CHL's 15th Anniversary Season Begins Friday
The Central Hockey League begins celebration of its 15th season of play this weekend, with 17 clubs beginning their search for the 2006-2007 Ray Miron President's Cup championship trophy. The 544 game schedule opens with five contests Friday evening and an additional seven match-ups slated for Saturday. Both of the CHL's 06-07 expansion clubs, the Arizona Sundogs and Rocky Mountain Rage, debut Friday on the road, with the Sundogs visiting the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees and the Rage facing their in-state rivals the Colorado Eagles. Both expansion clubs begin their home schedule on November 10th, respectively opening the Prescott Valley (AZ) Convention and Events Center and the Broomfield (CO) Event Center. The New Mexico Scorpions, back from a one year hiatus during the construction of the Santa Ana Star Center, also open away from home, visiting the Amarillo Gorillas Saturday night then hosting Arizona on October 27th in their first home contest.
The defending champion Laredo Bucks will play two road games (at Corpus Christi this Saturday and at Bossier-Shreveport on October 26th) prior to receiving their championship rings on October 28th before their home opener against Rio Grande Valley. The CHL's 15th season of play will be highlighted by the 2007 CHL All-Star Game, hosted by the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs on Wednesday, January 17th at the CenturyTel Center. Post-season play will feature a total of 12 clubs (six from each conference) this year, up from the eight team format used in recent years.
2005-2006: 44-14-6, 94 pts (Lost Conference Final)
Head Coach: Chris Stewart (4th season in COL, 292-128-42 in CHL)
The back-to-back regular season and 2004-2005 playoff champion Eagles return the core of their lineup with forwards Greg Pankewicz (47 goals), Ryan Tobler (10 PP Goals), Riley Nelson (75 points) and defenseman Brad Williamson (48 assists). Forward Fraser Filipic is one of the CHL's most feared fighters (276 PIM's), and has steadily developed offensively, chipping in 19 goals last season. Slick All-Star rearguard Aaron Schneekloth joins the blueline. Goaltending situation is a wild card, with no netminders returning from last season.
Oklahoma City Blazers
2005-2006: 35-24-5, 75 pts (Lost Conference Semi-final)
Head Coach: Doug Sauter (12th season in OKC, 442-222-62 in CHL)
Michel Beausoleil (40 Goals), Marty Standish (31 goals), Jared Dumba (28 goals) and Garrett Prosofsky (44 points in a shortened season) pace the attack, while physical veteran Tyler Fleck and skilled Gio Flamminio control the blueline. Goaltending should be a strength, with Sean Connors and Sebastien Centomo both proven veterans. Coach Doug Sauter enters his 33rd season overall behind the bench, and is the all-time CHL leader with 726 games coached and 442 wins through 11 seasons in Oklahoma City.
Rocky Mountain Rage
1st Year of Play
Head Coach: Tracy Egeland (1st season in RMR, 102-109-20 in CHL)
The expansion Rage begin CHL play with several familiar faces, having signed former All-Star forwards Anders Strome and Dorian Anneck along with goaltender David Guerrera, named 2003-2004 CHL Rookie of the Year. Veteran Dan Vandermeer should be a stabilizing force defensively. Forward Nick Warriner brings championship experience to the club, winning a title last season with Laredo. The Rage will play six road games prior to opening their new home facility, the 6,000 seat Broomfield Event Center, on Friday, November 10th against the Tulsa Oilers.
2005-2006: 38-18-8, 84 pts (Lost Conference Semi-final)
Head Coach: Mark French (2nd season in WIC, 38-18-8 in CHL)
The Thunder look to bounce back from a surprising quick playoff exit last season, and are again defined by their skilled group of veterans. Forwards Jason Duda and Travis Clayton (3rd and 5th respectively in all-time CHL scoring) remain highly capable, while Joe Blaznek finished 3rd in the CHL last season with 100 points. Versatile defensemen Daniel Tetrault contributes in all areas, while goaltender Sebastien Laplante returns after posting 27 wins, a 2.94 GAA and a .917 save percentage in his first season with the Thunder.
