- On Monday, the Dakota Jackalopes activated C Tanner Brooks from the injured list. Shortly before the All-Star break, Brooks suffered an upper-body injury. Although the injury initially did not seem that serious, Brooks wound up missing over three weeks. As the Jackalopes had an available roster spot, they did not need to make a compensating move to activate Brooks.
- Also on Monday, the Hershey Bliss‘ CHL affiliate in Milwaukee placed LW Karl Gjovik on the injured list. Gjovik exited in the first period of Sunday’s 3-1 win over Cleveland after being upended on a devastating check, and did not return. He is expected to miss at least two weeks. To replace Gjovik, Milwaukee signed F Jerry Cazenovia to a short-term contract.
- On Wednesday, the Hamilton Pistols activated C Marco Venezio from the injured list. The veteran center missed 10 games with a lower=body injury suffered just before the All-Star break. In order to make room for Venezio, the Pistols reassigned C Hilliard Macy to their CHL affiliate in Oshawa, and released F Bobby Warner from Oshawa.
- Wednesday was the trading deadline. The following trades were consummated at the deadline:
- The Michigan Gray Wolves traded RW Gordon Lunsford to the Boston Badgers for RW Rory Socarra. (More details here.) After the trade, Boston demoted RW Felix Delorme to their CHL affiliate in Hartford, and recalled F Jacques Bacon from Hartford.
- The Gray Wolves traded LW Misha Petronov, F Cary Estabrook, and D Brandon Arrowood to the New York Night for LW Flynn Danner, F Henry Constantine, and D Anson Brank. (More details here.) After the trade, Michigan demoted LW Fendrick Scanlan to their CHL affiliate in Cleveland, and New York promoted RW Harris Wondolowski from their affiliate in Utah.
- The Dakota Jackalopes traded D Victor Addison to Boston in exchange for D Jackson Creed. After the trade, the Badgers demoted D Bjorn Tollefson to their minor-league affiliate in Hartford.
- Michigan traded C Warren Marlow to the Quebec Tigres in exchange for C Phil Miller, LW Carl Bleyer, and a 1st-round draft pick. (More details here.) After the trade, the Gray Wolves released F Caleb Moulton. The Tigres demoted C Dwight Flynn to their CHL affiliate in Halifax, and signed F Tim Daisey to a minor-league deal.
- On Saturday, the Anchorage Igloos recalled RW Jean Pierre Fleury from their CHL affiliate in Minnesota. The Igloos demoted Fleury to Minnesota during the All-Star break, and he played brilliantly there, recording 19 points in 12 games, including the CHL’s first-ever five-goal game. To make room for Fleury, the Igloos reassigned RW Lionel LaNeige to Minnesota.
Last season, the Hamilton Pistols delighted the Greater Toronto Area by claiming their first-ever championship. In the wake of their title — and considerable roster turnover — some wondered whether the Pistols would be up to the challenge of prevailing in the improving East and defending their title. So far this season, Hamilton looks like they’re very much up to the challenge, and are well-positioned to defend their title.
“We’re not taking anything for granted,” said Pistols coach Keith Shields. “But we’re feeling good about where we are, and we’re confident that we can match up with anyone who wants to take the Vandy away from us.”
Over the first month or so of the season, Hamilton found themselves in close competition with the Hershey Bliss. After that, though, they ripped off an 11-game unbeaten streak to establish a comfortable division lead. They’re currently riding a 15-3-3 run. They’ve survived their share of injuries, including to stars like C Calvin Frye and LW Steven Alexander. It’s seemed that nothing can slow them down.
“Everyone in this room is focused on repeating,” said Alexander. “There’s no slowdown and no slacking off. We’re driven to keep the Vandy here.’
