2003 - 2004
November 12, 2003
Generals taking care of (unfinished) business
By Ogi Overman
Photos by Brian Westerhold - Sports On Film
It looked like a stroke of marketing genius by the Greensboro Generals’ front office, but, in fact, it was the players themselves who came up with it. But regardless of where it originated, the theme of the 2003-’04 campaign, "Unfinished Business," seems to have set the stage for a very memorable season. Not only did the phrase atone for their horrendous and borderline offensive motto of last year, "Kickin’ Ice & Takin’ Names," it sent a message to the fans and the league that the club was dissatisfied with last season’s close-but-no-cigar finish.
More than the fans and the league, however, the message was directed at one specific team, the one team that seemed to (barely) have the Generals’ number in the regular season, the team that (barely) ousted them in the second round of the playoffs, the team that went on to win the ECHL’s big prize, the Kelly Cup - the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies.
As fate would have it, a mere six games into the season, the Generals had a chance to prove that the phrase was more than a marketing slogan, a chance to put some teeth into the buzzwords, a chance to let the Bullies know that they meant business. That October 31st evening - oddly appropriate that it fell on Halloween - the Greensboro Generals took the first step toward finishing that unfinished business, taking a hard-fought 4-3 victory from the Boardwalk Bullies. The win was made even sweeter by the fact that Atlantic City came to town sporting a perfect 6-0 mark, to the Gens’ 3-2.
Afterward, second-year coach Rick Adduono, in the fashion of any coach who ever paced a sideline, spat in a dugout or stood in a team box, downplayed the win as being no more or no less important than any other entry in the W column, the old "take ’em one game at a time" credo. However, the following Monday, on his coach’s show on WGOS radio, he did hint that maybe, just maybe, this one was a tiny bit special.
Coach Rick Addouno
"We put out a tremendous, gutsy effort," he said. "Going up 2-0, then getting down 3-2, then killing penalties and fighting back to win in the third period, it just shows the character of our team."
It’s early yet
Still, one win does not a season make, and the wisdom of Adduono’s even-keel philosophy was born out the next night, when Atlantic City won handily over South Carolina, while the Generals got waxed 6-3 in Roanoke. In fact, the win over Atlantic City was sandwiched between two losses in a three-game-three-night stretch, leaving the Gens at a less-than dominating 4-3 record.
But last weekend in another brutal-yet-typical back-to-back-to-back run, Greensboro took three of three from Greenville, Charlotte and expansion Gwinnett, respectively. The sweep pushed the Generals to 7-3 and into a tie for first in the ECHL Southern Division, but even then the coach refused to get swept up in early-season euphoria. After a rousing post-game pep talk in which he went around the locker room and personally praised every player, his day-at-a-time demeanor had returned by the time he met with the media.
"Yes, it’s a lot easier to smile after you’ve taken three in a row," noted the veteran mentor, "but we’ve obviously got some work to do. It’s still way too early in the season to get excited. I’m pleased right now, and I just gave the guys a couple of days off for a job well done, but Tuesday it’s back to work."
Adduono holds a dual contention that the newly expanded 32-team league is quite balanced ("There are no gimmes in this league.") and that much work needs to be done to mold this ensemble into legit Kelly Cup contenders.
"We scored a couple of power-play goals against Greenville," he remarked, "but I’ve been a little disappointed with our power play. We’ve still got some sorting out to do to find out who’s going to step up, who’s going to show me what purpose they’re going to serve on a steady basis.
"But overall I’m not displeased at all. These guys all know what to do and they’re all here for a reason. It’s a good mix of proven veterans and fresh faces looking to prove they belong. We’re still in the trial-and-error phase, but that can’t go on forever."
When Adduono left a team in South Carolina that he’d taken to the Kelly Cup (2000-’01), he brought with him more than a winning attitude - he brought the players necessary to make winning possible. He’s the first to tell you that his career record of 198-115 (23-17 in the playoffs) is a result of his recruiting skills - knowing who and where the available players are - more than his coaching acumen.
It is no stretch to say that the group he assembled last year saved the Greensboro franchise. After three dismal seasons in or near the ECHL cellar, he engineered a remarkable turnaround that produced a 42-21-9 record and 93 points, a scant one point behind Northeast Division winners - guess who? - Atlantic City. And the good news is that the nucleus of that squad is back this year.
Leading the charge among the returnees are centers Mark Turner and Matt Turek, forward Sam Ftorek, defensemen Kurt Drummond and Gino Parrish, and goalie Daniel Berthiaume.
Turner, who wears the "C" on his sweater, notched 23 goals and 47 assists last year, while Turek scored 20 goals and 30 assists. Ftorek, among the league’s deadliest snipers on the power play, lit the lamp 35 times and chipped in 32 helpers. Drummond, injured much of last year, still managed seven goals and 20 assists, and Parrish, who played in all 72 games, had five goals and 38 assists. Berthiaume, a 16-year veteran who played in the NHL with Winnepeg and Ottawa, had a 2.90 goals-against average and 34-17-5 record, logging over 3000 minutes. He is clearly among the ECHL’s handful of elite, upper-echelon goaltenders.
