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Golden Knights tab Chicago Wolves as AHL affiliate, transactions keep moving

 

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The Vegas Golden Knights, the National Hockey League’s newest team, assured itself a valuable future pipeline of playing talent after signing a multi-year partnership with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League (AHL) to serve as the NHL team’s top development affiliate.

Chicago Wolves and Golden Knights officials announced the partnership on May 16.

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According to a published report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the partnership length is five years.

The Las Vegas-based franchise, the first NHL team to set up shop in Nevada, had been considering a location for its AHL affiliate since being admitted to the NHL in June 2016. The AHL serves as the primary development league for the NHL and each NHL franchise is paired with an AHL affiliate.

Until the May 16 announcement was made, it was unclear if the Golden Knights would share an existing AHL affiliate with another NHL team or if they would acquire an expansion franchise in the AHL and build from the ground up.

The Wolves, one of the few independently owned teams in the AHL, had served as the primary affiliate for the NHL St. Louis Blues. According to St. Louis general manager Doug Armstrong, the Blues will continue to send prospects to the AHL Chicago franchise this season

The Wolves, who play out of the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., located about 18 miles from Chicago, are centrally located for the needs of its new NHL affiliate. Players on call-ups can easily take direct flights from Chicago to Las Vegas. Also, players can easily join the Golden Knights when the team is on road trips throughout the Midwest and East Coast regions.

The Wolves’ winning tradition caught the eye of Vegas officials. Chicago finished atop the AHL’s Central Division this season with a 44-19-8-5 record and .664 winning percentage. The Wolves have posted winning records in all but one of their 16 seasons in the AHL and all but one of their 23 seasons since their inception in 1994 in the International Hockey League.

Chicago also has won four league championships in its history – two Turner Cup trophies as a member of the IHL in 1997-98 and 1999-2000 and two Calder Cup championships as members of the AHL in 2001-02 and 2007-08.

The Wolves have won six division championships, including four in the past eight years, and three conference championships since moving to the AHL.

Chicago enjoyed its best season in seven years by compiling 101 standing points in 2016-17; the Wolves reached the Central Division Finals before being upset by the Grand Rapids Griffins, who are currently meeting the Syracuse Crunch in the 2017 Calder Cup Finals.

The Golden Knights look to make an imprint on the Wolves franchise. Vegas general manager George McPhee, whose long-term task is to build the Golden Knights into a winner, previously served 17 years as GM of the NHL Washington Capitals. During that span, the Capital’s AHL affiliate in Hershey, Pa., won three Calder Cup championships.

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According to Wolves owner Don Levin, the teams’ partnership agreement includes a clause to win a championship at the AHL level.

“If you look at George McPhee’s history, he has always been a general manager who believes that winning is an important part of developing players,” Levin said. “Professional playoffs are different than the regular season and he understands that and he wants his players to be ready to win.”

“American Hockey League affiliates play a significant role in the success of all NHL clubs and are we are proud to have the Chicago Wolves as our first in team history,” McPhee explained to the media. “I would like to thank Don Levin, (Wolves general manager) Wendell Young and the rest of the Wolves organization for their commitment to the game and helping young hockey players grow to reach their full potential as professionals.

“Chicago is without question one of the strongest, most passionate hockey communities in North America. This is a relationship that we truly believe will be mutually beneficial.”

Young explained the new-look Wolves will essentially be starting up as a new team. “It will be exciting to build both franchises together with the same philosophy,” Young said.

The Golden Knights will soon be able to stock their new AHL affiliate with players following the upcoming NHL Expansion Draft June 18-20 in Las Vegas and the NHL Entry Draft June 23-24 at the United Center in Chicago. The Golden Knights also expect to build their inaugural roster through free agent signings.

The team’s selections in the expansion draft will be announced June 21 during the NHL Awards ceremony at T-Mobile Arena.

Veteran AHL players available in the marketplace could be promising targets for the new NHL club as well as for NHL teams that lose players in the expansion draft.

The Wolves have already served the Golden Knights’ developmental needs. Reid Duke, one of two early signings by the NHL team, spent the last five weeks of the season on a professional tryout contract with the AHL Chicago club.

Duke, originally drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the 2014 NHL Draft, became the first player signed by the Golden Knights when he inked a three-year entry-level contract with the Las Vegas team on March 6.

