The Central Hockey Leagues 13th season of play begins this weekend, with 17 teams beginning their search for the 2004-2005 Ray Miron Presidents Cup Championship. The 510-game CHL season concludes March 20th with eight clubs then advancing into post-season play. The CHL has instituted a mandatory visor rule this season, with all players and on ice officials required to wear protective visors. Fans and media members will again be able to enjoy true real time game scoring in the CHL this season through the use of Pointstreak at www.centralhockeyleague.com , while high speed internet users will have the ability to view and listen live to roughly 60 percent of the CHLs schedule on CHLtv.com. A full schedule of the pay per view service, utilizing live video streaming feeds from across CHL arenas, will be available on www.chltv.com prior to the start of the season. The Central Hockey League once again led all North American professional AA leagues in average attendance during the 2003-2004 regular season, welcoming 4,501 fans per contest this past year. The Central Hockey League is operated by Global Entertainment Corporation through its WPHL, Inc. subsidiary. Global Entertainment Corporation is an integrated entertainment company, arena development, and licensing company with five subsidiaries.
Northeast Division Preview
Bossier-Shreveport / Fort Worth / Memphis / Oklahoma City / Tulsa
Coach: Scott Muscutt (153-86-24 in CHL)
03-04 Record: 42-16-06
Perennial contending Bossier-Shreveport came within one bounce of claiming their 4th championship title in 03-04, and appear to be solidly in position to again challenge for the Ray Miron Presidents Cup. The duo of Kenny Carroll and Jeff Blair in net is arguably the CHLs top duo, and no coach in the CHL has won more games over the last four seasons than Scott Muscutt. A quality group of developing returning defenseman (Travis Bell, Wes Blevins, Quade Lightbody, Jason Basile) mixes with a deep group of forwards, including newcomer Scott Sheppard from Rochester (AHL).
Fort Worth Brahmas
Coach: Al Sims (49-61-11 in CHL)
03-04 Record: 15-40-09
Coach Al Sims enjoyed a fine off-season, hoping to avoid a third straight last place finish by the Brahmas. With a CHL-low 2.96 goals for per game last season, the offense has been bolstered with veteran snipers Lonny Bohonos and Bryan Lundbohm, who should assist returning power forward / CHL All-Star Chad Woollard. The goaltending situation has also been addressed, with veteran Dan Murphy brought in to improve the CHL-high 3.66 goals against allowed per game last year. Early talk has the Brahmas as perhaps the CHLs most improved club, and NHL signee Brad Lukowich will aid both on and off the ice.
Coach: Mark Richards (18-11-04 in CHL)
03-04 Record: 35-25-04
The RiverKings failed in their attempt at three consecutive championships, missing the playoffs last season after back to back titles. A significantly retooled roster still features former CHL Most Valuable Player Don Parsons and up and coming forward Alexandre Mathieu. NHL-experienced Ted Crowley joins incumbent All-Star Derek Landmesser as anchors defensively. Two new faces appear in goal, with Daniel Boisclair and David Lemanowicz competing for playing time. Forwards (and brothers) Keith (43 goals in the AHL over the past two seasons and Phil Aucoin will contribute offensively.
Oklahoma City Blazers
Coach: Doug Sauter (380-176-46 in CHL)
03-04 Record: 29-28-07
The Blazers missed out on the post-season for their first time in franchise history last year, which doesnt sit well with Coach Doug Sauter, the CHLs all-time winningest coach. New faces expected to play significant roles include left winger Pat Hallett (30 goals in 01-02 with Tulsa), C Kahlil Thomas (02-03 Playoff MVP with Memphis) and LW Mike Beausoleil (37 goals, 49 assists in the UHL last year). 03-04 All-Stars Hardy Sauter and Tyler Fleck lead the defensive crew, and developing goaltenders Sean Connors and Boyd Ballard are expected to split time initially between the pipes.
Coach: Butch Kaebel (15-16-07 in CHL)
03-04 Record: 26-25-13
A 13-game winless stretch (0-10-3) between December 26th and January 24th essentially ended the Oilers playoff hopes last season, but the club finished strongly with four straight wins. Newcomer Evan Lindsay takes over for departed veteran goaltender Rod Branch with rookie Jeff Dotson also in the mix. The key returning forward trio of Todd Marcellus, Jason Bermingham and Dan Gravelle combined for 97 goals and 220 points last season. Incoming rearguards Jean Francois Piche and Mario Joly are expected to anchor a revamped blueline that allowed 3.28 goals against per game last season.
