Established 1996


Wheeler an Unrestricted Free Agent

Phoenix Coyotes GM Don Maloney has announced that 2004 first round draft pick (#5 overall) Blake Wheeler, who recently completed his junior year at the University of Minnesota, has rejected the Coyotes contract offer and will become an unrestricted free agent.

"We offered Blake a contract which was both commensurate with his draft position and far exceeded any guaranteed contract he can receive, under the current CBA, with any other team," said Maloney. "He has decided, however, that becoming a free agent is in his best interest.

"We are very happy with the compensatory pick we will receive for Blake not signing, which will be the fifth pick in the second round.  This is a very deep draft and we now have five picks in the first two rounds, which is very exciting."

As for the other side, Wheeler’s agent, Matt Keator, issued a statement saying, "We appreciate the Coyotes offering the maximum amount. There is no question that they wanted to sign him and made every effort to do so but there was more than money involved in this decision. Per the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement, it is Blake's right to pursue Unrestricted Free Agency. Most players wait until their late 20's to become Unrestricted Free Agents and choose where they will live and play. Blake now has the opportunity at age 22, which is the biggest reason for him pursuing this route at this point in his career."

This is not about making more money. As Maloney stated, Wheeler can’t do better than what Phoenix is offering. It is about choosing where he wants to play. Starting June 8th, the other 29 NHL teams can make their pitch for the forward.


Future Greats and Heartbreaks

For an inside look at the world of NHL scouting, we recommend Future Greats and Heartbreaks (Doubleday Canada, $29.95), sportswriter Gare Joyce’s account of the year he spent embedded as a scout with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

For Joyce, a self-confessed draft junkie who was going to write about the world of scouting regardless, being actually put to work was a major plus. And it’s a bonanza for the reader, too, simply because the sportswriter’s heightened access lends immediacy – tension, even -- to his look into what is, to many, an arcane and mysterious world.

Joyce clearly likes and cares about scouts and the work they do. He understands that, while the position may appear glamorous to outsiders, the reality for a lot of scouts is something else entirely -- endless travel, too much fast food, bland hotels, staying up late entering game reports, seeing the same players over and over again, almost no weekends at home, one-year contracts for lousy money, etc. The purest testament to their love of the game is simply the fact that most of them show up at the rink every night in a good mood.   

Joyce chronicles the months leading up to the 2006 NHL draft as well as the following season. Because Joyce was “hired” by Columbus’s then-GM Doug MacLean and Blue Jackets’ director of amateur scouting Don Boyd, you get to know those guys well, both as people and as professionals calling the shots for their team. Joyce fit in. He filed game reports, though an allowance was certainly made for his inexperience, and, beyond that, convinced the Columbus brass that his reportorial and investigative skills could be useful in digging deeper into the psyches of players. In short, finding out what he could about their level of commitment as well as any inner minefields they might be dealing with.

There’s a bit of line-blurring here, as Joyce was clearly serving two masters: the info he found out about players, and which he shared with MacLean and Boyd, is also found in his book, which, at bottom, is good old-fashioned participatory journalism, a less-stylish version of the genre made popular by George Plimpton thirty or more years ago. 

To give one example, Joyce took part in a good number of the 109 player interviews Columbus did in advance of both the 2006 and 2007 drafts. That was problematic for some, particularly the agent for Phil Kessel, who didn’t like the idea of a reporter being in the room. It’s not hard to see why, either, as Kessel is asked if he has “a problem with (his) teammates” (You may recall that Kessel, at one time a mortal lock for the #2 spot behind Crosby, saw his stock drop in the months leading up to the draft, enabling the Bruins to draft him #5 overall.)

If you have wondered what exactly goes on during the fitness testing at the annual NHL Central Scouting Combine -- as well as the testing individual teams do on their own – you’ll see that in this one particular area, the answers are coldly definitive, and little is left to chance.

The role of Russians and their “signability” – something that’s become a real issue over the past few drafts -- is covered in depth.

There are plenty of fun asides, like what a major bust Phil Esposito was as the GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning: his whole staff consisted of cronies and family. 

We get the details of the big financial squeeze Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano put on his scouts.

We’re treated to an update on Jason Bongignore – Edmonton’s #4 overall pick in the 1994 draft. The Rochester native, considered one of the worst -- if not the worst pick ever – now runs a go-kart operation in Rochester, NY.

We get a sense of what scouting was like in the old days, the pre-draft era, through stories such as that of Al Ritchie, a longtime New York Rangers scout in western Canada, who discovered Gordie Howe only to see Detroit swoop in afterward and sign him.

There are a lot of good anecdotes like that, and they pull the reader right along.

Joyce, a Canadian, does not pull his punches when it comes to hockey this side of the 49th parallel. 

The author heads to the 2006 Ivan Hlinka Memorial in Breclav, Czech Republic and, watching the U.S.-Canada game, accuses the U.S. kids under head coach Ed Olczyk of acting out “the way you’d expect testosterone-charged teenaged boys to do.” Meanwhile Canada, playing with a level of discipline that has become a hallmark of its under-20 success in recent years,” blanks them 3-0. The facts do tend to bear him out.

Joyce is not impressed by USA Hockey. Months later, he goes to the world juniors in Sweden and is disappointed by the way the Americans carry themselves. With a minute to go in the game against Finland, the U.S., up 5-3, gets a 5-on-3 power play opportunity and “when Jack Johnson scores with twenty seconds to go, he celebrates as if he has scored in overtime of the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final – skating to center ice, away from this teammates, as though he doesn’t need to be congratulated by them when he can congratulate himself. Again, it’s stuff you’d see at a pro wrestling show.”

After the game, Joyce goes looking to get some quotes from Johnson, Pat Kane and others, but U.S. team officials tell him there will be no media access to the players, citing the demands of games on back-to-back nights.

