Join Voice of the Rampage Dan Weiss as he offers his unique insight to all things hockey in his weekly blog! Have a question or comment for Dan? Be sure to join the discussion of the San Antonio Rampage Facebook page for your chance to win exclusive Rampage prizes and to interact with other hockey fans!
I decided Thursday afternoon to get away from my desk and take a stroll upstairs to the press box for the first time since the Game 5 loss to Oklahoma City, and while I was greeted by the unfamiliarity of a wall of humidity, it was nice to reminisce once again about what a wonderful season our local hockey team just put together. I’ve often heard coaches and players remark that it takes some time after playing that last game before they can truly reflect back and appreciate the season they just went through, and after sitting up in the box for a few minutes thinking about the goals that went in and the ones that didn’t, I think I finally understood what for the longest time I believed was simply yet another athlete cliché. Even though the season ended more than a month ago with feelings of disappointment and frustration along with the many “what-if” scenarios, it didn’t really hit me until sitting up in that box once again how much I enjoyed being along for the ride this year. From the sold out crowd of more than 16,000 at Pink in the Rink Night to Roman Derlyuk’s game-winner in double overtime in Chicago (forever to be known as the “Goal Heard ‘Round The Alamo”), this was the most satisfying year I’ve had working in sports, and I couldn’t be prouder to sport my Silver & Black. Hopefully you share the same feelings that I do, even if like coaches and players, it takes you some time to reach that point.
A well-deserved congratulations to the Norfolk Admirals who went 15-3 in the playoffs and won 43 out of their last 46 games en route to winning their first Calder Cup. The Admirals championship had Rampage fingerprints all over it, starting with Alex Picard who was named the MVP of the playoffs after collecting nine goals and 16 points. You also have to feel good for Mike Kostka, who despite never finding any comfort on the Rampage blue line earlier in the year, still recorded 38 points this season and tallied six goals in the playoffs, including two in the Finals’ clinching win. Kostka’s legacy from these playoffs however was cemented in overtime of Game 3 when his dump-in from center ice kicked off the stanchion and ricocheted back into an open Toronto net giving the Admirals a shocking 1-0 victory. Other former Rampage players on the Norfolk championship roster included Eric Neilson, P-C Labrie, and Evan Oberg.
The end of the playoffs means the start of the so-called “Silly Season” in hockey. Why the “Silly Season” you ask? It’s because there seems to be plenty of silliness that goes around between the final whistle in June and the opening puck drop in October, and so far this summer is no different. There will be at least 11 teams with new coaches in the American Hockey League next season after Texas, Springfield, Chicago, Peoria, Milwaukee, Lake Erie, Hamilton, Binghamton, Adirondack, Norfolk, and Syracuse change bench bosses either voluntarily or involuntarily. Norfolk and Syracuse are expected to swap coaches after the Tampa Bay Lightning announced Thursday a new multi-year affiliation agreement with the Crunch, which leaves the Admirals and the Anaheim Ducks as the lone dance partners remaining in the affiliation shuffle. Should Norfolk and Anaheim join together, it could mark the return of Trent Yawney to the Admirals bench. Yawney was Norfolk’s head coach from 2000-05 under the old Chicago Blackhawks affiliation, and rejoined the AHL in January as an associate head coach in Syracuse.
The first likely newest member of the Rampage became official Thursday when defenseman Jason DeSantis signed a one-year two-way deal with the Panthers. DeSantis is 26 and coming off his best pro season after collecting 43 points in 66 games with the St. John’s IceCaps and finishing sixth among AHL defensemen in scoring. He played all of last season on an AHL contract, making him eligible to sign with any team prior to the start of free agency on July 1. His addition finishes up what should be a very good top-four defensive corps along with Nolan Yonkman, Colby Robak, and Alex Petrovic. Tyson Strachan is also in the mix, but after signing a one-way contract with Florida last season, I’d expect him to be in the NHL for most if not all of next year. Other players currently under contract and likely to be with the Rampage next season include forwards Drew Shore, Quinton Howden, Jonathan Hazen, Garrett Wilson, Scott Timmins, and Anthony Luciani. Junior forward John McFarland is also under contract, but after suffering an injury last year that derailed his season, he is eligible to return for his overage year or go to the ECHL if the Panthers feel he is not ready. Rampage restricted free agents include forwards James Wright, Michal Repik, Ondrej Roman, Eric Selleck, and Justin Bernhardt; defensemen Roman Derlyuk and Keith Seabrook; and goalie Brian Foster. Rampage unrestricted free agents include forwards Bracken Kearns, Mark Cullen, Greg Rallo, Bill Thomas, Jon Matsumoto, and defenseman Sean Sullivan. Free agency begins two weeks from Sunday.
Long-time Rampage pest Francis Wathier has re-upped for two more years with the Dallas Stars, which means he’s not leaving Cedar Park any time soon. Wathier has totaled 13 goals and 20 points in 33 games against the Silver & Black over three seasons, the most goals by any Stars’ players against the Rampage, and ranks fourth in scoring against San Antonio since the inception of the Lone-Star Face-Off Series between the three Texas teams back in 2009-10. Houston’s Jon DiSalvatore tops that scoring list with 27 points in 34 games against his old mates.
The 2012 NHL Entry Draft is next Friday and Saturday in Pittsburgh, and the Florida Panthers will have the 23rd overall pick. With just two blue chip defensive prospects in the system (Colby Robak and Alex Petrovic), I expect Dale Tallon and Mike Santos to select a blue-liner in the first round. While they likely won’t have a shot at Everett’s Ryan Murray, there is a deep pool of talented defensemen in the draft and the Panthers should have their pick of quite a few. I’ll put my TSN draft guru Bob McKenzie hat on and say they’ll take Olli Maatta from the London Knights. Enjoy the beginning of the summer and check back regularly!