Hamilton Goes Canadian with New Uniforms

The Hamilton Pistols quietly debuted a revamped uniform set this week.  The changes are designed, in the words of GM Marcel LaClaire, to “emphasize our Canadian pride and our Hamilton pride.”  The changes also de-emphasize the firearms imagery, which may be a subtle first step toward changing the team’s name.

New Hamilton third jersey

The biggest change is the introduction of a new secondary logo (pictured above), replacing the previous secondary logo, which featured a silhouette of a handgun over a red oval.  The new maple leaf logo appears on the sleeves of the team’s home and road jerseys, and is the primary crest on the team’s new red-and-white third jersey.

The maple leaf-ization of the uniforms didn’t stop with the new logo, either.  All three uniforms now have small maple leaves superimposed on the rear hem of the jersey and the socks.  In addition, the road jersey now say “Hamilton” on the front, rather than “Pistols.”

According to LaClaire, these changes are designed to highlight the team’s Canadian identity.  “Hockey is a proud Canadian sport and we are a proud Canadian city,” said the Pistols GM.  “We love our country and our city, and we want to make that clear in our uniforms.”

The move drew criticism from the SHL’s other two Canadian teams, the Saskatchewan Shockers and Quebec Tigres.  The Tigres issued a press release blasting Hamilton’s “land grab” and saying “If the Pistols believe that they can become ‘Canada’s Team’ by festooning their uniforms with maple leaves, they are quite mistaken.  We are quite satisfied with being Quebec’s team.”  Meanwhile, Shockers GM Cooper Matthews jibed, “I don’t know, over-the-top patriotism seems more American to me.  Canadians don’t do this.”

Some critics, though, think the change is less about celebrating Canada and more about downplaying the Pistols name.  The team has been picketed by gun-control groups in the past, and although owner Cory Blackwood, Jr. loves the name, it’s rumored that some senior league officials don’t.  According to this theory, the league has ordered the team to de-emphasize the “Pistols” branding, with the goal of changing to a less controversial name down the line.  The league office declined to comment on this theory, and LaClaire insisted that the uniform changes were solely the team’s idea.

If the league is secretly pushing the Pistols to change their name, team star Steven Alexander insists it will happen over his dead body.  “I think Pistols is a great name for a hockey team,” Alexander told reporters.  “We’re fast and lethal.  It’s a perfect fit.”  Alexander is a fan of the new uniforms, though.  “I think they look sharp,” he said.  “And I like having ‘Hamilton’ on the front of our road unis. It’s good for us to represent.”

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VP Draws Protests, Boos at Galaxy Game

The worlds of politics and hockey had another awkward intersection this week, courtesy of Donald Trump.  In 2015, back when Trump was still considered a fringe candidate, the Washington Galaxy mocked him by having fans shoot pucks at a caricature of his face, a stunt for which the team later apologized.  Now that Trump has stunned the world by becoming president, the Galaxy invited him to drop the puck for their Opening Day game against the Hamilton Pistols.

Trump declined the invitation, but the Vice President agreed to do the honors in his place.  But a seemingly harmless ceremonial ritual turned into the latest example of the partisan divide in America, as his appearance was met with protests and boos.

Prior to the game, a group of approximately 50 anti-Trump protesters demonstrated outside of Constellation Center, leading chants and holding signs with slogans like “Dump Trump,” “Impeach Trump,” and “Hail to the Thief.”  Many fans walking into the arena flashed thumbs-up and expressed agreement with the protesters, although a couple of them stopped to argue.  The arguments grew heated at times, but did not turn physical.

When it was time for the puck drop, the VP emerged onto the ice wearing a Galaxy jersey and waving to the crowd.  As soon as his name was announced, the boos began to swell, drowning out the handful of cheers.  By the time he arrived at center ice along with Galaxy C J.C. Marais and Pistols D Russ Klemmer, the booing was so loud as to be nearly deafening.  Public address announcer Rob Crane urged the fans to show respect, which only made them boo louder.   The VP dropped the puck, then briefly waved again and hurried off the ice as quickly as he could.

He also visited both locker rooms before the game.  “We had a chance to talk a little bit,” said Galaxy D Bill Corbett.  “He’s a really nice guy and a real sports fan.”  Asked about the booing, Corbett said, “I mean, they’ve got the First Amendment rights, so they can do it.  But it’s a real shame, because he doesn’t deserve it.”

