Well, I haven't been posting much because I basically intended this blog to be about my life as the Cottonmouths' Equipment Manager and our season is over (as evidenced by this picture of the Civic Center ice melting outside the building, at right). But, since hockey season is still going on I'll weigh in with some thoughts on a few things.
First, as I've long said, my favorite season of the year is Hockey season. So logically it would follow that my least favorite season of the year is the off-season. This is not just because I'm now out of work (until September). It's because I really do miss going to the rink every day. Sure, I still have some stuff to work on during the summer in preparation for the upcoming season, but I'm not at the rink every day like I am during the season. It's actually funny...during the season I always look ahead to my next day off, but once the season's over I can only stay away for so long before I find myself drawn back there. I was the same way during summer vacation from school. I couldn't wait for the school year to end, but within a month I was so bored I actually looked forward to September (of course, I grew up in Phoenix and by July it was too hot to do much of anything outside).
So now that our season is over, I have to rely on following the other pro leagues to give me my hockey fix. Of course, now only the ECHL, AHL and NHL are still going. The Rapid City Rush won the CHL championship and the Fort Wayne Komets won their third straight "IHL" title (yawn). In other CHL news, the Amarillo Gorillas and Corpus Christi Ice Rays have both announced that they will be dropping out of the CHL and entering the NAHL (North American Hockey League), a tier II Junior A league. In the ECHL, the Cincinnati Cyclones have a 3-games-to-1 lead over the Idaho Steelheads in the finals. In the AHL Western Conference the Hamilton Bulldogs have a 2-games-to-1 lead over the Texas Stars, and in the Eastern Conference the Hershey Bears hold a 3-games-to-2 lead over the Manchester Monarchs. And, of course, we all know where the NHL playoffs stand (Go Habs go!!!).
For SPHL fans, there hasn't been much news since the Huntsville Havoc closed out their series sweep of the Mississippi Surge in the President's Cup finals. But in the last week there has been some progress. It was announced some time ago that there would be an SPHL team in Augusta, Georgia next season. I myself am looking forward to another geographic/ECHL rival joining the league, and especially the nice, short road-trips. As I've mentioned in previous posts, I love the day-trips, and having Augusta in the league ensures even more of those for us next season. Then it was announced that the new team would be called the Riverhawks, and that former Jacksonville Barracudas Coach Rick Allain would be the team's "Hockey Operations Advisor", but not their Coach. Then preparations began for the expansion draft to fill out the team's roster. Each team had to submit their "Protected List", designating which players would be unavailable to be drafted by the Riverhawks. The players left exposed by each team are as follows:
Columbus: G-Chad Rycroft, D-Andrew Dwyer, D-Blake Miller, D-Joe DeBello, D-Tim Hockley, LW-Jeff Martens, and RW-Craig Stahl*
Fayetteville: G-Bryan Bridges, D-Corey Hessler*, D-Lawne Snyder*, D-Nick Bydal, C-Murray Free, and F-Emery Olauson*
Huntsville: D-Chris Myers, D-Jeff Winchester, D-Vladimir Hartinger*, F-Andrew Schembri, F-Travis Kauffeldt
Knoxville: G-Chad Collins, D-Darcy Rees, D-Grant Farrell, D-John Halverson, D-Rich Zalewski, RW-Mike Kneeland, RW-Taylor Hustead, LW-Tim Vitek*
Louisiana: G-A.J. Bucchino, G-Jimmy Spratt, D-Drew Baker, D-Matt Ruberto, D-Matt Smyth, D-Tobias Karlsson, C-Erik Kent, F-Mike Omicioli*, F-Nick Pernula, F-Scooter Smith*
Mississippi: G-Dan Earles, D-Daryl Moor*, D-Ryan Bartle, F-Andrew Boudreau, F-Tom Boudreau
Pensacola: G-Jamie Gilbert, D-Baylor Dieter, D-Paul Falco*, LW-Anthony Monte, LW-Lorne Misita*, RW-Kevin Galan
* Denotes veteran status
There were some very big names on this list, many of which were surprising initially. But upon closer scrutiny, most of them weren't very surprising. It seemed odd at first to see Huntsville's team captain (Kauffeldt) and their best defenseman (Hartinger) left exposed. But Kauffeldt is retiring and Hartinger will probably go back to Italy (where he played the majority of this season), so they weren't going to return anyway. Hessler, Olausson, and Vitek are all retiring, so there was no need for their teams to protect them. One name that surprised me was Taylor Hustead. He was the league's rookie of the year 3 seasons ago with Twin Cities, and was a pretty solid performer for Knoxville. My guess is that he has a good job waiting for him back home and won't be returning to play pro hockey next year. I can't imagine they let him go because they weren't happy with him, or that they would leave him exposed thinking he wouldn't get picked. He's exactly the kind of player who would get picked. The fact that he didn't leads me to believe that he won't be playing next season...at least not in the SPHL. Also left unprotected were former Cottonmouths Daryl Moor and Lorne Misita. Misita kind of surprised me. He had a good year and was an Alternate Captain in Pensacola. I'm surprised they wouldn't want to bring him back, even as a veteran.
The next obvious step is the expansion draft. Each team could lose no more than 2 of their unprotected players, and Augusta was only allowed to pick 6 players. They chose:
F-Jeff Martens (Columbus), F-Chris Myers (Huntsville), D-Grant Farrell (Knoxville), D-Darcy Rees (Knoxville), D-Ryan Bartle (Mississippi), and F-Kevin Galan (Pensacola)
Two of these players, Martens and Farrell, started the season in the SPHL but were called up to ECHL teams and never returned. I don't think it's very likely that either of them will actually play for Augusta, but you never know.
In other Riverhawks news, the team finally named a Head Coach, former Augusta Lynx (ECHL) Captain Brad Ralph. After serving as a Player/Assistant Coach with the Columbia Inferno (ECHL), Ralph will be making his Head-Coaching debut this season.
The league has also decided to end its relationship with Sherwood Hockey Company. SPHL teams will now be required to use SBK equipment and sticks. SBK is a new company that comprises a group of former Sherwood employees. Their gear is, not surprisingly, very similar to the Sherwood stuff, but should be a little less expensive for us. I'm looking forward to dealing with them this season.
As for me, I haven't got much going on right now. I've been working on finishing up my inventory so that I can start ordering gear for next season. Once that's finished I can start preparations for a big equipment sale (to clear out the leftover Sherwood gear and sticks), which will help me clear out some space in the equipment room. Then next month, I'm planning to attend the PHATS/SPHEM Summer Conference in Fort Lauderdale. After that, I'll make my way back to Phoenix for a visit and travel from there to Lubbock, Texas for my family reunion. In July, I may be headed to Boston for a couple of weeks to work a hockey camp.
After that, it's all about getting ready for the new season. I can't wait for October!