Thursday, July 30, 2009

Albany Inks D-Man Jonathan Paiement

Jonathan Paiement
(Photo by Jennifer Bock)

Add another defenseman to your list. Jonathan Paiement is on his way back to Albany.

The 24-year-old Montreal-native has reportedly signed an AHL contract with the Rats, meaning he will be back for a second season with the club in 2009-10.

Malcolm Cameron, coach of the Rats' ECHL affiliate, the Florida Everblades, broke the news during an interview with the Naples Daily. “His days in the ECHL are over,” Cameron said of Paiement, revealing that the well-rounded blueliner had inked the AHL deal.

Paiement, last listed at 6-foot-1, 205-pounds, played 45 games with Albany last year, tallying a goal, 11 assists and 38 penalty minutes. Prior to earning a full-time spot on the Rats' roster, he skated in nine contests with the Blades, netting three goals and six assists.

Unfortunately Paiement was injured in the team's February bus crash in the Berkshires. He did not return to action until April. After recuperating, he played one game with the Rats and joined the Everblades for the playoffs.

Paiement, who spent five solid years in the QMJHL as a youngster, was drafted by the New York Rangers in the eighth round in 2004. He played his first professional season in 2006-07 with the ECHL's Texas Wildcatters, earning seven goals and 39 assists in 82 total games. In 2007-08, he played 42 AHL games with the Hershey Bears, scoring three goals and 11 assists.

With Albany last season, Paiement proved to be competent in every sector of the ice. Whether battling along the boards, clearing the front of the net, or patrolling the blue line, he took control of his territory. He played on both special teams and at one point was even assigned shootout duties.

"We have a lot of confidence in him, no matter if it’s five-on-five, power play or penalty kill," said Rats' coach Jeff Daniels to the Schenectady Daily Gazette in January. “He’s played well enough that his spot in the lineup, game in and game out, it’s there."

“Jon’s in a case where he has to bring it every day, and he knows that," Daniels said. "The way he’s doing it right now, he’s here to stay, and he deserves it.”

News & Notes

Adirondack Phantoms take Rats' former radio announcer

Hurricanes buy out Frantisek Kaberle's contract

Everblades' coach says Herauf and Tifu have good shot of re-signing w/ Rats

Worcester Sharks sign Cory Quirk

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Rats' Defense Looks Strong With Canes' D Pairings "Set"

With veteran D-man Aaron Ward heading back to Carolina, the Hurricanes' top six defensive positions appear to be all locked up.

In fact, Canes' General Manager Jim Rutherford says the team's defensive pairings are "set" for next season. Ward will reportedly start the year skating alongside Joni Pitkanen; Joe Corvo will be with Tim Gleason; and Niclas Wallin will play with Andrew Alberts.

Defenseman Frantisek Kaberle remains under contract, but may soon be bought out. Free agents Anton Babchuk and Dennis Seidenberg also appear to be on the way out.

As readers of this blog know, there will be plenty of potential Rats looking to crack the Carolina line-up. There's not much room in Raleigh though, so they'll have to play extremely well to earn a full-time job.

Teams usually dress six defenseman for each game. Some keep one or two extra on the roster to rotate in.

Absent any further changes, the Rats' starting defensive line will likely look like this:

Bryan Rodney
Brett Carson
Jamie McBain
Casey Borer
Jay Harrison
Zack Fitzgerald

Not too many AHL teams have a full complement of defensemen capable of playing in the NHL. With these six, the Rats could be one of them.

Friday, July 24, 2009

High Hopes For Drayson Bowman

Drayson Bowman
(Photo by anothersamchan)

Of all the rookie prospects likely to see time in Albany in 2009-10, Drayson Bowman, 20, of Littleton, Colorado, has perhaps the most potential.

Bowman has all the makings of an elite goal-scorer. He is a dynamic play-maker and hungry opportunity-seizer. He is intelligent, fast, good with his stick, and quick with his shot. He feeds on competition and leads by example.

Listed at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, Bowman was selected by the Hurricanes in the third round in 2007. Last summer he signed a three-year, two-way deal with the Canes. The contract allowed him to return to his junior team in the WHL for the 2008-09 season.

