The Condors – Then and Now
Whoever said hockey couldn’t work in a warm weather climate hasn’t been to the Golden Empire lately.
The Bakersfield Condors have helped to show that hockey can thrive in sunny California, flying in the face of both natural environment and inherent skepticism. Bakersfield has enthusiastically supported the game at the grassroots level for over 60 years and recently, the community’s efforts in the professional ranks have paid dividends for players and fans alike to this day.
The Origins of Bakersfield Hockey
Sixty-five years ago, ice hockey emerged amidst the farmland of Bakersfield like an oasis in the desert. Over the next 50 years, teams would materialize and vanish with mirage-like frequency.
On December 21, 1940, the Bakersfield Oilers became the area’s first local team to take the ice in the form of a club squad playing the University of Southern California varsity team. The Oilers competed in the California Ice Hockey Association against fellow Golden State teams such as the Loyola Lions, Los Angeles Athletic Club, Santa Rosa Bullets and the San Diego Rowers.
The 1943 hockey season, much like the rest of the American sporting landscape, was interrupted by the United States involvement in World War II. Bakersfield wouldn’t see hockey again for another 17 years.
In 1960, pro hockey re-surfaced with the Bakersfield Kernels of the Southern California Hockey League. For three years, hockey lovers crowded the old Bakersfield Civic Auditorium to see the Kernels play. Bakersfield held the league reputation for being bad boys, highlighted by goaltender Phil Headley who led the team in penalty minutes. The team disappeared from the hockey landscape during the summer of 1963.
In the early ‘90s, hockey re-emerged in Kern County with the return of the Bakersfield Oilers. The Oilers came onto the scene as part of the semi-pro Pacific Southwest Hockey League. The Bakersfield franchise generated enough interest in the community and those in the industry during the 1994-95 season to persuade the owners to apply for membership in the newly formed West Coast Hockey League.
The new league brought a new perspective as the franchise made its first appearance as the Bakersfield “Fog”. The Fog was one of the WCHL’s “Original Six”, sharing the distinction with the Alaska Gold Kings and the Reno Renegades, as well as current ECHL opponents the Anchorage Aces (now known as the Alaska Aces), Fresno Falcons, and the San Diego Gulls.
Condors Take Flight
The inaugural season of Condors hockey was met with great excitement, as not only was there a new name for the franchise, but a new building to play in as well. Large crowds flocked to the newly christened Bakersfield Centennial Garden to cheer on their favorites. They were rewarded early on as Jay Neal scored the first Condors goal in the garden on Opening Night, October 23rd, in a 4-3 shootout win over Idaho. But while the fans were consistent in their attendance and enthusiasm, the play of the team was not.
Head coach Kevin McDonald, who took over the top spot during the summer after Keith Gretzky left town, managed to lead the team to wins at home, but when the club hit the road, it was a different story. The team failed to win a game outside Bakersfield until January, and won just three times on the road all year long.
There were bright spots, including a seven-game unbeaten streak early in the year, the steady play of WCHL All-Star defenseman Glen Mears, and the offensive exploits of Jamie Cooke, Steve Dowhy, Neal and Danny Reja.
Dowhy provided the highlight of the year in the final week of the season, scoring with just a tenth of a second remaining to send a game against the Tacoma Sabercats to a shootout, where the Condors prevailed.
Unfortunately, the end of the year came shortly thereafter, as the defending Taylor Cup Champions and arch-rival San Diego Gulls knocked the team out with a two-game sweep in the best of three 1st Round series in the playoffs.
All in all, year one in Centennial Garden built a good foundation for the franchise, and the team’s efforts were recognized as the West Coast Hockey League honored Bakersfield as the Organization of the Year, and In The Crease magazine named the Condors logo as the best in professional hockey.
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The Condors came flying out of the starting gates in their second season. Phillipe Bergeron and Brad Guzda posted back-to-back shutouts to start the year, and the team ran off an 11-game win streak, setting a WCHL record and recording one of the top runs to start a season in any pro hockey league in history. And that was just the beginning.
Kevin MacDonald’s team chalked up 34 wins, finished second in the Southern Division, and earned home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
The players racked up awards throughout the year, with center Paul Willett leading the way. He won Player of the Week awards twice, was a starter in the All Star Game, and was named the WCHL Most Valuable Player after becoming the first Condor to break the 100 points scored barrier, tallying 107. Right wing Jamie Cooke was the Player of the Month for February and Philippe Bergeron earned Goaltender of the Week honors twice, and was named to the WCHL All-Rookie team along with defenseman Paul McInnes.
Dan Currie scored 19 power play goals to set a franchise record, and trailed only Willett in game-winners. And Briane Thompson was a second team all-star, and finished 3rd among blueliners in both assists and total points.
The support for the team in year one was good, and in year two was even better, as attendance in Centennial Garden increased to an average of just under 6,000 fans per game. The faithful were witness to a special wedding on February 18th, as Gabrielle Alexander and Rey Rodriguez said “I do” at center ice during intermission. The very next night was the team’s first sellout as 9,129 fans, the largest crowd to ever see a hockey game in Bakersfield, packed the arena to watch the Condors shut out Idaho, 3-0.
In the postseason, the Condors did manage the first playoff win in team history, a 3-2 victory over Phoenix to knot the best three-of-five series at one game apiece, but the Mustangs won the next two to wrap it up on their way to a Taylor Cup Title under the direction of a head coach by the name of Marty Raymond.
Though it wasn’t the ending they hoped for, the Condors were on the right track on the ice. And off the ice, they were making a big impact in the local community and the hockey world, evidenced by the team winning league awards for Best Commericals and Best Game Presentation, and General Manager Matthew Riley being named WCHL Executive of the Year.
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The third season started in thrilling fashion, as the Condors erased a two-goal Fresno lead and beat the Falcons in a shootout, 3-2, on opening night. It was a scene to be repeated numerous times throughout the year, as the squad played a team-record 19 shootouts, winning nine of them.
But wins after that were hard to come by, as offensive droughts doomed head coach Kevin McDonald’s team to a 26-36-10 record, and the team finished second-to-last in goals scored in the nine-team WCHL. One particularly painful night was March 30th, when the Condors were crushed by the Colorado Gold Kings, 11-0, the worst loss in franchise history.
Despite the team’s overall difficulties putting the puck in the net, Paul Willett racked up 98 points on 33 goals and 65 assists, and finished fourth in the league in scoring. Teammate Jamie Cooke notched 33 goals of his own and chipped in with 42 assists, and his 75 points was 16th in the scoring race. Both were honored with Player of the Week awards during the season.
The squad received a boost in February when the team brought in former NHL goaltender Andre Racicot, who provided one of the highlights of the year by fulfilling an organizational promise. He shut out the San Diego Gulls on March 10th, which was promoted as Guaranteed Win Night, and earned himself the Goaltender of the Week award for his efforts.
While the team’s play may have suffered, the efforts in the community did not. On April 4th, the organization rallied to raise over $20,000 in a jersey auction in support of Mikella McAuley, a Bakersfield girl diagnosed with leukemia.
The team once again made the playoffs, but like in 1998-99, was swept out quickly by the Gulls, three games to none, finishing off the season, and MacDonald’s career at the helm.
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While Opening Night always brings a certain energy to it, this year would be a little different. The organization paid a stirring tribute to those who lost their lives on 9-11, which held special significance for Condors owner Jonathan Fleisig, who lost close friends in the attacks on the twin towers. Everybody in the community came together in a show of support for the nation, and those who were gone but not forgotten.
With that as a backdrop, the Paul Kelly Era began for the Condors, as the team hoped a new voice behind the bench could change the team’s fortunes. Goaltending would be the backbone of his first team, as once again the team had difficulties lighting the lamp. Luciano Caraviggio and Scott Hay would prove to be an effective tandem between the pipes, combining for five shutouts and six Goaltender of the Week awards. Hay turned in four of the blankings, setting a team record, and his 2.93 goals against average was the best in team history.
The offense was bolstered by Jason Firth, Paul Willett and Jeff Goldie, who chalked up 75, 64 and 60 points, respectively. Goldie finished second in the WCHL in power play goals, and Firth was third in the league in assists. In addition to setting teammates up, Firth showed the penchant for the spectacular, including scoring a goal from the seat of his pants after being tripped up on a play.
Bakersfield was never been afraid to mix it up, and Sasha Lakovic was always involved physically. On December 14th, in a tribute game for the Bakersfield Kernels, a team that played back in the 60’s, he showcased his ability to throw punches, and then let the San Diego Gulls know exactly what he thought of them from the bench.
Nevertheless, the team was scuffling as the campaign drew to a close, but then suddenly got hot at the right time. Coinciding with the hiring of Marty Raymond as Associate Coach, the team ripped off nine wins in 11 games headed into the finale, which would provide a storybook ending to the regular season.
Ken Baker, with the team most of the season and working on a book about his battle with a brain tumor that derailed his hockey career a decade earlier, suited up for his first professional start in goal. He stopped 30 shots and the team rallied from 5-2 down to send the contest with Idaho to a shootout. Baker thwarted the Steelheads’ top scorer to start the one-on-one battles, and the Condors scored four times to register the emotional, 6-5 win.
Fresh off that dramatic win, the team faced the San Diego Gulls in the first round of the playoffs for the third time in four years. After dropping the first two games of the best-of-five series in San Diego, the Condors bounced back with a thrilling, 5-4 overtime victory thanks to Willett.
The team had a chance to square the series at two and force the fifth and deciding game back down south, but fell 3-2 in a game marred by controversy. In what came to be known as “Goal-Gate”, twice during the contest the Condors scored, only to have the goals disallowed by the officials. Less than a week later, the league issued an unprecedented apology, acknowledging one of the disallowed goals (“the goal that was a goal, then wasn’t”), should’ve counted, but it was obviously too little too late, as another season had already come to a close.
The late charge and emotional playoff series left the team and fans drained, but also with much to be proud of. Mirroring that success, the team was awarded the Quality of Life Award from the United Way of Kern County, as well as the WCHL’s Best Community Development and Best Game Presentation awards, and there was reason for optimism heading into the offseason.
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With the memory of the previous year’s controversial ending still on their minds, the Condors began their 5th Anniversary season with a bang. Paul Kelly’s team hosted the WCHL’s reigning champs, the Fresno Falcons, and shut them out 4-0. The stars that night were Kevin St. Pierre, who recorded the shutout, and Paul Willett, who scored twice. Those two would shine all season long.
St. Pierre proved opening night was no fluke, leading the league in wins, goals against average and save percentage. As if that wasn’t enough, he recorded three more shutouts, won the Goaltender of the Week award eight times, and was selected First Team All-WCHL, Outstanding Goaltender and League MVP.
Willett posted team highs in points and assists, led the entire league in scoring and tied for the lead in helpers, was also selected First Team All-WCHL, and notched his 1,000th career point in March.
There were plenty of others who flashed brilliance throughout the year, resulting in honors and milestones including:
- Center Jason Jackman and defenseman Jonas Lennartsson were named to the All-Rookie Team
- Shawn Byram, Jamie Cooke, Jeff Goldie, Jason Ralph, Paul Rosebush, Christian Skoryna and Willett each scored at least 20 goals, with Cooke’s 30 tops on the squad
- Ralph led the league in shorthanded markers and plus/minus
Collectively, the Condors ran off a franchise-record seven game road win streak to start the year, and piled up a nine-game win streak in November. The pace slowed in December when St Pierre missed time due to injury, but also led to an historic moment in team history as the calendar turned to 2003.
On January 11th, Danielle Dube became the first woman ever to suit up for the Bakersfield Condors. She started in goal that night, and with more than 6,500 pairs of eyes focused on her, beat the Anchorage Aces, 6-4. Dube stopped 16 shots to record the victory, and forever etched her name in Condors lore.
St. Pierre returned just a few days later, and kept the momentum going with a 5-0 whitewashing of first-place Idaho.
As the months rolled by, the team was headed toward the postseason full of confidence, but on March 22nd, disaster struck. In a 5-1 win over Anchorage, defenseman Christoffer Norgren suffered a cracked vertebrae in his neck after being driven headfirst into the end boards. Later in the contest, Rosebush reacted angrily to a knee-on-knee hit, and suffered a broken finger. Both players were lost for the year, severely damaging the team’s hopes.
