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Playoff Preview: Conference Semis

In EDH, NAS, News, PWH, SAL, SCA, Special Features, STE, VAN, WVR on May 5, 2012 at 11:18 pm

Plante Conference Semifinals

#1 Salem Wannabees (54-16-12) vs. #4 South Carolina Fire Ants (34-40-8)

Another year, another Salem powerhouse. Once again, no team was better in the regular season – or even really very close. The Wannabees have it all: scoring, defense, goaltending. That’ll make for a tough slog for a plucky, often-undermanned South Carolina, whose sub-.500 record was still enough to snag the last playoff spot.

Season Series: Salem won 4-1-1

#2 Sterling Eagles (44-24-14) vs. #3 El Dorado Lynx (43-27-12)

This is the Eagles’ first playoff appearance since 2006-2007 and they have goaltending to thank for it. Tim Thomas will lead the way for a team that allowed just 157 goals during the regular season (no other team had fewer than 200). The Lynx, meanwhile, finished just four points back of Sterling, so it’ll be tight — especially if the ageless Teemu Selanne plays the way he did all year. Of note: both teams averaged under 2 goals per game against each other during the regular season, and they even played to a 0-0 tie.

Season Series: Tied 2-2-2

Sawchuk Conference Semifinals

#1 Vancouver Night Train (49-26-7) vs. #4 Nashville Knights (39-32-11)

After finishing with just 72 points last season, the Night Train bounced back and captured the conference crown, narrowly avoiding a first-round series against Portland. The Night Train weren’t exactly dominant all year but found a way to win, largely thanks to Jonathan Toews and a cast of clutch scorers. The question is, can Pekka Rinne get his act together? And will Nashville be able to overcome their paper-thin D, as they did for much of the season?

Season Series: Vancouver won 6-1-1

#2 West Virginia River Rats (46-27-9) vs. #3 Portland Winterhawks (45-29-8)

The two highest-scoring teams of the regular season [check Salem] go head-to-head in the opening round. Can the Winterhawks get their dynasty back on track against the reigning Gump Cup champs? Crosby, Thornton. Staal, Spezza. Perry, Iginla. Vanek, Kovalchuk. This should be fun for everyone but the goaltenders.

Season Series: West Virginia won 4-1-1

Playoff Picture Sharpens as Q3 Ends

In EDH, News, PWH, SAL, STE, VAN, WVR on March 26, 2012 at 1:40 pm

The third quarter is the books. Just 18 games remain in the regular season. The once-blurry playoff picture is starting to come into focus — and the big races have emerged.

Wannabees or the Real Thing?

The Salem Wannabees — last year’s Gump Cup also-rans — continued their ass-kicking play, going 16-2-6 for a healthy lead atop the standings. It’s a good thing, too, because they’re playing in what might be the GWMHL’s toughest divisions. The Sterling Eagles, for example, allowed just 43 goals this quarter, or 1.79 per game.

Lynx Vault into Contention

The El Dorado Lynx’s stellar 16-3-5 quarter separated them from the Pilots and Chiefs in the Plante West for second overall in the entire league.

Crosby Makes a Splash

Sidney Crosby finally saw his season debut for the defending champ West Virginia, and made a huge impression. With 46 points in 24 games, he led all scorers league-wide and propelled the River Rats to a great 15-5-4 record on the quarter.

Can Portland Get Its Groove Back?

Portland struggled on the quarter (10-12-2), giving the Vancouver Night Train an opening to pull away atop the Sawchuk West. In fact, if the playoffs started today, the Winterhawks would be on the outside looking in — they’re a point back of Saint Louis and just two ahead of Nashville.

Biggest Midseason Surprises of 2011-12

In DEN, EDH, IHS, NAS, News, SCA, Special Features, STE on January 30, 2012 at 12:38 pm

We’re halfway through our season. So what’s been raising our eyebrows?

As a Rule, Eagles are Pretty Badass

The Sterling Eagles have missed the playoffs four seasons in a row. But after 40 games, they’re second overall in the entire league with a stellar 23-12-5 record, and even managed to steal five points on the road against division rival Salem. They’re getting help where it counts, like unheralded winger Nikolai Kulemin, who already has 22 goals. Previous career high? Eight.

Backups Earning Their Keep

The Eagles’ Tim Thomas has the numbers (1.88, .939) but backup Johan Hedberg is winning more games. His record is 12-6-0 to Thomas’ 11-6-5. Likewise, the Ice Harbor Storm’s Alex Auld (.914) and Jonathan Bernier (.933) are busy overshadowing the “starting tandem” of Mathieu Garon (.885) and J-S Giguere (.874).

