BIRD’S-EYE VIEW: Something for Everyone, Part 2
Blog #12 – May 13, 2020
by John Peterson
Last week, we tried to help you all (and ourselves) find a little closure.
By saying something positive about the Kalamazoo Wings goalies and defensemen in the first of a two-part blog post, we thought that maybe it would help turn the page. After all, none of us really got a chance to say goodbye to the players (or the fans) when the season ended so suddenly March 12.
Hopefully in most cases—referring to the athletes and the K-Wings faithful—it is not goodbye, rather “see you later”.
Some positive and exciting news Monday included the release of our 2020-21 Home Schedule. Maybe that, assuming all goes to plan regarding the steps needed to get through the coronavirus pandemic safely this summer, will provide us all something to look forward to entering the fall.
In the meantime, we can’t forget about the talented group of K-Wings forwards from the 2019-20 campaign. These guys didn’t have a problem scoring goals last season. That much is for certain.
Kalamazoo scored 194 goals in 61 games, an average of 3.18 per game which was 13th out of 26 teams.
And don’t worry. I haven’t forgotten about our knowledgeable and hard-working coaches and training staff. As a member of the hockey ops staff, we were a close-knit group who bonded right away. These guys are in a class of their own if you ask me. We’ll get to them in a later blog post.
How about the dedicated front office staff? The unheralded and often underappreciated.
Because of their efforts to keep things fresh and entertaining at Wings Event Center, combined with the Kalamazoo community’s response and passion for their local hockey team, the average attendance went up for the fifth straight season. We have a long summer ahead, and rest assured, we’ll cover it all.
But for now, let’s finish what we started.
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Last, but not least, the forwards featured a wide range of veterans, rookies, snipers, grinders, playmakers and unsung heroes. Let’s give them all the credit they deserve after an abrupt end to a hard-fought season.
#5 – Chad McDonald: I’m including McDonald because several times throughout the season, he was a lifesaver for this team. After one season in 2018-19, McDonald retired from pro hockey to go back to school to get a law degree at Michigan State University. Yeah, the guy is brilliant. When the team needed bodies due to injury (which happened way more often than we all had hoped), Chad answered his phone, agreed to meet the team wherever we were on a whim, and laced up his skates. He did more than just that. Nov. 23 in his season debut, McDonald scored a goal in the third period against Toledo.
#7 – Logan Lambdin: Remember him? If not, that is okay. He only played in one game before the season was canceled. But get to know him. Lambdin signed with the K-Wings March 11 after finishing his senior season at Michigan State. He suited up that night against the Indy Fuel in what turned out to be the final game of the regular season. I thought he was tremendous, especially early, creating several scoring opportunities. I’m eager to see what Lambdin can do with a pro training camp and full season under his belt.
#9 – Zach Diamantoni: The “Yin” to Luke Sandler’s “Yang”. Entering his second pro season, Diamantoni impressed the coaches immediately in training camp and got off to a fast start right away. I remember an early-season interview with Head Coach Nick Bootland, where he said Diamantoni was one of the most-improved players from the 2018-19 returners. He wasn’t the most vocal, but “Dimes” quietly had a solid season and was the only Kalamazoo player to appear in all 61 games.
#11 – Austin Farley: I remember when the coaching staff first discussed trying to sign Farley, who started the season in the Swedish Hockey League. At first it was a farfetched idea. Then it became a real possibility. The excitement when Farley signed, especially during a tumultuous period in January when the team was banged up and battling illness, told the story. He could be a game-changer. And he was. The forward posted 13 points in his first 13 games. He certainly helped jump-start the K-Wings’ second-half turnaround leading into their push for the playoffs.