Last year with the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League, Bowman scored 83 points (47 G, 36 A) in just 63 regular season contests. The alternate captain racked up another 13 points (8 G, 5 A) in 12 games during the playoffs. Bowman finished the season with a combined +/- ranking of +38.

The previous year Bowman helped the Chiefs win the Memorial Cup. He ended the 2007-08 season and playoffs with 102 points (55 G, 49 A) and a +37 ranking after 97 contests.

Bowman also played for Team USA during the 2009 World Junior Championships, scoring three goals and an assist in six games.

After completing his season, Bowman traveled and practiced with the Canes during their 2009 playoff run.

"He is an excellent goal-scorer with good hockey sense," said Hurricanes' assistant general manager and director of player development Ron Francis last year after Bowman signed. "He's got great vision, can make good passes with the puck and understands the game extremely well," said Francis.

USA Hockey's Jim Johannson was equally impressed.

In an interview with USA Today, Johannson described how Bowman turns ugly plays into beautiful goals. "He catches bad passes," Johannson said. "He has an innate ability to handle the puck so well that he turns bad passes into good passes."

"That helps offensively," Johannson added, "but he's good along the boards when there is a bad breakout pass. He has a good stick."

Bowman is also known for being a clutch player. He appears to thrive in pressure situations.

Ron Rolston, coach of the 2009 U.S. junior team, said Bowman has a reputation for "scoring big goals in big games."

"I can't explain it," Bowman said in an interview. "I've always scored big goals because I guess I put extra importance on big games. For whatever reason, when the score is 10-2, I usually have trouble finding the net. And when it's 3-1, I get on the score sheet."

This is the exact type of player the River Rats need. Someone with an extra special drive to compete and motivate others. Someone that can give the team a chance to win every night.

The website Hockey's Future, which lists Bowman as Carolina's third top prospect, says he "could be NHL-bound as early as next season."

He'll have to prove himself in Albany first. Rats' fans won't have it any other way.

Goalie Mike Murphy Bigger, More Mature In Second Conditioning Camp

Cory Lavelette over at Canes Country offers a closer look at goaltender Mike Murphy.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Rats hoping bigger is better

Pete Dougherty recaps off-season transactions for the Albany Times Union.

Note: Matthew Pistilli, not Patrick, is the name of the undrafted 6-foot-2 Montreal-native signed out of the QMJHL. Someone send Dougherty a memo or something.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Carson & Rodney Re-Sign

Brett Carson and Bryan Rodney, arguably the River Rats' two top D-men last season, have re-signed with the Hurricanes. The highly-valued prospects have both agreed to one-year, two-way deals. Carson will return for his fourth year with the organization, Rodney for his third.

Brett Carson
(Photo by Jennifer Bock)

Carson, 23, originally of Regina, Saskatchewan, is an all-around physical defenseman that plays well in both ends. The 2004 fourth-round Carolina draft pick is known for quickly breaking down the opposition's offense and efficiently moving the puck up the ice.

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound natural born blue-liner also has a knack for finding the net and getting deflections. Carson tallied 150 shots on goal last year, more than most of the forwards and good for fourth highest on the team.

In three seasons with the Rats, Carson has skated in a total of 221 games. He has accumulated 11 goals and 72 assists.

According to the website Hockey's Future, which keeps track of developing players, Carson could be the "most valuable" Carolina defensive prospect next season because he "brings the size and defense-first mentality the team may need to replace in their lineup in 2009-10. Not only that, but [in 2008-09] Carson continued to develop his offensive game. He finished the year with six goals and 29 assists in 69 games with Albany. He was pointless in five games with Carolina, but proved to be reliable in his own end."

Bryan Rodney
(Photo by Deebee)

Bryan Rodney, another all-around solid D-man with a bit more offensive skill, has played a total of 107 games in two seasons with the River Rats. The six-foot-tall, 200-pound native of London, Ontario led the Rats' defense last year in scoring and assists, earning 36 points (3 G, 33 A) in 58 games.

Rodney, 25, was called up for eight contests with Carolina last season and earned his first two NHL points (including this one). Hockey's Future comments: "His puck skills and vision translated to the NHL, where in eight games he exhibited his ability to move the puck and a serviceable defensive game."