He signed a PTO with the Wolves on April 7.

Duke, a 21-year-old center, spent six seasons in the Western Hockey League – parts of four seasons with the Lethbridge Hurricanes and parts of three seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings. In 2016, he won the WHL championship, the Ed Chenoweth Cup, with the Wheat Kings.

In 311 regular season WHL games, Duke collected 115 goals, 254 points and 329 penalty minutes. He represented Canada in the World U-17 Hockey Challenge, earning a silver medal.

Other signings by the Vegas club include 30-yeard old veteran Russian pro Vadim Shipachyov and 24-year-old Czech forward Tomas Hyka, who spent the last three seasons playing for his hometown team Mlada Boleslav BK. Hyka was tabbed in the sixth round of the 2012 draft by the Los Angeles Kings but went unsigned.

The Golden Knights acted quickly to create an identity for their developmental player pipeline by hiring Rocky Thompson as head coach for their AHL affiliate.

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Thompson, 39, spent the last two seasons as head coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires, winning this year’s Memorial Cup championship. Thompson, a former 10-year pro, guided Windsor to a combined 81-40-15 record in his two seasons behind the bench.

“We are extremely pleased to introduce Rocky as the head coach of our American Hockey League affiliate, the Chicago Wolves,” McPhee said. “As a player, he was competitive, tough, team-oriented and hard working. As a coach, he is now coming off a Memorial Cup championship season with the Windsor Spitfires and has enjoyed success at multiple levels.

“Player development is a significant priority for our organization and he has proven to be very capable in that area as well. Rocky is the right coach to help us win championships in Chicago.”

Thompson said he was “incredibly grateful” for the opportunity presented to him by the Golden Knights.

“Chicago is a tremendous hockey community, and I look forward to helping the Golden Knights develop top players on and off the ice in front of this dedicated fan base,” he said.
Young said Thompson’s tough, hard-working attributes as a player have carried over as a coach.

“He is meticulous in every area,” Young said in regard of Thompson. “Everybody I’ve talked to in the hockey world has given him rave reviews. He’s going to be a tremendous asset when it comes to developing players and continuing the Wolves’ winning ways.”

Before joining Windsor, Thompson spent five years in the Edmonton Oilers organization as an assistant coach with their AHL affiliate in Oklahoma City (2010-14) and then with the Oilers (2014-15). With the Barons, Thompson helped the team advance to the Calder Cup playoffs in all four seasons, including trips to the Western Conference Finals in 2012 and 2013.

Thompson was also an assistant with the Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL) from 2007-10.

Prior to joining the coaching ranks, the Calgary native played 566 games in the AHL with the Saint John Flames, Louisville Panthers, Hershey Bears, San Antonio Rampage, Toronto Roadrunners, Edmonton Road Runners and Peoria Rivermen. His 1,919 penalty minutes rank 10th all-time.

The Calgary Flames drafted Thompson in the third round of the 1995 NHL Draft and he appeared in 25 NHL games with Calgary and Florida.

Add Vegas

Ryan Craig, whose 14-year pro playing career included captaining the Lake Erie Monsters to the 2016 Calder Cup championship, has retired to accept a position as an assistant coach with the Golden Knights.

Craig, 35, spent nine of his 14 seasons as an AHL team captain, serving that role in Springfield, Norfolk, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Cleveland. He played in 711 career AHL games with 172 goals and 188 assists for 360 points. He collected 22 points in 71 contests with the Monsters in 2016-17.

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Craig, a two-time winner of his team’s IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year award, was selected to captain the Western Conference team at the 2017 AHL All-Star Classic in Lehigh Valley.

A 2002 draft pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Craig appeared in 198 National Hockey League games with Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Columbus.

The Golden Knights have also welcomed former Florida Panthers assistant coach Mike Kelly into the fold as an assistant coach.

Calder Cup Finals

California natives Mitch Callahan (Whittier) and Matt Ford (West Hills) have combined for five points in the opening four games of this year’s Calder Cup Finals for the Western Conference champion Grand Rapids Griffins.

Each player picked up an assist in the first two games of the series. The Griffins captured Game 1 by a score of 3-2 on June 2 and won Game 2 by a score of 6-5 in double overtime on June 3.

