Report: River Rats Sold – Next Stop: Charlotte

According to WSOC sports anchor Bill Voth, via Twitter, the Charlotte Checkers of the ECHL have called a 2:00 p.m. Wednesday press conference to announce that Checkers owner Michael Kahn is purchasing the Albany River Rats.  The plan for Kahn is to relocate the franchise to Charlotte where they will continue to be the farm team for the Carolina Hurricanes.

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago when this story broke, the River Rats got very hush-hush about things and made the standard company stand-by comment of, “Nothing to see here… Yet.”  While there’s no comment from the folks in Albany as of now (give it time), this ends the current tenure of the River Rats in Albany.  While there will be other teams looking to relocate or add affiliations, if one is going to move to Albany, it’ll have to be through new ownership.

What should prove interesting in this scenario is what will happen with the Adirondack Phantoms, who will be in Glens Falls again next year, should there not be a local rival to split a massive number of games against each other next season.  The Phantoms have outdrawn the River Rats so far this season even though the Glens Falls Civic Center is a much smaller venue than that of the Times Union Center in Albany.

The fun, Albany point of view on this now is what is the hockey world’s opinion of Albany now? The city has failed with the River Rats both under the “guidance” of the Devils and now with the Hurricanes and the city failed to retain the ECAC Tournament semifinals and finals getting beaten out by the hockey hotbed of Atlantic City, New Jersey in a deal that just managed to keep SMG’s pockets happy.

This year, the NCAA Hockey East Regionals again return to Albany and unless there’s some major local influence or a massive regional fanbase to help draw crowds, attendance is expected to be mediocre at the cavernous facility yet again.  While the folks running Times Union Center has its fingers crossed twice over hoping Cornell, Union and RPI can all make the ECAC final four, it’s likely, although not guaranteed, that only one of those schools could end up in Albany for the NCAAs.  Whether you want to point the finger at apathetic local interest or at terrible marketing on behalf of the ECAC and NCAA, you could win an argument in any way you wanted to as all of it has been piss-poor.

That’s not to say that sports fans in Albany are that fickle, it’s just we’ve all been down that road before and been jerked around for it in Albany and the Rats failure is yet another example of that.  Albany fans have often been blessed with great teams to root for at a low professional or minor league level only to find screwball owners get a little too excited over a good thing.  Take a look at this awful sports history off the top of my head:

It happened in minor league baseball with the Albany-Colonie Yankees who bolted the decrepit Heritage Park for the new confines in Norwich, Connecticut.

It happened in the CBA with the Albany Patroons who thought that moving over to the Knickerbocker Arena out of the Washington Avenue Armory would bring bigger crowds and then overshot their estimates and then caved into local money naming the team after local car dealerships. Yes, the Capital Region Pontiacs are a name that should long live in infamy for how not to win fans over or influence anyone.

It happened in Arena Football as owners Glen Mazula and Joe O’Hara couldn’t find a way to make a championship winning team into a profitable item in spite of drawing great crowds and then giving into the AFL’s demands to fill out NFL markets with AFL teams and settling for an af2 booby prize that failed miserably because fans knew they were getting an inferior product to an already inferior product.

And you can believe it that professional hockey has been down this road already many times before.  Look back at the illustrious history of the Adirondack Red Wings who were chased out of business by the River Rats in the 90s as well as the short-lived tenures Capital District Islanders and Albany Choppers.

These are all teams that have been around in just the past 25 years in Albany, and people wonder why fans of the Capital District are just burnt out and sick of getting jerked around.  What’s even more amazing through all this is that the last man standing is the single-A Tri-City ValleyCats and they play in a stadium named after a convicted local political felon.  Un-friggin-real.

Would I like to see a better run AHL team in Albany?  Sure, but buyer better beware because the fans of this area are wise to all the tricks and gimmicks meant to sell people on anything.  Folks are burned out and fed up of being treated like a marketing class pet project.  Besides, what the college teams at RPI and Union are doing this year in hockey (and Siena in basketball) is proving that long-standing local ties and a damn good product can pay off and be exciting – just don’t shoot for the moon to make a few more bucks or treat the fans like suckers.

