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Season Preview: Sawchuk East

In ADI, BOS, FFS, SJH, Special Features, WVR on October 9, 2018 at 3:13 pm

Welcome to part 3 of our season previews, featuring what’s maybe the toughest division to predict: the Sawchuk East.

Missed the Plante Conference previews? Check it here: East and West.


Adirondack Aces
Last Season’s Finish: 43-35-4 (3rd in conference); lost in 1st round
Notable Arrivals: F Jake DeBrusk, F Alexander Kerfoot, F Justin Williams, D Ethan Bear
Notable Departures: G Cam Ward

The Aces’ slow ascendance culminated in a playoff berth last year before the team was dumped in the first round.  They’re also a big reason why this division is tough to call. Even as Henrik Sedin enters his final season, the team has a ton of talent in the forward ranks, starting with Patrice Bergeron and Johnny Gaudreau. On top of that, there are whispers that management foresees a huge breakout year for William Karlsson, and the Aces managed to grab a couple of GWMHL-ready draftees in Jake DeBrusk and Alexander Kerfoot. The team’s goaltending duo of Devan Dubnyk and Semyon Varlamov is the most solid it’s been in years, too. The acquisition of Justin Williams for third-stringer Cam Ward gives the team options for the middle six. But the team’s Achilles’ heel may be on defense, which is overflowing with journeymen after the top-flight pairing of Drew Doughty and Zach Werenski and stay-at-homer Brett Pesce.

Verdict: Playoffs


Boston Banshees
Last Season’s Finish: 50-27-5 (1st in conference); lost in Gump Cup final
Notable Arrivals: F Ryan Getzlaf, F Cody Eakin, F J.T. Compher, F Micheal Ferland, F Tage Thompson
Notable Departures: F Artem Anisimov, F Justin Williams, F Brandon Dubinsky, D Mike Green, D Zdeno Chara, D Nick Leddy, D Jake Dotchin

Are they rebuilding, or what’s going on here? After the Banshees pushed the Cup Final all the way to a seventh game, there were surprising rumbles of a total rebuild. It seemed to be going that way when they shipped out Nick Leddy and, later, Zdeno Chara. But as the offseason wore on, the team took a flyer on 33-year-old centre Ryan Getzlaf after the draft, not to mention a pair of veteran goalies (Jimmy Howard and Cam Ward), only to release them both. Anyway, the team seems poised to at least make the playoffs, with Getzlaf joining a competitive group led by Sean CouturierJoe Pavelski, and highly touted rookie Brock Boeser up front. It seems Mike Smith will see the lion’s share of starts, and the team will have to lean hard on young defensemen Darnell NurseJosh Morrissey, and Brandon Carlo after the Banshees ditched Leddy, Chara, and Mike Green. The team may find itself at a crossroads come mid-season. Will they load up or throw in the towel?

Verdict: Bubble


Farmington Fighting Saints
Last Season’s Finish: 37-35-10 (7th in conference); missed playoffs
Notable Arrivals: F Matt Nieto, D Greg Pateryn, D Vince Dunn, D Christian Djoos
Notable Departures: F Mike Cammalleri, F Matt Cullen, F Dmitrij Jaskin, D Niklas Kronwall, D Trevor Van Riemsdyk

Historically, Farmington management has taken a patient approach to team-building and it’s paid off. Without sacrificing wins in the present, the Saints have managed to keep the cupboard stocked with good talent, most notably Mikko Rantanen, who’ll quite possibly the team’s top scorer of this coming season, alongside a truly great group of centres headlined by Vincent Trocheck and Ryan Johansen. Still, the team made some big changes on D, dumping declining veteran Niklas Kronwall and bringing in rookies Vince Dunn and Christian Djoos, that add an air of uncertainty despite the overall consistency of John Carlson and Dustin Byfuglien. The winger talent on the club is good if not great. But by far the biggest concern is the health of starting goalie Corey Crawford. If Crawford misses significant time, the team won’t be going anywhere without a career performance by Robin Lehner.

