T-Bolts Sold; Will Relocate after Season

The Scranton Thunderbolts franchise has been sold to Catamount Corporation and The Other Half, LLC, The Thundercloud can confirm. The team will relocate to Burlington, Vermont, after the season. A team name and logo have yet to be announced

Catamount Corporation will own 75% of the franchise and will be in charge of club finances, while The Other Half, LLC, will own 25% and be in charge of personnel decisions. TOH has also announced that all front office moves will be announced after the season, but the players have started moving, with Riley Nash and Alexey Marchenko shipped to Las Vegas for 3rd round pick and a 4th round pick this year.

GM Locria Fox will remain in charge.

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T-Bolts Mystery Buyers Identified; Sale Almost Official

The mystery buyers alluded to by Saturn Sports & Entertainment CEO Jeff Boing earlier this week have been identified, The Thundercloud can report.

And yes, it’s buyers with an s. There are two groups who have agreed to team up and share the franchise.

The first group is the Catamount Corporation, based in the Burlington, Vermont. They would own 75% of the franchise, and would largely be in control of the financials of the franchise, while 25% and most of the personnel decisions will be the responsibility of The Other Half LLC, a Colorado-based organization with the ambition of encouraging women and non-binary-gender identifying individuals in sports.

Acccording to Boing, the deal is almost official, with some i’s to be dotted and t’s to be crossed. Once the sale is complete, expect a complete organization overhaul including a relocation. Which state the franchise would relocate to is a mystery, with Catamount Corporation and The Other Half LLC being based on opposite sides of the country.

When the sale is complete, you’ll hear from us first.

T-Bolts on verge of being sold; on the move again?

It’s no secret: it’s not a good time to be a Scranton Thunderbolts supporter.

Despite one of the better stretches they’ve had this season (5-4-1 in their last 10), the team is still mired in 11th in the Wales Conference and 5th in the Central Division, 10 points out of a playoff spot; last year at this point they were 6th in the Wales and 2nd in the Central. The team has been unable to replace Brent Burns on the blueline as fill-in Matt Carle has been rather mediocre. The list of good things is limited to Tyler Bozak and the Czech trio of Jiří Tlustý, Michael Frolik, and Ondřej Palát. And though Jonathan Quick has been a yeoman in goal, he’s been missing quite a lot of time with injuries recently, and Ondřej Pavelec has been unable to duplicate the magic of his season last year in which he was one of the league’s better keepers.

Charismatic GM Locria Fox, one of the WHL’s most active GMs in 2013-14, has been a relative absentee GM in 2014-15. Very recently word leaked out the cause of this: mental health issues that took priority over WHL. However, she was recently sighted multiple times (seen shouting “HANDBALL OUTSIDE THE BOX! THAT’S A RED CARD AND YOU KNOW IT!”, at a TV, showing she knows how to ref a soccer match better than Kevin Friend), showing that she is inching out of reclusion and possibly back into the groove of things. Of course, if she’s mumbling about an earthly tether in a cultish way like reports say she’s been, maybe she should stay in reclusion a bit longer.

But the more interesting news has been brewing behind the scenes.

Reports out of New England say that a mystery buyer has stepped in and offered Saturn Sports & Entertainment, the owners of this franchise who bought the franchise, brought Fox in after the departure of current Voodoo GM Jason Gudim, and relocated them to Scranton, an “offer they can’t refuse,” according to SS&E chairman Jeff Boing. Boing added that the purchase would relocate the team in time for the 2015-16 WHL season, and that the new owners promised to retain Fox as GM.

Who is this mystery buyer? Why are the reports coming out of New England? What kind of offer would Boing not be able to refuse? Are things really going to get worse for the T-Bolts?  Where would the team relocate?

In totally unrelated news, The Thundercloud wishes the best for Belarussian goalkeeping legend Andrei Mezin in his retirement, which was announced today.

WHL Campbell Conference Preview

Last year’s rank in parentheses.

1. Saskatoon Fighting Irish (1st)

Key departures: John Carlson, Max Pacioretty, Jaroslav Halák, Tomáš Plekanec

Key arrivals: Shea Weber, Rick Nash, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Milan Michálek, Henrik Lundqvist

Player to watch: Andrej Sekera, D

Analysis: Elite talent and tremendous depth all over the lineup. Last year what held the Irish back was a below-average defense and suspect goaltending. This offseason, the Irish plugged those holes with elite players in Weber and Lundqvist, and are one of the big title favorites heading into the season. Even scarier, outside of Chris Kunitz, the entire team is either in or approaching their primes. This is an elite team, and one built for a run.

