Photos from Alaska Aces Practice Day 1

It’s been a solid 24 hours of hockey, from last night’s opening of the NHL season, to early morning hockey from Europe. And on top of that, I got to go to the first day of Alaska Aces training camp. And I took a ton of photos. Click any image to see them larger.

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He’s not dead, he’s resting:

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These guys did not have stitched on nameplates. I would best describe them as locker room plates velcroed on.

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Coach Brent Thompson hands out the drills:

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More after the jump.
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Post Game Skate

Lucky me, the Riverkings are having a post game skate.

Unlucky for me, the Eagles lost 6-2. Plenty of photos to share later.

Mississippi Riverkings Tonight!

I drove my ass off today to get to the upper part of Mississippi for the Mississippi Riverkings vs. Colorado Eagles playoff game tonight. More to come.

K-Wings Tonight

These are the only Wings I can get behind. Kalamazoo takes on Ft. Wayne in IHL playoff action.

My seat is right in from of the off-ice officials, so we will see how well they (or I) do.

Bootland seems to be a popular jersey, and I seem to remember him from the last time I was here. He may be the coach.

Note that the opposin bench is where the penalty boxes normally are, and the penalty boxes bookend the home bench. Welcome to the minors.

Hockey Where You Live: Playoffs

The playoffs are here (well, mostly), and that means there are fans left without their favorite teams to cheer on.

Fear not. You want play off action, you get playoff action. Welcome to the state by state guide to the playoffs.

* Alabama

Sorry, buy you are a little too late on this one. The Huntsville Havoc lost their playoff series 3 games to two.

* Alaska

The Alaska Aces are 2-0 against the Grizzlies in the ECHL.

Two of the three Alaska NAHL were eliminated, but the Fairbanks Ice Dogs won theirs series 3-0, with 16 goals for, and 4 against.

* Arizona

Nothing going in Arizona, with the two Central Hockey League teams failing to make the playoffs, the Coyotes nowhere near a slot, and the folding of the Phoenix Raodrunners of the ECHL. Phoenix was the only team in the Western Conference of the ECHL not to make the playoffs.

* Arkansas

Nope. Nothing doing.

* California

Ah, California, rich with playoff hockey. Beyond the Ducks and Sharks, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a game, unless you are in Fresno. But if you happen to be in Bakersfield, Stockton, or Ontario (the one next to Los Angeles, not the one in Canada), then you are in luck. Hurry though, because much like a Sopranos marathon, they are knocking each other off quickly.

* Colorado

Sure, the Avalanche stunk. But why mourn the end of a terrible season when one of the most exciting hockey teams around resides less then 45 miles from Denver? Look north to Windsor (outside of Ft. Collins, home of the New Belgium Brewery (totally wind powered)) to the Colorado Eagles, who have shattered the CHL sellout record, have won the championship twice since their inception in 2003. This year, the All Star Game was held in Windsor, with the CHL taking on the Eagles. The Eagles won 8-4. What else needs to be said. They swept their first round, and are about to start their second round. Get your tickets now.

* Connecticut

Come on, you have the Wolfpack. You always have the Wolfpack. Hartford takes on Worcester.

* Delaware

Nope. Go next door. Any next door.

* District of Columbia

Do you need anything other than the Capitals? See the Virginias for some help, but you should feel lucky to have what you have.

* Florida

How lucky are you, Florida? You may have lost the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers to the great stats monster in the sky, but you still have the Florida Everblades of the ECHL. Get yourself to the city of Estero if you can get past their name.

* Georgia

Thrashers: done. Columbus Cottonmouths: lost in first round. Augusta Lynx: Folded mid-season. Gwinnett Gladiators: STILL IN IT TO WIN IT!!! Get your ECHL action at one of the nicest minor league arenas out there.

* Hawaii

Sorry. No.

* Idaho

Former ECHL Kelly Cup champs, the Idaho Steelheads are in the middle of the first round.

* Illinois

Oh, the possibilities in Illinois. First, of course, are the Chicago Blackhawks. Then you have the AHL Rockford Icehogs and the Peoria Rivermen. And… that does it. The other teams in Illinois missed out on the playoffs. Sorry.