Rodney was first picked up by the Hurricanes in 2007. He spent the previous two-and-a-half seasons bouncing around the ECHL. He had only played in eight AHL contests prior to joining the River Rats. Now he is considered NHL potential.

“Brett and Bryan both made tremendous strides last season,” said Hurricanes' VP and assistant GM Jason Karmanos. “They will both have a chance to push for a spot on the Hurricanes roster this fall.”

Bryan Rodney could end up in Carolina as early as October. According to Hockey's Future,
Hurricanes' GM Jim Rutherford "all but assured Rodney a spot on the roster next season, saying his play while in Raleigh was good enough that he’d have to play his way out of a job in 2009-10."

But getting called up won't necessarily mean a spot in the starting line-up. The Hurricanes recently picked up defenseman Andrew Alberts, filling the sixth space on their defensive depth chart.

Although the Canes may still buy out defenseman Frantisek Kaberle, which would open up another space, Carson and Rodney will have to fight hard for a full-time gig.


D-Mark Flood, F-Jakub Petruzalek, F-Dwight Helminen

G-Justin Peters, D-Casey Borer, D-Bryan Rodney, D-Brett Carson, F-Mike Angelidis, F-Pat Dwyer, F-Michael Ryan

UNRESTRICTED: G-Daniel Manzato, F-Trevor Gillies, F-Joe Jensen, F-Noah Babin

NEW SIGNINGS: G-Mike Murphy, D-Jamie McBain, D-Jay Harrison, D-Zack Fitzgerald, F-Zach Boychuk, F-Steven Goertzen, F-Chris Terry, F-Matthew Pistilli, F-Drayson Bowman (2008)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Dwight Helminen Signs With San Jose

The River Rats bid farewell to Dwight Helminen. The 26-year-old center from Hancock, Michigan, has signed a contract with the San Jose Sharks.

Helminen, a defensive forward with a scoring touch, earned 30 points (15 G, 15 A) in 54 games with Albany last season. He played 23 regular season games with Carolina and made his first NHL playoff appearance in a contest against New Jersey.

Helminen was picked up by the Hurricanes last summer after spending a season in Finland with the premier league SM-liiga. Prior to that he spent three years with the Hartford Wolfpack as property of the New York Rangers. He was originally drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in 2002.

Helminen is scheduled to play next season somewhere between Worcester and San Jose.

"Dwight is a high-energy player that helps build our organizational depth," said Sharks' Executive VP and GM Doug Wilson. "We've watched him since his days with the U.S. development team and he fit in well with Carolina last season."

The departure of Helminen is not a total surprise. Space is limited in both Albany and Carolina. The Canes have been busy filling the ranks with depth signings of their own, and several draft picks are preparing to kick off their professional careers.

There will be plenty of new faces to make up for the loss.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Talking With Netminder Mike Murphy

The News & Observer speaks with rookie goalie Mike Murphy.

Mike Murphy stops a shot at conditioning camp
(Photo by Corey Lowenstein)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Draft Analysis

The website Hockey's Future reviews the Hurricanes' 2009 draft picks.

Canes Add More Defensive Depth, Size

Zack Fitzgerald

The Carolina Hurricanes have signed physical D-man Zack Fitzgerald to a one-year, two-way deal, adding defensive depth and size to the organization.

Fitzgerald, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound, stay-at-home defenseman, comes from the Manitoba Moose, AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks, where he led the team last season in penalty minutes and finished third in +/- ranking with a +13.

In four professional seasons, Fitzgerald has played 165 AHL games, totaling six goals, 14 assists and 610 penalty minutes.

Originally from Two Harbors, Minnesota, Fitzgerald was drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the third round in 2003. After spending time with minor league affiliates in Alaska and Peoria, he was traded to Vancouver in 2007.

An early analysis of Fitzgerald's talent by the website Hockey's Future described the D-man as "defensively responsible, offensively adequate, and very physical," noting that he "regularly ravages the opposition in his own end." The writer remarks: "One word comes to mind when mentioning Fitzgerald's style of play: mean."

The Canes' top priority this off-season has been acquiring size and toughness. Fitzgerald fits the bill. He'll probably spend most of next season in Albany, but don't be surprised if he gets called up to bust some heads for Carolina.

