Goaltender Tim Thomas´ early season performances for AIK in the Swedish Elitserien is leaving hockey people wondering why he isn´t playing in the National Hockey League.
Being no stranger to the European game, the 26-year-old American arrived in Stockholm this summer after spending last season with the Detroit Vipers of the IHL. He had previously starred in the Finnish SM-Liiga for powerhouse HIFK Helsinki.
AIK has started the season remarkably well and a lot of the credit goes to Thomas who has backstopped the team to a placing at the top of the league table after eight games. Looking at the American´s statistics it is easy to understand why he is being hailed as a hero with barely one fifth of the season played.
His numbers are simply Hasek-like.
He is sporting a 94.4 save percentage and a goals against average at 1.72, and that is playing behind a defense that was average at best for the most part of last season. Thomas appears calm and quietly confident in the net, whether it´s cutting angles or aggressively challenging shooters.
”Thomas won the game for us today,” said AIK Head Coach Pär Mårts after a mid-october 4-0 road win over Björklöven in which AIK was outshot 37-19. ”We lacked organization, didn´t win any faceoffs or battles along the boards. I´m thanking Tim for the three points,” Mårts elaborated.
Björklöven´s Head Coach John Slettvoll agreed: ”Tim Thomas was unbelievable today.”
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It’s been thirteen months in the construction stage, seven years in the developmental, planning, referendum and hoping stage and ten long 2000-01 regular season games in the waiting, but the opening day of Cranbrook’s Recreational Complex is finally upon us.
The $22.6 million, 4268 seat facility will host its first event Friday as the 2001 Memorial Cup host Regina Pats are in town to face the Kootenay ICE. The ICE, who finished up a monster ten game road trip to begin the season a very satisfying 7-0-1-1 (before Wednesday’s game against the Hurricanes) will have little time to get used to their new digs as the club will have a one practice in the new facility on Thursday before facing the Pats the next night. After Friday’s tilt against the Pats, Saturday is ‘Raise the Banner’ night when division rival Calgary Hitmen are in Cranbrook. Tickets for both games are going fast and are available by phoning 426-SEAT.
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With the hopes of a new season to lighten the eyes of the Manny Malhotras, Pavel Brendls and Derek Armstrongs of the world, Glen Sather orchestrated some deals to make the Rangers younger, bigger, and hungrier. However, this was done done via the additions of Dale Purinton and Johan Witehall, but the move of Stephane Quintal (much to the delight of Rangers fans) “in theory via waivers” for Brad Brown and Michal Grosek.
While the move makes the Rangers a better team, it sends tremors down the spine of the Rangers infrastructure. Players such as Purinton and Witehall are deserving as any to be in the NHL, but again have not been afforded the chance to make the show.
In the case of Lundmark and Brendl, neither showed up to play everyday and if not for Brendl’s big game to close the preseason, the entire camp would have been a wash. Mike Mottau, who so many decided was “on the team,” was dispatched to Hartford much like the rider after the initial engagement at Lexington and Concord. Mottau responded by having a rough opening act in the AHL.
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Here is the latest news on Flyers affiliated players in junior, college, and European hockey:
Canadian Junior Hockey
Guillaume Lefebvre: Lefebvre, who bounced around the Q last season, seems to have found a home in Rouyn. Through 10 games, the center has 10 points (2 goals; 1 powerplay, 1 shorthanded). He is getting steady ice-time.
Jeff Feniak: The big defenseman has been solid in his own end of the ice. He has also played physically- something he has to do to be successful. He has only one point (a goal) on the season but he will never be someone who can be tracked by points. More importantly, he has 30 penalty minutes and a +6 rating for Tri-City.
U.S. College Hockey
John Eichelberger: Did not play in the Wisconsin season opener. Started but did not score in their second game.
Colin Shields: Looking for ice time with U of Maine in the early season.
Antero Niitymäki: Continues to be the most exciting Flyers prospect outside of the North American pros. Came in the last TPS game (a convincing loss against Jokerit) in relief of Fredrik Norrena. Niittymäki may get the start in TPS’s road game tonight against Tappara. For the season, Niitymäki has appeared in all or parts of 5 games, recording a shutout, a 1.85 goals against average, and .925 save percentage.
