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Sept. 1 // two weeks before training camp

Cranes among early favorites for Cup

AURORA, Ill. -- NHL training camp doesn't begin until Sept. 15, but that hasn’t stopped fans from debating the odds for the Stanley Cup favorites.

Following a year with a 50-17-15 regular season record that ended with a game six overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final, the Fox River Cranes are second in betting to that same Penguins team. The Penguins are 7-1 odds and the Cranes sit just behind at 9-1.

“This is our year,” Emily Nisen, 20-year-old Cranes fan, said. “We got unlucky last season. There’s no shame in losing to the Pens, but if we’d gotten a couple of pucks to bounce our way, we would’ve forced a game seven.”

The Cranes return all of their star players for this season, including center and captain Alex Mahone, who finished second in the league with scoring. His 87 points trailed only DC Company center and captain Paul Kellerman’s 90. Fox River had three of the top six scorers with Mahone, winger Lincoln Burrows (85) and center John Abruzzi (79).

“I'm proud of this team and how we fought this year,” Mahone said as the team cleaned out their lockers. “Nobody gave us much of a chance at the start, but we were a couple of games away from winning it all. We'll build off of this progress for next season.”

Despite the top-tier offense, the Cranes rode the strong play of goalie Michael Scofield for most of the season. His 2.02 Goals Allowed Average and .921 save percentage earned him the Vezina Trophy for best goalie at the end of the season.

“It’s an honor,” Scofield said to reporters after the June 21 awards ceremony. “The other finalists deserved this just as much as I did, if not more. I’d rather have the Stanley Cup, though.”

If the oddsmakers are to be believed, Scofield and the Cranes have a good chance to make that wish come true.

 

Sept. 3 // twelve days before training camp 

Cranes release training camp schedule

AURORA, Ill. -- The Fox River Cranes start their season preparation Sept. 15-17 in Springfield, Ill. for the team’s NHL training camp.

Head coach Henry Pope announced earlier today that the first two days of camp will be reserved for private practices for all players in the Cranes system. Press will be allowed, but no fans. The third day will have a practice open to fans for the NHL Cranes at 10:30 a.m. followed by a scrimmage for the American Hockey League Springfield Cranes and other prospects at 1 p.m.

“We’re hoping everyone will get a lot out of this camp,” Pope said. “It’s the first chance for our younger players to show what they've got. I'm looking forward to seeing their potential in person.”

Fox River isn't a stranger to having AHL players make their mark at the NHL level. Last season winger David Martin scored ten goals and had seven assists in 30 games after being called up in January.

“I wasn't the only guy on Springfield that could've been called up,” Martin said. “I'm just grateful I was able to help out Fox River once I got the call.”

Fellow winger Ja Choi and defenseman Sid Karim also had brief stints up in the NHL, combining for ten games and five points.

“Do I wish I'd had more time up there?” Choi said. “Yeah. Everyone does. But I can't be mad. Even just one game is an honor, and the guys in Springfield are my brothers.”

Though training camp has relatively high stakes for young players, the veterans also see its merits.

“I think we're all ready to get back on the ice together,” captain Alex Mahone said. “We had a shorter summer with as deep as we got into the playoffs, but it's still a long break.”

Chemistry shouldn't be a problem, as Fox River didn't make any off-season moves. Everyone at camp will know each other, if not by play then by name.

“We don't get to spend much time with the younger players,” center Nick Savrinn said. “It's a good mentoring opportunity, but also just to see the guys that are part of the program that we all bleed for.”

With as much success as the NHL Cranes had last season, there will be plenty of learning opportunities for AHL players and prospects.

“I never got older players to watch out for me, so I hope I'll be able to make sure the same thing doesn't happen to our AHL men,” center Theodore Bagwell said. “We can all pick up some tricks in training camp, but them especially.”

 

Sept. 15 // first day of training camp 

Fox River, Springfield players bond early

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- After one day of training camp, Springfield and Fox River Cranes players are already back in the full-hockey mindset.

