Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Antler Banter: Season 1, Volume 20

Antler Banter has now covered twenty weeks of AHL news and action, and we're one step closer to finalized AHL rosters with the rookie tournaments winding down. While a number of the stars of the rookie tournaments may not be on AHL rosters, there's a good chance that a vast number of the kids playing this week will end up in an AHL city. With that knowledge, there could be some very good AHL teams this year. Today in the Banter, we'll look at a new alternate jersey, the Moose signed a couple of players, there were another couple of signings, and we'll close out with a short discussion about this 3-on-3 overtime. All in all, it's another busy entry on Antler Banter!

Returning - Part 1

The Manitoba Moose announced today that forward John Albert will be returning to the Winnipeg Jets' affiliate. Maxwell played 66 games with the St. John's IceCaps last season where he scored 16 goals and 26 assists. He has one lone NHL goal to his name in his 26 years, and it was a pretty memorable one for the American-born winger.
Albert beat Cam Talbot in his first pro game on his first NHL shot, putting Manitoba up 2-1 in that game. He has nine NHL games to his name, and has a pair of silver medals from the 2006 and 2007 World Junior Championship tournaments. Albert is a great depth signing and brings a bit of veteran presence to the young Moose team. Look for him to lead the offence and be presence in the dressing room.

Returning - Part 2

The Moose also announced on Wednesday that Ben Walker had signed a deal to return for another season. Walker recorded a goal and three assists in 36 contests last season for the IceCaps as a rookie. The 22 year-old American played his junior hockey with the Victoria Royals, and was signed as an undrafted player by the IceCaps prior to the start of the 2014-15 season.

Walker is a depth signing for the Moose, and he plays a rougher game than some of the skilled forwards the Jets currently have under contract. If he can chip in consistently on offence, he could be a player the Jets look to bring up if there's an injury on their bottom-six forwards. Walker won't wow anyone with McDavid-like moves, but he'll hustle every time he's on the ice.

Returning - Part 3

This one isn't a Moose-related signing, but we have a player who has returned from KHL to take a professional tryout contract with the Minnesota Wild. Former Calgary Flames first-round pick Leland Irving made the jump back across the ocean on Monday to give it another shot with the Wild, and it appears the 27 year-old will most likely platoon in Iowa to start the season with the NHL Wild having to sort through Niklas Backstrom, Darcy Kuemper, and Devan Dubnyk.

Irving never really got a chance with the Flames, so he hopped over to the Finnish Elite League for a season with Jokerit before joining Salavat Yulaev in Ufa in the KHL where he played just 20 games. Irving's 13 career NHL games see him carry a 3-4-4 record with a goals-against-average over 3.00, but he'll be expected as the veteran goalie in Des Moines to help one of Steve Michalek or Brody Hoffman get further ahead in their development. We'll see if he survives the PTO to get a real contract from either Minnesota or Iowa.

Well Traveled

The Hartford Wolfpack announced on Wednesday that they had signed forward Jack Combs to a deal. Combs is a rather unique player having played for five clubs in three different countries last season. He began the season with Toros Neftekamsk in Russia VHL - the AHL of the KHL - before joining the Allen Americans in the ECHL. He posted 56 points in just 32 games with Allen, but was on the move to Sweden where he suited up for IF Björklöven of Sweden’s Allsvenskan in three games. He jumped back to the ECHL where he played out the season with the Stockton Thunder and Cincinnati Cyclones, completing his five-team tour.

Combs is a proven scorer at the ECHL level, so it will be interesting to see if he can bring the same scoring touch to the AHL. His last stint in the AHL was with the San Antonio Rampage in 2013-14 where he had just two assists in 19 games, but has 75 career AHL points in his time with the Peoria Rivermen, Chicago Wolves, Worcester Sharks, and Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Hartford found themselves a player who has the potential to be very good this season.

Seen That Before

Monday also saw the Wild add some more laundry to their closets as they introduced a red alternate jersey! Wait, is that the Iowa Wild or the Minnesota Wild? It's funny how AHL teams look identical to their NHL affiliates, isn't it? Forget about having your own identity, Iowa Wild, because you look EXACTLY like the Minnesota Wild.

Personally, a minor-league hockey team should have its own identity as it represents the city and fans in which it's based. By forcing a minor-league team to adopt the same look as its NHL affiliate, the NHL team strips the civic pride that one should have in the minor-league team. Instead, the fans in Des Moines can now cheer the Minnesota Wild Lite because that's exactly what the Iowa Wild are.

3-On-3 Insanity

When you see that 76.3% of overtime games ended prior to the shootout in the AHL, you need to buckle up for a wild ride once the three-on-three portion of the period begins. Any two-on-one not converted becomes a two-on-one the other way, so the scoring chances will be often. Speed will be on display as teams look to out-skate the opposition, and fatigue will lead to mistakes that will possibly end games.

Personally, after watching some of the video on YouTube, I think fans will like three-on-three. I know I do. It's fast, it's furious in terms of the end-to-end action, and there's almost always a winner. Forget the skills comeptition - embrace the three-man game!

The NHL has mandated that three of the preseason games for each team must play the extra three-on-three period, so there's a chance that you'll see the format if you're checking out NHL preseason games. Again, I like it and I think it will resonate with fans as the overtime point will become relevant once more to a game built on team aspects. Thanks for that, AHL!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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