- On Monday, the New York Night demoted RW Harris Wondolowski to their CHL affiliate in Utah and called up F Cary Estabrook from Utah.
- On Saturday, the Hershey Bliss‘ farm team in Milwaukee activated LW Karl Gjovik from the injured list. The 21-year-old Gjovik missed almost three weeks with a lingering lower-body injury. In order to make room for Gjovik on the roster, the team released D Alec Schwartz. The 22-year-old blueliner appeared in 22 games for Milwaukee, failing to record a point and recording a -14 rating.
- Also on Saturday, the Dakota Jackalopes sent C Jacob Cunniff down to their affiliate in Idaho, and promoted LW Rick Crisak from Idaho. The Jackalopes had called up Cunniff before the All-Star break to fill in for the injured Tanner Brooks; since Brooks’ return, he had mostly been a healthy scratch. In 11 games for Dakota, Cunniff recorded an assist and a -5 rating. The 22-year-old Crisak is Idaho’s leading scorer, with 47 points (9 goals, 38 assists).
- In another Saturday move, the Kansas City Smoke called up RW Adriaen van der Veen from their farm club in Omaha and demoted F Louis LaPlante to Omaha. Van der Veen, who split last season between Kansas City and Omaha, is the affiliate’s scoring leader with 52 points (17 goals, 35 assists). As for LaPlante, the veteran winger has played sparingly for the Smoke this season, with 6 points (2 goals, 4 assists) in 17 games.
One of the major questions around the SHL this season is whether the East, long considered the weaker of the league’s two divisions, had finally caught up to – or even surpassed – the West. There have been several points in favor of this argument so far. During the first round of interdivision games, held in the West’s arenas, the East came within a couple games of breaking even. In the second set of East-west clashes, hosted by the Eastern teams at the end of the first half, Eastern clubs posted a winning percentage above the .600 mark. Then in the All-Star Game, the East won for the first time. Has the balance of power finally shifted?
Well, the West struck back during the latest round of interdivision clashes, which took place over the last week and a half. With the action shifting back West, the home teams posted their best record yet, posting a record of 21-12-3.
“Everybody’s been rushing to crown the East as the best,” said Anchorage Igloos coach Sam Castor, whose team went 4-1-1 during this round. “But they might have been just a bit premature.”
The West’s domination was complete. None of the East’s teams – not even the division-leading Hamilton Pistols – had a winning record in this round of games. On the other side of the ledger, every Western team except the Saskatchewan Shockers had a winning record. The West’s best team, surprisingly, was the Kansas City Smoke; they went 5-1-0 and moved within four points of the third-place Shockers.
For the East, embarrassments abounded. Last Saturday, the Pistols faced off against the West’s leader, the Portland Bluebacks, in a clash that reporters called a potential Finals preview. The result was an embarrassment for the defending champs; Portland broke open the game with a four-goal second period and rolled to a 7-3 blowout. The East’s second-place club, the Hershey Bliss, stumbled to a 1-4-1 record, punctuated by a humiliating 8-2 rout at the hands of the Dakota Jackalopes, the West’s fifth-place squad.
“Yeah, we basically got our heads handed to us,” said Bliss C Justin Valentine. “There’s no putting a pretty face on that. We’d better get ourselves straightened out and playing better quick,”
In spite of the West’s recent run of dominance, the East still has a chance to stake its claim to supremacy. Starting next week, the Western clubs will take one last swing through the East. So far, the West leads the season series 52-47-9, but that could change in a hurry.
“I think we’ve made it clear that we can play with anybody,” said Pistols LW Steven Alexander, whose team has gone 11-6-1 against the West this season. “It used to be taken for granted that whoever came out of the West would automatically win the Vandy. But we’re not afraid of anybody, I tell you that.”
Bluebacks coach Harold Engellund, meanwhile, disputes the premise of the question. Asked about the strength of the two divisions, replied: “What difference does it make? It’s team vs. team out there, not division vs. division. If we make it to the Finals, I guarantee nobody in our locker room is going to worry about how the East did this year. We’ll be focused on the team we’re actually playing against. The East as a whole is better this year, sure. But as long as my guys keep winning, that’s what I care about.”
