Eagles at Barons preview: Cuda from the Cleve

Fun times in San Jose today! San Jose!

From 2001 to 2006, the San Jose Sharks’ American Hockey League affiliate played in the city of Cleveland as the Cleveland Barons, playing out of then-Gund Arena (now the Quicken Loans Center). The Sharks owned the franchise, and the Gund family owned and operated the arena in an amicable arrangement.

The Barons moved to Cleveland in a time of much restructuring for the American Hockey League, which closed the 2000-2001 season with 20 teams and opened the 2001-2002 season with 27 teams. Six teams were admitted to the AHL from the folded International Hockey League, one AHL team suspended operations and two additional clubs were admitted as expansion teams. The move from Kentucky to Cleveland was the only relocation to occur that off-season.

The Sharks-owned AHL Cleveland Barons were named after a former National Hockey League team serving the same market: the Cleveland Barons. The NHL Barons were a relocated franchise, which originally played as the California Seals as one of the six expansion franchises in the 1967 NHL season before relocating to Cleveland between 1976 and 1978. After missing the playoffs in both years of their existence, the Barons were subsequently merged with the Minnesota North Stars, under the ownership of the Gund family.

The NHL’s Barons were also named after a previous Cleveland Barons team, which was founded as an International Hockey League (a direct predecessor of the modern AHL) franchise during the 1929-1930 season and became the Cleveland Barons prior to the 1937-38 season. These Barons were moderately successful through the decades-long history, winning eight regular season titles, ten division championships, and hoisting the Calder Cup nine times before folding in 1973, displaced by the World Hockey Association’s upstart Cleveland Crusaders.

Several players who would move on to illustrious careers in the NHL spent at least some time in Cleveland wearing the Barons uniform. Jonathan Cheechoo, Miika Kiprusoff, Christian Ehrhoff and Ryane Clowe are just four Cleveland Barons who went on to successful NHL careers, either concurrently to or after their time in Cleveland.

Despite the star power present on the roster, the Cleveland Barons did not have much success, having had low attendance numbers (averaging between 3200 and 4200 fans per game most seasons) and often boasting losing records. The team appeared in the AHL postseason once in its four year history.

The Barons finished the 2003-2004 season in fourth place in the North Division, and won their preliminary round match against the Toronto Roadrunners. The Barons proceeded to lose the first round matchup against the Hamilton Bulldogs in six games.

After the 2005-2006 season, the Barons packed their bags and headed east, replacing the Worcester IceCats who had departed the previous year. Tonight, the Cleveland Barons retake the ice at the SAP Center in San Jose, California.

This is the first regular season contest between the Barons and the Colorado Eagles, the AHL affiliate of the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche. The two teams split their high-scoring preseason series in Loveland against each other. Tonight’s match is the second stop of a California road trip for the Eagles, having played on the road last night in Bakersfield. The Eagles are in the midst of a five-game losing streak which started earlier this month, but San Jose has not played since November 10. The question for the Eagles is whether it is possible for them to regain their footing while on the road, and the question for the Barons is whether they can keep to their high standard of play, despite having a full week off and coming off their own two-game losing streak.

The Barons might look a little different from their last fixture. San Jose’s top line winger and erstwhile second-line center Dylan Gambrell was called up yesterday to skate with the Sharks against the Blues. In his place in the second line will likely be Rourke Chartier, who was sent down in a corresponding move.

Filip Sandberg was placed on unconditional waivers earlier this week to pursue options in Sweden and will no longer be an option for San Jose. Lukas Radil likely moves to the vacated slot on wing for the second line. Rourke Chartier remains an option to fill out the remainder of the Barons’ top six, possibly displacing Vincent Praplan as second line center and moving Praplan to wing.

As the team is very well-rested, Antoine Bibeau likely earns the start in net. That said, Josef Korenar remains a very good option, having started both preseason contests in Colorado. Both goalies have performed well so far this season and earned an appreciable amount of ice time this season, and will likely split next week’s road games against the Eagles.

Regardless, we should expect the Barons lines to look at least superficially similar to the Cuda’s did in their last match against Tucson.

The Eagles may not be filling out the wins column of their record, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been scoring goals. They tallied two goals last night before the Condors finished them off by scoring five throughout the third.

The Eagles are expected to ice a similar lineup to what they did last night in Bakersfield.

Andrew Agozzino is a scoring winger the Cuda should be cautious about. Agozzino currently leads the team in scoring with 17 points (8 goals, 9 assists) over fourteen games. The veteran winger was one of last night’s two scorers for the Eagles. Incidentally, Agozzino spent three seasons in Cleveland when they were the home to former Avalanche AHL affiliate the then-Lake Erie and now-Cleveland Monsters.

A.J. Greer is another important scoring threat for Colorado. Having split the last couple seasons between the Avalanche and their then-affiliate the San Antonio Rampage, Greer combines NHL experience with playmaking ability. He also notched a goal in last night’s contest.

Spencer Martin likely starts in net for the Eagles. Martin normally serves as backup for the Eagles and has appeared in five contests this season, posting a 4.13 goals against average and a .843 save percentage. Eagles starting goaltender Pavel Francouz earned the start in last night’s loss in Bakersfield.

The Barons remain at the top of the AHL’s Pacific Division, holding a 9-3-0-1 record and 19 points. The Eagles, conversely, are a playoff bubble team at the moment, with a 6-6-3-0 record and 15 points. The Barons still have some wiggle room, but definitely want to stop the skid and get a further fin up on Tucson, who are in second place with 19 points of their own and a 9-4-0-1 record. The Eagles are currently jockeying the Condors and the Gulls for the fourth spot in the Pacific. The Bakersfield Condors currently hold a 8-5-0-0 record and 16 points, while the San Diego Gulls hold a 6-4-1-1 record and 14 points.

The puck drops in San Jose at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time/6:00 p.m. Central Time. The game will be available to stream via AHLTV.