Thursday, February 27, 2014

Allen vs Arizona, Graham Interview, CHL Expansion, Maiani Profile

- After a day off yesterday it is back to practice today as the Allen Americans prepare for the two game series with the Arizona Sundogs on Friday & Saturday at the Allen Event Center. Arizona has lost five games in a row but have gone to overtime in their last three losses including twice in Rapid City. They are a motivated team fighting for the last playoff spot with Wichita and they just signed CHL veteran Shawn Limpright who returned from Europe. Limpright was on the 2010-2011 Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs team that knocked the Governor's Cup (most points during the regular season) winning Allen Americans out of the playoffs four games to one and went on to win the championship. Playing for Rapid City in 2011-2012 he had 81 points (28 goals 53 assists) in 65 games.

 - Like the Americans, Arizona has been dealing with injuries as two of their best mid season acquisitions, Brandon  Coccimiglio with 10 goals in 13 games and David Rutherford with 20 points in 16 games are on injured reserve and will not play. Paul McIlveen who was the Sundogs leading scorer when he was injured earlier this month is eligible to come off IR this weekend so he might be back in the lineup.

- Speaking of injuries, Allen is suffering through the worst bout of injuries in club history. It will be like a "MASH" unit role call to see who is healthy enough to play this weekend. Bruce Graham and Anthony Maiani are two healthy players that should be in the line up but it will be a few games before they are at the top of their games.

- I had a chance to briefly speak to Bruce Graham after he spent 20 minutes all by himself skating and doing drills after practice on Monday and asked him why he made the decision to come back to Allen and hockey after sitting out this year. After all he had a phenomenal season last year in winning the championship in Nottingham, England. Here is what Bruce had to say:
     "I was in talks at the beginning of the year with Allen but we have to young girls, and my wife (Whitney) had a good opportunity with a job so we thought it was the time to settle down. That was good for three or four months and I started to get that itch again to play. It was never my plan to sit out the year and then come back for the playoffs. We thought we were home for good, then this opportunity came up and we both love Allen so we decided to come back."
     "Once I get in game shape here and some of the key guys come back from injuries we will be fine. I played in a decent senior league at home so I have been on the ice a bit but I am not in the shape I would like to be in at this point of the season, but it will come."

- Took a look at the Best of The Best Awards which are given out each year in the CHL for the years Bruce Graham played for Allen. It is a good reminder of his talent. He finished in the top three in the league in numerous categories including most underrated player and best player on faceoffs his first year (2009-2010). In 2011-2012 Bruce was in the top three for Best Overall Player, Best Stickehandler, Most Valuable To His Team, Best Player On Faceoffs, and Best Power Forward. Yes, he will make a difference!

- The Americans put on well attended party for full season ticket holders last night at Top Golf. Talking to many of the season ticket holders I have gotten to know over the years it reminded me how fortunate the community is to have such a great hockey franchise in the area. A great facility and a team that has been competitive from day one. The best part of attending the party last night was to witness the players interacting with all of the season ticket holders. We have a great group of guys on the team and the more you get to know them on a personal basis, the more you realize how fortunate we are. Job well done by the front office, the coaches and the team.

- Quad City beat Missouri last night 5-1 in Quad City. It was Missouri's turn to be unhappy with the referee who was the some referee who ejected Quad City coach, Terry Ruskowski, in Allen last Sunday. The referee called four "obscene language" penalties including a game misconduct obscene language penalty on Missouri trainer, Bill Murray.

- How is this for a motivational speech by Ruskowski when the Mallards were losing after the first period. "I told the guys after the first intermission there was a Chicago Wolves (AHL) scout in the stands watching them, and if they ever hoped to get up to Triple-A, they needed to show him something,'' Ruskowski said. In reality, the Wolves scout, though, was there to pick up QC forward Gergo Nagy for a post-game trip to Chicago. Nagy, who will stay at least through the weekend with the Wolves, is the fifth Mallards players promoted to the Triple-A AHL this season.

- I saw an article dated February 16 out of Casper, Wyoming about the potential CHL franchise which in part said, The Central Hockey League has no hard deadline for teams to enter the 2014-15 season, but league officials want a deal solidified by the end of February.
“If we’re going to move forward, we’re hoping in the next 10 days to two weeks there is something in place,” said Bob Hoffman, director of operations. “If it isn’t, then it’s not our decision. Then it means the group is probably not ready to move forward.”
We are now at the end of February and it appears the CHL will not be in Casper next year. There has been little concrete evidence that the CHL will add any teams next year despite their press release saying they will expand by up to two teams. Seems like a bigger issue is making sure the weaker teams in the league from an attendance standpoint (Arizona, Brampton, St. Charles & Denver) remain viable.

- Received a lot of feedback on my double Come On, Man rant about Bryan Pitton not receiving one of the three stars of the game in Missouri on Tuesday. 100% of those that commented from Allen, Missouri and around the league agreed with me and that is a rarity.