Rodney Reagle

Washington coach Rodney Reagle declined to discuss the incident, joking that “they’ve got 100,000 volts of electricity wired right through this chair, and if I say anything political, they’re gonna turn on the juice and I’m a goner.  So I’m just gonna keep my mouth shut.”

Sources close to the Galaxy say that star winger Jefferson McNeely was supposed to take the opening puck drop, but that he declined to do so either out of a personal antipathy to the administration or out of fear that he would be shot.  McNeely refused to confirm or deny the rumor, but said that “I’m glad to see our fans express themselves.”

For his part, the VP professed not to be upset about the booing.  “I love freedom, and this is what freedom is about,” he said.  “I don’t object to our citizens expressing their views.  I very much appreciated the fans who had the courage to show their support.”

Shockers Host a Wild Home Opener

The Saskatchewan Shockers are in a difficult spot entering the 2017 SHL season.  By all accounts, Saskatchewan doesn’t have the talent to contend in the West; they’re an up-and-coming team, but they still have a long way to go.  Playing in one of the league’s smallest markets, the Shockers also struggle at times with attendance, and the team’s attempts at splashy promotions have too often gone awry.

Heinz Doofenshmirtz

So when Shockers owner Heinz Doofenshmirtz promised “a really spectacular spectacle” for the team’s home opener against the Anchorage Igloos, many fans held their breath and tried to imagine what might go wrong.  Would the ceremony wind up injuring a star player?  Would Doofenshmirtz accidentally burn the arena down?  The mind reeled at the possibilities.

But the Shockers defied the ill omens and put on a show that, while long and over-the-top, was free of calamity.  “This is it!” crowed the Shockers owner afterward.  “Now we’re going to take over the entire SHL!”

Shortly before the scheduled puck drop, the lights went out at Potash Arena.  At first, nervous fans believed that there might have been a power failure.  But their worries were dispelled when multi-colored spotlights began flashing around the arena, and the sound of thunder filled the arena.  Soon thereafter, the familiar opening strains of “Burn It to the Ground” by Nickelback echoed over the PA system.  The fans began clapping and cheering as a phalanx of skaters wearing Shockers jerseys and waving Canadian flag began to circle the ice.  Soon, they were joined by a kick line of women in old-fashioned Vegas showgirl costumes, which only increased the cheers.

But then the fans’ eyes were drawn skyward, as a large platform began to descend from the roof of the arena.  On the platform was a golden ram’s head with glowing red eyes; flames shot upward from the corners of the platform.  Suddenly, a ’57 Chevy convertible emerged from the ram’s mouth, driven by Doofenshmirtz, who was clad in a leather jacket with a pompadour rising from his head.  Doofenshmirtz drove the Chevy out onto center ice (narrowly missing the showgirls), popped out, and waved to the crowd.

Sparky

Doofenshmirtz then pointed dramatically back toward the ram’s head, and out skated the Shockers’ new mascot, Sparky.  Sparky, an anthropomorphic lightning bolt in team colors, took a couple laps around the ice and tossed candy necklaces to the crowd.  Some of the children seated near the ice appeared to be frightened by Sparky, but they were soon mollified by the candy.

An inflatable slide then unfurled, connecting the ram’s-head platform to the club level of the arena.  The Shockers players slid down one at a time from the club level and came out through the ram’s head, to the crowd’s rapturous approval.

Finally, Doofenshmirtz opened the trunk of his convertible and out popped the members of Nickelback themselves.  They mounted the platform and proceeded to blast their way through a hard-rock rendition of “O, Canada.”

After the anthem was complete, the fans roared deliriously as the Shockers’ in-game entertainment crew fanned out along the catwalks on the roof and flung T-shirts and caps onto the masses below.  Doofenshmirtz and Nickleback hopped back into the Chevy and drove off the ice, and the ram’s head rose back to the roof.

Shockers fan Howie Crawford of Regina summed the ceremony up aptly: “I don’t really know what was going on, but it was a lot of fun.”

The visiting Igloos (who wound up winning the game 3-0) were reportedly unhappy about the length of the ceremony, which delayed the start of the game by almost 40 minutes.  But the fans left happy, and for Doofenshmirtz, that’s what really matters.

