Matthews: The Amerks Aren't The Favorite For The Calder Cup

THE AMERKS AREN”T THE FAVORITE FOR THE CALDER CUP...

BUT THEY DON’T NEED A “DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?”

These Rochester Americans have a reasonable chance to win the Calder Cup for the seventh time in franchise history. They aren’t the favorites in the 16-team field but they’re better than a live longshot.

Here’s how I rate the 16 teams (rankings are among the playoff teams only):

1-Charlotte Checkers. AHL Coach of the Year Mike Vellucci’s Checkers have been the class of the AHL from their 10-1 start this regular season. Led the 31-team league in points in the standings (110 to No. 2 Syracuse’s 102) and their +66 goal differential was second only to Syracuse’s +77...21-14-2-1 road record was second, behind only Rochester...Fourth in goals in the playoff field and second in fewest goals allowed...86.6 percent penalty killing was AHL’s best...Power play (19.7 percent) was eighth-best among the playoff teams...Goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic was the season-ending AHL First Team All-Star (league-best 2.26 goals-against average; .916 save percentage; 7 shutouts).

2-Syracuse Crunch. Led the AHL in goal differential at +77...Sixth among playoff teams on the power play and fourth in penalty killing, with a league-best 16 short-handed goals...Fourth in goals per game (3.36) and first in fewest goals allowed (2.46)...Centers Carter Verhaghe and Alex Barrie Boulet each scored a league-leading 34 goals to earn the Willie Marshall Award as the league’s top goal scorers.

3-Bakersfield Condors. Amassed 89 points in only 68 games...Excellent +60 goaldifferential...Among the 16 playoff teams, 6th on the power play and 12th in penalty killing...hird-best goal differential at +60 (242-182). Goalie Shane Starrett and left wing Tyler Benson are AHL Second Team All-Stars.

4-Rochester Americans. Best road record in the AHL: 25-9-3-1 (54 of 76 possible points; +22 goal differential) and decent in home games (21-14-2-1; +14 goal differential)...Reinforcements from Buffalo significantly bolstered the playoff roster...Sixth on the power play (allowed only 3 short-handed goals) and ninth in penalty killing (scored 11 short-handed goals)...Fifth in goals per game (3.34) and eighth in fewest goals allowed (2.89)...Balanced scoring. Addition of Tage Thompson for the playoffs was huge...Decent defense anchored by Eddie Shore Award winner Zach Redmond...Buffalo failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs means no recalls from the Amerks during the AHL playoffs...Won the regular-season series 5-1 versus Toronto and split the season series versus Syracuse 6-6.

5-Chicago Wolves. Would be no surprise. A balanced team with no glaring weakness. Goal differential +51...Seventh in scoring (3.29) and third in fewest goals allowed (2.62)...Fifth on the power play and sixth in penalty killing...First Team AHL All-Star left wing Daniel Carr had 30 goals, 41 assists and a +35 goal differential in 52 games.

6-San Jose Barracuda. Sixth in scoring (3.34) and ninth in scoring defense (2.897). Seventh on the power play and in penalty killing. Sixth in goal differential (+30 in 68 games)...10.5 penalty minutes per game is the fewest for the 16 playoff teams.

7-Providence Bruins. Strong on defense. Sixth in fewest goals allowed and third in penalty killing...11th in scoring average (3.00)...10th on the power play and allowed 15 short-handed goals....Eighth in goal differential (+16).

8—Milwaukee Admirals. Excellent on special teams: 2nd in penalty killing and fifth on the power play...Ninth in scoring differential (+10)...Tied for 12th in scoring (2.85) and fifth in fewest goals allowed (2.72)...Goalie Troy Grosenick had a league-best .919 save percentage.

9-Toronto Marlies. The defending Calder Cup champions aren’t nearly as formidable this season. Most of last season’s stars are gone. Eighth in scoring (3.26) and 15th in fewest goals allowed (3.20)...8th on the power play and 11th in penalty killing...Jeremy Brocco is AHL First Team All-Star right wing and center Chris Mueller is Second-Team center.