River Rats Welcome Back Mike Angelidis

Mike Angelidis
(Photo by Jennifer Bock)

Forward Mike Angelidis will be back in a River Rats' uniform for the 2009-10 season. The 24-year-old native of Woodbridge, Ontario, just signed up for a fourth year with the Carolina Hurricanes' organization.

In three seasons with the Rats, Angelidis, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound scrappy power forward, has played 179 AHL games, scored 33 goals, earned 30 assists and landed a whopping 353 minutes in penalties. Last year he was named an alternate captain.

An undrafted prospect originally picked up by Carolina in 2006, Angelidis split his first professional season between the Rats and the ECHL's Florida Everblades. In 2006-07, he played 27 games with Albany and scored a respectable four goals and five assists.

Angelidis earned a full-time gig with the Rats in 2007-08. In his first full year with the club, he tallied 27 points (11 G, 16 A) in 74 games.

Angelidis returned better than ever in 2008-09. In 67 games, he scored 15 goals and 10 assists, and led the team with 142 penalty minutes. Unfortunately his season came to an early end when he suffered a separated shoulder in a March 20 contest against the Providence Bruins.

Angelidis is now scheduled to return to Albany for his fourth season with the River Rats. While announcing today's signing, Jason Karmanos, VP and assistant GM of the Hurricanes, described Angelides as a "gritty" forward and "key member" of the Rats' club.

Although Angelidis went undrafted, Carolina scooped him up after he scored 78 points (53 G, 25 A) in 68 games his final season in juniors. Angelidis was a first-team OHL All-Star and earned the Dan Snyder Memorial Trophy as the OHL Humanitarian of the Year in 2006.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sit Down With Justin Peters catches up with goaltender Justin Peters.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Albany River Rats Up For Sale?

Anybody have a few hundred thousand dollars? How about a few million?

Columnist Mark McGuire of the Albany Times Union says the River Rats are up for sale. In an article printed Sunday, McGuire writes owner Walter Robb "is actively shopping his Albany River Rats with the proviso the franchise stays in town."

Rumors have been floating around that Robb, 81, has been looking for a buyer, but nothing in print until now.

The McGuire column is actually centered on Albany's arena football team, the Firebirds, which is also owned by Walter Robb. The article, titled "'Birds unlikely to return," gives a grim outlook for the chances of arena football coming back to Albany next season.

"There are four reasons to own a pro sports franchise," writes McGuire, "vanity; a sense of responsibility toward a community; a desire to have fun; and to make money. And unless you realize that last reason, the first three won't matter much for very long."

The River Rats are only mentioned once in the article, but similar concepts apply to the hockey club. Both franchises lose money and draw similar attendance at their games.

This brings up the dreaded "doomsday" question. How long will the River Rats remain in Albany?

For the time being, the owner of the Rats is looking for a buyer that will keep the team in town. But what if there are no takers? How long will Robb wait? How long before outsiders start making bids?

The economy is not what it used to be and the luxury of owning a team is not something most folks can afford. Franchises that do not turn a profit will soon be an endangered species.

Any local buyer for the Rats has to be willing to lose money or break even for at least the first few seasons.

In order to keep the River Rats in Albany long-term, attendance needs to pick-up...big time.

Out of the 29 AHL teams last year, Albany ranked 27th in attendance, averaging 3,539 people a game. Only the Lowell Devils and Quad City Flames (now relocated) did worse.

The Rats have a dedicated and loyal fan base, but those fans need to start bringing their friends. Otherwise, AHL hockey will soon be on the way out of Albany.

The Adirondack Phantoms are scheduled to move to Pennsylvania in three to five years. The Brooks Group, which owns the Phantoms, has expressed interest in buying another AHL franchise to keep in Glens Falls permanently.

How would fans in Albany feel about the Rats moving to Adirondack?

How would fans of the Rats feel about the team moving to New Jersey or Canada?

Make no mistake, these are all very real possibilities.

The Albany River Rats are the fourth oldest franchise in the AHL, surpassed only by the Hershey Bears (1938), the Rochester Americans (1956) and the Providence Bruins (1992). The Rats, along with the Portland Pirates, were launched in 1993. The River Rats won the Calder Cup in 1995.