When the dust cleared from the regular season, the Condors had set 30 individual and team records, including most wins with 41, and most points with 91. They produced a Coach of the Year selection for Paul Kelly, and finished firmly in third place in the WCHL.
Of course, after such a spectacular campaign, who should be waiting in the playoffs but their nemesis, the San Diego Gulls, in a best-of-five series. It looked like this year might be different, as the Condors grabbed Game One in overtime on Jason Jackman’s game-winner. But the Gulls and injuries combined to stifle the team’s high-powered offense, and the Condors scored just four goals in the next four games.
Despite their efforts to change the momentum, including David Bell’s run-in with Gulls’ goalie Trevor Koenig and subsequent fight, the Condors were knocked out of the postseason, and were left to wonder how a sweet season ended on another sour note.
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A new year brought new hopes, and in the case of 2003-04, a new league as well. The Condors, along with the WCHL’s other five teams, applied and were accepted into the ECHL, the top Double-A league in professional hockey. Getting in turned out to be the easy part. Achieving success proved to be much more difficult.
Nearly 10,000 fans showed up at Bakersfield Centennial Garden opening weekend, but the Condors offense didn’t, resulting in shutout losses to Fresno and San Diego. The team finally scored when Quinn Fair lit the lamp in Game 3 at Las Vegas, but again failed to notch a win. Finally, on October 24th, the team registered its first ECHL victory, and it couldn’t have been sweeter as it came at the hands of the rival Gulls.
Much of the season was a frustrating struggle, but one of the bright spots was Andrew Ianiero. An All-Star the year before with Dayton, AI chalked up a 10-game point streak and an 8-game assist streak during the year. He was selected to the All-Star game again, where he recorded an assist, and finished the season second on the team in points and assists, trailing only Kevin Riehl in both categories.
Notable for quite a different reason was Jon Mirasty, who set a team record with 358 penalty minutes for the year. Rare was the night when “Smiling Nasty Mirasty” didn’t drop the gloves and square off with an opponent.
In February, with the team in the midst of a 7-game losing streak, and 19 points out of a playoff spot, associate coach Marty Raymond replaced Kelly as the head coach. While the change didn’t affect the team’s record appreciably the rest of this season, the move would certainly pay dividends for years to come.
Perhaps what summed up the season as a whole was January 10th, when Riehl was honored in a promotional event. That night, he became the first, and thankfully the last, Condors player to ever be memorialized as a Rubber Duck giveaway!
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Having gotten a taste of the ECHL the year before, and with the handing over of the reigns to Marty Raymond, the Condors were ready for a better year in 2004-05. But to ensure improvement, the team needed an infusion of talent, and they went out and got it.
- Kevin St. Jacques, who had teamed up with Raymond in Phoenix to win the Taylor Cup in 1999-2000, arrived and led the team in points and assists.
- Goaltender Yutaka Fukufuji and winger Connor James were assigned to the club by the LA Kings and both prospered. James made the All-Star team and ultimately became the second Condor to play in the NHL when he skated in a pair of games during the 2005-06 season. Fukufuji racked up 27 wins and a 2.97 goals against average, and later became the first Japanese player to play in the NHL in January 2007.
- Guy Dupuis came in to anchor the blueline, finished first among all Condors defensemen in scoring, made the All-Star Team and was named First Team All-ECHL.
- Vlad Serov chimed in with timely goals, scoring six game-winners, most on the squad.
- Lars Peder Nagel and Brett Lutes came in as rookies and scored 22 and 18 goals respectively, ranking them one and two in Condors history
The team busted out of the gates by winning its first six games, with an emotional night mixed in. On November 6th, the Condors retired Steve Dowhy’s #74, Glen Mears #26 and Paul Willett’s #16. The trio played a combined 960 games for the Bakersfield franchise across two different teams and two different leagues. Dowhy finished his career as the franchise leader in goals and total points, Willett finished first in assists and second in total points, and Mears finished first in assists and total points by a defenseman.
After a shootout loss, the Condors went 7-1-1 in the next nine games, and held onto first place in the West Division of the National Conference. Included in that run was the Teddy Bear Toss on November 27th, when over 8,200 fans packed the building and launched more than 7,100 stuff animals on the ice, a record total for the charity event.
The pace slowed down in December, but when the new year began, the Condors ran off another big streak, going 7-0-1 in their next eight outside of Bakersfield, and 10-1-1 overall, capped by a 2-0 blanking of Fresno on January 24th at Centennial Garden. And before the campaign ended, late in February and on into March, the club put together a 6-0-1 mark, outscoring the opposition 33-15.
When all was said and done for the regular season, the Condors had earned their first-ever berth in the ECHL playoffs, and Marty Raymond was runner-up for ECHL Coach of the Year. The team matched up in a best-of-five series against the division-winner and old WCHL Rival, the Alaska Aces, who were led by league MVP Scott Gomez, playing for his hometown team thanks to the NHL lockout.
The Aces took the first two in Anchorage, but the Condors came right back at home, capturing Game 3, 3-2, and had a chance to even the series in Game 4. The tight affair turned controversial in the second period, when Ashlee Langdone’s hard check on Gomez sent him awkwardly into the Alaska bench doorway. Gomez was diagnosed with a pelvic fracture and didn’t reappear in the series, but the incident fired up the Aces, who rallied from 3-1 down in the third to send the game to overtime on a goal with four seconds left. But just 25 seconds into the extra session, Alaska’s goaltender made a mistake, and the Condors capitalized when Brad Mehalko knocked home the game-winner.
But the team couldn’t sustain the momentum back in Alaska for the winner-take-all Game 5, falling 6-2, bringing the season to a close, and the career of Paul Rosebush to an end. Having spent all six full seasons of his pro career in Bakersfield, and having captained the Condors the past two years, he decided it was time to hang his skates up.
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Trying to put the disappointment of the previous year’s playoff series loss to Alaska behind them, the Condors beat the Victoria Salmon Kings 5-3 on Opening Night, with Mike Hofstrand netting the game-winner. It came in front of more than 8,200 fans at newly renamed Rabobank Arena, but the building name wasn’t the only new thing for 2005-06.
Among those making their debut with the team and becoming large contributors were:
- Captain Sean Venedam, who led the team with 29 goals and two hat tricks, and notched his 200th career goal during the season
- Kevin Truelson, who chipped in 47 points in 54 games as a defenseman
- Ryan Munce and Eric Neilson, assigned to the team by the LA Kings
– Munce won 30 games in goal, second most in team history
– Neilson’s sportsmanship on the ice and dedication to the community off the ice earned him 2nd place in the CCM Man of the Year voting
- Matthieu Brunelle, assigned by the Philadelphia Flyers, who tallied 27 points in 33 games with the team
- Dave Bonk, who scored a point per game in his 36 contests
Despite the personal accomplishments, the team didn’t stray far from .500 for a good portion of the year, and early in the second half stood at just 19-18-5. But starting with a win in Idaho on February 11th, the Condors put all the pieces together. The team won 21 of its last 30 games, including 13 of 16 at home, and soared to a second place finish in the Pacific Division, setting up a first-round playoff series with the third place Long Beach Ice Dogs.
The best-of-seven series opened on home ice, and the Condors were ready, locking down the Long Beach offense and scoring enough for a 3-1 win. But in Game 2, the Ice Dogs found the back of the net five times, and took a split back home to Long Beach.
Game 3 saw the Condors again take control of the series, running away with a 6-3 victory, with Kevin Kotyluk supplying the first and last goals for Bakersfield. They had a golden chance to take a stranglehold of the series in Game 4, but lost in overtime, 5-4. With the 2-3-2 format for the best of seven series, Game 5 was crucial, as they didn’t want to head home with their backs to the wall. From start to finish they controlled the action, and skated off with a 4-1 win, and a 3-2 series edge.
On their first chance to chance to wrap up the series, the Condors fell apart in Game 6, dropping a 6-2 decision. That meant Game 7 would be win and move on, or go home for the summer.
The Condors fell behind 3-2 after two periods of play, and an air of concern lingered in the arena. But after tying the game at three, and then having a go-ahead goal disallowed, Joel Irving took matters onto his own stick, scoring the goal that put the Condors ahead to stay in the 4-3 win.
After 798 games as a franchise, finally the team had a playoff series win to celebrate. They had done it the hard way, but they had finally done it, and it was time to move on to the second round for the first time ever.
The Condors faced off against the Pacific Division and National Conference champion Fresno Falcons in Round 2, and like the battle with Long Beach, this series would also go the distance.
Bakersfield hadn’t beaten Fresno in Save Mart Center in three tries during the regular season, and didn’t break that trend to start the Division Finals, yielding three power-play goals in each game and dropping 5-3 and 4-2 decisions to the Falcons.
Returning back down the 99 for the next trio of games, the Condors showed they wouldn’t go away, scoring three power-play goals of their own in a 4-2 Game 3 win, to pull within a game of tying the series up. But the joy of that victory evaporated the next night, when Fresno scored in overtime to take a 3-2 win and a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.
Backed into a corner, the Marty Raymond coached Condors came out scratching and clawing in Game 5, and despite being shorthanded 13 times, managed to limit the Falcons to just a pair of goals, and scored four of their own to tighten the series to 3 games to 2.
The series shifted back to Fresno, where the Falcons had been dominant, winning 24 of 36 games during the regular season, and all four of their playoff contests. But the Condors were not to be denied. Through three periods the team were tied, meaning overtime for the second time in three games. And this time in the extra session, it was Bakersfield finding a way, as Brad Mehalko came up with another overtime game-winner to extend the series.
With the Game 6 thriller behind them, the Condors became the first team ever in the ECHL to play two 7-game series in the postseason. During Game 7, Condors forward Scott Borders broke his leg when his skates caught in the choppy ice in Fresno. It was a painful blow for Borders and the team, as he had scored six goals in the postseason. The loss of the team’s second-leading goal scorer in the playoffs proved to be too much, and recent history failed to repeat itself, as the Falcons prevailed, 4-2.
Still, there was much to be proud of, as in addition to the playoff series win, the Condors broke 38 team records, including 20 in the postseason, set the mark for largest total attendance with more than 240,000 fans coming to see regular season and playoff games, while also raising over $400,000 for charity.
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Having finally advanced past the first round of the playoffs the previous year, expectations were high as the Condors began 2006-07. While certainly not guaranteeing a championship, players and coaches had visions of the Kelly Cup dancing in their heads from the start of the season.
Within the first two weeks, the team had a chance to measure themselves against the best of the ECHL, when they went to Alaska to take on the defending champion Aces. In the first contest up in Anchorage, the Condors fell behind 5-2 in the second period, but then showed what type of team they were going to be, scoring five straight goals to come away with a 7-5 victory in Sullivan Arena.
Josh Liebenow’s game-winner in that contest was just the start of what would be a career year for him. After notching just two goals in 28 games with Bakersfield the year before, he exploded for 28, including 7 game-winners to lead the team. Combined with his outstanding penalty killing and willingness to sacrifice his body for the team, he quickly became one of the most popular players on the ice.
On November 18th, the team nipped the Idaho Steelheads, 3-2, giving Marty Raymond his 93rd victory as head coach, making him the winningest coach in team history. A week later, the team capped a streak of seven wins in 11 games with a 6-3 crushing of the Aces. With 8,743 fans on hand, the fourth largest crowd in team history, captain Sean Venedam got it started with the first goal on a special night at The Nest and the team never looked back.
Venedam and Kevin St. Jacques took center stage a couple of days later, when the Condors sent the Long Beach Ice Dogs home with their tails between their legs. Both scored two goals and assisted on two others as the Condors scored double-digits for the first time in team history in a 10-2 romp.
A good team always has some strong veterans, and this one would be no different. Venedam and St Jacques both came to Bakersfield with a championship pedigree. St Jacques was a part of three Taylor Cup-winning teams in the WCHL, with San Diego in 1996-97 and 1997-98, as well as Phoenix in 1999-2000 under the direction of Raymond, while Venedam notched two titles with Greenville of the ECHL in 2001-02 and Fort Wayne in the UHL in 2002-03. Both knew how to score, with Venedam going on to lead the team in points, and St Jacques finishing third. With years of experience between the two of them, the Condors had players that not only knew how to win on the ice, but had a locker room presence and the respect of their teammates off it as well.
