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Season of Change for San Antonio Rampage

by Samantha Poulos / Colorado Avalanche

In 2015-16, it was a season of change for the San Antonio Rampage as fans in the Alamo City saw many new faces don the silver and black sweater.

These new players, who had called Cleveland, Ohio, their American Hockey League home for the past eight years, headed down south with the April 17, 2015, announcement that the Colorado Avalanche had signed a five-year agreement with the Rampage.

It was a chance to play hockey in South Texas for the first time for many of the former members of the Lake Erie Monsters, who had only visited the state for a handful of games in previous years.

The season also signaled the first opportunity to drop the puck at the newly renovated AT&T Center, which saw 233,212 total fans attend Rampage games in the arena’s 12th year of operation.

The different climate and change in scenery didn’t seem to affect the Colorado prospects, who won five of the Rampage’s first six meetings. The team even extended a point streak to 10 games and was the last squad in the league to lose a contest in regulation.

It was also the AHL club’s first year playing in the newly created Pacific Division, requiring travel to California for many of the matchups. The Rampage posted an overall winning road record of 18-15-5, which included the team traveling to the five new California cities in Bakersfield, Ontario, San Diego, San Jose and Stockton. The division was loaded with talent, and San Antonio still posted a 19-21-4 record against these opponents.

The creation of new franchises also brought along a change in the playoff formatting due to the fact that California clubs played eight less contests than the rest of the league because of travel concerns. Therefore, the top four teams in each of the four divisions qualified for the postseason and were ranked by points percentage (points earned divided by points available).

February marked the first time for the Avs prospects to hit the road for the Rampage’s annual Rodeo Road Trip, a journey that encompassed 11-straight road outings and logged more than 12,000 miles. Overall, 28 days spanned between home games for the club, which took nine points on the trip.

With several key players either back from their recall from the Avs or from injury, the Silver and Black finished the schedule strong, winning nine of its last 11 meetings and tying a franchise record with seven consecutive home wins.

The Rampage finished the year with a record of 33-35-8 (74 points) but a points percentage of 0.487 did not qualify the club for a postseason run.

San Antonio’s season produced top performances from players such as rookie Mikko Rantanen, Maxim Noreau and Ben Street.

Rantanen accomplished many feats in his first year playing hockey in North America, including setting new franchise rookie records in goals (24), assists (36) and points (60) and being voted as the AHL’s co-rookie of the year. He was named to the AHL’s All-Rookie Team and the league’s Second All-Star Team. The 19-year-old Finn also earned the honor of becoming the second-youngest player to ever participate in the AHL’s All-Star Classic.

Mikko Rantane was selected No. 10 overall by Colorado in the 2015 NHL Draft and jumped right into pro hockey (Photo credit: Darren Abate/AHL).

Noreau ranked second on the team in points with 45 (12 goals and 33 assists) in 64 games and was tied for fourth in scoring among league defensemen. He also led the team in power-play tallies with eight and helpers with 13.

Street was named captain of the Rampage squad on Oct. 22, but he split time between Colorado and San Antonio. He originally started the year on the Rampage roster and scored three times and assisted on nine others in his first six appearances. The center was recalled to the Avalanche on Nov. 2 but suffered an injury after just seven contests, sidelining him for almost four months. In his first game back with San Antonio on March 26, he had a marker and a helper and finished the year with at least a point in six of his last nine contests.

Four different goaltenders minded the net in San Antonio at some point during the campaign. Calvin Pickard was named the starter at the beginning of the season before getting called up to Colorado. He split time early on with Roman Will, who went on to make the most appearances of the goalies in the rotation (29 games).

Pickard went 5-0-1 with a 1.79 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage in six games during October, earning the CCM/AHL Goaltender of the Month honors. He was recalled to the big club for the second time on Dec. 25 and went on to finish the year in Denver.

Reto Berra was reassigned to San Antonio on Feb. 18 and led the club to its strong finish. In 16 showings, he posted a record of 7-7-0 and a .901 save percentage.

Spencer Martin, who split his time with the Rampage and the Fort Wayne Komets of the ECHL, went 7-7-1 with a team-best 2.65 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage. With Berra injured late in the year, Martin stopped 91 of 94 shots and won all three starts during the week of March 21-27. He posted a 0.99 goals-against average and a .968 save percentage and was selected as the CCM/AHL Player of the Week on March 28.

Next year will also mark a change on the club's bench for the first time in four seasons as Eric Veilleux was hired as the new head coach on July 6. The Rampage might also see players that played significant roles in San Antonio, such Chris Bigras, Andreas Martinsen, Nikita Zadorov, Pickard and Rantanen, leave for permanent roster spots with the Avalanche.

Changes are something every team deals with at the start of a new season, and 2016-17 is sure to bring even more. But every year is a chance for AHL clubs to begin fresh in hopes of bringing home the Calder Cup, and the Rampage will be ready to do just that.

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