It would be a shame to see them go.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Cross-Division Point Race in Eastern Conference

The AHL Board of Governors has concluded their annual meeting and announced rule changes for next season. As expected, the Eastern Conference will feature a cross-division point race.

According to the AHL's press release: "The playoffs will feature the top four teams in each of the AHL’s four divisions, with one possible exception: if the fifth-place team in the Atlantic Division finishes with more points than the fourth-place team in the East Division, it would cross over and compete in the East Division playoffs."

In other words, standings in the conference are now almost as important as standings in the division.

Last year the cross over rule applied to the Western Conference. The West Division was then the only division with eight teams. Now the Atlantic Division is the only with eight, so the rule applies to the Eastern Conference.

The AHL has additionally altered the shootout format. According to the league, "no player may shoot twice until all eligible players have gone once. Previously, only five shooters per team were selected to participate in the entire shootout."

The experiment with one-minute overtime penalties has also been ended. "One-minute minor penalties during overtime, instituted at the request of NHL general managers in 2008-09, have been eliminated. Penalties in overtime will be served in full."

Friday, July 10, 2009

Gains & Losses Thus Far UPDATED 7/20

Keep in mind a few of these players could end up in Carolina.

G-Mike Murphy, D-Jamie McBain, D-Jay Harrison, D-Zack Fitzgerald, F-Zach Boychuk, F-Steven Goertzen, F-Chris Terry, F-Matthew Pistilli, F-Drayson Bowman (2008)

KEPT: G-Justin Peters, D-Casey Borer, D-Bryan Rodney, D-Brett Carson, F-Mike Angelidis, F-Pat Dwyer, F-Michael Ryan

UP FOR GRABS: G-Daniel Manzato, F-Trevor Gillies, F-Joe Jensen, F-Noah Babin

D-Mark Flood, F-Jakub Petruzalek, F-Dwight Helminen

Another Day, Another Signing

D-man Jay Harrison (top) is set to wear red, white and black next season
(Photo by Tony Bock)

The Carolina Hurricanes have signed yet another depth player to their organization. This time it's a much needed defenseman.

The Canes have picked up AHL veteran Jay Harrison on a one-year, two-way contract. Harrison, coming in at 6-foot-4, 211 pounds, brings size and professional experience. He is known for being a reliable, stay-at-home defenseman that sticks up for his teammates. Nothing fancy. Just an old-school D-man with a hell of a heart (think Geordie Kinnear).

A third round pick by Toronto back in 2001, Harrison, 26, has played 413 games in the AHL and another 20 in the NHL. The majority of his time has been spent with the Toronto Marlies and their predecessor, the St. John's Maple Leafs. He has 41 career goals, 126 assists and 734 penalty minutes.

Harrison played last year in the Swiss National League, but returned to Toronto late in the season for a brief seven game stint with the Leafs. He will now spend his eighth professional season somewhere between Carolina and Albany.

“Jay is a big defenseman who has been a depth player in the Toronto system since turning professional,” said Hurricanes' VP and assistant GM Jason Karmanos. “His size and experience should allow him to compete for a roster spot with the Hurricanes next season.”

It is unknown if Harrison, originally of Oshawa, Ontario, will spend significant time in Albany, but his signing will benefit the River Rats regardless. If Harrison lands in Carolina, Albany will probably get to keep an extra defensive prospect.

On the other hand, if Harrison sticks around with the Rats, he could very well fit in as a perfect anchor D-man.

Did I mention he sticks up for his teammates?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Rats, Phantoms Schedule Preseason Series

The Albany River Rats and the newly born Adirondack Phantoms will square off for two preseason games on September 25 and 26. It appears the first game will be in Glens Falls and the second will be in Albany. The Northway rivals will meet an additional 12 times over the course of the regular season.

Casey Borer, Justin Peters Re-Sign With Club

Casey Borer, Justin Peters
(Photo by Jennifer Bock)

The Carolina Hurricanes have re-signed defenseman Casey Borer and goaltender Justin Peters each to one-year, two-way contracts. The young prospects, both drafted by Carolina in 2004, are expected to return to the River Rats for the beginning of the 2009-10 season.

“The upcoming season is important for both Casey and Justin,” said Jason Karmanos, VP and Assistant GM of the Hurricanes, in a statement. “Justin made big strides last year in Albany, and now it is time for him to take his game to the next level and show that he can be an NHL goaltender."

