As Don Maloney settled in as the Coyotes new general manager this summer, one of his immediate ‘minor’ visions was to change the atmosphere with the club’s development system. Maloney was realistic when he added players to the team who proved they could play and produce at the AHL level. Then, he added a good teacher and proven winner in head coach Greg Ireland. Now the Rampage are providing a development environment that is positive for the club’s prospects.
Already a little more than a quarter into the season, the Rampage are 14-8-2-3, which currently puts them in third place in the Western Division with 33 points. They trail the Rockford Icehogs and the Chicago Wolves (who are tied atop the division) by two points and are ahead of the Milwaukee Admirals by a five-point spread.
Offensively, the Rampage are on pace to surpass previous marks over the last two years. San Antonio has been a very puck aggressive team, which has worked in their advantage some nights, but has hurt them on others. Their special teams have had their highs and lows, but they are not far off their intend mark. Currently, their power play ranks 23rd in the league with a .141 success rate. On the other hand, their penalty kill is 15th overall, which puts them in the middle of pack. San Antonio is currently the fourth most penalized team in the league with 682 minutes. While Peter Vandermeer has accounted for 23 percent of that, the rest can be attributed to players not sticking to the systems and not playing a better individual positional game.
San Antonio’s offense has been led early on by some of its more seasoned players. There is a lot of chemistry and the scoring is spread out over the lines. Joey Tenute, Matt Murley, Jon DiSalvatore and Chris Durno have also added a welcomed spark. Joel Perrault is healthy and he’s back on track. Just falling outside the prospect criteria here at HF, the 24 year-old forward is leading the team in scoring with 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists). Perrault has also been instrumental in providing leadership to the core and mentoring Enver Lisin.
Bill Thomas also finds himself in the team’s top five in scoring. He has been a constant two-way player for the Rampage and has seen his scoring on rise this last month. Having just returned from a stint with the Coyotes, he is third on the team in scoring with 18 points (split evenly in goals and assists) in 25 games.
Tied with Thomas is Lisin, who also has 18 points (9 goals, 9 assists). The staff is very keen on his poise with the puck and his striking ability. Although, Lisin still needs to work on his positional play away from the puck and his commitment on the backcheck. He has also needs to find balance on his shifts. Right now, he has a tendency to exhaust himself early on and not playing consistently over his time on the ice.
Veterans Travis Roche and Bryan Helmer have lead the defensive unit from day one. The two have provided key leadership and direction to the young crew. Offensively, Roche leads all rearguards in scoring with 17 points (3 goals, 14 assists) in 25 games played.
Keith Yandle continues to prove to be the best young two-way defenseman in the pack. He’s second in scoring among defenders with 13 points (1 goal, 12 assists).
Even though it seems that Logan Stephenson is keeping a low profile, he’s continuing to grow at this level and is showing signs of maturity. He needs to continue to improve on his skating, speed, and positioning. He’s a resident defensive-defenseman, so his 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists) in 27 games are about par for the course.
Together as a unit, the younger guys are getting their minutes, but San Antonio has been stronger when they ice a more experienced blue line. The biggest keys have been consistency on working the puck out of the zone and up the ice.
It was an interesting mix of goalies from the get go, as the Rampage carried three netminders for a couple of stretches. However, Josh Tordjman has jumped out and taken the lead, going 8-3-1 in 14 games. He’s had a couple rough nights, which have brought his numbers down, resulting in a 3.08 goals-against average and a .899 save percentage. He is San Antonio’s go-to guy and is doing very well.
David LeNeveu was injured a couple weeks ago but has bounced back and is still on the radar. While he has a 3-3-2 record, his 2.44 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage are strong and show he’s still a valuable asset for the Coyotes.
Overall, Phoenix has found balance in its goalie situation from the top down, since acquiring Ilya Bryzgalov off waivers from the Anaheim Ducks. David Aebischer – who spent time with the Rampage towards the start of the season – has since been loaned to Lugano of the Swiss league. Even though Alex Auld was sent down to San Antonio after Bryzgalov’s arrival, he didn’t last long as the Coyotes traded him to the Boston Bruins for a 2009 fifth-round pick and AHL forward Nate Dicasmirro.
There is a lot of work that still remains, but the Rampage are off to a good start. The foundation will continue to revolve around attitude, character, and work ethic, which this squad is rich in. The team seems to have bought into Ireland’s system and the early results are promising. If San Antonio can keep up this pace, expect them to a bona fide post-season team.
The Coyotes AA affiliate this season is the Arizona Sundogs of the Central Hockey League. Playing out of Tim’s Toyota Center in Prescott Valley, the Dogs are off to a great start, going 14-5-1, which puts them in a tie for first place with Odessais good for in the Southwest Division and tied for second overall in the Southern Conference.
Tyler Redenbach has been the team’s top performer, scoring 37 points (9 goals, 28 assists) in 18 games. Sixteen of those points have come off the power play (which happens to be the second best in the league behind the Colorado Eagles). The Regina native was named the league’s player of the month for his performance in November. During that month, he led the team to an 8-3-0 record while scoring 5 goals and 16 assists. He currently ranks tied for second in the CHL’s scoring race.
Alex Leavitt was slow out of the blocks this summer, but has picked up a lot of steam as of late. Just returned from duty in San Antonio, Leavitt is currently second on the team in scoring with 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) in 14 games. Olivier Latendresse is also back in Arizona after seeing time with the Rampage. The 21-year-old has 14 points (8 goals, 6 assists) in 11 games.
Holding up the rear, Sean Sullivan is Arizona’s top scoring rearguard with 17 points (7 goals, 10 assists) in 16 contests. He too has seen some time with the Rampage but has done all his damage with the Dogs. David Schlemko is right behind Sullivan with 15 points (6 goals, 9 assists) in 20 games. The former WHLer is the team’s top offensive threat from the blue line on the power play. Of his 15 points, he’s earned 11 of those on the man advantage.