Hi everyone! I trust this post finds everyone well. It has been awhile since my last post and a lot has taken place in the hockey world--including the return of hockey with the NHL Playoffs! It has been a ton of fun watching the NHL games the past couple of weeks, and with everything going on as it relates to Covid-19, it really makes you appreciate the things we may take for granted. The virus has made it very challenging for sports to operate recently and to be able to see playoff hockey again has been simply refreshing. With that said, I am certain all of us are itching to see Icemen hockey again!
Earlier this week, the ECHL announced it would be pushing back the start of the 2020-21 season from October to December 4. As a result, the 2021 All-Star game planned for January right here in Jacksonville has also been rescheduled for a date to be named later.
Prior to this week’s announcements from the league, the Icemen had been busy building the team’s roster for next season. Coach Christie has managed to bring back a good core from last year’s club thus far. This was unit that was much improved in the second half of the season. The first addition was All-Star forward Brendan Warren, who could be poised to elevate his game in his second professional season. Also back is Adam Dauda who was productive during the team’s run in the final months of the season. The team maintained its grit with forward Ian McKinnon who brings a physical and hard-working style, while also possessing hand that showed promise last season and could help boost his offensive numbers in year two. Newcomer Abbot Girduckis has also agreed to terms, and like Warren, Girduckis is primed for a big season in his second year as a pro. Rookie Jarod Hilderman became the first defenseman to join the Icemen for next season. I can tell you that the team has agreed to terms with a few other players, but the team must wait on certain contractual terms to be approved before announcing. Expect another announcement this week….
So what does all of the rescheduling mean for the team’s roster? Well right now the team has hit that so-called “holding pattern” point of the offseason. This would likely be the case even if the season were expected to start in October. To be competitive in the league, you need to be able to recruit “next-level” or “fringe AHL” type of talent. These players, many are veterans, are certainly good enough to play at the AHL level, but due to a numbers game, there are simply not enough roster spots available. Then as a season wears on and injuries and call-ups begin, those players are quickly called upon by AHL clubs. During the summer, these particular players often wait as long as they possibly can to see if they are offered that AHL contract. Behind the scenes, these same players usually have a back-up plan in place in case that AHL offer doesn't go through. That back up plan is usually in the form of a verbal commitment with an ECHL team.
And this is sort of where the Icemen are at right now. Coach Christie has been on the phone everyday with these next-level type players to convince them to choose Jacksonville if they find themselves without a spot on an AHL roster at the start of the season. Unfortunately, with the start of both the AHL and ECHL seasons being pushed back to December, that is going to make this holding pattern time frame a bit longer. There is also a good complement of players who have played the last few years in Europe who are hesitant to go overseas because of the pandemic. This opens up the talent pool even more. So if things slow down, remain patient, more players are coming!
Virtual Kelly Cup UpdateIn my last post I shared my experience as the Icemen’s representative for the Virtual Kelly Cup video game tournament with NHL 20 presented by EA Sports. In the round robin play I went 0-2-1, losing two games by one goal (one in overtime) and then getting crushed by defenseman Beau Starrett of Wichita by a score of 7-2. Well as fate would have it, I drew Beau and Wichita in the first round of the playoffs in a best-of-three series. Yeah, it did not go so well. It became evident that Beau was clearly the best player in the tournament and he went on to rout everyone that got in his way to win the tournament for Wichita. A big congrats to Beau, he deserved it. I will add, I was the ONLY person in the tournament to actually take a lead on Beau. So at least I have that to hang my hat on 😊. I stumbled across something neat while practicing for the virtual NHL 20 Tournament. There is a mode on the game called HUT (Hockey Ultimate Team). Basically the concept of this mode is you start with these packs of randomized trading cards of players to start your team. Then you play for rewards to get better player cards and improve your team gradually. As I progressed, I opened one of the packs and it contained the following card….
Wow, look who that is! While the ECHL is featured in the game, it is not surprising to find a Wacey card in the game. However, this particular card is a bit rare and it boosts his ratings significantly, making it a more valuable card to use in the game. Of course I kept this one and it has helped out my team a lot. Of all the cards to randomly receive in a pack, this one was pretty cool and I wanted to share it with you.
This Week’s 3 Stars 1. Congratulations to the now former voice of the Cincinnati Cyclones, Everett Fitzhugh for being named the broadcaster for the NHL’s newest team, the Seattle Kraken. Everett will do a fantastic job and I know that myself and the other broadcaster’s in the league that have worked with him over the years are extremely happy for him!
2. Former Icemen forward Jansen Harkins scored a goal for the Winnipeg Jets this week to make Icemen Nation proud!
3. Former Icemen goaltenders Mikhail Berdin (WPG) and Michael McNiven (MTL) for being named to playoff rosters for their respective teams. Goes to show you the talent that comes through Jacksonville each season!