Saturday, December 19, 2009

Springfield Falcons Having Tough Year in the AHL's Atlantic Division

In an effort to promote the American Hockey League and their quality players, The Voice of Sport will look at teams in the AHL every Saturday throughout the season. The teams in the AHL play an exciting brand of hockey and with a mix of veterans and NHL draft picks; the league is a great place to watch some tremendous hockey at a reasonable price. This week's team - the Springfield Falcons...

The AHL affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers, the Falcons are having a tough season in the Eastern Conference's Atlantic Division and a difficult decade. The team has missed the playoffs for six straight seasons and are on the verge of missing the playoffs again with a 10-15-4-2 win/loss record after their first 31 games. Friday night's 2-0 loss to the Portland Pirates continued a slide that has seen the Falcons go 0-8-1-1 in their past ten games. The Falcons have 26 points this season and are well behind the division leading Manchester Monarchs and their 43 points.

Founded in 1994 after the original Springfield Indians moved to Worcester and then to Peoria, the Falcons play their home games in the 6,679 seat MassMutual Center. The losing record has reflected in the attendance numbers, as the Falcons are near the bottom of the league with 3,051 fans per game. Some notable alumni of the Falcons include Danny Briere, Manny Legace and current Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin.

It is clear the Falcons have some work ahead of them when looking at some of this season‘s numbers. While the team is 6th in the league on the power play, they are 28th on the penalty kill in the 29-team league and 6th in penalties, averaging 23.2 minutes per game. Their home record is 6-5-3-2 but it is on the road where they get into trouble; the Falcons are 4-10-1-0 when playing away from the MassMutual Center. Head Coach, Rob Daum, is in his first full season behind the bench in Springfield after coaching in Houston for two seasons and taking over the Falcons with 30 games left last year. He spent 10 years coaching at the University of Alberta before his time in the AHL.

It is looking like another tough season for Falcons fans but there are several bright spots on this year’s roster. Montreal native, Charles Linglet, is third in the AHL’s scoring race with 7 goals and 25 assists in 31 games and he is only six points behind league leader, Corey Locke of the Hartford Wolf Pack. After three seasons in Peoria with the Rivermen, Linglet is in his first full season in Springfield. He played in 21 games with the Falcons last season after a trade from Peoria for Carl Corazzini. Re-signed to an AHL contract during the summer, Linglet is on his way to matching or surpassing his career best 66 points, which he accomplished with Peoria in the 2007-2008 season.

Another success story in Springfield this season is right-winger and Harrow, Ontario native Colton Fretter. Selected in the eighth round, 230th overall in the 2002 entry draft by the Atlanta Thrashers, Fretter is 14th in the AHL scoring race with 13 goals and 12 assists in 30 games. He is also one of the reasons for the Falcons efficient power play unit; he is currently third in the league with eight power play goals. After four years at Michigan State University, Fretter spent time with the Gwinnett Gladiators in the ECHL and split the 2007-2008 season between the Gladiators and the AHL’s Chicago Wolves and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Last season in Portland, Fretter scored 24 goals and accumulated 40 points for the Pirates and signed an AHL contract with the Falcons during the summer.

With the injury to the Oilers number one goaltender, Nikolai Khabibulin, the Falcons have lost their starter from last year, Devan Dubnyk. A native of Calgary, Alberta, Dubnyk was selected 14th overall in the first round of the 2004 entry draft after playing his junior hockey for the Kamloops Blazers in the WHL. In 62 appearances last year for Springfield, Dubnyk had a 2.97 goals against average and a .906 save percentage on a team that went 24-44-8-4. This season he played in 19 games before his call-up to the Oilers and was 9-9-1 with a 3.00 goals against average and a .917 save percentage.

Taking over the goaltending duties in Springfield is another Alberta native, Edmonton’s Aaron Sorochan. In nine games this season, Sorochan is 1-5-0-0 with a 3.90 goals against average and a .874 save percentage. He was not selected in the draft after spending four years at the University of Alberta and signed as a free agent with the Falcons on September 30th, 2009. While his numbers are not great with the Falcons, Sorochan has the talent to be an everyday goaltender in the AHL. In his final junior year in the WHL with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, he was 35-19-8 with a 2.19 goals against average and a .917 save percentage. During his final season at the University of Alberta last year, Sorochan sported a very impressive 1.66 goals against average and a .937 save percentage. With Dubnyk in the NHL for the time being, it will be Sorochan’s time to shine in the Springfield net.

Fighting their way through a tough losing streak, the schedule does not get easier for the Falcons headed into the New Year. The next six games are all against division rivals; Providence (twice), Hartford (twice) and road games in Bridgeport and Worcester. With Providence, Hartford and Worcester directly ahead of them in the standings, it will be an opportunity for the Falcons to salvage the season or sink deeper in the tough Atlantic Division.

Next week’s team, Montreal’s AHL affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs... Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by goaliej54 on Flickr

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