By the same token, young legs and enthusiasm also have their place on a top squad, and shortly after the season started a rookie by the name of Todd Griffith got a chance to show what he could do, namely put the puck in the net. Griffith scored in each of the first four games he played, and went on to light the lamp 26 times in only 46 games, setting the Condors rookie record for goals in the process. He registered a pair of markers on five separate occasions, and notched his first professional hat trick in a 6-4 win over Victoria.
Just as important, the Condors were keeping the puck out of their own net, mainly due to the efforts of goaltender Jamie Hodson. Having stepped away from the game midway through the previous season, Hodson decided to give it another shot with Bakersfield, and both sides were rewarded as he racked up 29 wins, a 2.66 goals against average, and a .917 save percentage. He ran off a six-game win streak and two five-game win streaks, and recorded back-to-back shutouts in March, the first Condors netminder ever to do so.
Still, the team was sitting at just 16-10-3 when 2006 ended, but perhaps sparked by the trade of Joel Irving, came out roaring in 2007, winning their first four games in January. St. Jacques was brilliant, recording back-to-back five point nights against Victoria and Utah.
After a loss to Stockton, the Condors went on a 4-0-1 run that started and finished with victories over the Fresno Falcons, including a stellar outing by backup goaltender Danny Taylor, who stopped 33 shots in regulation and overtime before blanking the Falcons in the shootout to secure a 2-1 win.
A minor blip in the form of a regulation and shootout loss to the Salmon Kings was quickly forgotten as the team rattled off five more wins in a row, with help from the combination of Alexandre Bolduc and Tyler Scott, who teamed up on late goals to beat Toledo in regulation and Stockton in overtime.
The Condors closed February with a pair of wins over the Phoenix RoadRunners, and now sat at 32-13-8, well on their way to a playoff berth, and with a division title a real possibility. But a monster road trip loomed, a four-city, nine-game, 16-day affair that would begin with three games in Alaska.
The team trailed late in the third period in each of the first two games in Anchorage, but rallied to tie them up and send them to shootouts where the Aces prevailed. Though disappointed, the team knew if it kept applying the pressure, it would eventually break through. Game 3 followed the same script, as Alaska led 3-2 in the third before Kevin Truelson redirected a cross-ice feed to even the contest at 3. But in overtime, Brett Lutes wrote a different ending, scoring on a rebound to give the Condors the victory.
Next up was a series in Utah, and more games going past regulation. The Condors squeaked by the Grizzlies 2-1 in a shootout the first night, then it was Griffith’s turn in the spotlight two nights later in overtime, when he scored to give Bakersfield the win.
Tired of playing bonus hockey, Hodson took matters into his own hands, stick and pads, blanking the Grizzlies, 4-0, to finish off the three-game set, then whitewashing the RoadRunners, 6-0, setting a team mark for most consecutive shutout minutes. The team then finished off the spectacular 7-0-2 road trip with a 4-3 win over Phoenix and a 4-2 victory over Long Beach.
By the time the Condors returned home,they had tied a team record with seven straight wins, set a new team mark with the 12-game unbeaten streak, and went on to extend the road unbeaten streak to a team best 12 games. They were also in first place in the Pacific Division, neck and neck with the Las Vegas Wranglers.
The team had a St. Patrick’s Day game the night after they returned home, with a jersey auction during and after the game. In a touching scene, a single-jersey record bid of $5,200 claimed Andrew Oke’s jersey. Oke had missed the previous season recovering from a brain tumor, but had been given a clean bill of health entering this campaign. Unfortunately, another tumor surfaced during the year, ending his hockey career prematurely. But never one feel sorry for himself, Oke simply smiled and decided to begin his second career as a pro golfer a little sooner than expected. To that end, his teammates created t-shirts with Oke’s saying, “Let’s Do This,” and with help from the organization and community, raised thousands of dollars in sales of the shirts to help fund his efforts on the golf course.
Oke was the first in what would be an untimely series of injuries and call-ups, as the team lost two more key components of the winning formula on the 16-day trip. Top defenseman Scott Balan hurt his knee in Utah and was lost for the season, and Griffith broke his hand in a fight in Phoenix and was expected out until the playoffs. Both would be sorely missed down the stretch.
With Griffith out, Lutes picked up the slack. Acquired early in the year in a deal with Stockton, Lutes started scoring goals as soon as he got in the lineup, and seemingly hadn’t stopped. He would finish the year with a team-leading and career-high 34 goals, including two hat tricks, both against Fresno. Showing a flair for the dramatic, the second one came in overtime on March 21st, finishing off a wild game the Condors tied with less than a minute left in regulation.
Unfortunately for the team, they would miss out on the divison title as they won just one more time in their final eight games, but it was a big one, a 3-2 win at Fresno on March 30th, the 300th victory in Condors history. When all was said and done, the team had set another record for most points in a season with 94, set the standard for winning percentage overall and on the road, and a slew of other records. As well, the Condors were the number 3 seed in the National Conference, and would match up against Fresno in a best-of-seven first round series.
With the 99 rivals having gone the distance in last year’s playoff showdown, the intensity was already high heading into this year’s rematch. If recent history wasn’t enough, Falcons defenseman Dustin VanBallegooie fanned the flames when he was quoted in the papers as saying, “We did ourselves a favor. Everybody here believes we can beat Bakersfield.”
Perhaps he was just trying to fire his team up, as the Condors had beaten Fresno in seven of the nine meetings in the regular season. Regardless, it seemed to energize the Falcons, who raced out to a 3-1 third period lead in Game 1. Back came Bakersfield, as Josh Liebenow scored twice in quick succession to tie it up and send the home crowd into a frenzy. It was short-lived, however, as VanBallegooie scored just 21 seconds later, and the Falcons cruised to a 7-3 triumph.
In Game 2 in Fresno, the Condors were buried by an avalanche of their own penalties and power play goals by the Falcons, and found themselves in a deep hole after a 9-3 shellacking.
Down 0-2 and facing a quick exit to what had been a phenomenal season, the Condors needed a quick start in Game 3, and they got it, when David Kudelka scored just 48 seconds into the game. They led 2-0 after one, and 3-1 early in the third, but with Fresno pulling within a goal and time running down, Kudelka, who had scored just three times in the regular season, came up big again, notching an empty-netter with less than a minute left to secure the 4-2 triumph.
The Condors were now back in the series, and could tie it up with a victory in Game 4 in Fresno. Right from the start, St Jacques took control and made sure they did. He scored the first goal of the game less than five minutes in on a power play, then assisted on goals that gave the Condors 2-1 and 3-2 leads. Late in the second period, he scored again, putting the Condors up by 2, and early in the third period, delivered the knockout blow with a slapper for the hat trick. Just for good measure, he assisted on the final goal of the 6-2 win, pummeled Lucas Lawson in a fight and finished with the first ever Condors playoff hat trick, as well as a team record six points in a single playoff game.
Momentum was clearly on the Condors side as they headed into Game 5 in Fresno, and they kept it going before most of the fans had taken their seats, as Andrew Ianiero scored just 17 seconds in. Late in the second period, it was tied 1-1, when the Condors struck twice in quick succession, Scott on the power-play and Ianiero just minutes later on a breakaway. Fresno managed to pull within a goal in the third, but Rejean Beauchemin, who took over in goal for Hodson starting Game 3, made some big saves late to preserve the victory.
So now it was back home for a chance to clinch, and the Condors left no room for doubt. Kudelka scored late in the first period, and they were on their way. Ianiero scored a shorthanded goal late in the second, then Bolduc scored early in the third, and the only question was whether they would shut the Falcons out. Sure enough, Beauchemin didn’t allow a puck to pass, and Reagan Leslie scored the final goal in a 4-0 blanking that sent the Falcons home and sent the Condors on to Round 2 against Alaska.
Looking back on the way they played in the regular season against the Aces, the Condors felt good about their chances. But on the eve of the series, Bolduc was recalled to Manitoba, further depleting a squad without Griffith and Balan. After a 6-0 rout in Game 1, the Condors had a chance to steal Game 2 in Anchorage, but a shorthanded goal late in the second period turned the tide. Trailing 3-1 late in the third, Leslie had a brilliant solo rush to pull them within 3-2, but they couldn’t find the equalizer.
Down 0-2 back home was a familiar scenario, but the lack of offensive firepower doomed the Condors. Game 3 was a heartbreaking 1-0 loss in overtime, and the sweep was completed by the Aces the next night. The end had come way too quickly, especially after the thrill ride of Round 1.
Just as they had reason to be proud of their efforts on the ice, the Condors organization and their fans had plenty to look upon fondly off the ice. The Condors raised an incredible $470,000 in donations during the year, including more than $97,000 in jersey auctions, and over $61,000 for the Links for Life Hockey-Thon.
The team broke the 200,000 mark in attendance for the second straight year, finished fourth in the league in average attendance for the regular season with over 5,800 fans per game, and first in average attendance for the playoffs with 5,700 per game.
As well, the ECHL honored Greg Lowe and Tim Statezni as Ticket Executives of the Year, and Team President Matthew Riley was named the league’s Executive of the Year!
And with the coaching staff and a solid core of players expected back, there was reason for much optimism as the team headed into its 10th Anniversary Season!
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The 10th Anniversary Season got underway with familiar faces and much anticipation. Returning from the previous season were the likes of Sean Venedam and Jamie Hodson, Brett Lutes and David Kudelka, Reagan Leslie and Scott Balan – and also featured the return of G Yutaka Fukufuji, just a season removed from his stint in the National Hockey League with the Kings.
The season kicked off with a bang, with an exciting pair of victories in front of over 12,000 fans on Opening Weekend. On Opening Night the Condors overcame a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2 – a win that featured the first goals of the season for rookie Mark Derlago and C Tim Konsorada, two players who’s names would resonate all season long for Bakersfield.
Game 2 of Opening Weekend didn’t disappoint either, featuring two of the most memorable goals of the season in one of the most penalty-filled matches in Condors history against their bitter rivals from Fresno. D Kevin Truelson ended the second period in highlight fashion, scoring a goal from his own defensive zone right at the buzzer to tie the game at 2, setting up an intense final frame. Tension boiled over in the third period with 142 penalty minutes and a full-on line brawl which ejected seven players, including the Condors team captain, Sean Venedam. Still tied at 2 and in overtime, Brett Lutes stepped out of the penalty box and lit the lamp with the second incredible goal of the night to propel the Condors to victory.
The coming weeks were not as kind to Bakersfield, who embarked on a grueling nine-game road trip soon after, encompassing six cities in 16 days, and the team slumped in November.
Teddy Bear Toss was a night of excitement as always – and on November 24 against Phoenix a capacity crowd of 8,895 packed the house and brought in over 7,000 stuffed animals. The event surpassed the 44,000 mark for teddy bears donated in team history, an amazing feat.
There were notable individual moments to close out 2007. Konsorada was off to a great start in putting together a career year offensively, and had three straight multi-point games at the end of November. Brett Lutes started well too, notching a pair of hat tricks by the second week of December.
In December, fans also had a chance to cheer for a pair of Condors Legends one more time with two memorable retirement ceremonies. Jamie Cooke, who spent six seasons in a Bakersfield jersey and retired as the all-time leader in goals, second in points, had his familiar number 28 hung on the wall at Rabobank Arena on December 15. On December 29, Paul Rosebush had his number 17 retired. “Rosie” played in parts of seven seasons with the Condors and played in more games – and took more penalties – than anybody in team history. They joined Steve Dowhy’s number 72, Glen Mears’ 26, and Paul Willett’s 16 as retired Condors numbers.
However, Bakersfield was slipping in the National Conference standings, dropping behind the Stockton Thunder and Phoenix and into ninth place – out of the playoff picture. But it was clear that changes were coming, and within a month’s time the roster looked entirely different.
Veteran G Jamie Hodson, who had gone 13 consecutive games without a win, was released. A pair of deals was made, moving players that didn’t fit into the roster, and the team slowly started to come around. D Jay Langager, who finished the previous season with the team, was signed. Chris Di Ubaldo and Jason Kostadine were added. Tom Boudreau was acquired from Reading for Steven Later, and G Michel Robinson was signed as well.