Fox River head coach Henry Pope skated with players during drills, shouting directions and praising successful plays. At the end of practice, he said he was pleased with what he'd seen.

“Conditioning is always a worry in the first days, since the players haven't had the pressure of the season for a few months,” Pope said. “I was glad to see everyone skating like normal with the same drive we ended the season with.”

Most of the drills kept the NHL and AHL players separated, though there were some that mixed them.

“It was dope to be able to work with the Fox River guys,” Springfield defenseman David Apolskis said. “I’ve grown up watching some of them.”

With it being the first real action many of the players had seen in nearly three months, the practice focused on basic drills and workouts.

“There's no need to overreach on the first day,” Pope said. “There'll be plenty of time tomorrow and the next day for getting into more set plays.”

After practice, Fox River captain Alex Mahone and alternate captains Lincoln Burrows and Michael Scofield treated the Springfield players to dinner.

“It was a hell of a bill,” Burrows said. “At least there were three of us to split it.”

In each of the four seasons the three have held their leadership positions, they've taken the AHL players to dinner after the first day of training camp.

“You don't want to wait until the last day to meet with them,” Scofield said. “Even if most of them won't be called up this season, I've always thought that it's important for them to know we're here for them. The whole program is a family, not just the NHL level.”

 

Sept. 17 // last day of training camp 

Cranes veterans, rookies impress at training camp

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - NHL training camp gives both veterans and rookies alike a chance to convince coaches of their value, and Fox River Cranes head coach Henry Pope has a lot of decisions to make.

The Springfield Cranes, American Hockey League affiliate of Fox River, hosted the three-day camp. The first two days had practices closed to fans and the third an open practice followed by a scrimmage.

The practices showed the team’s dedication to its identity: fast, clean and smart. Not much hitting went on during the drills the first two days of camp, which focused on the basics. By the third day of the camp, the practice featured more set plays, giving the coaching staff and spectators a glimpse of possible line combinations. Only the scrimmage featured full play, and gave AHL Cranes and new prospects the chance to show Pope they deserve to be called up to the NHL.

“We were all thinking about Coach Pope being there,” Springfield winger Luis Gallego said. “We know Fox River watches us, in case someone gets hurt up there, but actually having Coach there? That’s what you dream about.”

Gallego led Springfield in assists (43) last season, and finished in the top five for points in the AHL with 66. Due to Fox River’s relatively low number of injuries, he was never called up.

While the veteran players sat out the scrimmage, Gallego and his teammates showed fans the future of the NHL Cranes. Last season Fox River was one of the youngest teams with an average age of 26.3, so it wouldn’t be surprising for some of the youngsters to be swapped out for other young players.

“We’re blessed with an amazing depth in this system,” Pope said. “From Fox River straight down through Springfield, there are dozens of skilled rosters we can put out every night that give us a good chance to win.”

The scrimmage pitted Team Blue against Team White, both teams featuring an even mix of AHL players and prospects. Blue squeezed out a 5-4 win, an offensive showcase that illuminated just how valuable goalie Michael Scofield is to Fox River, as there isn't much depth at the position.

Gallego scored two goals and added an assist for Blue and defenseman David Apolskis tallied two assists for White.

“It’s hard for a D-man to shine in a game like this,” Apolskis said. “Lot of goals, and unless you’re a goal-scoring D-man, you’ve just got to hope the guys you pass the puck to wind up scoring. I’m happy with two points.”

Last season, Apolskis led Springfield in average time on ice at 26:04 minutes per game. He had 22 points -- all but two were assists -- but often received praise for his work ethic and desire to prove himself to his teammates.

“You couldn’t ask for a better partner at the back,” defenseman Sid Karim said. “Sometimes you get players who are selfish, but Tweener’s not like that. If you need him to do something, he’ll do it. He doesn’t want to let anyone down.”

