Sharks and Others Moving AHL Teams West

By Mary Walsh

SAN JOSE– The American Hockey League will be moving five teams into California beginning next season. This AHLien invasion was the result of extensive planning and negotiations between the NHL, the AHL, and five NHL franchises. For west coast hockey fans, and California fans in particular, it is goods news. For some AHL fans, it is a sad day.

On January 21st, Mark Purdy of the Mercury News reported that the Sharks’ AHL team will play next season at the SAP Center. Thursday, the AHL and the NHL added to this news by confirming that the Anaheim Ducks, the Edmonton Oilers, the Calgary Flames and the Los Angeles Kings will also be moving their AHL teams to California.

The Oilers’ AHL franchise will play in Bakersfield, the Flames’ AHL team will move to Stockton, and the Kings’ AHL team will be in Ontario. As for the ECHL teams currently playing in those locations, Luc Robitaille of the LA Kings said that their Ontario ECHL team will be moving to Manchester to fill the void left by the Monarchs’ departure. How may others will follow that pattern has not been announced. The Ducks’ AHL team will move to San Diego.

During a press conference held at SAP Center, officials from the above NHL teams, as well as the NHL and the AHL spoke to the media about the moves. Bill Daly, NHL Deputy Commissioner and David Andrews, AHL President and CEO joined the Flames’ Brad Treliving, the Oilers’ Kevin Lowe, the Kings’ Luc Robitaille, the Sharks’ Doug Wilson and John Tortora, and the Ducks’ Bob Murray and Michael Schulman.

AHL President and CEO David Andrews opened the press conference, giving the audience a rundown of the development relationship between the AHL and the NHL. He thanked the fans of the teams being relocated for their support. Earlier this week, the Ducks purchased their AHL franchise, putting them in the same group as the Oilers, the Kings, the Flames, and the Sharks, as AHL team owners.

Sharks COO John Tortora spoke next, mentioning that the San Jose AHL team will need a new name that should be chosen in the next few weeks. He lauded the growth of hockey in California over the past decades. He then summarized the development advantages of having AHL Sharks train and play so close to the NHL Sharks. The fans will get to see the AHL players before they reach the NHL, expanding interest in the organization. The management and coaching staff will have greater access to prospects, and players will be better prepared for the NHL environment by living and working in it. On the decision to locate the team in San Jose, Tortora emphasized the organization’s desire to make the AHL franchise beneficial to the community, in terms of added jobs and opportunities in San Jose.

Tortora also thanked Worcester for being a supportive market:

We spent ten incredible years in Worcester, it is an incredible hockey market and should have a new hockey team in the near future. This relocation is not a reflection on the Worcester market, rather it is one where we look forward to ending our last season in Worcester making it a very successful one and then building the program here in San Jose.

After the presentation, Tortora answered a few more questions about the new venture. Tickets to the AHL games will be on a par with other AHL prices, making professional hockey more accessible to a new audience.

Having the AHL team play at SAP Center may not be a long-term arrangement but there are no plans at this time to move it elsewhere. I asked if the plans to expand the Sharks Ice facility were still in the works. Shark Ice is the Sharks’ practice facility that also has rinks for public use. A major expansion looks unlikely at this point, from Tortora’s answer:

We’ve looked at expanding Sharks Ice by two sheets of ice over the last three or four years, but the timing wasn’t right for us to do that. But we’re still looking to add more ice, in the Bay Area.

That leaves the question wide open: where in the Bay Area? How much? As much ice as a pro hockey venue? Bay Area communities can wonder and hope, but nothing has been decided yet.

“This is an unbelievable day for hockey in California,” began Ducks GM Bob Murray. He spoke to the importance of the AHL to the Ducks, pointing out that there are only two players on their current roster who did not play in the AHL at some point.

Kevin Lowe, Oilers President of Hockey Operations & Vice Chair OEG spoke next. The Oilers will not have their team close enough to drive to, but it will reduce travel time to games and allow for more practice time.

Flames GM Brad Treliving spoke next, re-emphasizing the value of the AHL to NHL player development. He praised Glens Falls as a hockey market, but came back to the disadvantage of cross-country travel for call-ups and management. He thanked the fans and others in Glens Falls, acknowledging that these moves mean some fans will lose their hockey teams.

Kings’ President of Business Operations, Luc Robitaille spoke next, saying how impressive it was that these five teams could work together for this move. He thanked Manchester too, and said that Manchester will be getting another team. As mentioned above, that team will be the one currently playing in Ontario.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly spoke next. “It’s a great day for hockey, it’s a great day for the NHL.” He thanked Andrews for his efforts to coordinate the move, and thanked the five NHL clubs for their willingness to negotiate and get this done.”They presented a united front, and as a result we were able to get this done.”

Stanley Cup Final: New York Rangers Hang On to Win Game 4

By Mary Walsh

The New York Rangers saved themselves from a sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings with a little luck and a lot of persistence. As usual, the Rangers took the early lead, but finally they were able to hold on to it for a 2-1 win. The third period was more harrowing than any we have seen so far in this series, with the Rangers managing only one shot on goal to the Comeback Kings’ 15. After the game, Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was asked about that third period:

It was a battle, the whole game. When they turn it up, you need to rely on your teammates and some luck. We’ve been talking about it all series: to beat this team, you need some sort of puck luck and we definitely had it tonight.

The win set a new NHL record, as the Rangers are now 8-0 in elimination games at home since 2008. Lundqvist has been in net for all of those wins.