Robinson, who had won a Goaltender of the Year award in the United Hockey League a few years prior, joined the team just after New Year’s and started seven of the first eight games he was with the club.
On January 12 against the Roadrunners, Derlago began an impressive stretch of offensive production that made the entire minor league hockey world take notice. He scored in seven consecutive games to tie the franchise mark set by Paul Rosebush, including three straight two goal performances, and he didn’t cool off until the season was through. On February 5 and 8, Derlago recorded back-to-back hat tricks, including the team’s first-ever four goal performance on home ice, en route to a Player of the Week selection in the ECHL.
However, the Condors were struck with injuries that dampened their momentum – Balan and Leslie both went on IR in late January, leaving the blueline shorthanded. The team even called upon Condors Legend Quinn Fair to help out on defense for a few games. The veteran filled in well during his brief stint, after watching from the stands since 2004. Meanwhile, Balan would be sidelined for the remainder of the season.
When Fukufuji went down in late January, the team’s weight rested squarely on Robinson’s shoulders. He appeared to wear down when called upon to start 13 consecutive contests as the season progressed into the month of February. The gutsy Condors battled Utah in a thrilling three game series in the middle of the month, but suffered a devastating blow in their 2-1 loss to the Grizzlies on February 15. Trailing by a goal and mounting a late charge in the final minutes of the game, the team’s captain and leading scorer, Sean Venedam, was wedged against the boards, and his right leg twisted into a compound fracture that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Despite his loss, the Condors took two of three in the series to keep the pressure on Phoenix and Stockton for the playoff race.
Heading into March the Condors trailed Phoenix by just two points, but struggled for wins. Without Venedam’s guidance, Konsorada, Derlago and veteran Andrew Ianiero helped to pick up the offensive slack.
But new faces were on the horizon. The trade deadline early in the month brought in a pair of defensemen – Derrick Byfuglien and rookie Martin Frechette – and F Alexander Naurov. Two weeks later the Condors dipped into the college pool for F Dale Reinhardt and D Chris Kaufman, providing a little more punch to the offense and reshaping the ‘D’.
The new faces made an impact immediately. Frechette came alive with three multi-point games in his first seven contests with the team and finished with 12 assists in 15 games. Reinhardt lit the lamp in his professional debut, and four games later notched his first career hat trick, quickly drawing the love of the Condorstown crowd with his hard work and energy. Kaufman and Byfuglien were stabilizers on the blueline, and more importantly, Fukufuji hit his stride between the pipes.
He finished 8-3 in his last 11 games, regaining the form that helped him climb the hockey ranks over the previous three seasons. Against Utah in the final homestand of the regular season, Fukufuji stood on his head – making 49 and 46 saves, respectively, in back-to-back victories, to prepare Condors fans for a return to the playoffs. The torrid stretch for Bakersfield nudged them past Phoenix and into the final playoff spot.
The clincher finally came two games later, in the regular season finale in Vegas, with one more heroic performance by the Condors rookie sensation Derlago, with his third hat trick of the season, giving him the league lead among rookies with 39 goals on the season. The Brandon, Manitoba native had scored 31 goals in the final 35 games, and was rewarded with a call from the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League just before the playoff clincher. Konsorada finished as the team’s scoring leader with 68 points and was second in goals with 34, providing the team with steady offensive production through a rollercoaster season.
Their late push landed the Condors in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, and they prepared for a first round matchup against the West Division Champion Victoria Salmon Kings. They played Victoria tough during the regular season, going unbeaten in regulation in the last five meetings.
Games 1 and 2 took place in Victoria, but the Condors quickly spoiled home ice advantage. In the series opener, Fukufuji was spectacular, stopping 39 of 40 shots in the game, a 1-1 tie headed to overtime. Veteran D Kevin Truelson, who amassed 13 goals and 46 points during an All-Star season, blasted home the game winning goal just minutes into the extra session.
Victoria came from behind for a big victory in Game 2, tying the series up and sending it down to California for the next three games. In Game 3, Tim Konsorada notched a goal and an assist, Truelson scored for the second time in three games, and Fukufuji made 31 saves, but it wasn’t enough to stop Victoria from taking a lead in the series. The next night the Salmon Kings prevailed 4-1 to take a commanding 3-1 series advantage.
The Condors refused to go down without a fight, though, and with Game 5 in front of the hometown fans, their backs were against the wall. Brett Lutes and Andrew Ianiero gave Bakersfield 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the first period. Victoria bounced back with two straight goals and Eric Sonnenberg tied it up for the Condors in the second. When Wes Goldie scored midway through the third period to make it 4-3, the pressure was on. Condors rookie Ryan Salvis picked a great time for his first professional goal, however, less than a minute later, and the Condors regained their momentum. And with just over five minutes left in the game, Derlago potted his second of the playoffs to give the Condors the win. Fukufuji made 35 saves in net, and the series shifted back to Victoria.
Game 6 did not disappoint. The Condors battled not only the Salmon Kings, but the Victoria crowd of nearly 7,000 strong, and took first period leads of 2-0 and 3-1, with Ianiero, Salvis and Truelson all connecting. The game shifted back and forth, with Victoria scoring four of the next five tallies to make it 5-4 early in the third period. But the Condors kept coming. Behind a 17 save third period performance from Fukufuji – and a staggering 55 saves in the game, the Condors forced overtime with a late tally by Ianiero, his second of the game and fifth of the playoffs. Ultimately, though, the Victoria attack was too much for Bakersfield, and Ash Goldie’s shorthanded game winner eight minutes into the extra period shoved the Condors into the off-season with a 6-5 defeat.
But the Condors battle during the final month erased any mistakes from the season, and proved why they have become a legitimate threat in the West each year. They were a team that refused to fade – suffering through inconsistency, changing faces and injuries to key players, forcing overtime in three of their six playoff games against Victoria, one of the most powerful teams in the ECHL, and resurrecting themselves time and again through difficult stretches of the season.
The youth movement served them well, and a retooled roster that featured an energized Yutaka Fukufuji down the stretched left the fans aching for season number 11 to get underway.
Filled with ups and downs, but never dull, the Condors 10th Anniversary Season is in the books. The team continued to be the pride of Bakersfield, raising an incredible $433,000 in cash, goods and services during the year, including more than $100,000 in jersey auctions, and over $57,000 for the Links for Life Hockey-Thon.
The team broke the 200,000 mark in attendance for the third straight year and eighth time in their 10 year history. They finished fifth in the league in average attendance for the regular season with over 5,600 fans per game, and reached a historic milestone by drawing their 2 millionth fan in team history. And with familiar faces and a new affiliation on the immediate horizon, the second decade in Condorstown looks promising!
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The Condors entered a new era in 2008-09 – the era of affiliation. A huge off-season announcement of the team’s first official affiliation, with their neighbors to the south, the Anaheim Ducks, helped to provide an air of anticipation. But it ended up being a tale of two seasons.
While Bakersfield celebrated early individual successes from players such as rookie Matt Pope and returning winger Mark Derlago (under contract to the AHL Manitoba Moose), there was also an eye on players assigned to Bakersfield from the next level, most notably RW Chad Painchaud and rookie C Matt Caruana, who started out with 10 goals in his first 18 games.
The Condors struggled, however, over the opening months. The club flirted with .500 through early December, but couldn’t crack the mark. Exciting wins over Stockton (7-4) in Game 2 of the season, and back-to-back wins in Alaska on Dec. 3 and 5, showed that this team had potential to score in bunches and pull out big victories, but the Condors were inconsistent, at best, while they dealt with a revolving door to the locker room.
Injuries sidelined leading scorer C Dave Bonk, D Chris Kaufman and RW Liam Huculak, while November call-ups of rookie D Andrew Thomas (the team’s leading defensive scorer), Derlago and Caruana, plus another in December for C Charlie Kronschnabel, left Head Coach Marty Raymond with little choice but to retool the roster.
Trades in November and December landed D Ryan Mahrle, former Condors RW Mike Wirll, C Bruce Graham and C Brett Pilkington, and Bonk’s return helped spark the offense, but victories proved elusive heading into the New Year.
But 2009 saw change on the horizon. A big trade in January secured the rights to D Donny Grover from Cincinnati, in exchange for popular but inconsistent G Ryan Nie. D Jay Langager resurfaced and assumed the duties of team captain on Jan. 2. With those two players, and a month-long return of Thomas, the blueline had been strengthened and leadership in the locker room had emerged. Derlago returned from the American Hockey League on Jan. 14. Another trade brought in grinding forward Danny Lapointe, and all the pieces started to fall into place.
A Super Bowl weekend trip to Las Vegas seemed to be a strange catalyst. The Condors took the first game of the three-game series, 3-1 on Jan. 30. But three days later, though outshooting the Wranglers by a heavy margin, the Condors left Vegas reeling from back-to-back losses by a combined score of 11-6. It proved to be the final time during the regular season the Condors would drop back-to-back contests.
Going into a weekend set on Feb. 6 and 7 with West Division front-runners Alaska and Idaho, the Condors were mired in last place in the conference with a 14-26-6 record. But regulation victories over both clubs started an eruption of Condors dominance unseen since the team’s 11-0 run to start the 1999-00 campaign.
It started out with two in a row, then a five-game winning streak gave Bakersfield a 7-1 record over eight games. That turned into a 10-1-1 record over a 12-game span that carried into the month of March. By that time the offensive machine was in motion. The line of Derlago-Bonk-Painchaud was the most potent in the league in February. The trio finished 1-2-3 in league scoring during the month and along with Pope, all four players ranked in the Top 8 in the league in points by early March.
A February 28 call-up to the AHL for Painchaud, as well as Pope’s first opportunity at the next level – first with Binghamton and then with Manitoba – stripped the team of two of its key players, and left fans wondering if the team’s recent winning ways could continue. But when one player left, another would step up. Wirll claimed two player of the week awards in less than a month and filled in for Painchaud on the top line, which didn’t miss a beat. Wirll combined with Painchaud to make the Condors the first team to take three consecutive ECHL Player of the Week awards, when they accomplished the feat in late February and early March.
Perhaps the team’s first-half struggles helped this team build some resiliency, or perhaps Coach Raymond had his team motivated, or maybe this team had just built up enough momentum that it was just too hard to slow them down… because giving in was clearly not in this team’s vocabulary.
The Condors went 10-3-1 in March and April to wrap up the regular season and finish two games above .500. They leap-frogged three teams in the National Conference standings and nearly overtook Las Vegas for 2nd in the Pacific Division, a remarkable feat for a team that was 12 games below break-even just two months prior. They finished the regular season 19-5-2 over their last 26 games and headed to a first-round matchup with Vegas in the Kelly Cup Playoffs.
Bakersfield’s failure to secure home-ice advantage would later doom them, but for much of the series it was the Condors who were in the driver’s seat. Facing a format of 2-3-2, the series opened in Sin City. After a Game 1 loss, the Condors earned a split in Vegas with a come-from-behind 3-2 win in Game 2. Overtime was fateful for Bakersfield on their home ice. Dave Bonk’s hat trick in regulation helped overcome a 4-2 first period deficit and led to Bruce Graham’s game winner in the extra session in Game 3. The win gave the Condors their first lead in the best-of-seven series, 2-games-to-1.
The Wranglers rebounded with a stellar performance by G John DeCaro, who stopped 37 Condors shots in a 4-0 victory in Game 4 to tie the series up 2-2. But Game 5 went to the Condors, again in dramatic fashion. Mark Derlago, who already had two goals in regulation, rifled home the winning goal in overtime for the team’s second hat trick of the playoffs, shattering the league record for fastest playoff overtime goal just 11 seconds in.
As the series shifted back to Vegas and with Bakersfield needing just one more win in the final two (potential) games, the Condors faithful anticipated a return to Rabobank Arena for their Condors in the second round. But it wasn’t to be. The Wranglers shut down the Condors mighty offense, with the help of netminder Glenn Fisher, who surrendered just two goals in the final two games of the series, and the team’s nearly unstoppable power play. Bakersfield, which set a new team record for power play efficiency in the regular season, was held without a power play goal for four of the seven games, and went 1-for-10 in Games 6 and 7, combined.
The Wranglers advanced past Stockton in the next round before falling to Alaska in the National Conference Finals. And thus the Condors remarkable turnaround came to an end in Vegas with a Game 7 defeat, but they showed that how a team starts the season is not necessarily indicative of how they will finish.
