Peoria Rivermen season preview

By Chris Zacher

On Nov. 9, 2004 the St. Louis Blues announced that they were selling their AHL franchise, the Worcester IceCats, to Bruce Saurs and Anne Griffith, co-owners of the Blues ECHL affiliate the Peoria Rivermen. On the same day, Saurs and Griffith purchased the IceCats, they announced that they were moving the franchise from Worcester, Mass. to Peoria, Ill. Effectively the Worcester IceCats became the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL and the ECHL Rivermen ceased to exist. Once again, the Blues primary affiliate was in Peoria, where it operated as an IHL team from the mid-80s until the collapse of the league in 1994.

The 2005-06 season brings a new city, new sweater, new name, new division, new coach, and new players.

Goaltending

Curtis Sanford and Jason Bacashihua will split duties between the pipes as they did in Worcester. The 26-year-old Sanford played 50 games last season with a .901 save percentage and 2.69 GAA. The 23-year-old Bacashihua played 35 games, posting a .902 save percentage and 2.51 GAA.

Defense

The new NHL adds a plethora of new rules that may change the manner in which defensive systems are designed. This year’s group of Rivermen defensemen will be working on adjusting their style and play to fit into the new NHL. They will be led by team captain Brendan Buckley, alternate captain Aaron MacKenzie, and second-year offensive catalyst Dennis Wideman. The 22-year-old Wideman was third in team scoring from the back line as a rookie in 2004-05, with 43 points in 79 games for Worcester.

The team welcomes newcomers Doug Lynch and Jeff Woywitka, who came via trade from the Edmonton organization. In addition, former Florida Panther and Calgary Flame right wing tough guy turned defenseman Rocky Thompson was added to the mix that also includes Mike Mottau, and Trevor Byrne.

Blues GM Larry Pleau stated early in training camp that with the close proximity to St. Louis, many Rivermen would be riding the shuttle back and forth to St. Louis. Look for Woywitka to lead that charge followed by Lynch and Wideman while they hone their skills and compete for full-time duties with the Blues in 2006-07.


Forwards

Leading scorer Jay McClement has graduated to the Blues, leaving the door open to several players to step up.

One is disappointing, yet intriguing left winger Peter Sejna. While Sejna was expected to make the Blues out of training camp, the offensive potential that brought St. Louis to sign him as a free agent out of Colorado had not been realized and he was assigned to Peoria. Sejna has scored seven points in the first three games of the 2005-06 AHL season and was named CCM Vector/AHL Player of the Week for the period ending Oct. 9. Last year he had just 38 points in 64 games with Worcester.

Jon DiSalvatore, Worcester’s second leading scorer in 2004-05 with 45 points in 79 games, returns to the fold as well. Former prized prospect right-winger Colin Hemingway is familiar with the city, where he spent the majority of the past to seasons with the ECHL Rivermen. The Blues are hoping that Hemingway finally has a breakout season and can stick with the AAA affiliate, showcasing the talents that led them to draft him in 1999. At 25 years of age he is running out of time.

Speedy forward Mike Glumac returns for a third season in the St. Louis system injury-free and should finally appear in an NHL game at some point this season. Newcomer Lee Stempniak should provide a leadership role on and off the ice after finishing his four years at Dartmouth. Stempniak was the last forward cut by the Blues and a year in Peoria will help him adjust to pro hockey. Look for the offensive skills and leadership he showcased at Dartmouth to carry over to the Rivermen.

D.J. King is looking for a breakout season. NHL veteran Reed Low, who was squeezed out of the St. Louis line-up by Aaron Downey, looks to work his way back to the Blues in Peoria this season his NHL experience should prove critical in helping the younger players adjust to professional hockey. Centers Ryan Ramsay, Troy Riddle, and Gavin Morgan along with left wingers Charles Linglet, and Erkki Rajamaki round out the offense for the Rivermen. Linglet, who played for the now-affiliate Alaska Aces last season, has three points in three games thus far.

The Rivermen are off to a great start to the 2005-06 season, going 3-0-0 in their first three games and hope to fare better that the 2004-05 IceCats, who missed the playoffs.

Blues fans were hoping that Alexei Shkotov and Konstantin Zakharov would be leading the offense for the Rivermen this season, but that will not be the case. Shkotov decided to stay in Russia and Zakharov, who is having a difficult time adjusting to the professional game, was assigned to Alaska of the ECHL where he joins goaltending prospect Chris Beckford-Tseu and first-year professional defenseman Zach FitzGerald.




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