* Indiana

Two chances for glory in Indiana. The Indiana Ice of the USHL are in their first round, while the Fort Wayne Komets came away with the best record in the IHL. Both teams have to be experienced live. Well worth the drive.

* Iowa

Even though the Chops didn’t qualify, there is still playoff hockey in Iowa. Waterloo and Cedar Rapids are in the first round, and I rarely bet against the Cedar Rapids Roughriders. USHL in Iowa lives on.

* Kansas

Believe it or not, the Topeka Roadrunners are still alive.

* Kentucky

Nothing doing.

* Louisiana

Where were you a week ago? The Mudbugs got shutout of the first round in the CHL.

* Maine

The Portland Pirates start their first round shortly. That is all.

* Maryland

Is there hockey in Maryland? Pro hockey?

* Massachusetts

Bruins. Oh, you want more? How about the AHL Worcester Sharks? OK, then.

* Michigan

Three out of four Michigan teams of the IHL made the playoffs (Kalamazoo, Port Huron, and Muskegon), as well as the Grand Rapids Griffins( AHL) and the USA National Team Development Program team (NAHL). A few OHL teams made the playoffs, but they are done.

And Pinball Pete’s skates in their final tonight. East Lansing Suburban Ice. Be there.

* Minnesota

You would think, eh?

* Mississippi

The Mississippi River Kings go to the semifinals against the Colorado Eagles. Yeah, good luck with that.

* Missouri

You have the Blues. You should feel lucky.

* Montana

Nope.

* Nebraska

The Lincoln Stars are still in the hunt. Go for the most intimidating opening ceremony ever.

* Nevada

Las Vegas Wranglers. Crazy promos, arenas in casinos, what more do you need? If you need more, it’s right on the strip.

* New Hampshire

The Monarchs did not make it, so NH is done.

* New Jersey

Devils, and after that, you have the Devils (of Trenton). New Jersey has a new state motto. “Devils.”

* New Mexico

No one qualified. And the state will be lucky to have the Scorpions next season.

* New York

Aside from the Rangers, only the Elmira Jackals made the playoffs. With the large number of teams in the state of New York, that is a little pathetic.

* North Carolina

The hottest team in the NHL is also playing alongside the Fayetteville FireAntz of the SPHL, who are in the finals.

Update: I left out the Charlotte Checkers, who are still in the first round of the ECHL playoffs. Sorry about that. (thanks to Possum for the reminder)

* North Dakota

The Bismark Bobcats are still in it, NAHL action, and the Fargo Force are still playing the first round of the USHL. Wood chippers are not allowed in the arena.

* Ohio

If the Blue Jackets making it for the first time aren’t enough for you (or even if it is), the Cincinnati Cyclones (a Jerseys and Hockey Love favorite) are in the playoffs, coming off last year’s championship win. And the Mahoning Valley Phantoms won their first round of NAHL playoff action and move on.

* Oklahoma

The OKC Blazers were eliminated, and the Tulsa Oilers never made the playoffs. That is all for OK.

* Oregon

The Portland Winterhawks never had a shot.

* Pennsylvania

A wealth of playoff hockey, no matter where you are in the state. Aside from both NHL teams, you have the WB/S Penguins, the Philadelphia Phantoms, and the Hershey Bears of the AHL. If only the Johnstown Chiefs had made it. Sigh.

* Rhode Island

The Providence Bruins are gearing up for the first round. Get the to the Dunkin Donuts Center.

* South Carolina

The South Carolina Stingrays want you to think hockey when you travel to their state.

* South Dakota

The Sioux Falls Stampede push in the first round of the USHL playoffs.

* Tennessee

Sure, the Predators tanked in the last few games. But the Knoxville Ice Bears are fighting for their cup in the SPHL finals. If you think the Preds need your money, you can imagine what the Ice Bears need. Get thee to the rink.

* Texas

Stars? Who are they? You can forget about the Stars when you have the Texas Brahmas taking on the Odessa Jackalopes in the CHL semifinals. Plus, the Houston Aeros of the AHL start their series soon.

