The Colorado Eagles capped off their first AHL preseason on Saturday night with a 4-2 win over the San Jose Barracudas. Four different players found the back of the net while goalie Pavel Francouz made 22 saves on 24 shots. Francouz is making his first appearance in the AHL after playing his previous three seasons for Chelyabinsk Traktor of the Kontinental hockey league.
It was a much better look from a team that struggled with neutral zone turnovers and failed to generate any significant offense the game prior. Of course, much of that change can be credited to player personnel moves. In game one, the Eagles rostered a handful of players on professional tryouts as well as ten skaters from the ECHL.
“That was typical pre-season sloppy hockey. I thought there were a lot of turnovers in the first couple of periods but then we tightened it up in the third,” head coach Greg Cronin said following the game. “There were just sloppy breakouts. Guys just making poor decisions with the puck.”
With significant cuts made and players such as Martin Kaut and A.J. Geer on the ice, it was a completely different game — albeit still a little sloppy. There were a few moments of confusion during line changes and at one point there were only two skaters on the ice as San Jose broke into the zone.
The majority of their mistakes were smaller on scale and will easily iron out as the season moves on.
The two-game preseason schedule of the AHL doesn’t grant teams much of an opportunity to build an identity or gel with their linemates, especially when some of their star players spend most of training camp up in the NHL. Coach Cronin sees the next two weeks as a chance to set a standard and build chemistry among the group.
“You’re trying to build a brand of hockey”, he continued. “I look at these early season games, even the next couple of weeks, as trying to build an identity for the group. Just give the players the message that there is a standard we are going to play with and hopefully they can achieve that standard sooner rather than later.”
Building an identity in the AHL is not always an easy task. Teams are vulnerable to last-minute roster changes and are expected to meet the demands of their NHL affiliate. Earlier this month Cronin spent some time with the Avalanche front office discussing their expectations concerning player development. Sometimes balancing their needs with the desire to win here with the Eagles can be challenging, but its the life of an AHL coach.
”When you get hired to coach an AHL team, you know internally the Colorado Eagles want to win,” he told me following Saturdays win. “The Avalanche want to win but they also want to develop players. That’s where a lot of the times decisions are made from people above me in terms of getting good looks at players.”
Of course, there is a flip side to that coin.
With the Colorado Avalanche right down the road versus halfway across the country, Cronin expects to see an uptick in NHL players coming up to work on specific tasks. The affiliation has a special opportunity to build a strong two-way relationship. Eagles players can communicate with player development on a face-to-face level while having far more opportunities to get reps in with NHL caliber players.
”It’s awesome and I’ll tell you where it’s going to be really good. If they are going to carry 13 forwards and 8 D or 14 forwards and 7 D and they are at home and want to get some guys some reps up here, they just drive up and play. Whether they are here all week for practice it doesn’t matter. They can come in Friday, play a game, play Saturday, and go back down on Monday if they have to.”
Judging by the current roster and any addition NHL players that come up for a workout, I have high expectations for the Eagles this year — regardless of the fact that it’s their first year in the league. This is a solid group of players who should only get better as the season progresses.
Today's roster changes
- The Eagles have loaned forward Cole Ully and defenseman Kevin Davis to the Utah Grizzlies and released defenseman Taylor Richart and forward Brendan Harms from the professional tryouts. Richart and Harms are also heading back to the Grizzlies.
- The team has signed forward Cody Bass to 2018-19 AHL contract. The 31-year-old has his tallied 75 NHL appearances with five points including a playoff goal for the Ottawa Senators in 2008.