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.

November by the Numbers

It’s the end of November, which means…

Time for the monthly Thunder progress report!

(all stats through November 30th)

Record: 9-8-1-1, 20 points.  4th place in North Division, 8th in Eastern Conference, 15th overall.

Home: 3-3-0-0.  Road: 6-5-1-1.

Individual Leaders:

Top 5 Scorers:

Ty Loney, 20 pts; Shane Conacher, 17 pts; James Henry, 15 pts; 2 tied with 14 pts

Goals: Ty Loney, 12

Assists: Shane Conacher, 14

Plus/Minus: Desmond Bergin, +7

Penalty Minutes: Eric Neiley, 36

Power Play Goals: Ty Loney, 5

Shorthanded Goals: 4 tied with 1

Game Winning Goals: Paul Rodrigues, 2

Shots: Ty Loney, 62

Wins: Nick Riopel, 6

GAA: Nick Riopel, 3.79

Save Percentage: Nick Riopel, .882

Team Statistics:

Attendance: 3,003/game, 23rd.

Penalty Minutes: 243 in 19 games, avg 12.79/game, 21st.

Power Play: 22.0%, 4th.  Penalty Kill: 78.8%, 24th.

Goals For/Game: 3.42, 8th.  Goals Against/Game: 3.58, 22nd.

Shots For/Game: 33.47, 10th.  Shots Against/Game: 31.63, 13th.

ECHL Individual Leaders:

Points: Ty Loney tied for 6th (20)

Goals: Ty Loney 2nd (12)

Power Play Goals: Ty Loney tied for 1st (5)

Losses, Goaltender: Nick Riopel tied for 3rd (6)

Minutes, Goaltender: Nick Riopel 3rd (744)

Rookie Scoring: Pierre-Luc Mercier tied for 6th (14)

And before we kick off the December slate, a few blueline changes:

-With Daniel Walcott getting injured in Wednesday’s Crunch win in Toronto, Mathieu Brodeur is going back to Syracuse on a PTO.  This will be Brodeur’s second PTO of the season, after appearing in 7 games with Springfield to start the year.  Since returning to the Thunder, he has appeared in 12 games, going scoreless with a +1 rating.

-Taking Brodeur’s place on the roster will be rookie defensemen Matthew Spencer, who will be starting his second Thunder stint.  He had appeared in three games during the road trip in early November, going scoreless.  Since returning to the Crunch, he has only appeared in two games, not seeing action since November 24th vs. Wilkes-Barre.

-And one more to add to the blue line: second year pro Vytal Cote has signed a standard contract.  The 22 year old Florida native started the season with the SPHL’s Mississippi Riverkings, appearing in 10 games with 3 goals and 3 assists.  He began his pro career last season with Fayetteville and Evansville of the SPHL, playing in a combined 50 games with 2 goals and 9 assists.

Rico and Blender: An Appreciation Post

Now that my jaw has been put back in place after being on the ground for most of the day…

With the bombshell news that Adam Henrique and Joe Blandisi have been traded to Anaheim for Sami Vatanen…I lost the two players that bridged my 7 years covering–and being a fan of–the A-Devils.

Let’s start with Rico, since I’ve known him the longest.

Back in 2010, when New Jersey returned to Albany after a 4 year hiatus in Lowell, I had to start making the transition from knowing who was who in the Hurricanes organization to refreshing my memory on who was still with the Devils.  About 95 percent of who was with the River Rats in 2006-the last year of the original NJ-Albany partnership-had moved on to other teams.  I only knew a few names from that last season in Lowell (i.e. Stephen Gionta, Tim Sestito, Louis Robitaille), and I hadn’t really done my homework on who New Jersey had drafted in the last 4 years because, well, at the time I wasn’t that into watching draft picks.

So, as the new team arrived and I started watching, getting to know the players and their skill sets, Rico was probably one of the few more consistent guys on that 2010-11 team (remember, this was back in the days of Lou, David Conte and the AHL team got whatever body off the scrap heap that may have a shot).

Off the ice, in the rare chances I got to interact with anyone on the team (remember, what’s social media in 2010?), he was always one of the players I talked to the most.  I never had a problem with asking and getting autographs or photos with him (and he had the Rico smile, even back then).  I still tell everyone the story of how at the Booster Club bowlathon midseason I needed someone to take a photo of me and Nathan Perkovich on the lanes, and he volunteered to do it.  And nearly took a selfie of himself with my camera (if only he actually did take a photo…) in the process.

So when he finally made New Jersey for good back in 2011-12…I had found my favorite NHL Devil.  Of course, I’ll forever be grateful for that one fateful goal…the one where I screamed so loud at Recovery Room in Troy I’m sure people in Vermont heard me…

When he came back down to Albany in 2012 during the lockout–this was a few months later–he still remembered the fanbase, actually coming right to my group one night post game early in the season.  Now, normally I can handle myself around players, but on this particular night, when I saw him in the doorway in the back entrance of the arena, I was literally star struck. Luckily, I got myself together just in time.  Unfortunately, an injury in late November that year cut his visit short, and he would return to Jersey to rehab till after the lockout ended.

But the best moment was probably that first home preseason game in September 2015, the first official Welcome to the Shero Era night, I guess you could say.  A friend and I decided last minute to get tickets for that game, and I remember standing in line at a Starbucks on the Thruway and finding out via Twitter we could meet Rico before the game.  HOLY CRAP!

So…we waited for the right time to get into the Rock–Cory, Palms, and Andy Greene were also part of the welcoming committee–and followed the rush of people upstairs to the concourse and waited patiently.  When it got to be our turn, he saw both of us and his face lit up instantly.  The fact he still remembered who we were after all this time…thismoment is why I’m involved in hockey.  It was a very quick 30 second conversation and a photo, but to me, it was worth it.  Of course, stupid me doesn’t get my newly lettered Rico jersey signed at that time (smacks self hard again).

On the same night this happened, I was introduced to Blender.  Well, the on ice version of him anyway.

The kid was all over the place in that game against the Islanders.  Fighting, scoring, you name it.  I was so impressed that I figured I’d never see him come down to Albany.

Well…a couple of weeks later, there he was, walking around at the preseason Fan Fest at the arena.  I introduced myself to him and had mentioned how much I liked his play in Jersey, that I was happy to have him in Albany and I wasn’t going to let him leave (he laughed at that comment).

Blender, to me, was one of those players you couldn’t help but love watching him play, no matter what he did on the ice.  Pregame habits–soccer, jumping into the glass during warmup–became normal parts of my game day the last two A-Devils seasons while he was here.  Off the ice, he was such a wonderful person to get along with.  I even got to know his mom a bit since the family came down from Ontario to visit quite often.

Out of everything I miss with the move to Binghamton, I think my conversations with Blender postgame (when I actually did stick around) are one of the things I’m missing the most so far.  Just simple non hockey talks about random stuff, basically.  Luckily, I did get to see him in both my trips to see the Devils this season.  I had told him I’d see him in Utica in December…well, I guess not now.

Adam and Joe…thank you so much for helping shape 7 years of local memories for me.  Enjoy the sun in Anaheim.  I’ll miss you tons, but hopefully I will see you on the ice again soon.