Individual and team highlights: Bonk finished third in the league in scoring and had the 7th best point total in team history, the highest since 2002-03. He was named a 2nd Team All-ECHL along with Derlago. He was the first Condor since 2000-01 to record back-to-back 30-goal campaigns, and climbed to 6th in team history for career goals. Pope set new Condors rookie records for assists and points, while being named an ECHL All-Star and an ECHL All-Rookie Team member. Andrew Ianiero matched his career high with 20 goals on the season and moved into 2nd in career assists and 3rd in career games.
The Condors tied team records with three 30-goal scorers and seven 20-goal scorers. Their 246 goals scored was third-best in team history, and another team record was tied with five hat tricks during the regular season.
The Condors also performed well off the ice, drawing over 200,000 fans for the fourth straight season and ninth time in their 11-year history. They ranked 5th in the ECHL in average attendance in the regular season and 2nd in the playoffs. A new record of 7,614 stuffed animals were collected during a sold-out Teddy Bear Toss Night, the second-largest crowd in Condors history. The team surpassed the $600,000 mark all-time in jersey auction totals, and more than $435,000 was raised for local charities through jersey auctions, collections, cash, goods and services.
RIP Fresno Falcons: The 2008-09 season also saw the end of one of the greatest rivalries in the history of the city of Bakersfield, when the Fresno Falcons ceased operations abruptly in December. The Condors and Falcons battled it out on the ice over 140 times since the inception of the West Coast Hockey League in 1995-96, with the Condors holding a 65-56-21 regular season record, plus a 7-6 record in the playoffs. The two clubs were charter members in the WCHL, and the rivalry featured two fantastic playoff series, while fans of both clubs were frequent visitors in the other’s arenas.
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The 2009-10 Season was a rollercoaster ride in the true sense of the word, with highs unlike any in previous seasons, lows that almost threatened a “sure-thing” division title, a roster swell that saw more bodies don a Condors sweater than any season in team history, and a trip to the second round of the playoffs.
The campaign started with a focus on the team’s NHL affiliate, the Anaheim Ducks, who, due to a lack of an American Hockey League affiliate, stocked the Condors roster with top prospects, high draft picks and future All-Stars. Names like RW Dan Sexton, C MacGregor Sharp, LW Shawn Weller, D Eric Regan, Stu Bickel and John deGray, G Justin Pogge and Timo Pielmeier all began to trickle into camp from various AHL clubs as the season approached. They brought reputations and numbers with them, but their abilities in the pro game had yet to be thoroughly proven.
Sexton came to town flying under the radar, an undrafted free agent signee out of Bowling Green University by the Ducks, but he shined on Opening Night, recording a goal and an assist. Meanwhile AHL veteran Pogge stopped 15 shots for a shutout of the Ontario Reign. D Sasha Pokulok, under contract to the Condors, netted two goals in that 5-0 win as well.
The Condors bounced around for the first few weeks of the season getting their feet wet and learning to come together as a team, holding onto that first place standing they earned after a victory on Opening Night. The line of Weller (named the team captain in training camp)-Sharp-Sexton particularly showed flashes of brilliance.
Meanwhile the Condors had already sent Pogge directly up to the NHL – a sign of things to come – and heads turned around the ECHL when 10-year NHL veteran LW Kyle Calder was assigned to the team in early November. Although his stay was short-lived before a promotion, his five-game stint was long enough to foreshadow a timely return to the club later in the season.
November proved to be the Condors month. The team went 10-2-0 and raced out to a six-point division lead by the middle of the month. The back end of the Condors was carrying the workload. Pielmeier claimed the ECHL Goaltender of the Month award in November, while he and Pogge were both third in the league with six wins each already. Meanwhile deGray, Regan and Pokulok were all among defensive scoring leaders (Pokulok and deGray ranked 1st and 2nd, respectively, in goals for blueliners).
The developing story as November continued was Dan Sexton, and everyone in Condorstown (and around the league) started taking notice. Averaging a point-per-game while dazzling Condors fans and opposing defenders with his speed and creativity, he was the team’s ECHL Player of the Week nomination three times in the first six weeks of the season, culminating in a nine-point weekend series against Alaska that proved to be his final act in Bakersfield.
With five goals and four assists in three games, including highlight reel goals, spin-o-ramas, and breakaways, he bolted to 4th in the league in scoring by Nov. 23. Reassigned by the Ducks to the Manitoba Moose in the AHL, his stay there was brief, and soon he was turning heads as a speedy youngster in Anaheim. At one point, he ranked as high as sixth in the NHL in rookie goal scoring, and was no longer a free agent rookie signing lighting it up in Bakersfield, but an up-and-coming star for the Ducks. Sharp, as well, earned a promotion, becoming the first non-goaltender in ECHL history to be recalled directly to the NHL, where he stayed until early December.
November also saw the resurgence of RW Stephane Goulet, who rose from a slow start offensively to the top of the Condors scoring ranks. The former Stockton Thunder winger notched one of the more memorable goals of the season, roofing a tight shot on Nov. 28 against Las Vegas that brought a record 8,000-plus stuffed animals raining down on the ice on Teddy Bear Toss Night in front of the 5th largest crowd in team history.
The Condors finished the month with a team record eight-game home winning streak (eventually ceasing at 10 games) while opening up a 10-point lead in the division. They were in the middle of an 11-1-2-0 stretch that carried them to mid-December. Bakersfield won 14 of their first 20 games and ranked in the top 3 in the league in wins and points.
But the offense kept motoring along. Goulet started a scoring streak on Dec. 18 that continued for a season-high 12 games. RW Erick Lizon was earning a reputation for bullying opponents and began racking up the penalty minutes. Pokulok and Regan were piling up points on record pace for Condors defensemen. Weller continued to produce with a variety of wingers after the departure of Sharp and Sexton.
On Dec. 19 in Utah, highlighting a two-game sweep of the Grizzlies, Pielmeier made team history. The Grizzlies had just pulled their goaltender for an extra attacker in the waning moments, and Pielmeier saw his chance. He rifled the puck the length of the ice into an empty net, becoming the 10th goalie in ECHL history to score a goal, and the youngest professional goalie (at 20 years old) to turn the feat.
The Condors wrapped up 2009 with an 11-point lead in the division (plus a 15-point lead over the third place Thunder), 19 wins and 40 points on the season, and appeared to be on cruise control. But in January they were forced to hit the brakes and reinvent themselves to hold onto their control of the Pacific Division.
Sexton, Sharp and Pogge were already in the AHL or NHL. On Dec. 9, Stu Bickel also was moved to the AHL in San Antonio (along with Sharp after his NHL stint). On Dec. 29 John deGray headed to Rochester (AHL), and on New Years Eve Eric Regan was reassigned to San Antonio. December trades also brought in RW Ryan Menei from Johnstown (for C Matthew Myers), who ended up third on the team in points by the end of the season. They also brought in D Evan Stoflet and RW Jason Dale (for D Patrik Prokop) as well as D Chris Brooks, all from Utah.
Through all the changes the Condors held a 12-point lead in the division heading into the All-Star Break. Sexton and Sharp were both selected to the annual event, although couldn’t attend since they were up, but Regan, Weller, Pokulok and Pielmeier were all at the Classic, along with Head Coach Marty Raymond, just down the road in Ontario. It was the most populous showing of Condors ever at an All-Star Game.
Though Regan returned after the Break, the Condors suffered a huge blow when D Mark Mitera and Weller, the team captain and their leading scorer, were both reassigned to Abbotsford in the AHL on Jan. 31.
As much as the Condors accomplished in the first half of the season, they had to fight for wins and points in the second half. Stockton began their march in earnest after the All-Star Game, and came from 15 points down the previous month to just six back by mid-February. Through the remainder of the season, the Condors watched Stockton and Vegas in their rear-view mirrors while keeping their eyes on the prize.
More players came in over the last two months. F Matt Pope returned to Condorstown from the AHL for a brief and productive stint in mid-February. G Tyler Sims came in and made a memorable first start, earning a shutout on Valentine’s Day (and bringing in $1,000 for his specialty jersey immediately afterward). G J.P. Levasseur came from the AHL courtesy of the Ducks to help out as well and earned a couple big wins. D Ken Morin came in on an ATO in February and helped shore up the blueline.
Meanwhile LW Ryan Donally, who battled with injuries in the AHL and with the Condors throughout the season, was placed on IR for the final time of the year, and Pielmeier earned a brief stint in the NHL (though he didn’t take the ice in a game).
F Mathieu Aubin was dealt to Cincinnati in March for D Scott Marchesi and F Mark Voakes – two players that helped get the Condors to the postseason and contributed in the playoffs. And rookies were brought in – F Dan Kissel, D Eric Burgdoerfer, D Jordan Collins and F Jean-Marc Beaudoin were the most notable. Kissel was big down the stretch, chipping in seven goals in just 11 games in March/April, while Burgdoerfer was strong enough to earn a spot on the team in 2010-11 through his three-game showing.
With Stockton breathing down their necks in the closing weeks of the season, the two teams faced off Mar. 30 and 31 in a home and home series. The Thunder took the first game to pull into a tie with the Condors in the standings, but the Condors claimed a 5-4 win in Stockton the following night to prevent being overthrown from the top of the division. On April 2, in a 1-1 game against the eventual Brabham Cup winning Idaho Steelheads, the rookie Beaudoin scored a third period game winner that clinched the title for the Condors. The following night, for the second time in as many weeks and third time on the season, Sasha Pokulok scored in overtime to give the Condors a win in the season finale.
The Condors met up with the Victoria Salmon Kings in the first round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs, for the second time in the last three seasons. Bakersfield fell behind in the series 1-0 and 2-1 before storming back to take it in five games. Calder returned to Bakersfield to pace the way in Game 2 with a hat trick. He notched the game winner in Game 4 as well, in a 5-2 victory that forced a decisive Game 5. With Levasseur between the pipes for the Condors, and the score tied 1-1 late in the game, it certainly appeared they would head to a sudden-death overtime. But Kissel lit the lamp with less than a minute on the clock to carry the Condors to a thrilling Game 5 win that had the home town crowd rocking.
Bakersfield was making their third trip in five years to the second round, and met up with the Stockton Thunder, who steamrolled the Alaska Aces in the opening round. But fortune was not on their side. Despite playing two strong games on home ice in Games 1 and 2, in which they compiled 89 total shots, they fell behind 2-0 in the best-of-seven series. The Condors had not trailed for one second of play in either game, but lost in overtime twice, with F JF Caudron and C Oren Eizenman netting the game winners. Levasseur shined for Bakersfield in Game 3, posting a 36-save shutout for a 3-0 win. But it’s as close as the Condors could get to tying up the series, as Stockton won 6-2 in Game 4 and 7-4 in a wild Game 5 that nonetheless spelled the end of the Condors memorable season.
The 2009-10 Condors will be remembered as the first division champion in team history, and also for the caliber of talent that came through town. Calder, Pielmeier, Pogge, Sexton and Sharp all suited up both in the NHL and in Bakersfield in the same season. The Condors wire-to-wire division title was impressive first in their early dominance but also in their determination and resiliency down the stretch to hold on to it.
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After the high-flying offensively talented group the Condors put together the season before, the 2010-11 Condors were composed of a grittier team that focused more on physical play, defense and goaltending to win games.
The Condors effort to defend their first ever Pacific Division title began with an ending of their affiliation with the Anaheim Ducks, and the beginning of a new affiliation with the Minnesota Wild (NHL) and Houston Aeros (AHL). The affiliation brought several key contributors to the squad that claimed a second straight Pacific Division Title.
The early part of the season was marked by injuries to key players, some occurring even before the season began. Defenseman J.F. David, a Houston assignee, missed three weeks with a rib injury suffered during AHL training camp and RW Bobby Robins, who severed a tendon during a preseason fight, missed the first two months of the year. J.D. Corbin, a speedy winger, was lost to a concussion in the second game of the year. He made a brief return to the lineup in December before a check from behind sent him head first into the side-wall, and ended his season in a shower of shattered Plexiglas with a second concussion. C Rylan Kaip, who was also contracted with Houston, suffered a concussion in December and was lost for the year as well.