10-San Diego Gulls. Good hit, weak field. Second in scoring (3.51) and 16th in scoring defense (3.25)...Goal differential +18...Seventh on the power play and 13th in penalty killing. Allowed 14 short-handed goals...Not great at home: 18-14-1-1.

11-Bridgeport Sound Tigers. About as average as a playoff team could be.Ninth in scoring (3.07) and 12th in fewest goals allowed (3.00)...Goal differential +5...7th on power play and 14th in penalty killing...Much better at home (26-7-3-2) than on the road (17-17-3-1).

12-Hershey Bears. They have history going for them with 11 Calder Cups...Last in this field in scoring (2.78) and seventh in scoring defense (2.83)...Goal differential -4...6th on the power play and 15th in penalty killing.

13-Cleveland Monsters. Strong on special teams: fourth on the power play and sixth in penalty killing...10th in scoring (3.05) and 14th in scoring defense (3.08)...Goal differential -2.

14-Iowa Wild. Probably not as good as their 37-26-8-5 record...Tied for 12th in scoring (2.85) and tied for 10th in scoring defense (2.92)...Goal differential -5...Best power play in the playoffs field (23.8 percent). 10th in penalty killing...Goalies Kaapo Kahkonen and Andrew Hammond combined for nine shutouts this season.

15-Grand Rapids Griffins. Not a great Griffins team. Tied for 12th in scoring (2.85) and tied for 10th in scoring defense...Goal differential -5...Worst penalty killing in the playoffs field (78.5 percent) and fifth on the power play.

16-Colorado Eagles. The first-year Eagles appear outclassed. Playoff-worst goal differential (-14) and 15th in scoring (2.80)... The AHL’s worst power play (13.8 percent) and 5th in penalty killing (but allowed 16 short-handed goals)...13th in scoring defense (3.05)...16.38 penalty minutes per game leads all playoff teams.

Calder Cups by cities: Hershey 11...Cleveland (by assorted names) 10...Rochester 6...Providence 5...Chicago 2...one each for Grand Rapids, Milwaukee, Syracuse (the first Cup in 1937) and Toronto (last season). None for Bakersfield, Bridgeport, Colorado, Charlotte, Iowa, San Diego and San Jose.

The bottom line for the Amerks: No excuses. They’re healthy and reinforcements from Buffalo have the roster at full strength. Balanced scoring and solid defense.Goaltending always is a key to a long playoff run. Scott Wedgewood was in the middle of the pack in most stats (2.68 goals-against average; .908 save percentage; 5 shutouts) but is a seasoned veteran capable of a hot run in the playoffs.Should beat Toronto in the first round but would then need to beat Syracuse and possibly Charlotte to reach the Finals. That would be no easy task.

TORTORELLA’S SECOND MIRACLE ON ICE: FROM ROCHESTER TO COLUMBUS

The 1995-96 Rochester Americans were a modest 37-34-5-4 and outscored by opponents 297-294 in the regular season. Rookie coach John Tortorella’s team suddenly put everything together in the playoffs, posting a 15-4 record and winning the sixth and most-recent Calder Cup in franchise history.

Tortorella’s 2003-04 Tampa Bay Lightning won the only Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Tortorella lasted seven season at Tampa Bay and then spent one season with Vancouver before becoming coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets after the team started the 2015-16 season 0-7-0.

The Blue Jackets were 47-31-4 (98 points) this NHL regular season but hardly anyone expected them to upset the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning – the team he used to coach – in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Lightning tied the NHL record with 62 victories this season, had 128 points in the standings (21 more than second-best Calgary and Boston (and 30 more than Tampa Bay), outscored opponents by 103 goals, averaged 3.89 goals per game (most in the NHL since the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings) and led the NHL on the power play and in penalty killing.

In three meetings this regular season, Tampa Bay swept the series and outscored Columbus 17-3.

But the Blue Jackets completed a 4-0 sweep over the Lightning Tuesday night, outscoring Tampa Bay 19-8 in the process. The Lightning was 1-for-6 on the power play and Columbus was 5-for-10.

