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By Contributed by the Bakersfield Condors
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By Rod Thornburg / Special to The Californian
BY MIKE GRIFFITH Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
It was billed as a chalk talk with Condors coach Troy Mann, and for the first few minutes last Saturday afternoon it was just that.
But as soon as Mann asked for questions, it was apparent many of the three dozen season-ticket holders on hand were not happy with what they were seeing on the ice.
Utah at Condors
7 p.m. at Rabobank Arena
Radio: KHTY (970 AM)
Records: Utah 7-9-2; Condors 5-13-1
Season series: First meeting
Notes: The Grizzlies, like the Condors, also are having trouble scoring, averaging just 1.95 goals per game. Utah, however, is yielding just 2.32 goals per game while the Condors are giving up 3.42 ... Bakersfield wil be without leading scorer Chris Collins (11 points) who is on loan to the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL.
The event was set for 5:45 p.m. in a meeting room adjacent to Rabobank Arena with the Condors taking on Las Vegas at 7. However, there was no game as closed highways because of weather left the Wranglers on the other side of the mountains.
While there was obvious interest in explanations of a controlled forecheck and controlled breakout, as well as his thoughts on the previous night's 3-1 loss in Las Vegas, the questions were about other things.
One fan lamented the Condors play in the neutral zone; one asked about the lack of scoring; another questioned the physical play of the team and one railed on what he perceived as a lack of emotion.
Another fan pointed out that Mann left the bench during the Teddy Bear Toss game (as the bears were being picked up from the ice) and said that move made it look like he did not care.
And another pointed out that goaltender Tyler Bunz, who was pulled after the first period of the Teddy Bear Toss game, appeared to be disinterested the rest of the game and that didn't set well with those around her.
Mann apparently really rocked the boat when he pointed out that winning was indeed a priority.
"My goal is to get to the AHL ASAP and 5-13-1 is not cutting it," he said at one point.
It was blunt, but Mann has a knack of often getting right to the point.
He played for many seasons in the minors, winning an ECHL title as a player. He served as an assistant coach with Hershey, Penn., in the AHL the past four seasons (winning an AHL title) before deciding to take a step backward in hope of moving forward again.
When Mann took the head coaching job in Bakersfield, he said he viewed it as an opportunity to do well and get back to the AHL as a head coach.
Mann disagreed completely about the team's neutral zone play, saying it was actually one of the strengths of the team (though he noted turnovers are a problem at times) and said he had plenty of video clips to illustrate strong neutral zone play.
"From a structure standpoint we're pretty good," he said. "The execution isn't always there."
The two biggest problems this year, he said, has been goaltending and the inability to score.
"Goaltending has been a matter of concern this year," he said in response to another question. "Goals against and save percentage, what the coaches look at, we're at the bottom of the league.
"It is a concern. (Paul) Karpowich had a save percentage of .832, probably last in pro hockey, which is why he's no longer here."
Karpowich was released on Nov. 9 when Chet Pickard was loaned to the Condors by the Oklahoma City Barons.
Pickard is 2-4 with a 2.44 goals-against average and .892 save percentage.
"Pickard hasn't been great, but I'll say he gives us a chance to win," Mann told his audience. "He made some great saves (against Las Vegas last Friday) to keep us in the game."
The lack of scoring has him as perplexed as the fans.
The Condors are averaging two goals per game. They have been shut out three times and have scored two or fewer goals in another 11 of their 19 games.
"It's not like we're not trying to score goals," Mann said. "Scoring has been very tough for us. To be honest I can't explain it."
Mann did agree that his team does lack emotion at times and agreed that a little more physical play would be nice.
"Overall I don't think the make up of our team makes us a physical team," he said. "Just because a guy is 6-2 or 6-3 doesn't mean he is a physical player."
And Mann noted he and general manager John Olver are working hard to plug holes and make the team better.
"We are recruiting on the fly," he said. "We're doing our best to make certain changes."
As for the great Teddy Bear Toss incident, Mann explained that he had to use the restroom (urgently) and was only gone a minute during the approximately 20-minute break after the goal was scored and before play resumed.
"Can't a guy use the bathroom?," he asked incredulously.