KALAMAZOO — With the Kalamazoo Wings’ season entering the second half of the schedule, the team finds itself in fourth place in the North Division standings, just one point ahead of the last place Evansville IceMen and 13 points behind the division leading Cincinnati Cyclones.
If the season ended today, the K-Wings would miss the playoffs for the first time since joining the ECHL in 2009-10. While the current standings are not sitting well with the fans, the team, or head coach Nick Bootland for that matter, the panic button has not been pushed as of yet.
“We were in this place once before, in January of 2011,” Bootland recalled. “We were under .500 as well. Everything seemed to click at that point.” The K-Wings went on to capture their second consecutive North Division crown before falling to the Alaska Aces in the Kelly Cup Finals.
This year, however, things are a little bit different in the world of hockey with the NHL lockout making waves in the ECHL. The lockout, which has been resolved after 113 days, gave several teams the opportunity to stack their rosters with players to whom they most likely otherwise would not have had access to, which has helped them out to this point.
Bootland said that he built his team based upon the lockout ending in December, which was the best “guesstimate” that he was hearing. By opting to keep his team at a “post lockout” level, Bootland said he is well aware that it may hurt them in the immediate, but he feels that once all is said and done, his team will be better off for it.
“I feel that, with the lockout resolved, and once the dust settles here and we get healthy as a hockey team, we will be in a better situation than we were in while the lockout was on,” Bootland said.
Firmly believing that his team does have the heart and desire to play and win games, Bootland feels that what his team is lacking is consistency and confidence, and without those, the team does not have the level of composure that is needed to win.
“You look at the type of losses we had this year in that tough stretch in November,” Bootland recalls. “How we were losing games and what that can do to a mental mindset, that was difficult for us. That’s difficult for anyone to go through. It was difficult for me to go through and I’ve been at this for 15 years and I’ve never really been a part of teams losing the types of games, playing the way we were playing, and losing the games the way we were.”
Call-ups and injuries have forced the K-Wings to make several roster moves over the course of the season, which is not unusual, especially in a development league like the ECHL. But bringing in new players, whether assigned by the AHL or signed by the team, does not guarantee wins.
“When you lose eight players out of your lineup (in just over a week) that was still struggling to be consistent, it is not easy to find that parity and get everyone on the same page as quickly as possible,” Bootland said.
It is not uncommon for players to arrive in town just mere hours before a game.
Teaching the systems and getting those new players up to speed is no cake walk either, but between teaching on the ice, video, whiteboard meetings and a newly designed “New Player Handbook,” Bootland and his staff work as hard as they can, to get all the players to gel and fast.
It is not as simple as skating and shooting the puck. Every team has many different plays they do, whether it is a controlled break out in the defensive zone, with the puck, without the puck, face-off plays on all areas of the ice, and the list goes on.
“Our team, for example, we have five or six different face-off plays just in our D-zone in general,” he said. “With new guys in the lineup, we try to stay away from the more complex plays and try to simplify things and get them moving in the right direction as soon as we can.”
Finding capable players is another can of worms, especially this time of year. The K-Wings signed former Western Michigan University alums Jeff Pierce and Brian Bicek last week, which Bootland said is rare this time of year.
“They are pretty established fourth and fifth year guys that have played in the Central Hockey League and just happened to not have a job at the time,” he added. “We were pretty fortunate for guys like this to be available.”
Regardless of availability, Bootland is always scouring the market for potential players.
Bootland said that they are constantly calling guys and watching the transactions in Europe to see if there are guys leaving and talking to guys in Europe to see if they want to come back to play in North America. “We’re touching base with those guys all the time. Other leagues where other guys are doing well, we are watching those leagues as well,” he added. “We look at every possible avenue. January is not an easy time to find quality players; they aren’t just sitting around doing nothing.”
Heading into the second half of the season, Bootland is well aware of what his team faces, but the resolve is the same as it has always been: to win it all.
“We want to win the whole thing, we’re not going to give up on that,” he said. “Our goal isn’t just to get in, our goal is to get in and put ourselves in a good position.”
“Once the consistency picks up, we will be a more confident team,” he added, “and that will bring the composure that we’re talking about and these things will lead to better results and more wins.”
KALAMAZOO- The Kalamazoo Wings (17-19-3-1) rebounded from a 4-3 overtime loss to the Evansville IceMen on Friday to defeat the Fort Wayne Komets (22-19-1-1) 3-2 during the K-Wings 5th Annual Golden Ice Game at Wings Stadium on Saturday night.
All of the scoring action in the game came in the opening 20 minutes as the teams reeled off five goals. The rest of the game was dictated by defense and goaltending.
