The SHL selected Michigan Gray Wolves G Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist as its Player of the Week. Lundquist started off the 2017 season strong, posting a 3-1-0 record with a 0.74 GAA and a .978 save percentage. Lundquist’s dominant performance has helped the defending champion Wolves pick up where they left off last season, going 4-1-0 to tie with Hershey for the best record in the league.
On Opening Night, Lundquist stopped 40 shots to shut down Dakota in a 3-1 win. On Wednesday, in the Wolves’ home opener, he turned aside 26 and posted a shutout of Seattle. Then on Saturday, he made 37 saves to freeze the Igloos 3-0.
“The Bear is an inspiration to the whole team,” said Michigan coach Ron Wright. “He’s already the unquestioned best goalie in the SHL. But does he rest on his laurels? No way. He’s out there working harder than anyone, looking for ways to get even better. He’s chasing perfection, and he’s not going to stop chasing it. If we’re going to defend our title, it’s going to Dirk’s work ethic leading the way.”
SHL Digest: Hello, Coach Castor. Are you excited that the SHL’s new season is here?
Sam Castor: Absolutely! During the offseason, I get bored and irritable. It’s hard for me to sleep. During the season, that’s when I feel normal.
SHLD: Glad the season is back, then! So, it seems like everyone’s assuming it’s going to be you and Michigan for the Western division.
SC: I don’t assume that at all.
SHLD: You don’t?
SC: Nope. I mean, Michigan’s going to be a tough competitor, for sure. But Dakota got a lot better this offseason, and Seattle’s looked surprisingly competitive this week. I don’t automatically assume it’s going to be Michigan or us.
SHLD: Fair enough. But Michigan won the division – and the Vandy – last year. The year before, it was you guys. I know you’d like to take it back.
SC: No question about that.
SHLD: So if you are going to win it all again, what will you need to do to beat Michigan and the rest of your competition?
SC: For us, the key is going to be balance. The Wolves have a great goalie in [Dirk] Lundquist and a top-notch defense, and that’s their game and their identity. Us, on the other hand, we try to be equally strong on both ends. That allows us to match any style of play that we have to face.
SHLD: Are there particular players that you’re looking for to step up and take you to the next level?
SC: Offensively, obvious Jake [Frost] is our catalyst, but we’re looking at our secondary options taking on more of the load. Jerry [Koons] has really done great so far. Les [Collins] has been getting better every season. Ben Summers got off to a great start before he got hurt. Those are the guys we’re looking for to come up big.
SHLD: And on defense?
SC: We have a new third pairing this year; Sebastian [Pomfret] promoted off the bench and then the rookie, Tony Citrone. In our system, all three of our lines get plenty of playing time, so we’re counting on them to get up to speed quickly. If they can do that, we’re going to be deep and dangerous from top to bottom. Overall, I like out chances.
SHLD: Getting back to you and Michigan for a second, the rivalry even extends to your mascots. Do you expect any further hostilities between Petey the Polar Bear and Wally Wolf?
SC: Nah, I don’t think so. Ever since they buried the hatchet back at the end of ’15, they’ve actually become close. They exchange Christmas cards and everything. They’re cool now.
SHLD: So, is it safe to day we’re not expecting any polar-bear-themed mishaps this season?
SC: I think that’s a pretty safe assumption. Although you never know… some idiot on another team might decide to take a poke at Petey, and none of us are gonna stand for that.
SHLD: One challenge that your Igloos face that’s different from the rest of the league is travel. You guys spend more time on planes that any other team in the league. The closest road city is Seattle, which is almost 1,500 miles away. Does that put you at a disadvantage compared to the rest of the league?
SC: Yeah, I suppose so. But we aren’t looking for excuses. When other teams fly out to play us, they’re at a disadvantage. The travel wears on us sometimes, but we’re professionals and we’re here to do a job. That’s where our focus is.
SHLD: Makes sense! Well, good luck the rest of the season, Coach.
The SHL’s new minor league, the Continental Hockey League, has completed its first week of play. So far, there aren’t any dominant teams, top-flight goal scorers, or dominant netminders. In general, the league’s leaders have yet to emerge… except one.
When it comes to penalty minutes, there’s an undisputed leader: Albuquerque Screaming Eagles defenseman Cedric Meloche. In his first five games, Meloche has already racked up 26 penalty minutes, twice as many as his nearest competitor. He has earned that lofty total largely through his fists, as he has already gotten into four fights.
“I like to fight,” Meloche admitted cheerfully.
The 20-year-old attributes his professional success to his pugilistic abilities. “When i we were young, we all wanted to be hockey players,” said Meloche. “But I was a little guy and could not skate too fast or shoot too good, so I had to fight. I learned to fight good, so I moved up.”
It took all of 42 seconds for Meloche to get into his first professional bout against the Minnesota Freeze. When Freeze D “Chilly Willy” Calligan gave Eagles C Vance Ketterman a hard check into his own bench, Meloche took exception and clocked Calligan in the chest, touching off a donnybrook. Late in the third period, it was Calligan’s turn to take umbrage after Meloche enthusiastically fouled a couple Minnesota players, and the two wound up throwing hands again.
On Saturday, Meloche against fought twice in the Eagles’ game against the Muncie Squirrels. In the first period, Squirrels C Britt Cadmium leveled Eagles RW Ashton Starhawk with a vicious hit that was not penalized. Meloche responded by hauling Cadmium down from behind. Surprised and irked, Cadmium bounced up and stared Meloche down yelling, “You wanna go, little man?” Meloche replied, “Yes, I wish to go!” They proceeded to drop gloves and trade blows, with Meloche bloodying Cadmium’s nose before they could be separated.
Two periods later, Meloche and Muncie D Zander Phthalo began jostling vigorously during a faceoff. The jostling escalated to shoving and then to punching, and Meloche wrestled Phthalo to the ground before they were separated by the referees.
After Saturday’s slugfest, league officials threatened to suspend Meloche if he continued racking up fighting majors at this rate. Eagles coach Butch Slazenger, recognizing Meloche’s value to the team, also counseled his blueliner to rein it in. “I love Cedric Meloche,” said Slazenger. “He’s my favorite player. And all the guys love that he has their back. But he’s not just a goon. He’s strong on both ends, and we can’t afford to have him suspended. So I told him to pump the brakes a bit. Try not to get into multiple fights in a game, watch out for instigator penalties, stuff like that. Don’t give them an excuse to suspend you, because we need you.”
Meloche said he will try to heed his coach’s advice. “I always play the way I play,” said Meloche, “so I will stand up for my team and fight. But I know it is bad if they throw me out, so I will maybe not fight so much. I want to do the best thing for my team.”