AHL Southern Division Report
By Al Alven
Covering the Hershey Bears, Norfolk Admirals,
Philadelphia Phantoms and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
With 13 days to go until the start of the 66th season
of AHL hockey, things are beginning to take shape.
This past week, in the Southern Division alone, a
number of developments went down. From rookie/prospect
games to Mario Lemieux demoting himself to the minors
(huh?), it’s been an interesting week.
Let’s take a closer look…
O.K., so that thing about Lemieux sending himself
to the minors was a little misleading. Still, it’s
something I never thought I’d be typing. “Lemieux” and
“minors” just do not belong in the same sentence.
Anyway, for those who haven’t heard, Mario Lemieux
will be playing for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
in an exhibition game against the Pittsburgh Penguins
on Saturday night at the First Union Arena in
Lemieux will wear three different jerseys (one
for each period), each of which will be auctioned off
after the game. Proceeds will be donated to various
charitable causes, including the Twin Towers Fund.
You may recall Wayne Gretzky doing a similar
thing a few years back. During his time with the Los
Angeles Kings, the “Great One” suited up for the IHL’s
Phoenix Roadrunners in an exhibition game versus L.A.
For the record, Lemieux has never appeared in a
minor league game. He jumped straight from the junior
ranks (QMJHL) to the NHL after being selected with the
Just a year ago, it would be complex to speculate about the future of certain young blueliners. In fact, young defensemen have it the worst; it is, arguably, the hardest position to learn and, more often than not, it requires physical prowess as well as skill to master. Ask any hockey enthusiast, and he or she will probably tell you that defensemen take longer to develop, unlike forwards. Very seldom does one see a 19-year old OHL star quarterback an NHL team the very next year. More often that not, it takes a blueliner several years in the big leagues to truly achieve expected potential. Take Chris Pronger, for example; he stumbled at first, and was losing confidence. After several years of development, Chris found his niche as a tough, big-hitting, physical force and eventually built up a further offensive flavour to his game.
Keeping that in mind, it is never easy to foresee success of young hockey players, especially blueliners. This season’s crop of young defensemen, features a pack of hopefuls of different ages, styles and expectations. However, it might seem shocking just how much NHL teams will rely on talented defensively-capable youngsters today. This year, it seems like the story of “out with the old, and in with the new”, as younger, gifted players will be given the chance to take on major roles with their respective teams.
Last year, a group of young blueliners had undergone breakthrough years. Notably, Ed Jovanovski achieved all-star status with a 47 Read more»
The Kings are moving along in their preseason schedule, and there have been some surprises – both good and bad. With two cuts already having been made, here is where the Kings are.
First, the development, or lack thereof, of Jaroslav Bednar has to be the primary concern. No matter what anyone says now, the Kings planned on having Bednar on one of their top two lines. After spending the summer saying that he was not like Tomas Vlasak, Bednar has spent the last two weeks proving that he might be exactly like him.
The play of some young forwards has been encouraging. Even though they will likely not make the team, Yannick Lehoux and Jared Aulin have shown that they have NHL-caliber stuff and will be here soon enough. Add to that the surprise play of Chris Schmidt and Derek Bekar along with solid play by Adam Mair and the Kings have the chance to have a young prospect crack the everyday lineup. It will likely be Mair or even Bekar, but the once written-off Schmidt has shown some signs of life and he may finish the season with the big club. Young tough guy Ryan Flinn is battling the likely enforcer Ken Belanger for the muscle spot and if nothing else, he has a steel dome and fears no one on the ice which has been a successful formula for more than one tough guy in the league.
Young defensemen Joe Rullier, Richard Seeley, Tomas Zizka and even Andreas Lilja have shown some spark. Lilja appears to be too slow to be the player they once thought, but he could be a player in the mold of Sean O’Donnell, and those kind of defensemen are valuable. Zizka looks Read more»
This year at Devils training camp, there will be many battles for open positions on the big club. Among them are the back-up goaltender position, the 7th defenseman spot and the most important of all, two forward positions, including the one that Alexander Mogilny and his 43 goals left vacant after leaving for the Maple Leafs. Here is breakdown of the position battles, who the candidates for the open positions are and what they have to offer.
Battle #1: Back-Up Goaltender
For the first time in a while, the man chosen to back up Martin Brodeur will not have any NHL experience under his belt. Martin seemed to show signs of wear and tear in the finals last year so finding a quality back-up that the team can have confidence in is very important.
Early favorite: JF Damphousse as it stands right now is the favorite to win the back up job behind Brodeur. JF, the Devils ’97 1st rounder, put up very respectable numbers for a weak Albany River Rats AHL squad last season (2.86 GAA and .914 Sv%). The agile, butterfly style goalie has earned the first chance to win the back-up spot due to his strong play last season.
Others to watch: The club is very high on 20 year old Finnish prospect Ari Ahonen, who is bar none, the team’s goaltender of the future. However it would be better for him to get a full season of pro experience in Albany, rather than only play in 15 or so games at the NHL level. If Ari does out perform JF though, the Devils may have no choice but to give him a shot. Frederic Henry is a long shot at best right now, but he has t Read more»
Stoll Back in the saddle with the ICE
The return of Jarrett Stoll back to the Kootenay ICE from the Calgary Flames training camp produces some obvious mixed emotions for both the player and his Kootenay fans. The ardent process of the junior game is to ready the player for the inevitable next step in hockey, the professional ranks. But at the same time from a fan’s standpoint it’s hard to see them go any earlier than the graduated age of twenty.
It appears as though ICE fans will get their wish and have last season’s leading point-getter in the Blue, White and Bronze for at least one more season.
Although returned from his second NHL training camp after being drafted in the second round (46th overall) in the 2000 NHL Draft by the Flames, disappointment wasn’t foremost on the mind of the Yorkton, Saskatchewan native. “There’s a little bit,” said Stoll of the disappointment of being sent back. “But going there I just wanted to have a better camp than I did last year and I think that I showed I had improved. I think I did that by playing really well, every part of my game improved and they (the Flames) were really happy so, coming back is a little bit disappointing but I don’t think it’s going to hurt me by any means.
“It’s also good to get back and not miss any games and get right into it and see the guys again.”
Going into Flames camp Stoll had no reservations even though the pro club had added to its depth at Stoll’s natural position, center. Not the least of which was Cranbrook native Rob Neider Read more»