Despite injuries to these key players, the Condors were able to hover around .500 for the first two months of the season. Early season highlights included a shutout for G Josh Tordjman in Utah in his Condors debut on October 22, and Pascal Morency picking up his first career hat trick to lead the Condors to a 5-4 victory over the Aces in early November.
The Condors celebrated Teddy Bear Toss, one of their most anticipated events of every season, on November 27. 8,327 fans attended the game, the largest crowd of the season. F Slava Trukhno made the fans wait until the third period, but he scored the goal allowing the Teddy Bears to rain onto the ice. 6,296 stuffed animals were collected at the event.
A night to remember occurred on December 4, in Toledo, when F Andrew Ianiero played in his 417th game as a Condor to pass the mark of 416 set by Paul Rosebush. Ianiero also scored twice in the game for Bakersfield.
When the Condors returned home in December, the team began to round into form. Robins returned from his hand injury and made a statement by collecting 2 goals (including a game-winner and a Gordie Howe Hat Trick), 3 points, and 45 penalty minutes in his first four games. C Joel Broda and C Pete Zingoni were assigned from Houston and helped the Condors rattle off four straight wins. LW Kyle Calder joined the club and helped jump-start the team to a modest six game winning streak with seven points in five games. He later received an offer to play in Russia and departed for the remainder of the year. By the time December came to a close, the Condors had moved from 5 games below .500 and a fourth place divisional record to a game above .500 and second in the division.
The Condors wowed the fans on home ice on December 10 and 11, when the team notched nine goals in the two games to go along with eight fights. The Condors won both games, one against Stockton, one against Ontario, to start a six-game winning streak.
A deal in the middle of December helped to bring more scoring to the Condors. LW Brad Snetsinger was the Grizzlies leading point scorer at the time of the trade, and took over that status with the Condors upon his arrival. Versatile forward (and sometimes defenseman) Michael Gergen was signed over the Christmas break as well, and both players made an impact on the club in the coming months.
In January, goaltender Brian Stewart was reassigned from Adirondack of the American Hockey League by the Philadelphia Flyers to the Condors. Stewart gave the fans a glimpse at his success to come when he stopped 46 of 47 shots to boost the Condors to a 2-1 win over the Aces early in the month.
The Condors also managed to get their hands on another former NHLer when Guillaume Lefebvre signed on with the team. Coming off knee surgery over the summer, Lefebvre had not played hockey at the professional level in almost a year when he joined the club. Despite a slow start in his Condors career, as he got back into game shape, Lefebvre would play a huge factor in the Condors winning streak later in the season.
In January, the spotlight was on Bakersfield. A display of skill and creativity took place on January 26th at Rabobank Arena as 7,392 fans turned out to watch the ECHL All-Star Classic in Condorstown. The Condors battled the ECHL All-Stars, and despite coming up short in the game, it was a spectacular event that brought the ECHL’s elite to Bakersfield and showcased the city to fans and league officials alike from all over the country, and put the town and team alike on National Television.
A Fan Fest and Hall of Fame lunch accompanied the game, and fans turned out in high numbers for the sold out Fan Fest, an event which was attended by over 500 fans, players, and ECHL team management. On the day of the All-Star Classic, a Skills Competition took place during pregame and the first intermission. Pascal Morency took home the victory in the Accuracy Shooting Event, while the Condors got second place finishes by Slava Trukhno in the fastest skater and Joel Broda in the hardest shot competitions.
The All-Stars eventually collected a 9-3 win over the Condors, as Stockton forward Mark Arcobello posted a hat trick in the game. Joel Broda, Erick Lizon, and Pascal Morency scored for Bakersfield.
The next day, the Condors headed to Alaska to resume the season and had an infamous record-setting night. On January 28th, a brawl broke out between the Condors and Aces as the final buzzer sounded, and players on the ice, along with a few from each bench, came to blows. The final penalty minute total left the Condors with 162 PIM, shattering the old record of 120 PIM (set against Fresno in December, 2007). Erick Lizon also broke Craig Martin’s record of 39 individual PIM in a single game by picking up 40 on his own. The clubs combined for 251 total penalty minutes in the game, one of the highest in ECHL history.
Meanwhile, the Condors had started compiling an impressive record on home ice. They went 9-2-0 at home between December 10 and February 19, and before March arrived they started a home winning streak for the record books, with back-to-back wins over rival Stockton.
In March they made their move up the standings. A three game set in Victoria started with Morency, Tordjman, Broda, and Snetsinger all going to the AHL. The Condors dropped the first game but rebounded to win the next two, highlighted by RW Stephane Goulet’s hat trick in a 5-2 Condors win in the rubber match – his first professional hat trick.
The Condors kicked off a team-record nine-game home stand with a three game sweep over the Idaho Steelheads. The Condors also picked up wins over the conference’s top team, Alaska, and rival Victoria once. They continued their dominance over Ontario with two more wins and wrapped up the home stand with two thrilling wins over Las Vegas, as they finished a perfect 9-0 on home ice in the month.
The Condors also held Charlie Sheen Night on March 12, coinciding with the antics of the famous actor. The Condors were covered in the news from coast to coast for the promotion, and KTLA out of Los Angeles broadcasted live from outside Rabobank Arena on the night of the event.
With Tordjman up with the Aeros for the remainder of the season, Stewart was called upon to backstop Bakersfield and he didn’t disappoint. During those nine games, Stewart started eight games, surrendered one goal five times and earned his first career shutout. His GAA during the home stand was 1.50 and he had a .950 save percentage.
Lefebvre was instrumental in the Condors run at home as well. He had points in eight straight games which included two goals and six assists during the home stand. In 11 games during March, Lefebvre had 12 points, two game winning goals, and was +3. Goulet was also solid in the month, leading the team with 15 points and securing his second straight Condors scoring title.
By the time the dust settled in March, the Condors had set records for most wins on home ice at 26, eclipsing the mark of 25 set just one season earlier, along with the most wins at home in a row, as the Condors closed out the regular season winning 11 straight games in front of the hometown fans. The 11 game overall winning streak tied the all-time Condors mark for wins in a row, set during the 1999-00 season.
Ianiero jumped up in the record books again on March 25. With the home portion of the Condors regular season nearing a close, Ianiero came into the game one assist behind Steve Dowhy for 2nd in Bakersfield history (including the Fog). Ianiero connected for two assists in the game to surpass Dowhy, and by the end of the season owned 250 assists in his Condors career, eight shy of Paul Willett’s team record.
Brian Stewart also was rewarded for his performance. His 10-game winning streak that spanned from March 4 – March 26 gave him a share, along with Kevin St. Pierre, for the longest winning streak by a goaltender in Condors history. Stewart won the ECHL Rookie of the Month award in March after going 10-2-0 with a 1.75 GAA and .940 save percentage. It also helped him to gain ECHL All-Rookie Team honors after the regular season concluded.
Despite the run on home ice in March, the Condors still had work to do in order to lock up their second straight Pacific Division Championship. They would have to do it on the road, playing the final four games away from Rabobank Arena. The Condors dropped games to Las Vegas and Ontario to start the trip, but gave themselves a chance to win the division when they beat Utah in the first of a two-game series. The banner was clinched by a college rookie, as late-season signee D Josh Burrows scored the game-tying goal in the regular season finale, sending the game into OT and guaranteeing the Condors their second consecutive division championship, and the #2 seed in the Western Conference for the Kelly Cup Playoffs.
Their first round opponent was a familiar foe: the Victoria Salmon Kings. The best-of-five series started in Victoria. Stewart kept the first game close by stopping 23 of 24 shots in the opening period, a new Condors single period record. But the offense couldn’t bail him out, and Victoria took a 3-1 win. They got going the next night, led by the return of Pascal Morency from Houston. Morency notched his second career hat trick and first Condors playoff hat trick since Kyle Calder, coincidently in Game 2 in Victoria the previous season.
The series shifted to Condorstown tied 1-1, but the Condors were unable to channel their regular season home magic. Victoria shutout the Condors 2-0 in Game 3, and looked poised to dispose of the Condors in regulation in Game 4, but the Condors wouldn’t go down without a fight. D Josh Burrows scored on a wrister from the point in the third period to force OT, and keep hope alive. However, former Condor Chad Painchaud scored a goal early in overtime when a strange bounce off the glass landed in front of the net. He banged it home to send the Condors into the off-season, granting Victoria a 3-games-to-1 first round series win.
The Condors gave their fans plenty to cheer for on home ice during the season, finishing with a Bakersfield record-setting .736 winning percentage at Rabobank Arena. Fans who attended Friday night games went home happy each time, with an 11-0-0 mark at home on Fridays. The Condors dominated their Pacific Division foes, going 22-11-1 overall, and 15-2-0 at home against. Their 41 wins tied a club record, and they eclipsed the 40-win mark for the fourth time in the last seven seasons.
The Condors welcomed over 200,000 fans to Rabobank Arena for the sixth straight year, while off the ice the Condors and their fans raised over $330,000 in cash, goods, and services for local non-profits. Nearly $66,000 was raised through jersey auctions alone during the season.
The 2010-11 Condors will be remembered for their defense and goaltending as well as their toughness. Josh Tordjman was a rock in the net for Bakersfield until his call up, and Brian Stewart picked up right where he left off. The 210 goals surrendered was the third lowest total in Condors history. Bakersfield also finished with five players who amassed over 100 PIM, with two of those players gaining over 150 (Robins and Lizon). Lizon also became the first player to ever record over 200 PIM in back-to-back seasons with the Condors, and finished second in the ECHL with 208 PIM. Goulet became the first to lead the Condors in both goals and points in back-to-back seasons since Paul Willett a decade ago, and Andrew Ianiero gave an emotional thank you to the fans, with the near-certainty that 2010-11 was his last season on the ice.
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Fresh off back-to-back Pacific Division titles, a new look Condors squad took the ice under the direction of first-year bench boss Matt O’Dette, who arrived to Condorstown after serving as an assistant coach for the Stockton Thunder. He would be assisted by former Condors and Fog defensemen Kevin Barrett and together the two had the daunting task of rebuilding a team almost from scratch, with just two returning players (F/D Michael Gergen and D Erik Burgdoerfer) from the 2010-11 team.
Things started promising for O’Dette and the Condors in an opening weekend sweep, with victories on the road at Ontario and a rousing victory over the ECHL newcomer Colorado Eagles in front of nearly 7,000 fans in the home opener. Third-year LW Jesse Gimblett led the team offensively with four points (2g-2a) on opening weekend and was joined on an explosive line with rookie RW Scott Freeman and C Mathew Sisca. Freeman, a Clarkson University alum, would garner ECHL Rookie of the Month honors for the month of October after posting 10 points (6g-4a) and two game-winning goals as the Condors posted a 3-3-1 record in October.
Bakersfield held the top spot in the division at 4-3-1-0, after posting a 4-0 blanking in Alaska against the Aces to start the month of November. G Matt Keetley earned the shutout with a 42-save performance. However, they slowly slipped down the standings as they struggled to find wins in November. In the midst of the team’s 12-game losing streak (the longest such streak in team history), the Condors found a youthful spark when Freeman connected on the all-important Teddy Bear Toss goal (watch here) on November 26th against Ontario in front of nearly 9,000 screaming Condors fans. Freeman’s goal nearly propelled the team to an improbable comeback bid, but they fell just short in the end.
The team’s skid was snapped in fine fashion against the rival Stockton Thunder on Dec. 11 in Stockton, 5-2. Unbeknownst to most, it was the beginning of a breakout season for rookie C Parker Stanfield who connected for his first professional goal that afternoon and first multi-point game of his career, just one night after dropping the mitts for his first professional fight.
O’Dette showed his ability to reshape his roster through acquisitions and proved he would not let the team flounder without making changes. He brought in toughness on the blue line by signing Tyson Gimblett – twin brother of Jesse. Trades made brought rookie RW Tyler Helfrich (acquired at the end of Nov.) to Bakersfield from the Gwinnett Gladiators. He went on to earn ECHL Player of the Week honors for the week of Dec. 26 – Jan. 1 with two goals and five assists in four games played. Other deals brought F Robby Dee and D Josh Van Dyk from the Florida Everblades with both becoming big contributors as the season went on.
