending the 2017-18 season somewhere else:

Peter MacArthur

The first official signing of the 2018 offseason, MacArthur returns to his hometown Thunder after spending last season with the Allen Americans.  He appeared in just 22 games last season, with 5 goals and 8 assists.  In 2016-17, the native of Clifton Park served as Thunder captain and picked up 63 points (24 G, 39 A) in 63 games, then had a goal and an assist in 6 playoff games.

Cullen Bradshaw

Bradshaw returns to the Thunder after spending last season overseas with two different European teams.  The native of Medicine Hat, Alberta, appeared in 20 games for Kallinge/Ronneby IF in Sweden’s Division 1, with 6 goals and 7 assists.  Bradshaw would then appear in 13 games for Brest in France, picking up 5 goals and 4 helpers.  In 2016-17, he appeared in 30 games for Adirondack after starting the season with the SPHL’s Mississippi RiverKings, picking up 24 points (7 goals, 17 assists), then appearing in 5 playoff games with one goal.

Dennis Kravchenko

Kravchenko returns to where his professional career began in 2016-17, after spending last season in Fort Wayne.  The native of California appeared in 50 games for the Komets last season, scoring 19 goals and adding 27 assists.  He would also appear in 11 playoff games, with 2 goals and 6 assists.  Kravchenko spent his rookie season in Glens Falls after two years at UMass-Amherst, and he would become a key member of the offense–in 41 games, he scored 17 goals and assisted on 25 others, then added four goals in 6 playoff games.

Playing Catchup: The Rookie Class

In the latest installment of getting everyone caught up before the season, we’ll introduce you to several first year players the Thunder have brought in for this season.  As of this writing, a total of 4 signees will be starting their professional careers in Glens Falls this fall.  Now for a little background on each of them:

Daniel Perigo, F

Perigo, the second player signed this offseason, comes to the Thunder by way of the University of Waterloo in Canada.  The 24-year-old native of Nova Scotia appeared in 28 games last season for the Warriors, scoring 6 goals and picking up 15 assists.  Prior to attending Waterloo, Perigo played four seasons for the MHL’s Truro Bearcats, and had a brief 6 game appearance for the QMJHL’s PEI Rocket.

Jakob Reichert, F

Reichert, checking in at 6’5″ and 227 pounds, comes to Adirondack after finishing a four year collegiate career with Bowling Green State University, where he was a teammate of former Thunder players Pierre-Luc Mercier and Tomas Sholl.  In 2017-18, the 24-year-old only appeared in seven games for the Falcons, with just one assist, and was named to the WCHA All-Academic team for the third time.

Nikolas Olsson, F

Olsson is a 24-year-old California native who just completed a four year collegiate career at Boston University.  In his senior season, he appeared in 30 games for the Terriers, picking up 3 assists and serving as an assistant captain.  Before joining BU, Olsson spent two years in the U.S. National Development Program, then spent two seasons with the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers.

Jake Linhart, D

Linhart, a 22-year-old Wisconsin native, joins the Thunder after finishing four years as a Wisconsin Badger.  In his senior season in 17-18, he appeared in all 37 games, scoring once and adding 12 assists, while serving as an alternate captain.  After his college season ended, he signed an amateur tryout deal with Rochester on March 11th, but would not dress.  Prior to Wisconsin, Linhart spent two seasons with the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers.


Playing Catchup: The Coaches

In the first of many “let’s get everyone caught up on the Thunder offseason news” posts, let’s first begin at the top, as the look behind the bench is a lot different than it was last season.

-After a successful head coaching debut that saw his team finish one round shy of the Kelly Cup Finals, Brad Tapper was hired as an assistant coach by the Grand Rapids Griffins in early July.  As the second head coach in ECHL Adirondack history, Tapper finished with a 41-24-3-4 regular season record, and carried a Glens Falls-based franchise to a conference final for the first time since the AHL’s Adirondack Red Wings won the Calder Cup in 1992.

-As for Tapper’s replacement, the Thunder did not have to look very far, as associate coach Alex Loh was promoted to head coach and Director of Hockey Operations.  This will be Loh’s first head coaching opportunity after being an assistant with the Thunder since the team moved from Stockton in 2015, moving up to the Associate Coach role last season.  Before joining Adirondack, Loh spent three years with the Portland Pirates on their coaching staff, and has amateur coaching experience at both the high school and college levels.

Recently the new coach became the first guest on the new Thunder podcast, hosted by team broadcaster Evan Pivnick:

-So who would replace Loh as the associate coach?  How about the son of a former Glens Falls coaching legend with an extensive background as a player, coach, and scout?

The name Dineen is very well known in the Glens Falls region, thanks to former legendary Red Wings coach Bill Dineen, whose name now hangs in a banner in the Cool Insuring Arena’s rafters, and the road outside the entrance to the building now bears his name.  His son Pete will now continue the coaching tradition in the North Country as Loh’s associate coach.  The younger Dineen brings quite the resume to the table: 25 years as a professional scout for five different NHL teams, three years as head coach for the IHL’s Houston Aeros in the mid-1990’s, and a 11 year playing career in the AHL, IHL, and NHL.  He was a member of the Adirondack Red Wings’ 1989 Calder Cup champion squad.

As we get closer to training camp, I’ll have player capsules coming up.  So far the Thunder have nine forwards and three defensemen under contract, with six of those players returning to the team, two after a one year layoff.


Out of the Box: Happy Birthday, Mom.

If you have had the chance to get to know me over the past several years, you probably know how I was raised by a single mother, who was probably a bigger Giants and Yankees fan than most men.  Sadly, I lost her nearly 18 years ago to cancer, and this week, I’m thinking about her more than usual.

Today would have been her birthday.  And over the weekend, during my trip to Yankee Stadium in which the 1998 team was honored, a few memories hit me during my train ride to the Bronx.

Everyone has their memories of the 1998 Yankees, arguably the greatest baseball team ever.  (Don’t even think about it, haters.)  For me, and it dawned on me Saturday, this was the last season my mom was able to travel to New York City to see her beloved Yankees play.

It was late June, when the Yankees visited the Mets at Shea Stadium for a weekend series.  Mom had bought a ticket package through Amtrak for the two of us…tickets and a round trip train ride from the Rensselaer train station (the closest to where we lived at the time) to Flushing.  Literally, the train dropped us off near Flushing Meadows.  This marked my one and only trip to Shea, I might add.

I remember wearing my Tino T-shirt (Mom absolutely LOVED Tino) that day, and I think we had seats in the upper deck, between home plate and first base.  And guess who came through with a home run that day?  Yes, it was Tino.  The two fans behind us got so excited I ended up having beer spilt on me…and Mom and I both thought it was funny.

Weird how I remember a few of these things from so long ago.

Later that season, the annual family trip to the Bronx–which would be my mom, uncle, cousin, and myself–would take place in late August, just before I started my third year of college.  It was a Sunday afternoon game against Seattle that didn’t go very well.  Sadly, although none of us knew it at the time, that would be Mom’s last trip to Yankee Stadium.

She would be diagnosed with colon cancer in late July the following year, just before we had two Yankee trips planned–two free box seats as a retirement present for a game against the Indians, then a bus trip to Fenway Park for a Sunday night game against the Red Sox, my first time visiting the Green Monster.  While she recuperated from surgery, my cousin would take her place for both games.

When Mom first gave me the news, I tried to be positive about it.  Hey, if Darryl Strawberry can have the same illness and come back, she can too.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t the case.

Our last happy memory together?  Watching the Yankees finish off the Mets in the 2000 World Series.  She took a turn for the worse the morning after that game, and passed away about three weeks later.  At least she got to see her team win it all one more time.

So today, I’m thinking of Mom and what she would think of this year’s team.  I’d say she would be a Judge fan for sure.  And probably yelling at Sonny Gray or Giancarlo for something.

Tonight, while the Yankees take on Miami (I’m sure it would pain her to root against Don Mattingly–she was a huge fan of him too), I may leave the TV on in the other room, waiting for loud clapping or yelling.  Because Mom wouldn’t have it any other way.

Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself.

*tap, tap* Testing…1, 2.  This thing on?

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and faithful readers…it’s finally time to reopen The Box.

*blows dust off the lid and creeeeeeak*

Yeah, it’s been awhile.

Once again, I’m doing another retooling here at The Box.  What am I planning this time around?

Well, for starters…we’re going back to what put me on the map in the first place…minor league Devils.  Obviously not Binghamton, but…it’s related to them.

My old A-Devils home is now the new full time home for the boys in Adirondack.  With Tampa Bay deciding to align with Orlando for the next 3 years, I needed another space for my Thunder coverage.

Actually, come to think about it, I may have some Binghamton coverage…but you’ll have to sign up for an Inside AHL Hockey subscription for that (shameless promotion alert!).

But anyway, what should you expect in this space?

Well, the weekly recaps you saw on Raw Charge last season will be a regular feature.  If it wasn’t for the hour commute between my home in Colonie and Glens Falls, I’d do postgame stories.

Also, the here and there news updates…including links for the weekly radio show, comings and goings (since it’s the ECHL, it can be an almost daily occurrence), and other stuff.