Whether last season’s Fox River starters change or not, Pope said it’s important for him to watch all of the players work in person.

“I’ll watch film of them and talk to the coaching staff here in Springfield, but it’s something else to be able to see these men up close and talk to them,” Pope said. “It makes me more confident that I’ll be able to make the right decision about who Fox River starts with, even if it’s still a hard call.”

Fox River opens up its season Oct. 4 at 7:30 p.m. against the Chicago Blackhawks, who it swept in the Western Conference Semifinals last season.

 

Oct. 4 // opening night

Scofield and Martin dominate Blackhawks, 4-0

AURORA, Ill. -- Fox River Cranes goalie Michael Scofield picked up where he left off last season, saving all 37 shots he faced Friday night in the 4-0 win against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Wingers David Martin and Theodore Bagwell (twice) and captain Alex Mahone scored for the Cranes. Martin finished with three points on the night, but it was Scofield's name that rang through Office Depot Arena’s rafters at the end of the game.

“It's always a good feeling to hear how much support the fans give,” Scofield said. “Not just to me, but the whole team. There's a reason we've always had a good record at home.”

Three of the four Cranes goals came in the first period, effectively ending the game before it had much of a chance to begin. Martin and Mahone cashed in on the power play on a night Fox River went 2-for-3 with the man advantage.

The Cranes extended their win streak over the Blackhawks to five games, going back to their sweep of their Illinois rivals in the Western Conference Semifinals last season.

“It's one of the best rivalries in the league,” said Fox River defenseman Fernando Sucre, whose cousin Hector Avila is a winger for Chicago. “It doesn't help that we see them so many times a year.”

In addition to starting the season on a high note, Fox River saw two players make their NHL debut. Winger Luis Gallego and defenseman David Apolskis both played for the Springfield Cranes, Fox River’s American Hockey League affiliate, last season.

“I'm just really glad Coach gave me this chance,” Gallego said. “I tried to show what I can do in training camp, and I guess it was enough.”

Neither Gallego nor Apolskis had points, but both relished the opportunity they had to shine on the big stage.

“It's not that different from the AHL,” Apolskis said. “Once you get over the whole 'damn, I'm in the NHL’ thing, it's just like playing hockey in your backyard with some bros.”

The Cranes face the Blackhawks again Saturday at 7 p.m. in Chicago.

 

Nov. 11 // continued success

Cranes winning streak extends to seven with win over Predators

NASHVILLE -- The Fox River Cranes continued their winning streak with a 5-0 shutout over the Nashville Predators Saturday afternoon, helped by a hat trick from captain Alex Mahone.

Mahone scored two goals in the second period and his third in the final frame, completing the sixth hat trick of his career. The first period ended scoreless, but the Cranes offense exploded in the last 40 minutes to win their seventh straight game.

“It was a good game for the whole team,” Mahone said. “You can’t score by yourself. That’s why you get points for assists, because there’s more to a goal than just the guy hitting the puck in the net.”

If there was a hat trick for assists, the honor would have gone to winger John Abruzzi. He tallied assists on two of Mahone’s goals as well as the opening goal by winger Lincoln Burrows. The top Cranes line combined for eight points in the win, the most by a Cranes line this season.

“The puck favored us tonight,” Abruzzi said. “Hockey’s about as fickle of a sport as they come, so you learn to appreciate when it bounces your way.”

During the seven-game streak, the Cranes have outscored opponents 27-8. The former Springfield Cranes players seem to have found their spot in the lineup. Scoring is coming from all four lines and from forwards and defensemen alike. Everything has gone right for Fox River these past two weeks, but head coach Henry Pope cautions against reading too far into the success.

“The season is just beginning and so much can happen between now and the start of the playoffs,” Pope said. “This streak shows what we’re capable of when we’re at our best, but maintaining that quality for an extended period of time is what matters.”

The Cranes currently sit at the top of the Central Division with a 10-5-2 record and 22 points. They travel to Philadelphia to face the Flyers, the second-place Metropolitan team, Sunday at 6 p.m.