Minor League Hockey: Circle Of Life (Update)

Well here’s a bit of news courtesy of Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer via Twitter.

Canes will have AHL team in Charlotte next year. No official confirmation yet but it’s a go.

I wonder if anyone at the Times Union Center in Albany was made aware of this because right now the Albany River Rats are the minor league home of the Carolina Hurricanes.

It’s funny how the minor league hockey cycle works though.  Last year I wrote about how the then Philadelphia Phantoms were moving back to the Capital District area of New York and discussed how the Adirondack Red Wings were essentially run out of town by the Albany River Rats.  Fast forward to now and the River Rats agreement with the Hurricanes was coming to an end and now it appears that the River Rats for the mean time will be unaffiliated and are now in danger of existing past this season.

This isn’t meant to say the River Rats are a tremendous success in Albany. They aren’t.  The River Rats have consistently been one of the poorest draws in the AHL and are right there again this year averaging less than 3,500 fans per game in an arena that, for minor league hockey purposes, holds about 9,000.  That attendance number is what you can expect to see at a 3/4 filled RPI hockey game or a Fire Marshall breaking things up and evacuating the building situation at Messa Rink for a Union game.

Obviously this move for the Hurricanes makes sense because it brings their minor league operations near by and paying to fly guys all over the place out of Albany is pretty expensive, despite the fact that Albany’s airport is “international.”

So what do the River Rats do now?  The first thing  to do would be to call the Anaheim Ducks.

The Ducks lost their affiliate after last season, the infamous Iowa Chops, after the owners in Iowa fell out of favor with the Ducks over money squabbles.  Go figure.  This year, Ducks prospects have been shared all over the AHL in an effort to keep their players playing and in shape.  Obviously the major issue here for the Ducks (and for Albany) is the geography.  Anaheim and Albany are quite a distance from each other although Albany is closer to Anaheim than Portland, Maine – a former home for the Ducks.

The upside for the Ducks is that, like the Chops, the River Rats is an extremely unique moniker with oodles of marketing capability, none of which any of the brain trust in Albany has ever been effectively been able to use.  Perhaps with a little help and swagger from folks in southern California, the ad wizards in Albany can figure out what the hell to do with hockey.  It’s either that or give up the market completely to the Adirondack Phantoms who actually seem to care about hockey.  The Phantoms averaging 4,303 per game in the tightly packed Glens Falls Civic Center (capacity: 4,800).

Whatever the solution is for the River Rats, the time to act is now.  It’s unknown as yet what the Ducks’ plans are for an AHL team next year and Albany would offer them a ready-made situation to make things work.  That is, unless, the folks in Albany are just willing to let hockey walk away just like they did with the ECAC Tournament.  There’s surely going to be plenty of other turnover in the AHL during the off-season, but this situation with the River Rats and the city of Charlotte is one that’s come out of nowhere.

UPDATE (1/22/10):

The Times Union’s Pete Dougherty has gotten on the case and done some sniffing around to find out what’s up with the River Rats and he may have gotten down to it, and the news isn’t good for Albany minor league hockey fans.  According to a report he’s found (the same “report” I found mind you), the River Rats are going to be sold.

Garen Szablewski, president and CEO of the River Rats, said that owner Walter Robb is “looking at number of different options in terms of affiliations and future of the franchise,” but he is unaware that any deal has been struck.

It reads like Pete Dougherty is taking as many leaps of faith as the Raleigh News & Observer’s Chip Alexander is taking in guessing what the next move will be in saying that Rats owner Walter Robb will sell off to someone that will move the team out of town, but it’s not like that hasn’t happened to Albany once before (hello Albany Firebirds).