Verdict: Bubble


San Jose Hosers
Last Season’s Finish: 23-52-7 (10th in conference); missed playoffs
Notable Arrivals: D Charlie McAvoy, D Joakim Ryan
Notable Departures: F Brock Nelson, F Antoine Roussel, D David Schlemko

The Great San Jose Rebuild continues! When defender Charlie McAvoy fell to the Hosers at #3 in this year’s draft, management couldn’t say no, and the team now has unquestionably one of the most promising groups of young defensemen in the league with John Klingberg, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Mikhail Sergachev. That alone could be deadly, especially on the powerplay. And at a certain point, this team has to turn the corner, right? Up front, the team has some nice weapons in John Tavares and Jack Eichel, with Gabriel Landeskog and Mitch Marner on the wings, but after that quartet the Hosers have a lot of rising talent that hasn’t quite, well… risen yet. A big season from Martin Jones would be start, and it definitely seems unlikely that this will be a bottom-three team again, but San Jose probably needs one more season before making a run at the playoffs.

Verdict: Rebuilding


West Virginia River Rats
Last Season’s Finish: 40-34-8 (5th in conference); missed playoffs
Notable Arrivals: F T.J. Oshie, F Brock Nelson, D Travis Sanheim, D Jan Rutta
Notable Departures: F Andrew Shaw, F Antoine Vermette, D Marc Methot, D John Moore

Here’s where San Jose hopes to be a year from now. After a bold selloff over the course of two seasons and missing the playoffs by one measly point in 2017-18, the River Rats are finally poised to push for a top-four finish and a postseason berth. Newly acquired winger T.J. Oshie may well debut on a top line with Sebastian Aho and Leon Draisatl, allowing the team to roll out a deadly combo of Patrick Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers on the second. The defense is also maturing at the right time: reports are that Matt Dumba may be ready for top-pairing minutes alongside ever-dependable rearguard Jaccob Slavin. By far the biggest unknown for this exciting young group is in net. Will Jacob Markstrom be asked to shoulder the starter’s burden? Or will the team rely on Ryan Miller and Juuse Saros? At least they have options.

Verdict: Playoffs

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Trade Roundup: Getzlaf, Oshie, Howard on the Move

In BAL, BOS, GLP, PAR, Transactions, WVR on September 20, 2018 at 12:41 pm

The Great Lakes Pilots‘ rebuild continues. After parting ways with Sidney Crosby on draft day, the Pilots have shipped out pivot Ryan Getzlaf to the Boston Banshees for a 2nd round pick in 2019.

But that was just one of a flurry of post-draft roster moves as teams solidify their lineups. The West Virginia River Rats picked up winger T.J. Oshie from Parry Sound in exchange for defenseman John Moore and a third round pick. And the Orrsmen followed that with a pair of trades with Boston, first acquiring Brandon Dubinsky for a third, then sending goaltender Jimmy Howard to the Banshees for a trio of Free Agent Draft picks. Finally, Boston shipped steady blueliner Kevan Miller to Baltimore for a 4th round pick in 2019.

Brock Nelson Bound for West Virginia

In SJH, Transactions, WVR on September 15, 2018 at 8:44 pm

Forward Brock Nelson is joining the River Rats, as West Virginia swung a deal with the San Jose Hosers on the eve of draft day. In exchange for Nelson, the Rats give up its own 3rd rounder (51st) as well as Delta’s 3rd rounder (50th).

Nelson is coming off a down year, with just 13 goals in 69 games, but he flirted with 30 goals as recently as ’16-’17. The Rats will hope he finds his game in a lineup studded with young talent.

History Repeating: This Ain’t the River Rats’ First Rebuild Rodeo

In Special Features, WVR on October 7, 2016 at 7:58 pm

When the West Virginia River Rats shipped out stars Sidney Crosby, Brent Burns, and Henrik Lundqvist (along with core players like Eric Staal, Dan Hamhuis, and Jason Chimera) in September it shook the very foundations of the league. But it wasn’t the first time GM Jim Connell decided to blow the whole thing up.

A little bit of backstory. In late 2003, the Bristol River Rats were a competitive team, but a heartbreaking loss to South Carolina in the Gump Cup Final put the franchise in a bind. With an aging core, the team was in no man’s land; not quite strong enough to win it all, yet too talented to replenish with top-flight draft picks.

So, before the 2003-04 season even started, the team acted, shipping out scorers Peter Bondra and Alex Mogilny. At the mid-season trade deadline, the ax fell on Mark Recchi and Nicklas Lidstrom. Despite all this, the Rats finished atop the Sawchuk East with a 43-26-16 record — only to be swept by Ice Harbor in the first round of the playoffs.

