The Allen York Era is officially over in Evansville, as the Blue Jackets' ECHL affiliate has traded the former Columbus goaltender to the South Carolina Stingrays in exchange for cash considerations.
The trade was announced on Tuesday, just four days before South Carolina's only visit to Evansville (18-9-7) this season. The Eastern Conference leading Stingrays (25-9-3) needed immediate help in net after both of their goaltenders earned AHL promotions in the span of a week.
Now atop South Carolina's depth chart, York will likely get the nod against the IceMen on Saturday in front of a huge crowd at the Ford Center on Evansville's annual "Pack the House Night." Well over 8000 fans will witness York's return as a member of the opposition, with a complete sell-out of 9400-plus possible if the game draws a strong walk-up crowd - which is not at all unusual for Saturday home games.
The response to York's name in the starting lineup will likely be mixed at best, as the trade announcement was generally met with positive fan reactions online.
So how did it get to this point? Just what the heck happened?
York was drafted by the Blue Jackets in 2007. After 3 seasons at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Alberta native turned pro and signed a 2-year entry level contract with Columbus.
As a rookie in 2011-12, he split time between AHL Springfield and ECHL Chicago, but also made quite a splash during an 11-appearance stint with the Blue Jackets. Manning the pipes for a putrid Columbus team that finished dead-last in the entire NHL, York compiled a 3-2-0 record with a very respectable 2.30 GAA and .919 Save Percentage.
But in his second pro season, York struggled to stay healthy and never returned to Columbus. He primarily played for Springfield, but also spent a 5-game rehab stint in Evansville. It was then that IceMen fans fell in love with him, as York again played well for a last-place team. Evansville ultimately finished the season in the ECHL's Eastern Conference cellar, but the IceMen were 3-1-1 with York in net. Throw out his first start when he was still shaking off injury rust (a 6-1 loss at Cincinnati), and York had an outstanding 1.87 GAA and .944 Save Percentage.
When York's entry level deal expired after the 2012-13 season, the Blue Jackets decided to allow him to become a free agent. He was briefly in training camp with the Nashville Predators, but was not offered a contract by any NHL or AHL teams.
That's when new IceMen Head Coach Jeff Pyle inked York to an ECHL contract, keeping the goalie "in the family" with the Blue Jackets organization. Excited fans assumed that, given his promising NHL experience and his previous success with a bad IceMen team, York would clearly be the #1 goaltender for a rebuilt Evansville squad with legitimate championship aspirations.
Little did the fans know that the day York signed his contract would be the biggest highlight of his 2013-14 season with the IceMen.
Second-year pro Mike Clemente, under AHL contract with Springfield and on assignment to Evansville, out-performed York in training camp and earned the right to start the season opener. Clemente promptly made 25 saves en route to a 2-0 shutout victory over Kalamazoo.
York then got a brief shot with AHL Charlotte as an injury replacement. In York's weekend-long absence, Clemente posted two more impressive victories and was honored as the ECHL's Goaltender of the Week.
After York returned from Charlotte, he finally made his season debut for the IceMen in the team's fourth game. It wasn't pretty. York surrendered 7 goals on 29 shots in an ugly loss to Cincinnati, and many fans officially changed their allegiance to "Team Clemente."
The next day, York was off to the AHL again as an injury fill-in for the Texas Stars. Just over a month later, he returned to Evansville and won a pair of home games despite giving up 8 goals on 54 total shots against last-place Toledo.
The AHL then came calling once more, as Rockford had a vacancy in net due to injuries sustained by NHL parent club Chicago. After two weeks in Rockford, York then travelled to Switzerland to represent Team Canada in the annual Spengler Cup tournament.
Meanwhile, the IceMen were plugging along without Clemente as well, as he had been summoned to Springfield to replace Mike McKenna - who had been recalled by the Blue Jackets due to Sergei Bobrovsky's groin injury.
With York and Clemente both out of the picture, Evansville turned to rookie Garrett Bartus, who had been the team's third goaltender in training camp. Bartus started 10 straight games for the injury-depleted IceMen, compiling a 4-3-3 record and earning his first career shutout in a 6-0 blanking of Gwinnett on New Year's Eve. Quickly, "Team Bartus" also out-grew "Team York" among Evansville fans.
After the conclusion of the Spengler Cup tournament, York returned to the IceMen and started 3 straight games against teams on the outside looking in at the playoffs. His best game of the season came first, a 2-1 overtime victory at in-state rival Fort Wayne. But he then lost back-to-back games at Greenville, allowing 9 goals to a team that was 18th in the 22-team ECHL in scoring.
A few days later, York was traded to South Carolina for cash. And just like that, his time in Evansville (and the Blue Jackets organization) was over.
Thanks to 3 AHL stints and the Spengler Cup appearance, York had been with the IceMen for just 27 of 87 calendar days this season. In his 6 scattered starts, he gave up 3 or more goals 5 times. On the day of the trade, his 4.12/.863 stat line with the IceMen paled in comparison to Clemente's 2.60/.904 and Bartus' 3.13/.906.
But the trade was not made solely due to York's performance. One could certainly argue that his play would have likely improved if he had remained with the IceMen for an extended period of time, allowing him to get into a rhythm and learn his teammates' tendencies. Perhaps that's true, but now we'll never know.
When asked why he dealt York, Pyle was concise: "We had 3 goalies and Bartus gives us stability, because he will be here."
Indeed, while York's on-ice performance was certainly not up to snuff, his presence on the radar of seemingly every AHL team with goaltending needs was the biggest problem. While York could certainly still have the highest ceiling of the three netminders Pyle had at his disposal, the veteran coach opted to go for stability.
That having been said, if York's status as an AHL yo-yo cracked open the door, his shaky-at-best performance in an Evansville uniform greased the proverbial hinges. Credit Bartus for forcing Pyle's hand by seizing the opportunity and knocking the door down, playing well enough to earn a full-time job.
So now the IceMen will move forward with AHL-contracted Clemente and unheralded U-Conn product Bartus, the Illinois kid whose out-of-nowhere performance made a guy with recent NHL experience expendable. And IceMen fans must hope that one of the two can lead the team to the promised land.
AFFILIATE PLAYER NOTES:
• Columbus prospect Thomas Larkin returned to the IceMen last week after spending a month in Springfield. The rookie defenseman had 2 assists in his first game back with Evansville.
• Springfield-contracted defenseman Joe Lavin recently returned to the active roster after missing 16 games due to a sports hernia that required surgery.
• Springfield-contracted rookie forward Peter Sakaris has been heating up after a slow start, with 7 goals and 3 assists in his last 12 games. Sakaris scored both the game-tying goal and game-winning goal just 23 seconds apart in Tuesday's 4-3 victory over Gwinnett.
• Springfield-contracted rookie forward Jeremy Langlois leads the IceMen with 13 goals and is tied for the team scoring lead with 30 points, despite having played in just 25 of Evansville's 34 games. He has been held off of the scoresheet in back-to-back games just once all season. Langlois is just one point behind the ECHL's rookie scoring leader, Fort Wayne's Scott Fleming - and Fleming has played 10 more games than Langlois.
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IceMen Maniac is Michael Shockley, a.k.a. "Shocker" to IceMen fans
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