2. Minnesota Rink Rats (5th)

Key departures: TJ Oshie, Tyler Ennis, Chris Phillips

Key arrivals: Nazem Kadri, Martin St. Louis, Ryan McDonagh

Player to watch: Semyon Varlamov, G

Analysis: Depth and elite talent at all positions, the Rink Rats are in a position to win the weak Central Division. McDonagh is a more than adequate replacement for Phillips, and Kadri/St. Louis are even better than Oshie and Ennis (though St. Louis is gettnig old). With all these adds plus the rise of Semyon Varlamov, look for the Rink Rats to try to make a run for their 2nd Cyber Cup in 3 years.

3. Kelowna Cats (2nd)

Key departures: None

Key arrivals: John Carlson

Player to watch: Steve Mason, G

Analysis: The Cats had a quiet offseason to ensure team chemistry, with only Carlson coming in (in exchange for prospect Tom Wilson). He bolsters a defense that was already the best in the league with two terrific goaltenders stopping pucks. Their postseason ended earlier than they hoped last year, and you can expect that these Cats will be out for blood and redemption this season.

4. Detroit Cougars (8th, Wales)

Key departures: None

Key arrivals: None

Player to watch: Alexander Steen, C

Analysis: Another quiet offseason for a team that should’ve been better than it was last year. The Cougars still have depth at every position outside of right wing, and the top line of Eriksson-Toews-Gáborík is still around. Look for a turnaround season in the thinner Western Conference for Detroit this season.

5. Rocky Mountain Express (3rd)

Key departures: None

Key arrivals: None

Player to watch: Matt Niskanen, D

Analysis: Like the Cats and Cougars, the Express stayed steady state to ensure team chemistry this season. Though there’s still talent and depth at most positions (right wing being a position of weakness), many of the team’s star players are getting up in the years, and last year’s success was primarily fueled by an impressive season by Rick DiPietro, now replaced by up-and-comer Sergei Bobrovski. It’s now or never in Jasper.

6. Nashville Stampede (6th)

Key departures: Dainius Zubrus, Ryan McDonagh

Key arrivals: TJ Oshie, Tyler Ennis, Craig Smith, Chris Phillips

Player to watch: Craig Smith, RW

Analysis: The Stampede don’t have game-breaking talent, and some positions don’t have depth. But the youngsters-plus-Chris-Phillips top four on defense should be excellent cover for Tuukka Rask and Brian Elliott, both of whom have had proven success in the WHL. Up top, Oshie, Ennis, and Smith join Dustin Brown, Brooks Laich, and Valterri Filppula, all of whom were instrumental in Nashville’s strong second half. This is a team that should make the playoffs.

7. Ypsilanti Figments (9th)

Key departures: Marc Staal, Dany Heatley, Niklas Bäckström

Key arrivals: Mike Richards, Riley Sheahan, Lee Stempniak

Player to watch: Danny DeKeyser, D

Analysis: The Figments are relatively thin up top, especially on the left side. But the defense should be very sharp this year, led by youngsters Jake Gardiner and Dmitry Kulikov along with Erik Johnson who is finally coming into his own. The big question mark is in goal, with the unproven Michal Neuvirth backed up by the inexperienced Martin Jones. Those two will determine if Ypsilanti makes the playoffs or not.

8. Vancouver VooDoo (7th)

Key departures: Michal Handzuš

Key arrivals: Brandon Sutter, Tim Thomas, JT Brown

Player to watch: Kyle Okposo, RW

Analysis: Solid wing depth, but razor-thin down the middle and on the blueline, the VooDoo are still a work in progress. Chris Kreider will provide for Ovechkin and Eberle, but what center will there be to distribute for Vanek, Okposo, Skinner, and Ruutu? If the VooDoo can get a center for their middle 6, they could finish higher than this, but for now, they’ll be competing for one of the last playoff spots.

9. Las Vegas Bulls (8th)

Key departures: Adam Parker

Key arrivals: None

Player to watch: Ryan Johansen, C

Analysis: The once-proud Bulls are GM-less. No participation = no analysis. sorry not sorry

10. Edmonton Mountain Men (12th)

Key departures: Justin Schultz, Artyom Anisimov

Key arrivals: Jack Johnson, Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto

Player to watch: Mika Zibanejad, C

Analysis: The Mounties made some moves this offseason in an effort to become more competitive without sacrificing everything they had. The forward group is thin and inexperienced, but the top 4 on defense is actually one of the better ones in the league and will definitely help the team be more competitive. They’ll be much better than the last 2 years, and within the next 5 it’ll be interesting to see their rise.