(Buffalo Sabres, NHL, & Rochester Americans, AHL)
2005-2006: 41-15-8, 90 pts (Lost President's Cup Final)
Head Coach: Scott Muscutt (7th season in BOS, 230-118-39 in CHL)
The Mudbugs reached the championship finals last season behind a combination of outstanding goaltending and explosive scoring. The netminding remains in place with Ken Carroll, last year's CHL Most Outstanding Goaltender, while the club searches for offensive contributions from new sources. Forward Forbes MacPherson returns from a year absence, joined by his highly touted rookie twin cousins Rob and Brian Sutherland. Veteran forward Dan Wildfong provides the heartbeat of the club, combining hustle and determination along with capable offensive skills.
(New York Rangers, NHL, & Hartford Wolf Pack, AHL)
2005-2006: 22-37-5, 49 pts (Did Not Qualify)
Head Coach: Kevin McClelland (2nd season in MEM, 22-37-5 in CHL)
Wholesale changes in Memphis as second year coach McClelland looks for improvement from last season's results. All-Star defenseman Derek Landmesser remains one of the CHL's best, joined by experienced D Jason Tessier. Forward Travis Banga (34 goals) continues to improve, and should benefit from the return of Phil Aucoin and the addition of veteran set up man Louis Dumont. Newcomer Larry Sterling is expected to handle the bulk of goaltending duties, a weakness last season. The RiverKings have parted ways with veteran Don Parsons, 4th all time with 290 CHL goals.
2005-2006: 29-28-7 (Did Not Qualify)
Head Coach: Butch Kaebel (4th season in TUL, 76-69-17 in CHL)
The Oilers should benefit from two key new offensive threats, welcoming forwards David Beauregard (365 pro goals) and David Masse (17 goals with Bridgeport in the American Hockey League last year) to the lineup. Jaroslav Cesky remains a significant threat after scoring 35 times last season, while the battle for the top goaltending position continues. Rookie defenseman Darryl Smoleroff has impressed Coach Kaebel throughout training camp, and appears to have won himself regular ice time among a group of mostly new blueliners.
2005-2006: 24-35-5, 53 pts (Did Not Qualify)
Head Coach: Kevin Kaminski (1st season in YNG, 0-0-0 in CHL)
Huge offensive production from forwards Jeff Christian (55 goals) and Chris Richards (92 points) couldn't overcome goaltending weaknesses last season. Key new addition is skilled rearguard Paul Esdale, the 2004-2005 CHL Most Outstanding Defenseman, who teams with dependable Kelly Sickavish and Jeff Alcombrack. Forward Joey Sewell should benefit from a full training camp after scoring 21 goals in just 23 games after joining the club midway through last season. Jeremy Symington and Brad Roberts are expected to split time in net to start the season.
2005-2006: 35-26-3, 73 pts (Lost Conference Semi-final)
Head Coach: Jim Wiley (1st season in AMA, 17-14-0 in CHL)
Jim Wiley takes the helm from departed Joe Ferras, who helped the club reach the post-season each of the last four seasons before departing for Bridgeport in the AHL. The loss of CHL MVP Derek Hahn and sidekick Scott Wray could be offset by the additions of forward Jeremy Stevenson, who brings 200+ NHL games played with him, and Chris Lipsett. Brent Hughes, Keith Rowe and Rich Hansen will be expected to produce with more ice time, with several new defensive faces now on board. The tandem of Jamie Vandespyker and Shawn Conschafter will handle the net.
(Colorado Avalanche, NHL, & Albany River Rats, AHL)
1st Year of Play
Head Coach: Marco Pietroniro (1st season in ARZ, 0-0-0 in CHL)
Hockey expands in the desert with the addition of the Sundogs, beginning home play at the Prescott Valley Convention and Events Center on November 10th against Youngstown. Forwards Cory Stillman and rookie WHL standout Torrie Wheat enjoyed quality training camps, while RW Doug Orr, D Kyle Orr and D Dan Laperriere all bring NHL bloodlines to the club. Colorado Avalanche prospect Kris Mayotte handles primary goaltending responsibilities while Tab Lardner is a talented and experienced two-way forward.
Lubbock Cotton Kings
2005-2006: 27-31-6, 60 pts (Did Not Qualify)
Head Coach: Chris Dashney (3rd season in LUB, 61-54-9 in CHL)
The Cotton Kings have regrouped following a sub par last season, and have brought in a group of hungry newcomers, including forward Trevor Weisgerber, who led Rio Grande Valley in scoring last season. Veteran forward Bobby Brown brings valuable experience and leadership, while defenseman Jason Beatty is a physical force along with All-Star Stacey Baumann and talented summer acquisition Craig Minard. F Paul Mcbrien adds toughness to the roster, acquired from the Memphis RiverKings.