Bakersfield ended 2011 on a high note with a 4-1 win in Utah on New Year’s Eve and the American Hockey League (AHL) took notice. Keetley became the team’s first call-up to the AHL when the Syracuse Crunch signed him to a Professional Tryout Agreement (PTO). Then, Dee was loaned to the Abbotsford Heat on January 22. He scored his first AHL goal with the Heat and went on to lead the Condors in goals scored with 24 tallies by year’s end.
January brought another big trade, with the Condors landing dynamic F Evan Trupp and D Ryan Annesley from Cincinnati. The month also provided a highlight moment for the Condors as a third period line brawl with Ontario memorably brought G Bryan Pitton into the fracas. The game, on Jan. 28, featured a record 278 combined penalty minutes and received attention on a multitude of national outlets including ESPN, CBS, Good Morning America, and Yahoo!. (Watch the highlights here). Receiving over 200,000 views on various YouTube links, the game and goalie fight garnered more media coverage than any such story in minor league hockey all season.
With the early season pairing of Freeman (injury) and Sisca (traded) gone, the Condors looked for others to step up in their place. Stanfield and Trupp answered the bell in the month of February. A 21-year old from Anaheim Hills, Stanfield turned February into his coming out party registering 17 points (6g-11a) in 13 games played. His torrid month included an 11-game point streak and gave him a prominent role in the team’s turnaround down the stretch.
Trupp formed a terrific second-half linemate pairing with Stanfield and received the ECHL’s Player of the Week award for Feb. 6-12 after he scored three times and added three assist for six points during a plus-six (+6) week as the team swept a three game week. He even got into the national spotlight as his highlight-reel, behind-the-net tally (seen here) against Las Vegas on Feb. 11 spread like wildfire across the internet. It turned out to be one of the more memorable Condors games of the season, with a crowd of almost 8,000 willing the team on to a 4-3 shootout victory. Trupp finished February with 11 points (7g-4a) in 10 games, before an injury forced him to miss much of the rest of the regular season. It did not slow down the Condors though as the team enjoyed their most successful month of the campaign, posting a 7-5-0-1 mark in February as they tried to do the improbable and sneak their way into the playoffs.
NHL veteran Kyle Calder, who was signed at the beginning of February, finished the month with seven points (5g-2a) over his last seven games. He jumpstarted the final month of the regular season the way he finished February, tallying three points (1g-2a) in the opening game of March in Colorado.
A consistent, positive presence in the locker room from the beginning of the season, rookie Peter Boyd, who assumed the captaincy of the team in January, embodied the team’s spirit during the second half. After a shootout loss in Idaho on March 9th put the Condors chances at a playoff berth on the brink, Boyd and the squad ripped off wins in four of their next five games to pull back to within reach of the fading Steelheads and Utah Grizzlies. For his efforts, Boyd earned the ECHL’s Player of the Week award for March 12-18th posting two goals and six assists for eight points in four games. The team could not overcome their slow start to the season, however, and were eliminated from playoff contention following a 3-2 loss to Colorado on March 21. For just the second time in their 14-year history, the Condors missed out on the playoffs after a record of 24-41-4-3 (55 points).
Overall record aside, the Condors showed promise over the last two months of the season with a 14-9-0-1 (29 points) record over their final 24 games, good for a .604 winning percentage. The 15 rookies who finished the season with the team included college signees F Alex Hudson and G Scott Greenham, who each saw time in the AHL with Manchester and Houston, respectively. Even after the Condors season had concluded, Greenham had earned a second call-up to the Hershey Bears and was with the team for the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Around the league, the Condors received three player of the week awards, one rookie of the month recognition, led the ECHL in shorthanded goals with 13, and were third in the league with 72 major penalties. The major penalties were indicative of the team’s refusal to quit with veteran forward Hans Benson leading the way by dropping the gloves a team-high 16 times. Helfrich’s 50 points (19g-31a) led the team and was good for sixth among ECHL rookies with Dee close behind in a tie for eighth with 48 points (24g-24a). Dee’s 24 goals led the team and was the third highest rookie total in Condors history. Rookie D Tyson Gimblett led all ECHL rookies in penalty minutes with 152 in just 49 games. Remarkably, the team had three players finish with four shorthanded goals (Freeman, Boyd, Dee) which was tops among rookies and tied for third overall.
O’Dette received the ultimate vote of confidence from the organization when his contract was renewed prior to the end of the regular season. His rebuilding efforts resulting in the team’s second half turnaround would extrapolate to a 40+ win campaign over the course of an entire season. The team’s three leading scorers (Helfrich, Dee, Boyd) all were acquired via trade and demonstrated the rookie head coach’s ability to improve his team and work through adversity.
With O’Dette and Barrett set to return for 2012-13 season along with many from the 2011-12 squad, the Condors will be out to prove that the team that finished the season is the one that fans will see in Condorstown in 2012-13 as the team tries to regain their position at the top of the Pacific Division.
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While the Bakersfield Condors 2012-13 season didn’t produce a playoff contender, there were many individual accomplishments to reflect upon. We focus on the on-ice performance of those who slipped on the Condors sweater for the 15th anniversary season.
It was an Iron Man type of season for Condors captain, D Erik Burgdoerfer. He led the club by playing in 71 of the team’s 72 games this season, en route to becoming just the fourth blueliner (and 11th overall) to appear in 200 games for the Condors. He also set a personal best with 21 points and 17 assists.
For the second season in a row, rookies took center stage in Condorstown, especially with mid-season acquisitions. F Francis Verreault became just the second rookie in 15 seasons to lead the Condors in scoring. After his New Year’s Eve acquisition from the Greenville Road Warriors, Verreault averaged nearly a point-per-game, with 26 points in 28 contests, and finished with a team-high 46 points on the season. He also finished with the active team-lead with 16 goals, and put up 152 penalty minutes, which was second on the team. Verreault represented the Condors in the 2013 ECHL All-Star Classic, held in Loveland, Colorado in January.
Signed “off his couch,” as Matt O’Dette said in January, perhaps nobody made better use of their truncated season with the Condors in 2012-13 than C Nicholas Tremblay. Although nobody knew his name in Bakersfield when he signed on Jan. 11, the entire league knew his name four days later when he was named the ECHL Player of the Week, after an eight-point effort during his three-game debut weekend. Tremblay hadn’t played a pro game since April, 2012 when he signed with Bakersfield, but he finished with 16 goals and 29 points in just 29 games, and also earned a stint with the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League.
G Brian Stewart finished the season on a strong note. The Condors netminder ranked 4th in the ECHL this season with a .918 save percentage, while his 1,365 saves was 2nd. He rocketed up the Condors career rankings in wins (5th), saves and save percentage (3rd), minutes played (3rd) and goals against average (3rd). Perhaps nobody did more in trying to earn a late playoff spot down the stretch than the Burnaby, B.C. native, who posted a dominant .943 save percentage over the final two months of the campaign.
Other noteworthy performances include:
– Rookie F Brett Lyon, who earned 218 penalty minutes to lead the team – the highest penalty minute total for a Condor since Jon Mirasty in 2003-04.
– Five different players earned stints in the American Hockey League. Tremblay, Stewart, G Scott Greenham, F Jacob Lagace and F Brett Perlini.
– D Kyle Haines, acquired from Greenville along with Verreault on New Year’s Eve, became the first rookie defenseman in team history to record double-digit goals. His 10 tallies led all Condors d-men.
– Greenham became the latest in a long line of memorable rookie goaltenders in team history, linking up with names like Stewart, Yutaka Fukufuji, Ryan Munce and Timo Pielmeier. His .908 save percentage ranks 4th in Condors history among first year netminders.
– RW Scott Freeman climbed to 8th in Condors history with eight career game winning goals, despite playing in just 52 career games. Nobody on the career list above him has appeared in less than 96 games in a Condors sweater. Four of his five goals this season were game winners.
Ultimately, the Condors did not renew Matt O’Dette and Kevin Barrett as a coaching staff for 2013-14 as the team finished with 22-44-2-4, 50pts, .347% record.
Away from the ice, the Condors signing of singer Justin Bieber, offer for the NFL replacement referees to officiate a game, controversy surrounding “BOOMtown Bakersfield” Night, and the infamous “Condor getting Loose” gained the team international attention with appearances in Good Morning America, The Today Show, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, countless national newspapers, and more.
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Change was needed for the 2013-14 Condors and that change began very early in the off-season. Matt O’Dette, the team’s head coach the previous two seasons, was not renewed as the team’s head coach.
Less than two weeks later, Bakersfield became one of the few teams in the ECHL to have a full-time general manager with the introduction of John Olver on April 11, 2013. Olver, who had assisted the Condors hockey operations staff in the past and was one of the founders of the West Coast Hockey League (WCHL), is the only coach to win a WCHL Taylor Cup and an ECHL Kelly Cup. He immediately began work on finding the team’s next head coach and restoring the organization on the ice with enhanced resources.
After an extensive search it was revealed on June 21, 2013 that Troy Mann, a former Condor, would serve as the fifth head coach in team history. Mann had been an assistant coach with the AHL’s Hershey Bears for the previous four seasons and helped guide them to a Calder Cup title in 2010. Prior to his time in Hershey, Mann was the head coach of the Columbia Inferno for two seasons and reached the conference semi-finals in 2008.
Olver and Mann immediately sought out NHL affiliation. That team was the five-time Stanley Cup winning Edmonton Oilers, which was announced as the Condors affiliate on July 18, 2013. It would become the catalyst for an organization-altering 18 months for hockey in Bakersfield.
Mann hired Ryan Murphy later in the summer, a former AHL’er and draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings, to be his assistant coach and help round out the staff.
A new general manager, head coach, assistant coach, and affiliation all provided the backdrop for a highly-anticipated 2013-14 season.
However, the promise and excitement quickly faded as the team won just one of its first 14 games and stood on Nov. 23, 2013 with a record of 1-12-1, firmly planted in the basement of the Pacific Division and 9th in the Western Conference.
Mann and Murphy began to get to work to reshape the roster. Quickly, the team released or traded eight players in the month of November and brought in players who played key roles in the turnaround.
F Spencer Bennett was signed on Nov. 9, C Matt Thurber was signed on Nov. 19, C Ryan Watson was signed on Nov. 25, and F Ryan Little was acquired off waivers on Dec. 3. Bennett had 22 points in 37 games, Thurber finished fifth on the team in scoring as a rookie, Watson had 17 points in 27 games and was key down the stretch, and Little led the team in plus-minus with a +17.
Mann secured an AHL deal that brought F Andrew Carroll, who had a -20 rating and just two points in 23 games with Greenville, to Bakersfield on Dec. 16, 2013. The veteran provided exactly what Mann thought he would, having known “Pistol” from his Hershey days. Carroll became a model of work, discipline, and attitude for the club in addition to chipping in with 16 points (8g-8a) in 50 games, 118 PIMs, and a +3 rating.
The beginning of the team’s makeover was in full swing and was completed with one acquisition that forever set the team on a new path, thanks to a trade made by the Edmonton Oilers at the NHL level.
G Laurent Brossoit, who had earlier in the season, shutout the Condors twice as a member of the Alaska Aces, was acquired in an NHL deal between Calgary and Edmonton which sent the 21-year old rookie to Condorstown. The Condors, which had struggled to find consistency between the pipes, now had it.
Brossoit’s impact was felt immediately as he shutout the Idaho Steelheads, 4-0, on Dec. 18 in Boise in his team debut. He made 28 saves in the contest and the win vaulted the Condors to an 8-14-0-1 record, but more importantly, out of last place. The team would never again be out of a playoff spot.
“LB” as he became known in Condorstown, pitched two more shutouts on Dec. 29 against Idaho and Jan 1 against Las Vegas, picking up four wins in his first six starts.
Offensively, the team found their stride as well led by the leadership of captain Joel Broda (who spent much of the first month of the season in the AHL), veteran LW Chris Collins, and experienced RW Jordan Knackstedt. Broda had a team-high five-game goal scoring streak with six goals over that stretch from Dec. 22 – Jan. 3 and followed that up with a team-high six game assist streak from Jan 17 – Jan 26.
Collins paced the team with a season-high, eight-game point streak (3g-7a) from Jan 31 – Feb. 14 while Knackstedt finished the season tied for the team-lead in points with 51 and led the team with 32 assists.
