The beloved Rampage end the first month of the season with the best record in the AHL (5-0-1) and without a regulation loss. Never thought I'd be typing that. When Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy took the reins of the organization a couple years ago one thing they stressed was building a minor league development system that would strengthen the foundation of the whole franchise. And win. At that point it was laughable to think after 2 seasons we might have a solid AHL team with young players capable of graduating to the NHL but we're starting to see signs that the future is bright.
3 Stars of the Month
Ben Street - The Rampage captain had 3G/9A with at least an assist in every game. He leads the league in assists and OT goals, thanks to the 2 game-winners this weekend in Ontario which is also tops in the AHL. He also leads the league in SOG/game with 5.5 (33 overall). All this earned him a trip to play with the Avs, good luck Benny!
Calvin Pickard - Picks is 2nd in the AHL in Sv% at .946 (the guy above him has only played 2 games) and is 5th in GAA with 1.79. Take out the first game vs Texas and they move to .965 Sv% and 1.17 GAA. He also has a shutout and an assist on one of Street's OT goals vs ONT. When he was cut from the Avs, Patrick Roy challenged Calvin to not just be the #1 goalie in San Antonio, but be #1 in the whole league. Sure, the improved defense is helping out but he's still making over 32 saves per game and definitely in the elite of AHL netminders.
Andrew Agozzino - Aggz missed his first pro games due to injury over the past week but celebrated his return Saturday by scoring 24 seconds into the game. In 4 games he has 5 goals/4 assists and 16 SOG.
It's easy to get carried away with a hot start with a squad that hasn't faced many injuries or callups yet, but it's more than just the record that has me optimistic about how the Rampage have played so far. I think a lot of us that have followed the team for a while pegged this group as talented, well-rounded and a good bet to make the playoffs for the first time in recent memory but there's a few things coming together that kind of favor San Antonio sustaining good play over the season.
First of all I'll point to Chynoweth's system and how it's being used this year. Just about everyone on the team seems to be buying into it, being where they're supposed to be and doing what they're supposed to do. This has either encouraged or allowed (not entirely sure which yet) Coach Dean to play all 4 lines and all 3 pairs throughout the game regardless of situation. In the past we've seen the bench shorten and the shell/prevent/turdle come out with poor results more often than not. Playing everyone means fresher players at the end of the game. This was pretty evident against Ontario when the Rampage took over in the 3rd period and overtime. To be successful, Dean's system requires speed and good positional play and that's what we've seen so far.
Second, the AHL has changed quite a bit in the last few years and the Monsters/Rampage migration through various divisions has left them in a good spot for their style of play. We started out in the Goon Squad (North) Division, which was basically a continuous bar fight and the Monsters being lightweights didn't lend itself to success. These types of teams are fading fast and the remaining few are in the East. We then moved to the Grind-o-rama (Central) Division where the Monsters speed made them somewhat successful against a lot of cloggy defensive teams but they ultimately were underskilled and still didn't make the cut. We've only seen half of the Pacific at this point but it seems to be a better fit for the Rampage's game. No trap teams, at least no successful ones, plus the YOLO Stars who play exactly like Dallas does in the NHL.
Third, and maybe most importantly, is the quality of the veterans on the team. We are just 2 years removed from the likes of Mark Olver, JT Wyman and Gil Desbiens being the backbone of the team's leadership. Now we have Ben Street at the helm of the team, leading what is probably the most productive line in the league while also allowing Mikko Rantanen the learn his craft without the pressure to be the main driver of play. Max Noreau, Mat Clark and Zach Redmond anchor a solid defense that also allows their young lefty counterparts to develop and push their limits. Say what you like about M-A Cliche at the NHL level, as a 3rd liner with extensive AHL experience he's good to have around. Other than Bordy's awful game against Texas when he was sick, he's been fine on the 4th. Up until last game, none of the vets were playing while a prospect sat, which is nice.
So playing in a league that's more about skilled hockey and less about facepunching with a fundamentally sound system and a talented roster is paying off. I think all the good individual performances we've seen so far, Aggz/Street scoring their heads off, Pickard being a wizard and the strides we've seen from youngsters like Bigras, Geertsen, Siemens & Rantanen, largely flow out of these conditions.
One thing I considered adding but don't have any real feeling for yet was the switch in affiliation from Lake Erie to San Antonio. The Spurs have a long history of being a class organization and I'm sure that was something that attracted the Avs management to make the affiliation. I'm interested in seeing what differences the players feel there. As a fan I'm ecstatic so far, the flow of information is more than I could have imagined.
* * * * *
Recap: Games 5 & 6 vs Ontario
The Rampage made their first game in California count with a gutty 3-2 OT victory against the defending champ and then league leader Ontario Reign. After a fairly even first half of the game, ONT opened up the scoring 9 minutes into the 2nd when the Rampage 4th line became trapped in their own zone for much too long and captain Nic Dowd finally put one home. Zach Redmond tied things up a few minutes later on an improbable shot from behind the goal and we entered the 3rd even. Colin Smith cleaned up a fabulous play and shot from Chris Bigras on the power play for a 2-1 San Antonio lead and Ontario countered with a backbreaking late PP goal of their own to send the game to OT. Ben Street found glory on an unassisted steal and score with 37 seconds left on the clock to give SA the 2 points.
In Saturday's rematch, Andrew Agozzino made his return to the lineup after a bout with UBI and promptly scored 24 seconds into the game. A bunch of stuff happened and about 59 minutes later, the Reign tied it up 6v5. We went to overtime and Ben Street scored his league-leading 2nd OT goal in 20 hours and smiles ensued.
As you would expect, the Reign came out angry for this one after losing the night before. They put up 21 shots to San Antonio’s 4 in the 1st, and 8 to another 4 in the 2nd. The frustration was evident and the Rampage ended up with the momentum in the 3rd and only the usual mayhem with the extra attacker helped them solve Pickard for the only time. This wasn’t a turdle, maybe it was a little rope-a-dope, but all the lines were playing, even the 4th which was down to 2 guys with Reid Petryk out of the game for unknown reasons. The Rampage played solid defense all night and their patience paid off. They ended the weekend with 2 wins against the top team in the league and the AHL’s best record in October.
Preview: SA vs SD
We also have a game tonight! The Rampage take on the San Diego Gulls (6-1-0), the Ducks affiliate and the team right behind them in the Pacific Division. The Gulls have been beating up on the bottom 3 teams in the Pacific mainly so perhaps their record isn't the best indication of where they are as a team. They lead the league in penalties and have some familiar faces like Mike Sgarbossa (5 assists), Kenny Ryan (1A in 2 games) and that asshole O'Brien (2A, 20 PIM).
With Ben Street off to the Avs we'll have a shakeup at the top of the lineup, but at least Bourke should be back in. No word on Reid Petryk's injury from Saturday's game, I have a feeling this might be the kind of game Dean might want Maggio in for anyway. Lines from the end of Saturday night's game:
Big Sam/Bordy/X -- Petryk injured some time in 1st
Bourke, Maggio & Labrie were the scratches
Rampage at San Diego 10pm ET, radio on Ticket 760
Back home to San Antonio for 2 against Chicago with a trip to Texas in the middle.
* * * * *
This game starts an hour after the Avs vs Calgary so stop on by after for the 3rd. Enjoy!