Sunday, March 23, 2014

Coaches Comments, Bootland Out, Lavoie May Not Play, A Great Hockey Story, A Fan Visits the Radio Booth, Milestones

-  It wasn't easy and it wasn't pretty but the Allen Americans stayed on course last night in their pursuit of second place in the CHL standings with a 5-4 win over the St. Charles Chill before a nice crowd of 4924 at the Allen Event Center. Eric Levine got the start but was replaced by Bryan Pitton after the first period with the Americans trailing 2-0. The goals certainly weren't Levine's fault but there has been a pattern of the puck ending up in the back of the net whenever the team makes a mistake in front of him. Allen made a nice comeback in the second period on goals by Anthony Maiani and Spencer Asuchak only to have the Chill take the lead 3-2 on the first shift after the Americans had scored the tying goal. In the third period Allen got three unanswered goals by Hanson, Graham, and Schaafsma to take a 5-3 lead and seemed to have the game in hand but St. Charles scored a power play goal with less than five minutes remaining in the game. The Chill pulled their goalie and made the last minute exciting but Allen held on for the 5-4 victory. It was Military Appreciation Night so after the game the specialty jerseys the team wore were auctioned off for charity and then the team boarded the bus at around midnight and headed for Wichita where they will play the Thunder this afternoon (Sunday) with a 5:05 pm puck drop.


 I had a chance to talk to the coaches briefly after the game to get their comments:

- It is difficult to play the last place team like the Chill after we beat them 7-2 last night (Friday). Games after easy wins like we had on Friday are always hard games to play.

- We didn't work hard enough to get in the right areas. We kept trying to make the fancy plays rather than playing our style of hockey.

-We had 47 shots which is more than enough to win the game but we weren't pleased giving up 26 shots in the first two periods.

- St. Charles has some skilled guys so if you put them on the power play they can hurt you and we saw that tonight as they got two power play goals.

- We have our destiny in our own hands and the game in Wichita tomorrow (Sunday) is a key game. It is the game in hand we have over Denver and Rapid City. If we can pick up two points against the Thunder we will come home in third place and only trail Denver for second place by two points.

- We will go to Wichita with the same line up as we had tonight.  There was some hope Bootland might be ready by Sunday but he will not make the trip. Alex Lavoie may not be joining us in Wichita. Oklahoma City may want to keep him for their next game which is Tuesday. If they do want him to play Tuesday I am not sure if he will play for us on Sunday.


- As mentioned by the coaches the game today in Wichita is the game in hand Allen has over Rapid City and Denver so while they sit idle the Americans have an opportunity to gain two points on both of them. With a win today the standings would be Denver (83 points), Allen (81 points) & Rapid City (80 points).

- The schedule for the final three games of the season favors Allen over Denver and Rapid City. Allen is at home for their last three games and plays Quad City on Wednesday and then Denver Friday & Saturday. Rapid plays their final three games in Brampton (Thursday, Friday & Sunday). Denver plays in Allen on Friday and Saturday and finishes up the season in Tulsa on Sunday.

- Some hot streaks continued last night including Spencer Asuchak's who scored in his fifth straight game, got his 20th goal of the season and has now scored seven goals in the last five games. Greger Hanson also got his 20th goal of the season as he extended his scoring streak to ten games. Hanson has twenty points (8 goals 12 assists) in the last ten games.

- Bruce Graham by his own admission was not in as good as shape as normal when he started playing three weeks ago. You could never tell it by his point production. Bruce has played in eleven games and has failed to score in only one game. He has twenty one points (6 goals 15 assists) in those eleven games.

- With a goal and an assist Jamie Schaafsma extended his scoring streak to seven games. Jamie has 19 goals on the season and has scored six goals in the last seven games. 

- If the playoffs started today:
Missouri (1) vs Tulsa (8)
Denver (2) vs Arizona (7)
Rapid City (3) vs Brampton (6)
Allen (4) vs Quad City (5)

- Allen season ticket holders who renew for next year are entered into a drawing and every Friday in the month of March three lucky season ticket holders win a nice prize. Super fan, Amanda Brown was one of the prize winners and her prize was to spend a period in the radio booth with Tommy Daniels. Amanda was kind enough to share her experience:

