By Ken Robison
The Fresno Bee
FRESNO, Calif. – In some ways, the fate of the Fresno Falcons will depend this year on hockey fortunes in northern Illinois.
The Falcons, who open their ECHL season Saturday at Stockton, have a new affiliation with the Chicago Blackhawks of the National Hockey League. The Blackhawks’ American Hockey League affiliate is the Rockford IceHogs.
The Falcons’ roster includes four players under contract with Chicago or Rockford, which is about 85 miles west of the Windy City.
“Our NHL affiliation has provided us with four contracted players and counting,” Falcons coach/general manager Matt Thomas said. “There will be a lot of movement between players coming up and players going down. That’s something we haven’t seen here.”
Goaltender Joe Fallon, a rookie from the University of Vermont and a sixth-round pick of Chicago in 2005, is under contract with the Blackhawks. Defenseman Brennan Turner and forwards Mike Radja and Peter MacArthur are under contract with Rockford.
“Chicago has assigned us some elite players on offense,” Thomas said. “The reason they are here is Chicago is deep with talented youth.”
MacArthur produced 147 points in 159 games at Boston University; Radja led New Hampshire with 19 goals in an All-America season last year; and Turner was a fifth-round draft pick of Chicago in 2005 before going to Yale.
Thomas explained that work visas sometimes take as many as 15 days to be completed, and a player cannot be added to the payroll until his status is approved. Stefanishion and Brown, both Canadians, were signed a week ago.
Thomas said he hopes to have one or both for the home opener Friday at Selland Arena.
Stefanishion returns for his second season with the Falcons after spending most of the preseason with the Anaheim Ducks of the NHL.
Brown is a six-year NHL veteran (1999-2004), including a stint as captain of the Minnesota Wild. At 6 feet, 3 inches and 220 pounds, he adds size and experience to the blue line.
Thomas said the Falcons’ defense will be bigger and tougher than previous seasons.
Matt O’Dette (6-5, 230) returns for his 12th professional season, while Turner (6-3, 220), Bobby Davey (6-1, 220) and Jamie Coghlan (6-3, 210) are rookies. Daryl Marcoux (5-11, 190) and Kenny MacAulay (5-10, 195) return for their second seasons on defense.
This week the Falcons received goaltender Michael Ouzas on loan from the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. Ouzas enters his first pro campaign after playing the past two seasons at the University of New Brunswick.