“Not that the American kids were too drained to run their power play needlessly in the last minute,” Joyce writes. “Later on,” he adds, “the U.S. players mingle on the arena concourse with their parents. That’s the USA program in a nutshell: the players aren’t held accountable by anyone, while the program is hostage to the parents.”

And the parents? “It’s a favorite pastime of parents of American players to bash the families of opponents and teammates alike.”

Incidentally, this whole business of media access came up again at the most-recent world juniors, at which Canadian players were free to talk to any reporters they wished to. The Canadians came across as pinch-me thrilled to be at the tournament representing their country. No one really knows how the players on the U.S. junior team felt, as only the captains were allowed to talk to the press. The U.S. team seemed to be operating in an extremely controlled, uptight environment. And they played that way. When they fell behind against Canada, they were unable to find a way back into the game and ultimately unraveled. As for the game against Russia, the less said the better.  

But we’re digressing. Getting back to the matter at hand, we were struck by how little the author knew about NCAA play or the various U.S. leagues.  

In writing about the 2006 Ivan Hlinka Memorial in Breclav, Czech Republic, Joyce writes that “defenceman Tommy Cross plays for Westminster High (sic) in Connecticut in a league that doesn’t challenge him, a league that’s a big step down from, say, the game in the Boston area or in Minneapolis or Detroit. Fact is, Cross is only in his junior year – as it stands, he’s looking at two more seasons at Westminster. USA Hockey can get a far better read of his skills here against international squads than it can when he plays against kids who wouldn’t have a shot at making the varsity at Shattuck or one of the high school hockey powers.”

Needless to say, as good as Shattuck is, there are many kids in New England prep schools who Tom Ward would be thrilled to have on his squad. With both the Shattuck and "high school hockey powers" reference, it's obvious Joyce was operating under the assumption that the Westminster School is not a private school, but a regular Connecticut high school (i.e. like Simsbury High, where Cross played before attending Westminster.)

While we certainly understand the larger point Joyce is attempting to make, his understanding of the hockey hierarchy in the U.S. is so boogered up that the point is totally lost in translation. And it gets worse. In that same page, Joyce writes that Nick Petrecki plays for the “Omaha Gamblers.”

(By the way, fact-checking non-fiction is slipping away in the rear-view mirror. So is true line-by-line editing. Book publishers, with their eye on the bottom line but not on their customers, just don’t want to pay for it anymore. But authors, and Mr. Joyce is just one of many, need that helping hand.)

Joyce also looks down on the USHL, though he never actually heads off and watches a game in the league. Of the Under-18s at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial, Joyce writes that, for the USHL kids on the USA roster, what they are facing in Breclav is “the best the USHL players will see all year.” Well, we think facing a junior team like the Omaha Lancers in the Clark Cup championship is probably a step up from facing under-18’s -- no matter how talented -- in August. 

Joyce’s sense of where things are in the U.S. – again, a fact checker would have helped – lets him down as well.

In talking about NHL draft busts, Joyce takes Lou Nanne, then GM of the Minnesota North Stars, to task for, in 1993, “being wrong about a kid from down the street” when he selected Brian Lawton #1 overall. “Lawton,” writes Joyce, “played for Mount St. Charles High School in Minneapolis.”

The Mount is actually in Woonsocket, RI, about 1,300 miles to the east of Minneapolis.

Despite the mistakes, there’s a lot to like in this book. After the author returns from the Czech Republic, he’s off and running with major junior play, hitting all three leagues in Canada.

This is home turf for Joyce. Major junior is something he knows intimately and he is on firm footing here. His finest moments come when he spends time with -- and delves deeply into the psyches of -- several major junior players, most particularly Steve Downie and Akim Aliu – two complex, mercurial kids. This section will stick with you. You’ll see an unrevealed side to the two players. Ditto for Angelo Esposito. And Jakub Voracek. And others. Joyce has the right angle here. He flat out nails it. This could easily have made a fascinating book of its own.

Before Joyce’s journeys wind up, we have a front office shake up in Columbus. MacLean is out -- just two months before the draft. But Joyce soldiers on, and in the process has produced one of the best, if not the best, hockey books of recent years.


Unfortunately, this book, under the Doubleday Canada imprint, is only published in Canada. However, it might be available through It is definitely available through its Canadian subsidiary -- It’s coming out in paperback in the fall, hopefully with some corrections.



Hastings to Gophers

Mike Hastings, head coach/GM of the Omaha Lancers for the past 14 years, has been named the new assistant at the University of Minnesota, taking over the spot vacated by Mike Guentzel.

Fourteen years ago, Guentzel was head coach/GM of the Lancers when Doug Woog hired him at the U. At the time, Hastings was hired to fill his shoes, and he did so with great success, going 529-210-36 with three Clark Cups. Now, in 2008, Hastings is again taking over a position vacated by Guentzel.

Hastings to Minnesota rumors have been going around for a while, both when previous vacancies opened at the U, and again over the past month. The talk picked up momentum after Hastings was spotted at the U last Wednesday.
Hastings, who has long since proven himself as a coach and a recruiter at the USHL level, is a native of Crookston, Minn. He played his college hockey for St. Cloud State and, shortly after graduation, spent a year as an assistant with the Huskies.

Hastings stepped down from his head coaching position with the Lancers two weeks ago, but kept his GM position, and took on the role of team president as well. Look for Bliss Littler to add the GM position to his head coaching responsibility.



Ivy Assistant Moves On -- to the Q

Brown University assistant coach Danny Brooks will be leaving Brown to become an assistant with Les Voltigeurs de Drummondville (QMJHL).

Brooks, a 40-year-old native of Natick, Mass., has been a Div. I assistant for ten seasons. For the last six, he has been at Brown. Before that, he was at Wayne State for three years, and, before that, he was at Western Michigan for a season. Brooks started his college coaching career in 1997-98, at Bentley, then a Div. II program.

The go-between for Brooks and the Voltigeurs was Phil Lecavalier, the player agent and brother of Tampa Bay Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier.