* Utah

The Utah Grizzlies are fighting for their lives in the ECHL.

* Vermont

Nope.

* Virginia

There are the Washington Capitals, but you knew that.

* Washington

The Spokane Chiefs, last season’s Memorial Cup winner, is the only team in Washington with a hope in the WHL.

* West Virginia

The Wheeling Nailers are still playing. ECHL action next to the river.

* Wisconsin

The Milwaukee Admirals are about to start. Go see the worst jersey in the AHL.

* Wyoming

Please. No.

That takes care of that. I’m sure I missed some stuff, and this will change almost as soon as I post it, but there you go. Plenty of playoff action, and teams that will appreciate your dollars and attendance far more than an NHL team.

If I missed anything significant, please let me know in the comments.

HOCKEY!!!

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Johnstown May Lose Chiefs

We have already seen the demise of five ECHL teams (two while the season was being played), which shouldn’t surprise anyone who attends minor league hockey games. When you take a look at the ticket prices, then at the seats that need bodies in them, you can imagine that things are only going to get tougher to keep a team alive.

The latest potential casualty is one that has some history and legend behind it, the Johnstown Chiefs. I’m sure some of that name sounds familiar, and readers of this blog know what I’m talking about. You remember the Charlestown Chiefs, the fictional team of the movie Slap Shot. The Chiefs were based on the Johnstown Jets of Johnstown, PA. The games are played in the War Memorial, just like the film. The Jets shut down not long after the movie came out, but the Johnstown Chiefs were established 21 years ago to take up the torch. They are the only remaining original ECHL (back when that really stood for East Coast Hockey League, as opposed to now, where the league has spread to the western half of the continent), and a source of pride for the die hard fans of Johnstown. Talking to Chiefs fans borders on fanaticism. The pain of the Jets leaving town was hard for these people.

Now the Johnstown Chiefs are in jeopardy of being sent the way of the Charlestown Chiefs. Ownership is in negotiations with Cambria County about the arena, and frankly, it’s complicated. Here is a little snippet from WJAC at wjactv.com:

Cambria County commissioners have resumed negotiations with arena solutions group Roustan United after contract talks broke down between the two sides last week. Roustan is interested in purchasing the Johnstown Chiefs from current owner Neil Smith, but will do so only if its partner, Global Spectrum, assumes arena operations.

Roustan United president Scott Branovan said the commissioners unilaterally ended discussions with the Global-Roustan team last week.

So what does that mean? Talks have started again, but there isn’t much more news coming out of Johnstown.

But there was this. Going to the Chiefs website brings up this image, an open letter from co-owner Neil Smith:

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None of this looks good for hockey existing in Johnstown, PA next season. Call your congressman. Call the President. Go over his head and call Don Cherry. Call someone. We should have hockey in Johnstown. The sport would be worse for losing the team. Hopefully it’s not too late,

I have pictures from my visit to Johnstown here and here.

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AHL Quad City Flames May Move On

The Calgary Flames are about to end a tradition in the Quad Cities: Hockey.

The Flames are attempting to end their affiliation with the Quad City Flames in Moline, IL. From the Calgary Herald, dated March 12th:

The Calgary Flames farm team in Quad Cities, Illinois is set to flicker into oblivion at the end of the season.

After months of speculation, the Flames released the Quad City ownership group Thursday from the remaining three years of their minor-league affiliate agreement with the NHL club.

On Thursday, Flames president Ken King confirmed his intention of signing a new 10-year affiliation agreement with a group of investors in Abbotsford, B.C.

So this isn’t a brand new thing, but it is a big blow for a city that has a great facility, passionate hockey fans, and a tradition of hockey since 1995 with the Quad City Mallards. The Mallards were part of the UHL in it’s heyday, before the city adopted the AHL, and the Mallards ended. Looking back, with the UHL turning into a joke league of six teams and barely staying afloat, it may have looked like a good idea at the time.

Also from the Calgary Herald:

Down in Quad Cities, with an average attendance of 2,810, the Flames rank 28th in the 29-team AHL. The local ownership estimates losses this season at US $1.3 million.