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One Oilers whom has stepped up his offensive production is second year winger Shawn Norrie who was drafted by Edmonton in the sixth round this year. At 6-2/185 his has the size to be an effective third line checker with some offensive capabilities in the Ethan Moreau or Josh Green mold.
In the first 7 games with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL, he has amassed 3 goals and 4 assists while adding 17 minutes in penalties. Has shown the willingness to fight and play tough along the boards and crash the net with out fear. At this current rate Shawn will score 30 goals and 40 assists with 170 penalty minutes which is a huge increase over last seasons 12 goals and 13 assists and 94 penalty minutes over 67 games.
With the extra playing time in all situations this season an improvement in his offensive and defensive awareness should propel him to top of the scoring leaders on his team. His gritty play and tenacity are a welcome addition to the roster which has a few rookies this year and his style of play and leadership by example are a much needed commodity.
The coaching staff has given him the new responsibilities and he is beginning to flourish and he may become a steal in the draft for the Edmonton Oilers scouting staff if his play continues and he develops into a solid winger at the next level. If he progresses at this pace for the next couple years and models his play after Moreau and Mike Grier it will not be a surprise to see Shawn sporting an Oilers jersey in the near future.
GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS:
Mike Crowley was an IHL all-star with the Long Beach Ice Dogs last year and runner-up to Manitoba’s Brett Hauer for top defenceman honours. The 25-year-old had nine goals and a team-high 39 assists for the Ice Dogs and will be counted on to quarterback the Griffins power play.
ORLANDO SOLAR BEARS:
Entering his ninth professional season, Mark Beaufait has become a fixture in Orlando where he has led the team in scoring over the past four seasons. Last season as he registered a team-high 28 goals and 49 assists for 77 points in 78 games. The 30-year-old needs only 34 points to reach the 600-point mark for his IHL career.
Gilbert Dionne the former Montreal Canadiens sniper notched 34 goals and 83 points in 81 games a year ago — including 11 power-play markers. The scary thing is that the Cyclones captain could be set to increase his production this season.
Christian Matte led the AHL in scoring last season, posting 43 goals and 104 points in 73 games with the Hershey Bears, earning him a brief callup with the Colorado Avalanche. Matte, signed as a free agent during the summer by the Minnesota Wild, should provide scoring punch to the Jacks. He also won a Calder Cup championship with the Bears in 1996-97.
Marian Cisar the Slovakian product was second in scoring with the Admirals last year, posting 20 goals and 52 points in 78 games.
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Jason Ward -F (Drafted-97(1/11))
Ward found himself in the AHL after an average training camp. In his first game with Quebec, an 8-2 win over Syracuse, he scored 1 goal and added 4 assists.. He added another assist in a 7-5 win over Hamilton the next night. Overall Ward has 1 goal and 5 assists in 2 games, and is +3.
Mike Ribeiro -C (Drafted-98(2/45))
Ribeiro was also sent down to Quebec near the end of the Habs’ training camp. His lack of speed, along with the need for more playing time were the likely reasons. He was shutout during the Citadelles’ 8-2 opening night win over Syracuse. He rebounded with a goal and an assist in a 7-5 win over Hamilton. Overall Ribeiro has 1 goal and 1 assist and is +2.
Michael Ryder -W (Drafted-98(8/216))
Ryder was expected to spend his season in Quebec. He was shutout in the 8-2 win over Syracuse, and had an assist in the 7-5 win over Hamilton. Overall he has 1 assist and is -1.
Eric Chouinard -F (Drafted-98(1/16))
Chouinard was surprised by his demotion to Quebec. Many felt his natural goal scoring ability would better serve the Canadiens. He scored a goal in the 8-2 win over Syracuse, and had a strong second game as he scored 2 goals and added 2 assists in the 7-5 win over Hamilton. Overall he has 3 goals and 2 assists, and is a strong +5.