At Drummondville, Brooks will be an assistant to Guy Boucher. The Voltigeurs finished this past season with just 14 wins in 70 games – a .200 winning percentage. They were the worst team in the Q – by far. They were also young, so they should be better in the upcoming season.
“I’ve enjoyed my 11 years in college hockey,” said Brooks, who is married and has a seven-month old daughter. “They all provided something different. But this came along and I couldn’t pass it up. It’s a new experience, a new challenge for me as a coach. It’s something different and I’m excited.”

“We’re always asking players to get out of their comfort zone. Sometimes us coaches have to get out of our comfort zone, too.”

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Brooks added. “But I’ll also miss all the people in college hockey. I have many, many friends there.”

-- As expected, former Northeastern assistant coach Shawn McEachern has joined Blaise MacDonald’s staff at UMass-Lowell.
McEachern, a former Boston University star forward who went on to a 15-year career in the NHL, was on the Huskies staff for a year and a half. He came on board in an emergency situation, taking over when Brendan Walsh left in December 2006 to become a Boston police officer, and left at the conclusion of this past season.

At UMass-Lowell, McEachern will be replacing Kenny Rausch, who resigned last month. In ’07-08, the River Hawks doubled their overall win from the previous season, going from 8-21-7  to 16-17-4. They finished seventh in Hockey East with a 10-13-4 league record.


Leveille, Orangemen Finish on Top

Foxborough, Mass. -- Former Albany Academy hockey and lacrosse player Mike Leveille was named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Div. I Lacrosse Tournament today as Syracuse University won its 10th national championship, topping Johns Hopkins 13-10 before 48,970 at  Gillette Stadium. 

A senior, Leveille scored five goals in Saturday’s semi-final double-OT win over Virginia, and added one today.

Leveille, 6’3” and 204 lbs., graduated from Albany Academy in 2004, where he had 55 goals and 33 assists as a senior and was named an All-American. He did well on the ice, too, and possibly could have played Div. I if he had made that his focus. In his senior season he had a 12-24-36 line, trailing UNH recruit Mike Borisenok by just two points.

Leveille is one of the five finalists for the Tewaarton Trophy, the lacrosse equivalent of the Hobey Baker or the Heisman. The winner will be announced on Thursday.


Red Raiders Catch Wild Boar

Choate 5’9”, 185 lb. junior forward Billy Rivellini has committed to Colgate for the fall of ’09.

This past winter, Rivellini, a native of Great Falls, Virginia and a second-year student at Choate, posted a 13-13-26 line in 25 games. He was the Wild Boars’ fourth leading scorer, behind linemates Mark Goggin and Joel Goodsell; and defenseman Connor Goggin.

Other schools in the picture for Rivellini, a right shot who plays the off wing, included St. Lawrence, Princeton, Holy Cross, and Middlebury.

A 1/25/90 birthdate, Rivellini works hard in all three zones. His speed is a strength, as is his shot – he has a quick release, and an excellent one-timer. He’s physically strong, hard to knock off his skates, plus he hits hard. There’s a lot of energy in his game.

Rivellini, along with Mark Goggin, will be co-captains at Choate next season.

-- Speaking of Goggin, he was drafted by the Chicago Steel in the May 14 USHL Draft. He’ll do what Westminster D Tommy Cross did this past season, and head out to the USHL for spring break. There’s a good chance he will also play for the Steel in the USHL Fall Classic in Sioux City, and possibly other games as well.


Hastings Makes it Official

Mike Hastings made it official yesterday, handing over the Omaha Lancers’ coaching duties to Bliss Littler and kicking himself upstairs, where he will take on the position of team President/GM.

Hastings, 42, has been behind the Lancers bench for 14 years, has won three Clark Cup championships, including this season, and retires with a record of 529-210-56, making him the all-time winningest coach in the annals of the USHL.

We asked Hastings if he sees himself coaching again, and he left that door open.

“I’ll never say I’m not coaching again,” Hastings replied.

Given Hastings’ success, some observers feel that this move may be a transitional phase, and that there will be other opportunities down the line that Hastings may be preparing himself for. There was talk about the GM position with the Manchester Monarchs, the AHL affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings.

“I’ve talked to Luc (Robitaille, a part owner of the Lancers) about a lot of things over the past few months, but that’s not one,” Hastings said.

Hastings, who is also a part owner of the Lancers, said that, over the past few years, he’s “gotten more and more into the business operation.”

“We’re trying to make our business model better,” he said.

Hastings is clearly pleased that he was able to get Littler to come over as the team’s new head coach. Littler, 41, has a 209-150-37 mark in seven years as a USHL head coach, first with the now-defunct Topeka RoadRunners, and then, for the past five seasons, with Tri-City.

“(Bliss) is always in pursuit of winning hockey games – that’s important,” Hastings said. “But in his pursuit of being successful on the ice, he will never compromise or take short cuts in getting there. Hockey, remember, is just two hours out of 24. He does things the right way.”

“He’s bounced us out of the playoffs a couple times. I don’t know what his record is against us. His teams have always been hard to play against and that’s also what I hope we’re about.

“I have a lot of confidence in Bliss because of the kind of person he is. He’ll keep the organization on the path it needs to be on.”


Pick 'em

The USHL draft is today. Here’s the link:

USHL Draft Results



Blashill Takes Over in Indy

Miami assistant Jeff Blashill has been named the new GM/head coach of the Indiana Ice (USHL).

Blashill, 34, just completed his sixth season at Miami. During that time, the RedHawks transformed themselves into one of the elite Div. I college programs, reaching the NCAA tournament for the past three seasons (and four of the last five).

A tireless recruiter, Blashill has played a major rule in the school’s success. A number of players who were  considered a notch below blue chip status when they arrived at the Oxford, Ohio campus actually turned out to be big-time college players and keys to the program’s success.

Before getting hired at Miami, Blashill was an assistant at Ferris State, his alma mater, for four seasons. 

