TORONTO- The American Hockey League will have a different structure this season as only five teams are competing within three divisions per conference, unlike years past when there were upwards of eight clubs in two divisions per conference.
The North Division will drop both the Manitoba Moose and Abbotsford Heat from their standings chart leaving the Hamilton Bulldogs, Rochester Americans, Grand Rapids Griffins and Lake Erie Monsters to fight it out against the Toronto Marlies for post season positions.
Considering the Marlies will face these four teams a combined 40 games in the 2011/12 season, it’s worth taking a look at some of the important changes each squad has made this past summer.
Affiliate: Montreal Canadiens
Head Coach: Clement Jodoin
Captain: Alex Henry
Last season: 44-27-2-7, 97 Points. Lost to the Houston Aeros in the Conference Finals 4-2
Added: D Jeff Woywitka, RW Brian Willsie, D Joe Stejskal, RW Mike Blunden, D Raphael Diaz, G Nathan Lawson, D Mark Mitera
Lost: G Curtis Sanford, G Drew MacIntyre, J.T. Wyman,D Kyle Klubertanz, F Dustin Boyd, LW Nigel Dawes, D Neil Petruic
Player to Watch: Aaron Palushaj
Quick Peek: Goalies Curtis Sanford and Drew MacIntyre were both great when needed and Nigel Dawes offense led the way into the play-offs after being acquired through a late season trade. Each will be missed but for how long will depend on the likes of Brian Willsie, Aaron Palushaj and former New York Islander goalie Nathan Lawson. Lawson will likely push Robert Mayer for the number one spot in net. Clement Jodoin is entering his first year behind the bench after taking over for Randy Cunneyworth. Last season the Bulldogs won the North Division for a second year in a row.
Affiliate: Buffalo Sabres
Head Coach: Ron Rolston
Team Captain: Matt Ellis
Last season: 31-39-5-5, 72 Points. Missed Play-offs
Added: Drew MacIntyre, Maxime Legault, Zack Kassian, Mark Voakes
Lost: Entire 2011/12 roster
Player to Watch: Zack Kassian
Quick Peek: The Americans had the biggest overhaul this off-season when Sabres owner Terry Pegula purchased the Amerks in early May. Re-affiliating the Sabres-Amerks relationship means that Rochester will no longer be represented by Florida Panthers prospects as they were the previous three years. Last season the Amerks finished in the North Division cellar but the upcoming overhaul of Sabres prospects should see Rochester competitive again. Ron Rolston will also be entering his first year behind the bench, taking over for Chuck Weber. Rolston’s greatest task will be to mend the defense as they gave up the most goals in the North last season.
Grand Rapids Griffins
Affiliate: Detroit Red Wings
Head Coach: Curt Fraser
Team Captain: Vacant
Last Season: 36-34-2-8, 82 Points. Missed Play-offs
Added: Andrej Nestrasil, Louis-Marc Aubry, Landon Ferraro, Mitchell Callahan, Trevor Parks, Gleason Fernier, Garnet Exelby
Lost: Ilari Filppula, Jan Mursak, Greg Amadio, Jamie Tardif
Player to Watch: Tomas Tatar
Quick Peek: Last season it was the Griffins offense that kept the team competitive as they scored the most goals of any team in the North. Unfortunately the loss of Ilari Filppula and Jamie Tardif will be big holes to fill as Filppula led last year’s squad with 64 points and Tardif led the way with 27 goals. Goalie Joey MacDonald will likely be the number one, as he was last season, but if he’s called up to the Red Wings again, the work load will be split between Jordan Pearce and Thomas McCollum. The team must also show more discipline this upcoming season as their near 1500 penalty minutes was most in the North.
Lake Erie Monsters
Affiliate: Colorado Avalanche
Head Coach: David Quinn
Team Captain: Davis Liffiton
Last season: 44-28-3-5, 96 Points. Lost to Manitoba in first round 4-3
Added: Trevor Cann, Cedrick Desjardins, Brad Malone, Evan Brophey, Stefan Elliott, Tyson Barrie,
Lost: Jason Bacashihua, John Grahame, Ben Walter, Julian Talbot, Shawn Belle, Tom Fritsche, Raymond Macias, Harrison Reid, Matthew Ford
Player to Watch: Luke Walker
Quick Peek: The Monsters are facing some adversity this season as they are entering the year with a very young roster. Trevor Cann and Cedrick Desjardins will be replacing the successful goalie tandem of Jason Bacashihua and Jon Grahame but that isn’t the biggest issue facing this young squad. They will be losing their top three scorers in Ben Walter, Julian Talbot and Matthew Ford. Also, the second half of last season Mark Olver, Ryan Stoa and Greg Mauldin earned roles with their parent club so, if they stick with the Avalanche permanently, it will be tough to see this club follow up last season’s second place finish.
Head Coach: Dallas Eakins
Team Captain: Vacant
Last Season: 37-32-1-10, 85 Points, Missed Play-offs.
Added: Jesse Blacker, Jake Gardiner, Phillipe Dupuis, Matt Frattin, Tyler Brenner,
Lost: C Christian Hanson, LW Fabian Brunnstrom, D Danny Richmond, C Alex Foster, C Justin Hodgman, Aaron Voros, Jeff Cowan
Player to Watch: Marcel Mueller
Quick Peek: Last season, the Marlies biggest issue was who was going to play for them and for how long. In all, 12 players suited up for both the Marlies and the Leafs; with seven of those finishing the season with their parent club. The team has lost a significant amount of veteran leadership including captain Alex Foster, however the prospects joining for this season are what the team needs. Blacker and Gardiner should help a power-play that was fourth worst in the league last season while a rejuvenated Jerry D’Amigo will be back looking to show last year was just an extended slump. Goalies Ben Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas will push each other competitively in the hopes of finishing higher than fourth place and missing the play-offs like last year.
Before the Toronto Marlies can finalize their 2011/12 team, GM Brian Burke and his panel of associates will have to decide who has earned a spot with the Maple Leafs and who will need more time to develop their skills at a different level.
This isn’t a Toronto dilemma; it’s just how it works.
American Hockey League rosters can’t be completed until their parent clubs in the NHL wrap up training camp and make their final cuts; so until the end of September, there will be holes in each of the North Division team’s rosters including the Marlies.
When those rosters are named, a full Marlies preview will be posted.
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