Note: This is the second installment of our 3-part season-in-review series. (Click here to read the first story.) The final installment will be published later this week, and then “IceMen Insights” podcast will return next Wednesday, April 17.
The 2012-13 season was a non-stop rollercoaster ride for the IceMen, in part due to all of the transactions initiated by parent clubs during Evansville’s first season in the ECHL. The IceMen roster featured 20 different players who were sent down to Evansville while under NHL or AHL contract.
The team’s affiliation with the St. Louis Blues and AHL Peoria Rivermen produced 10 IceMen players and 23 AHL call-ups. Evansville’s agreement with the Columbus Blue Jackets and AHL Springfield Falcons yielded 9 IceMen players and 11 AHL recalls.
The IceMen also enjoyed the services of one player (goaltender Rob Madore) on loan from the AHL Charlotte Checkers, who began the season with a surplus of netminders. Madore played 13 games for Evansville before the Checkers re-assigned him to the Florida Everblades, their ECHL affiliate.
In this IceMenManiacs.com exclusive, we’ll examine both affiliations, compare the performance of affiliate-owned players to Evansville’s ECHL-contracted talent, and take a look into the future.
BREAKDOWN: ST. LOUIS & PEORIA
Eight Blues prospects (under NHL contract) suited up for Evansville – goaltender Paul Karpowich, defenseman Brett Ponich, and forwards Cody Beach, Stefan Della Rovere, Anthony Nigro, Tyler Shattock, Brett Sonne and Sebastian Wannstrom.
Two Rivermen-owned players (under AHL contract) also spent a bit of time with the IceMen – forward Andre Bouvet-Morrissette and defenseman Brent Regner.
Blues and Rivermen players played a combined 125 games for the IceMen.
Karpowich, who made the most appearances (25) of any Blues/Rivermen player, struggled to find consistency during his first pro season. The rookie finished the season 7-13-2 with a 3.27 Goals-Against Average and .900 Save Percentage. The highlight of his up-and-down year was a 5-0 shutout victory at Fort Wayne in November.
Beach and Nigro each totalled four stints with the IceMen. Beach, a rookie enforcer, played 24 games and tallied 9 points with 81 penalty minutes. Nigro, a third-year pro, registered 8 points in 19 games.
Wannstrom, a Swede playing his first professional season in North America, scored 6 goals in 14 games. Della Rovere, a third-year pro who previously played 7 games with the Blues during his rookie season, had 7 points in 12 games with the IceMen.
Ponich, a second-year pro who was a second-round draft pick in 2009, spent 13 games on the blueline for the IceMen. The 6’7″ behemoth played a physical game, chipped in offensively with 3 points, and compiled a respectable +3 rating that tied for the team lead.
Sonne (7 points in 7 games) and Shattock (5 points in 3 games) began the year in Evansville and made an immediate impact offensively, but were quickly called up to and remained in the AHL for the duration of the season.
Bouvet-Morrissette (4 points in 6 games) and Regner (1 goal in 2 games) also played well during their brief time with the IceMen.
BREAKDOWN: COLUMBUS & SPRINGFIELD
Five Blue Jackets prospects (under NHL contract) played for the IceMen – goaltender Allen York, forward Oliver Gabriel, and defensemen Anton Blomqvist, Austin Madaisky and Will Weber.
Four Falcons-owned players (under AHL contract) donned an Evansville uniform – goaltender Paul Dainton and forwards Wade MacLeod, Nathan Moon and Trent Vogelhuber.
Blue Jackets and Falcons players played a combined 186 games for the IceMen.
Moon was the only affiliate player who played in more than half of Evansville’s games. The second-year pro racked up 16 goals and 19 assists in 44 games, and was the lone IceMen player who earned a trip to the ECHL All-Star Game. He also notched his first career hat trick in an 8-5 victory over Toledo in December.
MacLeod also lit the lamp 3 times in that 8-5 beating of the Walleye, which was his first game with the IceMen. Because his third goal came 1:21 before Moon’s, MacLeod holds the distinction of being the first Evansville player to post a hat trick at the Ford Center. He only played 5 games with the IceMen, but his 6 goals made quite an impression.
Vogelhuber spent most of the season in Evansville, but only played 34 games while battling through injuries. The rookie winger was a shining light when healthy, tallying 16 points and tying Ponich with a team-best +3 rating.
Gabriel, also a rookie winger, spent the entire season in Evansville and was the team’s only affiliate-owned player who never got called up. His season was largely derailed by a serious leg injury suffered in the second game of the year, but he did eventually return and ended up with 5 goals and 5 assists in 20 games.
Madaisky, a rookie defenseman, also missed significant time due to injury but showed a lot of promise in tallying 6 points in 11 games. However, big 6’4″ blueliners Blomqvist (3 points and a -14 rating in 36 games) and Weber (no points and a -5 rating in 8 games) were not nearly as productive.