Grand Rapids took a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series following a 3-2 win in Game 4 June 9 in Syracuse. Callahan posted one assist in the victory.

The Eastern Conference champion Crunch defeated the Griffins, 5-3, in Game 3 on June 7 as the series shifted to New York for three games.

Callahan has collected 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in 17 Calder Cup playoff games to date while Ford has accumulated 11 points (seven goals, four assists).

Grand Rapids is the AHL affiliate for the NHL Detroit Red Wings and Syracuse is the AHL affiliate for the NHL Tampa Bay Lightning.

Giving back

The AHL announced that more than $5.7 million was raised over the course of the 2016-17 season by the AHL and its 30 member clubs for donation to various charitable causes and relief funds across North America.

Besides monies raised, AHL teams gave back to their local communities through numerous activities, including more than 1,000 visits by players and coaches to schools, hospitals, libraries and other locations and more than 2,800 mascot appearances.

Additionally, more than 170,000 game tickets were donated to local charitable groups. Items such as food, coats, holiday gifts and hockey equipment also were collected at various drives organized by AHL clubs.

The Ontario Reign, for instance, donated more than $729,000 and more than 1,000 volunteer hours during the 2016-17 season.

Around the AHL

Goaltender Troy Grosenick, the backbone of the San Jose Barracuda’s AHL Pacific Division championship in 2016-17, has signed a two-year contract extension with the parent San Jose Sharks, the NHL team announced June 5.

Grosenick, 27, is coming off the best season in his four-year pro career after earning honors as the recipient of the 2017 Aldege “Baz” Bastien Award as the AHL’s outstanding goaltender. He set career highs in save percentage (.926) and wins (30) to go with a 2.04 GAA and league-best 10 shutouts during the regular season.

Grossenick (@TGrose1) has made two NHL appearances for the Sharks. The first was a memorable one as he stopped all 45 shots he faced in a game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Nov. 16, 2014, to become the first goaltender in franchise history to record a shutout in his NHL debut.

In two NHL games, he has a 1.58 GAA and .948 save percentage.

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Grosenick helped lead the Barracuda to its first Western Conference Finals appearance in franchise history this season. In 15 playoff games, he posted an 8-7 record with a 2.69 GAA, a .910 save percentage and two shutouts.

The Wisconsin native originally signed as a free agent with the Sharks in April 2013 out of Union College. He represented the Pacific Division at this year’s AHL All-Star Classic.

The Anaheim Ducks announced June 6 that the NHL club had signed Sam Carrick to a two-year, two-way contract extension.

Acquired in midseason from the AHL Rockford IceHogs, Carrick recorded three goals and 11 points in 15 regular season games with the San Diego Gulls, the Ducks’ AHL affiliate. He collected four goals and seven points in 10 Calder Cup playoff games.

In 72 combined games with San Diego and Rockford in 2016-17, the 25-year-old center registered 14 goals, 39 points and 105 penalty minutes. In 264 career AHL games with San Diego, Rockford and Toronto, Carrick as amassed 55 goals, 139 points and 440 penalty minutes. He has played in 19 NHL games with the Toronto Maple Leafs, generating two points and 13 penalty minutes.

He ranked second in points on the Gulls in playoff scoring and co-led the team in goals.

Ontario forward Sean Backman, 31, has signed with AEG’s Eisbären Berlin of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (German Ice Hockey League).

Backman skated the last four seasons with the Kings’ AHL affiliate in Manchester and Ontario scoring 159 points (62 goals, 97 assists) in 282 games. He helped Manchester capture the 2015 Calder Cup championship in 2015 and had accumulated 33 goals and 89 points in 135 regular season games with the Reign the past two seasons since the franchise relocated to California.

Backman, the Reign’s 2015-16 AHL Man of the Year winner, collected 34 points (12 goals, 22 assists) in 67 games this season.

“Sean has been a tremendous asset for our American League affiliate since he first arrived in 2013 and helped us win division titles and a league championship,” L.A. Kings senior advisor to the GM and development Mike O’Connell explained.

“As a player with world class speed, Sean will provide solid two-way play, timely scoring and leadership for the Eisbären as we build the foundation between our two organizations in Berlin and Los Angeles.”

The Tucson Roadrunners announced May 20 that the team had signed defenseman Kevin Ekman-Larsson to a one-year AHL contract.