Scoring the quickest goal of the season for the K-Wings, John Negrin gave the K-Wings an early 1-0 advantage with his second of the season. The goal, scored just 2:17 into the game, beat the previous mark of 2:36, which was set on November 3rd against the Komets.
A power play goal by Sam Ftorek midway into the period gave the K-Wings a 2-0 lead. The goal by Ftorek was also his fourth on the power play.
Fort Wayne’s Nick Wheeler scored a power play goal a few minutes later to cut the K-Wings lead in half. But just 27 seconds later, Aaron Clarke scored the K-Wings second power play goal of the night, taking an Elgin Reid shot to the net, for his team-leading 14th of the season.
John Dunbar scored with just under a minute remaining in the period to cut the K-Wings lead to 3-2, but that was all the scoring in game.
Clarke and Reid led the K-Wings with three points apiece and Ftorek added two on the night. Fort Wayne outshot the K-Wings 41-32.
Due to the ECHL All-Star break, the K-Wings will be off until Friday as they travel to the Huntington Center to take on the Toledo Walleye.
The next K-Wings home game will be Sunday, January 27th as they host the Western Conference Bakersfield Condors in their first-ever visit to Wings Stadium.
KALAMAZOO — A hard-fought game against the Elmira Jackals (20-15-2-2) turned sour as a late goal doomed the Kalamazoo Wings (16-19-2-1) on Wednesday night at Wings Stadium.
After a scoreless first period, the K-Wings hit the scoreboard just over a minute into the second with a goal by Nick Sirota, his 11th on the season.
The K-Wings, more importantly goaltender Joel Martin, kept the Jackals off the board in the period even though the Jackals fired 22 shots at Martin in the period compared to the K-Wings’ five against former K-Wing net minder Maxime Clermont.
At the end of two periods, the Jackals were outshooting the K-Wings 37-21. In all, Martin stopped 46 of the 48 shots he faced, which is a new K-Wings ECHL record. The previous record of 45 was set on back-to-back nights by Julien Ellis (Nov. 7, 2009 against Gwinnett) and Jeremy Duchesne (Nov. 8, 2009 against Charlotte).
“The biggest word for tonight is probably heartbreaking,” K-Wings coach Nick Bootland said following the game. “Heartbreaking on that goaltending performance that we unfortunately let go to waste as a hockey team. Marty was absolutely outstanding tonight and there is no doubt in my mind he is the best goaltender in the league and we’re fortunate to have him.”
The Jackals scored midway into the final period as Kevin Harvey sent the puck over the shoulder of Martin to tie the game 1-1.
With time ticking down in regulation, the Jackals struck again as Louie Caporusso scored with just 35 seconds remaining for the win.
Injuries and call-ups continue to plague the K-Wings and finding players to fill those voids is no easy task. Out of the 17 players on the ice for the game only eight have been with the team the entire season. Four of the players that suited up last night are retired and have careers outside of hockey (John May, Dwight Helminen, Scott Matzka and Jeremy Tucker).
Bootland was appreciative of the sacrifice those players made for the team. “All those guys came in here, having to get up Thursday morning to go to work, paying a price for us. You know they are taking hits to make plays, that’s great to see,” he said.
Trying to get the players on the same page is no easy task for Bootland.
“These guys haven’t played with each other, they haven’t practiced with each other, so we’re trying to get them to have the right timing coming up the ice on the power play breakout for instance,” Bootland said. “Those are tough situations, special teams, when those guys haven’t played together or been out there. “
There may be some help coming for the K-Wings before their weekend games against Evansville on Friday and Fort Wayne at home on Saturday.
“I’ve never seen this many guys in my 15 years of pro hockey,” Bootland said. “We had to try and put a lineup together.”
The K-Wings will be back home on Saturday as they host the Komets on the Fifth Annual Golden Ice Night at 7:30 p.m. The K-Wings will be wearing special McDonald’s themed jerseys that will be auctioned off after the game.
January 13, 2013 by Mark McGlothlen · Comments Off
GWINNETT, GA – After dropping a 4-2 decision the night before, the Kalamazoo Wings (16-18-2-1) turned the tables on the Gwinnett Gladiators (25-12-1-1) to win 4-3 in the overtime shootout on Sunday evening.
Leading the Gladiators by a single goal for much of the third period, the K-Wings found themselves heading to overtime after Rylan Galiardi knotted the game with just seven seconds in regulation with a power play tally.
The Gladiators scored early in the opening period on a Doug Jones goal, but the K-Wings John Armstrong tied to score later in the period scoring an unassisted goal, his fifth of the season.
A short-handed goal by the Gladiators Andy Brandt late in the period gave the home team a 2-1 lead.
Nick Sirota tied the game 2-2 with an early in the second period with his ninth of the season.