#13 – Brennan Sanford: The third member of that Austin Bruins trio (read Part 1 where I talk about Jake Kielly and Cory Dunn) that I knew from earlier in my career. Sanford played in just two games for Kalamazoo after signing at the end of the 2018-19 season following his college career in East Lansing. But he made his home debut in the K-Wings Home Opener on Oct. 19 against Cincinnati and scored his first pro goal on his first shift early in the first period. You can’t write a script like that. Unfortunately Sanford fought injury problems throughout the season, but was awesome in the final month. We all got a taste of what kind of pro he could be if he stays healthy: smart, gritty, fiery and valuable.
#16 – Spencer Naas: The smooth-skating winger was a trade deadline acquisition from the Idaho Steelheads for the ECHL rights to veteran forward Yannick Veilleux, who was up in Laval in the AHL since Christmas. Naas has the tools to be a gifted pro. He scored goals in back-to-back games in the final weekend of the season and complimented Justin Taylor nicely on the top line. The two seemingly built chemistry right away. And this might be a biased take, but I sure like having another Minnesotan around to talk about the Vikings with me, Kielly and Matt VanVoorhis. But that’s neither here nor there.
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#17 – Luke Sandler: Before coming to Kalamazoo, I only knew Sandler as a player unafraid to mix it up, take penalties, and get under the opponent’s skin. While all that is true, he showed this year that he can play the game. Not only does he have a wicked wrist shot, but some playmaking ability and a nifty forehand-to-backhand move in tight spaces. Sandler’s first career hat trick Feb. 15 against Brampton was a pretty awesome moment, but my favorite memory of Zach Diamantoni’s more-vocal roommate was when Sandler joined me on the broadcast for Wizards, Wands and Wings Night and predicted a big game-winning goal from a line featuring this next guy…
#18 – Kyle Blaney: The player responsible for that game-winning goal with ten seconds left Feb. 22 against Wheeling was Blaney. He took a lot of heat for being grumpy, often called the “angry elf”, but I think some of it was an act. I appreciated his dry sense of humor the most. When I tried to pay my debts to the team fine fund (something I was crucified for) I asked Blaney if the rumors were true that he was in charge of collecting the fine money. He texted back “I am the Fine Master. Hockey Player is just my second job description.” Blaney was also the only player on the team to register a “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” this season (a goal, assist and fight in the same game). He did that twice.
#20 – Boston Leier: I knew we were getting a great hockey player and an even better person when I first asked Coach Bootland about Leier. Never one to sugarcoat anything, Bootland said, “Every player and coach I’ve talked to says Leier is one of the best teammates they’ve ever had.” High praise. The second-year pro was named one of Kalamazoo’s assistant captains and lived up to that billing with his fiery play on the ice and leadership in the community off the ice. He earned a much-deserved tryout late in the season with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers after suffering a few frustrating injuries during the year. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do if he’s back next season and stays healthy, but if not, there’s a full-time opportunity waiting for him as my permanent color-commentator in the broadcast booth.
#21 – Zach Saar: Even though he technically didn’t end the season on the K-Wings roster, I also added Saar because of how much I appreciated his realness and willingness to do whatever was needed to help the team. He started the season rehabbing an injury, and as luck would have it, tweaked it two games after returning. When he was finally healthy, Saar played a few more games before making the difficult decision to step away from hockey to pursue other opportunities. He’s a class act, was a star of our Wings Holiday Wishes video and Top Ten video, and we all wish him nothing but the best with whatever the future holds.
#23 – Garret Ross: When Veilleux signed with Laval right before the Christmas break, the K-Wings had a veteran spot open up and acquired Ross from the Jacksonville Icemen in exchange for Adam Dauda. He anchored the third line and was one of the unsung heroes in the second half of the season. Quiet about his business, Ross was a solid two-way forward who could be a net-front disturber on the power play. He brought 300+ games of AHL experience and a consistent game to the table every night. My favorite Ross moment came when scored a ridiculous between-the-legs power play goal against Fort Wayne with legendary Mike “Doc” Emrick looking down from the Memorial Coliseum press box.
