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Bakersfield's Pope gives blessing to ECHL demotion

by Lindsay Kramer
Right wing Matt Pope's demotion from the AHL to the ECHL last week at least had a very soft landing.

It's one of the few breaks he's caught all season.

Pope's nest is built in Bakersfield, a team for which he starred as a rookie last season. Supplies of goodwill may not be a bottomless pit, but Pope should have a deep well of that with the Condors.

"It could very well be the best thing for me to come here and be in a place where I've had success," said Pope, 25. "The fans remember me as a goal scorer."

Pope's memory along those lines was getting a little fuzzy. He was goal-less in 25 games for Manitoba this season, a long stretch that included several weeks on the sideline because of a high ankle sprain.

Last season, Pope turned in a record-breaking rookie season, finishing third on the Condors in goals (30) and fourth in points (63), while playing in just 54 games. His goal total is second in Bakersfield history for newcomers, while his assists and points are both Condors rookie records. He added 6 points in 12 playoff games with the Moose, an effort that helped him earn an NHL/AHL deal with the Vancouver Canucks.

"I had the success last year with Bakersfield. That gave me confidence around the net," Pope said. "This year, it was just the opposite. I was losing confidence. I started to panic with the puck, and the injury, being off the ice for two months, didn't help at all. I was digging myself deeper and deeper. I wasn't getting any luck on that first one. I was hitting the post, getting robbed on good chances."

Pope's troubles took even deeper root when he let his problems tail him like a rain cloud.

"I couldn't sleep at night, I was thinking, man, I should have scored that goal," he said. "It corrupted my head. It's hard to not notice the big zero in the goals column on the stat sheet."

In what he hopes is a long-overdue good omen, Pope changed that number very quickly with the Condors by popping in three goals in his first three games back with the team.

"There's a lot of pressure because they are relying on me here," he said. "For starters, I'm going to focus on going to the net, battling when I have the puck and not take no for an answer. I can be a goal-scorer. I'm confident I'll get it back eventually. It's not like it just goes away. I just need to get back in that groove."

Johnstown set to move -- The most storied team in the ECHL has reached its final chapter.

The Johnstown Chiefs, the only original league team left standing, are packing up and leaving town after this season. Owner Neil Smith has gotten league permission to relocate the team to Greenville, S.C., next year. Smith cited dropping attendance and mounting financial losses as the obvious reasons.

"It's 22 years of hockey here. Now, it's coming to the end at the end of the season," Smith said. "But it's something that's unavoidable. It was two or three years in the making. None of us wants to be the bad guy. It just became impossible (to stay)."

The Chiefs are last in the league in attendance, at an average of 1,975 per game. Smith placed his losses in the six figures each of the past couple seasons.

"We can't afford to see pro sports in this town," Smith said. "It would be scary to know (his total losses). I probably lost as much as it would have cost to bring in an expansion team."

Greenville was home to an ECHL team from 1998-99 to 2005-06, and Smith thinks he can turn a new team in that city into an attraction.

"I'm looking forward to a new opportunity," Smith said, "I don't want to be critical of (previous owners). But you always have to be aware that this is an entertainment product for families, and winning and losing is secondary to the entertainment you put out there. You can't treat this like the NHL. The people who go to games don't get all their self-worth from whether their team wins and loses."

New address, same results -- For all the many times that Matt Siddall has seen the Pacific Ocean, he's now looking at it in a much different manner than he's used to.

In the winter.

"I'm staring out at the ocean. It's a good feeling," he said recently from his apartment. "It's good to see it again."

Siddall has the new outlook on life courtesy of a swap that brought him from Gwinnett to Victoria. The forward is a native of North Vancouver, about 90 minutes away. The Atlanta Thrashers gave Siddall a different address even though he was almost a point per game player for the Gladiators for two seasons, going 17-20 in 40 games last year and 14-14 in 31 contests this season.

"For starters, I'm going to focus on going to the net, battling when I have the puck and not take no for an answer. I can be a goal-scorer. I'm confident I'll get it back eventually. It's not like it just goes away. I just need to get back in that groove."
-- Matt Pope

"Trades happen. Everything was going well in Gwinnett," said Siddall, 25. "It's just a little bit of a change of scenery. They were looking for a bit of a shakeup."

The shake-and-stir figures to go well on Siddall's end. His addition to Victoria completes the Salmon's Kings' "Gwinnett trio" because roommates Andy Brandt and Dirk Southern were his teammates on the Gladiators last season. In his first five games with the team, he contributed 2 goals and 3 assists. And Siddall's contingent of supporters in the stands will have him tapping into teammates' supplies of unneeded tickets.

"It adds a real comfort level. When other things in your life are going well, hockey seems to go better," said Siddall, who is 2-4 in his first six games with the Salmon Kings. "I just want to consistently keep my game going, bring some of the other aspects like being physical, bring a little jump. You always want to work on your consistency, play at the top of your game every night."
Around the ECHL -- In the last three years, Cincinnati garnered a 28-5-0 record during February, an .848 winning percentage. This February, the Cyclones are 7-0-1. ... Bakersfield forward Stephane Goulet's six points (2-4) in a 7-0 win against Ontario on Feb. 14 was the highest points total by a Condor since Paul Willett recorded a half-dozen on Oct. 31, 1999. ... Reading's 5-3 win against Wheeling on Feb. 14 marked the 300th victory in the nine-year history of the franchise. ... Royals defenseman defenseman Chris Clark was assessed with a franchise-record 35 penalty minutes in that win.  He received two fighting majors, a major penalty for boarding and two game misconducts. ... Victoria captain Wes Goldie became the club's all-time leader in games played by competing in his 266th contest Feb. 11 vs. Alaska. Goldie passed former Salmon King and current team assistant coach Ryan Wade. Goldie has never missed a game during his tenure with the Salmon Kings. ... Defenseman Ryan Crane, recently picked up by Charlotte, joined the shorthanded Checkers just in time to be moved to forward and contribute 2 goals and 1 assist in his first game for his new team, a 5-1 win against Gwinnett on Feb. 12. ... Toledo's home crowd of 8,200 on Feb. 13 pushed the team's 2009-10 attendance to 174,390, setting a single-season high for Toledo Storm. The all-time attendance mark in Toledo history is within sight for the Walleye as well -- the 1977-78 Toledo Goaldiggers entertained 177,988 fans. ... The Walleye have an 8-1 record in overtime games this year. ... Toledo defenseman Joe Charlebois, who hadn't scored since Feb. 13, tallied twice against Kalamazoo on Feb. 13. ... Gwinnett is 15-0-0 when holding opponents to fewer than three goals. ... Gladiators forward Dan Sullivan, typically an enforcer, set a career best with an 8-game point streak from January 23-Feb. 9, including 3 goals and seven assists. He has not had a fighting major since a Jan. 29 game at Elmira.

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