“Behold!” crowed the Shockers owner after the game.  “We actually had a successful event for a change.  Now, what can I do to top this next time?  Maybe I can fly a jet around the arena, or I can have the team enter through a ring of fire, or…”

SHL 2017 Season Preview – West

Michigan Gray Wolves

The defending SHL champions return largely intact for the 2017 season.  They lost only one significant contributor in D Patrick Banks, who went to Washington in free agency (rookie Brooks Zabielski takes over Banks’ spot in the third pairing).  But the loss of Banks should be offset by the arrival of LW Todd Douglas, bumping struggling Travis Gauss to the bench.  While their offense – particularly LW Vladimir Beruschko – showed some signs of age last season, the Wolves’ dominant defense and the peerless goaltending of Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist remain as strong as ever.  And it seems unlikely that coach Ron Wright will let the team rest on its laurels.  So what could slow them down?  The West is a tough division; Anchorage and Dakota should put up strong challenges.  But the biggest risk this team faces is injury, particularly to Lundquist.  If their star netminder goes down for any extended period, is rookie Brooks Copeland up to the job?  The Wolves hope they won’t have to find out.

 

Anchorage Igloos

The Igloos have made no secret of their desire to get back to the form that won them the 2015 SHL title.  Have they made the progress they needed?  It’s possible.  The biggest new addition is LW Ben Summers, a 10-goal scorer with New York last season.  He replaced Misha Petronov, whom the Igloos let go after a disappointing season.  But Anchorage’s fortunes are likely to hinge on the performance of their youngsters and their stars.  The Igloos are moving LW Les Collins, who had a breakout 35-point season in 2016, up the second line; they’re depending on him continuing to blossom as a scorer.  Their third defensive pairing is also new, combining rookie Tony Citrone with Sebastian Pomfret, who looked solid in limited action last year.  If those three have strong seasons, Anchorage should do well.  But their title chances likely rest on the shoulder of sniper Jake Frost.  Last season, Frost put up 45 goals, which would be a fine year for most players but an off year by Frost’s standards.  Since he is the key to Anchorage’s offense, a return to his typical output would make the Igloos dangerous.  If he has another off season, they’re likely to come up short again.

 

Dakota Jackalopes

For 2017, the Jackalopes have a new name (they changed from the Rapids) and a number of new faces.  After a couple disappointing seasons falling well short of contention, Dakota’s hoping that combination will be enough to help them catch up with the Western powers.  They did more to improve themselves than any other contender, adding C Mike Rivera via trade and D Rusty Anderson in free agency.  They also acquired D Scott Hexton from Hershey to make their defense that much stouter.  While the Jackalopes will always be an offense-first club, they’re arguably stronger on both sides of the puck than they’ve ever been.  If they were in the weaker East, Dakota would be at least a co-favorite to win the division.  This is the West, though.  If there’s an area where the Jackalopes may come up short, it’s between the pipes.  They’re relying on a pair of young goalies, Buzz Carson and Christien Adamsson.  Carson, the likely starter, had an impressive rookie season in 2016, and clearly improved as the season went on.  But nobody considers Carson to be in the same class as Michigan’s Lundquist or Anchorage’s Ty Worthington.  If Dakota finishes out of the money yet again, they may wind up ruing the day the front office ran Jesse Clarkson out of town.  But if Carson can take another step forward, the Jackalopes’ high-octane offense would make them a dangerous team.

 

Saskatchewan Shockers

Last season was a tale of two halves for the Shockers.  In the first 30 games, the fine goaltending of Zeke Zagurski and the scoring punch of rookie winger Troy Chamberlain had Saskatchewan hovering around the .500 mark and attracting notice as a young team on the rise.  The second half saw a dramatic fall from grace, as the Shockers lost 11 of their final 13 games and 23 of their last 30, and the team suffered a string of embarrassing personnel incidents that suggested a franchise coming apart at the seams.  The team improved in the offseason, drafting C Elliott Rafferty and trading for veteran G Oliver Richardson to back up Zagurski.  But the Shockers clearly lag far behind the contenders, with a subpar offense and a mediocre defense.  As a result, there are far more questions than answers headed into 2017.  Is coach Myron Beasley’s job in jeopardy if the Shockers stumble out of the gate, or fade in the second half again?  Can the front office get its act together and run the team in a more professional manner?  Can the team’s slow but steady building plan ever lift Saskatchewan into contention?  Should they consider dealing Zagurski and other veterans and go for a hard rebuild?  Can the team last in Saskatoon, or will owner Heinz Doofenshmirtz be forced to relocate?  Will the team ever abandon its bizarre yellow-and-seafoam color scheme?  Can this team ever be a real contender, or will they forever be a poorly-run, mistake-prone joke?  It’s hard to know what the future holds for this truly strange team, but it’s safe to expect that there won’t be a ton of wins this season.