#27 – Justin Kovacs: When I first saw Kovacs play, he was with the Quad City Mallards skating on their top line. I remember admiring how gifted he was with the puck on his stick. In Kalamazoo, I got a glimpse of that talent all season. Kovacs is truly a magician with the puck. He was always a pass-first player, sometimes to a fault, but has a natural skillset most players could only dream of. His best stretch of the season came in mid-January when he finished runner-up for ECHL Player of the Week. I loved the chemistry Kovacs formed on a line with Blaney and Farley, one that stuck for the last two months of the season.
#44 – Matheson Iacopelli: We follow one Western Michigan University alum with another. Iacopelli came up to me early in the season with a simple request. “Can you call me Matti? I don’t like Matt.” I appreciated that honesty. I take a lot of pride in trying my best to get players’ names right, so any guidance from the players definitely helps. So from there on out, he was Matti. And he was clutch. Of the 8 or 9 breakaways he had throughout the season, I think he scored on all of them except for maybe one. It was almost a guarantee. Some of his skillsets, most notably his skating, remind me a little of Chicago Blackhawks superstar Patrick Kane. Coincidentally it was the Blackhawks who drafted Iacopelli. Ironically after he scored one of the biggest goals of the season, an overtime winner against Cincinnati Dec. 20 at Wings Event Center, I accidentally shouted, “Matt Iacopelli wins it in overtime!” Oops. Heat of the moment.
#74 – Tanner Sorenson: I knew what kind of player Sorenson was before I got here. In 2018-19, the year he put up 64 points in 55 games, Tanner scored a tiebreaking goal late in the third period to beat Tulsa on Teddy Bear Toss Night at Wings Event Center. I watched that game from the visiting press box. He definitely earned his AHL contract in 2019-20 and I was glad to see him get some playing time up there with the Comets. He seemingly lit up Fort Wayne every time we played them, and for the longer bus trips was known for his tie-dyed Rolling Stones hoodie. I think Sorenson can play at the AHL level full-time, but if I’m wrong, I’d love to see him back in Kalamazoo red.
#93 – Justin Taylor: The goals. The records. The leadership. The clutch-factor. They’re all great. But my favorite thing about Taylor is his commitment to his family. I think it’s awesome that he includes his son Jonah in postgame skates, jersey auctions and locker room hangouts on off-days. Even if Jonah doesn’t remember those moments when he’s older, Justin and his wife Kelsey will. And that’s what it’s all about. October 26 was one of my favorite nights of the year. While personally, it was the first chance I got to see my old team and say hi to some good friends, it was special night in the illustrious history of K-Wings hockey. We honored Taylor with a framed jersey for setting the franchise’s games played record. And he repaid us (and the 50+ friends and family members in attendance) with a full-circle moment: the overtime winning goal.
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A couple of weeks ago, I shared how I fell in love with the sports of hockey at an early age and how that eventually shaped my career path. Many of you chimed in and shared how you got hooked on this great game. Coming up in next week’s blog post, we’ll tell some of those stories.
It’s about time for another K-Wings Mailbag. Send me your questions on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, or send me an email at email@example.com and I’ll try to answer them on Mailbag #3. These questions can be about anything. Nothing is off-limits. So get creative. Let’s see what you’ve got!
IDEAS FOR FUTURE POSTS?
If there’s anything you think is worthy of a blog post, we’re always looking for content that appeals to our loyal fans. Especially right now, as we work from home and have some more time on our hands.
I’ll write about whatever you guys want to read about. Maybe it’s a spotlight on your favorite player. Maybe it’s a specific memory from the season.
Or, when all else fails, I like lists. I like ranking things. Give me some ideas.
Until next time, stay safe, and thanks for reading.
Bird’s-Eye View is a Kalamazoo Wings blog, written by the team’s Director of Public Relations/Broadcaster John Peterson twice weekly. The thoughts, opinions and behind-the-scenes stories are that of the writer alone and not a reflection of the organization as a whole. Fans are welcome to submit questions and ideas for future blog posts to firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy!