Three more days till the postseason kicks off locally. But there are a few notes to pass along:
-The official ruling from Saturday’s brawlfest with Bridgeport? No Albany players (or coaches) were disciplined. Bridgeport’s Ross Johnston was slapped with a 3 game suspension for supplementary discipline.
-After the first day of postseason practice, two more New Guys have joined the fold, in the form of 2 2015 draft picks: forward Blake Speers and defenseman Colton White. Speers, a 3rd round selection, appeared in 68 games for Sault Ste. Marie (OHL), picking up 74 points (26 goals, 48 assists), and an additional 10 points in 12 playoff games. White, a 4th rounder, also appeared in 68 games for SSM, scoring 9 goals and assisting on 26 others, along with 3 points in 12 playoff appearances.
-Just as it looked like everyone was staying put for the 2016-17 season…it’s curtains for the Springfield Falcons. Their parent club, Arizona, announced this morning that they have bought the Falcons franchise and intend to move the team to Tucson, AZ for next season. This may cause some realignment with an open spot in the Atlantic Division and a new team moving into the Pacific Division. Could a new Albany opponent be in the cards? We’ll have to wait and see.
Personally, I’m sad that I’m losing one of my favorite road trip spots (it’s roughly 85 miles east, a quick hour and a half ride over Interstate 90), and also sad for the many friends I’ve made in the Falcons fanbase. Hopefully a new team, no matter what league, moves in soon enough.
After trying to guess and waiting out nearly a full Sunday afternoon slate of games to close the regular season, we now finally know who Albany will be facing in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs…our friends to the west of us, Utica. Despite a loss to Binghamton in their season finale, a Bridgeport loss to Providence sealed the deal earlier this afternoon.
With that said, here is the official first round schedule:
Game 1 at Albany, Friday at 7:00 PM
Game 2 at Albany, Saturday at 5:00 PM
Game 3 at Utica, April 26th at 7:00 PM
Game 4 at Utica, April 28th at 7:00 PM*
Game 5 at Albany, April 30th at 5:00 PM*
Yes, there are still 5 PM Saturday starts. But look at it this way: if the game should go to multiple overtimes, you can get out at a decent hour! Or, finish up on time and head out to watch all the 7 PM & 8 PM NHL starts (or even follow along with another Calder Cup series).
As for my coverage, here’s the plan for the next two weeks:
Monday Part 1 of my year end review will be up at 7 PM, covering all the final regular season stats. Pregamer for the series will be out Friday at noon. I will be on hand for Games 1 and 2 at home. As of now I’m not planning on any travel due to my work schedule (and the fact every ticket will probably be sold out in 10 minutes…it is Utica after all), but that can change. Game 3 I will be able to cover from home, as of now I will be unable to do Game 4 if needed. If Game 5 is necessary I will be at the arena.
As for the rest of the Eastern Conference: Portland will face Hershey beginning on Friday in Maine; Providence will face Wilkes-Barre beginning Wednesday in Pennsylvania; and Toronto will face Bridgeport beginning on Saturday in Connecticut. You can find the full league schedule here.
So much has happened over the last 24 or so hours, it needed its own post before the weekend recap. And you’ll be quizzed on this later, so pay attention!
Before I head down to The Rock for the final New Jersey game of the season (I’ll be hanging out in 120), let’s get everyone up to speed on quite a few roster moves:
-Just after the pregamer hit Friday, New Jersey sent Mike Sislo, Blake Pietila, and Vojtech Mozik back to Albany. Sislo finished with 3 goals and 1 assist in 18 games. Pietila appeared in 7 games in his first callup, scoring once and picking up an assist. Mozik appeared in 7 games and was scoreless in his first taste of the NHL. Pavel Zacha was assigned from Sarnia (OHL) to Albany, then recalled by New Jersey. He is expected to make his debut this evening.
-During Albany’s win in Syracuse later in the day, three more draft picks were signed to entry level deals, with two of those players possibly making their debuts tonight: defensemen Steve Santini and Josh Jacobs, and forward Miles Wood. Jacobs, a 2014 second rounder and a teammate of Zacha’s in Sarnia, will immediately join Albany on an ATO. In 67 games with the Sting, he put up 24 points (4 G, 20 A) and a +26 rating, and had 5 assists in 7 playoff games.