Pick One Already!

The Storm aren’t the only one with a menagerie of netminders in a pen out back. Five goalies have seen action for the Nashville Knights already this season: Sergei Bobrovsky (17 games), Cory Schneider (16), Ray Emery (3), Brian Boucher (3), and Mike Smith (1). That’s two rookies backed up by three vets, and the elevator pitch for an ensemble basic-cable sitcom.

Ovie-Shadowed

Alex Ovechkin is not leading the El Dorado Lynx in points. That’s kind of remarkable. The Lynx are okay – still in good playoff position at the halfway point, actually – thanks largely to the ageless Teemu Selanne, who has 18 goals and 45 points to Ovie’s 20 and 41.

Giddy-Up?

The Denver Spurs offense could use a swift, spiky kick in the rear. They don’t have the lowest GF, but let’s break it down: they’re deep up the middle and shallow on the wings, and that means they’re leaving lots of goals on the table. Mike Richards and Daniel Briere each have just 18 points in 40 games. Joffrey Lupul is their top scorer but has the lowest point total (28) of any team leader league-wide. Oh, also, he’s nursing an injury that could see him miss significant time.

Head of the Class

The top five draft picks (Skinner, Hall, Seguin, Eberle, and Stepan) are all playing pretty well, but they’re trailing in the rookie scoring race to an unlikely gaggle (herd? colony? murder?) of youngsters: South Carolina’s Tyler Ennis, Nashville’s PK Subban, Ice Harbor’s Mikael Backlund, and Baltimore’s Michael Grabner.

Brett Freaking Clark

Subban isn’t just the second highest scoring freshman so far. He also leads all defensemen in goals with 13, which might just make him the leading rookie-of-the-year candidate at this point. But that’s not even the most surprising development on Nashville’s blueline: Brett freaking Clark already has 10 goals, people. That’s just crazy.

Surprises Abound After Q1

In BOS, DEL, DEN, News, PWH, SAL, STE, WVR on December 23, 2011 at 2:12 pm

The first quarter of 2011-2012 is in the books, and what a wild one it was. Consensus contenders Salem and Portland had strong starts (13-5-2 and 10-7-3 respectively) but they’ve both been overshadowed in the early-going by some surprising competition.

Banshees, Eagles Fly

The Sterling Eagles and Boston Banshees, neither of whom managed to top .500 last season, share the lead in the standings with 14-5-1 records. The secret? Goaltending. Boston’s tandem of Henrik Lundqvist and newly-acquired Michal Neuvirth and Sterling’s Tim Thomas and Johan Hedberg are simply getting the job done.

Wannabees Can Still Score at Will

The Wannabees (13-5-2) are just a point off the pace and, incredibly, are averaging a whopping 4.5 goals per game and outshooting their opponents by 15. Last year’s Gump Cup runners-up might be ready to take another shot.

River Rats Tread Water

But maybe the biggest surprise is the poor record of Crosby-less defending champs West Virginia (9-8-3), putting them fourth in the Sawchuk East. With the offensive depth on this team, it’s a dismal start. Will Crosby’s eventual return get the Rats back in the running?

Power Outage in Denver

The Denver Spurs wrapped a disastrous 7-12-1 quarter, and it’s easy to see why: Matt Duchene leads the team in scoring with just 13 points in 20 games. Vincent Lecavalier has just 3 points in 10 and Mike Richards just 11 in 20.

Advantage… Sturgeon?

The Delta Sturgeon are off to a league-worst start (5-15-0), but would anyone have guessed this team would start the season with the league’s second-best powerplay? The unit, featuring the likes of Jarret Stoll and Andrew Ladd, is clicking at 27.1%, just .2% behind first-place Portland.

Season Preview: Plante

In BAL, CHA, DEN, EDH, GLP, PIT, SAL, SCA, STE, Uncategorized, WIN on November 26, 2011 at 10:00 pm

The Sawchuk Conference has its powerhouses – and the last five cups. But the Plante is where all the intrigue is.

Apart from a strong Salem squad fresh off a trip to the Gump Cup Finals, the entire conference is full of dark horses – young teams, growing teams, sure, but few that are in flat-out rebuilding mode. That kind of parity makes the conference incredibly tough to call.

