I've been giving some thought as to which teams in the International Hockey League look the best so far. Here are the rankings, bearing in mind it's still early in the offseason and this will all drastically change:
1) Fort Wayne: The defending champions have already signed much of their star talent, including Colin Chaulk, Guy Dupuis, P.C. Drouin and Nick Boucher, and coach Al Sims is back. They still need to bring in some more youthful skill players, to replace Mathieu Curadeau and Luciano Aquino, assuming they don't return. But things look really good in Fort Wayne so far.
2) Port Huron: Like the Komets, the Icehawks aren't messing with a good thing. Goalie Larry Sterling is solid. Jamie Carroll, Tab Lardner and Jeff Zehr will light it up offensively. And Jamie Lovell is a nice defenseman.
3) Muskegon: Lots of big moves, lots of new talent, like Frank Littlejohn, Chad Woollard. Losing Jason Baird to a horrific offseason injury -- he was burned badly in an accident -- will hurt the Fury, but there's time for it to recover. Still, I'm waiting for the Fury to take on the physical persona of its coach, former Komet Bruce Ramsay.
4) Flint: I'm not too impressed so far, mostly because the faces are too familiar. With a full season, Justin DePretis should be a star in this league, though, and a healthy Matt Spezza could be a good goalie. But I'm surprised the Generals stuck with Peter South as coach, after he took over on an interim basis last season, and I'm not sure they have any players yet who will scare the opposition offensively or physically.
5) Bloomington: I'm really not sure about the hire of Jarrod Skalde as coach. I just believe, given the region and the arena, this should be a really attractive job, but the PrairieThunder hasn't gone with proven coaches. Still, with new ownership, hopefully this team will pay the bills and actually get and keep some talent. So far, there's some promise, with forwards Don Parsons and Jon Booras, but there's much work to be done for a team that simply must win this season.
6) Kalamazoo: Wow, new rookie coach Nick Bootland has nothing we can even analyze yet. Jason Tapp is a so-so goalie and Glenn Detulleo is a solid center. Beyond that, the Wings have lots of work to do. It would be sad to see a proud market field another mediocre-to-bad team this season.
- Fort Wayne-native Brian Gratz, a former goaltender with the Komets, has been hired to coach the Jersey Rockhoppers of the Eastern Professional Hockey League. Last season, he coached the Indiana (Penn.) Ice Miners of the Mid-Atlantic Hockey League, which suspended operations when his team was 31-1-0.
-- By Justin A. Cohn, The Journal Gazette