Interview of the Week: Ron Wright

This week’s interview is with Michigan Gray Wolves coach Ron Wright.

SHL Digest: We’re here this week with Ron Wright, the bench boss for the SHL’s best team, the Michigan Gray Wolves.  Coach Wright, thanks for speaking with us.

Ron Wright

Ron Wright: Don’t mention it.  Speaking to the press is part of my job.

SHLD: I’d ask you about the playoff race, but for your team, there really isn’t one.  You’ve been out front of your division since the start of the season, and now you lead the West by over 20 points.  Are you surprised at how easy it’s been?

RW: Let’s be clear; nothing about a professional hockey season is easy.  Whatever we’ve achieved, we’ve paid for in blood, sweat, and hard work.  That said, we were definitely not expecting to have a lead this large at this point in the season.

SHLD: Having a lead like that must make it tempting to take your foot off the gas and cruise.  How have you kept your team focused and productive?

RW: I’ve always told my guys that we don’t measure ourselves by the competition.  We measure against ourselves.  And they know that I’m not going to ease up in practice or slow down just because we’ve running away with the division.  Dedication and intensity is what wins championships.

SHLD: Speaking of championships, the East is looking stronger this year.  The Hamilton Pistols look like a serious contender, and they’ve played the Wolves tough all season, including a 1-1 tie this week.  What do you think of them?

RW: They’ve come a long way in a short time.  [Keith] Shields has done a hell of a job with them.  They’ve got a powerful offense, and they’ve really integrated their young guys into the program.  Their style is an interesting match for ours; they play faster and more offense-oriented.  And that’s definitely a matchup that could go either way.  We couldn’t take that for granted.

SHLD: The Quebec Tigres are another Eastern team doing well, although their style is more similar to yours.

RW: Yeah, they’re also focused on defense and shot suppression, slowing the pace down.  That’s the matchup that the league is dreading, because it would be so boring.  But that would be a real chess match.

SHLD: The trading deadline just passed, and almost all of the contenders made moves to improve.  The Wolves, on the other hand, stood pat.  Did you consider making trades?

RW: I’m sure [GM Tim] Carrier kicked the tires on a couple things, but no, we weren’t looking to upgrade.  My team is on the ice.  Trying to integrate a new player in midseason is always a challenge; if you’re going to do that, you’d better be confident that it’s a risk worth taking. I’m satisfied with all of my guys.

SHLD: Some thought that you might make a move after [center] Wesley Knight was hit with a 15-game suspension for PED usage.  How have you dealt with that?

RW: Let me say first, that was a real shock and a disappointment when I learned about that.  He’s too good a player to reach for a crutch like that.  But we’ve got Phoenix Cage, who’s stepped in and done a good job in that spot.  He’ll be able to hold the fort until Knight is back.

SHLD: Well, thanks for a wide-ranging and interesting conversation.  Good luck the rest of the season!

RW: Thank you.  I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish.


Wolves’ Knight Suspended for PED Usage

Halfway through the season, the Michigan Gray Wolves seem to be cruising toward a playoff spot and a strong shot at capturing their second Vandy.  Their otherwise marvelous season hit a speed bump today, however, as C Wesley Knight was hit with a 15-game suspension after failing a test for performance-enhancing drugs.

Wesley Knight

The 28-year-old Knight tested positive for an anabolic steroid called Tetrahydrogestrinone, or THG.  THG is a well-known drug, allegedly used by high-profile athletes from Barry Bonds to Marion Jones.  The steroid’s primary purpose is to assist with the building of muscle mass, which allows athletes to participate in more rigorous workouts and recover more quickly from injuries or intensive training.

“We have a no-tolerance policy for drug abuse in this league,” said SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell in the press conference announcing the suspension.  “No matter who you are or how good your team is, if you’re using PEDs, you’re going to be caught and you’re going to be punished.

Knight is in his fourth season as Michigan’s third-line center.  He has been struggling this season – generating only 1 goal and 7 assists so far this season – and has seen his ice time steadily decrease as the season has gone on.  He acknowledged that he started taking PEDs this season in hopes of getting back to his usual production.

“It’s been tough for me this year, so tough,” said Knight.  “I’ve just been looking for any way I can to turn things around.  And I took a stupid shortcut, trying to get better.  I’m so embarrassed and humiliation.  I apologize to my teammates and the fans.  This is completely on me.”