And…where to find me for weekend coverage.  Since the last entry, I’m now officially down to one full time job…so more free time to travel!  I already have a calendar of potential games created, so stay tuned for where to find me.

And…the occasional Out of the Box feature.  Actually, I’ll have one coming up on Tuesday, a special date near and dear to me.

Coming up over the next week or so…we have some Thunder news to catch everyone up on.  New coaching staff, 11 players already under contract…and many more to come as we get closer to training camp.

Everything Happens for a Reason…

So here we are, starting a New Year.

When I got home from Hartford this time last year, after seeing the Devils beat the Wolfpack and having an unplanned dinner with a few other Albany fans, I was feeling pretty good about what was to come in 2017. The team was playing well, on its way to another playoff spot, and I was looking forward to my first trip to Allentown in a few weeks for AHL All Stars.

Then everything happened.  First, the rumors.  Then, the breaking announcement that I had to learn from the media instead of the team.  The press conference in Binghamton that soon followed.  That I still don’t get as to why everything had to go down the way that it did.

But you know what?  Now that I look back on things…and see what has conspired since this season began…I almost feel somewhat content.

When I thought once the season ended my hockey writing career was going on hiatus, not one, but two doors ended up opening for me, giving me a chance to expand beyond the blog and find a new audience (not to mention it helps the resume out if I decide to switch careers at some point in the next few years too).  And, I found a new team that may be in a lower league that what I’ve been used to, but the environment is such an improvement over what I dealt with in Albany the last few years that…part of me wouldn’t mind if the AHL decided to put the Capital Region in its rearview mirror.

There are things I miss about Albany AHL hockey, of course: the shorter commute, befriending future NHLers, interacting with other fans in person and online on the regular.

But…I don’t miss AHL Live video, certain members of the fanbase, and having to plan life and the second job around a hockey schedule.  I’m actually enjoying being able to pick and choose which games I want to attend…it actually feels nice to be able to stay in on a weekend night on occasion and listen to games online on my couch with my pajamas on.

So what will 2018 bring?

As far as the blog goes (it turns 7 this week!), you’ll probably get mostly these kind of entries now.  With my hockey stuff outsourced, it would just get repetitive.  I want to go back to what I originally wanted to do before all the Devils stuff took off.  That will come as the inspiration–and the time to sit down to do it–hits me.

I’ll still be doing my weekly visits at Inside AHL Hockey and Raw Charge for the rest of the season…while keeping my eye on the rumor mill.  Personally, I don’t feel like another AHL team will call Albany home next season, but stranger things have happened.

Happy New Year to all, and thanks for still reading despite me changing my mind several times. (I really should work on my indecisiveness habits.)

Out of the Box: Life Lessons from a Nongenarian

On this Christmas Day…not to mention it’s been a few weeks since I’ve written something other than my weekly articles…let me share with you the story of Mr. Ullery.

Who is Mr. Ullery?  He was my mother’s former boss at the NYS Education Department.  I believe she was still his secretary when I was born in 1978.

He gave me a personalized rocking chair when I was about 3 or 4 years old, a chair I still have in my living room today, even though it’s a little beat up.

Even after my mom passed away in 2000, I would still get a Christmas card from him and his wife, with a typed letter that had to be printed out on the same press schools used to print out worksheets.  Even after his first and second wives both passed away, he would still send his annual letter of the places he has been and how the family was doing.

This year, I once again received a card and letter from Mr. Ullery, from his home in Ohio.

The biggest news he shared?  He hit 90 this year.  And what did he do?  Everything.

He went to the Rose Parade in Pasadena.  He took a bus to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and Scottsdale.  He took a Caribbean cruise.  He even took a trip to Normandy, where he visited the same mudfield he visited as a member of the Army band back in 1947, just after the completion of World War II.

He plays in his town’s Community Band and Symphony Orchestra, and sings in his church choir.

He grants scholarships to music students at a high school where his father founded the band program, and traveled to Lake Placid to see 9 of those students participate in a local music festival.

Seriously, this man has a fuller social life than I do!  He went to France, the Caribbean, out west…and the furthest I traveled was to Allentown for AHL All Stars.

So why am I sharing his story with you?

As I am approaching a birthday milestone myself in 2018…I see what he has accomplished in his life, even in the last few years at his age, and it gives me motivation.  I would love to be able to do half of the things Mr. Ullery has done, especially later in life.

Basically, I’m learning a life lesson from Mr. Ullery that I’m passing along to you this holiday season…to live life to the fullest, to see and experience as much as possible.

I plan on writing a letter back to him this week…and I may just tell him that.