Last season’s success was built on the strength of their powerful offense, and the same is true this season. Hamilton is tied for the SHL lead in goals per game, averaging an eye-popping 3.8 goals per game. GM Marcel LaClaire has a knack for finding affordable veterans who produce outsized contributions, and this season is no exception. The Pistols added RW Ben Summers and C Marco Venezio for a combined $1.5 million, and both players are providing bang for their back. Venezio (9 goals, 13 assists, +8 rating) has stepped into the second-line center role that Eddie Costello filled so well last season, while Summers (16 goals, 16 assists, +15) has provided the secondary scoring threat that the team was lacking. They have clicked brilliantly with linemate Magnus Gunnarson, who is on track for a career year (14 goals, 28 assists, +13).
“We have the best second line in the league, no question about it,” said Frye. “And that makes us a really dangerous team, because nobody has an answer for our top six.”
At the other end of the ice, netminder Lasse Koskinen (17-7-4, 3.13 GAA, .914 save percentage) has rebounded from an early-season slump back to his typical elite level of play. And when backup Ron Mason (8-3-1, 2.90, .912) is in the crease, the Pistols don’t miss a beat.
“Having Koski and Mase in net is great,” said Shields. “We know that whoever’s got the start on a given night is going to give us a top-notch performance. And knowing that, our guys are free to be more aggressive and maximize their scoring chances.”
Are there any warning signs for the Pistols? They may not have lost much recently, but some of their losses have come against potential playoff opponents. They’re 2-3-0 this season against Hershey; their last meeting was a 6-0 Bliss blowout at Chocolate Center. And when the Pistols hosted the Western-leading Portland Bluebacks just before the All-Star break, the Bluebacks cruised to an easy 4-0 victory.
But Alexander says the Pistols aren’t concerned about those results. “When it gets to be playoff time, it’s a different game and a different atmosphere,” the winger noted. “We’ve been tested in the battle, and we’ve come out strong. And we’re going to do that again this year. Just you wait.”
At this point, it’s well-known around the league that the Hamilton Pistols and New York Night don’t like each other. The teams have been feuding for multiple seasons. The rivalry was initially sparked and furiously stoked by Night coach Nick Foster. The New York organization has also played its part in kindling the dislike, particularly during last season’s “Canada Night” promotion. The Pistols have lobbed their own barbed remarks and occasionally gotten physical, but have generally preferred to let their play do the talking. Foster’s recent jabs at the team’s new mascot, however, seem to have crossed the line, and the Pistols finally went after the New York coach and his team in a memorable in-game skit.
The Pistols debuted Crosscheck, a friendly orange creature, as their new mascot about a month into the season. Foster saw it for the first time shortly before the All-Star break, and wasted no time making fun of it. Foster called Crosscheck a “freaky inbred Teletubby” and claimed that it represents a typical Pistols fan, because “it’s fat, missing most of its teeth, and it looks like its family tree is a straight line.” Pistols fans and players alike were outraged by Foster’s insults, and the team decided to respond in kind.
The Night came to Hamilton on Saturday, and the fans filled the air with boos when Foster’s name was mentioned during the pregame lineup announcements. Before the opening puck drop, the Pistols dimmed the lights and cued up a video on the Jumbotron. It began with some clips of Foster’s descriptions of the Hamilton mascot. Then, after a pause, it showed Crosscheck sitting in the office of owner Cory Blackwood, Jr. The owner assured Crosscheck, “Listen, whatever you want to do, the organization is behind you. I think it’s time you got even.”
The video then showed a series of clips of Hamilton players beating up New York players, interspersed with shots of Crosscheck venting his frustrations. In one scene, he threw darts at a picture of Foster’s face. In another, he went after a punching bag with Foster’s picture taped to it. In yet another, he played a special version of Whack-A-Mole where all the “moles” were made to look like the Night coach’s head. The whole sequence was scored to Loretta Lynn’s 1968 country classic “Fist City.” The fans laughed and cheered throughout; even some of New York’s players appeared to be watching with evident amusement.
Finally, after the video was complete, Crosscheck came charging out on the ice, wearing boxing trunks and gloves. He stopped in front of the Night bench, waved his fists around, and pointed at Foster, challenging the Night bench boss to a throwdown. Foster responded by laughing and blowing kisses, while the fans booed. Adding injury to insult, the Pistols proceeded to shut out the Night 3-0 during the game, with backup netminder Ron Mason stopping all 42 New York shots.