 

Seattle Sailors

The Sailors had a rough inaugural season, looking weak on both ends of the ice.  Their star rookie, RW Vince Mango, turning in a disappointing campaign, scoring only 33 goals and lacking the explosive shot that made him such a highly-regarded prospect.  The Sailors are likely to finish last again, so the 2017 season is all about showing signs of growth.  The team defied expectations to draft LW Rod “Money” Argent with the top pick in the draft; Seattle hopes that he’ll add some scoring punch to the top line and force opposing defenses to stop overloading on Mango.  The Sailors will be eager to see progress from Mango, Argent, and D Benny Lambert.  In a surprising signing, they added D Timothy “Cyclone” Winston to bolster their leaky blueline corps; the defense is still nowhere near Michigan’s level, but it should be better.  Last season, goalie Rocky Goldmire struggled and looked shell-shocked at times; a stronger defense should help him get more comfortable in the crease.  If Seattle’s going to become a contender down the road, they’ll need to see their young core come together and take a step forward.  They’ll also need to decide if volatile coach Stewart “Popeye” Corrigan has the temperament to be a leader of men.  Sailors fans should try not to fixate on the win-loss record this season; instead they should watch to see if they have a solid foundation for the future.

SHL 2017 Season Preview – East

Washington Galaxy

The Galaxy look like the favorites to capture the Eastern division title for a third straight season.  They navigated the offseason successfully, patching their few holes and not losing any key contributors.  Their biggest move was signing free-agent winger Piotr Soforenko to bolster the third line, which was a huge problem last season.  They upgraded their backup goalie, replacing Gus Parrish with veteran Ron Mason, who won the Vandy with Anchorage in 2015.  And while they unexpectedly lost D Rusty Anderson, they signed a replacement (Patrick Banks) who is an even stronger defender.  It’s hard to find any vulnerabilities with this squad.  But after two straight losses in the SHL Finals, Washington’s real goal this year is to capture the elusive Vandy.  Do they have the horses to take down whoever comes out of the West?  That’s far from clear, but they very likely do have more than enough to win the East again.

Hershey Bliss

After their heartbreaking loss in last season’s final game, in which the Bliss blew a two-goal third-period lead to drop the division, Hershey’s very eager to get over the hump and take the division this season.  But given their lofty goals, it’s surprising that Hershey had such a ho-hum offseason, failing to get significantly better and possibly taking a half-step back.  Last season’s big deadline deal for netminder Jesse Clarkson turned out to be a bust, and one that could prove very costly down the road.  Hershey didn’t win the division, and they gave away a couple major assets (their first-round pick and goalie prospect Buzz Carson) that could have helped them land a major upgrade for this season.  Compounding the pain, the Bliss lost Clarkson in free agency; ex-Hamilton Pistol Brandon Colt will tend the twine instead.  Hershey GM Scott Lawrence seems to be banking once again on the high-powered Love Line of Christopher Hart, Justin Valentine, and Lance Sweet to lead the team to victory.  And indeed, the trio is talented enough to have a shot at pulling it off.  But Washington has more depth and a better goalie.  Can the Bliss overcome all that to make their first Final?  They’ll go as far as their top line can take them.