Marc-Andre Thinel -F (Drafted-99(5/145)) Read more »
The Rangers needed to make room for newly acquired Michal Grosek at
forward, and instead of trading an old veteran like John MacLean or Eric
Lacroix, they took a chance on losing Johan Witehall on waivers by sending
him down to Hartford of the AHL. Luckily no one picked up Witehall, and he
was assigned to Hartford yesterday. The Rangers roster is now down to 23 for
tonight’s game against Atlanta. Here is the roster, which includes 3
goaltenders, 7 defenseman and 13 forwards.
Goalies: Mike Richter (injured), Kirk McLean, Jason Labarbera (rookie)
Defenseman: Brian Leetch, Vladamir Malakhov, Sylvain Lefebvre, Rich Pilon,
Kim Johnsson, Brad Brown, Jason Doig
Forwards: Theoren Fleury, Adam Graves, Mark Messier, Valeri Kamensky, Mike
York, Michal Grosek, Petr Nedved, Radek Dvorak, Jan Hlavac, John MacLean,
Eric Lacroix, Tim Taylor, Sandy McCarthy
In other news, SLAM! is reporting that there has been talks about a
blockbuster trade between the Rangers and the Phoenix Coyotes. In this
proposed trade, the Rangers would send Mike Richter, Theoren Fleury, and top
prospects Jamie Lundmark and Pavel Brendl to Phoenix for Keith Tkachuk and
Nikolai Khabibulin. Although SLAM! says NHL insiders have said these talks
have taken place, Glen Sather has denied it. Thank Goodness! If the Rangers
pulled off that trade, I would be one pissed of hockey fan. Not only is that
deal totally one-sided in favor of Phoenix, we give up both our top prospects Read more »
The Canadiens began the 2000-2001 season with new players, fewer injuries, and a completely revamped system. Unfortunately, they came away with similar results; An 8-4 loss at the hands of the New Jersey Devils.
Unlike last season the Habs did not use a passive trap. The passive trap is used to cause turnovers in the neutral zone. Instead, they’re now using a 2-man forechecking system, in hopes of causing turnovers inside the offensive zone. This system created more offensive chances, particularly with the Habs’ speed.
The forwards were also attempting to create scoring chances off the rush. Last year (especially when injuries decimated the team), the Habs would not attempt to score off the rush, instead choosing to dump it in the corner and create scoring chances with the down-low cycle. The team’s lack of size is not conducive to cycling the puck down low, which is part of the reason for the change.
The defensemen however, are not immune to the change in the system. This season the Habs’ defensive corps has the green light when it comes to pinching-in. Pinching-in is when the defenseman attempts to keep the puck in the zone as the other team attempts to break-out. Last season the defensemen rarely pinched-in, choosing instead to back out of the offensive zone, thereby not allowing many odd-man rushes. Read more »
The Ontario Hockey League’s class of 2001 is looking very promising. With a solid core of
offensive gems and reliable rearguards, this year might be the most productive in recent memory
when it comes to the players developing into quality NHL players. Leading the pack is the highly
touted Jason Spezza of the Mississauga Ice Dogs. Spezza, in his 3rd full OHL season, has a very
good chance of being chosen 1st overall, and making an impact in the not so distant future in
the NHL. Also rated is Stephen Weiss of the Plymouth Whalers. As a rookie last season, Weiss
turned heads with his excellent on-ice vision, and maturity. These 2 players will certainly lead
the OHL into next year’s draft, and represent the offensive capabilities of the league, but the
show will then be focused over to four of the most talented defensemen that the OHL has ever
Leading the crop is Tim Gleason of the Windsor Spitfires. Gleason, in his 2nd season, can do it
all. His speed is his best asset, with end to end capabilities. Make sure to watch for him when
he visits your team’s rink. I can assure you that you have never seen a more powerful, more
agile skater. He is excellent in his own end, making the big plays in front of the net and in
the corners. He is not afraid to mix it up, as his grit and toughness aids well in making him a
solid defensive defenceman. A good example of this is last year’s 1st round playoff matchup vs. Read more »