Hockey Headlines

Friday, 5 February 2016

Carolina's Monarchy

With Carolina arriving on the scene in the major football league to play for their ultimate trophy, HBIC always likes to look back at the hockey history of the cities and regions that are featured in the games. Denver's history is pretty well-known with the Rockies and Avalanche having called Denver home in the NHL, but Carolina's hockey history a little more colorful. Sure, there are the Hurricanes and Checkers, but there was an AHL that called Greensboro home for two seasons before the Hurricanes arrived on the scene. Today, HBIC takes a look at the short history of the Carolina Monarchs, the first AHL team in the Carolinas.

The Florida Panthers were the NHL affiliate of the Carolina Monarchs, but it may have played out differently had history gone in a different direction. The Panthers, founded in 1993, had the IHL's Cincinnati Cyclones as their original affiliation until the Panthers chose to move their club closer to Miami, Florida for easier recalls.

The Greensboro Monarchs were moved from the ECHL to the AHL after many successful seasons in the ECHL. The 1994 season saw the Monarchs play in the newly-renovated, 21000-seat Greensboro Coliseum, and the rough-and-tumble style that the ECHL Monarchs employed was a hit with fans in the south. There was a better chance of seeing a multiple fight night than a multiple goal night on some occasions, and this helped the Monarchs draw over 216,000 fans to 34 home games in 1994-95!

The AHL saw this opportunity to capitalize on a hockey-mad market by expanding southward, and Greensboro was included with three other former ECHL cities in Norfolk, Charlotte, and Charleston. With the expansion came high hopes in Greensboro as the newly-founded Carolina Monarchs, backed by an affiliation with the Florida Panthers, took to the ice in 1995 in the AHL's Southern Division that would see the Monarchs compete in a division with the Hershey Bears, the Binghamton Rangers, and the Baltimore Bandits.

Richard Kromm was named as the head coach, replacing the popular Jeff Brubaker. Kromm was a former NHL player with the Calgary Flames and New York Islanders, and spent some time in Winnipeg as his father, Bobby Kromm, coached the WHA's Winnipeg Jets. Kromm moved with the Panthers' affiliation as he had been an assistant coach and interim coach of the IHL's Cincinnati Cyclones from 1993-95 before finding his way to Greensboro. Kromm's first season in North Carolina saw him in charge of some excellent talent.

Of the names that most will recognize, Gilbert Dionne, Bob Boughner, and Kevin Weekes will jump out at you. Weekes, as seen to the right, was a fan favorite as he dressed for 60 games while wearing #00, a celebrated number among goalies. This was prior to the updated statistical tracking that the NHL used which forced Martin Biron to switch from his #00, so Weekes wore his double-zeroes for both seasons that he was in Greensboro. Statistically, he never had a goals-against average below 3.50, but Weekes played a lot and faced a lot of pucks in his two seasons with Carolina. Of course, that doesn't bode well for how the team actually did on the ice or at the box office.

It was pretty clear that the fight-per-night atmosphere that once filled the Greensboro Coliseum and the fans that loved it were disappointed in the Carolina Monarchs. The team hovered around .500 for the first month of the 1995 season, and the fans who were expecting the old Monarchs didn't get what they wanted. Monarchs owner Bill Black told The Greensboro News & Record in December 1995,
"We've got a marketing job to do with a new product we've got. You can't judge this product in light of the old one. Fans who came out for what the old product offered – the fights and stuff like that – there’s not much here for them anymore. There was an element out there we were a little frustrated with. I thought they were running off some of our families, detracting from our ability to market to our clientele. Those were the ones who fought in the parking lot after the game."
Fans were displeased with the changes and they showed their unhappiness at the ticket booth. Nearly 1700 less fans turned out to watch the Carolina Monarchs as the average attendance dropped from around 6400 fans in the ECHL to just over 4700 in the AHL. Gone were local rivalries with the surrounding cities in the ECHL. Gone was the violence many fans had come to love. Gone was the atmosphere that once surrounded the Monarchs.

The .500 season continued through 1995-96 before a late-season losing streak saw the Monarchs fall out of the playoff race and finish with a 28-38-11-3 record for 70 points (W-L-T-OTL). That left them seven points back of third-place Baltimore in the four-team Southern Division. There were some highlights, though, as Brad Smyth, seen to the left, scored an AHL-best 68 goals - 20 better than his next closest goal-scorer - and finish with an AHL-best 126 points. Brett Harkins led the AHL in assists with 71, Mike Casselman finished third with 68 helpers, and both Gilbert Dionne and Smyth finished ninth with 58 assists each. Gilbert Dionne was sixth-best with 43 goals. Casselman finished third in scoring with 102 points, Dionne in fourth with 101 points, and Harkins in ninth with 94 points. Needless to say, the Monarchs had a number of scorers.