A goaltender out of Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., Blashill played in the USHL with Des Moines for several seasons in the early ‘90s before matriculating at Ferris. He graduated in '98.

Blashill has been given a three-year contract by the Ice. He took part in this morning’s USHL draft.


A Busy Day in the USHL

Tri-City Storm head coach/GM Bliss Littler, whose teams reached the playoffs four times in his five-year tenure, resigned today.

Also announcing his resignation today, after one year, was Indiana Ice head coach Charlie Skjodt.

We expect there will be more moves.

To be specific, Omaha Lancers head coach/GM Mike Hastings and Waterloo Black Hawks head coach/GM P.K. O’Handley – the Clark Cup finalists -- might be somewhere else before the start of next season.

The talk – and it’s been persistent -- is that Hastings, the Lancers head coach for 14 years, will be stepping down from his coaching post. He may remain on as general manager, but we've also heard talk of a position in the Los Angeles Kings organization, possibly as GM of the Manchester Monarchs (AHL).

Whether or not Hastings stays on as the GM in Omaha, it looks like Littler will be the Lancers next head coach.   

O’Handley has been a USHL head coach/GM for 12 of the last 16 years. From 1998-2002 he served as an assistant with the Florida Everblades (ECHL). A couple of weeks ago, Everblades head coach Gerry Fleming stepped down after seven years, and the position, which will be a head coach/GM job, is open again. Everblades GM Craig Brush, who was there when O’Handley was an assistant, will be conducting the job search. This is a plum job. The Everblades play in the Fort Myers/Naples area. Their arena, Germain Arena, is a spiffy modern arena with a capacity of 7,181, Their average attendance this past season – a down year – was 6,033. Also, that part of Florida is not the worst place to spend winter.

-- Jon Cooper was officially introduced as the new head coach/GM of the Green Bay Gamblers yesterday.

Cooper’s St. Louis Bandits won their second consecutive Robertson Cup a week ago Sunday, one day after his wife, Jessie, gave birth to twin girls. That’s what we call a weekend.

-- In college news, the name we hear most loudly mentioned as the successor to Mike Guentzel on the Gophers staff is St. Cloud State assistant Eric Rud. The 35-year-old former Colorado College defenseman – he played four years for Don Lucia there – has made a name for himself in his six years as an assistant, first in the USHL and then in the college ranks.



Detroit Dead

The USHL Board of Directors has turned down the proposed transfer of the Ohio franchise to Fraser, Michigan.

The Junior Blue Jackets franchise will cease operations immediately.

Next up is the question of what will be done with the Junior Blue Jackets players. In May 2004, when the former Topeka ScareCrows/St. Louis Heartland Eagles folded, there was a straight dispersal draft. This year, unlike 2004, there is an expansion team coming into the league, and there is a serious proposal on the table to immediately make all the veteran Blue Jackets available to Fargo.

The rest of the Blue Jackets players – i.e. draft picks, both future and regular phase – would then be returned to the draft pool.

Now, whether or not Fargo head coach/GM Dean Blais would even want all the players from Ohio is a legitimate question. After all, he’s had a whole year to scout players for his squad. He may want at least some of the Blue Jackets, though.

Anyway, that’s what’s being discussed among the league brass today. It seems like there’s a little bit more up in the air than there should be at this late date. After all, it’s been months since the future of the Ohio franchise first became a hot topic. And now the draft is just four days away.

Stay tuned.


5/10/08 Updated

What is it?

What, exactly, is a 30-day letter? The Phoenix Coyotes know, because they got one from Boston-based agent Matt Keator, representing University of Minnesota junior forward Blake Wheeler (see yesterday’s USHR News).

We didn’t go into it in depth yesterday, so here goes.

At its simplest, a 30-day letter is a loophole that enables a college player under certain conditions to become a free agent a year before he would have been able to in the past.

To take advantage of this, a player:

1) Must have completed four seasons of play (at any amateur level) following the year in which he was drafted and…

2) Must not have begun his fourth year of college eligibility.

If a player meets those conditions, and the player and the NHL team that holds his rights don’t agree to a contract before the 30-day period expires, he can become a free agent and sign with any team he chooses. 

As we mentioned yesterday, Wheeler, after being drafted in 2004, played one year for the Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) and then three for the Gophers. That adds up to four years.

Under the old rules, Wheeler’s NHL rights would have been held by Phoenix until August 15th following his senior year.

Now, he gets the same privileges after his junior season. However, this loophole doesn’t only apply to college juniors. If a player were drafted, then played two years in juniors before going to college, he could be similarly emancipated after his sophomore year.

“It starts the four-year clock ticking,” said Keator. “It’s only fair. Why should a kid be penalized for taking a red shirt year? Why should a kid get penalized for taking two years of juniors?”

Keator refers to the rule as the “Goepfert rule,” for his client Bobby Goepfert.

Goepfert, you may recall, was drafted (by Pittsburgh) in 2002, played two years at Providence College, transferred to St. Cloud State, took a red shirt year, and then played two more seasons. Nearly five years had passed since his draft year. And Keator was representing him.

“I made an argument with the NHLPA that (Goepfert) should be made a free agent,” Keator says.

That argument paved the way for a settlement between the Players’ Association and the league, and the old CBA was amended. The loophole is no longer a loophole. It’s law. As for Goepfert, he was freed from having his rights held by Pittsburgh. He signed with Anaheim.    

“Goepfert was the test case,” says Keator.

“The NHL and NHLPA worked it out and it came out in December and all Blake and I are doing now is exercising his rights within the CBA. It’s the player’s option.”

If you’re wondering why Keator sent out the 30-day letter now, it’s due to a simple technicality. He had to wait until Wheeler had completed his spring classes. 

In the preceding paragraphs, we’ve tried to explain this in its simplest terms. For our examples, we cited those who played a year of juniors after getting drafted. Naturally, the ruling also applies to players who were drafted and then returned to prep or high school.