“Casey is coming off of a second consecutive season-ending injury, so it will be important for him to re-establish his defensive game so that he can once again play at the NHL level,” said Karmanos.

The 23-year-old Casey Borer (6'2", 205 lbs), originally of Minneapolis, MN, experienced some tough luck the past two seasons. He suffered a broken neck in the Rats' February 2009 bus crash, and was taken out of commission the year earlier by a severe knee injury.

In his first two years with the organization, Borer, considered a solid defensive defensemen, played 113 games with the River Rats and 14 games with the Hurricanes. He scored 10 goals and 19 assists with Albany and a goal and two assists with Carolina. During his first NHL game of the 2008-09 season in December, he blocked three shots in 13:01 minutes of ice time.

Goaltender Justin Peters, 22, originally of Blyth, Ontario, has come a long way in a short time. After a rocky beginning with the River Rats in 2006-07, Peters was kicked down to the ECHL's Florida Everblades for 2007-08. Now he has earned starting rights in Albany and a potential future in the NHL.

Peters won the top spot in net for the Rats last season with a 2.89 GAA and will be back to defend his job. If he plays well, he may earn a full-time NHL gig backing up Cam Ward in 2010-11.

Peters could face some stiff competition from two-time OHL goalie-of-the-year Mike Murphy, who signed a three-year entry level deal with the Hurricanes this past March.

Peters' goaltending partner from last season, Daniel Manzato, recently became an unrestricted free agent and has yet to re-sign.

Status of River Rats facing free agency this summer:

Restricted: Mike Angelidis, Brett Carson, Bryan Rodney
Unrestricted: Trevor Gillies, Joe Jensen, Noah Babin, Dwight Helminen, Daniel Manzato
Re-signed: Michael Ryan, Pat Dwyer, Casey Borer, Justin Peters
Gone: Mark Flood, Jakub Petruzalek

Canes Add More Depth, Sign Goertzen

The Carolina Hurricanes' latest signing Steven Goertzen (left) will likely see time in Albany next season
(Photo Reuters)

The Hurricanes continue to add depth within their organization, announcing today the signing of "gritty" 6-foot-2, 216-pound winger Steven Goertzen to a two-way contract.

“Steven adds needed size and grit to our organization’s group of forwards,” said Hurricanes' VP and Assistant GM Jason Karmanos, according to the team's press release. “He is an experienced depth player who will help Albany, and also can contribute at the NHL level.”

Goertzen, 25, is known for being a solid checking forward. He throws his weight around, plays a strong defensive game, kills penalties, and drops his gloves when necessary. With a total of 62 NHL and 317 AHL games under his belt, he also brings experience.

A 2002 seventh round Columbus draft pick, Goertzen began his professional career in 2004 with the Syracuse Crunch. The native of Stony Plain, Alberta, has been bouncing back and forth between the NHL and AHL ever since.

In 317 AHL contests, Goertzen has accumulated 34 goals, 42 assists and 514 penalty minutes.

Two seasons ago Goertzen was picked up by the Phoenix Coyotes and subsequently assigned to their AHL affiliate San Antonio Rampage. Last year he was called up to the Coyotes for 16 games, earning two goals, two assists and 24 minutes in the box.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Prospect Jamie McBain On the Fast Track

Carolina Prospect Jamie McBain
(Photo Badger Beat)

Late last season some casual fans and onlookers in Albany may have been a bit curious about the defenseman wearing the name "McBain" for the River Rats.

The 21-year-old point man, Jamie McBain, came directly from the University of Wisconsin after wrapping up his junior year with the Badgers. McBain, a second round Carolina draft pick from 2006, signed a three-year two-way deal with Canes, which is set to begin in 2009-10. He spent the end of last season with Albany to get his first feel for the pros.

In 2008-09, McBain, a classic offensive defenseman, was the Badgers' leading scorer with 37 points (30 G, 7 A) in 40 games. The Wisconsin alternate captain was the highest scoring defenseman in the league. He earned the title of WCHA Player of the Year, was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, and was named a 1st Team All-American. He was called Carolina's most impressive NCAA prospect.

