(21-12-3; 2nd in West Division)

With just 3 games to go before the official halfway point of the 2014-15 AHL season, the Rampage are sitting pretty at 5th place in the Western Conference playoff picture. When considering that the team was one of the worst in the league last year, this is a great place to be in to start off 2015.

The most significant news item of this past week was a major prospect shakeup within the organization. Prized Center Drew Shore was shipped to the Calgary Flames organization in exchange for ex-Panthers prospect Corban Knight. This move is an absolute heartbreak for fans as Shore was having his best season yet and was recently selected to the AHL All-Star game, amassing 30 points in 35 games for the Rampage. Shore was an unfortunate casualty of both the glut of talented centers within the Panthers organization (Barkov, Trocheck, Pirri, Howden, Grimaldi), along with the NHL’s restrictive waiver rules, which kept him in the minors. Coach Tom Rowe had nothing but glowing reviews for Shore after he was shipped out.

“What I loved about him, aside from his hockey playing skills and what he brought to the table on the ice, was how he kept the boys loose in the locker room when things would get a little tight. He always seemed to have a good one-liner to throw at guys…”

The move for Knight is a bit strange when considering the Panthers could not come to a contract agreement just 2 seasons ago upon his leaving the University of North Dakota. Hopefully there will be no resentment and he can immediately contribute some of the lost offensive prowess from Shore. Knight (12 points in 22 games for Adirondack) had just scored a beauty of a goal against Dan Ellis and the Rampage on January 6th, which can be seen at 1:15 of the video below:

Since Christmas, the Rampage have been solid, going 5-4-1 and averaging over 4 goals per game. The offense has been in overdrive as of late with the team leading the league in goals this season with an eye popping 122 in just 36 games played. In the process, the Rampage have absolutely blown out teams such as Iowa, Utica and Rochester by 4 or more goals, while continuing to struggle against the usual suspects of the Oklahoma City Barons and Drew Shore’s new team, the Adirondack Flames. Just this past Saturday the team decimated the Iowa Wild by a score of 8-3, both welcoming Corban Knight to the team and displaying a high degree of chemistry with some beautiful assists. While the Rampage fell into a 3-2 hole by the end of the 1st period, they unleashed 52 total shots upon both Wild goalies, racking up 4 more goals through the rest of the game.

The offensive production continues to be led by RW Bobby Butler, who is now averaging 1 point per game with 15 goals and 34 points in 34 games played. Butler has also just been selected to the AHL All-Star game in Utica due to being 5th in the league in scoring. With Drew Shore having been a strong 2nd in team scoring, his production will now have to be made up for by the likes of Mark Mancari (28 points in 36 games), Garrett Wilson (24 points in 36 games) and Rocco Grimaldi (22 points in 31 games). Thankfully the Rampage have one of the highest point producing bluelines in the AHL, which continues to lighten the pressure on the young forwards.

The defensive lines have also seen a couple of shakeups over the past month, with Mackenzie Weegar being sent down to Cincinnati of the ECHL, Shane O’Brien (14 points in 22 games) being called up to the NHL and Jesse Blacker arriving in a trade from the Anaheim organization. Blacker was swapped for ex-Rampage defenseman Colby Robak and has been a spark on both ends of the ice. In just 8 games, Blacker has contributed 3 goals and 4 assists, and seen his +/- rise from a -12 with the Norfolk Admirals, to a solid -1 in San Antonio. With Alex Petrovic (17 points in 34 games) and Steven Kampfer (16 points in 34 games) continuing to contribute offensively, while Blake Parlett (+7 rating) and captain Greg Zanon (+6 rating) have been able to maintain the back end, the Rampage have been able to both squeak by and blow out teams all season long.

Jesse Blacker scores his first goal with the Rampage at 1:17:

While the offensive production has been great since Christmas, the team has given up an average of 3.5 goals per game to opposing teams since December 26th. In fact, the Rampage currently are the 3rd worst team in the Western Conference when it comes to goals against, allowing 112 so far this season. Dan Ellis has emerged as the clear starter since November, going 16-8-0, with a 2.62 goals against average, a .905 save percentage and 2 shutouts. Ellis has been solid but continues to get lit up every few games, leaving the Rampage 9 points behind the OKC Barons for the division lead. Backup goaltender Michael Houser has not won a game since November 30th and holds a terrible 3.44 goals against average. He should have another opportunity to prove himself on Sunday against the Toronto Marlies, closing out back-to-back games this weekend.

The Rampage are in a great position to continue succeeding in the second half of the season. Fans will enjoy watching new additions Corban Knight and Jesse Blacker mesh within San Antonio’s offensive powerhouse. With some more consistent goaltending, the Rampage will be able to climb within striking distance of winning the West Division.

Follow me on Twitter @Ian_J_Roy