There may well be more complicated scenarios. Those would be best addressed by those deeply immersed in these things, e.g. agents and lawyers.

While the CBA is posted on the NHLPA website, this amendment has not yet been added in.


A couple of paragraphs above, we wrote that this CBA amendment would also apply to high school/prep school players. Specifically, that a player drafted by an NHL team who returned to prep or high school -- e.g. Tommy Cross, Alex Killorn -- would see his four year clock start, just like kids playing junior. We're now told that may not be accurate, that the rule may only apply to kids in juniors. We will try to clarify this on Monday.



Force Fed

The USHL front office has told league coaches/GMs that the Ohio Junior Blue Jackets veterans (10 or more games played this past season) will be getting shipped en masse to the expansion Fargo Force.

Players don’t really have a choice here. They have, in essence, been traded. The are now the property of Fargo. The only way they can play for another USHL team is via a trade, or getting cut and signing on elsewhere.

The players on Ohio’s affiliate list are in a different boat. They will be placed in the draft pool and are eligible to be selected in the USHL draft, which is scheduled for Wednesday, starting at 9:00 am. To the best of our knowledge, the affliate list consists of the following: Broderick Brown, F, Texas Attack, ’90; Mark Goggin, F, Choate, ’90; Doug Marshall, D, Syracuse Stars, ’90; Eamonn McDermott, D, Cleveland Barons, ’91; Jordan Miller, F, Belle Tire, ’91; Cody Murphy, F, Team Illinois, ’91; Shawn Ostrow, G, Camrose Kodiaks, '91; Matt Wilson, F, Syracuse Stars, ’90; Clay Witt, G, Boston Jr. Bruins, ’91.


Almeida Strikes in OT; Lancers Win Clark Cup

Omaha, Neb. -- A Barry Almeida goal at 6:08 of overtime lifted the Omaha Lancers to a 4-3 win over the Waterloo Black Hawks in the fifth and deciding game of the 2008 Clark Cup finals tonight.

For the Lancers, it’s the seventh title in the franchise’s 22-year history. Under Mike Hastings, the Lancers have reached the Clark Cup finals seven times in 14 years, and have now won three championships.

Tonight, Omaha, on a Jake Hauswirth goal, led 1-0 after one, but the Black Hawks came back with two in the second – Brett Olson and Jan-Mikael Juutilainen scored the goals -- to take a 2-1 lead into the final period. However, Omaha came back with a pair in the third, from Ben Arnt and Patrick Wiercioch, to take a brief 3-2 lead before Waterloo defenseman Chad Billins tied it up 3-3 with 7:14 remaining in regulation.  

Omaha goaltender Drew Palmisano kicked out 31 of 34 shots for the win. Waterloo’s Matt DiGirolamo stopped 21 of 25 in a losing effort.

Wiercioch (1g,2a) figured in three of Omaha’s four goals. Olson (1g,1a) and Siim Liivik (2a) had multiple-point games for Waterloo.

Waterloo outshot the Lancers, 34-25.



USHL Vote on Detroit Today

The USHL Board of Governors, which consists of the league’s owners, is voting this morning on the proposed sale of the Ohio Blues Jackets to the Michigan group headed up by Jim Sopha and Donnie Harkins.

Indiana Ice owner Paul Skojdt appears to be out of the picture, as he doesn’t have a lease agreement (the Sopha group holds that) and, according to USHL bylaws, a prospective owner needs to have a lease on an arena before applying to buy a franchise.

Reportedly, the other owners don’t feel that they have time to “do due diligence” in the matter of vetting the Michigan ownership group. One possible route to getting a team in Fraser would be for Tom Goebel to stay involved. If he were to own the team during the move to Fraser, he could always sell it to the Sopha group at a later date.

Even if the other owners have reservations, they should probably find a way to get this done, for the simple reason that a team’s being allowed to fold gives the appearance that USHL franchises are of questionable worth. This could be the second team in four years to fold, after the St. Louis Heartland Eagles in ’04, who also tried to move to Detroit. You certainly don’t see major junior teams folding up.

As a side note, the Detroit group, if the deal falls apart, stands to lose all their stockpiled draft picks, the booty from in-season trades. The group holds four of the first 24 overall picks. In addition to their own picks, they have a second and third round pick from Lincoln in next week’s regular draft, and they also have Lincoln’s first and second round picks in October’s Futures Draft. And that’s just from the Jimmy Hayes trade. They also have a fifth round pick from Sioux City.

If the Ohio franchise were forced to fold, neither Lincoln  nor Sioux City would get the picks they originally traded back. There would simply be a blank when Ohio's spots came up. 



Wheeler Leaves Gophers

University of Minnesota 6’4”, 215 lb. junior RW Blake Wheeler will not be returning to the Gophers for his senior season.

However, he has yet to sign with the Phoenix Coyotes, the team that drafted him in the first round (#5 overall) of the 2004 NHL draft.

Wheeler, represented by Boston-based agent Matt Keator, is utilizing a clause within the Collective Bargaining Agreement that allows a player who is in college, has passed the four-year mark since being drafted, and is not yet a senior to issue a letter notifying the team that drafted him that they have 30 days in which to sign him. If Phoenix fails to sign Wheeler within the month, he becomes a free agent.

Wheeler repeated his sophomore year when he transferred from Wayzata High to Breck, and was drafted before his senior season, which he spent with the Green Bay Gamblers (USHL). 

There was talk about Wheeler turning pro after his sophomore season, but nothing came of it.

“His waiting an extra year has been good for him, maturity-wise, both as a player and as a person,” Keator said. “We feel he’s ready now. Don (Lucia) agrees and was very supportive.”

“Whether he’s with Phoenix or any one of the other 29 teams will play itself out in the next 30-40 days. He has options.”


If Wheeler were to sign with another team, Phoenix would get, from the team that signs him, a compensatory second-round pick in the 2009 NHL draft. 


Tornado Shutting Down

Look for the Texas Tornado (NAHL) to shut down operations -- for at least a year.

