The 2002 World Junior Championships have come and gone, with the Russian team taking home the gold medal as a result of their 5-4 victory over Canada in the WJC finale. While the Russians can bask in the fleeting feeling of glory days gone by, another former Eastern Bloc nation, the WJC host and defending champ Czech Republic, were left to ponder a disappointing 7th place finish.
As luck would have it, the Buffalo Sabres sported just 2 prospects participating in the WJC, with both of those players playing for the Czech squad. C Jiri Novotny and LW Michal Vondrka were both 2001 draft choices for Buffalo, with Novotny being the more high profile of the two due to his status as a 1st round pick. Both players also play for the same organization, Budejovice, with Novotny playing in the top Czech league and Vondrka splitting his time between the elite and junior squads.
If one were to judge strictly by statistics, it could be said that neither player had a particularly good showing at the WJC. Both players notched just 2 points in 7 games, with Novotny logging 2 assists, and Vondrka netting 1 while adding a helper. Both players were a minus for the tournament (Novotny –3, Vondrka –2), while also sporting nearly identical shots-on-goal numbers (Novotny 12, Vondrka 11).
In the case of Vondrka, at least, the statistics didn’t lie. As reported to me by Robert Neuhauser, the Czech Editor for Hockey’s Future, Michal’s performance was largely disappointing, mainly due to the fact that he didn’t see a Read more»
This past summer, the Buffalo Sabres signed defensive prospect Doug Janik to his first pro contract. Janik, a 2nd round pick of the Sabres in ’99, played in the U.S. national program before attending the University of Maine for 3 years. He is currently playing for the Rochester Americans of the AHL.
I had a chance to speak with Doug following Rochester’s 12/14 game vs. Cleveland. The following is a transcript of that conversation, with “HF” representing yours truly, and “DJ” being Mr. Janik.
: Tonight’s game- frustrating. For 2 periods, you guys played pretty well, but you’re down 4-1.
: Yeah, coming off last week, we hoped to have a little better effort and outcome than we had tonight, definitely. So, it’s a disappointing game for us.
: The whole season’s been like that, basically- getting some chances, but not burying the puck.
: We had a lot of chances tonight; we also had some defensive breakdowns, and it’s just been kind of up and down like that all year.
: Personally, how do you feel you’ve progressed so far this season?
: Not too bad. Just kind of learning as I go. The older guys and the coaches have been really good so far. I’m very appreciative of that, and I hope to just get better every day.
: You played at Maine the last 3 years, right?
: You left school early- do you think that was a good move? Was that something Buffalo wanted you to d Read more»
I had the chance to speak with Rochester Americans’ defenseman Luc Theoret following the Amerks 12/14 game vs. Cleveland. Luc signed a contract with Buffalo in ’99, but he is only now getting his first AHL action due to injury or illness the past 2 seasons. Prior to turning pro, Luc spent most of his junior career with Lethbridge of the WHL, while seeing only limited action the past 2 seasons with South Carolina of the ECHL.
The following is a transcript of our conversation, with “HF” referring to the interviewer, and “LT” being Luc.
: Luc, you’ve finally gotten the chance to play in the AHL this year. Any thoughts on the games you’ve played in so far?
: Well, I haven’t played in too many, so far. It’s definitely an adjustment from the ECHL, as the ECHL was from junior. I’m sure it would be a little bit more fun if the team was doing better, but we’ve had kind of a rough start here. I think it is a good experience, and I’m trying to work as hard as I can to get better this season, and hopefully stick around for a few more years.
: What are the differences between the ECHL and AHL? Is it mostly speed?
: I think it’s the speed and the skill. I think there is a lot more skill and better goaltending (in the AHL). Everything is just a notch better. The size of the players is not much different, but definitely the work ethic is better. There are a lot of younger guys that are trying to work their way up to the NHL, so it’s definitely a tougher league.
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Ryan and his MSU teammates entered the 01-02 season as the top-ranked team in both the CCHA and NCAA. Holding onto the top position in the NCAA has proven difficult (12-3-2 overall, 6th in the USA Today/American Hockey Magazine poll), but the Spartans 10-3-1 conference record has them in first place in the CCHA.
While there is no question that MSU’s current standing is a direct result of both solid defensive play and good coaching, having a certain award-winning goaltender makes things that much easier for the Spartans. Miller is not without his detractors, however, as there are some observers who are of the opinion that Ryan benefits more from MSU’s strong defense than do the Spartans from Miller’s solid goaltending. Perhaps this case can be made, but the statistics don’t necessarily back up these claims.
After 17 games, Ryan leads the CCHA in goals-against average (1.55), save percentage (.944), and wins (12). His 6 shutouts are tops in the NCAA, while he continues to add to his NCAA-record career total, which stands at 24 shutouts. Miller is ranked 3rd in the nation amongst Division I goalies, but the two players in front of Ryan have appeared in just 8 and 4 games, respectively.
Perhaps the best indicator of Ryan’s importance to his team is the number of shots he faces per game. Miller has faced an average of 27.2 shots per game so far this season, which would put MSU in the middle of the pack in the CCHA for that category. While there are goaltenders on some lesser teams that face more rubber-per Read more»
The early portion of the 2001-02 schedule has seen the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres and their AHL farm team, the Rochester Americans, leading parallel lives. Both teams have been flirting with the .500 level all season, seemingly stuck in an endless "win one, lose one" loop.
The reasons both teams are struggling are similar, as well, with both Buffalo and Rochester faring from mediocre to poor on special teams and in goal. The Sabres and Amerks, in fact, may well have the worst power play organization-wide, as both teams are at or near the bottom their of respective league rankings in that category. The end result is that both teams are currently wallowing in last place in their respective divisions, with tough road schedules looming just around the corner.
Focusing on the Amerks, a quick look at the team statistics tells this tale of mediocrity. Rochester currently sits in last place in the Central Division of the AHL’s Western Conference. Their record is currently 6-8-4-1, with their record over the past 10 games being 4-5-1- truly consistently inconsistent. The Amerks have netted 47 goals, while giving up 58 markers. They have a losing record both at home and on the road, with the aforementioned league-worst power play being a major factor in Rochester’s struggles. The penalty-killing unit has struggled, as well, hovering around the middle of the pack, with their current AHL ranking being 19th overall.
Rochester’s struggles are not a complete surprise, as coach Randy Cunneyworth has had to use many 1stRead more»