The 99-00 WHL season has begun and the Kootenay Ice started off with their third consecutive home and home series with the Red Deer Rebels. In the previous two home openers between these teams, the club who wins the first game of the home and home series has gone on to win the second game. The Kootenay Ice opened their fourth season in the WHL 2-1-0 in season openers.
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Just as the junior signing deadline approached the tight walleted Islanders made a bit of a surprise move by signing two players, Tim Connolly and Mathieu Biron. Connolly topped off a strong training camp with a two point peformance in the Isles last preseason game including his first goal. Tim brings an instant element of excitement to the team that the Isles sorely need after the departure of Ziggy Palffy. Biron was a stalwart on defense throughout the preseason averaging almost 20 minutes a game. Mathieu is even better than the Isles scouting staff had anticipated and in the last week he beat out Branislav Mezei for the last spot on the blueline. Biron has been throwing his weight around, playing solid two way hockey, and using his 6-6 215lbs frame effectively. Mezei will rejoin Barrie in the OHL for another season.
Another high profile demotion was that of outstanding goaltender Roberto Luongo to Lowell. However, this situation may not last for long. Rumors are flying all over that the Isles will get rid of Felix Potvin, their most expensive player, to make room for the up and coming Loungo. Even though Robrto was their best player in the preseason rushing him into the NHL behind the kiddy corps blueline may not be the best idea. Luongo has been a winner at every level and even though he is confident now, he may not be ready for a full year on the island.
“He is arguably the best goalie in the world at his age.” Dont worry, Art Williams has not bought another NHL team. Thats just Nashville Predators GM David Poile describing his five-star goaltending prospect, Brian Finley.
The Preds rewarded Finley with a three-year contract worth just over $6 million and up to over $9 million on Wednesday, two hours before the junior player contract deadline expired. For the next three seasons Finley will make $512,500; $512,500 and $1.025 million. As part of the deal he also recieves a signing bonus worth $1.025 million. The rest of the deal includes several bonuses and performance clauses that make up the contract. The contract’s financial numbers are just over what Preds prospect David Legwand signed at the end of last season.
Finley is expected to back up Tomas Vokoun for about the first week of the season while number one goalie Mike Dunham works out to get back in shape after missing all of training camp over a contract squabble. After the week, Finley will be sent back to Barrie where he will resume his junior career.
As the Rangers skated off the pre-season ice after a 5-2 victory over the Red Wings on goals by Theo Fleury, Valeri Kamensky, Petr Nedved, Tim Taylor and Adam Graves and strong goaltending by Mike Richter, the roster was basically set with the exception of a little tinkering here and there.
The final lines, no one knows for sure what they will be but it looks as though Petr Nedved, Theo Fleury and Val Kamensky will man the first unit with Brian Leetch and Stephan Quintal at no. 1 defense, the hotly contested no. 2 center slot has at least been filled with rookie Mike York who had an outstanding pre-season. The smallish center with crisp cuts and hands will man Adam Graves and perhaps John MacLean. The No. 3 unit is Manny Malhotra with Jan Hlavac and Mike Knuble/Kevin Stevens… Stevens a known dressing room leader had a strong pre season and was protected by the Rangers in the Waiver Draft.
The fourth line on Muckler`s three line team will be made up of Tim Taylor (he will see lots of ice time on the no. 2 and 3 units as well), Eric Lacroix, Darren Langdon, Knuble/Stevens and others….will audition. Defensively, Kim Johnsson and Sylvain Lefebvre will man the no. 2 unit with Mathieu Schneider and Peter Popovic at no.3 while Jason Doig will take the no. 7 spot or perhaps Ulf Samuelsson will be called back to MSG at the seasons` start.
The Los Angeles Kings roster appears to have taken final shape with a grand total of 0 of their top prospects on the squad. Injuries to Scott Barney and Eric Belanger, accompanied by poor performances by Justin Papineau and Pavel Rosa, have lead to the Kings roster full of veterans and older prospects.
These older prospects have shown tremendous promise, particularly on the blue line. Aki Berg and Frantisek Kaberle have had solid camps and will make the team and play of specialty teams. Other older prospects that seemed poised to make the team are Jason Blake, who will center the fourth line, and possibly Brad Chartrand on the wing. Marco Tuomainen has also showed promise and is sure to be a fan favorite because of his grit and the fact that he plays on the same line as Ian Lapperiere.
Points of concern would the the stagnant development of Pavel Rosa and Don MacLean. Neither made a dent with the new coaching staff and only Rosa seems likely to return any time soon. The Visa problems with Jere Karalahti have also dampened his chances to play in the NHL to start the season.
The Kings still have to make some roster cuts to get down to the 22 players that coach Murray wants to start the season.