“I loved it!” said Foster after the game. “The freaky Teletubby earned my respect out there today. It might not be too bright, but it knows how to stand up for itself. Again, I’d say that the weirdo seemed like a typical Pistols fan, except that it seemed to be basically sober.”
The Pistols, naturally, dubbed Foster a coward for declining Crosscheck’s invitation to fight. “Crosscheck called [Foster] out like a man, or whatever it is,” said LW Steven Alexander. “And Foster had a chance to back up his mouth with some action, but of course he wouldn’t do it. I wish I was surprised. Crosscheck is ten times the man that Foster is, and Crosscheck’s not even a man.”
One thing’s for certain: the Pistols are clearly not inclined to take Foster’s insults lying down. Will the Night respond in kind the next time Hamilton visits the Big Apple? As angry as this rivalry already is, it could be heading for an even greater level of hatred.
The following transactions occurred during the All-Star break:
- The Anchorage Igloos demoted RW Jean Pierre Fleury and G Wendall Cantillon to their CHL affiliate in Minnesota and called up RW Lionel LaNeige and G Curt Freeze from Minnesota. Fleury has struggled badly this year, recording only 2 points in 20 games, and has been a healthy scratch in many recent games. Cantillon has posted a 2-4-2 record with a 4.04 GAA as the Igloos’ backup netminder this season. The 22-year-old LaNeige makes his SHL debut; he has recorded 17 points (8 goals, 9 assists) in 32 games with Minnesota this year. Freeze, a longtime Anchorage prospect, has gone 5-11-2 with a 2.59 GAA and a .905 save percentage so far this seaosn.
- The Boston Badgers sent F Jacques Bacon and D Jackson Creed to their affiliate in Hartford, and recalled RW Felix Delorme and D Brett Stolte from Hartford. Bacon, a veteran who signed as a free agent in the offseason, has appeared in only 7 games for Boston and has yet to record a point. The Badgers are hoping that Delorme, nephew of Quebec coach Martin Delorme, can provide a spark for their stagnant offense. Delorme was a starter in the CHL All-Star Game, and has recorded 10 goals and 17 assists so far this season. The Badgers called up Creed from Hartford two and a half weeks ago; he played in 6 games and recorded an assist. Stolte, another CHL All-Star, has produced 12 goals and 13 assists so far this year.
- The Dakota Jackalopes demoted D Geoff Moultrie and promoted D Brady Prussian. Moultrie recorded 2 goals and a -2 rating in 14 games for Dakota this season; the team hopes to get him more regular playing time with their affiliate in Idaho. Prussian has produced 26 points (14 goals, 12 assists) and a +13 rating with Idaho on the year.
- The Hamilton Pistols demoted D Torrey Ashmont and promoted D Russ Klemmer. Ashmont is a rookie who has struggled for ice time with the Pistols, appearing in only 9 games. He figures to start regularly with the team’s Oshawa affiliate. Klemmer, meanwhile, was a CHL All-Star; his 22 assists placed him in the league’s top ten.
- The Hershey Bliss demoted F Anton Lapointe and promoted RW James Clay. Lapointe, a capable defensive forward, has struggled to produce offensively at the SHL level; so far this year, he has produced two assists in 9 games. Clay, another CHL All-Star, led Hershey’s Milwaukee affiliate with 28 points (13 goals, 15 assists).
- The Kansas City Smoke demoted G Dennis Wampler and promoted G Eric Middleton. Kansas City’s 3.79 GAA is second-worst in the SHL, and Wampler (3-8-1, 4.06 GAA, .882 save percentage) has contributed to those woes. Middleton, an 18-year-old rookie, has thrived with the Smoke’s affiliate in Omaha, going 8-6-3 with a 2.06 GAA and a .929 save percentage.