Tampa Bay won this season’s Presidents’ Trophy for the best record in the regular season. Since the Trophy began in 1986, the winner went on to win the Stanley Cup only eight times. The Lightning became the 25th team to fail to follow up regular-season domination with a Stanley Cup – and the first to be swept in the first round.

Do you think Tortorella can coach a little bit?

TIGER WOODS: A LOOK AT THE UPDATED PGA STATS

Tiger Woods cashed $2,070,000 for his popular victory in the Masters to boost his official earnings this season to $2,804,717. He soared from 74th to 10th on the 2019 money list. Rory McIlroy is No. 1 at $4,854,964.

Some other 2019 statistical highlights for Tiger:

From 81st before the Masters to 13th in Fed Ex Cup standings.

Scoring average 69.729 is fourth, behind only Justin Thomas (69.512), Dustin Johnson (69.536) and Jim Furyk (69.767).

Second in greens in regulation, behind only Matt Kuchar.

In six events this season, he has 1 win, 3 top-10 finishes and 5 top-25 finishes.

51st in average driving distance (299.6 yards; Tour average is 292.3).

64th in driving accuracy.

In 352 career PGA events, he has 81 wins (one short of Sam Snead’s all-time record), 31 seconds and 19 thirds. He has 196 top-10 finishes.

Career PGA official money leaders: Tiger $118,309,570...Phil Mickelson $90,467,104...Vijay Singh $71,216,128...Jim Furyk $70,588,191...Dustin Johnson $60,146,508.

GIVE AMIR KHAN HIGH MARKS FOR COURAGE

Amir Khan has been trying to reach the boxing heights he enjoyed before losing a middleweight title fight to Canelo Alavarez vis 6th-round knockout in 2016.He sat out 2017 and launched his comeback in 2018 with a knockout of Phil Lo Greco in Liverpool in July and a unanimous decision over Samuel Vargas in Birmingham, England in September.

Alvarez remains immensely popular in Britain and many of his fans were disappointed when he passed up a fight against fellow Brit Kell Brooks in favor of accepting a lower payday to challenge WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford Saturday at Madison Square Garden. The fight will be on ESPN pay-per-view. The undercard will be on ESPN2 at 6 p.m.

Crawford is 34-0, with 25 knockouts. He is considered one of the very best pound-for-pound boxers in the world and regarded as a clever fighter with enough power to KO opponents after figuring out where they’re vulnerable. He’s a 31-year-old American.

Khan, 32, is respected for his heart, power punching and for taking on top competition throughout his career (33-4, 20 knockouts). He also has a “glass jaw” and figures to try to outbox Crawford to earn to decision.

Bovada odds: Crawford bet $1,680 to win $100; Khan bet $100 to win $945...A consensus of European odds: Crawford 1-to-12; Khan 9-t o-1; draw 33-to-1.

Bob’s pick: Crawford by KO inside six rounds.

UPDATING ALEX KIRILLOFF AND ROYCE LEWIS

The two top prospects in the Minnesota Twins farm system are slugger Alex Kirilloff and shortstop Royce Lewis. If all goes well, they’ll be in the Opening Day lineup for the Twins in 2021 and make a promising young team even better.

Lewis was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 Major League Baseball amateur draft and will turn 20 on June 5. Kirilloff was the No. 15 overall pick in the 2016 MLB draft. He’s 21 years old.

Lewis got off to a slow start at Advanced A Fort Myers (Florida State League). He was 4-for-16 in his first six games. But he’s 6-for-19 since, including three hits Monday night. He’s 5-for-6 stealing bases. He figures to make his Rochester debut sometime next season.

Kirilloff sat out the entire 2017 season after Tommy John elbow surgery. He made up for lost time in 2018. He played 65 games at Single-A Cedar Rapids and 65 games at Fort Myers. His combined batting line: .348 batting average (178-for-512), 44 doubles, 7 triples, 20 HRs, 101 RBI. He led the minor leagues in doubles and extra-base hits and was second in hits and batting average.

He suffered a “minor” wrist injury in spring training this year and has yet to play for the Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos (Southern League). He could play for the Red Wings later this season.