 

Nov. 12 // surprise blowout loss 

Flyers hand Cranes first loss in two weeks, 6-1 

PHILADELPHIA -- Not only did the Fox River Cranes lose their seven-game winning streak, but the Philadelphia Flyers took the game in convincing fashion with a 6-1 victory Sunday night.

Winger Luis Gallego scored the sole goal for the Cranes, the only bright spot in a game where winger Lincoln Burrows received a game misconduct in the second period and goalie Michael Scofield was pulled after allowing four goals on his first 15 shots.

“Every good run comes to an end sometime,” head coach Henry Pope said. “In the long run, this could be beneficial for us. It’s easier to see what you need to fix in a game like this than in one you dominate.”

There’s plenty for Pope to go over with the team. After one period, the Cranes sat in a 4-1 hole with their backup goalie in the net. By the end of the game, they failed to score another goal and allowed the Flyers to tally two more off of defensive miscues.

“There’s not much to be proud of in this game,” Cranes captain Alex Mahone said. “Myself included. The effort we put out there today isn’t who we are.”

The only true-to-nature moment of the game came when Burrows tangled with Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas after the latter laid a heavy hit on Cranes defenseman Fernando Sucre. Sucre left the ice and didn’t return. Gudas received a five minute major for boarding as well as a game misconduct.

“I was sticking up for my brothers, like I always do,” Burrows said. “Hockey’s a violent sport, but you never want to see a teammate hurt like that. None of it had to happen.”

In the postgame press conference, Pope said he didn’t have an update on Sucre, but hoped to have one in the coming days. It’s unlikely Sucre will be able to play in Fox River’s next game at the Tampa Bay Lightning at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

 

Dec. 19 // drop out of playoff position

Fourth straight loss knocks Cranes out of playoff spot

AURORA, Ill. -- For the first time this season, the Fox River Cranes are out of the playoff picture after a 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins Sunday afternoon.

The loss was the Cranes’ fourth straight, a losing streak responsible for the team’s fall from second to fifth in the tight Central Division. Fernando Sucre scored the lone goal in his return from an upper-body injury sustained back on Nov. 11 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

“It felt good to be back out there with the team, but I wish we could’ve won,” Sucre said. “I don’t care about my goal. I’d give it up for the win, you know?”

After giving up four, four and five goals in the previous losses, the defense held the high-scoring Bruins to just three goals. The offense couldn’t hit more than the one puck past Boston goalie Tuukka Rask. The struggles of the forwards couldn’t be summed up better than the one goal coming from a defenseman.

Cranes center Nick Savrinn is in the midst of a career-high scoring drought, having gone ten straight games without a goal. He’s not the only forward with scoring trouble. Wingers David Martin and Luis Gallego have gone five and six games respectively without goals.

“We’re all in a bit of a rut,” Savrinn said. “Usually you have one or two guys that have to get the puck to bounce better for them, but right now we’re all working to make things click at the right time.”

Though the season isn’t yet to its halfway point, goalie Michael Scofield said the team doesn’t want to be on the outside looking in at the playoffs at any stage. The Cranes currently sit two points out of the last wild card spot in the Western Conference.

“After the season we had last year, I think we got used to that success,” Scofield said. “We know there’s a lot of hockey left to be played this season, but knowing that we’d be out of the playoffs if they started today...it’s unsettling.”

The Cranes’ next chance to end the streak comes Monday at 7:30 p.m. against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the first time the two have faced each other since the Stanley Cup Final last season.

 

Dec. 27 // losing skid ends

Cranes snap losing streak with 5-2 win over Rangers

NEW YORK -- Christmas wishes came true for Fox River Cranes fans as the team ended their losing streak at six games with a 5-2 win against the New York Rangers Wednesday night.

