October 16, 2002
Cup or bust
CHL teams ready to embark on meaningful regular season
By JASON COHEN
Guess which league has the best playoff format of all the
minor pro loops?
the WCHL, which advances four teams out of six (an improvement
over last year, when all eight clubs made it). Not the ECHL,
which takes 18 out of 27 and has that wacky one-game play-in.
Not the UHL, where 8 out of 10 are in the hunt. Even the AHL
is unconventional: 20 out of 28, with a best-of-three first
round for eight lower-seeded teams.
give it up for the Central Hockey League, which takes the
lowest ratio of qualifiers (8 of 16) and offers fans the most
straightforward ride: a best-of-five first round followed
by a pair of best-of-sevens. Four division winners get an
automatic bid, with two at-large teams from each conference.
three, or even four good clubs get squat. Some might say that's
bad, excluding markets from playoff excitement in a business
that's all about crowd-pleasing, but the reward is an unusually
relevant regular season, right from the first month.
2002-2003 campaign begins October 17, with a 64-game schedule
that finishes March 18. On paper, five clubs can almost count
on playing after that, including last season's four division
winners and conference finals loser Bossier-Shreveport. Five
more teams are on the inside track for playoff action, and
another four could scrape into the mix. Here's how the Ray
Miron President's Cup chase breaks down:
OR BUST - These teams will call their year a failure if they
don't get to the finals.
Doug Shedden (third season).
year: first place, Northeast.
tough, but Shedden's done it before (with Wichita). MVP Don
Parsons leads a dangerous forward group that also includes
Michal Stastny (nephew of Peter), who had four GWs in Memphis'
last eight playoff wins (all in one-goal games). Former CHL
defenseman of the year Derek Landmesser returns after one
season away, while battle-tested keeper Mark Richards is joined
by Toronto prospect J.F. Racine.
Brent Hughes (fourth season).
year: first place, Southeast.
Confucius say: Cup-winners must feel the pain of character-building
humiliation before they taste success. Ice Bats say: two seasons
of character-building is enough, thanks. The "STP Fuel
Line" (CHL points champ Dan Price, top assists man Brett
Seguin and fourth leading scorer Gerald Tallaire) leads the
charge, but to measure up to Memphis, Hughes added defense,
goaltending (Matt Barnes, a cup-winner with the Amsterdam
Tigers last season) and toughness.
Doug Sauter (eighth season).
year: first place, Northwest.
league's dynasty franchise (10 straight playoff berths) almost
reminds one of the Red Wings. Astounding depth, including
living legend Joe Burton (519 career goals), explosive Marty
Standish, new additions Jonathan DuBois and Blair Manning
and blue-line scoring machine Hardy Sauter. Sure to be more
focused after last year's post-championship hangover, but
goaltending is more Vernon/Osgood than Hasek/Joseph.
Scott Muscutt (third season).
year: second place, Northeast (playoff team).
three straight WPHL titles the Bugs hung around .500 early
in its first CHL effort, then returned to form in March and
frightened Memphis in a semi-final that was closer than the
cup round. Ken Carroll and Jonathan Forest form the league's
best goalie tandem; experienced core (Dan Wildfong, Mark Rupnow,
Jim Sprott, Trevor Buchanan, Jason Campbell) gets whole squad
buying in to Muscutt's system.
Don McKee (fourth season).
year: first place, Southwest.
of systems... Odessa will find out whether it's the trap or
the personnel, breaking in ten new players along with last
season's Goalie of the Year Mike Gorman and top blueliner
Scott Hillman. Even with more offense they won't have another
100-point year, but getting past the first round of the playoffs
is what matters.
SCHEMERS - The favorites for the three remaining spots.
Garry Unger (seventh season).
year: second place, Northwest.
year ago, a very good second-half team until it mattered most.
If the blue line comes together, the Oilers ought to fix that,
thanks to goaltender Rod Branch, returning forwards Chris
Johnston and Pat Hallett and new arrival Todd Marcellus, who
played for Unger in New Mexico. So did talented defenseman
Regan Harper, but his health is still in doubt.
Pat Dunn (first season).
year: fourth place, Southwest.
brought back goalie Luciano Caravaggio and assembled all kinds
of up-front weaponry, including Tobin Praznik (50 goals for
Corpus Christi in '98-'99), Peter Brearley (44 for Topeka
in '00-'01) and holdovers Peter Ambroziak, Tyler Baines and
Chris Richards. Could gel into greatness if the overall defensive
ethic is different from the Martino Era.
