When we last left the Cleveland Barons, they were immersed in the Season of the Cursed. The team had more than double the injuries of any other club in the American Hockey League last season. The result was a roster filled with scrubs, almost unwatchable games, and the AHL's second-worst record.
But with all hands back on deck, President Mike Lehr expects to see a franchise transformed for the home opener Saturday. For one, he believes that this year's model is playoff caliber. He also predicts that fans will find a more explosive product. "We're going to be a higher-skilled, faster, probably more offensive team than we have the past couple years -- more of a finesse team than a power team."
That's good news for hockey fans. During their first two seasons in Cleveland, the Barons were better known for their hitting than putting the puck in the net. But the word "finesse," in hockey parlance, implies an absence of good, wholesome brawling, an art form practiced with frequency by the hometown boys. So does this mean they'll still drop the gloves for our viewing pleasure? "I hope so," says Lehr. "That was kind of fun, wasn't it?" The Barons open against the Hamilton Bulldogs, among the league's best franchises, at 7 p.m. at Gund Arena (100 Gateway Plaza). Tickets are $9 to $25; call 216-420-0000. -- Pete Kotz
Big Man on Campus
LeBron's pro career starts at KSU.
Fans get a chance to see LeBron James, new coach Paul Silas, and the rest of the Cavaliers in action Saturday at a free Wine and Gold Scrimmage at Kent State University. There's also an interactive Fan Fest (which includes games and face-painting for the little ones), a post-game autograph session, and the debut of the Cavalier Girls dance team. Ticket vouchers, redeemable at the MAC Center box office and at Gund Arena, are available at local Alltel locations. Festivities start at 4; the scrimmage is at 7 p.m. at the MAC Center (191 MAC Center on the Kent State Campus). Call 216-420-2040 for more information. -- Steve Albanese