Saint John Flames Preview

Flames Look to Repeat as Calder Champs

Aaron McCracken

October 5th, 2001

The old saying goes "The only thing harder than winning the championship, is to win the championship back-to-back". With this in mind, the Saint John Flames set out tonight on their quest to repeat as Calder Cup champions of the AHL.

It won't be an easy journey, as the Flames have just eight returning players from last year's active playoff roster. To make matters more complicated, the AHL has expanded to 27 teams after a merger with the IHL.

However, this Flames team is actually more experienced than last year's squad. Several of the new additions have NHL experience, including Rob Murray (107 games), Dwayne Hay (79 games), Jamie Wright (57 games), and Kay Whitmore (60 wins as a goaltender). 27 year-old Jukka Hentunen also has several years of experience in Finland.

There are also several key returnees including veterans Jason Botterill, Mike Martin, and Rick Mrozik as well as sophomores Levente Szuper, Blair Betts, Micki Dupont, and Steve Montador. Szuper, Betts, and Dupont will all be expected to play bigger roles this season as they continue their development.

Overall, this is a gritty, yet speedy team, which will be focused on defensive hockey. Coach Jim Playfair, the Hockey News' minor league coach of the year, preaches a smothering defensive system coupled with lots of shooting at the other goalie.

While the speed and experience of this year's squad should suit Playfair's style, the Flames are lacking playmaking centers. Marty Murray and Daniel Tkaczuk have been replaced by 'checking' centers Rob Murray and Jason Morgan, which will hurt the Flames' offensive production. Blair Betts will be expected to increase his point production, and rookies Shaun Sutter and Garrett Bembridge will also see time at the center ice position.

Here's a look at the team by position:

Centers: Blair Betts, Rob Murray, Jason Morgan.

Left-Wingers: Jamie Wright, Jason Botterill, Dwayne Hay, Ryan Christie, Blair Stayzer.

Right-Wingers: Jukka Hentunen, Garrett Bembridge, Shaun Sutter, Jeff Mitchell

Defensemen: Mike Martin, Micki Dupont, Alan Letang, Rick Mrozik, Steve Montador, Burke Henry, David Huntzicker, Phillipe Roy.

Goaltenders: Kay Whitmore, Levente Szuper.

This Weekend's Match-upů

The Flames play host to the Manitoba Moose on Friday and Saturday. The top affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks are making their AHL debut tonight after a successful 39-32-12 season in the IHL. Aflie Michaud should get the start in goal, with Eric Fichaud as the back-up. The Moose have a young team with plenty of speed to burn. Players like Steve Kariya, Brandon Reid, and Brad Leeb will lead the offensive charge.

News and Notes

  • With the parent Flames carrying only 22 skaters, there is a chance that there will be an early season call-up from Saint John. Veteran players like Hay, Hentunen, and Wright will be looking to prove that they don't belong in the AHL.
  • Burke Henry and Steve Montador are both nursing injuries and are expected to miss this weekend's action.
  • The Flames have sent Dany Sabourin and training camp standout Jason Spence to the ECHL. Kurtis Foster has returned to the OHL, while Roman "Rail" Rozakov has returned to Russia.

 Aaron McCracken covers the Saint John Flames for Calgary Puck / Fire on Ice. He can be reached at aaron@canoemail.com .