The SHL selected Hershey Bliss RW Christopher Hart as its Player of the Week. Hart is the second straight member of Hershey’s “Love Line” to capture the award, as teammate Justin Valentine was honored last week. Hart put up 3 goals and 6 assists this week, helping the Bliss post a 4-1-0 mark and narrow the gap atop the East.
On Saturday, Hart scored a goal and added two assists in Hershey’s 7-2 shellacking of Dakota. On Wednesday, he came through again with a goal and a pair of assists as the Bliss sank Seattle by a 4-1 margin.
“We’re coming together at the right time,” said Hershey coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber. “We haven’t mounted much of a challenge yet, but we’re about to. And if we can pull it off, it will be as sweet as a one-pound Krackel bar.”
The Michigan Gray Wolves experienced a tragedy this week. Rocco Montoya, 47, the Wolves’ biggest fan and close friend of the whole team, got into a boating accident on Lake Michigan this week and didn’t make it. The Gray Wolves were in mourning this week, sad at the loss of their loyal and kind fan. We spoke to the team’s star player , G Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist.
SHL Digest: We are very sad to hear about Rocco’s passing.
Dirk Lundquist: Me too. He really was our “rock,” as his name suggests. It will be a rough time for us to not have him cheering us on in the stands.
SHLD: Yeah, but he is now cheering you guys on from heaven.
DL: That’s right. From now on, whenever we play, we are playing for him. He was convinced that we were going to win the Vandy this year. If we do win, we’re going to raise it to the roof for Rocco.
SHLD: Are you doing anything special to honor him?
DL: Actually, yeah, we are. Starting at our next game and for the rest of the season, we are wearing a special orange emblem with Rocco’s initials on our sleeves. Orange was his favorite color.
SHLD: I am glad the SHL is letting you do something special for him.
DL: Same here. He really meant so much to all of us. We’re also putting up a banner at the entrance of Section 107, which is where he always sat, to commemorate him in a more permanent way.
SHLD: Rocco was almost a member of the team, huh?
DL: You could certainly say that. He was more than just a fan; he spent a lot of time with the guys and their families, too. We will never forget him.
SHLD: I am very glad to see that you guys are looking at it in a positive way. Remembering what he did for you guys, rather than focusing on him being gone.
DL: That’s how all of us are looking at it, I think. Except Coach [Ron Wright], he took it pretty hard. He knew Rocco way before the SHL got started. Believe it or not, Rocco was the one that got Coach to start coaching professionally.
SHLD: Oh wow. I didn’t know the full backstory. Thank you for talking to us about him.
DL: It is my pleasure. I am always willing to talk about our old friend.
The Gray Wolves are planning to hold a ceremony honoring Montoya before Friday night’s game against Dakota, when they will officially dedicate the banner that Lundquist mentioned. Rest in peace, Rocco Montoya.
All the members of the New York Night, from coach Preston Rivers on down, insist that they’re not superstitious. “We know we have the talent to go all the way,” said Rivers. Still, the Night face a double-digit deficit in the division with only 20 games left, and they’ll gladly take any advantage they can find. They seem to have found one this week, in the unlikely form of a ’70s pop song.
This was a week of interdivisional play, with the East’s teams hosting. The Night split their first two games of the week, and then on Tuesday found themselves trailing the woeful Seattle Sailors 4-2 going into the third period. “We knew this week, with the homestand, it was a big opportunity,” said Night LW Chase Winchester. “And we were letting it slip away. We needed to get turned around and quick.”
During a break in the action about 5 minutes into the third, the sound man at Neon Sky Center played the 1974 Kiki Dee hit “I’ve Got the Music In Me.” The song was a hit with the crowd, but not as much as what happened next. Shortly after play resumed, Night D Dominic Sanchez banged home a rebound past Sailors netminder Rocky Goldmire. That was the beginning of a string of three unanswered goals, including the game-winning slapshot from the faceoff circle by RW Rick “The Stick” Nelson with 35 seconds remaining to secure a 5-4 comeback win.
