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Filling the void proves difficult
Complimentary game a nice gesture, but not enough
11/10/04 - by Mike Lee

I attended Tuesday night's "wet your hockey whistle" AHL affair at HP Pavilion between the Cleveland Barons and the Edmonton Road Runners in an attempt satiate some of my hockey hunger pangs. I left (early) feeling like I had wasted an evening on something that I knew wouldn't satisfy my need for flying bodies, hip checks and wicked slap shots. No offense to the Sharks or the Barons, but minor league hockey is just that. Minor league.

The Sharks can be commended for throwing a bone to their season ticket holders. After all, they spent over $100,000 flying both teams out to California, prepping the Tank for hockey and sending out free tickets to several thousand people. I appreciate the gesture, but in the end, I realized that there really is no substitute for NHL caliber hockey. The AHL isn't even a close second.

The pace is slower, the hits are less ferocious, and the skill level is a couple of notches below what we've come to expect in NHL cities. Don't get me wrong, the AHL product can be entertaining. There were moments of suspense from time to time. Take the five-minute power play the Barons flubbed on at the start of the 3rd period. Lot's of chances to score, just no delivery.

What struck me the most was the level at which each player played the game. Here you had former first round pick Marcel Goc logging lot's of ice time, but he was doing little to generate any energy on the ice. This is a guy who was supposed to be competing for a potential roster spot at the NHL level last September. With the departure of Vincent Damphousse, Mike Ricci and Todd Harvey, there was going to be plenty of opportunity for Goc to make the Sharks roster.

Then you had Road Runners goaltender Tyler Moss, who looked like Patrick Roy on his best day, stopping everything the Barons threw at him. The baby Sharks did little to challenge Moss, but nothing was going to get past this guy regardless.

Add a handful of experimental rules and things felt more like an exhibition game. The AHL is experimenting with things like no touch icing, a reduced neutral zone, and a no puck handling zone for goaltenders in an effort to increase scoring. The experiments are being tested at the behest of the NHL, which will consider them after the AHL's findings are compiled. Do the math and you have exhibition, experimentation and no enthusiasm. Get the picture?

The 11,784 fans that turned out tried to make it as festive an evening as possible, but the mood was in stark contrast to the electricity that pulsed through the Tank last Spring when San Jose made its run to the Western Conference Finals. Pretty depressing given the state of the NHL today. With little light on the horizon, it was hard to get in that frame of mind for a minor league game, complimentary or not.

With five minutes remaining in regulation, I packed up and headed for the exits, hoping that I'd never have to attend an AHL game in order to make up for the void created by the greedy fraternity that is the NHL.


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