- The Michigan Gray Wolves demoted RW Kelvin Starkey and F Cary Estabrook and promoted LW Fendrick Scanlan and RW Steve Brandon. The offensively-challenged Wolves shook up their forward depth, swapping out Starkey (1 goal in 24 games) and Estabrook (no points in 10 games) for the top two scorers (and All-Stars) with their Cleveland affiliate, Scanlan (13 goals, 10 assists) and Brandon (12 games, 10 assists).
- The New York Night demoted G Corey Franklin-Lee and recalled G Sherman Carter. This is the reverse of the transaction New York made two weeks earlier, when they sent Carter to their affiliate in Utah in order to regain his form and confidence. Carter went 4-2-1 with a 1.98 GAA and a .926 save percentage in Utah, while Franklin-Lee went 1-2-0 with a 3.00 GAA and a .925 save percentage in the Big Apple.
- The Quebec Tigres demoted C Phil Miller and promoted C Dwight Flynn. The veteran Miller has failed to produce in Quebec this season, with a mere two assists and a -10 rating in 27 games. Flynn, meanwhile, has produced at an All-Star level with Halifax this year, including 16 goals, 21 assists, and a +3 rating.
- The Saskatchewan Shockers signed D Kjell Hanson to a minor-league contract. The Shockers found themselves with a short minor-league roster after calling up D Pierre Chappelle and C Trent Harlow as injury replacements just before the All-Star break, and Hanson will help fill the void. The 24-year-Hanson started the year in the Kansas City organization, but the Smoke released him the week before the break.
- The Washington Galaxy demoted D Shane Gladchuk and promoted D Morris Starling. The rebuilding Galaxy wanted to give Starling, a CHL All-Star with Baltimore, some ice time at the SHL level. He led the with 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists). Gladchuk appeared in 12 games with Washington, notching 3 assists and a -8 rating.
- On Monday, the Kansas City Smoke‘s CHL affiliate in Omaha activated D Lowell Sharkey from the injured list. Sharkey, who is a highly-regarded prospect in the Kansas City organization, missed five weeks with a lower-body injury. In order to make room for Sharkey on the roster, the team released D Kjell Hanson. The 24-year-old Hanson appeared in 15 games for Omaha, recording 2 assists and a -4 rating.
- On Friday, the Dakota Jackalopes placed C Tanner Brooks on the injured list. The 23-year-old Brooks suffered an upper-body injury during Thursday’s 4-1 win over Quebec, and is expected to miss at least three weeks. To fill in during Brooks’ absence, the Jackalopes promoted C Jacob Cunniff from their CHL affiliate in Idaho. Cunniff is Idaho’s leading scorer, with 36 points (12 goals, 24 assists) so far on the season.
- Also on Friday, the Hershey Bliss activated LW Russell Nahorniak from the injured list. Nahorniak missed five weeks with a lower-body injury. In order to accommodate Nahorniak’s return, the Bliss sent LW Sergei Tarisov back to their affiliate in Milwaukee. Tarisov appeared in 13 games during Nahorniak’s absence, recording 3 goals and a +3 rating. To make room for Tarisov on Milwaukee’s roster, the team released F Jerry Casenovia.
- In one more Friday move, the Saskatchewan Shockers placed D Chris “Lightning” Oflyng on the injured list. Oflyng had to be helped off the ice after being slammed head-first into the boards on Thursday, and is expected to miss up to six weeks. The loss is devastating to the surging Shockers, as Oflyng led the team in points with 30 (8 goals, 22 assists). To fill Oflyng’s roster spot, Saskatchewan called up D Pierre Chappelle from their CHL affiliate in Virginia. The 31-year-old Chappelle was tied for the Virginia team lead in goals (with 15) and points (with 29).
- On Saturday, the Hamilton Pistols placed C Marco Venezio on the injured list. Venezio suffered a lower-body injury during Saturday’s game against Saskatchewan, and is expected to miss three to four weeks. Venezio has been a stalwart on Hamilton’s second line, putting up 22 points (9 goals, 13 assists) on the season. To fill Venezio’s spot on the roster, Hamilton called up C Hilliard Macy from their affiliate in Oshawa. It’s the second SHL stint for the 20-year-old Macy, who appeared in 5 games for Hamilton earlier in the season. The Pistols also signed F Bobby Warner to a minor-league contract.