Fox River seemed to be headed for another loss when they entered the second period down 2-0, but the Cranes scored five unanswered goals from five players for the win. Captain Alex Mahone, center John Abruzzi, and wingers Lincoln Burrows, Theodore Bagwell and David Martin all scored.

“The best part of this win is how we earned it,” head coach Henry Pope said. “We didn’t give up, and everyone pitched in. It was a real team effort, which is how we prefer to play.”

It was the first time this season the Cranes scored more than four goals with each one coming from a different player. More than that, Fox River hadn’t scored five goals in a game since a 5-4 win over the Minnesota Wild on Dec. 2, before the losing streak began.

“It was a good game all around,” Mahone said. “It’s been a while since we’ve been clean on both ends of the ice, and it paid off.”

Roughly a month before the halfway point of the season, the Cranes sit in fifth place in the Central Division with a 18-15-4 record. Their 40 points are five points back of the final wild card in the Western Conference, currently held by the St. Louis Blues.

“We dug ourselves into a hole, but there’s more than enough time left in the season,” Martin said. “None of us are worried. Tonight just gave us the game plan for the rest of the season.”

The Rangers are one of the worst offensive teams in the league, only averaging 2.32 goals per game, so the real test for Fox River’s defense will come Saturday against the San Jose Sharks. San Jose leads the NHL with 3.58 goals per game.

“We’re ready to see where we’re at,” Pope said. “This was a good game to get our confidence back, but Saturday will let us push our limits.”

The game against the Sharks starts at 9 p.m. in San Jose.

 

Jan. 17 // tension in the team

Cranes players turn on each other in blowout loss

LAS VEGAS -- The 8-2 loss for the Fox River Cranes to the Vegas Golden Knights could best be summed up by center John Abruzzi and winger Theodore Bagwell yelling at each other and teammates on and off the ice during the third period.

The Cranes scored the first two goals of the game, but the Golden Knights answered with eight straight goals. Their five goals in the second period squashed any momentum Fox River had and the sixth ten seconds into the third proved to be the breaking point.

“We’re supposed to have each other’s backs, but I didn’t see it out there,” Abruzzi said. “We’re not a team that loses by six goals. It felt like sixty.”

Fox River goalie Michael Scofield attempted to smooth the tension during the team’s timeout after it went down 6-2, but neither Abruzzi nor Bagwell responded to his calming presence. Winger Lincoln Burrows snapped back and the three looked to be moments away from dropping the gloves until center Benjamin Franklin separated them.

“It’s a stressful game,” Franklin said. “I get it. We were all pissed off at the way things were going, but I know that’s not the way we do things here. Even with a game like this, we’re close.”

Though the intensity of the arguments died off after Franklin’s intervention, Abruzzi and Bagwell continued to trade frustrated comments. Franklin sat between them for the second half of the period. The ordinarily calm head coach Henry Pope shouted at his players to stop fighting themselves and fight for each other instead.

“It’s normal for guys to butt heads,” Pope said. “It’s just a result of always being around the same people in high-stress situations. Losing big doesn’t help. That said, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

During post-game interviews, Bagwell and Abruzzi’s lockers were unusually crowded. Instead Scofield, who was pulled in the second period, or Franklin, or wingers David Martin and Luis Gallego, who scored the two goals, the story of the night was the fiery exchange.

“Just lost my temper, I guess,” Bagwell said. “Once the All-Star break is over, you really start thinking about the playoffs. This isn’t the time to have these kind of games.”

Neither player has issued any sort of apology or detailed explanation for exactly what set them off. There aren’t details of what words were exchanged, but the reactions of the other players indicated it wasn’t normal frustration.

“We’re not going to talk about that situation anymore,” Pope said. “There are still a couple of months to go in this season and we have more important things to worry about than some heat-of-the-moment comments.”

The Cranes have a chance to rebound against the St. Louis Blues Thursday at 7 p.m. in Aurora, Ill.

