Last season, the CHL’s Omaha Ashcats got hot in the second half of the season and rolled to the Western Division title (although they were upset by Utah in the first round of the playoffs). In the offseason, the parent Seattle Sailors moved their affiliate to a new city, Colorado Springs, and got a new name (the Zoomies) and a new coach (Artie Gambisch). They also saw significant roster turnover, as several top prospects were either promoted or traded. Despite all the new faces, the Zoomies have picked up right where they left off last year, racing out to a 13-2-0 record and a five-point lead in the West.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Colorado Springs’ success is their breakout stars. Netminder Sonny Kashiuk, who spent much of last year in Seattle, is off to a magnificent start, going 10-1-0 with a 1.45 GAA and a .946 save percentage. But the biggest and most unexpected star is RW Philippe Durien. Last season in Omaha, Durien put up a strong season, producing at a point-per-game pace. But he was known primarily as a facilitator, racking up 48 assists as he fed the team’s big scorers. This season, he has emerged as the team’s – and the league’s – top scorer.
“We all knew Philippe was a very good player,” said Zoomies C Nikolai Valkov. “But we didn’t know that he could score like this.”
Now Valkov’s teammates, and the league as a whole, know of Durien’s scoring prowess. The winger has already scored 15 goals, more than the 12 he tallied all of last season. He has six more goals than anyone else in the CHL. Unsurprisingly, he also leads the league in points with 25.
“Last year, my instinct was always to pass,” said Durien. “I always want to help my teammates and my team. But this year, Coach has told me to look for my shot first. He says, ‘Always you are unselfish, but maybe you should be a little more selfish.’ So I tried, and it is great!”
Durien sparkled this week as Colorado Springs played their first inter-division games of the year. On Saturday, Durien scored a goal and set up LW Kendall Bannon for another as the Zoomies bashed Baltimore 6-2. The next night, Durien struck twice in the first period to spark a 6-4 win over Cleveland. On Friday, in a showdown of first-place squads, Durien potted a pair to help Colorado Springs thrash Oshawa 7-2.
“I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but one of the smart things I did was to unleash Philippe,” said Gambisch. “I’d watch in practice, and I noticed that he had the hardest shot on the whole damn team. So I said to myself, Why the hell is he passing all the time? Take the shots! Now he’s leading the league in goals, and suddenly I’m a genius. I love it!”