The Wheel of Justice Needs Oil

Hey remember when Alexander Ovechkin hit Buffalo’s Patrick Kaleta from behind and was assessed a major penalty and a game misconduct for doing so?  I mean it was just last week so unless you got too hammered avoiding your relatives before, during and after Thanksgiving I can give you a pass there.  If you did forget about that, it’s OK, the buzz cooled off right away after that because Kaleta ended up being the reckless scumbag he is and did something just as dumb as Ovechkin did except he injured Philadelphia’s Jared Ross.

Problem there for some folks was that Ovechkin wasn’t suspended for his hit while Kaleta was, even though both hits were almost identical right down to the players being hit being stupid enough to turn their backs on the on-charging players putting themselves in the position to get injured on their own.

Well funny thing happened tonight in Raleigh as Alex Ovechkin was at it again, this time Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason draws the fire from Washington’s Mad Russian.

Ovechkin not only gets injured on his own from this hit but he again picks up a five-minute major and a game misconduct for his trouble. Considering how Ovechkin was helped off the ice, kicking him out of the game is akin to suspending a starting pitcher in baseball for four days for beaning a guy, the punishment wasn’t going to affect him anyhow because Ovechkin probably wasn’t coming back to play anyhow.

So once again, Colin Campbell is going to get the call to decide what, if anything, will be done to punish Ovechkin for this hit.  Folks are already debating wildly whether or not Ovechkin hit Gleason knee-on-knee on purpose or not (he didn’t, why would he bother?) and whether or not suspending a guy who plays the game at such a break-neck speed with ridiculous bullish aggression will do anything to “send a message” to him at all (it won’t, Ovechkin is going to play that way regardless).

wheelofjusticeWill the Wheel of Justice come up Superstar again?

What this hit does remind me of is Ovechkin’s run-in with Pittsburgh’s Sergei Gonchar last season in the playoffs for which Ovechkin was not punished for.  It’s the same brand of hit where Ovechkin doesn’t deviate his course, the defender tries to make a move to get by but Ovechkin is moving too fast for them.  While that hit came during the heat of the playoffs, this time it comes fast on the heels of another hit that produced yet another game misconduct.

The league is in a tough spot because if they suspend him they’ll get heat from ticket buyers in Washington and elsewhere the Caps play on the road in the coming week (Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, and Buffalo) and fans there will be upset they won’t get to see him (well, maybe not Buffalo fans).

The other side of it is if he’s injured for any amount of time, what good is a suspension to him anyhow?  Big deal, he’s going to miss games anyhow so what good does tacking a game or two onto that do for sending the message that the league doesn’t have a superstar bias.

What do I expect the league to do?  I expect that the NHL’s version of Pat Sajak, Colin Campbell, will inquire as to what Alex Ovechkin’s injury status is and then craft a response based around that.  Since Tim Gleason wasn’t injured on the play (he came back to play in the game) that’s not at issue here for the league, instead the aggressor is the one who is hurt.  Why do I suspect that will be the case?  The league is gutless and they want to save face.

That said, if Ovechkin is hit with a suspension (whether it’s rendered toothless by an injury or not) there’s a lot of people that will feel vindicated for one reason or another.  Whether it’s because they believe in the “superstar bias” or they believe that Ovechkin is a reckless player whose had this coming to him for a while won’t matter because they’ll be happier than anything.  If there’s no suspension however… The league’s spin-meisters better be crafting up a beauty of a response because the pitchforks and torches are out already.

Stop The Insanity – Get Rid Of This Rule

Insane.  Just watch.

I thought about this rule a lot yesterday given the wacko spin-job the NHL tried to put on the whole mess with Brad May’s “no goal” against the Dallas Stars. The sport being what it is decided to one-up itself in a game between two severely struggling teams in Carolina and Toronto. This situation happens in overtime and bones Toronto out of an overtime victory, one which they couldn’t secure in the shootout because, you know, somehow winning a game in overtime and in the shootout is viewed as the same fucking thing.