Friday night, thanks to a prize won by renewing my season tickets, I had the unique opportunity to sit up in the broadcast booth with the illustrious Tommy Daniels and Maurice Fitzgerald…and it was an absolute blast! First of all, for those of you not aware, Tommy sits high up in the sky during games. In fact, you can only get there by walking across the roof! So, as you can imagine, the view was spectacular; it allows Tommy to see every nuance of the game play happening below. Upon arrival in the booth, I was quickly handed a headset, buttons and dials were adjusted, and we were off. I was a little apprehensive initially, because the commentating is so fast-paced and I wasn’t sure when or if I should say anything. However, Tommy did a great job of including me in the process, asking me questions ranging from what I thought of the game to discussions about particular players, even asking what one thing I would change about this season if I could (my answer was “injuries,” an answer that I’m sure would draw a lot of agreement from among the fans). Tommy provides a great mix of real-time game commentary rounded out by personal player stories and I quickly started to feel comfortable with the rhythm of how they handle things up there. If there is a downside to the experience in the booth, it’s probably that, when the Americans score, you can’t jump up and down and yell like you normally would downstairs. However, that doesn’t mean that there is no excitement up there when it happens. I was fortunate to be up in the booth when we scored two goals, so I had the experience, not once, but twice, of hearing Tommy’s famous “GOOOOOAAAALLLLL!!!” celebration. The most surprising revelation from my time peeking behind the curtain of this process is that while Tommy is offering fast-paced, play-by-play action, he is usually doing three or four other things at the same time. He doesn’t miss a beat while playing sound clips, making notes or cutting audio to save for later. As I told him last night, the fans have always felt he was the best broadcaster in the league, but seeing the process actually happen brought that award to an entirely new level for me. Overall, I had an amazing time and those twenty minutes flew by. I got to see a side of the Americans’ operations that very few get to see, I had a great view and I got to live out every sports fan’s fantasy of broadcasting with one of the greats. So, to the fans, I hope I represented you well and, to the Americans, thank you for letting me be a small part of last night’s game.

- Alex Lavoie had no points last night in his second game with Oklahoma City after getting a goal on Friday. For the weekend Alex had the one goal, was a plus one, and had three shots on goal.

- Aaron Dell made 37 saves and got his first AHL victory last night giving up only one goal as Abbotsford beat Hamilton 5-1.  Dell has played in six games for Abbotsford and has a GAA of 2.29 and a save percentage of .922.

- The Toronto Star recently published a long feature article written by Paul Hunter titled, "The Brampton Beast, Life in Hockey's Wilderness." This is an outstanding article about life on the road, life playing minor pro hockey, bus rides and coaching in the CHL just to name a few of the topics covered.  Paul and photographer Jim Rankin accompanied the team on a road trip to Quad City so there are some great pictures to go along with the story. I will post a few snippets below but I strongly encourage anyone who hasn't read this story to go to or Google the title and take a look. I guarantee you if you are a CHL hockey fan you will enjoy this story. Below are just a few pieces of the article to wet your appetite.

- Two levels below the NHL and a world away from its glamour, the members of the Central Hockey League's Brampton Beast ply their trade for a modest salary. While some players hang on to faint NHL dreams, for many, getting paid to play the game they love is their fantasy come true. The Star travelled with the Beast on a recent bus trip to Moline, Ill., to find out what life is like for minor-pro hockey players on the road and what drives the players to stay in the game.

- Curtained off in the darkened, windowless steel chamber, it is impossible to know exactly what is happening outside. Or where outside even is at this particular moment. But these hockey players instinctively understand it is the middle of the night and they are driving through a raging snowstorm.
They’ve logged enough miles on buses like this to immediately sense when something is amiss. Lying on a hard bunk, a few feet above the road, rumbling along in a 15-year-old coach, they can read every nuance of the pavement.

- The Beast is an expansion team in the Central Hockey League, a 10-team AA loop a level below the American Hockey League. Brampton is the only franchise in Canada. While it is two steps away from the NHL, a $12,000-a-week salary cap puts it in another world. That’s $12,000 per team, not per player.  They are either prospects trying to move up, older players trying to navigate out of hockey or somewhere in the middle, guys in their late 20s or early 30s attempting to wring a few more years out of a game that, despite the hardships at the minor-pro level, is difficult to give up. If there is a common thread amongst the players it is that they love the game and often see hockey the way Canadians tend to romanticize it, a higher calling in which they are privileged to partake.

- The Beast bus was oddly quiet as it chugged along the 401 with 18 players, two coaches, two journalists, an equipment manager, an athletic therapist and a play-by-play announcer who will broadcast the games on the Internet. It sleeps 25 so everyone has a bed. Most of the players cocoon in their bunks with their tablets, smartphones or laptops.
“Back in the day, bus trips were more lively,” says head coach Mark DeSantis, 42, a former defenceman who had a 16-year playing career in the minor pro ranks.
“We didn’t have all these gadgets.”