-Here is the player profile I wrote about Anthony Maiani in December 2012 that gives you some of his back story which you might find interesting:

Anthony Maiani #16
Birthdate: February 24, 1989
Birthplace: Shelby Township, MI
5' 8" 160 lbs.

The first impression when you meet Anthony Maiani is his stature. The Americans roster shows him at 5' 8" 160 lbs. and hockeydb shows him at 5' 7" 155 lbs. He didn't grow up being the smallest kid on the team as he was one of the taller kids when he was first starting out in organized hockey. But as he put it, "I stopped growing and everyone passed me by." And yes he takes a lot of grief in the dressing room about his size.

Anthony was destined to be a hockey player as his brother Domenic, who is three years older, was involved in hockey. Domenic played collegiate hockey at Ohio State and had a brief career in the CHL (Amarillo Gorillas, Rocky Mountain Rage, & Tulsa Oilers). Following in his brothers footsteps started very young for Anthony.

He grew up in Shelby Township, Michigan which is 45 minutes north of Detroit. The most famous hockey player from his area is Derian Hatcher, captain of the 1998 Dallas Stars Stanley Cup team. Hatcher still owns a bar called Hatchy's which is a couple of minutes from Anthony's boyhood home.

His earliest hockey memory is that of his dad taking him to open skate at the local rink when he was three or four. But he really honed his skills on the backyard rink his dad put in every winter. All the neighbor kids would gather at the Maiani back yard rink.  At age 16 he moved to Sioux City, Iowa to play junior hockey. Maiani played with the Sioux City Musketeers in the United States Hockey League for two seasons before beginning his college career at the University of Denver in 2007-08. He played college hockey for the next four seasons, accumulating 126 points (34 goals, 92 assists) in 158 games. His team went to the NCAA tournament all four years. They won their conference (WCHA) tournament (Broadmoor Cup) in 2008 and the regular season championship (McNaughton cup) in 2010. As a freshman in 2008 he scored a spectacular game winning goal in the semi final game of the conference championship against North Dakota. You have to take a look at this goal on youtube, "Anthony Maiani's Magnificent Goal"

Anthony didn't start thinking about a professional hockey career until his senior year in college. After finishing college he signed an amateur tryout contract with the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL. He played in four games including three playoff games and decided he wanted to make hockey a career. Last year he spent the first part of the season with the South Carolina Stingrays and was then traded to the Chicago Express where he played for Steve Martinson. Soon after Martinson was named head coach of the Allen Americans he gave Maiani a call and the rest is history. Anthony had heard great things about Allen from Liam Huculak & Nino Musitelli.

In doing research for this article something I saw repeatedly mentioned was that Anthony flies under the radar (no joke intended) and I think that moniker applies to this year as well. He works hard every shift, he is the kind of player the big guys call slippery the way he handles himself in the corners, and he never gives up. No wonder Coach Martinson wanted him on the team. He is one of only eight players that have played in every game (23), he leads the team in assists (18), he is fourth in goals (8), first in plus/minus with a +11 and second in points (26). With that type of consistency and production he won't be under the radar for long.

A few other things that came up during our conversation I wanted to share:
- Anthony graduated from the University of Denver with a Business Management degree
- His brother just visited him and his parents will visit him in January
- Because of the schedule (the Americans play a home game against Wichita on the 22nd & an away game against Wichita on the 26th) most players will not be going home for Christmas
- CHL hockey is a grind with long bus rides and more frequent games compared to college hockey (WCHA) where you fly everywhere and only play Friday & Saturday.

In order to get to know him better we asked Anthony some questions:

Dad (Paul) - Owns a catering business
Mom (Marina) - Hair Stylist
Brother (Domenic) - Works with Paul
Sister (Julia) - She is 13 and a cheerleader

Roommate: Brett Skinner

Nickname: Tony or Miyagi

Hockey Hero: Steve Yzerman

Favorite Actor: George Clooney

Favorite Type of Music: Country

If you could have lunch with anyone living who would it be: President

Whom do you admire as a leader: Steve Yzerman

Most interesting place you have visited: Las Vegas

If you could do anything besides being a pro athlete what would it be: Coach

Any pregame ritual: Always tie left skate first

Who is the funniest guy on the team: Brett Skinner with his sarcastic humor

Who is your number one fan: My grandpa

When was the last time you lost something: My debit card when I first got to Allen

What is your favorite thing to do on the bus: Play a card game called Schnarps

Favorite childhood toy: Teddy Bear

Something people would be surprised to learn about you: I have a Teddy Bear collection

What chore do you hate to do: Vacuum

If you could live in another country for two years where would it be: Italy

What do you like to do for fun: Golf

Favorite TV show: Family Guy

DID YOU KNOW:  In 2004-2005 Bruce Graham and Adam Pineault were teammates in junior hockey for the Moncton Wildcats in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and were both drafted in the second round of the 2004 NHL draft. Adam was drafted #46 overall by Columbus and Bruce was drafted five players later at #51 overall by the New York Rangers. 



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