In net, Dainton made 23 appearances and went 8-11-2 in his second pro season, with a 3.92 GAA and an .881 SV%. York played 5 games for Evansville while on a rehab assignment, going 3-1-1 with a 2.72/.919 stat line.
AFFILIATE PLAYERS vs ICEMEN PLAYERS
Some might be surprised by seeing a comparison between the performance of affiliate-owned players and that of IceMen-owned players. While the affiliate goaltenders did perform slightly better than Evansville’s, the IceMen players held a slight edge in most offensive stats.
In the following graphics, “EVN V” refers to veterans under ECHL contract and “EVN R” refers to rookies under ECHL contract, while “EVN” refers to IceMen-contracted players who were not a veteran or rookie. In the “Affiliates” sections, “STL/PEO” refers to players who were Blues/Rivermen property and “CBJ/SPR” refers to players who were Columbus/Springfield property.
Affiliate players saw the bulk of the action in net, making a combined 66 appearances and handling over 83% of all minutes played. Compared to IceMen goaltenders, the affiliate netminders had a 3.49 to 3.80 advantage in GAA and a slim .894 to .891 edge in SV%.
It is worth noting, however, that all of the IceMen goaltender stats were generated late in the season, after the team was realistically eliminated from playoff contention and the focus had shifted more toward evaluating rookies and other young players. Nonetheless, James Reid and Kevin Moore posted a shared shutout in the season’s final game, a 4-0 blanking of the Cyclones in Cincinnati.
Up front, IceMen-owned players piled up 332 points in 499 total games played, an average of 0.67 points per game. Affiliate players had 115 points in 188 games, an average of 0.61.
The affiliate forwards did fare better (though still not well) in the plus/minus stat, with a per-game average of -0.19 compared to Evansville players’ -0.32.
On defense, IceMen-contracted players totalled 108 points in 343 games, a per-game average of 0.31. Affiliate blueliners played 70 games with just 13 points, an average of 0.19 points per game.
Evansville’s defensemen also bested the affiliates’ in plus/minus, but not by a particularly wide margin. The IceMen averaged -0.29 per game, while affiliate players averaged -0.33 per game.
NEXT SEASON AND BEYOND
Just over a week after the end of the 2012-13 season, we don’t yet know much about the affiliation situation for the 2013-14 IceMen.
Will the Blues and/or Blue Jackets want to retain Evansville as an ECHL farm club? Will the IceMen want to keep both, go forward with just one affiliation, or perhaps even operate as an independent? And how will the team’s approach to affiliation change in response to all of this season’s turmoil?
One thing we DO know: If the IceMen are still affiliated with the Blues (regardless of what happens on the Columbus front), Evansville will NOT still be working with Peoria. The Blues owned the Rivermen franchise this season but have sold the “Rivs” to the Vancouver Canucks, so the Blues will operate in 2013-14 with a different AHL affiliate – possibly the Chicago Wolves, who were Vancouver’s AHL affiliate this season.
No matter how things play out with the affiliation agreements, some of this season’s affiliate-owned players could still be in the picture for Evansville next season. Only 7 are under affiliate contract beyond the 2012-13 season. Beach and Madaisky each have two seasons left on their entry-level contract; Blomqvist, Gabriel, Ponich, Wannstrom and Weber are all locked up through next season.
That means Rich Kromm could extend an ECHL contract offer to a solid AHL-level defenseman like Regner (who was dealt at the AHL trade deadline from Peoria to the aforementioned Chicago Wolves for the remainder of this season), should he not be brought back on another AHL deal. The IceMen General Manager could also potentially offer an ECHL job to goaltenders Dainton, Karpowich, Madore and York. (Well, not ALL of them, but you get the point!)
The pending free agent NHL/AHL forwards who IceMen fans saw this season are Bouvet-Morrissette, Della Rovere, MacLeod, Moon, Nigro, Shattock, Sonne and Vogelhuber. If any of them aren’t afforded new contracts at a higher level, how many Evansville fans would like to see them get a chance to keep playing for the IceMen on an ECHL deal?
Of the 13 affiliate players who are not currently signed for 2013-14, Sonne (who was also traded at the AHL deadline – from Peoria to Texas for the rest of the 2012-13 season) is the only one who will be a veteran by ECHL rule. (Of course, many IceMen fans – this author included – would be more than happy to see him take one of the team’s four available veteran roster spots.) The other dozen could bring talent and experience without filling a valuable veteran slot.
IN A NUTSHELL
In 2012-13, the IceMen got 20 different players (and 324 man-games) from 5 different higher-level teams. The players produced a mixed-bag of on-ice performance as the IceMen struggled to find success in general.
In 2013-14, many of the players – and perhaps the affiliate teams too – will be different. Just how different remains to be seen.
But no matter who the teams are and regardless of who the players are, IceMen fans must hope that the affiliate rollercoaster ride isn’t quite so bumpy next season. A little less chaos could lead to a lot more wins.