The team claimed losses of $850,000 this past season, which is curious, given the fact that they led the league in attendance, with an average of 2,585 per game.

The Tornado, a subpar 20-33-5 this season, use the Dr. Pepper StarCenter in Frisco, Texas as their home rink. The arena, which also serves as a practice facility for the NHL’s Dallas Stars, is a state of the art building featuring 3,500 seats and numerous luxury boxes.

Not so coincidentally, the Dallas Stars announced two weeks ago that they are pulling their AHL affiliate out of Des Moines, Iowa. In the fall of ’09, the Stars’ AHL club will begin play in an arena under construction in the suburbs north of Austin, Texas, but for the short term it looks like the team will be sliding right into the arena in Frisco. And then, a year from now, the Tornado can return to the building.

But will that really happen? Will the fans still be there for a team that took a powder for a year? And will Schlegel Sports, which owns both the AHL and NAHL team and has an eye to maximizing profits, be happy with resurrecting an NAHL club in Dallas? In Texas, they like to do things big, and the USHL is a bigger fish than the NAHL. Could Kirby Schlegel seek to come back in ’09-10 with a USHL team?

It wouldn’t surprise us. Remember, when Tony Curtale coached the Tornado, the word was that the USHL wouldn’t take the franchise into the league as long as he was coaching. Well, Curtale is gone now. 

Dallas is a long way, in miles, from the league’s base in the upper Midwest, so that could work against them. 

We just aren’t used to seeing teams shut down for a year, and then return. And Dallas is just too big to go without a junior team for long.


Sidewalk Superintendent

It’s a sunny day in Sheffield, Mass. and construction proceeds apace on Berkshire School’s spiffy new rink – rinks, we should say, as there will be two sheets.

If you haven’t seen it from the outside, you might be in for a shock. Increase the seating capacity a bit, and you could stick a major junior team in there. Actually, there are Div. I college programs looking for just such a building.

Check out the live webcam below. It’s a good way to kill a few minutes. 

We’re wondering what the backhoe operator on the left side of the screen is doing, besides making a nice mound of dirt. Guess we’ll just have to check back later.

Live!! Berkshire's rinks, under construction

Berkshire's rinks, still pictures


More on Detroit

Indiana Ice CEO/GM Paul Skjodt is also in the picture, bidding for the Ohio franchise that’s ticketed for Fraser, Michigan.

Skjodt, an Indianapolis developer, has extensive cash resources, plus he’s already an owner (the USHL looks on owning multiple teams as a plus).

The Sopha group, on the other hand, has the Michigan connections.  

Look for this little battle to get sorted out by the end of the business week. The process can not get dragged out, as the USHL draft is a week from today.



For the Blue Jackets, Detroit Looks Like Home

Pending league approval, the Ohio Junior Blue Jackets USHL franchise will be moving to suburban Detroit and beginning play this fall at Great Lakes Sports City, a five-sheet complex in Fraser, Michigan that has at its center a 3,300 seat arena.

The ownership group is spearheaded by Jim Sopha, an executive vice president with Lansing, Mich.-based Jackson National Life Insurance.  

Look for Donnie Harkins to be the team’s head coach and general manager. Harkins, who has been the GM in Ohio for the past two years, is also the director of Elite Prospects Hockey, an annual Detroit-area showcase attracting the top young prospects from the U.S. and Canada. Prior to his work in the USHL, Harkins, who played at Miami-Ohio in the ‘80s, was head coach for the powerhouse Honeybaked squad that featured Pat Kane and Peter Mueller.

The Junior Blue Jackets, born out of the mothballed Thunder Bay franchise, are owned by Jim Marchi, who leased the franchise to Tom Goebel. Before leasing the franchise to Goebel, Markey had tried to place it in Columbia, Missouri, but that deal fell through. Now, Markey is selling the franchise outright to Sopha’s group. 

The Junior Blue Jackets finished this season just a couple of games under .500 at 26-28-6. In their expansion season, the club finished 13-40-7, so they doubled their wins in one season. Detroit then, is getting a team that’s already gone through its growing pains.

Having  a USHL team in Detroit will be a plus for scouts and college recruiters. The area already has the CCHA, OHL, and NTDP. Detroit will become the league's easternmost squad. 

The USHL almost went into Detroit in the spring of 2004 when the St. Louis Heartland Eagles (formerly the Topeka ScareCrows) looked to be relocating to the Michigan States Fairgrounds Coliseum, a 5,500 seat arena at 8 Mile and Woodward, but that fell through. Mike Ilitch, you may recall, was to be the owner and Bill Ciraulo was tabbed to coach the team.

But that deal never worked out.

This one, though, looks like it will.


Gerbe Signs; Bennett Released

The Buffalo Sabres announced today that they have signed Boston College junior forward Nathan Gerbe.

Gerbe, who led the nation in scoring with a  35-33-68  line in 43 games, was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. At the Frozen Four he notched eight points in two games, and was named MVP as the Eagles topped North Dakota, 6-1, and Notre Dame, 4-1 en route to the NCAA title.

A 5’6”, 160 lb. native of Oxford, Michigan, Gerbe was selected by Buffalo in the fifth round (142nd overall) of the 2005 NHL draft. He’s a 7/24/87 birthdate.


Boston University sophomore goaltender Brett Bennett has been released from his scholarship, and will not be returning to the Terriers.

Bennett, a fifth round draft pick (#130 overall) of the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2006 NHL draft, posted a 2.63 gaa and .888 save percentage in 31 games. An NTDP alum, Bennett played just one game in his freshman season, 2006-07. 

"Our staff has decided that we'll move in a different direction in regards to our goaltending," said head coach Jack Parker. "We wish Brett the best in his future endeavors."

A 3/8/88 birthdate, Bennett has a year of junior eligibility remaining, if he wishes to take that route.



