The CHL’s Cleveland Centurions were officially eliminated from playoff contention this week. There are a variety of reasons why the Centurions won’t make the playoffs. The team’s generally stout defense was undermined by a mediocre offense (440 points, 7th in the league), a struggling penalty kill (76.9%, worst), and an inability to win on the road (8-15-3, third-worst).
According to goaltender Art Cowan, though, there’s another key reason why Cleveland isn’t a playoff team: they didn’t play him often enough.
“I think the numbers speak for themselves,” Cowan told reporters on Friday after watching the Centurions’ 4-3 loss to Maine from the bench. “I clearly demonstrated myself to be the #1 goalie here, but I didn’t get the ice time. If I’d been the #1 starter, we’d be in the playoffs. I have no doubt in my mind about that.”
Cowan charged that the only reason he wasn’t named the top starter was because coach Chad Grimes favored rookie Jonas Schemko over him. “From the beginning, it was clear to me that Schemko was the coach’s pet,” said Cowan. “Even in training camp, I could tell that Coach wanted Schemko to succeed and he didn’t care about me. Even after the season started and it was clear I was the better netminder, the coach never wanted to admit he was wrong, so he kept giving Schemko chance after chance. I don’t know if I pissed him off or what, but it was obvious that I’m never going to be top dog around here.”
The statistics seem to validate Cowan’s argument. He posted a 14-7-4 record with a 2.66 GAA and a .907 save percentage, while Schemko has gone 11-18-1 with a 3.02 GAA and a save percentage of .892. Cowan’s .640 winning percentage, extrapolated over a full season, would indeed put Cleveland in the playoffs. But Cowan has actually started fewer games than Schemko (25 vs. 30).
According to Grimes, this is not a case of favoritism; rather, it’s a player development issue. “The plan all season long was to split the minutes between them,” said the Cleveland coach. “I want to win games as much as the next guy. But ultimately, our main goal here is to develop players for the big club [Michigan Gray Wolves]. From an organizational perspective, the big club wants to see both guys and find out what they can do. And they know more about what Artie can do, because he was with them last year. So they need to see a little more of Schemmer, to get a better picture.”
Cowan was not mollified by this explanation. “Every other team in this league has a #1 goalie, even though they’re all supposed to be ‘developing players.’ The better goalie gets more ice time, just like on a normal team. But not here, for some reason. So I’m not buying a crap excuse like that.”
Cowan said that he had not yet demanded a trade, but he hoped that he will play elsewhere next season. “I hope they let me go in the expansion draft, or that they deal me somewhere else. Clearly they don’t think I can do the job, and they want Schemko. Fine, then let me go somewhere else where I can get a shot.”
Wolves GM Tim Carrier denied that the organization has anything against Cowan. “We really like what we’ve seen from Artie this season,” said Carrier. “Obviously, up here we’re committed to The Bear [Dirk Lundquist] up here, but we consider Artie to be a major part of our future.”
For his part, Schemko said he was confused by the controversy. “Artie is my friend,” Schemko said. “I like that we both get to play together. I’m sad that he’s not happy. I hope we both get to stay and play again.”