AHL Hockey Around The World

Zepp, who spent time in Germany before returning to the States last season. Photo: Cheryl Pursell

Zepp, who spent time in Germany before returning to the States last season.
Photo: Cheryl Pursell

I’ve been thinking a lot about how the AHL fits into the grand scheme of hockey in this world.  Certainly, the “veteran rule,” which was designed to assure a “developmental” flavor to the league, colors things somewhat.  I also feel like the European leagues are a much bigger player in hockey development than perhaps the international baseball choices.

What do I like?  Well, I like the quality of hockey (in general) that we get to see in the AHL.  What don’t I like?  I don’t like that some of the “top prospects” never get to play in front of us, because of the age rules for North American players.  Yes, allowing all the top draft choices to play AHL would gut the “Major Juniors;” however, I think maybe a roster allowance of, say, one or two younger North Americans would be the right balance.  Imagine if the Phantoms could have Travis Konecny or Ivan Provorov or Travis Sanheim?  It would also allow those players to develop closer to home, and closer to the parent club under their watchful eyes.

But I digress.  I got this excellent article with some interesting names, in my inbox this morning from der Eishockeyzuschauer.  Enjoy:


der Eishockeyzuschauer.  Allentown, PA.  November 16, 2015

Reflections On Hockey Life From The Minor League Mecca Of Sports


I find it fascinating to think that 30 years ago it would have been impossible to take in American League Hockey games at the corner of Seventh and Hamilton Streets in downtown Allentown on both Friday and Saturday nights and then catch the internet broadcast from Europe of a former Lehigh Valley Phantoms player in action for Eisbaeren Berlin late Sunday morning, Eastern Standard Time.