 

Jan. 28 // all-star break

Brothers Burrows, Scofield enjoy All-Star Weekend

PITTSBURGH -- The All-Star Weekend festivities in Pittsburgh came to a close, but Fox River Cranes brothers Lincoln Burrows and Michael Scofield will aim to take the momentum from their Central Division win back with them to Illinois.

Fans voted Scofield the captain of the team, which beat the Atlantic Division 6-1 in the final game. The Central team made it to the final with a 4-2 victory over the Pacific Division. Scofield came up with 20 total saves over the two abbreviated games and Burrows tallied two goals and two assists.

“It was a nice break from it all,” Scofield said. “Pittsburgh's a great hockey city, and being able to just spend time with some of the guys we're usually competing against is refreshing.”

The All-Star break comes at a stressful time for the Cranes players. Fox River currently sits six points out of the final wild card spot in the Western Conference and is on a three-game losing streak.

“We're still thinking about the season,” Burrows said. “It's hard not to. We're just hoping we can bring this back to Fox River and get back on track.”

As much trouble as the Cranes seem to be having, Scofield’s and Burrows’ numbers haven't dropped off much from this time last season. Scofield's Goals Allowed Average sits at 2.41 and his save percentage at .897, only slightly off from 2.18 and .921. Burrows has 29 goals and 31 assists, down from 32 and 37.

“I haven't been keeping track of the stats,” Burrows said. “What matters is how the team is doing.”

There aren’t any stats that seem to explain the slump. Teams at the bottom of the standings have goal differentials in the minus double digits, but the Cranes’ is at -4. For every blowout loss, there’s been a blowout win.

Their goals (3.4) and goals allowed (3.7) per game indicate most are toss-ups. When the offense is putting up points, the defense tends to be leakier. When the defense solidifies, the opposing goalie keeps the Cranes out of the net.

“For whatever reason, things just don’t seem to be clicking like they used to,” Scofield said. “We’ve got time to fix it, though. Linc and I are ready to try to turn things around.”

The Cranes have their first chance Tuesday at 8 p.m. against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver.

 

Feb. 13 // losing streak continues

Longest losing streak of Cranes season reaches nine games

LOS ANGELES -- The Fox River Cranes defense held the Los Angeles Kings to one goal, but the Cranes couldn’t slip anything past Kings goalie Jonathan Quick and fell 1-0 Tuesday night for their ninth straight loss.

The Cranes haven’t won a game since Jan. 19, a 5-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens that came on the heels of a blowout loss to the Vegas Golden Knights two days before. In a string of games featuring close games and routs, high-scoring affairs and shutouts, the only consistency has been the end result.

“It’s tough when you’re in a spot like this,” Cranes head coach Henry Pope said. “You start getting frustrated when you hit four or five in a row and then you wind up trying too hard. It gets in your head. Right now, we’ve got to get our confidence back.”

With the playoffs roughly two months away and the Cranes ten points out of the last wild card in the Western Conference, every game matters. Captain Alex Mahone said players are very aware of the standings and and the weight beginning to press down.

“Every time you step on the ice, you think about it,” Mahone said. “Everything matters more this time of the year. A penalty at the wrong time could cost us two points and we need every one of them we can get.”

Though the team feels the pressure, defenseman Fernando Sucre said he tries to remain optimistic.

“Someone’s got to, right?” Sucre said. “We’ve all got the same passion for this game, but it affects us in different ways. Me, I just try to play like I always do. It usually works, so I don’t see the point in getting tense.”

Goalie Michael Scofield echoed the sentiment. The alternate captain knows the ‘A’ on his jersey means his teammates look to him for advice.

“Just have a little faith,” Scofield said. “I know it’s hard to when it seems like everything’s going against you, but that’s when it’s most important. My brother taught me that.”

The next chance for the Cranes to break the streak is Thursday’s home matchup against the Washington Capitals at 6 p.m.