Goaltending was a bit of an issue. Kevin Weekes played 60 games that season, posting a 24-25-8 record with a 4.04 GAA and an .876 save percentage to go along with two shutouts. There aren't many teams who win while giving up an average of four goals per night, so it was clear that for all the offence that the Monarchs could throw up on the scoreboard, playing defence wasn't a priority. Almost all the regulars finished the season with a minus-rating. That's never going to help in the standings.

After missing the playoffs in their first season and seeing attendance drop off as the season wore on, ownership began to publicly bemoan the lack of support from the fans and the surrounding businesses. Black once again went back to The Greensboro News & Record to state, "Obviously, the quality of the product is only part of the package. We failed to factor in that there were some people who came to games for the lesser aspects of hockey – the goonery. The other major disappointment is the lack of major corporate support."

With the ownership blaming fans and corporate sponsors for the lack of success at the box office, the team sagged further on the ice in the 1996-97 season. They were moved to the five-team Mid-Atlantic Division where they competed against the Philadelphia Phantoms, the Hershey Bears, the Kentucky Thoroughblades, and the Baltimore Bandits. They would equal their win total from a season previous, but they fell in points as they finished the campaign 28-43-4-5 for 65 points, eight points back of fourth-place Baltimore. The Monarchs would once again miss the playoffs while attendance fell again to an average of 4166 per game.

The offence was markedly less potent as well. Gilbert Dionne led the team in scoring with 88 points, goals with 41, and assists with 47. Smyth, Casselman, and Harkins had all moved on as the Florida Panthers had more influence on the roster, but it wasn't much help. Dionne did finish in fourth-place in AHL goal-scoring and seventh-overall in scoring, but the only other Monarch to make a top-ten list was Trevor Doyle who finished ninth with 288 penalty minutes.

With attendance dwindling, there were rumours that the Monarchs were up for sale. Things in the AHL were on the move as well as the Baltimore Bandits folded, making travel even tougher for the Monarchs as Baltimore was the closest opponent in their own division. The upheaval in the AHL was a concern for all the teams in the American League, but the NHL solved Carolina's problem with the announcement in the spring of 1997 that the Hartford Whalers would move to Raleigh, North Carolina. However, because a suitable arena wasn't available in Raleigh, the team announced it would play its first seasons in Greensboro until an arena could be built in Raleigh to house the NHL club.

The Monarchs were in a bit of a jam in that their arena was about to be taken over by an NHL club yet they still held a lease for the arena dates. To solve this issue, the Whalers paid the Monarchs $350,000 and the Monarchs folded quietly as the brand-new Carolina Hurricanes invaded Greensboro for their first season in North Carolina. The Monarchs franchise rights were transferred to New Haven, Connecticut where the Beast of New Haven played a couple of seasons before they folded up their tents.

Two seasons of sub-.500 hockey, one scoring champion, and a truckload of money - that's the story of the Monarchs in one line. While I'm no NFL fan, there's a large number of people who believe that the Carolina Panthers will win this Sunday. Unfortunately for hockey fans, the story of Carolina and the NHL Panthers didn't result in the same hope.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 4 February 2016

The Hockey Show - Episode 176

The Hockey Show, Canada's only campus-produced hockey radio show, hits the airwaves tonight with a few guests, but down a co-host. Beans has reluctantly decided to remain within walking distance of a receptacle due to his battle with a rather nasty stomach bug, and he's going to miss tonight's show because of this. Get well soon, Beans! In saying this, I'll welcome a few guests into the studio as it's getting near ball hockey season again!

Formerly the Re/Max Cup, the FXR Cup returns this year to Glenwood Community Centre in Winnipeg for more ball hockey action as Crystal Sound look to defend their title after their stunning victory over four-time champions The Mob! Registration opened on February 1 for the FXR Cup, so if you want in it's $400 per team for a minimum of 11 players and maximum of 17 players. There are a ton of player prizes, door prizes, player swag bags, and other incentives. The best part? Each team gets 3 games guaranteed against some of the best ball hockey players in this province! Kevin Wilson, organizer and director of the FXR Cup, will be in-studio tonight to talk about the tournament, its growth, where it's headed, and much more! We'll also look at some hockey headlines and get his and a few of the players' opinions on these topics!