Sirota lit the lamp for a second time midway into the third period to give the K-Wings a 3-2 lead, their first advantage of the game. The Gladiators then tied the game, sending it into overtime.
Neither team scored in the OT which pushed the game into the shootout.
The shootout went nine rounds with the K-Wings getting goals from Armstrong and Sam Ftorek while Alex Belzile scored for the Gladiators.
The K-Wings went 0-for-5 on the power play while the Gladiators went 1-for-3. Joel Martin stopped 34 of the 37 shots he faced while Louis Domingue turned away 24 of 27.
The K-Wings will be home this Wednesday night as they take on the Elmira Jackals. Game time is 7:00 pm.
January 9, 2013 by Mark McGlothlen · Comments Off
KALAMAZOO- Facing the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference, the Kalamazoo Wings (15-17-2-1) had their work cut out for them as they battled the Reading Royals (26-8-1-1) on Wednesday night at Wings Stadium.
After scoring three goals in the first 14 minutes of the first period, the Royals held the K-Wings off the scoreboard until forward Tyler Shelast scored his third of the season just over two minutes into the final period.
“As far as I have seen, they (Royals) are the best team in the league so far,” Shelast said, “and if you give them three goals, you are in trouble.”
As for his goal, Shelast said that he was hoping to catch the goaltender off guard, which he did.
“It wasn’t the hardest shot, but it was kind of where I was shooting and I just wanted to get it off quick,” Shelast said of his goal.
Alex Berry, Ethan Cox and David Marshall scored in the opening period for the Royals.
Even with the injuries and call ups that have left the lineup depleted as of late and the fact that three players made their K-Wing debut last night, Shelast felt the team played well but can’t make excuses for what they are going through as a team.
“I thought it was a pretty good effort,” Shelast said. “The ECHL is no stranger in having to deal with stuff like that. Every team goes through adversity and I guarantee Reading will eventually have to go through adversity. There are always guys injured, always guys called up.
Kirk McDonald scored the Royals fourth goal of the night late in game.
While he was not happy with the loss, head coach Nick Bootland did find a few positives in the game even after his team dug themselves into a hole early on.
“I felt we actually came out ok,” he said, “but we made glaring mistakes on those first three goals, glaring, fixable mistakes. That’s the positive. We can work from that. We can build on that.”
With the K-Wings leaving for Georgia tomorrow, Bootland said that instead of having an optional practice or no practice at all, the team will be on the ice before they leave town.
“We are going to have a walk through tomorrow,” Bootland said, “just trying to get each other on the same page. We are all here for the same thing. We all want to win, we all want to be successful and we all want to move up, staff, players, everyone included.”
Both teams came up empty on the power play with the Royals going 0-for-3 and the K-Wings 0-for -1.
Joel Martin stopped 31 of the 35 shots he faced while Royals net minder Drew MacIntyre turned away 19 of 20. The schedule does not get any easier for the K-Wings as they play two games against the Gwinnett Gladiators this weekend. Gwinnett leads the South Division with a record of 24-12-1-0.
January 8, 2013 by Mark McGlothlen · Comments Off
KALAMAZOO – The Kalamazoo Wings will be welcoming a new face to the lineup while at the same time losing two more.
Forward Alexandre Grenier has been reassigned to the K-Wings by the Chicago Wolves of the AHL. Grenier, who started the season in Salzburg, Austria, is a first year pro. Grenier was selected by the Vancouver Canucks in the 3rd round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Eric Kattelus, the K-Wings leading scorer with 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists) signed an AHL contract with the Wolves today. The three-year pro also leads the team in power-play goals with five and shares the team lead in game-winning goals with two as well as one shorthanded goal.
Defenseman Adam Polasek has also been reassigned to the Wolves. Polasek, in his second professional season and first with the K-Wings has four goals and four assists in 34 games with the team.
The two become the sixth and seventh members of the K-Wings to either be reassigned or loaned to an AHL club this year.
Defenseman Mitch Versteeg was placed on the 21-day IR.
Goaltender of the Week
Joel Martin was named the Reebok Hockey ECHL Goaltender of the Week for December 31st through January 6th.
In four games last week, Martin went 3-1-0-0 and stopped 80 of the 87 shots he faced. He finished the week with a stellar 1.97 goals against average and a save percentage of 0.920. This marks the first time that Martin has received this honor in the ECHL.
Family Four Pack
The K-Wings announced a great deal for the entire family. The Family Four Packs will feature, four white-level tickets, four large Pepsi products, four popcorns, four hot dogs and a game-night parking pass for the low price of $50 (a savings of over $40).
The offer is subject to availability and there are no blackout dates on the K-Wings schedule that the package can’t be used for.