Northwest Division Preview
Colorado / New Mexico / Topeka / Wichita
Coach: Chris Stewart (205-104-29 in CHL)
03-04 Record: 43-16-05
The Colorado Eagles enjoyed a remarkable inaugural year, earning a CHL expansion record 91 points while selling out every home game at the Budweiser Events Center. Forward trio of Greg Pankewicz, Riley Nelson and Ryan Tobler (who totaled 109 goals and 257 points last year) all return, as do savvy veteran defensemen Brad Williamson and Jesse Cook. Colorado Avalanche prospects Tyler Weiman (Goaltender, Round 5 in 02) and David Svagrovsky (LW, Round 4 in 03) expected to have immediate impacts. LW Karlis Zirnis, a finalist for CHL Rookie of the Year honors last season, also returns.
New Mexico Scorpions
Coach: Bill McDonald (242-163-54 in CHL)
03-04 Record: 32-27-05
A deep group of forwards powers the Scorpions, including Mike Oliveira, Peter Ambroziak, Shawn Legault and Randy Murphy. Oliveira averaged nearly 1.5 points per game last year, while Murphy returns to Albuquerque after a three-year absence. Talented and physical defensemen Daniel Tetrault and Vladimir Hartinger are joined by highly skilled Aaron Schneekloth, who spent last season with Grand Rapids (AHL), on the blueline. Quality goaltending tandem of Danny Lorenz and Miguel Beaudry returns in net. Power forward Clint Wensley should play a larger role after injury-plagued 03-04 season.
Coach: Joe Coombs (00-00-00 in CHL)
03-04 Record: DNP
Head Coach Joe Coombs leads the Tarantulas as the CHL returns to Topeka after a three-year absence, and has taken a defense-first approach to building his club. AHL-experienced David St. Germain should be the number one goaltender, with Captain Frederick and Peter Robertson leading the defense. Previous WPHL and CHL All-Star LW Cosmo Dupaul and C Kelly Miller are likely to pace the attack, while rookie Dustin Russell has been impressive in training camp. LW Tab Lardner, acquired from Austin in the off-season, is a top two-way force and brings championship experience to the club.
Coach: Derek Laxdal (47-41-05 in CHL)
03-04 Record: 35-24-05
Things just keep on improving for the Thunder under Coach Laxdal, who took over midway through 02-03. The team earned a playoff berth last year while showing a 26-point improvement, and posted a first round playoff upset. The dynamic forward duo of Travis Clayton and Jason Duda (10th and 11th all-time in CHL scoring) are back, as is Joe Blaznek, who had 16 points in 24 games (and four game winning goals) after being acquired midway through last season. Les Hrapchuk (team-best +14 last year) anchors the defense, with Jason Flick and Jamie Vandespyker sharing time in goal.
Southeast Division Preview
Austin / Corpus Christi / Laredo / Rio Grande Valley
Austin Ice Bats
Coach: Jeff Greenlaw (28-30-06 in CHL)
03-04 Record: 28-30-06
After back-to-back appearances in the Ray Miron Presidents Cup Finals, the
Bats failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since the 98-99 season. Thegoaltending situation has been rectified with the return of 2-time Goaltender of the Year Matt Barnes alongside a healthy Peter Brady. Returnees Kelly Smart and sniper Chris Richards lead the forwards, with proven goal scorers Jared Dumba, John McNabb and former UHL Rookie of the Year Benoit Genesse also adding offense. Skilled d-man Arturs Kupaks controls the power play. Affiliations with Houston (AHL) and Minnesota (NHL) should bring additional bodies.
Corpus Christi Rayz
Coach: Ken McRae (76-39-13 in CHL)
03-04 Record: 23-38-03
Youll need a program to recognize the 04-05 Rayz, as new Coach Ken McRae has completely revamped a club that finished 15 games below .500 last season. 03-04 CHL Defenseman of the Year Bernie John (76 points last season) will make an immediate impact, as will 2004 All-Star MVP LW Jason Baird (79 points in 03-04) and new center Greg Bullock. New tandem of Brent Zelenewich & Josh Blackburn should give the club strength in net, while the Rayz will feature an up tempo puck pressure approach. The Rayz open up their new state-of-the-art arena (the AmericanBank Center) on November 5th.
