Tag Archives: AHL

AHL life isn’t so bad really

OK so this isn’t going to be me opining about whether I am Team Owners or Team Players in this whole, stupid affair. I sympathize with the players and I think they’re getting boned over by guys that can’t figure out how to do math and want a do-over.

No, this is more about what I’ve seen from the NHL guys who were exiled to the AHL because of the petty fighting.

The guys that are there are kids. At the oldest, they’re 22 or 23 but in the case of guys like Sean Couturier, he’s 19 and spending his time in a league that he’s probably too good for. What I saw from him the other night in Glens Falls in a loss to Rochester was a guy trying too hard to do everything.

He’s got a pair of linemates who are likely better off in the AHL and won’t see much, if any, time in the NHL. Still, through all that, Couturier managed to get two assists. He was on fire for the whole game and showed the tenaciousness we saw from him against Pittsburgh. He was the guy that made Evgeni Malkin lose his cool again, only in the AHL against a handful of other NHL guys.

The crazy part is, the AHL is still a very good league. With all things being normal it might be the second best league in the world, yet guys like Couturier, Adam Henrique, Chris Kreider, and Adam Larsson have to be there because that’s how it works when you’re on your entry-level deal.

And the time they spend there? It’s going to make them monsters. Just think of the guys in Oklahoma City. Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz, and maybe eventually Taylor Hall as well.

Amazing.

So much talent there that should be getting showcased in the NHL… But it’s not. Instead of playing in New York City, Boston, or Los Angeles these young stars are getting their kicks in Rochester, Worcester, and Abbotsford.

That’s not how it should be, but whenever the players and owners decide to be grownups about this whole CBA thing, those kids are going to come back to the NHL a lot stronger and a lot better off because of it. If you thought you saw great things out of these kids last year, you haven’t seen anything yet.

Even better still, if you’re near an AHL city you can see them play on the cheap and show what they’re all about. We could sit and dwell about how it sucks something awful that we’re not seeing them in the NHL, but you could just look on the bright side of life and see them play in their own brand of barnstorming tour.

Look who’s back

“Hey players, spin the wheel, make the deal… OR ELSE!

It’s only been eight years since the last NHL work stoppage and hey, look at that, we’re about to have another one.

The last lockout got me my fire back to write. I started blogging, mostly to vent about everything that was good and stupid about what the NHL and NHLPA did in 2004 to help kill a season and then come back to win the fans over with false promises and “rule changes” that were just the same rules they had already and made sure to call them. Well, for a year or two anyhow.

Now we’re back at what seems like square one all over again, only this time it’s on the owners for being belligerent. After all, how else do you explain locking out the players for using the system they killed a year to get implemented? You can’t explain it, it doesn’t make sense.

Problem now is it’s all a PR game. The players want to make sure they don’t look bad in front of the fans and the owners just want their damn money back that they willingly forked over to the players. Does it sound like I’ve taken a side here? I guess it does.

In the meantime, I’ll be making sure to spend more time in Albany and Glens Falls to see displaced NHL players with AHL options. That means really good things for all the teams in the AHL as there’s a ton of talented players headed that way. Will it pay off in better attendance in some places? It’d be nice.

You won’t be lacking in hockey options, kids, there’s plenty to be had. AHL, ECHL, NCAA, CHL… They’re all there waiting for your (renewed?) support. The NHL will survive one way or another, it just depends on how big of a black eye it ends up wearing when it’s all said and done.

Pirates Setting Sail For Albany?

I am by no means an AHL blogger nor much of an AHL fan, but when stories about the local team come to rise, I can’t help it I get involved and have to write a little bit.  This time, rather than a team departing Albany and leaving fans out in the cold, it’s one coming in from elsewhere and attempting to do their part to fill up the Times Union Center.

While Times Union Center general manager Bob Belber has been playing coy about which team(s) he’s been in contact with about potentially moving to Albany to fill the void by the soon-to-be Charlotte Checkers, the Times Union has actually done something productive and asked some questions and gotten a few sources down to find out that it may be the Portland Pirates who will be bolting out of Maine to move a little bit closer to their parent club in Buffalo.

To quote the TU:

The Pirates managing owner, Brian Petrovek, attended a game at Times Union Center Friday. In an interview with staff writer Pete Dougherty, Petrovek would not directly discuss moving the team to Albany, but said the team is exploring options and addressed how hockey could work in the Capital Region.

At the moment, the Pirates are just one of a handful of teams who may or may not be looking to get the hell out of their current Dodge meanwhile others already have (from Springfield, MA and Albany respectively).  So what does this mean for Albany?  The TU is already asking folks for comments on their site about whether they should keep the name “River Rats” or not and that’s a logical progression given the circumstances.

The upside to this situation is that it helps out the Adirondack Phantoms who, without an Albany team to play rivals with, would’ve been left alone on a virtual island in the middle of the Adirondacks with no real rival to deal with.  Travis over at Broad Street Hockey looked into this a couple weeks ago and came up with some keen observations.