I can understand wanting to close shop with those kind of losses. The QC Mallards, in their 2005/06 season averaged 3,542 fans per game, and slipped to 3,120 per game in their final season. These seem like small numbers when we are used to NHL sized attendance, but when taken in the context of a small league with a salary cap counted in thousand per week, those were sustainable numbers. In the 2005/06 season, the Mallards ranked 4th overall in attendance (the top slot was held by the Ft. Wayne Komets, a team with a strong tradition of hockey and a gigantic arena).

The QC Flames were formerly the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights, who left after two seasons in Nebraska for similar reasons. You can only imagine the Calgary Flames dropping hockey teams in unsuspecting towns across America, then snatching them back up, leaving the bodies of ice workers, mascots, and marketing people in their wake.

While I can understand the Calgary Flames wanting to move the team closer, and even to hockey mad Canada, the nearest AHL team is the Manitoba Moose, in Winnipeg, which Google Maps places at a 24 hour drive away. The new team will be the western-most team in the AHL by far, adding massive travel expenses.

On that note, from the Vancouver Sun, also dated March 12th:

“We’ve had substantial discussions with Abbotsford We’re in a situation where we’re completely comfortable with the terms of an arrangement “ The move to Abbotsford requires approval of the American Hockey League board of governors, and there could be resistance from teams opposed to the travel.

“I don’t know if I would term it resistance, but I think they’re going to need to be convinced because of the geography,” King said. “They’re going to need to be convinced things like travel subsidies are nailed down.”

The potential Abbotsford ownership group has agreed to pay travel subsidies to help alleviate the cost of cross-country flights for the opposition.

To put the travel in a little more context, here is a screen capture of an AHL map from OurSportsCentral:

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How’s BC looking now?

If I were an AHL owner, I would be seriously concerned. A new arena, a new location, a city that built an arena without a tenant trying to land a team. I can imagine the local ownership looking to Manitoba, who is averaging 7,512 a game (second in the league), and wringing their hands. Yeah, if I were an AHL owner, I would be doing some serious due diligence.

BTW, the QC Flames were only second to last in league attendance. First would be the Lowell Devils, who bring in an average 2,160, eight hundred less than the QC Flames. If you are wondering who is next on the chopping block, keep an eye trained to Lowell. They have had their issues in the past, even though they are signed in the Tsongas Arena through 2009-10.

So thanks for the memories, QC. Pending approval, you can expect to be hockeyless next season. And you had such high hopes.

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All numbers were taken from the Pointstreak archive, and www.theahl.com.   

SPHL Cyclones Shutting Down

The SPHL’s Twin City Cyclones (not to be confused with the ECHL Cincinnati Cyclones) are shutting down after being left behind in the playoff race. This isn’t exactly shocking, considering the attendance was the worst in the league. The fact they made it to the end of the season may be more shocking.

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Averaging 1.600 less in attendance is a death sentence in a small league like this. Butts in seats is everything.

The only real question is, how many more of these are we going to see? How many towns are going to lose their teams?

Bakersfield Gone Wrong: Player Arrested, Coaches Suspended.

And right after I leave town, look what happens.

In what appears to be two separate incidents, the Bakersfield Condors have suspended their coach and assistant coach for an “internal matter,” and one of their players was arrested.

First, the coaches. From the Bakersfield Californian:

Condors coach Marty Raymond has been suspended for seven days and assistant coach Mark Pederson has been suspended indefinitely over “an internal matter,” team President Matthew Riley confirmed Monday.

The organization has issued a gag order on all employees, including players, and the only comment, other than “no comment,” has come from Riley.

“As an organization, we value our coaches, players and staff, and respect their privacy,” Riley said. “Therefore, no other comments will be provided.”

So basically, no one knows anything. The Condors aren’t talking to anyone, but this is the minors. The fans are right there, and have a close relationship with the team. The GM of the team was sitting about six rows in front of me for both Condors games I attended. I doubt he will be sitting there tonight.

From the same article:

Former Condors Scott Hay and Sean Venedam will serve as interim coaches and run practices for the next week, Riley said. Hay is general manager of the Bakersfield Ice Sports Center and the team’s goalie coach. Venedam is a former team captain whose career ended last February when he suffered a severe break of his left leg.