Any lingering doubts were erased. The GM acted. Along with a massive trade that sent superstar defender Scott Niedermayer to the rival Storm, the Rats dealt away all their top scorers: Jaromir Jagr (coming off a 40-goal year), Alexei Yashin, Ray Whitney, Tony Amonte… even Bobby Holik. Between September 14 and October 19, 2014, the the team made 14 trades and jettisoned basically every veteran on the squad.

When the dust settled, the River Rats had amassed six first round picks and four second rounders: 10 picks in the top 30. With them, they drafted:

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El Dorado Lynx Crowned 2012 Champions!

In EDH, News, WVR on July 14, 2012 at 3:50 pm

The El Dorado Lynx, a franchise that won it all in 2004 only to miss the playoffs for five straight seasons, are your new Gump Cup Champions!

The Lynx beat the defending champs, the West Virginia River Rats, in seven games: a hard-fought back-and-forth series with no shortage of intrigue. For one, the River Rats were missing leading scorer Sidney Crosby since game 4.

The Rats opened the scoring in game 7 with an unassisted tally by Eric Staal, his 10th of the postseason. West Virginia made it 2-0 as the second period was windown down – this time thanks to Corey Perry.

The Lynx wouldn’t get onto the board until early in the third. With El Dorado defenseman Eric Brewer serving a penalty, the Lynx managed to confuse the Rats’ powerplay unit and take advantage, with Vern Fiddler feeding veteran Jamie Langenbrunner for the shorthanded goal.

2-1 was the score until the last minutes of regulation, as Andrei Kostitsyn beat Ryan Miller, assisted by brother Sergei and Fiddler, to tie the game at two.

That set the stage for the most exciting situation in hockey: overtime in game 7. The home team was reeling from El Dorado’s late-game attack. Just three minutes in, Alex Ovechkin fed Christian Ehrhoff, who dished to one-time first overall pick Tuomo Ruutu, acquired by El Dorado in 2010. The winger made no mistake, beating Miller cleanly and earning the right to hoist the Gump Cup.

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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

River Rats’ Crosby Named Q3 MVP

In News, WVR on April 5, 2012 at 4:49 pm

West Virginia River Rats star Sidney Crosby, who made a triumphant second-half return from injury, has been named the third quarter MVP. Crosby, last season’s scoring champ, posted 46 points in 24 games and led the Rats to a 15-5-4 record.

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.

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: Sawchuk

In BOS, DEL, FFS, IHS, NAS, PWH, SFS, STL, VAN, WVR on November 24, 2011 at 10:40 am

The last five Gump Cups have gone to Sawchuk Conference teams. The five years before that went to the Plante. Are we due for a sea change? With two flat-out powerhouses, a few perennial contenders, and several rebuilding teams poised to take the next step, there’s no shortage of intrigue in the Sawchuk this season. Here’s a look at what’s changed.

In – G Michal Neuvirth, F Marcus Johansson, G Devan Dubnyk, F Jordan Caron, D John Moore, F Nate Thompson, F Adam Hall
Out – F Mike Knuble, F Paul Kariya, D Niclas Wallin, F Jason Blake, D Jaroslav Spacek, G Jason LaBarbera, F James Wright

The Banshees, under new ownership eager to make a stamp on the team, made some significant moves this off-season, shipping out vets Mike Knuble, Jason Blake, and Jaroslav Spacek and bringing in two promising young netminders in Michal Neuvirth and Devan Dubnyk. But how much will they really play behind workhorse Henrik Lundqvist? A rested Lundqvist should terrify the rest of the conference come playoff time, though, and if Boston gets good performances from some of its younger players – notably Sam Gagner and Erik Karlsson – they should be in the running for a spot.

In – F Derek Stepan, G Kevin Poulin, F Linus Omark, F Mats Zuccarello, F Anthony Stewart, D Shane O’Brien, G Peter Budaj
Out – F Cristobal Huet, F Slava Kozlov, F Michael Nylander, D Wade Redden, F Mike Brown, F Tomas Kopecky, F Jay Pandolfo

There’s no question the Sturgeon are in full-on rebuild mode, and one that’s going quite well… up front. As players like Evander Kane continue emerging and newcomers like Derek Stepan get a chance to shine, they’ll improve. But there’s still major upheaval to come as its once mighty core retires or otherwise moves on, and there are big question marks on defense and in goal, meaning a young player like Alex Goligoski is going to have to be a number one defenseman this year, because Delta has no one else to fill those skates. And, seriously, Peter Budaj?

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