New York Night

Last season was a grim one for the Night, as their season imploded in a storm of finger-pointing, bad press, and locker-room infighting.  In the wake of that fiasco, New York fired coach Preston Rivers and set about cleaning house in order to build a championship-caliber club.  New head man Nick Foster is a well-regarded hire, and he and GM Royce McCormick have made some bold moves this offseason.  They started by making a major push to improve the team’s netminding, signing Clarkson in free agency and drafting top prospect Sherman Carter.  The Night also looked to shake their well-earned reputation as an all-offense/no-defense team.  They shipped out C Mike Rivera and let winger Ben Summers depart in free agency; both were poor defensively.  They added C Phil Miller, LW Misha Petronov, and F Andrei Volodin, all of whom should improve the team’s balance.  Will that be enough?  Maybe not; the Night still lack any shut-down blueliners and will likely still need to prevail in high-scoring shootouts.  Also, apart from Rivers, all the players in last season’s clubhouse drama are still around.  The bad juju of 2016 might spill over to this season.  But Foster seems like the right man for the job, and the Night are definitely a team to watch going forward.

Hamilton Pistols

The Pistols’ careful rebuild continued this offseason, as they traded up in the draft to land star goalie prospect Lasse Koskinen and added hard-nosed D Jack “Hercules” Mulligan.  Koskinen should help Pistols fans forget the departed Colt, and Mulligan steps into the second-pairing slot vacated by Dmitri Kalashnikov, who was dealt so that the Pistols could move up in the draft.  If the two hot rookies play up to their potential and the veteran top line continues to produce, Hamilton could be a dark-horse contender in the East.  More than likely, though, it will be another season of slow but steady growth under coach Keith Shields.  The Pistols seem to be moving toward embracing a hard-nosed, defense-first identity, which is at odds with the fast-paced, high-scoring style exemplified by star LW Steven Alexander.  If Shields can balance the team’s competing styles, this could be a team to be reckoned with in a couple years.  If not, though, their rebuilding may reach a crossroads sooner than expected.  Is Shields up to the task?  Can the Pistols take the next step and become contenders?  Stay tuned.

Quebec Tigres

The Tigres’ offseason plans were thrown into disarray during the draft.  Holding the second selection, Quebec was set on picking LW Rod “Money” Argent, a Quebec native with 25-to-30-goal scoring potential, who could have paired with Stephane Mirac to give the team the scoring threat it so desperately needs.  But Seattle foiled those plans by taking Argent with the top pick, and the Tigres were seemingly left at a loss.  Rather than give themselves a potential league-leading goaltending tandem by picking Koskinen or strengthening their ferocious defense by taking Mulligan or addressing their void at center by grabbing Titus Jameson, Quebec instead moved down in a deal with Hamilton.  They wound up with quantity over quality, receiving Kalashnikov and a pair of lesser picks (which they used on winger Rupert MacDiamid and D Hal Pugliese).  It was a solid return, but not the home-run pick that Argent would have been.  As such, it’s hard to see Quebec making noise in a strengthening division.  Just like last year, they’ll hope that star netminder Riki Tiktuunen and their hustling, swarming defense can overcome their abysmal offensive attack.  Apart from Mirac, there are no serious scoring threats in this lineup.  Coach Martin Delorme will continue to preach his hard-working, hard-hitting, selfless style, but Quebec’s punchless offense will almost certainly doom them to the basement for another season.

Night Name New Coaches

The New York Night announced this week that they hired Nick Foster as their new coach for the 2017 season.  Foster replaces Preston Rivers, who was fired after two seasons of disappointing results on-ice and tremendous dysfunction off of it.

“It’s no secret that we have high aspirations as an organization,” said New York GM Royce McCormick.  “We want to be a championship organization, and we think Nick is the guy to get us there.  He’s got the qualities that we were looking for: he’s smart, tough, and he knows the game inside out.  There’s no limit to how far he can take us.”

Nick Foster

Sources close to the organization say that the Night strongly preferred a veteran coach, and Foster definitely fits the bill, with over 15 years of experience coaching at a variety of levels, from college to junior to the minor leagues.  “This isn’t my first rodeo,” said Foster.  “I know we’ve got some work to do, but that doesn’t scare me.”

Foster has a reputation as a turnaround artist; at several stops, he’s taken poor and struggling teams and turned them into contenders.  “He’s a guy who knows how to get results, and quickly,” said McCormick.  “That’s exactly what I want to see.”

Foster was coy about setting expectations at the press conference.  When asked if he thought the Night would make the Finals this season, the new coach replied with a grin, “I’m not going to make any guarantees.  That’s a good way to get run out of town in a hurry.  But we’re going to be competitive, and we’re going to win sooner than later.  That’s why I love New York; it’s a winner’s town.”