11. Chicago Grizzlies (10th)

Key departures: None

Key arrivals: None

Player to watch: Ben Bishop. G

Analysis: Just like last season, this team will be Mikko Koivu and little else. The defense is underwhelming (though Ben Bishop finally gives the team some decent goaltending), the offense thin, and the goaltending inexperienced. It’ll be another long season in the Windy City.

12. Winnipeg Warriors (11th)

Key departures: None

Key arrivals: None

Player to watch: Bryan Little, C

Analysis: Still thin, still bad, and still no real future standouts after trading away the second overall pick. It’ll be a long season in Winnipeg yet again, and Warriors fans better pray that their team is bad enough to land McDavid, Eichel, Kylington, or Hanifin (hint: they are).

Drop the puck!

WHL Wales Conference Preview

Last season’s regular season result in parentheses.

1. New York Demons (1st)

Key departures: Jack Johnson, James Reimer, Brandon Sutter

Key arrivals: Marc Staal, Carl Söderberg

Player to watch: Victor Hedman, D

Analysis: The defending champs look like the best opportunity at a repeat since the legendary Bulls dynasty. With a deep, weapon-laden offensive corps, a sturdy defense, and top-notch goalies Jonathan Bernier and Ryan Miller, this team is the class of the East on paper going into the season.

2. Ottawa Polar Bears (2nd)

Key departures: Dan Girardi, James Neal, Marc Methot

Key arrivals: Bobby Ryan, Ryane Clowe

Player to watch: Bobby Ryan, RW

Analysis: The Bears are the easy favorites to repeat in a rather weak central division. That isn’t to say they’re a bad team; they’re certainly loaded for a playoff run, especially after acquiring Ryan Getzlaf this offseason. That said their window may be slowly creeping shut with Henrik Zetterberg, Craig Anderson, Marian Hossa, new add Ryane Clowe, and Dan Boyle all on the wrong side of 30.

3. Boston SnowDogs (8th)

Key departures: None

Key arrivals: Brian Campbell

Player to watch: Reilly Smith, LW

Analysis: The SnowDogs’ core is in prime age, and Reilly Smith and Sami Vatanen are ready to make the jump to the pros. They don’t have any “elite” talent with the exception of Nicklas Bäckström, but they are deep at every position, and have one of the league’s better goalie tandems with Ilya Bryzgalov and Corey Crawford. This team will be better than last season, by quite a bit.

4. Atlantic Schooners (6th)

Key departures: Brian Campbell

Key arrivals: Marc Methot

Player to watch: Kyle Turris, C

Analysis: The Schooners are rather thin up top, especially with Pavel Datsyuk, Ray Whitney, and Jarome Iginla getting very old very fast. But the depth on the blueline is only rivaled or bested by the two finalists from last year, not to mention the consistent goaltending of Pekka Rinne. The Schooners should see playoffs, but the window is closing quickly.

5. Quebec City Corinthians (4th)

Key departures: None

Key arrivals: None

Player to watch: Mats Zuccarello, RW

Analysis: Star players dot the top of this team’s depth chart, but the depth on defense and on the left side is a bit worrisome. Still, the top players are still top players, and should be able to put the puck in the net enough. Besides, Carey Price should be able to offset a defense who could probably use an elite talent (especially with Andrei Markov aging). The Corinths are a talented bunch, and that should get them to the playoffs and in a position to compete for home ice.

6. Scranton Thunderbolts (5th)

Key departures: Brent Burns, Johnny Boychuk

Key arrivals: Matt Carle

Player to watch: Ondřej Palát, LW

Analysis: A young bunch that is only getting better, the Thunderbolts will regress some this season after a surprising 2013-14 that saw them finish with their second best record ever. The loss of Brent Burns is made up somewhat by Matt Carle, who takes far fewer penalties, making the job easier for Jonathan Quick and Ondřej Pavelec, and Jacob Trouba replaces Johnny Boychuk. That said, the team still lacks depth on defense (as most of their young guys aren’t ready), but they should at least compete for a playoff spot.

7. Hartford Dropkicks (4th, West)

Key departures: Shea Weber, Martin St. Louis

Key arrivals: Justin Schultz, Artyom Anisimov

Player to watch: Anže Kopitar, C

Analysis: The Tri-City Roustabouts failed to go as deep as they wanted to last season despite a strong end to the regular season. Seeing that their prospect pool was barren, the reborn Dropkicks decided to change course, trading stars Weber and St. Louis in return for Justin Schultz and the #1 overall pick. The offense should be terrific, with lots of talent and weapons. But the defense is too suspect to see them go any higher than this.

