Are you ready for some hockey?
I have never been sure why a P.A. announcer would ask the question “Are you ready for some hockey?” because obviously every hockey fan is ready for hockey. The months of June-September are the longest three and a half months for any hockey fan. So to answer the question, we have our drinks, our jerseys and our hats (always useful to bring one or two to a game, just in case someone scores three goals and a hat trick breaks out), so yes that makes us ready for some hockey.
This season, the 75th of the American Hockey League, promises to be a good one. The league welcomes the Barons in Oklahoma City, the Checkers in Charlotte, and the Devils in Albany, to the league. There is youth and talent throughout the league and hopefully those skills can be showcased nationwide, with the possibility of players getting the call up to the NHL.
Once again, the Hershey Bears are stocked and are poised to reach the playoffs again, but this season may not be a complete runaway. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins stocked up on talent and the Norfolk Admirals are under new leadership, and after missing the playoffs by less than one game last season, are ready for to take that extra step into the playoffs. The rest of the East Division (including new comer the Charlotte Checkers, formerly Albany River Rats) all have one more year of experience under their belts and should make the Bears and Penguins route to the playoffs a little more difficult.
The Worcester Sharks, behind the goaltending of Alex Stalock and the veteran presence of Jonathan Cheechoo, have a good shot at winning their division once again, along with the Hamilton Bulldogs and the Chicago Wolves, who are almost guaranteed playoff spots. All three teams will be challenged by opponents day in and day out, as almost every team in the league have made improvements.
Boys, let’s play hockey and to those of you who have always wanted to attend a hockey game but never have, make this year different. Attend one game and there is a pretty good chance that you’ll be back for more. Remember fans, wait for the stoppage in play before leaving your seats and enjoy the next nine months, because before you know it, summer will be here once again.
East Division—Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins/Hershey Bears
West Division—Texas Stars/Chicago Wolves
North Division—Abbotsford Heat/Hamilton Bulldogs
Atlantic Division—Worcester Sharks
Calder Cup Champion—Hershey Bears (No matter how much I hate to say it)
I’ll be back in throughout the season to update everyone and to update my predictions.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan named Joe Thornton captain today — a minor surprise for Sharks fans. A lot of fans, including myself, expected Dan Boyle to be named the 11th captain in Sharks history. Turns out Boyle will be a permanent alternate captain, with Patrick Marleau and Ryane Clowe alternating the second ‘A’ for home and road games.
Probably the immediate reaction from most hockey fans is that we’ve seen Thornton be a captain before — in Boston — and how it failed miserably.
Thornton, 31, says he’s much more mature now being a father and having more experience as a person and hockey player. While you can’t deny that, he still is very much the same type of person he’s always been. A laid-back, glass half-full type of guy. With that said, let’s take a look at a few of the pros and cons of his captaincy.
- He’s positive. Jumbo Joe will never panic; that word is not in his vocabulary. After every game, he’ll give some version of the phrase, “We’ll be fine,” either after a win or a loss. What’s intriguing about this is Boyle is the opposite. Boyle wears his heart on his sleeve, giving the Sharks a nice dynamic in leadership.
- He’s the face of the franchise. This doesn’t pertain much to play on the ice, I know, but it could be a good marketing tool for the Sharks in reaching out to potential NHL fans. Hockey fan or not, a lot of people know the name “Joe Thornton.” Now they can ID him more easily with the team in San Jose and as a captain.
- Regular season prowess. In order to win the Stanley Cup, you have to make the playoffs. While the Sharks have claimed the top spot the last two years, Thornton’s point totals have fell to the upper 80’s. Having the captaincy could make him step his game up in the 82-game audition for the playoffs.
- It’s a contract year. This could change in the first month of the season, with rumors of an extension going on for some time now. But if GM Doug Wilson chooses to let the season play out, it could be even better play from Thornton, who will be looking to cash in. I think the captaincy also puts to rest the trade speculation, but you never know with Wilson. But in all honesty, I see an extension for Thornton by December.
- He’s positive. Yep, this is exactly the same thing as the “pro” above. Having a captain who is always looking at the bright side of things isn’t always good. Thornton mentioned he likes to keep things light and fun off the ice and serious on it. Sometimes you need someone to step up in the locker room, off the ice, and tell the players what needs to change. When it comes to speeches, I’ve always thought of Joe up in front of the players cracking jokes while trying to convey a serious point.
- Inconsistent passion. Contrary to how Joe says he is extremely passionate about the game, he fails to bring it all every night. You can find him coasting around the ice on some nights, not really caring, and committing atrocious turnovers from lazy passes. That is not captain material.
- Postseason pressure. Joe answered most critics this past postseason playing his heart out. It was amazing to watch, but can he keep it up? Rumor has it McLellan tried to get Thornton to play a rougher style (Only what fans have been screaming for forever) and it worked. Hopefully, Thornton still knows how to flip the switch a notch higher come April, May and June, and this will turn into a “pro.”
- Distractions. The weakest “con” of them all, Thornton did just have a baby and a lot of attention must be given to “Mini Joe.” One of Thornton’s quotes was something like, “I already look after one guy, now I have to look over 22.” It was a quip, but if you’d like to overanalyze, it kind of sounded like looking over 22 players is a burden,
Bottom line: The jury’s still out on Thornton being captain, but no doubt the majority of NHL fans are laughing at the Sharks right now. I’m very weary of the move and would have preferred Boyle be captain with Joe Pavelski getting an ‘A.’ But I’m not a coach or see the inner-workings of the locker room, so for now it’s just about supporting the decision and cheering for the Sharks.