The beloved Rampage begin their first season as Avalanche affiliates with a trip to Cedar Park to play the Texas Stars tonight. For the last few years, the mood for opening day has shifted in a range between "hopeful" and "cautiously optimistic". Not so this season, this lineup is downright exciting. Size, speed, skill are in good supply and there are much fewer question marks.
- The good folks at Running With the Herd do a weekly radio show/podcast and started off their season this week. Check it out when you get a chance.
- So far the Avs prospects that have been sent to Fort Wayne are Trevor Cheek, Garrett Meurs and Spencer Martin. Justin Hamonic (AHL SPC), Brock Montgomery & Alex Belzile (AHL 2-Way SPC) are also with the Komets. Hamonic was scratched last night vs Evansville but all 4 skaters who played had goals, Cheek had 2. Martin won the game despite some poor defensive play in front of him, stopping 29 of 34 shots for the 6-5 victory. Cheek is going to kill it at the ECHL level, I was somewhat surprised he was sent down.
- Komets beat writer Blake Sebring will be doing a podcast this season if you like to keep up with our guys in the ECHL. First episode is here and it talks about training camp and how the roster is shaping up.
Our best intel from Rampage PxP man Dan Weiss has the lineup looking pretty close to this:
Agozzino - Street - Everberg
Martinsen - Hishon - Smith
Bordeleau - Cliche - Bourke
Schumacher - Henley - Petryk
General - The 1st line is going to be fantastic. Street & Aggz are good for 7 SOG a night by themselves and Everberg, however long he stays in SA (not long), will be great puck support and will chip in a few goals (he had 5 in 12 AHL games last year). The main question I have for the 2nd line is who is the finisher? Martinsen hopefully but it could be all 3. Much as I despise Cliche on the Avs I think he's going to be fine in SA, he's reasonably fast and defensively responsible. Bordy's injuries make him a question mark but if he can be good on the forecheck and in front of the net we're ok. This could be a real chance for Bourke to create some space for himself, be a bit of a puck hog and rack up some points. I love the 4th, all 3 are great forecheckers and stout defensively. That will be a fun line to watch.
Special Teams - The PK is more than set with Aggz, Street, Evs, Smitty, Bourke, Clish and Henley accomplished in the area. PP will be a lot like last year, the D and either Hish or Street on the half boards will run things.
Bigras - Clark
Siemens - Noreau
Geertsen - Redmond
It's hard not to gush about the D this year and I think it's going to be a big improvement over last year. Clark in for Gervais, Reds in for Elliott, Bigras in for Stollery and Geertsen in for Lauridsen. Wow. I can see any of these guys paired together at any point, not only that but I can see any of them on either PK or PP and be fine. Versatile and big (not a single D under 6' or 190#) is a great place to start out the season.
Pickard's record last year in the NHL speaks for itself and his AHL stats were good for a 3rd year pro on a team that missed the playoffs. He's going to play a lot. The backup goalie spot is probably the biggest weakness for the team going into the season, Roman Will was very good in the ECHL but his play for LEM left a lot to be desired. If he doesn't show improvement then we look to talented rookie Spencer Martin who will start out with the Fort Wayne Komets.
Scratches: Maggio, Corbett, Labrie, Beaupre
Beaupre is recovering from something - I believe from off-season shoulder surgery, but no one has confirmed that - and is skating with the team in a NC jersey.
Noreau & Clark suffered minor injuries in pre-season but are good to go
Unlike the parent club, the Rampage are not totally Corsi-challenged. Last year they ended up with a 49.4 Shots For %, and typically outshot their opponents with a few outlier games dragging down the average. I expect this to continue and improve. Also, they tend to be much more aggressive on the forecheck than the Avs and in controlling the neutral zone while making it a point to challenge zone entries. These are things I wish the Avs would look into adopting because they really seem to make the identity of SAR.
Top Scorer - Andrew Agozzino. No reason to think he won't pick up where he left off last year, 7th in the AHL with 30 goals, 34 assists and averaged more than 3 SOG per game.
Breakout Player - Troy Bourke. Last year paid his rookie dues being healthy scratched and fitting in wherever necessary. Became a skilled penalty killer using his speed and tenacity on the puck. Late in the year he started to show some more advanced skills, making extra moves to create space and time and getting accustomed to the offensive zone cycle. I really like where he's heading, he's got 2 years left on his ELC and the Avs could have something special in Bourke by then.
Callups - Going by order of cuts, Dennis Everberg and Zach Redmond should be the first players to head to the Avs if needed. Beyond that, it's going to depend on who is playing the best at the time and slightly on needs. I expect to see Martinsen with the Avs at some point for sure and if a center is needed I have a feeling Cliche will see time there as well. Later in the year I would hope to see Duncan and Bigras both get some time in Colorado but that's going to depend heavily on how they progress this season.
Points/Playoffs - It's always tough to make the playoffs but it's much more so for the Rampage (and Stars) because 5 out of 7 teams in the division play 8 fewer games and only the top 3 are guaranteed to make it. Much as I love the potential of the defensive corps, there are 2 rookies there and none of these guys have played together for more than a few games. It will take a while to set who plays best with who and when and the longer that takes the more it hurts. SAR should be able to score pretty frequently, especially on power plays, so that's not a concern as of right now. I like the depth we have in Ft Wayne a lot more than what we had last year too.
All that said, the team's record will depend heavily on injuries and callups as it always does in the AHL. If the lineup stays pretty close to what we see above this should be a solid playoff team. Taking a wildly optimistic guess, I'll say they end up with 95 points and 2nd in the Pacific Division.
Rampage at Stars 8:00pm ET, radio on 760 The Ticket - iHeartRadio link
AHL website for all your statistics and boxscore needs
Friday & Saturday Nights vs Grand Rapids
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The Rampage start off an hour before the Avs take on the Stars tonight so stop by and support your beloved prospects. Enjoy!