The 22-year-old Ekman-Larsson will make his North American professional debut in 2017-18 after spending his entire career in Sweden. In 80 games the past two seasons with Tyngsryds AIF in the Allsvenskan, he notched two goals and seven assists for 11 points.

The 5-11, 170-pound blueliner is the brother of Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The native of Karlskrona, Sweden has played for the Swedish national team at both the U-16 and U-17 levels.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson was a member of Team Sweden’s gold medalist team at May’s International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) championships, co-hosted by France and Germany. Sweden defeated Canada, 2-1, in a shootout to claim the international tournament championship.

The Roadrunners’ new addition comes two days after the NHL parent Arizona Coyotes announced the signing of Steve Sullivan to a multi-year contract as the club’s assistant general manager.

Sullivan, who joined the Coyotes’ hockey operations department in September 2014 and had been promoted to director of player development in May 2016, will serve as the general manager for the Tucson AHL franchise while overseeing the Coyotes’ amateur player development staff.

Prior to joining the Coyotes front office, Sullivan, 42, played 16 seasons in the NHL with the New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh Penguins and the Coyotes. He also played 143 games in the AHL, winning a Calder Cup with the Albany River Rats in 1995 and appearing in two AHL All-Star Classics.

In 2009, Sullivan was the recipient of the Bill Masterton Trophy, which is awarded each year to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

The Coyotes will hold their prospect development camp June 26-30 with on-ice sessions starting June 26 at AZ Ice Peoria, the club announced June 7.

On-ice sessions are set for 2 to 4:15 p.m. on June 26; 9 a.m. to noon on June 27; and 9 a.m. to noon on June 29. The players will participate in an intra-squad game on June 30 at 6 p.m. at AZ Ice Peoria. The practices and game are free and open to the public.

Among the top prospects expected to attend the camp include first-round draft choices Dylan Strome, Clayton Keller and Nick Merkley. Additional prospects, including forward Christian Fischer as well as defensemen Kyle Capobianco and Cam Dineen and goaltender Hunter Miska, will attend.

Fischer, a second-round pick in the 2015 draft (32nd overall), turned in a solid rookie season in 2016-17 by earning selection to the 2017 AHL All-Star Classic. He appeared in 57 games with Tucson, recording 20 goals and 47 points, and also appeared in seven NHL games with the Coyotes (scoring three goals).

Strome, the third overall pick in the 2015 draft, appeared in seven games for the Coyotes in 2016-17 while also appearing in 35 games for the Erie Otters in the Ontario Hockey League. He blasted OHL opponents for 75 points, including 22 goals and 53 assists en route to earning Most Valuable Player honors in the 2017 Memorial Cup tournament.

The Otters finished runner-up in this year’s Memorial Cup Finals to Windsor. Strome led the tournament in goals and co-led in points.

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Strome, 20, has proven a scoring machine in the OHL. He racked up 111 points in 56 games with the Otters in 2015-16 and 129 points in 68 games in 2014-15.

Keller, the seventh pick overall in the 2016 draft, appeared in three games with the Coyotes in 2016-17 at the tender age of 18. He racked up 45 points (21 goals, 24 assists) in 31 games with Boston University in 2016-17.

Capobianco, 19, joined Tucson for four games this season after playing four years for the Sudbury Wolves in the OHL. He was selected in the third round of the 2015 draft by the Coyotes.

Dineen, 18, a third-round pick in the 2016 draft, has played the past two seasons with the North Bay Battalion in the OHL.

The Calgary Flames announced June 8 the NHL team has signed an affiliation agreement with the ECHL’s Kansas City Mavericks for the 2017-18 season.

The Mavericks will replace the Adirondack Thunder as the Flames’ ECHL affiliate. A total of six Calgary prospects spent time with Adirondack in 2016-17, including four during the Kelly Cup playoffs.

The Flames’ primary affiliate remains the AHL’s Stockton Heat.

The Colorado Eagles, a secondary affiliate of the NHL Colorado Avalanche and the AHL affiliate of the San Antonio Rampage, defeated the South Carolina Stingrays four games to none to win this year’s Kelly Cup championship.

Strome photo/OHL Images

Grosenick photo/Phillip Brents

— Phillip Brents