This is the first season Hockey’s Future will cover the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) in depth. For those of you that haven’t followed the ECHL we feel a little background information is in order.
The ECHL is the largest developmental professional hockey league in North America. Formed in 1988, the league had five teams. The original five were the Erie Panthers, Johnstown Chiefs, Knoxville Cherokees and the Virginia Lancers. Only the Johnstown Chiefs remain in their original city. The Erie Panthers are now known as the Baton Rouge King Fish. The Knoxville Cherokees relocated to Florence, South Carolina in 1997 and are known as the Pee Dee Pride. The Virginia Lancers are the most traveled team. They made stops in Roanoke, VA as the Rebels 1990-1992 and the Rampage, 1992-93 as well as Huntsville AL in 1993-94 and finally settled in Tallahassee FL as the Tiger Sharks.
During the 1998-1999 season, paid attendance was over 4.8 million fans. The ECHL will have twenty-seven teams, spread out over fourteen states playing this season. Twenty-three of the Twenty-seven NHL teams last season had ECHL affilliates.
Week one of camp has come and gone. Veterans rehearsed and rookies auditioned and the atmosphere was competitive. Yes, this Blues assortment was like no other. Never has there been such talent present nor emotion visible in camps prior to this one. Chris Pronger, not exactly what one would call happy-go-lucky, displayed his temper on many occasions. And Geoff Courtnall expressed his displeasure with one such rookie’s idea of a “good” check. Then there are the invitees, wide eyed and raring to go. They’ll do anything and everything to capture the eyes of the coaches and scouts. Yes, even dropping the gloves with Prongs. At which Joel Quenneville must have been holding his breath and saying, just turtle Chris. Now that week one has come to a close, let’s evaluate the Blues young players of the future.
Last week we took a look at the future of the Brandon Wheat Kings, the rookies. This week let’s take a look at who is returning.
Friday night Moose Jaw rolled into town for Brandon’s second preseason game of the season. Moose Jaw dropped the sluggish Wheaties 4 to 2.
This wasn’t a great game to really evaluate the veterans from last year; reason being, coaches Bobby Lowes and Mark Johnston decided to play almost all their veteran rearguards as forwards. Therefore let’s extrapolate where each veteran left off last year, what is needed out of them this year and perhaps a guess as to what might happen to them in the scheme of things.
This would be an area of strength for Brandon if the fact that the yearly tradition of many injuries has struck again.
Jamie Hodson – 19, 6’2″, 196. Hodson through the balance of last years season established himself as Brandon’s number one puck stopper. Hodson made his status clear in spite of his coaches sticking to alternating between goalies. Going into the playoffs Hodson was deemed ‘the man’ between the pipes. Hodson aggravated an existing injury to his knee in March and after a brief rest played out the season with pain. In May he underwent re-constructive knee surgery to repair the damage. He is presently rehabbing well and is on schedule to return to the lineup in late November.
Tonight’s exhibition pitted lines centered by two centres picked within two spots of each other in the first round of the 1998 Draft. In fact the Maple Leafs traded down, out of the #8 slot, where the Blackhawks took Mark Bell, because the Leafs management knew that Nikolai Antropov was a project and would be there at #10. .
They both won about the same amount of face-offs. Antropov was bigger but was less able to maneuver in the jammed spaces that occur during the game. In the open ice he moved easily and passed the puck quickly, always looking to set up scoring opportunities for his linemates. In the first period, Bell was behind the Leaf’s net moving out.. Antropov attempted to take control, but Bell maneuvered back and forth behind the net, gaining room on Antropov. But as he started out, Glen Healy poke checked the puck away in what looked to surprise Bell.
In the third period Bell came in on defenseman D.J. Smith and Jimmy Waite, and was able to let off a lightning quick snap shot which Jimmy waite stopped chest high. On the way back up the ice Smith checked Bell. Then att the end of the shift Bell lost it and cross-checked Smith, and continued after the whistle to let Smith know his displeasure. He saw an early dressing room.
Another Hawk prospect who obviously came to play was Geoff Peters. When Leaf centre Kevyn Adams tried to get the puck loose from Thibault, Peters followed him to the corner and dropped the gloves. Peters put him to the ice with a solid left hand.
Ok, so he played regularly in the NHL last season and is in no way a prospect, but he is only a little over one year removed from being the number one overall draft pick. Although he didn’t put up big numbers, mostly because he was handled very carefully by the team and he didnt exactly have a lot around him, he did show signs of why he is one of, if not the, most talented players drafted in the last several years. He has added another 15 pounds of solid muscle, taking him up to between 205 and 210. I will address that in the interview. After seeing him in the first two days of workouts, I’d have to say that the extra size has definitely helped him, without slowing him down a bit. Look for him to have a very good season. Well, enough of my blabber, let’s hear what Vinny has to say.
RH – What is your overall impression of the NHL after your first season?
VL – The speed and the size of the players. It’s a much tighter game up here. There’s not as much room so you have to learn how to get to where you want to be on the ice.
RH – Do you think you learned that?
VL – Yes. By the end of the season I was pretty comfortable with things. I got a lot of help from some teamates with that type of stuff.
RH – Who helped you learn the ropes so to speak? Read more»