It's been a day since the Norfolk Admirals hoisted the Calder Cup for the first time. The amazing thing about championships is that they're a shared milestone in the lives of, really, thousands, between the players, coaches, staff, and fans. Those journeys often contain compelling stories that make the triumph worth that journey. For Jon Cooper, it was about closing down his law practice to coach his way from Michigan high school hockey, to the USHL to working with Hockey USA, to a 2 season sprint to glory in the AHL. For Cory Conacher, it was about not being drafted and playing hockey at off-the-beaten path Canisius, dealing with diabetes, and earning an NHL contract in March of an MVP season before posting 4 assists in the championship clinching Calder Cup Finals game.
The stories of the players and the coaches are the ones we'll read about in the coming months and years, and they should be. When the Lightning made their Stanley Cup run in 2003-2004 and were playing the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals, John Tortorella refused to fire back at Ken Hithcock's remarks about "Italians from Boston," because Torts rightfully understood, "It's about the athletes." Ultimately, they're the ones who score the goals and make the saves. They sacrifice their bodies and take the stitches and they take the slings and arrows if they lose. Ultimately, it's their moment, and to a lesser extent the moments of their families who supported them in the journey up to those moments. The hockey moms and dads who woke up at 6:00 am to drive their kids to games. Scratching together money for skates and ridiculously expensive composite sticks. The wives and significant others who live with the players and coaches through the disappointments and the frustrations, and live in fear of moments when things can go wrong, like when slap shots can hit a man in the ear at 90 miles an hour, similar to what happened to Scott Jackson.
Less compelling, perhaps, is the story of an organization, but, these are stories can be worth telling, too... especially in this case. We started beta testing Bolt Prospects in 2004-2005, one year after the Lightning's Cup win, in the heart of the NHL lockout. That year was also the first year since the Detroit Vipers of the IHL folded after the 2000-2001 season that the Lightning had a full-time minor league affiliate: the Springfield Falcons. Absent a full-time affiliate, it became clear the Lightning would struggle to maintain their spot on top of the hockey mountain, because split affiliates would not give prime ice time and coaching help to another organization's players. That problem prompted the start of an 8 year process for the Lightning that ended in building what must be considered the sport's preeminent developmental apparatus with the Norfolk Admirals' Calder Cup championship and the Florida Everblades' Kelly Cup Championship.
On a rather sad note, today will mark the final game for the ECHL's Johnstown Chiefs in Johnstown, PA. The franchise, owned by former NHL GM Neil Smith, has been plagued by financial problems for years and will be moving to Greenville, SC next season. Johnstown was the Tampa Bay Lightning's ECHL affiliate for three years between 2004-2005 and 2006-2007. Three of the Lightning's prospects who played in Johnstown have since seen time in the NHL: Radek Smolenak, Jay Rosehill, and Andre Deveaux.
I can honestly say that, outside of Norfolk Admirals fans, I don't think there's been an affiliate's fan base that was more supportive of their club than the fans of the Johnstown Chiefs. I'm sure this is a major blow for a town that has had some challenges over the past few years. Bolt Prospects salutes the fans of the Johnstown Chiefs and we hope that Johnstown, PA gets another franchise soon.
First off, Bolt Prospects apologizes for being down last night. Unfortunately we had some technical difficulties with the ISP that our server runs on that took about 12 hours to remedy. The site is up and running again now and we don't foresee any related problems in the near future.
Second, stay tuned to Bolt Prospects over the next few weeks as we are expecting to get a glimpse at the preliminary roster for the Traverse City prospect tournament pretty soon.
With all of that out of the way, the flurry of free agent signings that came in the first three weeks of July seems to have subsided. The team now has 47 players under contract that will count against the 50-man roster limit, with Ryan Craig remaining to be signed who will be the 48th. For the most part the roster is set, which offers the opportunity to speculate on how the Lightning's organizational roster and lines will look at the NHL, AHL and ECHL level.
The Johnstown Chiefs announced today that Tampa Bay Lightning will no longer be involved in managing the hockey operations of the Chiefs. As part of the restructuring of the Chiefs, VP of Hockey Operations Ryan Belec, Head Coach Frank Anzalone, Trainer Rodney Bogart and Equipment Manager Casey Taylor will not be returning to Johnstown. All four are employees of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
As part of the continuing affiliaton between Tampa and Johnstown, the Chief may have Tampa prospects playing there next season. The search for a new head coach, trainer, and equipment manager begins immediately.
Despite word yesterday that Johnstown Chiefs coach Frank Anzalone may be out of a job this summer, a report in today's Johnstown Tribune-Democrat highlights a message from Tampa Bay General Manager Jay Feaster saying "Frank Anzalone is under contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning through the 2007-08 season, and we have no plans of making a coaching change in Johnstown.â€
For the full article, see the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat.