52 SHOTS? SERIOUSLY?
Had to get that out of the way early. First of all, I was at work reffing (No penalties, but I did have to call a hand pass. It was a slow day.) for the first two periods Saturday night, and was on my way to the Sears Centre for the Slaughter game (they lost too, by the way, 70-65) for the first half of the third. The only thing I kept thinking while I was listening in the car was “2 goals will not be enough to win this game”. Unfortunately, I was right. From what I could tell on the radio broadcast, Madore was getting absolutely shelled in the 3rd (which was a continuation of the 3rd period of Friday night’s game against Kalamazoo), and sooner or later, a goalie will miss one. You put 52 shots on net, some are bound to go in. While the Express had everything to play for, Cincinnati didn’t really after the 3rd started, with South Carolina and Reading both winning, officially eliminating them. When I heard Bob Mills (who’s a great follow on Twitter if you’re not following him already, @mills_bob) call that Chicago had taken a penalty in OT, I had a gut feeling that even though Cincinnati’s power play was not great by any means this season (18th in the league at 16.4%), that it would be our downfall. And again, unfortunately I was right. It had seemed like the penalty kill had finally turned things for the better, but the bad penalty kill once again reared its’ ugly head, and Aubin’s 30th on the season was enough to bury the hatchet in the season. This isn’t a recap by any means (since I heard, not saw, only about 10 minutes of the game and OT), but I’m sure you had your own thoughts after that all went down, and those were mine. Anyway, we’ve all had a day to process what happened, and while the outcome wasn’t what we had hoped (thanks to apparently no actual defense being played), this season was a good building block for the future. Let’s take a little stroll down memory lane, shall we?
It all started that warm (Was it warm? I don’t remember) October Saturday night against Kalamazoo. A good crowd (5K+) got going early when Ostrow put one past Gill 33 seconds into the game. That game then saw Kalamazoo come back to tie it (with goals from Anthony and Cherrypicker), until Ostrow gave us the lead once again and for good, with Faubert adding the Fade To Black goal later in the game. They then proceeded to kick off the season going 7-3-0-0 in their first 10 games.
After the good start through the first ten (including a stint with the division lead and best record in the East), the team went on a slightly-above mediocre run, ending up at 15-11-3-1 on New Years’ Eve, roughly halfway through the season, where the Royals managed to end Chicago’s 2011 with an extremely confusing overtime win (Hole-gate, as I call it). We then lost the next 2 by a combined score of 13-4 (ouchies), including the 9-2 pistol-whipping given to us by the Royals in one of the worst hockey games I’ve ever seen.
After the New Year, the team went on their equivalent of the Hawks’ Circus Trip, all losses except for one 4-3 win in Cincinnati (one of only 7 games they lost in regulation at home this season). We finished out January and kicked off February with a nice 5 game win streak, with 2 wins over Cincinnati in the mix. We took off for yet another road trip, winning 2 in Trenton, winning in Elmira (who was almost unbeatable at home at the time). We then ripped off 5 losses in a row by a combined score of 24-15.
We entered the month of March 26-21-6-3, in 3rd in the division, and with the 8th spot very much in reach. With Dainton and Mannino elsewhere, the Express were having to rely on Allen York every single night, and I think that ultimately hurt them. However, the big news to kick off March was the signing of Rob Madore, who I actually didn’t expect to start more than once or twice before the season ended. Then York got called up to the Blue Jackets. Madore’s first test was a tough one, a game in Kalamazoo. He stopped 41 of 46 in that game, at the time a record for the Express. That game was also the one that DiDiomete decided he’d knock a Wing out in the last minute of the game, giving him the 7 game suspension that despite the team letting him go, he still served without actually being on a roster (still not sure how that works). Madore bounced back in impressive fashion the following night, recording a 26 save shutout in Kalamazoo, his first as a professional. Following 2 more wins, the Express only managed to get a point out of a bad Trenton team that had nothing to play for, on a weekend that they had all the help they needed to take away 8th place, but just couldn’t pull it off, and they got the point in recently-signed backup goalie Brooks Ostergard’s first (and only) start. They followed that up with a 4-1 loss in Cincinnati (which ended up being their last regulation loss). After that was a 4-3 win in Kalamazoo, and then the remarkable 5-4 comeback win against Kalamazoo on the back end of the home-and-home (The game which DiDiomete returned to the team. Coincidence? Totally. He got kicked out in the 2nd period). After that game, Madore seemed to take his game to a new level, only giving up more than 2 goals once in the final 4 games. Those final 4 saw the Express extend their win streak to a franchise-record-tying 5, holding onto the 8th spot by their fingernails. Unfortunately, Madore ended his (and everyone’s) 2011-2012 season with the Express the same way it started, getting massively outshot and losing a game he deserved to win.