New Mexico Scorpions
(Nashville Predators, NHL, & Milwaukee Admirals, AHL)
2005-2006: Did Not Play
Head Coach: Ray Edwards (1st season in NMX, 69-41-14 in CHL)
The Scorpions return from a one year hiatus and will open the new Santa Ana Star Center on October 27th. Expect a balanced attack paced from veteran center Terry Marchant. Experienced defensemen Vladimir Hartinger and Matt Frick should provide stability in the defensive zone. A group of young and hungry players will have an opportunity to prove themselves early in the season. Walter Bartholomaus is the likely first string goaltender, with Scott Reid currently with the American Hockey League's Milwaukee Admirals.
(Edmonton Oilers, NHL)
2005-2006: 36-22-6, 78 pts (Lost Conference Final)
Head Coach: Don McKee (8th season in ODE, 225-142-48 in CHL)
The defending Southwest Division champions will try to repeat without the services of their top two scorers from last season. Aside from that, the bulk of the Jackalopes 05-06 club returns intact. Mike Rutter, John Kozoriz, Matt Cressman and Mike Carter all can score and play responsibly in their own zone. Veteran Scott Hillman remains the strength of the defensive unit along with Pascal Bedard and Chris Brannen. 6-7, 235 pound Jeff Ewasko is an intimidating presence, while the experienced duo of # 1 Mike Gorman and Derek Dolson provides dependable goaltending.
Austin Ice Bats
(Minnesota Wild, NHL, & Houston Aeros, AHL)
2005-2006: 34-27-3, 71 pts (Did Not Qualify)
Head Coach: Bill McDonald (2nd season in AUS, 303-217-63 in CHL)
The Ice Bats may benefit from their move to a smaller venue, creating an uncomfortable climate for opposing teams. All-Star John McNabb remains the top offensive weapon, while Michael Tucciarone earned Rookie of the Year consideration last season with 25 goals. New addition Henry Kuster enjoyed a dominant training camp and appears poised for a big season. Experienced defensemen Terry Virtue is a big addition and will control the defensive zone. Miguel Beaudry is the clear top goaltender, already recalled once this season by the AHL's Houston Aeros.
Corpus Christi Rayz
2005-2006: 22-36-6, 50 pts (Did Not Qualify)
Head Coach: Ken McRae (3rd season in CRP, 125-99-26 in CHL)
The Rayz look to rebound from the high expectations and disappointing results displayed from last year's veteran-laden club. All-Star Jason Baird should be close to full speed after suffering a season ending injury early last year. Captain Matt Turek brings offensive bunch, while forward Ryan Carter remains one of the CHL's top two-way performers. Newcomer Justin Quenneville enjoyed a fine training camp and should contribute offensively, while the defensive unit has been nearly entirely overhauled. Ron Vogel and Brent Zelenewich will split goaltending duties.
(Phoenix Coyotes, NHL, & San Antonio Rampage, AHL)
2005-2006: 43-15-6, 92 pts (Ray Miron President's Cup Champions)
Head Coach: Terry Ruskowski (5th season in LAR, 167-62-23 in CHL)
The defending champs will have to replace some goal scoring punch from last year, and appear to have decided to permanently move 2005-2006 CHL Most Outstanding Defenseman Serge Dube to forward. Playoff MVP Jeff Bes continues to be one of the CHL's top offensive threats. The Bucks boast a deep and steady group of responsible defensemen headed by Paul Elliott, Steve Weidlich and Adam Rivet. Recent assignee Nathan Marsters (37 games with Portland of the American Hockey League last year) and rookie Jay Ewasiuk will handle goaltending responsibilities.
Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees
2005-2006: 33-25-6, 72 pts (Lost Conference Semi-final)
Head Coach: Paul Fixter (1st season in RGV, 0-0-0 in CHL)
New Coach Paul Fixter welcomes a nearly brand new roster, save key returnees Bill Newson (25 goals) and defenseman Kurtis Dulle. Veteran Jason Cirone will be expected to contribute to the attack and lead one of the CHL's youngest clubs. Emery Olauson scored 26 times for Lubbock last season, with promising expectations this season for youngsters Maxime Mathieu and Alexander Hult. Jeff VanNynatten appears to be the top goaltender entering regular season play. The Killer Bees could start strong, playing nine of their first dozen games at home in the Dodge Arena.