AHL: Springfield Thunderbirds (33-29-9-5, 7th in Atlantic, Did Not Qualify for Playoffs) TEAM LINEAGE: The Thunderbirds moved to Springfield from Portland, where the Panthers had a one-year affiliation with the Panthers. Prior to that, the Panthers were matches with the San Antonio Rampage for five years, after a six year stint with the Rochester Americans. The Louisville Panthers, Kentucky Thoroughblades, New Haven Beast, Carolina Monarchs, and the IHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones also served as primary sponsor of the Panthers. FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: One possible candidate could be a guy who’s coming over for his first North American pro season and that’s Aleksi Heponiemi. After a stellar WHL career with Swift Current, Heponiemi went to Finland to register almost a point-per-game in 50 games, while leading his team in assists with 30. Also look for Anthony Greco and Dryden Hunt to be on the shuttle up and down the east coast as both looked to build on their time with the Panthers from last season, while trying to fit into a tight roster.
ECHL: The Panthers haven’t had a secondary affiliate since 2015 when they left the Cincinnati Cyclones. They had a closer affiliate in the Florida Everblades for four seasons over five years (one year break in the middle), while the Texas Wildcatters, Augusta Lynx, again with Florida, and the Miami Matadors all had one-year stints as the secondary team for the Panthers. The Port Huron Border Cats of the UHL, the Tallahasse Tiger Sharks of the ECHL, the Detroit Falcons of the UHL, and the Birmingham Bulls of the ECHL were at the start of the Panthers franchise.
-While all the Pacific teams are over .500, the Ontario Reign will need to keep digging deeper in order to keep up with the rest of the division. Lucky for them, however, they have two of the hottest scorers in the league right now. Both Mike Amadio and Jonny Brodzinski are on big points streak that rank in the top-10 for the season, with Amadio’s 16-game point streak (8g, 19a) being the longest in the AHL so far. Brodzinski isn’t a slouch, however, with a nine-game streak (6g, 8a) which is tied for 7th longest this season going into Monday’s games.
-If they’re not careful, the Springfield Thunderbirds could be a dark horse to climb up the standings and snag one of the final playoff spot in the Atlantic. The Thunderbirds are winners of seven of their last 11, including three straight heading into the new week. With their goaltending being somewhat shaky on the year, they’ll need to get a lot more support for Samuel Montembeault. While Curtis Valk is ahead in the team points, the real test will be to see how the likes of Dryden Hunt and Anthony Greco respond to a possible late-season push for the team to help support Valk and Alexandre Grenier.
-Despite being on a bad team, Brodie Dupont is making the most of his time in Norfolk. With 39 points in 37 games, the former New York Rangers’ prospect leads the team in points and is quietly 8th in the league. While the Admirals could make a late-season push for the playoffs, you have to wonder if someone like Dupont will be dangled out there at the trade deadline to get some prospects back and build into the future with that team. Dupont was traded last year to Greenville, only to return in the off-season.
-Since returning to Reading on December 28th, John Muse has continued his solid play for the Royals. Muse is 7-1-0 since returning, pushing his record to 13-4-1 on the season, while also ranking second amongst goalies in GAA and save percentage. The 2012 Kelly Cup Playoff MVP is coming back to the ECHL full-time for the first time since the 2012-13 campaign in Florida.
-It was a helluva holiday season for the Peoria Rivermen, who lost both goalies– Eric Levine and Storm Phaneuf to season-ending injuries over the holidays. Because of that, Tyler Parks has been thrown into the starting role, which has led him to an 8-2-0 record on the season and winning six of his last seven. Luckily, the Rivermen do have a solid goalie pipeline at their fingertips, which has come in handy in a situation like this. They continue to be four points behind Pensacola for top spot in the league with two games in hand.