The big story of this season was really how much player turnover there was. It started early in the season, when Darcy Campbell was assigned to AHL Springfield the day before the home opener. Johnson made a trip up to Springfield in November on a tryout offer, but was returned shortly thereafter. There was of course the revolving door of goaltenders, between Nolan (who was shipped off to Toledo in January for some reason), Dainton (who made a couple stints in the AHL before being assigned to Reading, then AHL Springfield), Mannino (who was eventually assigned to AHL Portland), and of course York (who is currently playing for the Blue Jackets in the NHL, and not doing all that bad as of late). There were players like Blair Riley, who was called up to AHL Bridgeport, never to return. Same thing happened with Bobby Robins, who went to AHL Providence and never came back. They let players like Yannick Tifu go for Chad Painchaud (more on this in a bit, but this actually turned out to be a good trade for both teams), and picked up players like Devin DiDiomete (for some reason) from Wheeling for…um…something, I guess, unless they just wanted him gone (I could totally understand that). They also picked up Anthony Maiani, who put up decent numbers in about half a season here. Then there were guys like Drew Paris, who started out the season here, went up to the AHL (played in Toronto with the Marlies for a while) and then came back. There was Matt Gingera, who was given a ATO contract and for some odd reason was released a week or two into it, despite looking very promising on a line with Marvin (who is an underrated player and faceoff man, in my opinion) and Embach. We picked up Danick Paquette in a trade with Utah for Evan Stephens, a great trade on our end; Paquette having all the fight that DiDiomete had and the head to know when to use it, plus the same if not more scoring ability.
Then there were the injuries. A big loss to the team was Donati going down in the last month of the season, as was Painchaud, who didn’t play for at least the last month. Johnson had a period on the IR, albeit a short one. I could go on and on about players that weren’t available, either because of trades or injuries. But this team never really had a chance to get comfortable with each other until around the last month or so, when the roster (finally) remained relatively unchanged, and the team started to click just a touch too late.
So where do we go from here? First of all, despite the numbers improving slightly in the last month or two of the season, the penalty kill overall this year was absolutely atrocious. They ended up 16th in the league at 80.2% killed (compare to the league-best Ontario Reign at 87.5% killed), but spent most of the season killing somewhere around 78% and sitting in 18th. The penalty kill for a long time wasn’t much better, although it turned around in a major way in the latter half of the season, ending up 7th best in the league at 18.6% converted (compare to the league-high 23.0%, in Florida), helped in part by a 4-or-5 game scoring streak early in March. This was a problem for a majority of the year, though, and in the end the penalty kill is what effectively ended our season; the tying and winning Cincinnati goals Saturday were both on their power play.
So what’s going to happen with this team next season? Well, depending on where you look, there may not be one. My source said they’re guaranteed 2 years, and I’ve heard that a couple different places. But, I’ve heard very conflicting reports from different people. One fact that people are going off of is that no season tickets have been offered for next season. But…this last one just ended. It’s 7 months (Really? Wow. That’s a long time) until the season kicks off again, give them time to refund all the playoff tickets they sold (Heh. Yeahhhhh, about that) before you use that as a measuring stick.
So what’s going to happen with this blog? Well, I’m going to take a little time off, because I’m quite frankly sick of having deadlines to meet. At some point, it may move slightly to it’s own dedicated domain name (if I can come up with a good one. I’m not going to if I don’t have anything better than The Red Line, which FYI is a pun on the CTA Red Line that probably no one got; it’s funny because it’s found on a hockey rink too). If anything happens, I’ll throw something up here. Any other news on the team or anything ECHL related I feel like, I’ll put up as well. Until then, I’ll see you all next season. Have a great summer!