Long term, though, a strong rivalry with a team in Albany is a major player in hockey succeeding in Glens Falls. The current incarnation of hockey there isn’t expected to last longer than the next couple of years, as the ownership is on record saying that the ultimate goal is to get an arena built in Allentown, PA.

Obviously that sounds ominous but that’s been the goal all along when it’s come to the Phantoms in Glens Falls.  Don’t act shocked here folks.  As Travis states in his piece, there’s the possibility that there’ll be a boost for the Phantoms without a team in Albany, but when you look at the Phantoms attendance numbers this year, there’s not a whole lot more they can do, the team is doing great in Glens Falls.

If there’s no local rivalry to spice things up, you’d have to worry about the potential adverse effect it would have on the Phantoms.  If things go bad, Phantoms ownership wouldn’t wait a moment to just pull the plug and wait for their arena to materialize in Allentown, Pennsylvania so there’s certainly something at stake here for the people in Glens Falls.

As for the situation in Albany, the better way to look at things is how could this possibly seem like a great situation for the Pirates franchise.  Portland averages a little over 4,100 fans per game in Maine and the River Rats haven’t averaged that many fans in a few years (05-06 they averaged just over 4,000 per game).  Is Pirates management that unhappy with the situation in Maine or is it just a case of doing the bidding of the parent organization at play here?  I’d suspect the latter is the case here.

A few hundred fans does make a bit of a difference  but what is likely being banked on here is the allure of having an actual New York State team being the parent club. This move will bring a few more fans out to the arena in Albany so that effect can’t be discounted. After all, the River Rats were the farm team for the not-so local Devils for years and the really not local Hurricanes for the past few and if you can find a tried and true Hurricanes fan here in Albany I’d like to meet them. I know Devils fans exist in this area for sure now and that has everything to do with the success of the Rats early on as well as the excellent players who have at one time called Albany home. That’s the expected and natural effect of having a farm team in another area and that’s why this move would make 1,000 kinds of sense for the Sabres/Pirates.

The Sabres already have an established fanbase here and a lot of that is due to them having a sweet cable deal with the Madison Square Garden network that airs a hefty number of Sabres games in the Albany area, sometimes booting the Rangers (and Devils and Islanders as well) off of their own network in most of upstate New York.  For the Sabres it’s created a new set of fans across upstate New York mainly thanks to the inabilities of the Rangers and Islanders (and occasionally the Devils) to hold new fans interests. Moving the farm team of the Sabres to Albany, right in the heart of the newly created Sabres viewership, could provide an unexpected boon to the potential Albany franchise, something I’m sure Bob Belber at the Times Union Center has been sure to mention a few times to Pirates GM Brian Petrovek.

Potentially HUUUUGE Move For Albany AHL Hopes

A funny thing happened while reading the generally useless Troy Record, I found a nugget of information that’s truly fascinating.  The Troy Record generally covers only the high school beat and RPI hockey, but they posted a story on the sale and move of the Albany River Rats and had something far more interesting contained within.

The emergence of another AHL team calling Albany home, possibly owned by automobile mogul Billy Fuccillo, is merely speculation at this point. Sources said Fuccillo had high interest in own a team, but has since cooled if he doesn’t have full control of the franchise.

For those of you not familiar with Billy Fuccillo, some might say you can be considered fortunate as his television ads for his numerous car dealerships across upstate New York are plentiful and catch-phrase-tastic.  A lot of folks find him to be terribly annoying, but after seeing his ads follow me back home from my college days in Oswego, NY he’s grown on me for how classically old school he is as a car dealer/TV pitchman.

Since the Record says that any and all talk of Fuccillo’s wants for a team are speculative, I did a bit more research and found this item on Albany TV station WTEN’s site.

Furthermore, local car dealer Billy Fuccillo’s Chief Financial Officer reports he is in initial discussions with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, a Connecticut AHL team affiliated with the New York Islanders.

Well that amps up things quite a bit.  The site also adds this heartwarming note:

Fuccillo’s CFO says he wants the people of Albany to have a hockey team.

Well isn’t that nice. I’m sure those of you not in Upstate New York are wondering who the heck he is.  Well, he’s huge up here. Literally.

After all, a guy that does commercials like this has to have an idea on how to market and sell a team, not to mention a seemingly endless flow of cash to advertise the hell out of the team.  If there’s anything any Albany-area professional sports team fails at miserably it’s keeping a high profile in the media and selling the hell out of it to make people want to go.

Of course, if Fuccillo does go through with it and gets the Sound Tigers, that would make the Islanders organization two for two with wacky owners.  In case you’ve forgotten, Charles Wang is the owner of the New York Islanders and some of his decisions are already part of mocking folk lore in the NHL.  More importantly for the city of Albany, it would provide them a team that is actually affiliated with a pro team that’s based in New York State. It would be fitting that the state capital be associated with a team from its own state, right?  Before anyone asks, yes there are Islanders fans here upstate, although not as many as say Rangers fans.

