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Claimed:VHL Franchises' Worst Stretches, Part 2

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Author's Note: Kind of wanted to learn about the history of the league a little bit more, so decided to do a series of medias that required some digging. Sorry if some stuff is off, relied exclusively on old indexes here. Part 1 can be found here.


One week after examining the worst stretches in the history of the Calgary Wranglers, Toronto Legion and Seattle Bears, VHL News’s Zach Warren is ready to move on and examine the worst stretches for three more VHL teams: the New York Americans, the Riga Reign, and the Helsinki Titans.


When it comes to long stretches of futility, the Americans take the cake — their seven-season drought between S5 and S11 is the longest playoff-less stretch in VHL history, while they also have another five-season drought between S19 and S23 to their name. But that doesn’t mean that the Reign and Titans are completely devoid of long stretches without a playoff birth themselves, as both teams went five seasons without reaching the holy land at one point, a mark only surpassed by New York and Vasteras.



New York Americans


Longest Playoff Drought: Seven seasons, S5-S11


The Season Before: It’s hard to say the Americans were even an Ant-Man-level force in the early days of the VHL, as the franchise made the playoffs just once in the league’s first 11 seasons. At least in Season 4 the franchise was able to put together something resembling a solid team, as the franchise then-located in Hamilton finished just four points behind Seattle for the best record in the VHL. Led by goalie Jesus Christ, who led the VHL with both a .918 save percentage and a 2.58 GAA, and winger Christian Stolzschweiger, who finished second in the VHL with 63 goals, Hamilton took Seattle to six games in the first round before bowing out.


What Happened: The problem was always one side of the ice or the other. After Stolzschweiger went to Stockholm (now Riga) and Tahk Paccenn regressed after an excellent S4, the franchise did not manage another top-seven goal scorer until Fabian Brunnstrom tied for fourth and Brandon Best tied for sixth in S8. But of course, by that time, Jesus Christ had stepped down as both goaltender and GM (following S5), and the new management of Robbie Zimmers couldn’t find an adequate replacement between the pipes. With the pitiful Max Weinstein in net, Hamilton went 5-66-1 in S6 for a pitiful 11 points, then Travis Willcox finished third-to-last in save percentage himself in S7. Greg Eagles provided stability but not production, finishing in the bottom half of save percentage each year between S8 and S10, then Vase Trikamaki was just too young in S11 with his .895 percentage.


The Season After: The Americans didn’t really do that much terribly right in S12, but at least the team under Brandon Belt showed some signs of life. It was a full team effort for New York this season to finish second in the NA Conference  — centers Grimm Jonsson and Nicholas Miller, left wingers Ryan Tannerd and Devon de la Soul, and right wingers Jack O’Riley and Brandon Avezedo all finished in the top ten in scoring at their respective positions. The franchise would make its first finals one year later and get its first Cup two years later.



Riga Reign


Longest Playoff Drought: Five seasons, S22-S26


The Season Before: Just call them the Rangers — the Reign made the playoffs each season between S15 and S21, but the franchise could only come out with a championship in S16. In Season 21, Riga felt it had as strong of a chance as any season, especially after winning the European Conference during the regular season with 96 points behind Olivier Scarlett’s league-leading 80 assists. But then the franchise lost to Davos 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs, continuing a streak of not making the Finals that would eventually extend 14 seasons, S18 to S31.


What Happened: It’s tough to have a strong team when the front office is less stable than a Kardashian sister. Brian Svec, Dustin Funk, Nick Baretta, Zack Gagnon and Kyle Dowd all took a stab at leading the Reign between S22 and S26, but none lasted more than two seasons at the top post. This instability at the top especially manifested itself in the GM-less goalie position, as Ma’a Nonu (S22-S23) and Matthieu VanCoughnett (S24-26) each finished in the bottom three of save percentage each season. Preexisting VHL dynasties didn’t exactly help matters in allowing playoff positions, as Toronto finished a run of seven straight playoff births in S25, Davos finished a similar run of seven straight playoff births in S25, and New York started a run of 11 straight playoff births in S24.


The Season After: Oh, what a difference a solid goalie can make. New goalie Andreas Bjorkman led the VHL with a .931 save percentage, which led Riga to finish with a third-best 103 points on the season. Ansgar Snijider’s fifth-best 54 goals didn’t exactly hurt matters, either. Riga could not get it done in the playoffs, falling to European Conference Champion Helsinki in the first round, but at least times were temporarily looking up for the Riga franchise. The next season, Mike Szatkowski would take over the franchise and would eventually lead them to a title in S33.



Helsinki Titans


Longest Playoff Drought: Five seasons, S17-S21


The Season Before: It’s always nice to see some parity at the top, as four different VHL teams, including the Titans, finished between 110 and 96 points in S16. The Titans were led by their offense this season, as Leander Kaelin led the VHL with 55 goals, and Carl Jacobs and Brandon Rush each finished in the top five in goal scoring. Vase Trikamaki also finished second in save percentage with .917. But Helsinki could not win its second straight title after losing in the first round — Riga eventually won that honor — and the rebuild began.


What Happened: Poor Joey Kendrick. The sim engine just doesn’t seem to like him. That’s certainly the case in S36, with the Cologne Express holding one of the strongest teams but struggling for a playoff birth, but even this season pales in comparison to his tough run at the helm of the Titans. In each of his first five seasons, the Titans missed out, but not for lack of trying. After bottoming out in S17 and S18, the Titans finished with the fourth-best VHL record in S19… but third-best record in the European Conference, as Toronto slipped in with a worse record in North America. Then, the Titans finished 37-30-5 in S20, only to run into the Davos and Riga juggernauts once again (each with 113+ points). And in S21, the poor Titans actually tied Davos for the final playoff spot, only to see their Swiss counterparts advance to the playoffs (and later their third straight Finals) on a tiebreaker.


The Season After: In his final season as Helsinki GM, Joey Kendrick was finally able to break through and complete his rebuild. Thanks in part to a Riga team that freefalled from first in the European Conference (and started their own streak above), the Titans were able to grab 99 points and tie Davos once again, this time for first in the conference. Right winger Cam Fowler was the centerpiece behind this run, finishing seventh in the VHL with 44 goals, fifth in the VHL with 66 assists, and picking up 13 more points than any other player at his position. And the best part? Despite finishing 27 points behind league-leader Toronto during the regular season, Helsinki took the Finals 4-2 from the Legion for the franchise’s first championship since S15.

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Content: 3/3 - There seems to be something comforting when you're in a bad situation and you can look back and see how much worse some folks had it. This article just streamlines the whole process. History is fun!
Grammar: 2/2 - Practically flawless.
playoff birth = playoff berth (multiple times)
Appearance: 1/1 - Absolutely.
Overall: 6/6 - USA! USA! USA!
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