One of the biggest strengths of this year’s squad will be the two men who call the crease their home.
Jacob Markstrom and Dov Grumet-Morris return to the Rampage looking to pick up right where they left off last season.
“I think the tandem of Markstrom and Dov last year was one of the premier goaltending tandems in the American Hockey League,” said Rampage head coach Chuck Weber. “We are very excited to have both of them back in net for us this season.”
The two netminders played a large part in San Antonio’s impressive run down the stretch that ended with the team making the playoffs for the third time in franchise history.
Thought of by many as one of the top goaltending prospects in the American Hockey League, Markstrom has great size (6-foot-6, 198-pounds) and is extremely athletic. Grumet-Morris isn’t quite as big (6-foot-2, 198-pounds) but is very technically sound and plays an aggressive style.
At one point last season, Grumet-Morris played 17 straight games for the Rampage and posted a seven-game winning streak in that span, which marked a franchise-high.
Markstrom appeared in 32 games for the Rampage and posted a 2.32 goals-against average (10th in AHL) and a 0.927 save percentage (3rd in AHL). In the postseason, he recorded a 4-4-0 record and a 2.85 goals-against average. Grumet-Morris sported a 19-13-1 record in 34 games for the Rampage last year, with a 2.33 goals-against average and a 0.921 save percentage.
“We couldn’t ask for two better goalies back there,” said Rampage defenseman Colby Robak. “It’s great to have the confidence to know that if you mess up, they have your back. It’s a huge confidence booster.”
Instead of being totally green to the American Hockey League, two of this year’s rookies got their feet wet in the league last season.
Forward Drew Shore, 21, played in eight regular season games and nine playoff games with the Rampage last season following his year at the University of Denver where he posted a career-high 53 points. In 17 games with the Rampage, Shore recorded three goals and two assists.
Defenseman Alex Petrovic, 21, also joined the Rampage late in the season and was an important part of the club winning their first-ever playoff series. After wrapping up his fifth season with the Red Deer Rebels – in which he was named the Western Hockey League’s Defenseman of the Year – Petrovic played in 14 games for the Rampage and tallied two goals and four assists.
“I think coming up last year for the playoff run was really important for me,” Petrovic said. “I like being comfortable with the environment. Coming up last year and playing with these guys, it was a lot more helpful for when I came here this year. I think it helped with confidence, too. I know I can play here. Hopefully I can take that into this year.”
Highly-touted prospect Quinton Howden will also be making his AHL debut on Saturday, along with several other Rampage rookies. A key to the season for Weber will be quickly getting the young-guns acclimated to the speed and physicality of the league.
“Early on we have to develop the kids and get them ready for pro hockey as quickly as possible,” Weber said. “We are looking forward to the challenge.”
Bigger up front
One of the areas Rampage general manager Mike Santos wanted to address this offseason was the team’s size and physicality. He felt the Silver and Black needed a little extra grit up front.
In the offseason, the Rampage acquired Andre Deveaux (6-foot-3, 239) and J.F. Jacques (6-foot-3, 231 pounds) to fill the void and add a veteran presence with a little muscle.
The two big men up front have also showed a knack for finding the back of the net.
Last season, Jacques played in 65 games for the Syracuse Crunch, tallying 21 goals and 19 assists. He also was called up the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks for six games last season. Deveaux also eclipsed the 20-goal plateau last season with the Connecticut Whale, recording 20 goals and 20 assists in 59 games.
“One of the things you notice about this team right away is the size,” said Robak. “You look up front and you have J.F. and Deveaux up there. They are going to create a lot more offensive room for our smaller guys.”
Reloading the offense
In the offseason, the Rampage lost their top-four point scorers from last season who accounted for nearly one-third of the team’s offense.
But Santos added several pieces to the lineup that have a proven history of lighting the lamp.
Casey Wellman will likely step into a top-line role with the Rampage this season. The 24-year-old started the 2011-12 season with the Houston Aeros, where he was just shy of averaging a point-per game (14g, 11a) in 26 contests. He was called up to the NHL’s Minnesota Wild and recorded seven points (2g, 5a) in 14 games before being traded to the New York Rangers and eventually finishing the season for the Connecticut Whale with nine goals and 13 assists in 31 games.
The Rampage also acquired Jon Rheault from the Abbotsford Heat. Rheault missed nearly half the season last year with an injury, but still managed to post an AHL career-high 16 goals in 47 games.
Returning forwards Greg Rallo, James Wright, Scott Timmins and Eric Selleck will also look to improve on their offensive numbers this season.