The conclusion I’ve come to on this bogus “intent to blow the whistle” nonsense is that it’s a crutch. It’s a crutch for the officials because God forbid they make a definitive call in a game or do their job effectively. This has to end. Play to the whistle or don’t play at all. Simple as that. I know why the “intent to blow” clause is in the rule books, I understand it perfectly.

No more though. Referees are going to drag their asses in games and pretend that they’re bigger than the game itself? Too bad, your time has ended. The fact that more fans are getting to know the names of officials for all the wrong reasons isn’t a good way to seek out fame. People know Kerry Fraser because of his stupid hair but they also know him because he botched a call in the 1993 Western Conference Finals. People know Don Koharski because then Devils coach Jim Schoenfeld called him a fat pig and asked him to have another donut. They don’t know Don Koharski because he’s a swell guy or a good official, that’s crazy. People know Bill McCreary because he’s got a porn star mustache and can’t help but be the center of attention in any game he works.

Stop the insanity already. I want a couple of things out of officials. I want consistency and I want accountability for their actions when they decide they’re better than everyone else.  Consistency is already an impossible thing to get out of any game so I’m shit out of luck there, at the very least I should be able to get officials that don’t think they’re bigger or better than the game itself.  It looks like we’re all screwed there too.

GaryMcMahonHe intends to blow each and every night.  Mission accomplished.

The NHL has to get rid of this bogus ghost rule because any time it comes into play it’s a cop out of the highest order.  “Well, I wanted to stop play, but I was too damn slow to do it.”  What a joke.  Two nights in a row now games have been botched because of this referee crutch.

Get rid of it.

(Much thanks to Jeffler on Twitter for being lightning fast in pointing the video out on YouTube)

To Hit Or Not To Hit (Update)

This weekend has brought about the resurrection of the “blows to the head” debate courtesy of two different yet interlinked plays.  Friday night’s game between Colorado and Carolina brings an added twist of what happens when a bad thing happens to Darcy Tucker.

Tucker was taken off the ice on a stretcher and received a concussion on the play as well as 40 stitches.  Ruutu has been slapped with a three-game suspension for the hit.

I’m not going to be a facetious jerk-off about this, I am going to ask this bluntly:  Who, aside from Toronto Maple Leafs fans who still worship the ground Tucker walks on, feels bad for what happened to Darcy Tucker after receiving that vicious, dirty hit from Carolina’s Tuomo Ruutu?

Feel free to comment if you do because I’d love to hear why you feel bad for him because in my mind, I find it very difficult to muster up any sort of sympathy for him because when you play the game the way he’s chosen to over his 16 seasons in the NHL, eventually someone’s going to get you.  Sure, you love the hell out of a guy like Tucker when he’s on your team but the second he’s gone you’d like him out of the league one way or the other.  Just ask Michael Peca.

I’m fighting every urge in me to stay quiet about this entire thing because absolutely nothing good will come out of this, but it’s the elephant in the room.  Tuomo Ruutu lays a dirty hit on an unsuspecting player and does disgusting damage to that player… Only issue being that the player he hit is a guy who often times in his career has done the same exact thing numerous times in his career.

Is it justified?  No, certainly not… But I doubt you’d find a jury outside of Denver or Toronto that would convict Tuomo Ruutu for his offense in this case.  What will happen to Ruutu is he will eventually get paid back, more than likely in January when the teams meet again in Raleigh and Tucker will most likely be able to go after him on his own.  You do have to wonder though if hockey karma wasn’t just getting one up on Tucker itself after all the mayhem and ill will he’s brought upon himself over the years for playing the game the way he does.

Everyone has to pay the piper at some point and while Ruutu was completely in the wrong in this situation laying a vile and disgusting hit…  Perhaps the piper was tired of waiting.

Then you’ve got the oranges to Darcy Tucker’s apples on Saturday night when Philadelphia’s Mike Richards laid an absolutely brutal hit on Florida’s David Booth.