WHL Bantam Draft

Here’s a list of the U.S. natives selected in Thursday’s WHL Bantam Draft. All are ‘93’s.

13. Kelowna -- Shane McColgan, C, Manhattan Beach, Calif.
63. Portland -- Carson Hohmann, C, Arlington, Tex.
67. Seattle -- Colin Jacobs, C, Coppell, Tex.
72. Kamloops -- Kyle Buffardi, LW, Westminster, Calif.
87. Spokane -- Tanner Mort, D, Post Falls, Idaho
113. Prince George -- Zac Larraza, C, Scottsdale, Ariz.
130. Vancouver -- Brendan Jensen, G, El Granada, Calif.
146. Seattle -- Seth Ambroz, RW, New Prague, Minn.
181. Kamloops -- Jordan Watt, LW, Corona, Calif.
189. Seattle -- Trey Keenan, D, Argyle, Tex.
199. Portland -- Seth Swenson, LW, Colorado Springs, Colo.
205. Moose Jaw -- Garrett Haar, D, Huntington Beach, Calif.
206. Spokane -- Jesse Collins, C, Spokane, Wash.
208. Kootenay -- Cody Bisbing, RW, Phoenix, Arizona
214. Prince George -- Jared Linnell, C, North Pole, Alaska
216. Spokane -- Mitchell Fowler, C, Spokane, Wash.
218. Lethbridge -- Adam Reid, C, Chino Hills, Calif.
219. Saskatoon -- Jonathon Robinson, RW, Carlsbad, Calif.
224. Everett -- Austin Wuthrich, RW, Anchorage, Alaska


OHL Draft

Below is a list of the U.S. kids selected in yesterday’s OHL draft.

There are not a lot of major surprises.

Pittsburgh Hornets forward Brandon Saad turned down the NTDP in advance of the draft, so he was a safe pick for Saginaw.   

Kitchener had drafted U.S. Under-17 defenseman Cam Fowler a year ago, but couldn’t sign him. On Thursday, the Rangers utilized a new OHL draft rule and relinquished the rights to Fowler in exchange for a compensatory second round pick. Fowler was returned to the pool and, on Saturday, was selected by the Windsor Spitfires. Fowler, a late ’91 and a Notre Dame recruit, was thus selected in the first round for the second consecutive year. A dual citizen whose father hails from Windsor, the defenseman is expected back with the NTDP next season. If Fowler were to decide to turn his back on college, Spitfires GM Warren Rychel could sign him next spring, between the end of the World Under-18s and the OHL 2009 draft. Then, with Fowler not eligible for the NHL draft until 2010, they would have the defenseman for his entire draft year.  

It looks like UMass will be taking a major hit. Defenseman John Carlson, a ’90 who played in Indiana (USHL) this season and could go in the first round of June’s NHL draft, and forward John Parker, a ’92, were drafted in the second round, by, respectively, London and Saginaw. Both players, by the way, are New Jersey Rockets (AJHL) products,

Ohio State will be taking a hit with the loss of late ’89 Zac Dalpe to the Plymouth Whalers. Dalpe, who could also be drafted in the first round of June’s NHL draft, was the oldest eligible player selected Saturday. He’s an Ontario native who played for Startford before heading to the BCHL.

Compuware Under-16 forward Austin Watson visited Windsor over the winter, so, as we previously reported, the chances of his landing in Orono are slim, very slim. (Watson, by the way, shares the same advisor, Brian Feldman, as York Simcoe forward Brandon Francisco, a ’93 who has committed to Maine for 2011. Francisco is likely to go in the first round of the 2009 OHL draft.)

-- The new compensation rule under which Fowler was allowed to return to the draft pool was designed to address the problem of families/agents/OHL teams joining forces to manipulate the draft.

The thinking is that teams should be encouraged to draft players in the position where they should be drafted without fear of getting nothing should the player not report – hence the compensatory pick.

Undoubtedly, there will be unintended consequences as loopholes are found. 

U.S. Players Drafted

1/10 – Saginaw – Brandon Saad, LW, Pitts. Hornets Major Midget -- ‘92
1/17 – Windsor – Cam Fowler, LD, US Under-17, LD -- ’91
2/13 – London – John Carlson, RD, Indiana Ice (USHL) -- ‘90
2/16 – Windsor -- Austin Watson, RW, Compuware Under-16 -- ‘92
2/17 – Saginaw – John Parker, RC, NJ Rockets (AJHL) -- ‘92
2/18 – Owen Sound – Matthew Krug, LD, Buffalo Stars Jr. B -- ‘92
3/2 – Kitchener – Alex Aleardi, RC, Compuware Under-16 -- ’92
3/9 – Plymouth – Jon Merrill, LD, Little Caesar’s -- ‘92
3/10 – Windsor – Stephen Johns, RD, Pitts. Hornets Major Midget -- ‘92
3/12 – London – Jared Knight, RC, Compuware Under-16 -- ‘92
3/16 – Oshawa – John Padulo, RW, Rochester Alliance -- ‘92
4/13 – London -- Jarred Tinordi, LD, Washington Jr. Nationals -- ‘92
4/14 – Saginaw – Colin Greeley, G, Victory Honda Under-16 -- ‘92
4/15 – Brampton – Philip Lane, RC, Rochester Alliance -- ‘92
4/18 – Erie -- Kevin Clare, LD, Jersey Hitmen (EJHL) -- ‘92
4/19 – London – Chasen Balisy, RW, Jr. Canadiens -- ‘92
5/7 – Plymouth -- Brendan McLeskey, LW, Motor City Chiefs -- ‘92
6/6 – Sarnia – Robbie Hall, LD, Chicago Mission Under-16 -- ‘92
6/7 – Windsor – Jack Campbell, G, Detroit Honeybaked Midget -- ‘92
6/9 – Plymouth – Austin Levi, LD, Compuware Under-16 -- ’92
6/13 – Guelph – Kyle Palmieri, RW, U.S. Under-17 -- ‘91
7/15 – Brampton – Evan Accettura, LD, Victory Honda -- ‘92
8/2 – Erie – Michael Mersch, LW, Team Illinois Under-16 -- ‘92
8/7 – Barrie – Carter Foguth, RD, Compuware Under-16 -- ‘92
8/9 – Plymouth – Kevin Gravel, LD, Marquette Electricians -- ‘92
8/20 – Kitchener – Colin Markinson, RC, NJ Devils Under-16 -- ‘92
9/1 – Sudbury – Kevin Lind, LD, Chicago Mission Under-16 -- ‘92
9/5 – Peterborough – Cody Donnay, RD, Belle Tire Under-16 -- ‘92
9/6 – Barrie – Willie Yanakeff, G, Honeybaked Under-16 -- ‘92
9/7 – Ottawa – Chris Williams, RD, Wheatfield Jr. Blades -- ‘91
9/10 – Saginaw – Gabe Antoni, G, Team Comcast -- ‘92
9/18 – Sault Ste. Marie – David Mead, LD, Binghamton Senators -- ‘92
10/9 – Plymouth – D.J. Hastings, RW, Belle Tire Under-16 -- ‘92 
10/13 – London – Michael Gunn, LD, Compuware Under-16 -- ‘92
10/17 – Windsor – Rodney Lalonde, LD, Belle Tire Under-16 -- ‘92 
11/18 -- Sault Ste. Marie – Andy Iles, G, Salisbury School -- ‘92
11/20 – Kitchener – Alex Lippincott, LC, Cleveland Barons Midget -- ‘92
12/16 – Oshawa – Stuart Higgins, RW, Compuware Under-16 -- ’92
12/17 – Windsor – Taylor Carmola, RD, Rochester Alliance -- ‘92
13/3 – Owen Sound – Mario Puskarich, LC, Florida Jr. Eels -- ‘92
13/18 -- Sault Ste. Marie – Jim McNulty, LD, Victory Honda -- ‘91
13/19 – Belleville – Jamie Hill, RC, Team Comcast -- ‘92
13/20 – Kitchener – Shane Prince, LC, Maksymum -- ‘92
14/2 – Erie – Joel Benson, LD, Marquette Electricians  -- ‘92
14/10 – Saginaw – Joel Llewelyn, LW, Victory Honda Under-16s -- ‘92
14/15 – Brampton – Thane Heller, LC, The Gunnery -- ‘92
14/19 – Belleville – Jan Kaminsky, LW, TPH Thunder -- ‘92
15/1 – St. Michael’s – Bryan Rust, RC, Honeybaked Under-16 -- ‘92
15/2 – Erie – Bryan Jones, G, Syracuse Stars Jr. B -- ‘92
15/3 – Peterborough – Garrett Allen, RW, Milwaukee Jr. Admirals -- ‘92
15/5 – Saginaw – Matt Gellatly, LW, Carolina Hurricanes Under-16 -- ‘91  
15/7 – Windsor – Noah Nelson, RW, Chicago Mission Under-16 -- ‘92
15/9 – Plymouth – Frankie Simonelli, RD, Team Illinois -- ‘92
15/17 – Windsor – Saverio Posa, LD, Detroit Little Caesar’s Under-16 -- ‘92
15/18 -- Sault Ste. Marie – Kevin Boyle, G, New Jersey Rockets (MJHL) -- ‘92
15/20 – Kitchener -- David Bondra, LW, Team Maryland Under-16 -- ‘92


Bandits Rule NAHL Again

The St. Louis Bandits won their second straight Robertson Cup championship tonight, topping the Mahoning Valley Phantoms, 5-2, before a crowd of 2,107 in Chesterfield, Missouri.

Kyle O’Kane, named the tournament MVP, had a pair of goals. Mike Merrifield, Tom Brooks, and Josh Rabbani (an empty-netter) had the others.

The teams exchanged goals in the first period, each answering the other, and took a 2-2 tie into the first intermission. At the 44 second mark of the second, Merrifield scored to give the Bandits a lead they would not relinquish.

Cal Heeter kicked out 28 of the 30 shots he faced to earn the win. St. Louis outshot Mahoning Valley, 46-30.

All-Tournament Team:

Dennis Brown
, Topeka
Robert Harrison, Mahoning Valley

Miles Winter
, Mahoning Valley
Kyle O’Kane, St. Louis
Mike Leone, St. Louis


Cal Heeter, St. Louis


Voted Assistant Captain, But Gone

6’2”, 188 lb. Phillips Exeter sophomore defenseman Christian Stevens will not be returning to the New Hampshire boarding school this fall, opting to take a crack at making the Kitchener Rangers (OHL) instead.

A Clawson, Michigan native, Stevens was Kitchener’s 9th round draft pick in last May’s OHL draft.

Stevens, who is in his second year at Exeter, is a high honors student. His coach, Dana Barbin, described him “as one of the most brilliant math students to ever come through here.”

“He was also voted to be an assistant captain for next season – and he’s in the 10th grade now,” Barbin added. “He’s a really positive kid, a hard worker, and a leader. If a prospective player is touring the campus, I want Christian Stevens taking him around.”

“He loves it here, but he and his father have looked at the situation and made this decision.”

Stevens will be the second Exeter defenseman in two years to leave school for major junior. Last August, Paul Dimitruk withdrew in order to give the Q a shot, but was back in Massachusetts within a week or two. Dimitruk played out the season in the EJHL.

Like Dimitruk, Stevens is not a high end player. He has size and strength on his side, and his work ethic will help, but his hands are average at best. In other words, he’s a long shot for the NHL. However, with his grades and his work ethic, he could very well develop into a useful Ivy League defenseman if he chose to stay at Exeter. But it looks like that won’t be happening.

“I hope he makes it to the NHL,” Barbin added. “He’s a really fine kid in every way.”

A 9/5/91 birthdate, Stevens played 29 games for Exeter this past season and had a 5-13-18 line.