The Night certainly expected to be competitive under Rivers, and the coach never shied away from boasting about his team’s prowess.  But New York’s grand ambitions crumbled into a wreck of poor defense, inconsistent effort, and internal dissension.  Several players took public shots at their teammates and Rivers, with star RW Rick “The Stick” Nelson even bolting the team in the final week of the season.

Foster acknowledged that repairing the Night’s toxic clubhouse is a priority.  “Obviously, things got out of control here last year, and that can’t happen again,” said Foster.  “I want to get us focused on winning and working together.  I’ve always found that it’s a lot easier to keep everybody happy when you win.”

Asked if he planned to seek trades for any noted troublemakers, Foster said, “Nah.  Not right away.  As far as I’m concerned, they’ve all got a clean slate with me.  Everybody’s got a chance to get on board with what we’re doing.”

Biff Lombardi

Along with Foster, the Night introduced new assistant coach Biff Lombardi, replacing Cam Prince.  Lombardi was reportedly a finalist for the head job as well.  Lombardi has been an assistant for almost 20 seasons, primarily in the minor leagues.  He is known for his defensive instruction, and he hopes to address the team’s defensive issues.

“Look, let’s be honest: this team is never going to be Michigan in terms of defense,” Lombardi said.  “That’s not our identity.  But if we can make more of an effort, police our own end better, that goes a long way.  We don’t have to turn into a bunch of grinders and trappers, but we need to make that effort.  I’m OK with winning 5-4, but we can’t give up 5 or 6 goals a game and expect to win.”

New York players responded positively to the hirings of Foster and Lombardi.  “Nick Foster seems like a good guy and a serious, professional guy,” said Nelson.  “He’s not going to be out glossing himself all the time.  He’s into winning, and that’s what we’re into too.  Let’s do this.”

Dakota Unveils New Name, Uniforms

When the Dakota Rapids take the ice next season, they’ll be doing so under a different name.  Team owner Roger Scott revealed on Friday that starting in the 2017 season, the Rapids will be known as the Dakota Jackalopes.

“This has always been Dakota’s team,” said Scott.  “We’ve always looked for ways to increase our ties with the local community.  But when I’ve talked to our fans, both in the arena and out on the street, they’ve told me that the name ‘Rapids’ didn’t really resonate with them.  It felt a little too generic.  So I thought: what says Dakota better than a jackalope?”

Although the first jackalopes originated in Wyoming in the 1930s, they quickly spread to South Dakota and have been a mainstay of local folklore ever since.  While the actual creature can be elusive, mounted heads and jackalope-themed merchandise can be found all over the state.  Perhaps the most famous example is the giant jackalope statue located at Wall Drug.

“I expect the new name to be a big hit,” said Scott.  “If you don’t love the jackalope, you have no heart.”

Along with the name, Scott unveiled the team’s new logo – a roundel with a leaping jackalope in the center – as well as new uniforms.  The new unis retain the crimson and cream from their previous color scheme; however, green is no longer present in the team’s uniforms or logo.  The new threads also retain Dakota’s triple-stripe motif.  The leaping jackalope crest is prominent on both home and road uniforms.

New Home Uniforms

“Our old uniforms were too busy and didn’t establish a consistent look,” Scott noted.  “We wanted something clean and fresh, while still being traditional and tied to our old look.”

Star LW “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston, who modeled the new home jersey at the event, is excited about the new name.  “To me, it’s the perfect name,” said Airston.  “Jackalopes are fast but ferocious, just like us.  They look cute from a distance, but you don’t want to mess with them up close.  Plus, you all know how I feel about bunnies, and the jackalope is a close cousin.  I love it!”

G Christien Adamsson, modeling the road jersey, shared Airston’s enthusiasm.  “It’s a name that’s perfectly local,” said the South Dakota native.  “The fans here will go crazy for it.”

The defending SHL champion Michigan Gray Wolves, one of Dakota’s rivals in the West, issued a press release congratulating the Jackalopes on their new name.  “We look forward to doing battle with the Jackalopes next season,” read the release.  “We’re sure there’s no truth to the rumor that Dakota’s odds of winning the Vandy are slimmer than the odds of finding a jackalope in the wild.”