Santini and Wood, teammates at Boston College, are likely to make their NHL debuts tonight. Santini, a 2013 2nd rounder, has been touted as New Jersey’s best defensive prospect, and is foregoing his senior season to sign. He appeared in 41 games this season with the Eagles, scoring once and handing out 18 assists.
Wood is a 2013 4th rounder who just completed his freshman season at BC after spending three seasons in the prep ranks. In 37 games he scored 10 goals and assisted on 25 others.
-And finally, congratulations to Albany head coach Rick Kowalsky, who won the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the AHL Coach of the Year! He was chosen by a panel of media and other coaches in all 30 AHL cities. All he’s done this year is lead the team to the third best record in the league despite an ever changing roster. The only coach the Albany Devils have ever known and the third longest tenured coach in the league, he has a lifetime record of 214-203-38. Amazing what happens when you stick with one guy despite several cries during the lean years to fire him…
While everyone else was watching John Scott rub it in the NHL’s face in Nashville, the American Hockey League had their own All Star events to tend to. And for the second straight year, I was able to make the trip…hey, it’s just a 2 hour ride west down the Thruway, you can’t pass that up. And it was a very interesting and fun time, as a new format was introduced along with the traditional skills (no Jagr impressions or little kids though).
To get things started, Sunday night the All Stars competed in the annual skills competition.
First, the Puck Control Relay…where the East dominated the team competition (Mike Sislo was part of the winning second heat) and split the individual heat (the middle round was won by the West Youth Star selections).
Second round saw the Fastest Skater contest, where Stockton’s Derek Grant took home the individual title with a time of 14.307 seconds. The West also took home the fastest average time award.
In the Rapid Fire round, the West won out again, stopping 28 shots while the East managed 24 saves. Yann Danis had 5 of those in his round.
The East would finally get back in the win column during the Hardest Shot round, as Hartford’s Ryan Graves won the individual title with a 103.4 mph shot. St. John’s Morgan Ellis and Bakersfield’s Brad Hunt were the only other players to break triple digits.
In the Accuracy Shooting round, Chicago’s Pat Cannone took home the individual title with 4 hits in 5 shots. But the East won team honors after hitting the targets 18 times in 34 attempts.
Both conferences split the Pass and Score competition, as Yann Danis stopped 2 of 3 shots faced during round 3. Mike Sislo faced off against Ontario’s Peter Budaj in round 6.
The final event was the Breakaway Relay…and it wasn’t the greatest round for Danis, as he allowed 4 of 6 shooters to score. Sislo did score on Budaj in his round, but the West would dominate 10-5.
Manitoba’s Eric Comrie would take home the top goaltender award after stopping 17 of 19 shots faced.
And now a few more images from Sunday…
Day 2 Events:
-First on the agenda: the annual State of the League address. Topics discussed included the imbalanced schedule between the 5 California teams and the rest of the league (still sticking to the plan, but at some point it could get to an even schedule for everyone); the ultimate goal of having 2 referees for every game (due to small pool of referees available it will take time, but the two referee system will be in place for every playoff game come spring); and playoff financing structure for teams (instead of the league receiving a percentage of ticket sales, each team will “purchase” playoff dates from the league, giving them more flexibility for selling and pricing tickets). Wrong Side of the Red Line has your full wrapup here.
-Now for the games! A round robin 7 game tournament between all 4 divisions commenced, lasting 9:00 each (except for the final game of 6:00). Both teams would play 4 on 4 for the first half, then switch sides and play 3 on 3 for the second half. The final would be all 3 on 3 for 6 minutes, switching sides halfway through.
In the opening round, it took nearly the entire game before the first goal was scored…then Toronto’s Josh Leivo would score with just 27 seconds remaining to clinch it for the North. Yann Danis and Syracuse’s Kristers Gudlevskis would split the shutout, with Danis picking up the win. He only needed to stop 3 shots in 4:30, while Gudlevskis stopped 4 shots. Morgan Ellis (St. John’s) picked up the lone assist. Mike Sislo managed one shot on goal.
The second game was another defensive battle that saw some late dramatics. Chicago’s Pat Cannone would put Central on the board with 3:30 left to go. Then just as time was about to expire, Hershey’s Chris Bourque would get one past Michael Leighton (Rockford) to tie it up, sending it to the shootout. Leighton would stop all three Atlantic shooters, while Portland’s Mike McKenna would give up one to Cannone, giving the Central the win. Leighton went the distance and stopped 4 of 5 shots before the shootout. 2 skaters on each side would have assists.