During McBain's first 10 professional contests with the River Rats, the rookie tallied a goal and an assist, and played solid in his own end.

"He's very patient with the puck," said River Rats' coach Jeff Daniels, according to the Albany Times Union. "He does a good job of getting his shots through from the point. He does a good job at joining the rush, not forcing it. It seems real natural for him. He kind of comes in late and finds that open ice. He's had a couple of chances to score just by doing that."

As coach Daniels noted, McBain has the ability to find the net through traffic.

The second goal below, 24 seconds in, is another example. McBain gets an assist on the first shot as well.

McBain passed on his senior year of college, opting instead for a three-year two-way contract with the Canes that included a $255,000 signing bonus. Carolina is obviously interested in putting him on the fast track, but how fast?

There is some speculation that McBain will make it to the NHL next season. This is certainly a possibility, but Carolina has no need to rush the process.

McBain left college early and will probably spend some time developing in the AHL. He will likely start next year in Albany and play a minimum of 30-40 games in a Rats' uniform. This, of course, is just a guess. Some think he will make the Hurricanes' line-up immediately out of training camp. Only time will tell.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Rats Lose Petruzalek, Flood

The River Rats will have to do without leading scorer Jakub Petruzalek and staple defenseman Mark Flood next season. Both players, who spent the past three years in Albany, have signed to play elsewhere in 2009-10. Petruzalek is heading off to Finland for SM-Liiga, regarded as one of the top European leagues, while Flood has been picked up by the New York Islanders to add depth in Bridgeport.

In 2008-09, Petruzalek scored 54 points (19 G, 35) in 77 games for the Rats, tying teammate Jerome Samson for the title of top scorer. Petruzalek was called up to Carolina mid-season, playing his first two NHL games and tallying his first big-league point.

The young player from the Czech Republic was just one of several skilled forwards fighting for a spot with the Canes. He was ultimately overshadowed by the likes of Brandon Sutter, Michael Ryan and Pat Dwyer.

Petruzalek was originally drafted by the New York Rangers in 2004. The Hurricanes acquired him in 2006 along with a conditional fifth-round pick in exchange for forward Brad Isbister.

Petruzalek will now join the ranks of several talented prospects opting to play in Europe instead of North America. Many are leaving for better salaries overseas.

Mark Flood, a reliable defenseman now destined for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, was obtained by Carolina in 2006 in a move that sent D-man Derrick Walser to Columbus.

During his two-and-a-half-year stint in Albany, Flood developed into a solid two-way player, finishing last season with 31 points (6 G, 25 A) in 76 games.

Flood was considered a team- and fan-favorite. He earned an "A" on his sweater towards the end of last season and wrote a blog, Flood the Ice, for the team's website. Soon to be 25-years-old, he stands a better chance of moving up with the Islanders than he did with the Hurricanes. The Sound Tigers will be lucky to have him. The move is good for everybody except the Rats.

Next year's defense is looking a bit thin. According to the website Hockey's Future, which monitors young prospects, D-man Bryan Rodney was assured a spot on the Hurricanes' roster next season. The Canes may also call up defensemen Brett Carson and/or Casey Borer. Add the loss of Mark Flood and the likely possibility of a few injuries, and the Rats could be struggling in their own end.

There is still plenty of time before the start of the season. We won't know until October what the Rats' roster will truly look like. There should be plenty of new faces. Rookie prospect Jamie McBain, for instance, will be available to pick up at least some of the defensive slack.

Best of luck to both Jakub and Mark...except when Bridgeport plays Albany.

Crunch Back in Rats' Division UPDATED

The American Hockey League has announced the official conference and division alignment for the 2009-10 season. The River Rats will again be part of the East Division of the Eastern Conference. There will, however, be some slight changes.

The Rats will welcome their old rival, the Syracuse Crunch, back to the division. Albany and Syracuse are now guaranteed to face-off eight times.

The Crunch will take the place of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, who are set to move to the Atlantic Division. Last year Syracuse was part of the North Division of the Western Conference, which will now include the first-year Abbotsford Heat, formally known as the Quad-City Flames.

The Atlantic Division will be the only division with eight teams. The rest will hold seven.

The Adirondack Phantoms, formally of Philadelphia, will remain in the East Division alongside Albany. The Rats and Phantoms will square off twelve times.