Hay was on my team for the Hockey-thon, and was a goalie for the Alumni game. I’m sure this is the last thing he needed.

As for the player that was arrested, also from the Bakersfield Californian:

Recently-acquired Condors forward Danny LaPointe was arrested Monday morning and charged with two felony counts and two misdemeanors.

Bakersfield Police Department officers arrested LaPointe at 6:40 a.m. He was charged with felony counts of willful cruelty to child, assault, and misdemeanor counts of resisting arrest and vandalism.

There is a lot that can be speculated on just from that last sentence. Nothing is really known yet, but I’m sure details will follow soon.

If you want to see a pissed off fan base, wait until this guy retakes the ice. The Condors fans I met take their players into their hearts and communities. The Hockey-thon was set up by a former player, some former players still live in town and contribute to the hockey community. They were participating in the hockey-thon. One story I was told had the coach taking a player to task for brushing off a kid in a grocery store. This is a team that means a lot to the city and the hockey community. You can imagine there is going to be fallout.

This is not how a hockey fanbase is going to want to remember what was (and now it could be firmly in the “was” category) and amazing weekend of hockey and community.

Two Days of the Condors: Game 1

If I were to do this in chronological order, I would be posting a Bakersfield Hockey-thon post first, But that is not how I roll. Well, occasionally, I have been known to roll that way, but not this time. Anyway…

The first game of a back to back two game series between the Bakersfield Condors and the Victoria Salmon Kings was spirited and chippy, but problematic. You will see why in a moment.

First, the Rabobank Arena, which doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, nor lend itself to easy typing. It’s attached to the Convention Center, which was attached to my hotel. Very convienient, unless you have a convention going on, and certainly if you have a convention involving an interesting set of characters. I won’t get into that, except to say that it made for a strange cross-set of people in the hotel lobby.

The arena:
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With a good sized upper bowl, there is a good capacity for this scale of arena. In fact, I would say that the size of the arena was a bit of a surprise. I was expecting a smaller scale, and maybe even a little rattier conditions. But the place was nice, the services were good, and the concessions were decent.

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The Condors created several specialty jerseys over the last few season, including the prison jerseys worn in a Las Vegas Wranglers game, as well as a country music themed jerseys, and an Olympic jersey. They also have a Ducks stye jersey (in celebration of their affiliation):

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Before you complain about those prices, think about how much the RBK EDGE jerseys cost. These are much nicer. Still, I wouldn’t be caught dead in the prison jersey.

Bakersfield is not a huge city, but there are plenty of people worth honoring. Here is their sports hall of fame:
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On to the game!!

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How many mascots do they need?
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Luxury seating at it’s finest.

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One of my teammates from the Hockey-thon games saw me in the hallway of the arena and invited me to sit with his family. Of course I took him up on his offer.
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That’s Paul Willett on the right, one of my teammates from the Hockey-thon, and Condors all-time leading point scorer. He made the goalie look silly during this intermission shootout. The jerseys they are wearing here were used for the Alumni charity game. You will see those better in a later post.

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More action!

Not the tallest team, these Salmon Kings:
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Wrong Bonk:
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Condors were up 3-2 with a little over two minutes left in the game. When this:
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Led to this:
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Notice the arm in the air? Yeah. This was a textbook bad penalty to take. Hey, any guesses who I saw walking around in the concourse for the next game in his suit? That would be number 10, Matt Pope. You know where this is going. It’s almost fate at this point. It lead to a six on four:
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Which led to this:

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Because, you know, who wanted to win a hockey game anyways?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever seen a hockey game.

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Huh, could have fooled me.

SHOOTOUT!!
Click on any of the pictures to see them larger. I’m doing this for your bandwidth.

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That’s a save, folks.

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More shootout!
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Hey, where are you going with that thing?
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Yeah, not so much. Victoria wins it in the shootout, and the fans, while disappointed, were telling me that this was one of their better games all season. Ouch. They all needed a little rest, since they had one more tomorrow. And so will you. More Condors action soon.

Your final:
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