The offense finally started picking up as the Central and North each played their second game. Yann Danis would draw the start and struggled a bit, giving up two goals in 4:30. Pat Cannone would score his second of the day 1:41 in, followed by Jake Dowell (Rockford) 36 seconds later. Dowell would strike again against Kristers Gudlevskis 5:03 in for a commanding 3-0 lead. But the North would get on the board with two goals in 31 seconds…Josh Leivo would score his second of the day, followed by Michael McCarron (St. John’s) to cut the lead to 3-2. But an empty netter by Ryan Hartman (Rockford) would clinch a second win for the Central. Manitoba’s Eric Comrie would go the distance in picking up the win, stopping 11 of 13 North shots.
In another defensive battle, the Atlantic scored twice in the first 2:32 and never looked back. Bridgeport’s Alan Quine, a last minute replacement, would score on Bakersfield’s Laurent Brossoit 54 seconds into the contest. Seth Griffith (Providence) would double the lead with his first of the night. Sean Backman (Pacific) would break up the combined shutout bid with 1:30 left, but no more. Mike McKenna picked up the win with 3 saves, while Anthony Stolarz (Lehigh Valley) would follow up with 7 saves on 8 shots. Four different Atlantic skaters would add helpers.
Finally, some offense! And it only took 12 seconds and a Derek Grant (Stockton) goal to get things started. Xavier Ouellet (Grand Rapids) and Nick Ritchie (San Diego) would trade goals 25 seconds apart for a 2-1 Pacific lead, then Mikko Rantanen (San Antonio) would extend the Pacific lead to 3-1. But just as the teams switched over to 3 on 3, the Central would rally. West Captain Jeff Hoggan (Grand Rapids) would cut the lead to 3-2, only to have Ritchie score his second 4o seconds later for a 4-2 Pacific advantage. Then Andre Benoit (Chicago) and Jake Dowell would score 2 minutes apart to tie the game up at 4. But with 4 seconds left, Grant would score his second and Brandon Montour (San Diego) would add an empty netter three seconds later to give the Pacific the win. T.J. Tynan (Lake Erie) would have two assists for the Central, while three Pacific skaters had two helpers each.
An intradivisional battle to determine who was going to face the Central in the final round. Rob Schremp (Portland) would start the scoring 2:02 in against Yann Danis. After both sides switched to 3 on 3 play, Chris Bourque would pick up his second goal of the day for a 2-0 lead. The North would get on the board 25 seconds later thanks to a Mike Sislo goal, but that was as close as they would get. Alan Quine would score his second of the day for a 3-1 lead, then Schremp would score an empty netter to seal the Atlantic win. Danis stopped 3 of 4 shots, wrapping up a solid evening for him in net.
The final battle for division supremacy in the AHL…and it was absolutely no contest. Jeff Hoggan would score 24 seconds in and the rout was on from there. Derek Ryan (Charlotte) and Pat Cannone would score 38 seconds apart for a 3-0 lead, then Xavier Ouellet would seal the title with an empty netter with 16 seconds remaining. Michael Leighton would go the distance and stop all 9 Atlantic shots. Frederick Gaudreau (Milwaukee) would pick up 3 assists.
Although there were quite a few candidates for the night’s Most Valuable Player, Cannone would take home the honors.
Thank you to the AHL, the Crunch, and everyone involved for a fun 2 days! It’s always a great time to meet up with friends from around the league and interact with mascots I never get to see (I’m looking at you, Western Conference).
The Devils begin the week with a 22-8-4-0 mark, 48 points and a .706 percentage. They remain in second place in the North Division, 12 points and .083 percentage points behind first place Toronto.
It was quite the week for Mike Sislo: Monday and Wednesday, he was playing in New Jersey. Thursday, he was named an AHL All Star. Friday, he was reassigned to Albany and scored twice, adding an assist for good measure. Saturday, another goal and two assists. All of that was worthy enough for AHL Player of the Week honors on Monday, the first Devil to win the award this season.
Injury front: It appears Blake Coleman (shoulder) is done for longer than expected, as he tweeted Tuesday he is having surgery.
Wednesday, 1/13 vs. Rochester
Where: Times Union Center, Albany, NY.
When: 7:00 PM.
Season Series: Tied at 1.