- Also on Saturday, the Shockers placed C Cyril Perignon on the injured list. Perignon suffered a lower-body injury against Hamilton on Saturday; he is expected to miss at least a month. Perignon has recorded 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists) and a +1 rating on the season for Saskatchewan. To replace Perignon, the Shockers called up C Trent Harlow from Virginia. At the time of his callup, Harlow led the Rhinos with 30 points.
The SHL selected Hamilton Pistols LW Steven Alexander as its Player of the Week. On Sunday, Alexander became the second SHL player this season to score four goals in a game, joining New York’s Brock Manning. Alexander’s four-spot came in an 8-4 rout of Dakota, the highlight of their 4-1-1 homestand. With Alexander and his wicked stick leading the way, the Pistols reeled off an 11-game unbeaten streak, which was snapped on Thursday in a 4-0 loss to Portland.
Alexander’s four-goal performance vaulted him into the league lead for goals with 21. At week’s end, he was tied atop the leaderboard with teammate Calvin Frye. Alexander is also among the league’s top 10 in points for the season with 36.
“I’ve got to tell you, this looks like a team that’s ready to defend the title,” said Pistols coach Keith Shields. “Success hasn’t spoiled us at all. We’re still young, scrappy, and hungry. And that starts with Alex. He just doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit.”
In recent seasons, the trend of individual goal songs has been spreading throughout hockey. Most NHL and SHL teams have an anthem that they play when their team scores, but now some teams are playing specific songs when certain players score. The Hamilton Pistols are the latest team to join that bandwagon, and it’s proven delightful to their fans… and annoying to their opponents.
The Pistols front office discussed the idea of individual goal songs during the offseason. They decided to start small, with an individual song only for their top scorer, Steven Alexander. “Alex is a generational talent, so if anyone deserves to have a special song, it’s him,” said Pistols coach Keith Shields.
After discussing the idea with Alexander and considering some possible choices, the team ultimately settled on a techno remix of “Scotland the Brave.” (Alexander is of Scottish descent.) “It was the perfect mix: distinctive, energetic, and fun,” said GM Marcel LaClaire.
The Pistols rolled out the song at the home opener, and it quickly proved to be a hit. The song’s tempo and the quirkiness of the bagpipes were an infectious and irresistible combination for the fans. Several Hamilton diehards dubbed themselves “Clan Alexander,” and now come to the arena dressed in red-and-black plaid kilts and tams, and play “air bagpipes” whenever their hero scores.
So far, so good. But the song was such a hit that the team also began playing it as a third-period rally song. The song is accompanied by a cartoon of a kilt-clad Alexander clubbing opponents to death with his hockey stick. Naturally, the fans responded raucously to the prompt, raising the decibel level within Gunpowder Armory to deafening levels. This tidal wave of noise drew the ire of Anchorage Igloos coach Sam Castor this week.
In the third period of Tuesday’s game, the Igloos trailed the Pistols 4-3, but Anchorage went on the power play with less than two minutes left and a chance to tie things up. Castor called time out to discuss strategy with his team. Unfortunately, he found himself completely drowned out by the music and the roar of the crowd. The Igloos failed to score on the ensuing power play, and wound up losing the game.
“I’m trying to get my team on the same page for a critical PK, and I can’t even hear the words coming out of my mouth,” fumed Castor after the game. “I’m used to loud music and screaming fans, but this was another level. I ought to be able to have a strategy session with my team without having to use sign language.”
Castor claimed to have measured the sound level using an app on his phone; he said that it exceeded 130 decibels, roughly the same as a jet engine during takeoff.
Initially, the team blew off the complaint. “What, are our fans cheering too loud for you?” said Shields when informed of Castor’s remarks. After talking to the league office, however, the Pistols apologized and said they would lower the volume on the song somewhat.
“We’re not wanting to deafen anybody,” said LaClaire. “We just want everybody to have a fun time. But never fear, ‘Scotland the Brave’ is here to stay.”