All three, plus fourth-year D Erik Burgdoerfer, spent time in the AHL during the second half of the season, allowing Thurber, Watson, and rookie F Chase Schaber to pick up the offensive slack.
Away from the ice, Condorstown was abuzz on January 23 with the news that the Edmonton Oilers and Daryl Katz had purchased the Condors from longtime owner Jonathan Fleisig. Bakersfield became the only team in the ECHL directly owned by an NHL franchise and the evolution of hockey in Bakersfield only intensified with the greater connection to the Oilers.
Another AHL deal which completed the offensive puzzle up front for Bakersfield was the acquisition of C Greg Miller for F Nicholas Tremblay. At the time of the trade on February 17, Miller led the Stockton Thunder in scoring with 38 points in 37 games. He continued his strong play with the Condors, notching 13 points (4g-9a) in 15 games over the final month and a half of the regular season including a +11 rating.
The Condors thrived down the stretch, going 25-15-2-3 in 2015, 19-11-1-1 in the last three months of the season, and 6-1-0 in the month of April alone. With the strong play down the stretch the Condors moved into the 6-seed in the Western Conference and secured a date with the Utah Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs as the team prepared for the postseason for the first time in three years.
Before the playoffs there were accolades, none more so than for the team’s standout rookie goaltender. LB finished the year with a 24-9-2 record, 2.05 GAA, and a .924 save percentage. He tied for the most wins, had the most shutouts (8) – tying a league record, and was second in both GAA and save percentage among all ECHL goaltenders. He was named ECHL goaltender of the week three times during the season and was named to the ECHL All-Rookie Team and the All-ECHL Second Team.
With the offensive firepower throughout the lineup and the confidence of the team with Brossoit in net, Bakersfield looked prime to deliver a postseason run.
In the first round, the Condors were in for a physical matchup against a defensive-style team in Utah with the league’s top netminding duo in Igor Bobkov and Aaron Dell. It was a series with two very similar styles and structure.
The team’s “Grind Line” of Carroll, Little, and C Gary Steffes proved to be the difference in Game 1 in Utah as Carroll scored the game’s lone goal early in the third period and Brossoit made 26 saves for the first of three playoff shutouts in a 1-0 win.
In Game 2, the Grind Line got the team going with a Steffes goal on the opening shift, but Utah would answer with two of their own to take a 2-1 win and even the series at one game apiece heading to Bakersfield.
Game 3 was the beginning of what fans would dub the “Cardiac Condors” for their propensity for dramatic finishes. A see-saw affair put the Condors behind late in the third period before Miller notched his first of the playoffs with less than five minutes remaining in the third period. In overtime, the captain, Broda, stepped up for the game-winner to give the team a 4-3 win and a 2-1 series lead.
Miller got the Condors in front in the first period, but Utah again responded and held a 2-1 lead on the final shift of the game. With the goalie pulled though, D Collin Bowman’s shot through multiple bodies in front snuck over the line with 0.8 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game at 2-2. In overtime, the castaway from Greenville, Carroll ended it at 13:26 when his shot from the left-wing corner deflected off Bobkov and in.
After four one-goal games, the Condors salted the series away the following night with a 5-0 shutout of the Grizzlies. Brossoit stopped all 33 shots, Bowman, Steffes, and Knackstedt each had multi-point nights as four different Condors lit the lamp. Bakersfield advanced to the second round to take on Stockton, winning the series, four games to one.
#7 Stockton was a much different team than the Grizzlies and were themselves coming off an upset after sweeping the #2 Ontario Reign. They were offensively minded and had relied on their top line for scoring. In Game 1 at Rabobank Arena, the Cardiac Condors erased a two-goal deficit and Broda delivered his second game-winning goal of the postseason to give the Condors a 1-0 series lead.
Brossoit pitched his third shutout of the playoffs in Game 2 as F Nick MacNeil, a recent college signing, and Miller scored in a 2-0 win which featured a melee at the end with all 10 players squaring off. The bad blood would carry up the 99 as the series shifted to Stockton with the Condors two games up.
After a 6-2 Game 3 loss, the Condors again overcame a third period deficit, and Broda delivered a third game-winner with under two minutes left in regulation. The Condors won Game 4, 2-1, and led the series, three games to one.
Bakersfield entered Game 5 looking for the knockout punch, but it was Stockton who came out with the energy and emotion to take a 3-0 lead with just seven minutes left in the 2nd period. Bakersfield though, as they had done so often in the playoffs, mounted the comeback with Broda and Schaber goals late in the 2nd to cut the lead to 3-2 before the third period. In the final period, Watson scored a natural hat trick to lift the Condors to a 5-3 win and a four games to one series victory. The Condors had advanced past the second round for the first time in team history.
Standing in the team’s way of their first-ever Kelly Cup Finals appearance was their longtime rivals from Alaska. The Aces were a juggernaut and won the ECHL’s Brabham Cup as the team with the most points in the regular season.
The series began in Alaska with the upstart Condors looking to steal Game 1 on the road. Collins scored late in the second to give the team a 1-0 lead at the break. But, Alaska did to Bakersfield what the Condors had done so often in the playoffs and scored twice in the third period to a 2-1 victory.
Game 2 started well for the Condors again. Knackstedt and Collins each tallied goals and the team led 2-0 after two periods. However, once again Alaska came back and forced the game into overtime tied at 2-2. With a plane to catch later that night and not much time to spare, Steffes broke in over the blue line and beat G Gerald Coleman, three minutes into the extra session to give the Cardiac Condors a 3-2 win and a split heading to Bakersfield.
Game 3 brought “whiteout” conditions to Condorstown as over 6,400 fans, the largest ECHL postseason crowd to that point, crowded into Rabobank Arena all dressed in white. After the fireworks and excitement of a dramatic pre-game show, the team did not disappoint. Carroll, Broda, and Knackstedt staked the Condors to a 3-0 lead in the first period. After a rally from the Aces, Schaber calmed the nerves with his fourth of the playoffs and Collins added the game-winner in a 5-4 game 3 victory. Bakersfield had a two games to one edge in the series and sent the thousands home in hysteria.
Alaska took the series over from there though, behind their captain F Nick Mazzolini who had nine points (4g-5a) over the final three games in the series as the Aces won 4-1, 4-0, and 4-1 to take the series in six games.
The most successful playoff run in Condors history had come to an end in the Western Conference Finals to the eventual Kelly Cup Champions.
Broda set a Condors single-season playoff record with eight goals in 16 games including a record three game-winning tallies. Knackstedt tied for second in points in a single postseason with 14 and Schaber had the most postseason points by a rookie with 10. Game 3 against the Aces was the fourth largest playoff crowd in team history at 6,411.
In the offseason, Troy Mann was rewarded for his efforts behind the bench and accepted the head coaching position with the AHL’s Hershey Bears. He took assistant coach Ryan Murphy, Broda and Burgdoerfer with him but left an indelible mark on Condorstown history.
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Fresh off an appearance in the ECHL’s Western Conference Finals, the Bakersfield Condors 2014-15 began much like the previous had: with changes in the off-season.
Bakersfield immediately got to work on securing head coach Troy Mann’s replacement and on July 23, 2014, Jean-Francois (JF) Houle was named the sixth head coach in team history. Houle came to Condorstown from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) where he led the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada and Lewiston MAINEiacs to four consecutive 40-win seasons and the third round of the playoffs on three occasions.
Houle hired Ben Boudreau, son of Anaheim Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau, as assistant coach and Paul Willett returned in his capacity as assistant coach from the previous season.
Returning players from the Western Conference Finalist squad included D Joe Marciano, D Nick Pageau, D Colin Joe, C Nick MacNeil, and LW Chase Schaber in addition to the return of RW Francis Verreault-Paul from the team two seasons ago. Former Alaska Aces LW Jordan Kremyr was named the team’s captain.
Opening night brought a little bit of everything and ultimately the first professional coaching victory for Houle as the Condors defeated Stockton at home, 3-1, on October 17, 2014. It was Condorstown’s first look at “The Jones Brothers,” Connor and Kellen Jones. The identical twins and Oilers assignees combined for four points (1g-3a) on opening night and proved to be a dynamic duo during their all-too-brief stay in Condorstown.
Bakersfield got off to a hot start, propelled by the play of the Jones Brothers and their linemate, fellow rookie RW Josh Winquist. Under AHL contract, Winquist led the team in multi-point games with eight despite only playing 18 games with the Condors. He finished with 23 points (5g-18a) in those games before being summoned to Oklahoma City on December 7, 2014.
The Condors found themselves in first-place in the seven-team Pacific Division as late as December 11, 2014 with a record of 13-9-1-2. However, the call-ups of the three rookie standouts along with the defection of Verreault-Paul to Europe began the slow downward spiral of the team in the standings.
Newcomer veteran Brendan Brooks, who was signed on November 17 provided a spark to the squad with 30 points (12g-18a) in 31 games before he also accepted an offer overseas in February.
January 28, 2015 was a momentous day in the history of Condorstown. At a press conference in San Jose. It was announced that Bakersfield would be part of a five-team division in the American Hockey League (AHL) beginning play in 2015-16, meaning the current season would be the team’s last in the ECHL. Bakersfield, along with Stockton (Calgary), Ontario (LA Kings), San Jose (SJ Sharks), and San Diego (Anaheim) would make up a transformative new Pacific Division of the AHL as NHL teams looked to move their AHL hubs closer.
Less than one year after being purchased by the Edmonton Oilers, Bakersfield would now end a 17-year run at the ‘AA’ level and bring the highest level of minor league hockey to Kern County.
On February 25, 2015 before a capacity crowd of 8,751, Bakersfield announced via the video board that it would retain the Condors name in the team’s move to the AHL the following season to the delight of everyone in attendance.
Back on the ice, the call-ups and departures left the team depleted and desperate for others to fill key roles on the club. That gave more playing time to rookie LW Sebastien Sylvestre, C Nick MacNeil, and second-year player C Josh Currie.
The dynamic Sylvestre went on to finish the season with 47 points (23g-24a) in 69 games to lead the team in scoring. His 23 goals ranked fifth all-time for a Condors rookie and his 47 points was sixth all-time for a first-year player in team history.
MacNeil was sidelined by a broken jaw during the second half of the season and missed over a month, but still put together a fine rookie campaign with the Condors. He potted 12 goals and added 14 assists for 26 points in just 45 games.
Currie led the team in games played, missing only one on the season, and became the most dependable Condor in all situations. He led the team in assists with 28, and finished second in scoring with 42 points.
Despite some good individual seasons the Condors could not click in the second half. Ultimately, as the calendar flipped to 2015 so did the team’s fortunes as Bakersfield struggled to the finish line and missed the post-season. However, a bright spot for the team was the final home game of the regular season which saw Bakersfield race out to a 5-0 lead en route to a 6-2 win over the rival Stockton Thunder. C Ryan Watson scored the final ECHL goal at home for Bakersfield in the win (before a crowd of 7,017) while college signing F Andrew Radjenovic scored the final ECHL goal in Condors history the following night in Stockton on April 11, 2015.
The team finished sixth in the ECHL’s Pacific Division with a record of 26-38-3-5 (60 points). In addition, the Condors, plus the three other conference finalists from the 2014 Kelly Cup Playoffs (Alaska, Cincinnati, Greenville) all missed the 2015 playoffs.
- RW Jonathan Lessard had his best ECHL season with 41 points and 19 goals in 60 games
- The Condors suffered a blow during the second half of the season when it was announced that G Ty Rimmer had testicular cancer and had to return to Edmonton for surgery. Thankfully, Rimmer’s surgery was successful and he was back on the ice practicing with Oklahoma City during the playoffs
- D Nick Pageau, who had his season cut short in 2013-14 due to a horrific head injury, returned 100% and earned his first AHL call-up at the end of the season and spent the playoffs with the Barons
- Nine players were called up to the AHL from the Condors
- RW Chase Schaber scored the second quickest Teddy Bear Toss goal in team history in front of the second largest crowd of the season with 8.501 in attendance
The team unveiled their new AHL logo to hundreds at the Bakersifeld Marriott on April 2, 2015 as preparations immediately began for the team’s move to the AHL in 2015-16. With new colors, new faces, a new locker room, and a new league, Condors hockey was on to bigger and better things.
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