Bill McDonald (third season).
year: third place, Southwest.
time champion "Macker" (once in the CHL and three
times in the pre-UHL Colonial league) won't miss the playoffs
two years in a row. Defense has both stability (James Sheehan,
Derek Holland) and flash (Barry McKinlay, Gatis Tseplis);
Jan Melicherchik and Blaz Emersic are the skill guys in a
sea of grit. Neil Savary returns in goal.
Brent Scott (second season).
year: third place, Southeast.
likely to have a Cinderella season: big-hearted team with
devoted fans in league's smallest market escapes the clutches
of evil owner, takes advantage of the void left by defunct
San Antonio and works a playoff upset.
overall toughness than last season and a gamebreaker in Jamie
Thompson, but depth and goaltending don't compare to other
Todd Lalonde (third season).
year: third place, Northeast (playoff team).
underdog of the group, with more questions than answers. Can
a team that's almost 50% 21 and 22 year-olds form a winning
squad? Is one top line (sniper Kyle Reeves, underrated Joe
Van Volsen and whoever) enough if the second scores its share
of ugly goals? Is Lalonde the coach who went 90-39-10 his
first two WPHL seasons (for Waco and Central Texas) or the
guy who's closer to .500 in three years since? The last-minute
return of d-man Mike Tilson will help. Matt Mullin steps in
for departed all-star goalie Kory Cooper.
DREAMERS - Four clubs which made significant improvements.
Now they have to do it on the ice.
Jim Latos (second season).
year: third place, Northwest.
a rebuilt "D" and last year's top minor league scorer
Jeff Petruic (57 Gs, 57 As) joining Travis Clayton, Jason
Duda and Tom Gomes up front, the Thunder may have a shot at
overtaking Tulsa and Fort Worth.
Ken McRae (first season).
year: fourth place, Northeast.
anyone can recruit a winning club almost from scratch, it's
former Ice Bats assistant and NHL/IHL player McRae, who also
knows a thing or two about team D. Bernie John anchors the
blue line; newcomer Randy Holmes will be familiar to WPHL
fans from his year in Waco with Lalonde.
Joe Ferras (second season).
year: fourth place, Northwest.
only WPHL team to never make the playoffs, Amarillo added
to that streak in the CHL last season. Shedding the Rattlers
name may end the curse, but a 20-25 game turnaround is much
to ask. Adding all-star d-men Mark DeSantis and Brandon Carper
as well as winger Henry Kuster is a start; Dorian Anneck (44
Gs) leads the offense.
CHRISTI ICE RAYS.
Al Sims (first season).
year: fourth place, Southeast.
will crack the whip while his team smothers opponents on the
Igloo's tiny ice. Talent was not the problem last season;
now the Rays have more of it, including ex-Iguanas goalie
Brent Belecki, newcomer Rob Giffin and explosive stalwart
Layne Roland. By emphasizing defense for the first time in
franchise history, the Rays will be a factor in the conference.
THE SAND WEDGE - Unfortunately, there's no trophy for "Best
Team on the Rio Grande."
Terry Ruskowski; Expansion franchise.
specializes in start-ups (Columbus, ECHL; Houston, IHL; Knoxville;
UHL). This year, he pours foundation, with many spoiler triumphs,
lots of fights for newbie fans, decent offense from one line
and mucho work for goaltender Lance Leslie. Next year, playoffs.
year: second place, Southwest (playoff team).
just four guys back from last year's conference finalists
the Buzzards' streak of six straight postseason stints will
end. Grinding, high PiMs club will win its share of games,
just not as many as the other Southwest teams. D-men Trevor
Folk and Aaron Boh may not join the team because of immigration
NOTES: Taking its cue from the NHL, the league plans to install
protective netting at most arenas, and the "hurry-up"
faceoff rule will be in effect... Fans who visit the CHL web
site this season will have access to real-time game info and
complete box scores minutes after the final buzzer sounds,
courtesy of new statistical provider Pointstreak... The CHL
has also revised its shootout, returning to the five-round
format used by the Western Pro league, with subsequent sudden-death
frames. Last year the shootout, which follows five minutes
of four-on-four OT, lasted three rounds.