David Booth, like Darcy Tucker, was knocked unconscious and carted off the ice on a stretcher. Unlike Tucker’s situation, Richards’ hit on Booth was, by the book, perfectly legal but with great hesitation.  Watch the replay as much as you can stomach and you’ll see that Booth didn’t commit any of the textbook sins that a player who gets destroyed in open ice commits.  He wasn’t skating with his head down all the way, he wasn’t admiring his pass – he was just playing the game – a game that can be violent and dangerous at times, but that doesn’t mean that Mike Richards has to make a hit like that in that situation and both the Panthers and Flyers are doing their best to speak up for themselves, dander up and everything.

For what it’s worth, Richards received a five-minute major for interference which will allow Colin Campbell to spin his Wheel of Justice to see if he wants to send a message for hitting a prone and unsuspecting player or not.  It’s at a time like this where maybe, just maybe, sitting down a high-profile team’s captain down for more than a few games might send the message that the league intends to be serious about protecting its players.

I know it gets mentioned again and again whenever you see a terrifying scene like this unfold where paramedics with stretchers come out to cart a guy off the ice but at some point the NHL needs to jump in to help the players.  Hell, if the NFL has done something in their ultra-fast, ultra-violent sport then perhaps taking a page from their book isn’t the worst plan of action, even if it results in quarterback-like complaints being raised by fans and players.

The problem with the situation with Richards’ hit is that by the books it’s legal and suspending a player for a technically legal hit seems completely backwards.  The problem here is that Booth had no chance to protect himself because by the time he sees Richards coming, he’s already eating his forearm and shoulder.  This is where the NFL tie-in works.  The NFL has start penalizing players in games and fining them after the fact for hitting players who are in a defenseless position.  I’m thinking mostly of wide receivers in this case when safeties or linebackers use the occasion of a pass thrown too high or out of reach to decimate the receiver trying to make the play.

Would it be unreasonable to ask the same of NHL officials?  After all, when the league added the five-minute major for interference it was meant to curb out of the way hits where players would end up injured.  The penalty was semi-correctly called in this instance (it wasn’t textbook interference, but the violence was there), but to say it is a deterrent would be stretching the truth.

Sure the Panthers will get their shot at redemption at Richards a few times this year, but they didn’t even really stand up for Booth tonight so… What then?  The Panthers are now without one of their top players indefinitely and the Flyers will be without their captain for perhaps a few games.  You never know what will happen with that crazy Wheel of Justice.

My problem with it is that Richards has to know better than this, he is the captain of a team after all, even if it is the crazy Flyers.  He has to know that by gunning for a guy in that matter you’re going to be hitting him in the head, unless he’s just a really crappy judge of a guy’s skating speed.  Hitting a moving target is certainly hard enough, but hitting a guy is pretty easy to do when you’re skating as hard as Mike Richards does and he has to know he’ll make a more effective play if he hits him body-on-body rather than body-on-head.  So why does it appear when watching it and taking into effect how it plays out when you’re watching it at full speed that Richards is gunning to hit him up high?  I’m not going to go all Zapruder film on you with this but if Richards’ intent is to hit Booth shoulder-on-shoulder he missed badly.

What does anyone learn out of this anyway?  At this point, nothing at all, just keep playing the same old way because there’s no need to rock the boat.  Both Ruutu and Richards did wrong here, one more obviously so than the other.  One guy did so by the book while the other guy burned the book on Darcy Tucker’s doorstep while the neighbors all are secretly happy he did so since he’s had it coming to him for a while.  Does it make any of this any better?  Not in the least because you’ve got two guys out of action thanks to unnecessary head shots.  Perhaps Mark Messier better get a move on with his new helmet to help players out.

Better yet, perhaps the players can just have a little bit more respect for each other on the ice and not look to kill each other whenever they’re given the opportunity whether it’s by the rules or not.