- Scott Howes grew up just south of hardscrabble Regent Park playing at Moss Park Arena in what may be the only free house league in North America. He once went to a Single-A tryout in sweatpants. His parents struggled financially to keep him and his brother in the game. He got lots of help along the way. He hasn’t reached the heights of Glen Metropolit or Trevor Daley — who also came out of Moss Park and made it to the NHL — but he appreciates everything hockey has given him. “I didn’t come from a whole lot and I’ve seen a lot of places now,” he says.
At the end of the season, Howes will likely look again at opportunities in Europe. He started this season in Slovenia but it wasn’t a good fit.
The money will be tempting. This season, if he’d stayed in Europe, he would have been paid 30,000 euros (about $45,000 Cdn.), which is at the low end of the salary structure. The money isn’t taxed, and European players are provided with free housing and a car. He figured on spending between 8,000 to 10,000 euros so that meant he’d pocket about 20,000 euros, or about $30,000.
In the American League – and Howes has played at that level – he says he made $40,000 or $45,000 (U.S.) but a player there has to pay for his own housing and he is taxed. He figures he was able to keep between $10,000 and $15,000 (Cdn.) a season in the AHL.
With the Beast he earns $1,000 a week and has a housing allowance, which can be as much as $700 a month for a married player like Howes.

-  That $12,000 salary cap is divided among 19 players; 18 can dress for a game. Teams could spend as little as $8,400 a week, according to the league’s collective bargaining agreement.
Due to the time commitment, it is virtually impossible for players to hold part-time jobs, though some do work in the summer. Teams play a 66-game schedule and practice most days when there is no game or travel scheduled.
The highest paid player in the league makes $1,500 a week. Most earn about $600.
The minimum salary is $345 a week for rookies with less than 25 games of pro experience. For a player with more than 25 games, that minimum jumps to $390. On the road, players receive a per diem of $31 (U.S.), broken down as $6 for breakfast, $9 for lunch and $16 for dinner.

-  Six years ago, Grant Rollheiser and James Reimer were goaltending teammates at a Maple Leafs prospect camp. Rollheiser had been drafted 158th overall by Toronto in 2008. Reimer arrived two years earlier, the 99th player selected that year.
Now, if it weren’t for a building in the way, Rollheiser could see the Air Canada Centre, where Reimer plies his trade for the Toronto Maple Leafs, from the 27th-floor Mississauga condo unit he shares with rookie Beast defencemen Darrigo and Dan Milan. Milan is the only American on the club and the only player assigned to the team by Tampa.
Reimer earns $1.8 million a season, Rollheiser about 1 per cent of that.

- Coach DeSantis has the seen-it-all wisdom expected from someone who spent 16 years on 16 teams in five leagues. But through it all, he has never lost his passion for hockey or compassion for people who play it. The coach believes in character above talent, talking to someone face-to-face rather than by text, getting to the office shortly after 5 a.m., inspirational quotes written large on the dressing room walls, the necessity of winning battles along the boards and the power of connections made through the game.
Most of all, he believes in being honest with his players. The memory of each time he felt misled as a player now informs him as a coach. A Brampton native, he was never drafted into the NHL, but he had such an outstanding final year in junior with the Newmarket Royals that he signed a pro contract with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, then an NHL expansion team.
What happened with the Mighty Ducks still rankles.
Three years he went to Anaheim’s training camp, including after one summer in which the team directed him to stay in California to work out.
“And I never got an exhibition game. That stung,” he says. “How do you know what I can or can’t do if you don’t put me in an exhibition game?”

- Coaches at the Central Hockey League level typically earn between $50,000 and $110,000. DeSantis, who debuted as a head coach last season with the Southern Professional Hockey League’s Fayetteville (N.C.) FireAntz, concedes he is at the low end of that scale. He and his wife have moved into the family home — the one he left as a 17-year-old to play junior — to live with his mother.
His big-league dreams, never fulfilled as a player, now burn within as a coach.
“I didn’t make it as a player,” he says. “I was close. I signed an NHL contract. Not a lot of players can say that in their life.
“But now it’s like you’re a rookie again. Your dream, your goal is to get to the NHL. There’s baby steps along the way.”

- Sometime after midnight, Shawn (Stixy) Smith, the equipment manager, pushes a few bags of chips out of the way on his bottom bunk and slips under a blanket. A few inches from his head are the feet of the team’s therapist, Tara Gilliland-Smith, resting in the next bed towards the back.
The two have one of the more unique relationships in pro sports. They are husband and wife, possibly the only couple performing those roles together in the pros.
They’ve been married almost 10 years, usually working together, after meeting at a hockey camp in Guelph, and they are raising two young children. They live at Gilliland-Smith’s parents’ home in Mississauga, and her folks help with the babysitting. “If you’re doing this job, you get used to being the only woman,” says Gilliland-Smith, 38. “It’s nice when you stop at a truck stop. For once you don’t have the bathroom lineup, the men do.”

Courtesy CHL Memes

Courtey CHL Memes

DID YOU KNOW: The definition of a veteran in the CHL is a player that has played in more than 300 regular season professional games. Captain Mike Berube plays in his 301st game today against Wichita.


  1. I neglected to ask you last night, "What, no best blog category"? C"mon man! Or do they know if they introduced this, you would win, hands down, each and every year! Thanks to Amanda for sharing her "Tommy" time with us, it sounds amazing.

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