The Rochester Americans are the only opponent the River Rats will play from the Western Conference.

Here is the complete breakdown of the divisions and games against:

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

Bridgeport Sound Tigers (2 H, 2 A)
Hartford Wolf Pack (1 H, 1 A)
Lowell Devils (1 H, 1 A)
Manchester Monarches (2 H, 2 A)
Portland Pirates (2 H, 2 A)
Providence Bruins (1 H, 1 A)
Springfield Falcons (2 H, 2 A)
Worchester Sharks (1 H, 1 A)

East Division
Adirondack Phantoms (6 H, 6 A)
Albany River Rats
Binghamton Senators (4 H, 4 A)
Hershey Bears (4 H, 4 A)
Norfolk Admirals (4 H, 4 A)
Syracuse Crunch (4 H, 4 A)
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (4 H, 4 A)

Western Conference

North Division
Abbotsford Heat
Grand Rapids Griffins
Hamilton Bulldogs
Lake Erie Monsters
Manitoba Moose
Rochester Americans (2 H, 2 A)
Toronto Marlies

West Division
Chicago Wolves
Houston Aeros
Milwaukee Admirals
Peoria Rivermen
Rockford Icehogs
San Antonio Rampage
Texas Stars

Monday, July 6, 2009

Recent Draft Pick Kennedy Headed for the Hudson UPDATED

Matt Kennedy
(Photo by Michael Hollenbeck)

The Carolina Hurricanes' 2009 fifth round draft pick Matt Kennedy is headed for Albany and the Rats certainly won't complain about getting this 20-year-old feisty power forward.

Kennedy, selected 131st overall, was named the 2008-09 MVP of the OHL's Guelph Storm, scoring 73 points (33 G, 40 A) in 67 games as the team's captain. In addition to the MVP award, he earned the team's Top Scorer Award, the Playmaker Trophy, the Fan Club Award and the Leadership Award. If you look up the 6-foot-3, 203-pound, Richmond Hill, Ontario, native on YouTube, you'll discover he isn't afraid to drop the gloves either.

Kennedy played his first four professional games and scored his first professional goal with the Syracuse Crunch late last year after finishing his season with the Storm. "He was described as a tough, gritty grinder," the Canes Now blog reports.

Now Canes' property, Kennedy is likely to officially kick off his professional career in Albany, bringing offensive talent and leadership qualities to the Rats' club.

UPDATE: Turns out the River Rats will have to wait another year before getting Kennedy's services. He has decided to return to juniors for one more year with Guelph. If the Storm's season ends before the Rats, there is a chance he'll play in Albany towards the end of the year.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Matthew Pistilli Destined For Albany

Matthew Pistilli

The Carolina Hurricanes have signed undrafted forward Matthew Pistilli of the QMJHL to a three-year entry-level deal, a move that will likely place the 6-foot-2 Montreal-native in a River Rats' uniform during 2009-10 season.

During his career in juniors, Pistilli racked up 319 points (147 G, 172 A) in 322 games, not too bad for a player snubbed in the draft. During the 2008-09 season, Pistilli was the league's eighth highest scorer with 86 points (45 G, 41 A).

In addition to his scoring ability, Pistilli brings character. He was named the 2008-09 Canadian Major Junior Humanitarian Player of the Year, beating out fellow Carolina prospect Chris Terry, who was also nominated for the award.

When looking for players, the Canes apparently care about personality just as much as skill, an excellent quality for any hockey club.

According to the Canadian Hockey League's website, "Pistilli was a major contributor to the Shawinigan community this season and distinguished himself by visiting underprivileged children and donating his personal tickets to every home game and ensuring that the children received VIP recognition as his guest. Throughout the year he participated in local school activities, fundraising initiatives, and minor hockey initiatives."

Some may think undrafted players like Pistilli are long shots, but don't forget the Canes picked up an undrafted forward by the name of Chad LaRose in 2003. LaRose earned a spot on the Canes and signed a two-year, $3.4 million contract just a few days ago.

Matthew Pistilli will likely play his first professional game this October for Albany. He'll deliver offensive depth and true character to the Rats' bench. Will he develop into a Chad LaRose? Only time will tell.