In – D Ryan McDonagh, F Nino Niederreiter, G Jacob Markstrom, D Michael Sauer, F Blake Geoffrion, F Teemu Hartikainen, F Brandon Prust
Out – F Evgeni Malkin, F Cal O’Reilly, D Bryan McCabe, F Darroll Powe, D Anton Stralman, F Rob Schremp, F Jamie Langenbrunner

Baltimore made the boldest move of the off-season, unloading Evgeni Malkin for all of Pittsburgh’s draft picks. That meant a pretty big personnel turnover – 7 guys in and 7 out, not counting poor Steven Kampfer, released before he even got a sniff. It’s hard to look as this as anything but a small step backwards in the short term, but any team with Anze Kopitar is poised to compensate for the loss of a player of Malkin’s calibre, and the team still has a strong core in its prime.

In – F Luke Adam, F Matt Halischuk, F Matt Calvert, D Jason Garrison, F BJ Crombeen, F Mike Knuble
Out –  G Michal Neuvirth, F Alexander Frolov, F Benoit Pouliot, F M-A Pouliot, D Kurtis Foster, D Oskars Bartulis

Charleston should be a playoff team, there should be little doubt of that. After a surprising trip to the finals led to two straight years of mediocrity, the Chiefs started rounding back into form when Steven Stamkos hit the scene. Now that they have a marquee scorer, they have a roster with few glaring weaknesses, and with Miikka Kiprusoff and Jonathan Quick splitting duties in goal, they should be one of the Plante’s better teams.

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6 Biggest Free Agent Steals Since 2006

In BAL, EDH, GLP, IHS, Special Features, STE on October 26, 2011 at 8:53 am

The Free Agent Draft. Used by most teams to fill out bottom-end depth and injury insurance, it’s also a chance for the occasional Hail Mary – take a wild swing (sorry, “intelligently allocate your scouting resources”) and you never know, you might get something good. Even the worst free agent class, especially at the notoriously shallow mid-season signing period, can yield a diamond in the rough.

Almost every Free Agent Draft has a few consensus top picks – players that every team vies for. Stephen Weiss and Martin Hanzal in 2009. Ryan Malone in 2008. Niklas Backstrom in 2007.

But let’s look past those gimmes, the obvious choices, the first rounders, and peer into the darkest depths of recent Free Agent Drafts in search of some of the biggest heists.

6. D Jan Hejda, Ice Harbor (2nd round mid-season in 2007-2008)

Hejda’s not flashy, but he’s a blueline rock on a rebuilding Ice Harbor team – a guy who’s not bad with the puck and excels defensively. And when your D is as young the Storm’s, you need players like Hejda.

Year   Name                       GP    G    A  PTS  +/-  PIM
07-08  Ice Harbor Storm           39    0   12   12   -8   14
08-09  Ice Harbor Storm           59    1    6    7   -5   50
09-10  Ice Harbor Storm           82    4    9   13   -9   30
10-11  Ice Harbor Storm           62    2    8   10  -10   34
                  Totals         242    7   35   42  -32  128

5. D Dennis Seidenberg, El Dorado (5th round pre-season in 2006-2007)

El Dorado has an impressive up-and-coming defense corps and Seidenberg, a late-late-late-round steal in 2006, is a big part of it. He was taken one pick before Kris freaking Beech, but now he’s one of the Lynx’s leaders in ice time and will be for at least a few more seasons.

Year   Name                       GP    G    A  PTS  +/-  PIM
03-04  Chesapeake Icebreakers     52    5    8   13  -20   12
04-06  Did Not Play
06-07  El Dorado Lynx             64    3   41   44   11   34
07-08  El Dorado Lynx             25    2    3    5    0   12
08-09  El Dorado Lynx             33    0   10   10    0   18
09-10  El Dorado Lynx             41    1   28   29    2    8
10-11  El Dorado Lynx             57    4   24   28   14   37
                  Totals         272   15  114  129    7  121

4. D Mark Streit, Colorado (2nd round pre-season in 2006-2007)

Another defenseman, it’s true, and for good reason – this 2nd round free agent draftee by Colorado (now Baltimore) is his team’s best defenseman by a wide margin, leading all Crab players in ice time and hovering around the 50-point mark for three straight seasons.

Year   Name                       GP    G    A  PTS  +/-  PIM
06-07  Colorado Wildfire          39    4   13   17  -16   36
07-08  Kenora Thistles            76   13   19   32   -2   28
08-09  Kenora Thistles            79   10   38   48   -1   26
09-10  Baltimore Crab             73   16   40   56  -26   72
10-11  Baltimore Crab             82    8   41   49  -31   34
                  Totals         349   51  151  202  -76  196

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The 4 Shortest Careers in League History

In CHA, PIT, Special Features, STE, STL on July 5, 2011 at 7:21 am

Blah-blah-blah-thousands. Blah-blah-blah-generational talent. We like to celebrate amazing careers and statistical milestones here. But what about the other end of the spectrum?

