Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Antler Banter: Season 1, Volume 13

We've reached the thirteenth entry in the Antler Banter series, so all of you have a phobia of thirteen - triskaidekaphobia - might want to avoid this article. Of course, I kid about that as I've surpassed a number thirteen-related entries, but we'll look at another full entry with no Moose news as the team sits quietly. There was a coach hired in one city, new uniforms debuted in another city, an unintentional jersey unveiling for another team, and signings continue to dominate the headlines in the AHL. We'll look at a number of these stories tonight as we build towards the Manitoba Moose's first season back in Winnipeg despite there being very little action on the Herd's front. Let's get rolling with another edition of Antler Banter!

Welcome Back, Randy

He may not be Kotter, but the Rochester Americans brought back a very familiar face in Randy Cunneyworth who has lived in the new York city for the past 31 years! Cunneyworth was the head coach of the Americans for eight years, spanning 2001 until 2008, twice winning division titles, thrice surpassing the 40-win mark, and was named the AHL's top bench boss in 2004-05.

"I'm just excited to be back," Cunneyworth said at his introductory press conference. "All the emails, and texts, and well-wishes, it's great; overwhelming, really. I think we all want the same thing — and that's winning.”

Cunneyworth has done a lot of that in his career - 350 wins to date that saw him behind the benches of Rochester and Hamilton with 306 of those wins coming with Rochester. That puts Cunneyworth eighth all-time in wins in the AHL, and he should be able to add to that total this season with some of the great young players the Sabres have drafted. Of course, with the Americans celebrating their 60th anniversary this season, the former Amerks player and coach feels there's a chance to do something special this season.

"Terry (Pegula) believes in the heritage of the Buffalo Sabres and the Rochester Americans," Cunneyworth said. He will have his work cut out for him, though, as the Amerks were 29-41-5-1 last season, finishing 14th of 15 teams in the Western Conference. While the playoffs will be the goal this season, Cunneyworth will have his work cut out for him. In saying that, the Sabres and Amerks hired an excellent teacher and coach, and we should see improvements from the Amerks this season in the standings.

Playoffs? Maybe. It's not out of reach for a Cunneyworth-coached team.

All On Sven

22 year-old Sven Baertschi will be back with the Canucks after being acquired last season as the trade deadline. The Canucks announced on Tuesday that they had re-signed the Swiss forward after he had a pretty solid Utica Comets debut last season. Baertschi was a point-per-game player through fifteen regular season games with the Comets after posting seven goals and eight assists, and then added another fifteen points in 21 playoff games.

The surprising part of the deal was that it was a one-year, one-way deal for $900,000 in what some are saying is a "show us" deal. Baertschi, a former first-round pick by the Calgary Flames, has had solid AHL numbers, but is production falls off in the NHL where he's recorded just ten goals and 20 assists in 69 career games including two goals in three games with the Canucks last season.

With the addition of Brandon Sutter this week by the Canucks, Baertschi is going to have to make an impact in camp in order to grab a top-six role. We'll see how his summer work has fared once camp breaks, but this could be the last chance Baertschi gets to crack an NHL roster for a while.

Connor Does All Three

He's suited up for the Hershey Bears. He's played with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. And now he'll be taking his services to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Chris Connor signed with the Flyers back on July 1 to complete the three-Pennsylvania-city feat, and the Flyers are getting themselves a solid AHL veteran who has a ton of experience under his belt.

"It was one of those things where it was nice to get a two-year offer," Conner told The Patriot-News's Tim Leone today. "From what I was told, there would be a good opportunity for me to play some games up [in the NHL]. It's just a good opportunity for me."

The two-year, two-way deal should bode well for Connor with the number of changes the Flyers seem to be making. Connor has 180 NHL games to his name where he's scored 22 goals and 28 assists, but he is familiar with Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol having played against Hakstol's North Dakota teams while he was attending school at Michigan Tech.

I liked Connor with Pittsburgh, and he should be able to provide some great bottom-six depth for the Flyers. After five different AHL teams in the last five years, I'm betting that this deal from Philadelphia for Connor will see him work his tail off to make the Flyers and Phantoms better.

IceCaps Go Bleu, Blanc, Et Rouge

The St. John's IceCaps followed suit with most other teams by adopting their NHL affiliate's look for their uniforms. The traditional bleu-blanc-et-rouge worn by the Canadiens will have the redder IceCaps logo added to the chest of the uniforms as the IceCaps begin play as the Canadiens' affiliate next season. Like the Jets did before the Canadiens came to town, there is no identity for the IceCaps as a team thanks to them buying into the NHL Look-Alike Contest.

Rather coincidentally, the two men modeling the jerseys are IceCaps President and CEO Danny Williams and IceCaps head coach Sylvain Lefebvre! If Lefebvre's name sounds familiar, he is the former NHL defenceman who played with Montreal, Toronto, Quebec, Colorado, and the New York Rangers. He is also the man who was behind the bench for the Hamilton Bulldogs before the franchise transferred to Newfoundland, and he'll assume the same position with the IceCaps.

The new uniforms are nice, but I'd like to see AHL teams adopt heir own identity. While I get that wearing the colors of the NHL team is the ultimate goal for all of the players on each respective AHL affiliate, giving them NHL colors in the AHL makes those colors less significant.

EA Sports Upends Gulls

I know EA Sports is the be-all and end-all in the sports video gaming world, but occasionally they get a little too enthusiastic. Case in point? The image to the right is from the NHL '16 trailer put out by EA Sports on Tuesday. The Gulls, however, have been closely guarding their uniform design until later this summer when there was to be a major unveiling of the Gulls' new threads. It's never a good thing to upend one of your clients, but leaks happen occasionally. Oops!
The good news? It's definitely in the game since the Gulls didn't refute the jersey shown.

That's all I've got for today in Antler Banter regarding some of the larger stories out of the AHL. The Moose make their home debut on Thursday, October 15 with a schedule release sometime in mid-August for the remaining 75 games on the schedule. Will you be there? Mini-packs and season tickets are still available! If you're looking for a contact within the Moose to get tickets, let me know and I can hook you up with some awesome people!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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