The Central Hockey Leagues 14th season of play begins Friday, with 15 clubs, including the expansion Youngstown SteelHounds, beginning their search for the 2005-2006 Ray Miron Presidents Cup Championship. The 480-game CHL season concludes March 26th with eight clubs then advancing into post-season play, consisting of three best-of-seven playoff rounds. The CHL has implemented several new rule changes and penalty standards for the coming season, geared towards improving the fan experience. A stricter standard for interference penalties will also be enforced to assist in increasing speed and flow during games. Fans and media members will again be able to enjoy true real time game scoring in the CHL through the use of Pointstreak, while high-speed internet users can view and listen live to over 70 percent of CHL games this season via CHLtv.com.
Northeast Division Preview
(Rochester, AHL; Buffalo, NHL)
Coach: Scott Muscutt (189-103-31 in CHL)
04-05 Record: 36-17-07
The perennial championship contending Mudbugs vie for their fourth title after bowing out of the playoffs in overtime Game 7s each of the past two seasons. Voted the Hardest Working Team in the CHLs Best of the Best poll last year, work ethic is not a question. F Dan Wildfong does it all for the Mudbugs, leading the club in points, goals, assists and penalty minutes last year. Former All-Star Blair Manning will bolster a deep crew of forwards, including former CHL MVP candidate Chad Spurr and improving youngsters Shane Palahicky, Ryan Manitowich, Scott Sheppard and Brett Smith. All-Star defenseman Jason Basile anchors a solid blueline protecting quality goaltender Ken Carroll, 10th all-time with 101 CHL/WPHL wins and 3rd all-time with 15 CHL/WPHL shutouts.
Fort Worth Brahmas
Coach: Al Sims (75-89-17 in CHL)
04-05 Record: 26-28-06
After having many of the same players year-in and year-out, Coach Al Sims is seeking a fresh start this year with a revamped roster featuring a slew of youngsters. Special teams and speed will play an important part throughout the season, and the veteran coach sought out leadership, character, and players who know how to win. Three of those newcomers come from San Angelo in formidable defenseman Konrad Brand, sniper and right-wing Bret DeCecco, and speedy left-wing David Silverstone. Returning to back up the team is talented and experienced netminder Larry Sterling. Along with Sterling, the Brahmas should also receive solid goaltending from standout Northeastern product Keni Gibson, runner up for Hockey East Player of the Year in 2004-05.
(Hartford, AHL; NY Rangers, NHL)
Coach: Kevin McClelland (0-0-0 in CHL)
04-05 Record: 30-28-02
The RiverKings are hoping to return to championship form, and brought in a coach with four Stanley Cup rings to lead the way. Veteran superstar Don Parsons (led the CHL with 55 goals last year) returns and should receive plenty of help from former Amarillo sniper Dorian Anneck. Returning center Travis Banga hopes to build on a 24 goal season, while Ryan Watson is also expected to contribute. Veteran All-Star defenseman Derek Landmesser remains a solid fixture for the RiverKings, who hope the goaltending tandem of All-Star Miguel Beaudry and Guy St. Vincent (both with New Mexico last season) can fit in quickly and improve on an 04-05 team goals against average of 3.42, 12th in the CHL. Offense shouldnt be a problem, so the key to the Riverkings year will be defensive play and netminding.
Coach: JF Laforest (133-56-19 in CHL)
The SteelHounds will need to gel quickly on the road to keep pace with the division as they play their first five contests away from their new arena prior to opening up at home on November 4th. Energetic Coach JF Laforest has assembled a team with solid veteran leadership including former NHLer and player/coach Jeff Christian and 04-05 Presidents Cup champion Kris Mallette, a defenseman taken first in the expansion draft. Defensemen Kelly Sickavish (from Wichita) and Matt Nicholson (from Bossier-Shreveport) will help shore up the blueline, and the Hounds will look for scoring up front from veteran Chris Richards (from Austin) and Paul Vincent. Marching in net, the two saints, rookie Simon St. Pierre and David St. Germain will be the last line of defense during Youngstowns inaugural season.