Wednesday, Lundqvist made 40 saves on 41 shots. At the other end, Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick only faced 19 shots and gave up two goals. It was a reversal from Game 3, where the overworked Quick stood on his head for the win and Lundqvist couldn’t catch a break despite seeing far fewer shots. After the game, Lundqvist talked about the team’s mindset:

Whatever happens, we’re winning this game. We’re not losing two at home. We want to get back in this series… it’s not impossible, they’ve done it, we came back from 3-1, but you need to be so smart playing against this team. They’re good and they almost trick you sometimes, you think you have under control and they make a couple of quick plays and create something out of basically nothing.

The Kings were the faster team out of the gate. After five minutes, the Kings had three shots on goal, the Rangers none. The Rangers’ first shot had promise, with Rick Nash going to the net. Derrick Stepan’s shot from the half wall went off of Drew Doughty’s stick and fluttered into Jonathan Quick for a whistle.

A few moments later, the Kings took the game’s first penalty. The Rangers’ power play was very controlled, though they took shots with caution. The strategy did at least keep the puck away from the Kings, but it was almost a minute before the Rangers had a good chance, only to be thwarted by Quick.

The penalty had just expired when New York’s Benoit Pouliot scored with deflected a shot from John Moore at the blue line.

The Kings’ first power play came from a delay of game call, when Anze Kopitar pressured Mats Zuccarello into throwing the puck over the glass. The Kings’ best chance came early in the power play, when a puck crept by Lundvquist but Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman got his stick behind it and swept it out, despite having to compete with Jeff Carter, who was trying to push the puck over the line.

It was a good thing the Rangers scored when they did, because for the last 11+ minutes of the first, their triggers were malfunctioning. They got credit for no shots in the second half of the period. The Kings, meanwhile, kept Lundqvist moderately busy, but they did not beat him in the first.

Over seven minutes and a bundle of penalties had gone in the second when the Rangers stretched their lead to two. A fast zone entry by the Rangers ended with a shot from Derek Stepan that fluttered off of Quick, to be put away by Marty St. Louis.

That got the house jumping, and a little extra zip in the Rangers’ step earned them another power play. The Kings threw themselves into the penalty kill and took a couple of short-handed shots, without straying too far from their own blue line. Lundqvist handled those neatly.

Once the Kings killed off that penalty, they started to chip away at the Rangers’ lead. Kings captain Dustin Brown got by Dan Girardi at the Kings blue line, thanks to a broken stick for Girardi. He was able to carry the puck in mostly unmolested, and beat Lundqvist with a late shot.

That goal seemed to open the floodgates for the Kings. The next few minutes showed the Rangers facing onslaught after onslaught from Kings’ forecheckers. The Rangers did manage to hold the zone finally around the 12 minute mark, and generate a few chances before the puck went out of play.

The Kings then found themselves being pretty effectively ejected from the Rangers’ zone, and were limited to one and dones, while the Rangers at least held the offensive zone for longer than one shot. The Kings’ 70s line of Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli and Jeff Carter broke that pattern and maintained steady pressure against the Rangers, controlling the puck and peppering Lundqvist with shots. The Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll and Dwight King line followed up by drawing a penalty that put Dominic Moore in the box for cross-checking.

The penalty kill was made more challenging by another broken stick, this time for Rick Nash. A shot deflected out of play and stopped play before that became much of an issue. After 90 seconds, the Kings’ power play only had one shot on goal. Nash and Stepan were able to kill some time with a short-handed foray to end the penalty kill.

The Rangers missed an opportunity when Quick went behind the net and got tangled up in traffic. The Kings burrowed in and made a shot impossible for the Rangers. Right after that, Jeff Carter broke away in the last minute but this time Lundqvist won the one-on-one contest to keep the Rangers ahead.

The period ended with Los Angeles leading in shots 26-17, 15-11 for the period.

The Kings did not slow down in the third, but the Rangers did not lie down either. Henrik Lundvist had to make some tough saves through traffic in the first ten minutes. One shot from Tyler Toffoli looked dangerous, and it was an expensive shot for the Kings. Marian Gaborik was flattened by Rick Nash behind the net, after getting the puck out to Toffoli.

The Rangers seemed to be repeating the Kings’ third from the last game, clinging to the one goal lead by the skin of their teeth. In the last minutes, Derek Stepan saved a goal by pushing the puck under his goalie with a glove. The referee was in good position to verify that Stepan did not close his hand over the puck.

The Kings pulled Quick in the last 1:11, and an empty net shot from the Rangers’ zone by Brian Boyle went just wide. It didn’t matter, the Rangers held on for the last minute despite some mad scrambles in front of Lundqvist.

Asked whether the team felt like the puck was finally bouncing in their favor, Dominic Moore said:

Definitely when the puck lays on the goal line and doesn’t cross you feel a bit fortunate. But personally I feel like you can’t really think about breaks going one way or the other, you just got to continue to earn your breaks. Hopefully … tonight’s something we can build off in terms of doing some things well and we’ll see what happens next game.

Ryan McDonagh led the Rangers in time on ice with 28:10. Martin St. Louis, Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan each took three shots, and no Ranger took more. Dan Girardi blocked six shots for the team lead. Dominic Moore was the best Ranger in the faceoff circle at 47%.

Tanner Pearson led the Kings in shots with eight. Jake Muzzin led the team with five blocked shots, and Drew Doughty led the team in minutes with 26:45. Justin Williams was pointless for the first time in five games.

Game 5 will be played in Los Angeles on Friday at 5 pm PT.