Here’s our look at the four shortest careers in Gump Worsley Memorial Hockey League history – careers that came and went in the time it takes for you to brush your teeth. Look at it as a celebration of incredible efficiency! Maybe these guys were all just really, really fast.

Zoom.

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Checkers, Veterans Head List of Off-Season Player Releases

In BOS, DEL, GLP, NAS, News, SAL, SCA, SFS, STE, STL, Transactions, VAN, WIN on July 1, 2011 at 6:42 pm

The GWMHL has officially announced the list of player releases due to under-use, effective immediately. The list is headlined by veterans like Mike Modano, Adam Foote, and Chris Osgood, as well as two surprises – utility winger Tomas Kopecky, formerly of Delta, and center Darren Helm, who recently helped the Salem Wannabees to its second straight Gump Cup Finals.

All players who are now free agents who, if eligible, will be available in the pre-season Free Agent Draft.

The full list:

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The 5 Biggest Letdowns of 2010-2011

In BOS, CHA, Special Features, STE, STL, VAN on June 11, 2011 at 8:34 am

Who doesn’t like a feel-good story? When a player breaks through and makes a difference, it makes for good headlines… to bury in the sports pages next to the cricket scores.

Because if there’s one thing we all like more than a feel-good story, it’s a tale of misery and woe. An 82-game car wreck.

Failure is fun.

So here it is – the companion to our profile of the biggest breakthroughs of 2010-2011 in the form of five brilliantly disastrous performances from the season gone by.

5. Justin Williams, Charleston Chiefs

Williams has had all kinds of injury trouble in recent years, but the Charleston winger is a lot better than the four – four! – goals he scored in 38 games this year. The Chiefs needed a big bounce-back season from him after a one-goal 2009-2010, and he quadrupled that output, so… success?

4. Cam Ward, Saint Louis Blues

Saint Louis was one of the league’s best teams for much of the season, so it’s weird to list their starting goaltender. But Ward just wasn’t very good. His .901 save percentage – a big drop from last season – doesn’t say “starter on a league-leading team” and if it wasn’t for Scott Clemmensen’s 15-5-2 record, the Blues might have struggled to make the post-season at all.

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5 Draft Day Near-Rejects Who Made It Big

In DEN, FFS, PIT, Special Features, STE, WIN, WVR on May 21, 2011 at 11:48 am

There’s no art to the late-round draft steal. You take a deep breath and pray… and probably release your pick before he ever plays a game. While quite a few serviceable players have squeaked into the high seventies in the GWMHL Rookie Draft over the years – especially goaltenders – rare is the player taken in the last few picks who makes a real impact.

But here are five taken in the final 10 slots of their respective drafts who defied the odds and made an impact.

5. LW Kyle Calder, 77th overall in 2000 by Staten Island

Winger Calder never lived up to his potential, more or less settling into a 10-15 goal groove for the Staten Island Gems and San Diego Gulls early in his career. But he makes our list for one reason alone: possibly the most surprising single campaign in league history. In 2006-2007, Calder went on a sudden tear, scoring 60 goals and amassing 110 points with the Gulls.

He disappeared just as quickly, chasing his breakthrough with 8 goals total over his next three seasons, then obscurity.

Year   Name                       GP    G    A  PTS  +/-  PIM
01-02  Staten Island Gems         24    0    2    2  -13   10
02-03  Staten Isle Gems           81   14   35   49    0   79
03-04  Staten Island Gems         82   12   13   25   -6   36
04-06  San Diego Gulls            40   13   12   25    4   15
06-07  San Diego Gulls            79   60   50  110   23   52
07-08  San Diego Gulls            69    5   10   15  -12   30
08-09  San Diego Gulls            64    2    5    7  -21   20
09-10  San Diego Gulls            61    1    9   10  -11   18
                  Totals         439  106  127  233  -25  242

4. G Olaf Kolzig, 76th overall in 1994 by Tidewater

Kolzig was taken last overall by Portland in ’94, and he’d be much further up the list if his career numbers – a career goals against average way on the wrong side of 3.00 – weren’t so shaky. But Kolzig was a solid starter in the GWMHL for many seasons, despite playing for some struggling teams. He gets major points for longevity.

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