March 28, 2012

AHL Journal: A look back at preseason predictions

By Dan Hickling

Mea culpa. In new Latin, it means “my bad.” 

P-Bruins netminder Anton Khudobin (Photo by Dan Hickling)

Or,  “my good.” Either way, it's become an annual ritual for this space, a late-season look at the early-season assessments of the AHL's New England contingent.

The league did away with the New England-only Atlantic Division this year, but left all seven teams in the Eastern Conference to fight for playoff positions.

So this year, as with the previous “mea culpa” columns, we'll engage in the sport of second guessing. How we thought each of the “Seaside Seven” would fare, and how, with the regular season winding down, they really are doing.

Taken in preseason order:

Springfield Falcons

What we said: “The Birds snagged the 10th all-time leading goal getter, Alexandre Giroux, as a free agent, then enticed crafty center Martin St. Pierre back from Europe to get him the puck. Jackets have some good young returning talent, too, especially D David Savard and RW Tomas Kubalik.”

What we should have said: “The Birds are playing meaningful games in late March for a change, but are still on the outside looking in. Giroux has been good (24-26-50), but not great.”

Providence Bruins

What we said. “Performance, not player development, prompted a change in coaches. New head man Bruce Cassidy will have benefit of a more experienced sophomore C Max Sauve, a healthy C Trent Whitfield for a full year and proven vet LW Josh Hennessy (Brockton, Mass.). Late-season pickup Anton Khudobin will give them        an All-Star presence in net.”

What we should have said. “A change in coaches (Cassidy for Rob Murray) hasn't produced a change in fortunes as they are in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for a third consecutive year. A three-game winning streak, however, has pushed them back into the pack of contenders. Khudobin, now healthy, missed a month with a wrist injury, which set the Peebs back a lot.”

Bridgeport Sound Tigers

What we said. “Rising coaching star (and former P-Bruins captain) Brent Thompson makes his AHL bench debut. The Tigers will be sound in net with Kevin Poulin and Mikko Koskinen, and youngsters RW Rhett Rakhshani and D Calvin de Haan are true blue-chippers.”

What we should have said. “Dead in the water at Christmas, the Sound Tigers have been phenomenal, going 19-1-2 in the first two months of 2012. Poulin has been exceptional, but more importantly, this bunch has bought into Thompson's message.”

Portland Pirates

What we said. “Newly affiliated with the 'Yotes, Phoenix has provided some high-quality vets such as D Dean Arsene, D Tyler Eckford, C Patrick O'Sullivan and G Justin Pogge. The youngsters, however, are another matter. The only former Phoenix first-rounder on the Opening Night squad was D Chris Summers.”

What we should have said. “We were right about the scarcity of prospects. Andy Miele, the former Hobey Baker winner, shows promise, but has just four goals since New Year's Eve. Pogge was more hot than cold in net, and an unhappy O'Sullivan's stay was short and anything but sweet.”

Manchester Monarchs

What we said. “Monarchs are always heavily laden with kids and will be this year, too. The only difference will be that many will return from last year.”

What we should have said: “If this year was a movie made on L.A.'s East Coast 'B' lot, it would have been called ‘The Return of the Streak'. Little guys Justin Azevedo (24-19-43) and Brandon Kozun (19-20-39) have had pretty big years.”

Connecticut Whale

What we said. “Rookies D Tim Erixon and C Ryan Bourque (Boxford, Mass.) will make the Whale interesting. But can respected coach Ken Gernander turn this collection of castoffs and free agents into a playoff contender?”

What we should have said. “Yes. And that's without any particular contribution from Bourque.”

Worcester Sharks

What we said. “With injured All-Star goalie Alex Stalock not due back until February, have plenty of net issues. No premium picks to be found among the youngsters (except ex-BC D Nick Petrecki) and newcomer C Ben Guite, one of the few battle-tested vets.”

What we should have said. “Net was no issue, with second-year man Tyson Sexsmith playing well enough to make Stalock expendable (shipped to Peoria) upon his return. As for the rest of the bunch …”

The bizarre thing is that any or all of the seven could still find themselves among the top eight who will make the playoffs. Or be out of them, with one bad week.

If the season ended today (which it doesn't), this would be the order of finish. 1. Connecticut (3rd in conference), 2. Bridgeport (6th), 3. Manchester (7th), 4. Providence (10th), 5. Portland (11th), 6. Springfield (12th), 7. Worcester (13th).

Around the AHL

Azevedo was named the AHL's Player of the Week, for scoring goals in all three games (four in total with two assists) on the weekend. Included were a pair of shorties. … Giroux notched his 700th career AHL point on Sunday in the Falcons' 5-3 loss at Wilkes-Barre. He is 23rd on the AHL's all time scoring list, and is also tied for seventh (with Mitch Lamoureux) in goal scoring, with 364. … As college and junior seasons wind down, more players are making their way into the AHL on amateur tryout contracts. Among the latest is UMaine defenseman Will O'Neill (Salem, Mass.), who signed to play in St. John's.

Dan Hickling can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.