We have people in-studio so the phones will be closed as Kevin and his band of merry ball hockey stars take refuge at the station! Make sure you tune your radio dial in the Winnipeg region to 101.5 on your FM dial or listen live between 5:30pm and 6:30pm CT on your web-enabled device at the UMFM webpage as well! Tweet me anytime with questions you may have by hitting me up at @TeebzHBIC on Twitter. You can also post some stuff to Facebook if you use the "Like" feature, and I always have crazy stuff posted there that doesn't make it to the blog or show. The FXR Cup will be discussed tonight on The Hockey Show tonight only on 101.5 UMFM!

PODCAST: February 4, 2016: Episode 176

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Antler Banter: Season 1, Volume 40

If we're talking about development on this Moose team, there isn't much to play for other than personal statistics for the rest of this season. The Moose, while mathematically still alive, will miss the Calder Cup Playoffs this season, so it's time to start looking at the development of players outside of the stats page. I'm talking about finding the next leaders, the next character players, the next set of men who aren't afraid to point a finger at the guys and demand some accountability. While it's hard to shift gears midseason when there's still a chance at making the dance, the Moose and its management corps need to look at this "development" word they keep using and figure out exactly what is being developed within that dressing room.

Getting Off The Road

The Moose came into their second game with Bakersfield having gone 0-3-3 since kicking off their cross-continent tour in Charlotte, North Carolina, and there was hope that the Moose could salvage a few points. After getting thumped 6-3 and outplayed thoroughly on January 26, the game on January 29 gave the Moose time to review their game plan before heading back into the Condors' nest. The only problem? It appears they didn't.

The Moose held a 2-1 lead going into the third period before the Condors unleashed a five-goal barrage in the third period to take the second game 6-2. The Moose surrendered four power-play goals in the loss as well, proving that no one in the Jets-Moose affiliation has ever sat down and looked at penalty killing in their illustrious careers. It's hard to defend to a team that can't kill penalties and routinely gets outshot, so I won't. Moose lose again, and fall to 11-24-3-4.

If things can go from bad to worse, the Moose rolled into Ontario, California to battle the Calder Cup champion Ontario Reign before calling it quits in California and returning home. The Moose would play an old friend in Peter Budaj as he manned the blue paint for the Reign, but it doesn't seem to matter to these Moose. Michael Mersch scored twice and Budaj managed all 19 shots he faced as the Moose fell in a 4-0 shutout. The Moose fall to 11-25-3-4 on the season after this 0-5-3 road trip.

Hammered By California

The Moose come into the break having won just two games since 2016 started. While both wins did come against Central Division teams, the Moose are a combined 3-6-2-1 against the Pacific Division. While they are a sterling 2-0 versus San Antonio, things are different against the California clubs. The Moose sport an 0-3-1 record against Ontario and have been outscored 13-2 in four games. They're 1-3-0 against Bakersfield and have been outscored 15-9, and they are 0-0-2 against Stockton while being outscored 5-3.

The Moose play San Jose once and Stockton twice in the remaining games, but do have four games against the Texas Stars and another game against the Rampage. Those eight games can bring respectability back to the Moose's record against the Pacific Division, but California has kicked the hell out of the Moose thus far. It's time for a pride check for these Moose.

All-Star Break

Kudos go out to Moose netminder Eric Comrie who was named the best goaltender and won the CCM Top Goaltender award at the AHL All-Star Skills Competition event on Sunday night. Comrie stopped 17 of 19 shots he faced in the event to backstop the Western Conference to a Skills Competition win. Comrie turned aside nine of ten attempts in the AHL Live Rapid Fire event, all three shots in the U.S. Army Pass and Score, and five of six in the Panasonic Breakaway Relay.

For one of the busiest goalies in the AHL, 19 shots on one evening must have been a relief! Congratulations to Eric Comrie on proving that he deserved to be named an AHL All-Star.

Best Division?

Comrie was also a member of the Central Division team that captured the 2016 Toyota AHL All-Star Challenge in Syracuse, New York. He played less than his goaltending partner Michael Leighton, but Comrie helped the Central Division to a 2-1-0 record in the round-robin portion of the tournament before watching Michael Leighton pitch a 4-0 shutout of the Atlantic Division in the Challenge final.

Congratulations to the Central Division and to Manitoba's Eric Comrie for a successful AHL All-Star Weekend! Let's hope that success breeds some winning in Winnipeg in the second-half of the season!

Heading Back

The Moose come back to Winnipeg to play the AHL-leading Toronto Marlies, but they did find out they'll have some help to do so. Matt Halischuk was returned to the Moose from the Jets on Tuesday after a fairly successful stint with the NHL club. Halischuk was used primarily as a checking forward, but brought good energy to his shifts. The Moose can use his jump in the lineup as they prepare for a major test.

