October 10, 2002
CHL continues to undergo changes following merger with WPHL
By JASON COHEN
One year after combining 10 clubs from the Western Professional
Hockey League with a half-dozen of its own, the Central Hockey
League remains in flux.
are four new coaches, in Indianapolis, Corpus Christi, El
Paso and New Mexico. Four teams changed owners: President's
Cup champs Memphis, plus Amarillo, Bossier-Shreveport and
San Angelo. Two clubs took on new identities - the Rattlers
have become Gorillas (it rhymes with "Amarilla"),
while the Outlaws were transubstantiated into Saints, partly
because deposed owner Dick Moore was allegedly taking season
ticket orders under the old name (even as he declared bankruptcy
and sued the city of San Angelo).
expansion in Laredo, involuntary contraction in San Antonio
and a brand new NHL-caliber arena, the Ford Center, in Oklahoma
City. Blazers icon Joe Burton got some honorary shifts with
the Phoenix Coyotes in an exhibition contest, while the entire
Austin Ice Bats organization received a call-up, pending the
results of a referendum in suburban Cedar Park, the team will
be purchased by the Dallas Stars, moved into a cherry rink,
and likely transferred to the AHL.
in El Paso are also considering a new building. Commissioner
Tom Berry became commisioner Emeritus, the final confirmation
of what everyone already knew - though the merger preserved
the name of the more historic circuit, the WPHL brass is in
charge of operations. And finally, two more teams are slated
for 2003 - Hidalgo, Texas (an area known as the Rio Grande
Valley) and Fort Collins, Colorado (where the franchise, co-owned
by former Montreal Canadien Ralph Backstrom, has already adopted
the name Eagles).
just another off-season in the tranquil world of lower-level
minor pro. With training camps under way and a pair of openers
Oct. 17 (Memphis at Bossier Shreveport in a semifinal rematch;
Laredo at Corpus Christi in the first of many South Texas
showdowns), here's a few things to watch out for.
SAN ANTONIO EFFECT The Iguanas are no more, forced out of
the market by the American Hockey League Rampage (a Florida
affiliate co-owned by the San Antonio Spurs), but its players
do live on.
teams are hoping Iggie refugees will take them up a notch,
including Oklahoma City (chippy Jonathan Dubois, playmaker
Blair Manning), Amarillo (stud offensive d-man Mark DeSantis,
flashy winger Henry Kuster), Odessa (gritty scorer Greg Gatto)
and Corpus Christi (goaltender Brent Belecki, youngster Russell
Hogue). Iguanas head coach Chris Stewart has moved on to the
Eagles, giving him a full year to prepare.
CAN GO HOME AGAIN Goaltender Ken Carroll is back with Bossier-Shreveport
after one season in the East Coast Hockey League. He posted
a 1.89 GAA and .935 save percentage in '00-01, earning WPHL
rookie and goaltender of the year honors.
Kyle Reeves (192 goals in three WPHL/CHL seasons) is now a
Fort Worth Brahma, after a one-year suspension for confronting
an official off the ice.
CHL defenseman of the year Brett Colborne (81 points, 176
penalty minutes) comes to Corpus Christi after a season each
in the United Hockey League and Deutschland.
CHL rookie of the year Derek Reynolds has signed on in El
Paso, while Derek Landmesser, defenseman of the year that
same season for his plus-59 performance with the RiverKings,
is once again in Memphis, leaving behind Muskegon of the UHL.
Thompson, who led El Paso to two championships and became
the first WPHL player to earn a big-league contract (with
St. Louis, though he never got there) hopes to recreate that
magic for San Angelo under former Buzzards teammate Brent
Scott. Thompson is coming off an injury-plagued season for
Worcester and Providence of the AHL.
season with the UHL's now-defunct Asheville, Jeff Petruic
was the top scorer in all of North American hockey, with 57
goals and 57 assists. A one-time Alexandria Warthog in the
"Wiffle," he'll play for Wichita this year.
ENCORE The Austin Ice Bats return the "STP Fuel Line."
Brett Seguin, Gerald Tallaire and Dan Price were three of
the top four scorers in the league last year, with Price taking
guy at No. 2, Most Valuable Player Don Parsons, is back to
lead the RiverKings' in their defense of the Cup. Memphis
head coach Doug Shedden has won three CHL championships (the
first two with Wichita) as well as a UHL crown (with Flint).
Joe" Burton returns for his eleventh season with the
Blazers. The league's all-time leading scorer, whose number
already hung from the rafters of Myriad Arena, has said this
year will be his last.
season champion Odessa returns eight players, including last
season's goaltender of the year Mike Gorman and all-star rearguard
Scott Hillman. The neutral-zone trap monsters hope to erase
the memory of last year's first-round upset by El Paso.
CAROUSEL Players with NHL experience are nothing new, but
Al Sims is the first CHL head coach who also held a top job
in the Show. The former San Jose Sharks and IHL Milwaukee
Admirals boss is the new man in Corpus Christi, replacing
GM Taylor Hall (Hall, the coach from 1998-2001, took the job
again last December when Dale Henry got the ax).
New Mexico GM Pat Dunn adds bench boss to his portfolio, longtime
Austin assistant Ken McRae will run things up in Indy and
Craig Coxe, who previously coached defunct Huntsville but
is best-known for fighting Bob Probert, takes over in El Paso.
Elsewhere on the Mexican border, Terry Ruskowski guides the
expansion Laredo Bucks.
matter what the press releases say, even with a "veteran's
rule" (five players per team with 260 games or more experience)
the CHL is entertainment first, player-development second.
But the post-merger circuit continues to make strides. This
fall a few dozen CHL players got a look-see from the AHL -
some in training camp, some with two-way arrangements that
will continue through the season.
had the most high-profile prospect last year, when Toronto
trusted their former player with goaltender Sebastien Centomo.
All he did was become CHL rookie of the year, then the starter
in St. John's. The Baby Leafs also got playoff production
from forward Robb Pahlahnuk, who spent most of the season
in the CHL. This year, Memphis has goaltenders Mike Minard
and J.F. Racine and defenseman Vaclav Zavoral to work with.
Ice Bats, which had a long relationship with Houston during
the Aeros' IHL days, will reunite with coach Dave Tippett
now that their affiliation is the Stars. Laredo is receiving
several players from the Rampage. And the Scorpions are partnered
up with Phoenix, which hopes to make Albuquerque a Coyotes
market (if the city's football preference is anything to go
by, they'll have to win over Avs fans first). No players have
been assigned yet, but Phoenix vice-president and general
manager Mike Barnett was enthused about the future.
would think that over the next few years," Barnett told
the Albuquerque Journal, "[the CHL] will take on a whole
new meaning in terms of potential pro development at the National
Hockey League level."