SHORT SHOTS

The oldest golfer to win one of the four majors was Julius Boros in the 1968 PGA Championship. He was 48 years, 4 months, 18 days. So history says 43-year-old Tiger Woods has lots of time to get the three major titles he’d need to tie Jack Nicklaus.

The San Francisco Giants are seriously considering moving in the fences at Triples Alley in right-center field. That’s San Francisco’s version of Rochester’s left-center field. How many more HRs might Barry Bonds have hit with shorter fences in RCF?

The National Lacrosse League San Diego Gulls have signed long-time Rochester Knighthawks favorite Joe Walters to replace rookie star Austin Staats, who suffered a season-ending injury.Walters, 34, has 73 goals and 160 assists in 103 NLL career games, all with Rochester. He was a mainstay on the K-hawks championship teams in 2012-13-14.

John Moriello reports that Batavia High School football star running back Ray Leach will attend SUNY Cortland.

The Red Wings entered Tuesday’s doubleheader at home against the Syracuse Mets as the only team in the Triple-A International League and Pacific Coast League without a home victory this season. They won Game 1 of the twinbill. Rochester has the worst record in Triple-A at 3-9.

Long-time Rochester sports reporter Bill Flynn passed away Tuesday of cancer. He worked for several radio stations, including WSAY, WXXI and WHAM. He produced thousands of audio and TV documentaries featuring local people and things, from Don Cherry’s Amerks to Silver Stadium to Zippy Chippy. He was historian/statistician for the basketball Zeniths and RazorSharrks, and the webmaster for the Frontier Walk of Fame, of which he is a member.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO...

Wednesday, April 17

Jed Lowrie 35...C. J. Watson 35...Theo Ratliff 46...Tony Bosseli 47..Keith Lyle 47....Marquis Grissom 52...former Red Wings IL MVP Craig Worthington 54...Ken Daneyko 55...Boomer Esiason 58..Dwayne Casey 62....former Amerk Dave Hynes 68...Kevin Porter 69...Geoff Petrie 71. Victoria Beckham 45 and Jennifer Garner 47 are invited to the birthday party.

Thursday, April 18

Caleb Swanigan 22...Bojan Bogdanovic 30...Billy Butler 33...Miguel Cabrera 36...Scott Hartnell 37...Justin Bannon 40....Haile Gebrselassie 46...Derrick Brooks 46...William Roaf 49...Valeri Kamensky 53...Wilber Marshall 57...Jim Eisenreich 60...Al Sims 66...Geoff Bodine 70...Nate Archibald 71. Kourtney Kardashian 40, Conan O’Brien, Rick Moranis 66 and James Woods 72 are invited to the birthday party.

ON THIS DATE IN SPORTS...

April 17

80 years ago (1939), Joe Louis KOd Jack Roper in 1 for the heavyweight boxing title...68 years ago (1951), Mickey Mantle went 1-for-4 in his first game with the New York Yankees...66 years ago (1953), Mickey Mantle hit his famous 565-foot home run at Griffith Stadium in Washington...55 years ago (1964), the New York Mets lost their first game at Shea Stadium, 4-3 to the Pittsburgh Pirates..32 years ago (1987), Julis Erving became the third player to score 30,000 points in the NBA/ABA.

April 18

74 years ago (1945), one-armed outfielder Pete Gray was 1-for-4 in his major-league debut with the St. Louis Browns...73 years ago (1946), Jackie Robinson made his pro baseball debut with the International League Montreal Royals...57 years ago (1962), the Boston Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers 4 games to 3 for the 16th NBA Championship...53 years ago (1966), Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics became the first African-American coach in NBA history...38 years ago (1981), the longest game in pro baseball history began; the International League game was resumed June in Pawtucket and host Pawtucket beat Rochester in the 32nd inning...32 years ago (1987), Mike Schmidt hit his 500th home run for the Philadelphia Phillies...21 years ago (1998), Peyton Manning was the first overall pick in the NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts...20 years ago (1999), Wayne Gretzky of the New York Rangers played his last NHL game...11 years ago (1008), MBA owners voted 28-2 to relocate the Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City.

Bob Matthews' Column

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