On the Topic Of European/North American Hockey Relations

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Photo from @OntarioReign

Did you know that there as an international friendly that happened on Tuesday in Ontario?? More likely not, as there wasn’t much pomp and circumstance on the grand scheme of things, but the Ontario Reign took on Eisbaren Berlin on Tuesday, with Ontario cruising to a 6-3 win in front of  over 8,700 fans– according to the Ontario Reign.

Looking at the highlights from their Twitter, the Berlin fans who were in attendance really made it for a European feel of chanting and constant energy throughout the game. However, it didn’t seem to get much of a ground swell outside of the Ontario and Berlin community. Hell, this is the first time since 2014 when Farjestad took on the AHL All-Stars and then the Toronto Marlies that international teams took on North American teams during the regular season– as far as I know, that is.

There’s something to be said about the idea of international teams coming to North America to play against AHL teams, something more to be said when it has to deal with the AHL squads beating those international teams. Sure, the teams coming over may not bring their best line-up, especially since those teams are also in season. However– wouldn’t it be something to see more of these international friendlies and actually have them promoted by outside media sources in order to garner a little more appeal?? Of course it would, we all love hockey and getting to know more teams outside of the North American bubble would be a nice change of pace for some people.

When it comes to something like this, there’s two ways to go about it. First, get more teams active in forming a sister cities approach to international teams. Have each AHL or ECHL team adopt a European team and keep track that way. While it would be much harder to get the ECHL team to agree to it since they often have players defect to Europe to play, the idea could be there for the AHL by the parent organizations to almost compare ideas of coaching and playing styles and all that fun crap. It may be a hard-sell, but something that could be done. Ontario and Berlin came together if only because The Anschutz Group owns both teams.

The second way to go about it is to find a way to have more international tournaments for the minor league teams to participate in. While the Spengler Cup is a tournament that once in a blue moon invites AHL teams to their party (mainly the Rochester Americans), there needs to be more ideas.

One could be the idea of putting the Calder Cup champions in the Champions Hockey League. Yes, it could create havoc on scheduling, but to have a North American representation would be a big boost for the North American game and get people more invested in the European side of things. But, like I said, the schedule in Europe allows a lot more leeway for the teams to play in their country league and the Champions’ league– so many North American leagues would be pretty hard pressed to have involvement, but at the same time– one can dream about it.

There’s untapped potential when it comes to having European teams come over to North America more frequently and vice versa. The hardest point is to actually find a way to make it happen logistically and not just force down people’s throat like an outdoor game we’ve seen time and time again. You need to have it frequent enough to make people want to see it, but infrequent enough that you don’t over-saturate the marketplace.

Sadly, hockey marketing teams everywhere have yet to figure out that balance. So it goes. The dream is alive, but sleep hard before it becomes a reality.

REPORT: ECHL Tabs St. John’s as Latest Market

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According to David Salter, the former Director of Communications for the St. John’s IceCaps of the AHL, there’s going to be an ECHL team coming to St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador in the near future. Salter said that a source from outside the area was the one who told him that it will be happening. Salter also stated that the franchise will be affiliated with the Montreal Canadiens, while trying to use the IceCaps name.

Of course, this brings up a host of other questions. With the Canadiens going to this new St. John’s team, who would the Brampton Beast turn to in order to be an affiliate?? There are two options– one of which being the Toronto Maple Leafs– who have the Marlies feet away from their doorstep, why not have their ECHL team there rather than in Orlando?? Of course, Orlando runs a nice little ship there and the Leafs may like that a little better. The other option is the Ottawa Senators, who moved their AHL team to Belleville, which is two hours west of Brampton. Currently, the Senators are without an ECHL affiliate and it would make sense to keep the teams in Ontario if you’re going to go that route.

Another question is what to do with travel. Even with the Northeast expansion, St. John’s would be 1,200 miles away from their nearest rival in Portland, which is something I wrote about a month ago when this idea first started to get legs. According to Salter, Dean MacDonald is in fact the man who will own the team, so you can bet that he or his group will have to find a way to off-set costs for teams to travel there. It would most likey follow the Alaska Aces method of having three-game weekend sets up there and then they tour around the Northeast and what-have-you.

While nothing has been set in stone, the fact that sources outside of the local area are reporting it should give it plenty of legs to make it happen. The domino effect could be something that could become very interesting down the line, especially for teams who are already involved with ECHL franchises and the possibility for flipping affiliations.