Kansas City is a barbecue town. They’re famous for, and justifiably proud of, their love of slow-smoked meat. The Kansas City Smoke took its name in honor of the city’s ‘cue heritage, and they refer back to it at every opportunity. Several of the city’s best-known barbecue joints operation concession stands at Heartland Telecom Center. They even had youth hockey players take the ice dressed up in the colors of local institutions Arthur Bryant’s and Gates B-B-Q to “decide” which reigned supreme.
Up until this point, the Smoke’s ‘cue connections have been a good thing for the team. This week, however, the team’s fondness for KC’s favorite food led to trouble, as the team was penalized for snacking on ribs instead of taking the ice.
The incident occurred in the third period of Sunday’s game against the Michigan Gray Wolves. The Smoke recently added half-racks of ribs to their concessions offerings, and team president Eddie Whitmore wanted to make fans aware of the new option.
In order to make a splash, the team armed their mascot Pitmaster Pete with a vending tray full of single ribs, and turned him loose during a stoppage in play to hand out free samples in Section 101, near the Smoke bench.
The idea was a hit, as fans clamored to get their hands on a rib. The promotion was so popular, in fact, that the fans jammed the aisle, briefly leading Pete to fear for his life.
But the real trouble began when some of the Smoke players noticed the commotion going on behind them, and discovered the rib giveaway taking place. A visibly annoyed D T.K. O’Neill began banging on the glass and shouting at the mascot, “Yo, bring those ribs over here! We want a taste!”
“The fans were way more excited about those ribs than anything that was happening on the ice,” noted O’Neill after the game. “On the one hand, that’s a little hurtful. On the other hand, I totally get it. Because who doesn’t love ribs?!”
With the help of his handlers, Pete wriggled free of the mob of fans and made his way down toward the bench. Several players, including O’Neill, held out their hands and demanded ribs. The mascot unstrapped the vending tray from his neck and passed it over the glass, where the players gratefully grabbed it and began chowing down.
Only one problem: the stoppage was over, and the Smoke were expected to send players over the boards to take the faceoff, but they were otherwise occupied. Referee Darren St. James skated over and asked coach Randy Bergner to put his team on the ice. Bergner ignored him, as did the rest of the team.
After asking repeatedly and receiving no cooperation, a frustrated St. James finally whistled Kansas City for a delay of game penalty.
“There’s a time and a place for eating, and it’s after the game is over,” noted St. James. “It’s my duty to keep things moving along. And besides, they didn’t offer to share.”
Bergner designated O’Neill to serve the penalty. He complied, albeit reluctantly. When he arrived at the penalty box, the first thing he requested was a towel to wipe the barbecue sauce off of his hands.
After the game, a 5-4 Smoke win, O’Neill indicated that he had no regrets. “Look, I love this game,” he told reporters. “But I really love ribs, and it’s not fair to make me choose between the two.”
Whitmore seemed pleased with the outcome. “We knew that the ribs were going to be a hit, but I didn’t think that they would be so popular that even the players would demand a taste,” the president said. “I’m just glad that Pete made it through all right, and that we still won the game.”
Whitmore said he would ensure that going forward, ribs would be included in the team’s postgame spread. “In-game snacks are a no-no, but I want to make sure they get their fix.”
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.
- On Monday, the Kansas City Smoke recalled F David Facinelli from their CHL affiliate in Omaha and returned C Edz Zalmanis to Omaha. The Smoke had a need for a center when Mike Rivera and Nile Bernard suffered injuries, so they promoted Zalmanis just over two weeks ago. He appeared in 9 games during his stint with Kansas City, scoring 2 goals and adding 2 assists.
- Also on Monday, the Michigan Gray Wolves placed RW Boris Badenov on the injured list. Badenov, who was playing for their minor-league affiliate in Cleveland, suffered a lower-body injury in Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Omaha, and is expected to be out of action for 4 to 6 weeks. To replace Badenov on the roster, assistant coach Glenn Reichler was activated and added to the roster. (Story here.)