A thrilling and inspiring win, to be sure. But the game by itself wasn’t enough to turn the song into a legend. It needed some help, in the form of a viral GIF. While the song was playing, the Night’s TV broadcast happened to catch LW Ben Summers boogieing along, bobbing his head and shimmying his shoulders. A New York fan captured the moment, made it into a GIF, and posted it on Instagram with the capture “This is what won it 4 us tonight #RallyDance” The clip circulated quickly among SHL fans, becoming one of the most-viewed videos on the site.
The next night, the Night were hosting the Anchorage Igloos. During the first intermission, with the score tied 2-2, the Night once again played the Kiki Dee song and displayed the video of Summers’ dance on the Jumbotron, while flashing “#RallySong” at the bottom. The crowd went wild. Apparently inspired, the Night scored a pair of goals in the second en route to a 4-2 win. After the game, Rivers referenced the video and song. “I think Ben and Kiki Dee really turned the tide tonight,” said the coach. “That was the turning point, no doubt about it. After they played that video, we were unstoppable.”
On Friday, the Night took on the Dakota Rapids. New York fell behind early, and with less than 5 minutes left in the game, Rapids C Phil Miller tipped in a shot to make it 5-3. In desperate need of a rally, the Night once again played the song and the Summers video. And sure enough, New York scored a pair to tie the game, including a Daniel Bellanger slapper with 22 seconds left, and then RW Ivan Trujwirnek fired home the game-winner in overtime for a 6-5 victory.
“Well, it’s official,” said Rivers at his postgame press conference. “Kiki Dee is magic.” He said that he planned to ask the staff to continue playing the song at every home game for the rest of the season.
For his part, Summers enjoys his newfound fame. “I haven’t done that much to help the team on the ice this season,” said the winger. “But at least I’m able to help us out on the bench!”
Although the Dakota Rapids made one deal with an eye on the future, trading away their starting goaltender, they made another minor deal designed to make the team stronger now. A few minutes before the deadline, the Rapids acquired center Phil Miller from the Saskatchewan Shockers in exchange for rookie forward Dwight Flynn and a second-round pick.
The deal plugs an ongoing hole for Dakota at the third-line center position. The Rapids picked up Florian Theroux from Hamilton at the deadline last year to play the position, but Theroux was claimed by Quebec in the expansion draft. Dakota has struggled to replace him all season. Vonnie McLearen had gotten the bulk of the work centering the third line; while he has had a good season overall, he is a natural winger and has had a hard time adjusting. Rapids fans had taken to calling the third line the “Donut Line,” because it had a hole in the middle.
In the 27-year-old Miller, the Rapids add a capable passer and defender (8 goals, 13 points on the season) who should fit well with Dakota’s uptempo style of play. “This is a move that helps us now and later,” said GM Paul Mindegaard. “Phil’s been on our radar for a while as a guy who could help us. Saskatchewan hadn’t wanted to part with him, but finally we got to a point where the price was right.”
For his part, Winnipeg native Miller took the deal in stride. “I’m a good loyal Canadian, so it feels wrong to be traded south of the border,” said Miller. “But on the other hand, I’m probably closer to home now, and I’m going from one small Midwestern city to another. Dakota is sort of an honorary Canadian state anyway.”
For the Shockers, who are much improved over last year’s dismal performance but are still building, this deal was all about stockpiling assets. The 23-year-old Flynn, a Syracuse native who was drafted out of SUNY-Rochester this season, didn’t appear much for Dakota, recording 3 assists in 9 games. Scouts consider him a rangy, promising prospect with excellent speed, although they feel that he will need to bulk up some in order to compete physically at the professional level.
“We’re at a stage where we can afford to let guys grow with us,” said Shockers GM Cooper Matthews. “We know what Phil Miller can do. We don’t know what Dwight Flynn can do yet, but I’m looking forward to find out.”