8. Waterloo Lunatics (9th)

Key departures: Henrik Lundqvist, Milan Michálek, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Lee Stempniak

Key arrivals: Brent Burns, Dany Heatley, Max Pacioretty, Tomáš Plekanec

Player to watch: Milan Lucic, LW

Analysis: Burns will move to forward from defense, where he had spent his entire WHL career to this point. Along with Pacioretty and Plekanec, he definitely improves Waterloo’s offense despite the loss of the promising Nugent-Hopkins and stalwart Lundqvist in goal. That said, Jaroslav Halák was mediocre last year despite sitting behind the strong Fighting Irish, and now he’s got a starting gig on a rapidly-aging Waterloo team. They’ll compete for a playoff spot, but I don’t see anything more than that.

—-

9. Toronto Stallions (10th)

Key departures: Matt Carle, Bobby Ryan

Key arrivals: Johnny Boychuk, James Neal

Player to watch: Tyler Johnson, C

Analysis: Plain and simple, this team got really old really fast. There’s top 6 forward depth, and even some useful defenders. But even then, a lot are on the wrong side of 30 – in fact, their entire top 8 on the blueline is 30 or older. In goal, reliable Cam Ward is backed up by the awful Dan Ellis, which could pose a HUGE problem if Ward is injured or ineffective. And of course, Sidney Crosby can win games on his own.

10. Niagara IceDogs (11th)

Key departures: None

Key arrivals: None

Player to watch: Hampus Lindholm, D

Analysis: This is the year the IceDogs turn the young guns loose. There’s a LOT of talent on this team that’s just waiting to flex their muscles. That said, there are some bad things about this team. Namely, nonexistent depth on the right side and a terrible goaltending situation with Martin Biron retiring and Yevgeni Nabokov about a thousand years old. This will be a team-building year for Niagara, but they’ll be competitive.

11. Halifax Citadelles (12th)

Key departures: Nazem Kadri, Michael Del Zotto

Key arrivals: Connor Murphy, Radek Faksa, Rickard Rakell

Player to watch: Valeri Nichushkin, RW

Analysis: Nothing says “rebuild” like trading away a 24 year old on the verge of breaking out. The Cits continue Operation Rebuild by adding a gajillion more draft picks including Hobey Baker winner Johnny Gaudreau. That said, even with a bright future (and even some guys now like Nichushkin), it’s going to be a dark season for Halifax, with nonexistent depth anywhere and no clear replacement for Kari Lehtonen ahead of the inevitable “trade him for a few firsts” manuver (that they’ve done with virtually everyone else of use on their team) with Thomas McCollum a clear flop and Anders Nilsson out in Kazan.

12. Chicoutimi Sparrows (3rd)

Key departures: None

Key arrivals: None

Player to watch: Kevin Poulin, G

Analysis: This is the year the Sparrows fall. Age has caught up to them, and with J-S Giguere at the end of his rope there’s no successor in goal. The starting gig will likely fall in the hands of either the enigmatic Joey MacDonald or the inexperienced Kevin Poulin, and the depth on defense is nonexistent. The French Canadians and assorted others will likely not see the playoffs for a while with a nearly barren cupboard and aged team.

Winds of Change Blow as T-Bolts Open Camp

Training Camp has opened for the Scranton Thunderbolts, as they expect to build on a successful maiden voyage in the Electric City. The theme this year has been out with the old, and in with the new.

Brent Burns and Johnny Boychuk, staples and alternate captains of the team since Locria Fox took it over, have both been traded, with alternate roles now given to Michael Frolík and, perhaps oddly, sophomore Jacob Trouba. Burns returned two draft picks, a 1st and a 2nd, from Waterloo. Boychuk was flipped to Toronto with that second round pick for Matthew Carle, and the T-Bolts hope that Carle can at least come close to Burns’s offensive production while cutting down on penalty minutes. Speaking of penalty minutes, the team cut tough guy Brandon Crombeen, who was promptly scooped up by the Atlantic Schooners. Minor deals saw the T-Bolts send Taylor Beck, Brandon Manning, and David Schlemko, scorer of the first goal in T-Bolts history, to Edmonton for late round picks, along with a 4th to Ottawa for Mattias Ekholm.