Minor League Monday: Marlies Rolling, Herbert Streak Snapped, Sholl Leading Thunderbolts

AHL

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Photo by Christian Bonin/TSGphoto.com

-With seven-straight wins, the Toronto Marlies are again atop the AHL in points, which should be no surprise. The past few years, the Marlies have been the favorites as the season went on, though they have no Calder Cup to show for it…yet. Andreas Johnsson has led the way for the Marlies with 17 points on the year, which includes his current seven-game point streak (4g, 5a). Garret Sparks has dazzled in net with a 1.50 GAA to go with his ten wins on the season.

-The team chasing the Marlies for league supremacy is the Manitoba Moose. After finishing at the bottom of the Western Conference their first two years back in the AHL, the Moose have been quite a surprise this year with their young stars finally getting the hang of playing in the pros. Both second-year pros Jack Roslovic (11g, 11a) and Brendan Lemieux (5g 6a) are better than a point per game– 1.05 and 1.10 respectively– while veteran Mike Sgarbossa (8g, 12a) and Buddy Robinson (7g, 7a) have provided solid secondary scoring. A bigger surprise is the bouncing back of Eric Comrie (8-4-1) who has been solid in net for the Moose with a 2.30 GAA and .927 save percentage in 13 games.

ECHL

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-A round of applause to Caleb Herbert, who finally had his 17-game point-streak snapped on Friday night. The Swamp Rabbits’ forward had 11 goals and 17 assists for 28 points during the streak that began since the beginning of the season. Herbert, unsurprisingly, leads the ECHL in points, with teammate Allan McPherson two points behind him before a trio of Wheeling Nailers pop up– Cody Wydo, Reid Gardiner, and Garrett Meurs.

-With points in seven of their last ten, the Colorado Eagles are making the most of their last season in the ECHL in their title-defense season. Michael Joly is leading the way in the ECHL in goals with 13 and has only one of his 16 games has been held pointless. Matt Register has helped out on the back-end quarterbacking the power-play and holding down play in his own end. All the while, Joe Cannata has been a near-perfect 7-0-1 on the year since being placed in Colorado by the Avalanche from San Antonio.

SPHL

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-Quietly, the Evansville Thunderbolts are having a great sophomore season in the SPHL. The play of Tomas Sholl since he came from Macon, he’s been solid with a 4-1-0 record with a 2.00 GAA in Evansville. Justin MacDonald is leading the league in goals with nine, while MacDonald, along with Dylan Clarke and John Scorcia are point-per-game players. The Thunderbolts also boast a great road record with points in six of their eight road game on the season (5-2-1). With one more road win, Evansville will match their entire road win output from last season.

Ontario vs. Berlin Shows the Need for More Transcontinental Games

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The International Frozen Friendly (Photo Courtesy of the Ontario Reign)

On February 13th, the Ontario Reign will host Eisbaren Berlin in what is being called the International Frozen Friendly. The German Elite squad will be the first European team to play an AHL team since 2014 when Farjestad BK played the Toronto Marlies and the AHL All-Stars. Both Eisbaren and Ontario are owned by the Anschutz Entertainment Group.

This is a concept that is needed more when it comes to minor league hockey. Granted, this is something that a team in the Pacific Division can afford to do since they play eight less games; but that notwithstanding, the idea is something more teams should do. It has gone the other way with the Rochester Americans going to participate in the Spengler Cup in 2013, but it seems like it’s something few and far between– especially during in-season play.

Whether or not Berlin will bring their top squad remains to be seen, but it should lay the groundwork for the AHL to maybe explore something with other European teams. If hockey is truly universal, then this is something that would be great as a yearly exhibition between the AHL side and a European squad. Sure, if the European teams lose a lot to the “AAA” pro squads, they may be a little hesitant, but it’s something that needs to be drifted.

That, or the AHL tries to get into that Champions’ League thing that the European leagues have every season. Sure– it’s a pipe dream to make that logistically work in terms of travel and scheduling, but it would be a fun sight to see and maybe actually get more eyes on leagues that fans may not be totally accustomed to.

There’s no losers in all of this– this helps out the AHL get attention on a semi-global scale with the Europeans looking at this game as a nice little gimmick, Berlin gets help with a North American tour of sort, and the game wins when you have a clashing of ideas and cultures when it comes to how teams are coached and how players are developed. More leagues need to look into it and if they can make it work with travel and money– why not have that?? It’s something that helps the sport overall and I think in the end– that’s the goal of everyone in the game of hockey.