Coach: Terry Ruskowski (89-25-14 in CHL)
03-04 Record: 48-08-08
Whats next for the Bucks, after winning the Ray Miron Presidents Cup and
establishing a CHL record with a .813 winning percentage last season? Despite significant turnover, expect the Bucks again to be solid contenders, with the return of CHL MVP Jeff Bes (117 points last year), speed merchant Brent Cullation (75 points), and CHL Rookie of the Year goaltender David Guerrera. NHL first round draft selection Scott Kelman has been assigned by San Antonio (AHL). Only one defenseman (Dion Hyman) is back to lead a young defensive corps, but three year AHL rearguard Paul Elliott should play a major role.
Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees
Coach: Tracy Egeland (50-46-11 in CHL)
03-04 Record: 32-24-08
Coach Tracy Egeland put together a tough, competitive team that qualified for the playoffs and were named CHL Franchise of the Year in their first year of operation last season, and enters 04-05 looking to build on that success. The key returning group of G Jeff Levy, F Bill Newson, F Ryan Shmyr and D Jason Tessier provide leadership and experience. Slovenian forwards Matik Kralj and Blaz Emersic will team with speedy Newson to lead the attack. Three-time All-Star Derek Holland is a versatile two-way threat, and winger Danny Helmers has impressive in training camp.
Southwest Division Preview
Amarillo / Lubbock / Odessa / San Angelo
Coach: Joe Ferras (95-86-11 in CHL)
03-04 Record: 37-24-03
After two greatly improved seasons in Amarillo, and a first round playoff win last year, Coach Ferras and the Gorillas look to make another step forward. Incumbent All-Star defenseman Mark DeSantis brings leadership and skill to the blue line, and former CHL Rookie of the Year Derek Hahn (30 goals, 40 assists last season)continues to improve his game. D Tyler Butler had a breakout season last year and returns, and veteran forward Darren Rattray is a physical presence. Amarillo is counting on trade acquisition Brent Hughes (23 goals with Austin last year) to add speed and offense.
Lubbock Cotton Kings
Coach: Chris Dashney (00-00-00 in CHL)
03-04 Record: 19-35-10
Former Oklahoma City player and Assistant Coach Chris Dashney takes over a Lubbock squad that struggled last season. Veteran goaltender Lance Leslie returns to Lubbock and is expected to shoulder most of the goaltending responsibilities. Center Matt Turek is a proven offensive threat and should add firepower, along with returnees Paul Fioroni and Jan Melichercik. Ds Derick Martin and Stacy Bauman will lead a crop of young defensemen, and rookie forward Max Bull brings championship experience after winning an NCAA title last season with the University of Denver.
Coach: Don McKee (164-100-30 in CHL)
03-04 Record: 26-35-03
Odessa experienced a rare off year last season, failing to qualify for the post-season for the first time since their inaugural 97/98 season. Former Goaltender of the Year Mike Gorman and veteran defenseman Scott Hillman hope to get the Jackalopes back into the strong defensive form the club has thrived on in the past. Top scorers Mike Rutter (67 points) and Sebastien Thinel (64 points) return, bolstered by the addition of veteran goal scorer Joel Irving. Veteran RW Donnie Margettie brings leadership and experience to a club looking for a return to prominence.
San Angelo Saints
Coach: Ray Edwards (37-19-08 in CHL)
03-04 Record: 37-19-08
03-04 Coach of the Year Ray Edwards helped the Saints make a 35-point
improvement last season en route to the Southwest Division title. Vastly improved defensively, the Saints received an outstanding season from netminder Scott Reid, (32-9-4, 2.27 GAA), who went on to earn CHL Most Outstanding Goaltender honors. F Trevor Weisgerber returns for his third season in San Angelo, and forwards Bret Dececco and David Silverstone add energy and grit. Reids prowess in net should give a young crew of rearguards, including returnee Matt Frick, an opportunity to learn the defensive system.