Other familiar faces back in Greensboro are a pair of left wings, Mike Bayrack and Matt Chandler, and a pair of defensemen, Kevin Grimes and Alex Andreyev. All will be counted upon to make significant contributions.
Local fans are thrilled at another ex-General who is back in the fold, right wing Joel Irwin. After two playoff-less seasons in Greensboro, in which he amassed 45 goals and 64 assists, he departed for Pee Dee. Last year he helped the Pride to the second round of the playoffs, scoring 30g and 27a, plus four goals and two assists in the playoffs. After seeing the turnaround that Adduono & Co. engineered in Greensboro last year, the sniper was persuaded to return to his old stomping grounds.
One Adduono recruit, however, is not yet in the fold, Pete Gardiner. The 6-5, 235 lb. right wing, based on Adduono’s recommendation, got a preseason tryout with the AHL Rochester Americans, and has so far stuck with the higher-level team.
"Naturally I’m happy for Pete," said the coach, "but there’s all my recruiting gone out the window. What Rochester could do for us is sign him to a two-way deal, which would allow us (enough money under the salary cap) to bring in another quality player, since he’ll probably be up and down through the course of the season."
One additional familiar face is back, except this one can be seen at Adduono’s side, wearing a coat and tie rather than sweater and skates. Dean Shmyr, one of the ECHL’s unforgettable stalwarts as both a General and a Monarch, is now the club’s director of player development.
Picture Caption as Sam Ftorek; but it is not!
While Adduono knew he had the returning nucleus of a contending club, he was (and is) equally aware that all 20 members of the roster have to contribute on a consistent basis to turn contenders into champions. Toward that end, he has assembled a cast of players, each with a rather specific role, and given each a chance to prove he belongs. That group consists of centerman Bryson Busniuk; forwards Erik Wendell, Chester Gallant, Eric Fortier and Joe Gerbe; defensemen Tom Reimann and Ryan Bonni; and backup goalie Martin Kresac Among that group, a couple seem to have asserted themselves already. Fortier recorded a hat trick in an OT win over the Texas Wildcatters, and Busniuk scored a nifty goal in the opening-night loss to South Carolina.
"Eric Fortier is a second-year player who from day one has shown he’s one of the best players on the team," assessed Audduono. "Busniuk, who happens to be from my home town of Thunder Bay, has also stepped up. But none of the others have jumped out and said I’m the one that belongs here. We’ve got to sort out who’s going to be the best among (that group). Erik Wendell, Matt Chandler and Chester Gallant, who are all big, and Joe Gerbe, who’s a smaller guy, all have a chance to show me where they belong on this hockey team and what purpose they’re going to serve on a steady basis.
"I can tell you that not a day goes by that I’m not out searching the woods just in case we can make this team better."
True to his word, after his Monday coach’s show and before last weekend’s trifecta, he brought in a player with NHL experience, Matt Elich, who donned his Generals sweater and immediately went out and scored a goal that helped his new team to a 4-2 win over Greenville. Two nights later he scored the team’s first goal in the triumph over the Gladiators (which were formerly the Mobile Mysticks).
Said Adduono of the 6-2, 210 lb. winger who played 16 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning, "He’s the fastest player in the league. If we can utilize him and he can utilize us, he should make us better. He’s got the same chance as everybody else."
Off the ice
No early-season story on the Generals would be complete without mentioning the pre-season and off-season developments surrounding the franchise. It has been well-documented that this has been a money-losing proposition since local personal-injury attorney Art Donaldson bought the club just in time to field a team for the 1999-2000 season. After serving as a temporary home for the relocated Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes for two years, the city would have lost hockey entirely were it not for Donaldson’s efforts. But after three years of mounting losses - both on the ice and on the financial ledger - Donaldson brought in another investor, Rocco Scarfone, who took over operations of the team last year.
But then, last spring it was announced that former Monarchs (both ECHL and AHL) owners Bill Black and Don Brady were leasing the team and would operate it this season. What wasn’t announced at the time, however, was that the Greensboro Coliseum was actually paying the salaries of the team, the coach (who doubles as general manager) and the front office staff. Since the coliseum is a city-owned facility, the arrangement immediately came under fire, becoming a campaign issue in the recent city council elections. Coliseum managing director Matt Brown went before the city council and explained exactly how and why the decision was made, that if he had not made the deal the coliseum would have lost its primary tenant and the city would have lost its hockey team.
Amidst the furor, Adduono’s even-keel persona has served him well yet again. If the controversy is affecting him, he is certainly not showing it. Likewise, he is adamant in not allowing any off-ice controversy to seep into the locker room. He seems focused squarely on the prize - the Kelly Cup - and so do his players.
"It goes back to that motto," he said. "That tells you a lot about the kind of players I have playing for me. Sammy Ftorek, Mark Turner, Gino Parrish, Matt Turek, they’re the ones who came up with that ‘unfinished business’ thing. They want to accomplish something, and they’re starting to believe in it. And as long as we play like we’re trying to get unfinished business done, we’ll make it happen."
So far, so good.