- On Wednesday, the Quebec Tigres activated LW Stellan Fisker from the injured list. Fisker missed 10 games with an upper-body injury suffered two and a half weeks earlier. In order to make room for Fisker’s return to the roster, the Tigres returned LW Carl Bleyer to their affiliate in Halifax. Bleyer appeared in 4 games for the Tigres, recording a goal.
- On Friday, the Hershey Bliss placed minor-league D Seth Dowd on the injured list. The 34-year-old Dowd, who was playing for their affiliate in Milwaukee, was taken off the ice on a stretcher after ramming head-first into the boards. He underwent surgery and is expected to miss the rest of the season. To replace Dowd on the Milwaukee roster, the Bliss signed D Knute Skoeglin, who appeared in 10 games for Milwaukee last season.
- On Saturday, the Washington Galaxy activated D Grant Warriner from the injured list. Warriner, the Galaxy’s top young blueliner, missed two and a half weeks with an upper-body injury. In order to accommodate Warriner’s return to the active roster, the Galaxy demoted D Serkan Mratic to their CHL affiliate in Baltimore and released D Nate Cimino. Mratic recorded 2 assists and a -18 rating in 22 games with Washington; the 19-year-old Cimino notched a goal and 2 assists over 13 games with Baltimore.
When one sports team goes on a championship run, it’s not uncommon for other teams in the same city to express support, whether through social media posts or through players wearing the jerseys of the other team and showing up at games. On Sunday, the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs won their first Super Bowl title in 50 years. The SHL’s Kansas City Smoke honored their football brethren by hosting a Super Bowl watch party in their arena after their matinee game against the New York Night.
“It was a cool cross-sport event, and I thought it worked out great,” said Smoke president Eddie Whitmore.
The idea for the watch party came together quickly after the Chiefs won the AFC championship two weeks earlier. In the wake of the win, some Smoke staffers consulted the schedule, and quickly realized that there was a home game scheduled on Super Bowl Sunday. It was due to start at 3 PM, which meant that the game would likely be ending around the time that the football game was kicking off.
“Obviously, we started worrying that people wouldn’t come to our game,” Whitmore said.
The team frantically explored its options. They considered pushing the game back to Monday, but the visiting Night nixed that idea. They considered moved the start time ahead to noon, but they had a game scheduled the night before.
At one point, a team marketing staffer jokingly suggested cancelling the game and just broadcasting the Super Bowl on the Jumbotron instead. This gave Whitmore an idea, and he quickly worked to make it happen.
The team dubbed the event “Super Sports-Tastic Sunday.” They moved the start of the Sunday game back to 1:30, and everyone who attended receive a rally towel that had the logos of both the Chiefs and the Smoke on it. The concession stands offered discounts on popular Super Bowl snacks such as wings, nachos, and chips. The crowd had a healthy portion of red Chiefs jerseys sprinkled among the gray Smoke sweaters, and Smoke goals and power plays were frequently accompanied by the Chiefs’ “Arrowhead Chop.”.
“It was a great energy,” said 36-year-old Scott Phillips of Independence, proudly sporting a Travis Kelce jersey in Section 122. “The whole city’s fired up, and this was a great way to pre-game.”
After the Smoke closed out their 7-6 loss, the PA announcer invited fans to stick around in the lower bowl to watch the Super Bowl. Several thousand fans did so; they were rewarded by appearances from the Smoke Show, the team’s cheer squad, as well as several players, who circulated through the stands offering high fives, autographs, and selfies.
“I thought it was an awesome way to watch the game,” said D Geoff Moultrie. “Just me, the guys, and a couple thousand of our closest friends soaking up the electricity.”
The Smoke may not have brought home a win, but the Chiefs did, coming from behind for a 31-20 triumph. As the final seconds ticked away, the fans at the Heartland Telecom Center began shouting and hugging. They then poured out of the arena into the neighboring Power & Light District, where they mingled with the fans who’d been at the outdoor viewing party there.
In the end, Whitmore proclaimed himself pleased with the event. “I’m glad we were able to turn our game into a big party and a celebration of both teams,” he told reporters. “I’m sorry that we couldn’t bring home the W, but the Chiefs came through. Hopefully they’ll be have a viewing party at Arrowhead when we make it to the Vandy!”