Northwest Division Preview
Coach: Chris Stewart (248-114-36 in CHL)
04-05 Record: 43-10-07
The hunter is now the hunted, as Colorado seeks to defend their 04-05 Ray Miron Presidents Cup championship. The core of last years champions are back, including CHL Most Valuable Player Greg Pankewicz and solid contributors Ryan Tobler, Riley Nelson, Brad Williamson and Matt Desrosiers. Goaltender Paulo Colaicovo, who was exceptional during the Eagles title run, is a rising young star and should get the bulk of work in net. The Eagles led the CHL in most goals for and fewest goals against last season, and will host their 72nd consecutive regular season or playoff sell out crowd this Friday at the raucous Budweiser Events Center, hosting the Laredo Bucks in a rematch of last seasons championship finals.
Oklahoma City Blazers
Coach: Doug Sauter (407-198-57 in CHL)
04-05 Record: 27-22-11
The CHLs all-time winningest club (515 wins) and all-time winningest coach (407 wins) look to return to post-season play after a two-year absence. Sniper Mike Beausoleil (45 goals last year) will be relied on heavily to provide offensive spark, and will be aided by the return of speedy center Marty Standish. Defenseman Tyler Fleck remains one of the most feared body checkers in the CHL, while Mike Lukajic had 33 goals last season for Topeka. The biggest new name on the roster is goaltender Sebastien Centomo, honored as the CHLs Rookie of the Year with Memphis in 01-02. Centomo has NHL experience with Toronto, and teams with returning Sean Connors to provide an extremely capable duo in net. The Blazers will have to be road warriors early in the season, with seven of their first 10 away from home.
Coach: Butch Kaebel (47-41-10 in CHL)
04-05 Record: 32-25-03
The Oilers are fresh off a playoff berth last season, falling to eventual champion Colorado in the first round, and look to build on that success in 05-06. Tulsa will be solid in net with Marco Emond, who helped Laredo win the 2003-2004 Ray Miron Presidents Cup, and on the back end as veteran defensemen Dan Hodge and Chris Newans will man the blue line. Tough guy Mario Joly also returns to give the Oilers some tenacity. Up front, the challenge for Tulsa is replacing the team's top three scorers from last year in Jason Bermingham, Todd Marcellus, and Dan Gravelle. Left winger Drew Otten will provide some firepower to Tulsas attack, and forward Henry Kuster will attempt to regain his 20+ goal scoring touch after his injury-shortened season with Amarillo last year.
Coach: Mark French (0-0-0 in CHL)
04-05 Record: 40-17-03
The Thunder return the core of a club that enjoyed their first 40 win season since the 1994-1995 campaign but fell to eventual champion Colorado in the Northern Conference Finals. Loaded offensively with skilled forwards Jason Duda (04-05 CHL scoring champion), Travis Clayton and Joe Blaznek, Wichita is likely to again be among the top scoring clubs in the CHL. Slick defenseman Daniel Tetrault joins the roster from New Mexico along with several new faces on the blueline. Along with a new face behind the bench in Mark French, the club will open the season with two new goaltenders, with Sebastien Laplante the likely starter. The Thunder will face Northwest Division opponents and heated rivals Colorado, Oklahoma City and Tulsa a total of 33 times throughout their 64 game schedule.
Southeast Division Preview
Austin Ice Bats
(Houston, AHL; Minnesota, NHL)
Coach: Bill McDonald (269-190-60 in CHL)
04-05 Record: 28-27-05
New Coach Bill McDonald takes over the Ice Bats with several key components in place to improve on last season. Swift forward John McNabb is particularly effective killing penalties (six shorthanded goals last year) and returning starting goaltender Matt Barnes can steal games by himself. Forwards Gerald Tallaire and Jeff Neufeld, along with new Ice Bats Aaron Davis and Dave MacIntyre, are expected to capitalize on new CHL rule standards. MacDonald also brought in three experienced and capable defensemen (Aaron Schneekloth, Julius Halfkenny and Darryl McArthur) to help shore up a defensive unit that allowed 3.60 goals against per game last year. Improving on the power play will also be key; the Ice Bats posted a CHL-worst 12.40% success rate with the man advantage last season.
Corpus Christi Rayz
Coach: Ken McRae (103-63-20 in CHL)
04-05 Record: 28-25-07
After leading the division for much of the season, the Rayz went winless in 10 straight games between February 16th and March 11th to fall out of the playoff picture last year. Ken McRaes off-season recruiting efforts paid big dividends with additions in standout goaltender Scott Reid and forwards Randy Murphy and Shawn Legault. Reid was the CHLs Most Outstanding Goaltender in 03-04, while Murphy (71 points) and Legault (300 penalty minutes) were leaders last season in New Mexico. With forward Jason Baird and defenseman Bernie John (both All-Stars last season) returning, the Rayz could show marked improvement and return to the playoffs for their first appearance since the 2000-2001 season.
(San Antonio, AHL; Phoenix, NHL)
Coach: Terry Ruskowski (124-47-17 in CHL)
04-05 Record: 35-22-03
With back-to-back appearances in the Ray Miron Presidents Cup Finals, the Bucks have established themselves among the CHLs elite, and show no signs of relinquishing their status any time soon. The return of forward Chris Grenville (45 goals in 03-04) will add spark to an attack already featuring Jeff Bes, Brent Cullaton and James Hiebert, while Serge Dube and Steve Weidlich anchor the blue line. The Bucks will start the season with a new goaltender; both David Lemanowicz and Chad Davis are new to Laredo. The Bucks are expected to benefit from strong affiliation agreements in place with San Antonio (AHL) and Phoenix (NHL). The Bucks will have an early opportunity to gel as a team, with six of their first eight contests on the road, including an opening night Finals rematch at Colorado.
Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees
Coach: Tracy Egeland (69-84-14 in CHL)
04-05 Record: 19-38-03
After an impressive first season, the Killer Bees struggled last year and are eager to make amends, especially in the offensive zone. Rio Grande Valley picked up linemates Aaron Phillips and NHL-experienced Dwayne Hay from Pensacola who, over the past two seasons, combined for 224 points (88g, 136a), a combined plus/minus rating of 61, and finished second and fifth in scoring in the ECHL respectively. The Bees also nabbed Trevor Weisgerber (averaged nearly a point per game the last three seasons) and Nathan Rosychuk (38 points in 49 games last year) from San Angelo. One man who should benefit from more pressure on the other side of the rink is goaltender Evan Lindsay, who won a championship last year in the British National League and was his teams MVP in 03-04.
Southwest Division Preview
Coach: Joe Ferras (126-106-20 in CHL)
04-05 Record: 31-20-09
After back to back appearances in the Southern Conference Finals, the Gorillas have established themselves as a quality team under Coach Joe Ferras. Veteran defenseman Mark DeSantis remains one of the CHLs top rearguards, and Derek Hahn is a feared goal scorer. The Gorillas have a solid goaltending tandem in Shawn Degagne and Jamie Vandespyker, and leadership comes from center Dave Rattray and defenseman Ryan Shannon. Joey Sewell, who scored 26 goals with Laredo two seasons ago, and former NHLer Paxton Schulte should make quality forward additions. While Amarillo excelled killing penalties last year (87.2%), the power play was a source of concern, struggling to a 13.8% success rate in 04-05.
Lubbock Cotton Kings
Coach: Chris Dashney (34-23-03 in CHL)
04-05 Record: 34-23-03
Mission accomplished last season for Chris Dashney and the Cotton Kings, who quickly earned the respect of foes with a workmanlike approach that helped them capture the Southwest title in dramatic fashion on the last day of the regular season. Veterans Paul Fioroni and Jan Melichercik lead the forwards, and goaltender Lance Leslie enjoyed an exceptional campaign in 04-05, posting 28 wins, a goals against average of 2.25 and a .927 save percentage. With an infusion of young and energetic talent, Lubbock hopes to build on last seasons accomplishments and successfully defend their division title. With no single standout offensively (no Cotton King finished in the top 25 in scoring last season), the offense will come by committee while maintaining their solid defensive play.
Coach: Don McKee (190-122-42 in CHL)
04-05 Record: 26-22-12
After a two-year post-season drought the Jackalopes look to re-emerge as contenders in 04-05. Returning a solid nucleus of players including defenseman Scott Hillman, goaltender Mike Gorman and forwards Mike Rutter, John Kozoriz, Matt Cressman and Sebastien Thinel, the Jacks will need to improve offensively after averaging just 2.63 goals per game last season. Odessas biggest off season acquisition comes in the form of towering (6-7, 235 pounds) defenseman Jeff Ewasko, who impressed in training camp. A disciplined club that averaged only 15.75 penalty minutes per game last season, Odessa could greatly benefit from the new rule changes and interference standards being implemented in the CHL this season.