Update: Mike Richards will not suspended by the NHL for his hit.  With me not having my wits about me and forgetting that Colin Campbell’s son plays for the Panthers, I forgot that he cannot hand down a punishment.  Instead, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly got to spin the Wheel of Justice and it came up “zero games” for Flyers captain Mike Richards.   I’m not entirely surprised by this considering it was a legal check, but chalk it up as another blown opportunity for the league to start sending a message to the players.

Gary Bettman: Happiest Man on Earth

Since a lot of you are new to this page and probably weren’t keeping tabs with me last year for the playoffs, let me dust off something I said last year after the results of the First Round were completed:

The only real downside to the Capitals losing is that it prevents us from seeing Sid the Kid and Evgeni Malkin from taking on Ovechkin and Backstrom in the second round. Say what you will, but Bettman had the perfect opportunity to take what he learned under Stern and to put it to use to set up a real dazzler of a matchup.

Much like everything else, however, Bettman fails to put the hit out to guarantee this will happen.

Upon the completion of Washington’s stirring victory over the Rangers in Game 7 that featured Sergei Fedorov dial up an Yzerman-esque ripper of a shot over the newly-exposed glove hand of Henrik Lundqvist, in my many posts on Twitter (you know, since I’ve got nothing else to do) I stated this:

Now let’s see how (bad) Gary wants the fix. If the #Canes beat the #Devils we get Sid vs. Ovechkin.

In my head I had one of the greatest creative minds of the modern sports entertainment era, at least he was for a while, in mind as I wrote this. I thought about it last year when Washington stormed back against Philadelphia only to lose in Game 7 to the Flyers and there it was in my head again this time as the New Jersey Devils had a 3-2 lead on the Carolina Hurricanes in their Game 7.

Some say a man fitting this description was seen in the tunnel at The Rock shouting, “Just go down Marty!”

Would Lil’ Gary put on his big boy shoes and put in the call for the Devils to lay it down or would it play out legendarily like this:

In a series that had so many great goaltending performances from both Martin Brodeur and Cam Ward and two teams that truly left it all out on the ice and given everything that I was able to witness all throughout this years NCAA Hockey Tournament, I didn’t think the NHL had it in them to produce a finish to a game that so thoroughly stunned me as this one did.

Doc Emrick and Chico Resch from MSG+ with the call:


I mean… This is the New Jersey Devils, the team that made sitting on a one-goal lead the new black in the 1990s. This is Martin Brodeur – The Franchise – The Legend.

How in the blue hell did this happen? This stuff doesn’t happen to the Devils. It never does… Well, unless you’re the Ottawa Senators.

It’s hours upon hours later now and this one just stuns me. Jussi Jokinen is the new cursed name in the swamps of New Jersey? The same guy that was waived by the directionless Tampa Bay Lightning? That Jussi Jokinen?!


What’s more shocking about all of this is that Herr Bettman got his wish. With the Hurricanes beating the Devils, that set up a second round date between Sid the Kid’s Penguins and Alexander the Great’s Capitals – a playoff matchup that people have been dying to have happen.

Sure, it’s not for the Conference Title or the Stanley Cup – but for the press and the attention and the real bad blood there is between these teams it might as well be.

Two of these four second round series are now set to be, potentially, the best series of the entire playoffs. Anaheim did their job and disposed of a gutless Sharks team to set up a date with the Red Wings and then you get the headliner between Pittsburgh and Washington.

This isn’t to say that Chicago and Vancouver is going to stink, far from it, as that’s going to make for an incredible tilt and the Wonder Boys in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are going to have their hands full in dealing with Vancouver’s system all backstopped by the new stud Roberto Luongo.

Boston and Carolina would be a lot more fun if, say, Herr Bettman’s Southern Conquest wasn’t involved and the Hurricanes were wearing blue, green and white and celebrated each goal with some Brass Bonanza.

Then again, getting Ric Flair prominently involved in hockey really isn’t so bad and given that it took the Hurricanes to overthrow the Devils to make Gary’s Dream Match-Up come to fruition… Well maybe it’s worth looking into.