If you’re curious, as the Record story stated, there is a bit of a history in the area with the Islanders as the Capital District Islanders once called Troy home and played home games at the Houston Field House on the RPI campus.  That team then became the Albany River Rats.  The minor league circle of life continues on.

If Fuccillo’s interest is true and he does want to buy the Sound Tigers and bring them to Albany, then this is a huge coup for the AHL. They’d be keeping a team in Albany and adding an owner who, while seemingly wacky and insane, is a dogged and tenacious businessman and a guy that hates to lose a buck as much as anyone and demands optimum performance from everyone in his organization.  He’s shrewd, he’s smart, he’s tough as hell and he knows what it takes to succeed.

In short, in a league that needs to have committed ownership and as many guys with deep pockets and an ability to market the hell out of their teams, Fuccillo could be the exact right kind of guy the AHL needs to help build up attendance in a city that has severely lagged behind.

Report: River Rats Sold – Next Stop: Charlotte

According to WSOC sports anchor Bill Voth, via Twitter, the Charlotte Checkers of the ECHL have called a 2:00 p.m. Wednesday press conference to announce that Checkers owner Michael Kahn is purchasing the Albany River Rats.  The plan for Kahn is to relocate the franchise to Charlotte where they will continue to be the farm team for the Carolina Hurricanes.

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago when this story broke, the River Rats got very hush-hush about things and made the standard company stand-by comment of, “Nothing to see here… Yet.”  While there’s no comment from the folks in Albany as of now (give it time), this ends the current tenure of the River Rats in Albany.  While there will be other teams looking to relocate or add affiliations, if one is going to move to Albany, it’ll have to be through new ownership.

What should prove interesting in this scenario is what will happen with the Adirondack Phantoms, who will be in Glens Falls again next year, should there not be a local rival to split a massive number of games against each other next season.  The Phantoms have outdrawn the River Rats so far this season even though the Glens Falls Civic Center is a much smaller venue than that of the Times Union Center in Albany.

The fun, Albany point of view on this now is what is the hockey world’s opinion of Albany now? The city has failed with the River Rats both under the “guidance” of the Devils and now with the Hurricanes and the city failed to retain the ECAC Tournament semifinals and finals getting beaten out by the hockey hotbed of Atlantic City, New Jersey in a deal that just managed to keep SMG’s pockets happy.

This year, the NCAA Hockey East Regionals again return to Albany and unless there’s some major local influence or a massive regional fanbase to help draw crowds, attendance is expected to be mediocre at the cavernous facility yet again.  While the folks running Times Union Center has its fingers crossed twice over hoping Cornell, Union and RPI can all make the ECAC final four, it’s likely, although not guaranteed, that only one of those schools could end up in Albany for the NCAAs.  Whether you want to point the finger at apathetic local interest or at terrible marketing on behalf of the ECAC and NCAA, you could win an argument in any way you wanted to as all of it has been piss-poor.

That’s not to say that sports fans in Albany are that fickle, it’s just we’ve all been down that road before and been jerked around for it in Albany and the Rats failure is yet another example of that.  Albany fans have often been blessed with great teams to root for at a low professional or minor league level only to find screwball owners get a little too excited over a good thing.  Take a look at this awful sports history off the top of my head:

It happened in minor league baseball with the Albany-Colonie Yankees who bolted the decrepit Heritage Park for the new confines in Norwich, Connecticut.

It happened in the CBA with the Albany Patroons who thought that moving over to the Knickerbocker Arena out of the Washington Avenue Armory would bring bigger crowds and then overshot their estimates and then caved into local money naming the team after local car dealerships. Yes, the Capital Region Pontiacs are a name that should long live in infamy for how not to win fans over or influence anyone.

It happened in Arena Football as owners Glen Mazula and Joe O’Hara couldn’t find a way to make a championship winning team into a profitable item in spite of drawing great crowds and then giving into the AFL’s demands to fill out NFL markets with AFL teams and settling for an af2 booby prize that failed miserably because fans knew they were getting an inferior product to an already inferior product.

And you can believe it that professional hockey has been down this road already many times before.  Look back at the illustrious history of the Adirondack Red Wings who were chased out of business by the River Rats in the 90s as well as the short-lived tenures Capital District Islanders and Albany Choppers.

These are all teams that have been around in just the past 25 years in Albany, and people wonder why fans of the Capital District are just burnt out and sick of getting jerked around.  What’s even more amazing through all this is that the last man standing is the single-A Tri-City ValleyCats and they play in a stadium named after a convicted local political felon.  Un-friggin-real.

Would I like to see a better run AHL team in Albany?  Sure, but buyer better beware because the fans of this area are wise to all the tricks and gimmicks meant to sell people on anything.  Folks are burned out and fed up of being treated like a marketing class pet project.  Besides, what the college teams at RPI and Union are doing this year in hockey (and Siena in basketball) is proving that long-standing local ties and a damn good product can pay off and be exciting – just don’t shoot for the moon to make a few more bucks or treat the fans like suckers.