It’s been a rough season for the CHL’s Cleveland Centurions. The Michigan affiliate has been firmly anchored to the bottom of the Eastern division all season long. There is reportedly friction between the players and new coach Erik Pavlovitch, as well as between factions of players on the team. This week, that tension boiled over in public fashion as goalie Guillaume Levan melted down and attacked a teammate at the end of yet another loss.
During Tuesday’s game against the Baltimore Blue Crabs, the score was tied 2-2 in overtime. Just over a minute into the extra session, the Blue Crabs set up in the Cleveland zone on the power play. D Gil Calvert, stationed in front of the net, attempted to deny position to the Crabs forwards. But then he got turned around and fell backward into the crease, where he became tangled up with Levan. This caused the goalie to go down, leaving a wide-open net for Baltimore C Tucker Barnhill, who buried the game-winning goal, sealing Cleveland’s thirteenth straight loss.
A frustrated Levan smashed his stick against the post, then quickly turned his anger on Calvert. Levan grabbed the defender by the throat and wrestled him to the ground. Teammates eventually came and separated the two, although observers noted that some players seemed slow to come to Calvert’s aid.
“I think some of the guys were kind of rooting for Guillaume a little there,” said an anonymous Cleveland player. “Myself included, to be honest. It kind of seemed like we were overdue for somebody to choke somebody.”
Pavolvitch quickly suspended Levan for two games, and ripped his team’s lack of cohesion in his post-game press conference. “This kind of behavior is totally unacceptable,” the Centurions coach told reporters. “We’re supposed to be a team, working together to battle the other guys. It looks like we’re more interested in fighting each other instead. What happened today was an embarrassment, but the real problem is that we’re not thinking like a team. We’re not unified.”
Levan left quickly after the game and did not speak to reporters after the incident. It has been a frustrating season for the veteran netminder. After a dismal year in Quebec last season, the Tigres made no attempt to re-sign Levan. He wound up inking a minor-league pact with Michigan shortly before training camp.
Levan claims that he was promised the Centurions’ starting goalie job, which was a key factor in his decision to sign; Pavlovitch denies that such a promise was made. Either way, the bulk of the goaltending minutes have gone to rookie Eugene Looney, which has left Levan stewing. (This argument has shades of last year’s Cleveland controversy, when goalie Art Cowan accused the coaches of favoring prospect Jonas Schemko despite Cowan’s superior stats. Neither one is with the Centurions this season; Cowan was promoted to the Wolves, while Schemko was claimed by Boston in the expansion draft.)
“At this level, we’re about player development,” said Pavlovitch. “That means grooming young guys like Gene, not feeding the ego of an old goalie on his way out of the league.”
Team sources say that the Gray Wolves organization is looking to move Levan, although the market for a 34-year-old goalie with a reputation as a poor teammate is unclear. It’s also not clear whether Pavlovitch will survive the season if the losses continue to mount and the locker-room feuds continue to fester.
As grim as things seem in Cleveland right now, Centurions RW Cleo Rodgers has an optimistic outlook. “Are we going through some choppy waters? Yeah,” Rodgers admitted. “But that’s how it goes in a family sometimes. Families fight, but they love each other underneath it. We’re a family, and we know that in the end. If we start winning a few games, that ought to help smooth things over.”