Along with Carle, in is a plethora of young talent from this year’s entry draft. The Thunderbolts drafted early – in the top 10, with the pick acquired from the Lunatics – and often, nine times in total. When all was said and done, the T-Bolts had added Kevin Fiala, David Pastrňák, Martin Marinčin, Matt Nieto, Kevan Miller, Cody Kunyk, Johan Sundström, and Bryce Van Brabant to an impressive young core that already includes Derek Stepan, Jacob Trouba, Seth Jones, Vladimir Tarasenko, Elias Lindholm, Alexander Wennberg, and Ondřej Palát. A few of these picks completed trades: Fiala was the first round pick acquired from Waterloo; the Marinčin pick completed the Wayne Simmonds trade with Nashville from December;  Sundström’s pick was acquired with Nikita Filatov from Ottawa for a third (used by Las Vegas on Jayson Megna); and the picks acquired for Beck, Manning, and Schlemko landed Van Brabant and Miller. The team also signed undrafted free agent John Albert, a former captain of the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Camp has opened and there have been plenty of surprises. One of the questions surrounding the team ever since the James Neal trade has been who will play on the first line at left wing. Last year it was mostly Vladimir Tarasenko, but instead, it has been another youngster, Ondřej Palát, who has been shining brightly. If he can keep his camp form into the regular season we may have a Calder favorite.

It also looks like Jonathan Quick is 100%, so Olegs Znaroks may have an issue when it comes to goal. Two good keepers is a good problem to have. But with the price Scranton paid to get Quick, he’s the #1, and probably will be for his career, barring injuries or a fall in form. Quick in for Pavelec on a full-time basis is definitely new.

Since I suck at wrapping things up, here’s the T-Bolts’ out/in list:

OUT

Brent Burns

Johnny Boychuk

Taylor Beck

Brandon Manning

David “Joe Schmo” Schlemko

Brandon Crombeen

4th round pick 2014 (Patrik Nemeth)

IN (Incl. draftees)

Matt Carle

Mattias Ekholm

Kevin Fiala

David Pastrňák

Martin Marinčin

Matt Nieto

Aleksey Marchenko

Kevan Miller

Cody Kunyk

Johan Sundström

Bryce Van Brabant

John Albert

T-Bolts Happy With Early Goings

Shortly after the conclusion of the first three rounds of the WHL Entry Draft, Locria Fox reviewed the draft over with the fans, and had a Q & A session via Skype.

“We got to build on a solid draft class last year and I feel like we’ve added even more talent this year. The T-Bolts will be winning silverware before you know it, fans!” said the GM.

Let’s review the picks.

Round 1 – 2 picks

9. Kevin Fiala – LW – HV71 Jönköping (SHL) – St. Gallen, SUI

Fiala isn’t overly big, but there’s no questioning his talent, with crazy speed and silky smooth hands. Last year in the Swedish Hockey League he produced more points per game than any U18 player in the history of top-division Swedish hockey outside of Peter Forsberg, and he represented Switzerland at the U18, U20, and senior levels. If he’s even close to Foppa’s form when he gets older, the T-Bolts will get a steal here, one that could possibly fill in the top 2 lines in the near future. It’s unlikely that he would’ve lasted past this pick, as Detroit’s GM (who picked right after) is based in Jönköping.

15. David Pastrňák – RW – Södertälje SK (Allsvenskan) – Havířov, CZE

Like Fiala, Pastrňák is a foreigner bred in the Swedish hockey system. Like Fiala, he’s small but incredibly skilled. Also like Fiala, he’s represented his country at more than one level in the last year. Pastrňák plays a similar game to the Swiss stud with his ability to blow by defenders using speed and hands, make plays with teammates, and ultimately finish them off. He may be WHL ready as early as 2015-16.

Round 2 – 2 picks

13. Martin Marinčin – D – Oklahoma City Barons (AHL)  – HC Košice (Slovakia) – Košice, SVK

Fox was debating between two defenders for this spot: Marinčin and Jon Merrill. Ultimately, she went with the guy who was only on a freaking Olympic team at last year’s WHL Olympics. He’s not overly physical, but he won’t need to be. With a projectable frame and all-around skill set that could let him play on the power play or penalty kill, he could be one more solid add in the T-Bolts’ defensive heap.

15. Matt Nieto – LW – Worcester Sharks (AHL) – Boston University (HE) – Long Beach, CA

Nieto’s small like Pastrňák and Fiala, but trades off game-breaking skill for better defensive play. He works hard and has decent offensive skills, and has a great, coachable attitude. A veteran of the US National Team Development Program, Nieto could really go anywhere in the team’s lineup when he’s ready, but the team sees him in a 2nd or 3rd line role.

Round 3 – 1 pick

15. Aleksey Marchenko – D – Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL) – CSKA Moskva (KHL) – Moskva, RUS

An AHL All-Star last year for the Griffins in his first year in North America, Marchenko is a solid sleeper pick. He’s not the best defensively or physically, but that’s not his job; the T-Bolts have Trouba, Gudas, and to a lesser extent Jones for that. Marchenko is best suited to a puck-moving role, a power play quarterback. He has a high hockey IQ and knows how to move the puck well.