Toronto has absolutely decimated the Moose thus far. In six games, the Moose are 0-5-1 and have been outscored 27-7 including a 9-0 beatdown on December 6. Toronto is, by far, the highest scoring team in the AHL, own the AHL's best record, and are almost assuredly going to have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. The Marlies, as it stands, could probably beat the Winnipeg Jets on most nights, but they'll be here on Thursday and Saturday to renew acquaintances with the Moose. It could be a bloodbath, folks.

As the Moose look upwards at the 29 other teams they're chasing, it's gut-check time in the Moose locker room. It could determine who is available to sweeten deals at the trade deadline.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

A Return To Glory?

That... that's it? That was the big reveal? The Maple Leafs, in case you missed it, decided to unveil a new logo tonight after their game against the Boston Bruins, but they will take to the ice in 2016-17 wearing the same logo they did in the 1940s, '50s, and '60s. While I commend the Leafs for using the "less is more" strategy, I thought we might see something a little different.

I thought wrong, apparently.

The logo does mark a fairly successful period in Maple Leafs history, ending with the improbable 1967 Stanley Cup run that featured a number of players who were thought to be too old or in the twilight of their careers. During the time that this logo was worn, the Maple Leafs collected eight Stanley Cups. Brendan Shanahan wanted to return this once-proud franchise back to days where players and fans were proud of the history being written by the team.

"Smythe wanted his team to wear the badge with ‘honour, pride and courage,"' Shanahan said in a release. "This is our goal for the next chapter in Leafs history. We are committed to restoring the Toronto Maple Leafs to a proud and prominent place and this classic logo will connect the team's championship legacy with an exciting and proud future for our players, our city and for our fans."

Kudos to the Leafs for not going garish. I like the historical touch, and the Marlies logo carries the Maple Leafs' legacy through to the AHL players as well. It could have been much worse had someone decided to modernize or "improve" the Maple Leafs' brand, so for the first time in history I am giving the Maple Leafs a thumbs-up.

Don't get used to it, Leafs.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 1 February 2016

Don't Diminish The Memory

If that isn't the cover of EA Sports' NHL '17 video game, there's something seriously wrong with the world. John Scott, whose inclusion at the NHL All-Star Game started off as a joke, turned the entire joke around by doing what no one expected - he looked like he belonged.

His second goal - that's two more than Sidney Crosby has at All-Star Games - was a thing of beauty and was a sniper's goal as he went high on Devan Dubnyk on the far side of the net as Dubnyk tried to cut down the angle. Scott had himself a whale of a game as he threw a massive hit on Patrick Kane to steal the puck and go in for a breakaway, and then got into a fun scrap with the NHL's leading scorer as the two men laughed at the antics on the ice.

In short, this All-Star Game was defined by John Scott's play on the ice rather than the joke of voting him in due to his unlikeliness of ever being there through his own skill. And now, because the enforcer's story has become larger than life, John Scott is getting movie offers from those who want to re-tell his unlikely story.

Please don't do this, John Scott.

The reason this story was so moving and tugged at everyone's heart strings was because it was so real. John Scott is every beer league player who has dreamed of playing alongside the likes of Sedin, Burns, and Doughty. He's the guy who made all of our dreams come true by making it to the game, and then dominating alongside the very men who were supposed to outshine him by a long way.

John Scott is you, me, and everyone else not in the rarefied hockey air of the best of the best. That's why this story became so much more. We all have an emotional attachment to John Scott in being too slow or not having enough skill or any other reason for not making our hockey dreams a reality. John Scott just allowed us to enjoy his All-Star moment because he represents us.

By taking this moment and re-telling it, it will lose its importance. It will lose its significance. It will lose any empathy we felt for John Scott in the moment because we've all lived it at one time or another. We all know that feeling. And the euphoria we all felt when Scott celebrated above will be lost. It's not the same as when it happened naturally.

John Scott has every reason to be proud. His kids will be and are proud of their dad, and they may not even know why at their ages. His wife, Danielle, was nearly beside herself with pride as her husband put on a show in Nashville, and the twins that the Scotts are expecting will learn why dad is a pretty special hockey player.

If you make this movie, all of that diminishes. It's no longer a moment in time where John Scott was as good or better than some of the men asked to go to the All-Star Game. It's no longer a moment where John Scott stuck it to every doubter and nay-sayer about his inclusion to the game. It's no longer a moment where we'll tell our kids of the legend of John Scott.

It was special for John Scott. It was special for us. Let's keep it that way.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!