 

Feb. 15 // finally, a victory

Cranes beat Capitals 6-5 to end long losing skid

AURORA, Ill. -- An overtime winner from defenseman David Apolskis gave the Fox River Cranes the victory over the Washington Capitals Thursday night, their first win in nearly a month.

Apolskis had the assist on the tying goal by center Benjamin Franklin with two minutes left in the third and the winning score came only a minute into the extra frame. The goal was Apolskis’ fifth of the season, but his first career game-winning one.

“I’ve never felt anything like that before,” Apolskis said. “Down in the AHL I think I might’ve had one, but to do it in front of our all fans at home was amazing.”

The importance of the goal went past this single game. With every point magnifying in value, the Cranes needed to break out of their losing skid before the playoff window shut. The Capitals held a 5-3 lead going into the third period and, if the past nine games were anything to go by, fans may have expected the Cranes to fold.

“I think we were all sick of losing,” Franklin said. “You get to a point where you almost expect it. In the locker room before the third, we decided we going to make a stand. It doesn’t always work, but the mental toughness is a big step.”

A backhander from winger Theodore Bagwell made it 5-4 with 12:07 left in the period and the defense kept Washington off of the scoresheet. The determination from the locker room carried Fox River to the Franklin and Apolskis goals.

“I’m proud of how the guys fought back tonight,” head coach Henry Pope said. “It would’ve been easy to write the game off as a loss, but they’ve still got that pride from what we’ve achieved in the past.”

The win closed the gap between the Dallas Stars and the Cranes to eight points for the last wild card spot in the Western Conference.

“We’re going to keep pushing until we run out of games,” Franklin said. “Eight points isn’t too much to make up. It won’t be easy, but it’s there for us.”

The Cranes travel to Edmonton to take on the Oilers Sunday at 9 p.m. to start a five-game road trip.

 

Feb. 26 //  trade deadline

Abruzzi, Bagwell traded to DC

AURORA , Ill. -- Facing a hard battle to the playoffs in the next two months, the Fox River Cranes traded center John Abruzzi and winger Theodore Bagwell to the DC Company for wingers Richard Sullins and Mark Wheeler.

Abruzzi and Bagwell made headlines when they argued with each other and other teammates for most of the third period of a 8-2 blowout loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Jan. 17.

“John and T-Bag made dozens of important contributions to Fox River for the years they were here,” head coach Henry Pope said. “At this point of the season, though, we have to look hard at our roster and how we're doing and how we can improve. In this case, we couldn't argue with the offer DC gave us.”

Neither Abruzzi nor Bagwell were available for comment for this story, as they boarded a plane for DC as soon as the announcement came out.

“It'll be an adjustment,” Fox River captain Alex Mahone said. “But there's no time to get caught up in it. We're in the next-game mindset from here until whenever the season ends.”

Wheeler didn't get much playing time in DC, only averaging 10 minutes a game as a fourth-liner. He had 30 goals and 27 assists with the Company in two seasons.

“I'm looking forward to this opportunity,” Wheeler said. “Fox River is one of those teams that you always hope to play for.”

While Sullins played more minutes, his numbers weren't much more impressive. Forty goals and 32 assists in a little over three seasons won't turn many heads, but he was known for his solid stick work and penalty kill.

“Fox River's a great team and I'm ready to contribute however I can,” Sullins said. “At this point of the season, every game matters.”

Wheeler and Sullins are due to arrive in Aurora tomorrow. Pope said they won't be ready for tomorrow night's game against the Minnesota Wild, but hopes that they'll play the next day against the Detroit Red Wings.

“As soon as they get situated and say they're comfortable, they'll start,” Pope said. “There’ll be some line shuffling until we find the right combinations, but hopefully we'll be set by the end of the week.”

The game against the Wild starts at 7:30 p.m.

 

March 21 // in playoff position

Win over Blue Jackets puts Cranes in playoff position

AURORA, Ill. -- For the first time since mid-December, the Fox River Cranes are in the playoff picture, sitting in the second wild card of the Western Conference after defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2 Wednesday night.

