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Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Antler Banter: Season 1, Volume 7

Antler Banter is back with what might be the last of these multiple-story-entries-in-one-article articles. The Calder Cup has been awarded, players are returning home in preparation for next season, free agents are charging their phones, and general managers are hunting for the next great coach to take over their respective teams. There will be tinkering, retooling, rebuilding, and relocating as the AHL takes on its new look with the California-based teams preparing for their first seasons in the AHL. One team has completely rebranded themselves already with a new logo, and we'll take a peek at that today as well. All in all, it's an article of wrap-ups, getting set, and new looks on today's Antler Banter! Let's get this started!

Monarchs Are Kings

The Manchester Monarchs completed their run to the Calder Cup Championship by downing the Utica Comets in five games. The Monarchs were the AHL's best team all season so this should come as no surprise when betting on a winner. What should be notable, though, is that backup Patrik Bartosak won Games Four and Five on hostile ice in Utica after Jean-François Berube left Game Three with an ankle injury. Mike Richards was not a part of this group despite playing for part of the season with the Monarchs. This Monarchs team used balanced scoring, solid defence, and good goaltending to carry them to the franchise's first Calder Cup.

"I've never won a team championship like this," Bartosak told Paul Feely of the New Hampshire Union Leader after drinking champagne from the Calder Cup hours after the victory on Saturday. "It definitely tastes better coming out of the Cup. It's better to win as a team."

So while the players and fans get to celebrate for the next few weeks, the moving trucks will begin to make their way to Verizon Wireless Arena where the AHL Monarchs will pack up their equipment for the move west to Ontario, California. The "defending AHL Champion" Ontario Reign will begin play next year in the AHL while the Manchester Monarchs name will be transferred to the new ECHL franchise that moves into Verizon Wireless Arena.

Kinda sucks for the fans of Manchester, but the players are expressing their disappointment as well. "Obviously I’m going to miss Manchester," said Bartosak. "It was a great year, in a great city. I've made some good friends here, and the city has treated us so well. But it's not our decision to leave. We just have to take it and go with it."

Business as usual in the world of hockey.

How Swede It Is

Sweden's Adrian Kempe, a name that you should get used to hearing, was part of the Monarchs' championship run, and he made some history in winning the Calder Cup. Drafted 29th-overall by the Los Angeles Kings last year, Kempe became the youngest Swede to win a North American professional championship. The 18 year-old forward won't turn 19 until September 13, so he's certainly a little green when it comes to life experience but is now an AHL champion.

Congratulations to Adrian Kempe, Sweden's youngest North American champion!

Ageless Wonder Goes Young

USA Hockey announced today that former AHL Grand Rapids Griffins and Chicago Wolves defenceman Chris Chelios - amongst the many teams he played with - will be behind the American bench as an assistant coach to Ron Wilson at the upcoming World Junior Championship! Chelios played 26 seasons in the NHL and represented his country ten times on the international stage, and should be a fountain of knowledge for the young American players on that squad. Joining him to round out the coaching staff are Danton Cole and Kevin Reiter.

Some may ask why this is in the AHL article, and there's a good reason why. Chelios has spent the last five seasons in the development and mentoring of a number of the Detroit Red Wings' prospects, so he has a knack for teaching, it seems. More than that, Chelios saw more games in the AHL than the NHL in his final two seasons, and he was still a huge draw for fans in those AHL cities. With his work alongside Jeff Blashill in Grand Rapids and his continued relationship with Ken Holland in Detroit, can an NHL bench job be far behind?

Danton Cole is also a former Grand Rapids Griffins coach, so this American team will have a very Detroit feeling to them for fans. While Cole would be further away than Chelios in solidifying another coaching position, perhaps this appointment with the American team will lead back to the AHL in the future.

In any case, the Americans have a solid coaching staff for the Helsinki, Finland tournament.

Another Name Returning

The Griffins are reportedly close to having former Griffins defenceman Todd Nelson join the team as the next head coach. Nelson recently coached the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons and the NHL's Edmonton Oilers, but was given his release when the Oilers hired Todd McLellan. Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press is reporting that Nelson has agreed to the job, and will take over from Jeff Blashill who was promoted to the Red Wings.

Nelson is a very capable coach, and I see the Griffins continuing their recent success under his tutelage. He coached the Muskegon Fury to two straight UHL titles in 2003-04 and 2004-05. He joined the Chicago Wolves in 2006, and was part of the 2007-08 AHL Calder Cup team as an assistant coach. He was promoted as an assistant coach with the Atlanta Thrashers in '08-09 before taking over the head coaching duties of the Oklahoma City Barons in 2010-11. He was then promoted to the Oilers' bench last season. At no time as a head coach in the minor leagues has he posted a losing record, so bringing Nelson home to coach the hugely successful Griffins is a fantastic move by Ken Holland.

Dressed Up In Texas

The Texas Stars followed their NHL parent club's lead by changing their logo and colors to match the Dallas Stars for the next year!
"The colors and themes have worked so well in Dallas and they've become synonymous with Stars Hockey," said Stars owner Tom Gaglardi. "It's exciting for us to have the Texas Stars represented in the same Victory Green that we take great pride in."

Dallas did have some catchy uniforms last year. Texas will now look good in their new green jerseys as well.

Returning To Texas

Dallas also announced that they had re-signed defenceman Jyrki Jokipakka to a two-year contract extension. Financial details were not released. Jokipakka played 87 games with the Texas Stars over the last two seasons, putting up eight goals and 18 assists.

"Jokipakka thinks the game well and has the tools to grow into an extremely dependable player in the NHL," Stars GM Jim Nill said. "Over the last season, he grew leaps and bounds and proved that he could play effectively at this level. We fully expect him to continue that growth and become a big part of our defensive unit in the years to come."

Jokipakka has a shot at making the Dallas Stars this season, but there will definitely be a spot on the Texas Stars' blue line if he doesn't make it after the loss of a few key veterans in Cedar Park.

More Coaches Promoted

The New Jersey Devils announced today that Alain Nasreddine and Geoff Ward will join former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins coach John Hynes behind the bench in Newark.

Nasreddine was an assistant coach to Hynes with the AHL Penguins for the last five years while Ward has piled up a number of awards in several stops. In 2003, he was the co-winner of the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the AHL's outstanding coach while with Hamilton. He helped the Boston Bruins win the Stanley Cup in 2011 as an assistant coach. He was the head coach for the DEL's Adler Mannheim this past season where Adler Mannheim won the DEL Championship while Ward was named as the DEL's best coach.

New Jersey has one of the best young coaching staffs in all of hockey at this moment.

Didier Back For More

I'm a few days late on this one, but the new St. John's IceCaps, formerly the Hamilton Bulldogs, signed defenceman Josiah Didier to a one-year deal. He signed a professional tryout contract in March after the University of Denver Pioneers were eliminated from the NCAA Frozen Four playoffs, and he posted one assist in eight games.

Didier played 148 NCAA games with Denver, putting up 4 goals and 25 assists in his collegiate career. The 6'3", 220-pound defenceman should add some grit to the IceCaps' blue line next season as he had recorded 203 penalty minutes with Denver over his career as well.

Personally, I like this signing for the future, but the Canadiens only inked him to a one-year deal. Is this a "show me what you can do" deal by Marc Bergevin? We shall see, I guess.

That's all that is happening in the world of the AHL this week. Antler Banter will be back next week with what should be a more condensed version as things settle down in the off-season. Of course, free agency is coming up, so we'll see how the AHL teams are affected at that time!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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