It’s mid-January and the Colorado Eagles have played 38 games of their 68-game season. Plus, this is my first ever article for The-Rink! It seems logical to start with a quick recap of where the Eagles have been, where they are now, and where they may be headed going forward.
AHL Inaugural Season
It’s difficult to talk about the Eagles without remembering that this is only their second season in the American Hockey League. After winning back-to-back ECHL Kelly Cup Championships in 2017 and 2018, the team stepped into a new league, with a new head coach and a roster that was largely unfamiliar.
To some extent, the first season felt like an exercise in frustration. The Eagles could shoot, but they couldn’t score. Their defense couldn’t cleanly exit the zone. They frequently won the first game of their back-to-backs, only to drop the second game in spectacular fashion. Special teams were in stark contrast to one another. The power play came in dead last in the league, but the penalty kill was outstanding. They led the league in short-handed goals for most of the season, with Logan O’Connor and Andrew Agozzino scoring nine between them.
Colorado finished the 2018-19 season at 36–27–4–1. They secured the final playoff spot in the Pacific Division with some big, last-minute help from the San Diego Gulls, but nobody was surprised to see them eliminated in the first round.
The Eagles chose not to re-sign several key players from the 2018-19 season, including David Warsofsky, Dominic Toninato, and their top scorer Andrew Agozzino. They also parted ways with backup goalie Spencer Martin and saw their number one goalie, Pavel Francouz, step up to the NHL to play with the Colorado Avalanche.
Of the six AHL veterans backing the team, only one familiar face remained — team captain Mark Alt. The team also chose to hang onto Anton Lindholm and re-signed AJ Greer and Sheldon Dries to one-year contracts. In addition, the Eagles added firepower in the form of TJ Tynan, Jayson Megna, Erik Condra, and Colin Campbell. They shored up their blue line by bringing in Kevin Connauton, Jacob MacDonald, and Daniel Renouf. They also scored Calle Rosen as part of the Tyson Barrie trade.
In net, Colorado added fifth-round draft pick, Adam Werner, from Sweden. They also signed Hunter Miska from the Tucson Roadrunners and traded defensive prospect Nicholas Meloche for San Jose’s Antoine Bibeau.
Of course, a new season often brings in new young prospects as well. Expectations were high for Shane Bowers and Nick Henry, who had joined the team late the previous season, but without making much impact. Loads of hype surrounded Brandon Saigeon, who was expected to join the lineup. And, after missing the previous season due to concussion, Conor Timmins was finally healthy again.
Several promising players from the previous season were still riding out their ELCs, including Igor Shvyrev and first-round draft pick Martin Kaut. Add to that the known strengths of forwards Logan O’Connor and Michael Joly, and things looked promising. Dominating the Pacific Division seemed not just possible, but likely.
A Brand New Season
One can only wonder what might have been if not for injuries. The Colorado Avalanche suffered a slew of them in October, resulting in call-ups for several key Eagles players, including Tynan, Megna, O’Connor, Rosen, Connauton, Dries, Lindholm, and goalies Werner and Bibeau.
The Eagles suffered their own injuries as well, with both Kaut and Bowers out for several weeks. Add to that Greer’s six-game suspension for completely losing his cool against the Milwaukee Admirals on October 18, and the Eagles roster was suddenly largely filled with call-ups from the Utah Grizzlies.
At the end of November, the Eagles hovered around the fourth spot in the Pacific Division at 10–8–1–0. It felt like a replay of the previous season — hot one night but cold the next, with a completely ineffective power play. To make matters worse, the rock-solid penalty kill of the previous season was nowhere to be seen.
But that isn’t the end of the story.
One by one, the players returned from their stints in the NHL. Greer, Bowers, and Kaut all found their places again in the lineup.
And, suddenly, things began to click.
A Whole New Season (Take Two)
The Eagles went 0–2–1–1 in their first four games in December, but even with those losses, it was clear things were beginning to gel. The team had a real “diamond in the rough” feel, and it seemed it was only a matter of time before they started to shine.
On December 14, in front of a sold-out home crowd on Teddy Bear Toss night, they beat the San Diego Gulls, and they never looked back. Four days later, they put up ten goals against the Manitoba Moose. Every single player in the lineup save one (Greer) tallied at least one point, including goalie Hunter Miska. A week later, the Eagles scored three goals in twenty-four seconds (yes, you read that right) against the Bakersfield Condors. After Christmas, they sauntered into Tucson and swept the number one team in the league in their own barn with back-to-back victories.
At last! This was the team we’d been waiting for. This was how we knew they could play if they could just find their groove. And find it they did. All in all, our heroes won eight games in a row and earned points in twelve consecutive contests. They jumped to third place in the Division, with a five-point lead and three games in hand over the fourth team, the Ontario Reign. They sit seven points behind the Stockton Heat and nine behind the Roadrunners.
But nothing lasts forever. The Eagles’ win streak ended on January 4 with an overtime loss to Manitoba, and the point streak ended with a 2–4 loss to Tucson a week later. The question is, how will they recover? Will they keep playing with the same grit and discipline we saw through December? Or will they regress to the type of play we saw earlier in the season?
The short answer is: It’s too soon to say. Since ending their win streak, the Eagles have gone 3–4, with two of those losses being against the top two teams in the division. Special teams continue to be their biggest weakness. During their win streak in December, they scored ten power play goals in 38 chances. They allowed goals in only five of 32 penalty kills.
Since then, they’ve gone 4/28 on the power play, and 5/21 on the penalty kill. Their power play is currently ranked 24 in the league at 14.8%. Better than last year’s last-place status, but nowhere near as good as it needs to be. Looking back at those December games — some of them against very good teams — it’s clear the Eagles have the tools to do better. They just need to implement them more consistently.
As the saying goes, there’s a lot of hockey left to play, and the Eagles have proven they have what it takes to be contenders. Whether or not they will live up to their potential remains to be seen.
They play the San Antonio Rampage at home this weekend and then have several days to regroup before heading back to Tucson for two very critical matchups. If they can continue their upward trend, they won’t be scrambling for the division’s fourth playoff spot in the final games of the season like they did last year.
Finishing in second or third place in the Pacific seems realistic. Finishing in first is not out of the question. And as for playoffs? A first-round exit is far less likely than it was in 2019.