Caps By The Numbers: Captain Promise Fulfilled, Series Tied

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People thought Alex Ovechkin was odd saying that the Capitals would be going back to DC for Game 5 with the series tied. Thanks to Ovi’s goal and assist, the Caps took Game 2 over Columbus 4-1 to go back to DC with the series tied up 2-2. Thanks to that– we get the #2 on the Caps By The Numbers with Ken Klee.

It had to be Ken Klee for the #2. No past Capital wore the number as long as he did and he continued the ideal of the Capitals by being a defensive minded blueliner, only putting up 111 points in 570 games with the Caps. Klee, while only putting up 43 career goals for the Caps, had 11 game winning goals.

Klee came to the Caps via the Draft in 1990, but rather than go to the Baltimore Skipjacks right away, Klee stuck with Bowling Green State University for three seasons before going pro with the Skipjacks and then the Portland Pirates. Klee was a part of the 1993-94 Calder Cup team, a team that kickstarted the careers of Steve Konowalchuk, Andrew Brunette, Olaf Kolzig among others.

Though he wasn’t a top-pairing guy per se, Klee was a shutdown guy that the Caps always seemed to have in their line-ups at the time. He left following the 2002-03 season for a variety of places, while also getting into coaching for USA Hockey after that. Playing the quiet role, but playing it well– Klee could be the most memorable #2 (for now) in Caps history.

Forming the Maryland NAHLers

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It’s been a week since the NAHL announced that they’ll be putting a team at Piney Orchard Ice Arena in Odenton for the 2018-19 season. While I’ve reached out to the ownership group to talk about the team and how they are going to get things going, there has not been a reply thus far– so we will only have to speculate. Yes, we had some fun on the April 18th Face Off Hockey Show, there are some ideas that should be floated out there in order to make this team successful in the community and in the league. So– why not have a rough draft here??

Solid Coaching/Management is a Must: When you’re thinking about this league, it’s purely about development and getting these young players to the next level. There’s plenty of candidates out there, but for a first year team in an unnatural location, you’d probably want to have a coach who knows the area not just for people to recognize, but for him to help these players adjust to the area and know how and where to go and where not to. For me, if you can shoot for DeMatha Catholic’s head coach Tony MacAulay— it would be a huge get. Now, it’ll be hard-pressed to get him away from DeMatha– where he has been from 1997 until 2002 and then from 2007 until present day– but it would be a big opportunity for him to get back into a bigger scene, as well as be a huge plus for the development of the players, while bringing a winning pedigree with five state championships to show for his work. If they can convince him and he’s willing– it’d be a huge get for this team.

It’s All in the Name: To a less serious thing– the team name needs to be very Maryland. While the NAHL hyped that Odenton is a suburb of Baltimore– the distance between Odenton and Baltimore is just five miles shorter than Odenton to the DC area. This team needs to be the pride of the entire state rather than one metropolitan area over another. Plus, the amount you could use the flag in the color scheme– though cliche at this point– is perfect for the team to make a splash. Not only that– we all know that branding is a huge deal in these days. If the look is slick, you can have merchandise sold hand over fist. And yes, we’re pushing for “Maryland Crabs” hard for a name– anything that is state related will be solid…but we’ll still call ’em the Crabs.

Embrace Your Surroundings: Sure, the NAHL is looking for high school kids to come and join the league and it could be a competition to some people– the new team needs to embrace the high school hockey culture of Maryland and not only promote themselves to the masses through the Mid Atlantic Prep Hockey League, but promote the local hockey around since the timing of the games will be different in most cases. Hell, even see what it’ll take to get the Capitals on board with this whole thing and see how much you can get promoted that way because that’d surely be a big get for people who may not be able to go and see the Capitals all the time due to location and pricing.  On top of that– get the media involved in a big way. The Maryland Gazette is a good start for local news in the Anne Arundel County area, but outside of the newspaper; look at local radio like WNAV in Annapolis, which is owned by Caps super-fan Pat Sajak. Not only that but– hey, Face Off Hockey Show is AA County-based and we’ll promote like no one’s business if you want to be promoted. It’s all about getting the word and the hype out there and people will acknowledge it.

Look to the Future Rink-wise: In February of 2018, the Piney Orchard Ice Arena brass said they were still looking for a second rink to be put in the vicinity. It has been a rumor for the longest time that they wanted to add a rink, so much so that they have wishful thinking on their video boards claiming all events are held at “Rink 1” of a one rink arena. However, with the NAHL team– they should focus around building something bigger than just the idea of a single-sheet of ice like they wanted. Personally– build some stands, updated locker rooms, just a full rebuild of it all in order to keep this team here a long time.

I’m sure this will be a bit of a running list, but it’s a start to making this team successful for the long run of not only the NAHL, but for the interest in area hockey.

Caps By The Numbers: Great Dane Nets First Win

There’s no way the Capitals make it easy for themselves. With all three of their games going to extra time, which they had lost two of them– the Caps finally got some “puck luck” in their win over the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 thanks to Lars Eller being in the right place at the right time. A wild puck thrown at the net bounced off Eller, than Zach Werenski, then Eller again to give the Caps their first win. They are down in the series two games to one, however.

But– now we get to the gimmick for this playoffs to honor Capitals of the past and their jersey number with each Caps win. You have to start at #1.

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There are a lot of goalies who could have gotten this slot– Pete Peeters, Semyon Varlamov, Rastislav Stana– but the guy who gets this slot is the guy who help lead the Caps past the second round of the playoffs for the first time. That man is Mike Liut.

Of course, the reason Liut was acquired in the 1989-90 season was simple in that the Caps needed a better back-up goaltending option than they had. Bob Mason wasn’t cutting it and the other options of Jim Hrivnak and Olaf Kolzig were too young in the eyes of the Caps. So, the Caps got rid of Yvon Corriveau (who only had 15 points in 50 games) to get the former NHLPA MVP winner.

It would prove to be a good move because he would be thrown into the fray after Don Beaupre went down in Game Three of the second round and was able to shake off a rough start to his playoffs to help the Caps get past the Rangers and onto the Conference Finals…though they got swept by the Bruins.

Liut would come back for the next two season with the Caps, going an even 23-23-5 in those last two seasons before calling it a career and going into a life as a player agent. He may not have been in Landover for a long time, but he was there for a decent time in the history of the Caps playoff history.

Odenton, Maryland Granted NAHL Franchise

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It was announced late Thursday that Odenton, Maryland will be the latest addition to the NAHL for the 2018-19 season, as Piney Orchard Ice Arena will be the home to this currently unnamed team. For someone who played their club hockey career at Piney Orchard (RIP Chesapeake Chiefs), this is an amazing development for hockey in Maryland.

For those who don’t know, the NAHL is the second-tier Junior league, right under the USHL. They’ve been around for 42 years and have teams all over the US and is a great catalyst for players to get to the NCAA level. It will be the first time a team is based out of Maryland, which is a little odd for the placement for the team.

When it comes to hockey in Maryland, which I’m a big supporter of, this is great. This will put a spotlight on the area, and while the kids won’t always be from the Old Line State– the fact that it could give some of the local high school kids something to shoot for on a higher level they probably wouldn’t have had right in their backyard.

NAHL is decent hockey, but I hope people in the area don’t expect Major Juniors like in Canada and northern states– it will be very developmental based and will need a lot of patience for the team to really flourish. Yet, it’s a good first step to really show off how much hockey can be supported in Maryland outside of the Washington Capitals.

About the arena– like I said, I played at Piney as a youth and was there when it opened almost 30 years ago. I’m surprised a place like the Laurel Ice House or Rockville Ice Arena wasn’t a choice, as they are a bit more modern than Piney– but who knows what Piney has in store for upgrades– which I think they’ll need in order to have players as competitive as they need to be in this league.

This is a great day for Maryland hockey. To have a league like this put a team in the central Maryland area is tremendous. If anything, it could get some shine on the college programs in the area and maybe even boost those teams to try and get some D1 consideration– looking at you, Navy and maybe you, Stevenson University— but if nothing else– this is a start of a new era of hockey in Maryland.

Hope you all are along for the ride because I may have to spend a lot of time on this subject going forward.

 

What We Learned About the SPHL Challenge Round Selection Show

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When the SPHL came up with their Challenge Round before their season, it created a lot of buzz about the idea overall and how it could be pulled off. On Sunday night, it was put to the task and, honestly, went off with flying colors. The concept, the broadcast, the production– in my eyes– all great and a great way for the SPHL to really put themselves out there as a league.

They broadcast opened with a hot crowd in Huntsville while the Challenge Round montage began. It was a welcome sight to see  Eli Gold and Terry Crisp as MCs, two guys who have a history of hockey, especially with Gold being the play-by-play guy for the Birmingham Bulls– which means he’s seen the league in a big way this season. Gold also worked for the Nashville Predators alongside Crisp– who is still with the team.

Gold made sure to talk about history of the challenge round in hockey in other countries like Switzerland and Austria, while also putting over the SPHL in creating a widespread buzz of this concept across the North America sporting landscape. Gold also mentioned how game-changing the SPHL has been by starting three-on-three OT to North American hockey.

Onto the actual picks by the teams. Gold explained some of the reasoning that teams could have for picks and then went off to say how a lot of teams didn’t have their real home-ice due to scheduling. It went then into  a video montage of what the league is about for outliers who may be tuning into the show.

Now– the picks. Peoria as the first seed was first pick and they kept it a 1/8 match-up picking the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs. This is an interesting match-up because neither team will have their home-ice. Roanoke will play at Liberty University, while Peoria will have to go to their practice rink. Second pick, the Macon Mayhem decided to switch it up a bit, as they will play the sixth seeded Evansville Thunderbolts, believing in a better match-up against them than Mississippi, while the third seed Pensacola went with the fifth seed Knoxville Ice Bears, leaving Huntsville with the seventh seed Mississippi.

Overall…not too much over-the-top as some would have predicted, but it did cause for a bit of drama when it came to who would pick who and why. The idea is a solid one and the broadcast was a nice added touch to help those who didn’t know much about the SPHL going into it.

This could get some more eyes on the league if there are some upsets in this first round. It always creates that mentality of the top-ranked team having to really hold serve and justify their pick, while the underdog can have the feeling of a team picking them because they were thought to be weak, but now have to turn the tables to make it right.

Wazz’s 2018 Playoff Blog Gimmick: Win By The Numbers

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While there will be some team sites out there doing other things for their team’s playoff wins– I’m feeling like I need to have a decent gimmick for the playoffs when it comes to the Capitals. Of course, this team hasn’t been past the second round since 1998, but this year….this year feels odd. A team that didn’t look the best at times, their solid portion of their game (Braden Holtby) looking very human, but getting help offensively in a big way.

Plus, they didn’t win the President’s Trophy, so I’m happy with that. Better odds to win.

However, this year– I’m doing to do something called “Winning By The Numbers” for the Capitals this playoffs. With each playoff win– I’ll pick one former Capital whose jersey number coincides with that playoff win. Like with win #1– Pete Peeters or Mike Liut, #2 for Garry Galley or Ken Klee, and so on and so forth. Maybe even get past Yvon Labre and just have a post for #8 about Larry Murphy where it’s just me typing out “WHOOP” for 500 words worth.

My goal is to get all the way to #16 and my favorite player of all-time in the NHL: Bengt Gustafsson.

There you have it– I’ve done my part, time for the Caps to do theirs.

Thunderbolts Looking to Spark Attendance with Free Tickets

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The Evansville Thunderbolts are employing an interesting strategy for their first playoff game. The team, which is 10th in the 10-team SPHL in attendance, is offering free admission to their first playoff game.

Heading into their last weekend, Evansville will have the sixth or seventh spot– seventh if Mississippi wins out and Evansville loses out; though Evansville can sneak up to fifth if they win out and Knoxville loses out. Of course, with the new playoff format– the Thunderbolts are pretty much sitting ducks for the top three teams in the whole Pick-Your-Poison playoff system the SPHL has.

However, the question is does this sully the SPHL if teams need to have free admission to their first playoff game?? Sure, it’s “Single A” hockey, but it’s still a business. You have to think that other teams don’t think highly of a team in the playoffs just giving away their seats to people and not turning a profit. It cuts into the team and possibly the league’s bottom line.

That said, it could also be something that creates fans in an area that needs to get back to their glory days in the ECHL by putting in– at the worst point– over 4,000 people on average with over 5,400 at it’s peak. You can believe that there are still people sour over the whole situation Ron Geary had in moving the team to Owensboro and then eventually Jacksonville when Owensboro didn’t work out.

Even if it isn’t the old Icemen fans coming back to see this new team, playoff hockey is a chance to create new fans. People also say that they became a bigger fan of the game when they attended it live and experienced the speed and excitement of the game. Now, double that when it comes to the playoffs and how that could play out and you may have new ticket holders after that experience.

It doesn’t look good on the surface, sure– but at the same time, it’s pretty ingenious. Giving away tickets to this franchise’s first playoff appearance after finishing dead last in their inaugural season in 2016-17 could be a big way to get some buzz around the team and turn people into supporters. It allows some families who may not be able to afford a playoff game a chance to experience it with their kids. It creates some kind of community togetherness, also– maybe getting the city to rally behind this team after their other one was ripped from them.

The real question is how it will actually play out and how much they’ll be able retain after the first playoff game is done. That falls on the marketing and promotion departments in a big way to help maintain it all.

Good luck, Thunderbolts– make this opportunity count.

TEPID TAKE: The Most Talked About Puck Pick-Up Ever

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After the game on Monday night, Erik Karlsson skated around the ice to find the puck. Was this to give to a teammate who scored their first goal or got their first win or shutout?? Was it because it was a memorable game for the Senators franchise?? Was it for a bargaining chip in negotiation with Ottawa coming up??

Of course, the obvious answer from observers were that it’s because it’s Karlsson’s last game as a Senator and he wanted to remember it. With all the odd personnel moves in Ottawa– that’s a pretty safe bet to believe. Though he said he wanted to stay in Ottawa for the long-term, but at the same time– who wants to keep treading water with a team that doesn’t seem to have much direction to a Stanley Cup, despite being a season removed from the Conference Finals.

There’s not much else for Karlsson to accomplish in Ottawa outside of winning a Stanley Cup. Two-time Norris Trophy winner, took over the leadership role from Daniel Alfredsson (less the one year with Jason Spezza as captain), as well as leading the team in points for the last four seasons and being tied for the lead with Mark Stone this season. It’s now to focus on winning a Cup.

Can you fault Karlsson though?? They were a win away from a Cup Final, but then regressed to where they’re at now. Whether it’s management not willing to spend the money for the top players or coaches not knowing what to do with the players they have in their line-up– a lot is left to be desired in Ottawa these days in a “What have you done for me lately” sort of way.

Like I linked before, there’s a chance that Karlsson stays in Ottawa. He said he’s willing if he’s a part of the team’s future– which a team would be stupid if they didn’t slot in Karlsson to their future plans. In all honesty, it’s really if Karlsson’s money slots into the Senators plans above all else. That’s really what the debate is, if you pay one guy a load of money– you’ll have to skimp elsewhere. Karlsson has even said the team is a budget team. It’s almost worth the risk for someone like Karlsson to be in your plans. Of course, for Karlsson– it’s taking that brunt of failure if the Sens miss out on playoffs because they “can’t” get players due to a self-imposed cap. Now, that could be changing since Melnyk went over $70M this year for the first time ever– but you can’t expect that trend to continue if he’s trying to fight for a downtown arena and all that jazz.

Yet, let’s be honest– there’s going to be a bidding war of biblical proportions if Karlsson does indeed hit the open market. Teams would love to have a right-handed shot the pedigree of Karlsson in their line-up. Money be damned– you can only get someone of this skill and quality just starting their prime. It’ll be Karlsson’s pick of the litter at that point and where he could be most successful both in the individual sense, but in a team sense, as well.

There’s gonna be a lot of eyes in Ottawa in the spring and it’s not going to be because of a miracle playoff run. It’s to see whether this franchise values a franchise player that they have or let him walk away due to whatever odd reason that may come out. If the latter happens– expect the Canadian Tire Centre to be even more vacant than it has been. May want to look at moving back to the Ottawa Civic Centre to make it look more full.