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Change may do good for 'Hounds



Published: Thu, October 19, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Only eight players return from last year's squad, which finished under .500.

YOUNGSTOWN -- After finishing nine games below .500 in their inaugural season in the Central Hockey League, the Youngstown SteelHounds have been a model of change in the off-season.

Executives for the second-year minor league franchise knew that they needed a different type of player on the ice, thus only eight players return from last year's final 18-man roster.

The turnover for the 25-34-5 team includes the addition of young talent from the junior ranks and others who have played overseas in the past few years.

In early August, coach Jean Laforest resigned citing family reasons. A month later, former National Hockey League tough guy Kevin "Killer" Kaminski was hired to replace Laforest.

This weekend, the SteelHounds open the CHL season with games Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. in Memphis against the RiverKings.

Their first home games at the Chevrolet Centre will be Oct. 27-28 against the expansion Rocky Mountain Rage.

Top returnees

The returning players include two of the top scorers in the CHL last season -- Jeff Christian and former Ohio State standout Chris Richards.

Both enjoyed strong seasons in 2005-06. Christian scored 55 goals and was named All-CHL first team. He also was runner-up for the league's MVP trophy.

Richards finished with 22 goals and 92 points in a career-best season. Both players have purchased homes in the Valley.

The transition time between coaches opened the door for the team's general manager, Joe Gregory, and assistant general manager, Bob Hoffman, to help piece together the formula for what they believe will be a more competitive club. Christian also assisted in this process.

"I learned more about hockey operations than I ever dreamed I wanted to," Gregory said. "I know Bobby dealt with all the immigration issues and Jeff was a big help in getting some pretty talented players on board for the season."

Key acquisitions

Kaminski finished off the puzzle with several key acquisitions including the signing of defenseman Paul Esdale.

Last season, Esdale played in Europe and posted very solid numbers, this after being named the CHL's top defenseman in 2004-05.

The Edmonton native has a tie to Youngstown. His mother was born in the Valley and attended Ursuline High before going on to Ohio University and eventually leaving the area.

"We are very fortunate to have the leadership we have with this team," Kaminski said. "Jeff and Chris are both solid players and members of the community and to add someone of Paul's caliber on and off the ice only improves the overall makeup of this team."

The SteelHounds return their top scoring line from a year ago in Christian, Richards and Joey Sewell, a late-season acquisition via trade. In 23 games, Sewell scored 21 goals with 18 assists.

Kaminski is also high on some of the young talent like forwards Shaun Landolt, John Wheaton and Chris Shaffer; defenseman John Neal, and goaltender Brad Roberts.

By Sunday, the SteelHounds will know what progress they've made. Last year, the RiverKings had the edge in the season series, winning eight of the nine games.




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