With 87 points, the Cranes are a point ahead of the Dallas Stars and three back of the St. Louis Blues for the first wild card spot.

The Cranes and Blue Jackets entered the third period knotted at 2-2 and remained that way until Fox River captain Alex Mahone broke the tie with a slap shot from the right circle. Center Benjamin Franklin added an empty-netter with a minute left to seal the win.

“The past months have been a whirlwind,” Mahone said. “Since that slump we had in February, we knew that every game mattered -- even more so than they usually do this time of year. We can’t get complacent now, but knowing we’re back in business takes some of the weight off.”

Fox River currently rides a four-game winning streak and a five-game point streak. That, coupled with the slowing pace of the Blues and Stars, has allowed the Cranes to make the jump.

“We can only control how we perform, but we’ve been keeping an eye on the standings,” head coach Henry Pope said. “As long as we continue this pace, we’re giving ourselves a good chance to get back to the postseason.”

Wingers Richard Sullins and Mark Wheeler continued to make their mark on their new team, nearly a month after they were acquired from the DC Company. They had a goal and an assist apiece and seem to have found their home on their lines. Sullins plays alongside Benjamin Franklin and Ja Choi (recently called up from Springfield), and Wheeler with Nick Savrinn and Luis Gallego.

“It’s hard to find a line you’re comfortable on,” Wheeler said. “Coach has been moving us around and, looking at how the team has been playing lately, I think we’ve solved it.”

Sullins said the new chemistry couldn’t have come at a better time, given the tightness of the playoff picture.

“There’s always a risk in making trades so late in the season,” Sullins said. “Mark and I know what we’re capable of, but we didn’t know how we’d fit in with Fox River. Thankfully, it looks like we’ve figured it out in time to right this ship.”

The Cranes next play Friday against the Arizona Coyotes at 7:30 p.m.

 

April 7 // last game of season

Cranes season ends with 4-3 loss to Stars

DALLAS -- The Fox River Cranes’ season came to an end Saturday night as the Dallas Stars came back from a 3-1 deficit in the third period to lock up their playoff spot.

Stars winger Brett Ritchie snapped a wrist shot past Cranes goalie Michael Scofield with 4:03 left in the third to break the tie. The Cranes peppered the Stars net for the rest of the game, but were unable to pull even.

The Cranes and Stars entered the night tied for the second wild card of the Western Conference at 96 points, with the Stars ahead on games won. Fox River needed a win to keep their place.

“It’s never the way you want the season to end,” head coach Henry Pope said. “We knew it would come down to the last few games. The division’s been tight for the whole season, and the conference wasn’t any different. It’s disappointing, but hopefully we can build from this.”

As the final horn blared, Cranes captain Alex Mahone broke his stick over the boards in front of the bench bench. Other players stared blankly at the score, while others like Scofield walked straight to the locker room.

“We’re not used to this,” Scofield said. “This is the first time in, what, ten seasons the team hasn’t made the playoffs? It’s going to be a long summer.”

Though the Cranes missed the playoffs ten seasons ago, missing a spot by a game is new. The previous misses came when they dwelled in the cellar of the standings for most of the year. Mahone, who the Cranes drafted in that offseason, has only played for Fox River in his career and has never missed the playoffs.

“I’d rather be dead last in the league than be this close and miss,” Mahone said. “At least that way you know exactly what you have to work on. Here, you were a good enough team to challenge anyone in the league. But you weren’t good enough to do it on a consistent basis.”

After the trade at the deadline for the acquisition of wingers Richard Sullins and Mark Wheeler, the Cranes went 13-4-4, but it wasn’t enough to clinch at least four more games. Pope didn’t rule out any moves in the offseason.

“We’ll take some time to let this all sink in, but then we’ll turn to next season,” Pope said. “The sooner we move on from this, the sooner we can focus on getting our players and fans the success they’re used to.”

The Cranes finished the season with 96 points and a 42-38-12 record.