Know Your Opponent:
Record: 17-16-2-1, 37 points, .514 pct, 6th place in North Division
Leading Scorers/Goaltending: 2 players tied with 23 points; Nathan Lieuwen, 9-6-1, 2.97 GAA; Andrey Makarov, 6-7-2, 3.09 GAA; Robin Lehner, 1-1-0, 3.04 GAA
Notes: Robin Lehner, on a conditioning assignment from Buffalo, is expected to make his third start tonight; the Amerks finished 2-1 over a 3 in 3 last weekend, defeating Hershey and Binghamton before losing to Syracuse at home Sunday afternoon; team captain Cal O’ Reilly is Rochester’s lone All Star representative; the Amerks will face the Senators in a home and home series this weekend before hosting Syracuse Monday afternoon.
Record: 16-15-5-1, 38 points, .514 pct, 5th place in Atlantic Division
Leading Scorers/Goaltending: 2 tied with 31 points; Malcolm Subban, 10-8-3, 2.65 GAA; Zane McIntyre, 6-6-3, 2.93 GAA
Notes: The Bruins have won their last 9 on home ice, dating back to December 4th against Portland; Providence is riding an overall 4 game winning streak into the weekend; the team is just .1% ahead of Albany for the overall power play lead (24.6%); forward Seth Griffith, the AHL Player of the Month for December, is the lone Bruin going to the AHL All Star Classic.
Record: 16-15-3-2, 37 points, .514 pct, 5th place in North Division
Leading Scorers/Goaltending: Hunter Shinkaruk, 27 points (15 G, 12 A); 2 tied with 19 points; Richard Bachman, 6-6-2, 2.54 GAA; Joe Cannata, 9-8-2, 2.67 GAA
Notes: The Comets have dropped six straight, its only standings point coming on December 30th, an overtime loss in Albany; they will host Toronto on Wednesday and travel west to Syracuse on Friday; forward Hunter Shinkaruk is the lone All Star representative; the Devils are 9-0 all time against the Comets.
After having to read about several NHL teams’ rookie development camps this week…starting on Monday, it will finally be New Jersey’s turn. A total of 42 players will be taking the ice from July 13th-18th, culminating in a Red-White scrimmage on Saturday:
GOALTENDERS (4): Anthony Brodeur, Mac Blackwood, Ken Appleby, Colton Phinney.
FORWARDS (26): Brandon Baddock, Graham Black, Joseph Blandisi, Reid Boucher, Connor Chatham, Blake Coleman, Patrick D’Amico, J.D. Dudek, Matt Gaudreau, Artur Gavrus, Alexandre Goulet, Sergey Kalinin, Tyler Kelleher, Alexander Kerfoot, Ryan Kujawinski, Matt Lorito, Darcy Murphy, Max Novak, Blake Pietila, John Quenneville, Brett Seney, Brandon Shea, Blake Speers, Ben Thomson, Miles Wood, Pavel Zacha.
DEFENSEMEN (12): Joe Faust, Casey Fitzgerald, Raman Hrabarenka, Joshua Jacobs, Vojtech Mozik, Ryan Rehill, Steven Santini, Reece Scarlett, Damon Severson, Jacob Sweeney, Colton White, Tyler Wood.
A few fun facts about this group:
-8 players appeared in at least one game for Albany in 2014-15. It could have been 9 if Brandon Baddock had seen action.
-25 players are Devil draft picks, going as far back as 2010.
-Family ties: Martin Brodeur’s son Anthony (a 2013 draft selection who was not signed) leads the goaltending corps. Matt Gaudreau is the younger brother of Johnny Gaudreau, who just finished a stellar rookie campaign in Calgary. Tyler Wood is the older brother of 2013 draft selection Miles Wood.
Fire and Ice has more information on the undrafted invitees.
In league news, the AHL announced their annual rule changes and playoff format for 2015-16:
-All teams will still play 76 games. Unless you’re Bakersfield, Stockton, San Jose, Ontario, or San Diego, who will only play 68 (WHY???? Dumb dumb dumb…sorry. Getting off topic.) games. With an uneven schedule, playoff standings will now be based on points percentage instead of the actual point total (Math. Yay.). The top 4 teams in each division will qualify for a playoff spot…however, if the 5th place team in either the Atlantic or Central Division finishes with a higher percentage than the 4th place North or Pacific Division team, they can cross over and grab that spot. The divisional set up remains for the first two rounds of the playoffs.
-Overtime will now be 3 on 3 for 5 minutes, just like in the NHL and the ECHL. The shootout remains if a game is still tied after that. And also staying around…DRY SCRAPE!
-New for 2015-16: the coach’s challenge. If a coach still has a timeout remaining, they can use the challenge to initiate a video review, but only for rules that use replay.
Before the free agency frenzy begins on Wednesday, two last pieces of business to tend to:
-All teams had until 5 PM today to tender qualifying offers to any restricted free agents. New Jersey did just that with Stefan Matteau and Seth Helgeson. However, qualifying offers were not in the cards for Maxime Clermont or Corbin McPherson, making both of them unrestricted free agents.
-Here’s another list to keep an eye on for organizational depth: the annual AHL Big Board is out. With the original author moving on to greener pastures in Pittsburgh, our friends over at Chirps from Center Ice took over the project and enlisted several other bloggers, including myself, to help put the list together. Unlike in past years where you had to nearly scroll all the way to the bottom to find any Devils, there are quite a few Albany UFAs in the top 100: Joe Whitney sits at 10, Paul Thompson at 21 (just behind former Devil Bobby Butler at 20), Scott Timmins at 47, Darcy Zajac at 68, and Scott Clemmensen at 72. The Patriot News (who cover the Hershey Bears) did their own Top 100 list, complete with videos.
Unless anything earth shattering happens before Wednesday…the first Free Agent Tracker goes live at noon sharp on the 1st!
…since I last updated this thing. Before I jump head first into local baseball season (which begins on Friday…those that follow me on Twitter have all been duly warned), how about some updates?
-Congratulations go to the Manchester Monarchs, who in their final season as an AHL franchise captured their first Calder Cup on Saturday evening by defeating Western Conference (now new division rival) Utica in 5 games. Since I wasn’t able to get to the Aud for a game (when there’s a line around the corner hours before the box office opens, attempting Ticketmaster is pretty much going to be a fail), I did take advantage of the free AHL Live feed and watched parts of 3 of the games…and I have to tip my cap to the Comets fanbase. You will never find a louder, more loyal group than that in any arena, whether minor or major league. I even saw it first hand during the All Star festivities (and I’ll confess to jumping in on a few UTICA chants).
-When the first edition of this year’s Free Agent Tracker comes out on July 1st, you will notice that I have added a new list to go with who’s signed and who is up for free agency: those that have signed to entry level deals. Since my last post, two more names have been added, with both names coming from overseas:
-Back on May 29th, New Jersey signed Russian forward Sergey Kalinin (terms as always undisclosed), who comes to North America after spending the last 5 seasons with Avangard Omsk of the KHL. In 58 games last season he scored 25 points (12 G, 13 A) while serving as the team captain.
-Earlier today, a signing completely out of left field, as Czech defenseman Vojtech Mozik was signed to an entry level deal. He spent the last 3 seasons with HC Plzen in the Czech Extraliga, where last season he notched 29 points in 51 games. His 10 goals (a career high) lead the league among defensemen.
It’s been a relatively quiet month of May after a new general manager in New Jersey took the reins and after a sixth Albany season became official.
But…things are starting to pick up a little bit, and today saw the first wave of draft pick signings. New Jersey announced earlier this afternoon that forwards Ryan Kujawinski and Blake Pietila have been signed to entry level contracts.
Kujawinski was drafted in the 3rd round and 73rd overall in 2013 by the Devils, and split last season between Kingston and North Bay of the OHL, appearing in 61 games and posting 59 points (34 G, 25 A), while adding an additional 9 points (6 G, 3 A) in 15 playoff games with North Bay.
Pietila, a 2011 5th round draft selection (129th overall), just completed a four year collegiate career at Michigan Tech. He tied a career high with 14 goals during his senior season in 40 games while serving as co-captain of the Huskies.
Meanwhile, in other league news:
-Manchester can finish off the Eastern Conference finals as early as tonight with a victory over Hartford, which would finish off a sweep of the Wolfpack. In the West, Utica and Grand Rapids are tied at 1, with the series shifting to Michigan beginning on Thursday.
-The 2016 AHL All Star Classic is a go…with Syracuse hosting the event on January 31st and February 1st. Tickets for both the Skills Competition and the game officially went on sale earlier today. No, I did not order my ticket…yet. But all signs point to me making the trip west for the second straight event.