Of course, there was no ice fancy hockey arena in the mecca of minor league sports three decades ago nor was there such a thing as a Phantoms franchise in the AHL, be it in Philadelphia or Adirondack or anywhere else for that matter. The team now known as Eisbaeren were then called Dynamo Berlin and skated behind the Iron Curtain in a country called the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, often simply referred to as East Germany by people in the West. And, as particularly foreign as the very notion may seem to younger fans today, the internet, itself, did not even exist back then, either.
Man, how things have changed.
So, via the internet, it was back to the ancient city of Augsburg in southwestern Bavaria for the second weekend in a row for me, then. Last weekend, the 77-year-old Curt Frenzel Stadion hosted the annual Deutschland Cup, a three-day international tournament that was initiated in 1987 and always staged at the beginning of November. Germany ultimately won this year’s competition by defeating the United States 5-2 in the tournament’s final match last Sunday, with David Wolf, who scored a power play goal for the visiting Adirondack Flames in the very first regular season AHL contest ever played at the brand new PPL Center in downtown Allentown, getting the last two goals for the hosts.
The United States national team at the 2015 Deutschland Cup was comprised of players currently skating for professional clubs in Europe with 14 of the 21 Americans having varying levels of experience in the vaunted National Hockey League and all but one having appeared in the American Hockey League. Casey Wellman of Russian club Spartak Moscow, the former UMass-Amherst center who was a standout for the AHL’s Hershey Bears last season (73 ga, 25 go, 54 pts) was just one who featured for the U.S. squad. All told, the United States utilized players from elite league teams in six different countries : Russia, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Austria in addition to Germany.
Ex-Philadelphia Flyers farmhand Cal Heeter, the former Ohio State netminder who made 76 appearances (2.76 avg, .910 svpct) in two AHL seasons for the Adirondack Phantoms before ultimately winding up in the Kontinental Hockey League with Croatian club Medvescak Zagreb (where he was briefly teammates with Lehigh Valley Phantoms right wing Aaron Palushaj) last term, was chosen to start for the United States in the winner-take-all contest at the Curt Frenzel Stadion last Sunday. But Heeter, who had one game in the AHL for the Toronto Marlies last fall and only just transferred to Deutsche Eishockey Liga club Hamburg Freezers a few weeks ago on October 15th, was promptly yanked after allowing three goals to the traditionally low-scoring Germans in just under fourteen minutes and swiftly replaced by Ryan Zapolski of Finnish elite league side Lukko Rauma, the 29-year-old native of Erie, Pennsylvania and graduate of little Mercyhurst College who previously starred in the East Coast Hockey League and once spent a week as backup for the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins during the 2012/13 AHL season. At the end of the game, the Americans pulled their goaltender trailing by a pair with roughly five minutes left — a tactic that is now commonplace in Europe and one already closely imitated by the Lehigh Valley Phantoms earlier this season (down by two on the road against WBS, the Phantoms removed the veteran Jason LaBarbera with roughly two and a half minutes left).
In part because it is easier to possess the puck on the larger ice surface and also partly because European teams tend to focus on maintaining a strong defensive position when the opponents’ net is empty, the United States were able skate for more than four whole minutes before the Germans finally sealed the deal with a second strike from Wolf, the beefy 216-pound winger now of Hamburg Freezers who notched 20 AHL goals for Adirondack while also managing to appear in three NHL games for the Calgary Flames last season.
This Sunday, the venerable Curt Frenzel Stadion was the site of the rather high-profile DEL contest between the host Augsburg Panthers and visiting Eisbaeren Berlin. The German capital city club, of course, boast former Philadelphia Flyers farmhand Marcel Noebels, who left the organization after being assigned to the ECHL’s Reading Royals at the start of last season, as well as defenseman Bruno Gervais, the 29-year-old veteran of 418 NHL games who spent the entire 2013/14 campaign with the final installment of the Adirondack Phantoms. The goal-scoring hero for Augsburg so far this term has been Jon Matsumoto, the 29-year-old center from Bowling Green State who was the 3rd round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2006 NHL Draft and later totaled 30 goals in 80 AHL games for the inaugural edition of the Adirondack Phantoms during the 2009/10 season.
The starting goaltender for Augsburg Panthers again on Sunday was veteran Jeff Deslauriers, a name which might be very familiar to followers of the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins. The 31-year-old Canadian with 62 NHL games for the Edmonton Oilers and Anahiem Ducks under his belt made a combined total of 80 AHL appearances for the WBS Penguins during the 2006/07 and 2013/14 campaigns before going off to tend the nets for Latvian KHL club Dynamo Riga. Meanwhile, Eisbaeren Berlin now have right wing Spencer Machacek, the 27-year-old Canadian who scored 10 goals in 22 AHL games for WBS after being traded from the Springfield Falcons at the tail end of the 2013/14 season before signing with Augsburg Panthers later that summer.
A combined total of thirteen former NHLers hit the ice for both Augsburg and Berlin on Sunday with a combined total of 20 players from six different countries (Canada, United States, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Latvia) being AHL alumni.
Interestingly enough, this particular D.E.L. contest drew more spectators (5,824) to the Curt Frenzel Stadion (capacity : 6,218) than the final game of the 2015 Deutschland Cup between Germany and the United States, which officially attracted a crowd of 4,624 viewers.
As for the Augsburg Panthers vs Eisbaeren Berlin game, itself, the match was especially enthralling from the perspective of watching the former Philadelphia Flyers farmhands play. The 185-pound Matsumoto, who was never given a chance by the Broad Street Bullies despite accumulating 76 goals in 251 AHL games for the Philadelphia/Adirondack Phantoms but eventually did appear in the 14 NHL games for the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers, gave Augsburg a first period advantage by notching his 11th goal in 18 D.E.L. games this season. The reinvigorated Matsumoto, who had 14 goals and 24 points in 52 D.E.L.games for Schwenninger Wild Wings last term, is tied for third in scoring in the entire German top flight at present with 21 points.
Eisbaeren evened the score on the power play early in the second period when a point shot from the former Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Gervais was tipped by Barry Tallackson, the 32-year-old veteran American import from the University of Minnesota who once skated 20 NHL games for the New Jersey Devils but is now in his fifth season with the Berlin club. After beating Deslauriers but only hitting the post with a shot from between the circles, the 23-year-old Noebels, who scored Eisbaeren Berlin’s only goal in the mid-week Champions Hockey League game against Swedish side AIK Skelleftea, gave the visitors the lead in the second period after a fine solo rush and rising wrister from the top of the right circle. The young national team winger, who struggled with injury last season after returning to Germany and ultimately missed skating at the annual IIHF World Championships last spring for the first time in three years, is currently the second-leading scorer (15 ga, 3 go, 15 pts) in the league for Eisbaeren Berlin this term; including CHL contests, Noebels counts six goals and 21 points from 23 games thus far.
The typical German ice hockey crowd, much like what is found at any given European professional soccer match, likes to get involved not only by banging drums and clapping rhythmically but also by singing songs and enunciating organized chants, as well. The Augsburg Panthers certainly provided the home fans something to make noise about by scoring three times unanswered in the final frame, then. Canadian left wing T. J. Trevelyan, the 31-year-old veteran out of St. Lawrence University who totaled 116 goals in 350 career AHL games for the Providence Bruins, Iowa Chops and Worcester Sharks before going to Germany in the summer of 2011, brought Augsburg level by redirecting a power play shot from the point. Canadian right wing Mark Mancari, the 30-year-old veteran who had 13 goals and 46 points in 74 AHL games for the San Antonio Rampage last season, made a fine play along the boards behind the net to set up the Panthers’ dramatic game-winning goal with roughly one and a half minutes left in regulation before an empty-netter put the result beyond all doubt.

Categories: Kram's Korner - From the Club Level, Phantoms Hockey

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1 reply

  1. Teams in the Canadian major junior system quite literally can’t afford to go without even one, let alone two, of their “star” players. Teams in the Canadian major junior system, some of which are actually based in the United States (such as Pennsylvania’s very own Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League, for example), are all run no differently than professional hockey clubs in the NHL — they HAVE to sell tickets in order to survive financially. And, just the same way it has been done ever since the earliest beginnings of professional sport, teams in the Canadian major junior system sell tickets by marketing their star players.

    There is a reason why the National Hockey League has strict regulations on what happens when an NHL team keeps an “underage” player coming out of training camp. These regulations are in place to safeguard to financial stability of the Canadian major junior system. And these regulations, so long as teams in the Canadian major junior system continue to function as businesses that must operate in the black, are all but certain to remain in place.

    It is a fact that some players will make the mighty leap from Canadian junior, U.S. college hockey or even Europe to the NHL without having spent so much as a single day in the American Hockey League — for us unfortunates down here slumming it up in the minors, well, that’s just the way it goes sometimes.

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