Wolves coach Ron Wright condemned Knight’s PED use.  “There’s no excuse for that kind of thing in this game, none,” Wright told reporters.  “Hockey’s a tough sport, and you’ve got to be in good condition to play.  PEDs are an easy out, for players who don’t want to put in the work.  Wes is a good player and he puts in the work, which makes this so disappointing.  I’d expect a lot better out of him.  I’m just really disappointed, that’s the bottom line.”

At the All-Star Game earlier in the week, rumors were swirling that a Michigan player had failed a drug screening and was about to be suspended.  Many of the whispers centered around LW Vladimir Beruschko, who has had a surprisingly strong season at age 35.  After Knight’s suspension was announced, Beruschko stood up for his teammate.

“All of our team likes Wes,” said Beruschko.  “He made a mistake, but all of us make mistakes sometimes.  He was a man to admit it and take responsibility.  He has to serve the suspension, but when he comes back, we will all welcome him back.  We have a job to do together, to win the championship.”

Wolves Off to Dominant Start

Ron Wright

Coming into the 2018 season, Michigan Gray Wolves coach Ron Wright had a challenge for his players.  “I want you to show up hungry,” Wright told his team.  “Pretend you’ve never won the Vandy, never won anything.  Show up with something to prove, a chip on your shoulder, ready to work hard and fight for the title.”

The Wolves appear to be ready for their coach’s challenge. Michigan finished the first week of the season undefeated, outscoring their opponents 17-7 and establishing themselves as the class of the tough Western Division.

“We’ve definitely heard the talk,” said Wolves C Hunter Bailes.  “That we’re too old, over the hill, that our offense isn’t good enough.  But we’re ready to show all the doubters that we’re on top of our game, and nobody’s going to beat us without a fight.”

The highlight of the week was a pair of games against their biggest rival, the defending division champion Anchorage Igloos.  On Opening Night, the teams faced off in Cadillac Place.  The Wolves scored a pair of goals 80 seconds apart in the first period to seize the lead and bring the crowd to its feet.  Anchorage tied it up early in the third, but RW Benoit Poulin slapped home the game-winner 51 seconds into overtime for a 3-2 victory.  During the rematch on Friday at Arctic Circle Arena, the Igloos were thirsty for revenge.  But the Wolves fired 38 shots at netminder Ty Worthington, and rookie LW Scot Davenport tipped one home midway through the third period to emerge with a razor-thin 2-1 win.

After Friday’s game, Igloos coach Sam Castor indicated that the division might be in for a long season.  “Man, Michigan’s a tough squad this year,” Castor told reporters.  “They’re always tough competitors, but they’re playing with a little extra edge this year.  They’re swarming, not giving an inch, slowing down the flow.  They’re already in top form, and that’s going to make it tough for the rest of us.”

As always, Michigan’s success begins in its own end.  Their defense is holding opponents under 24 shots per game, by far the best mark in the league.  And when the occasional shots do get through, goalie Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist is there to stop them.  He finished the week 4-0-0 with a 1.00 GAA and a .956 save percentage.

“Having The Bear in net is a great security blanket for a defense,” said D “Mad Max” Madison.  “But we don’t let that make us soft.  We’re still out there blocking shots, denying net-front presence, and doing the dirty work in the corners and along the wall.  The Bear can bail us out, but we’re making sure he doesn’t have to.”

Wright is pleased with the way the team has responded to his challenge.  “Success hasn’t dulled the edge with these guys,” said the Michigan coach.  “They’re putting in the work and the effort.  They know this division isn’t going to be a cakewalk, and we’re going to have to battle for every inch.  If we can keep up this intensity and work ethic all season, I like our chances.”


2018 SHL Season Preview – West

Anchorage Igloos

The Igloos are certain to be in the championship mix again this season.  Their high-octane offense – led by C Jake Frost, the SHL’s top scorer – returns largely intact, as does their formidable defense and rock-solid netminder Ty Worthington.  All that top-shelf talent will be enough to make the Igloos dangerous, and their shocking upset loss in last year’s SHL Finals should add some fuel to their competitive fires.  A potential return trip to the Finals, however, hinges on a couple of key factors.  LW Jerry Koons had a breakout season in 2016 with a 44-goal, 90-point effort.  If he can duplicate that performance, it will prevent opposing defenses from overloading on Frost and make the Igloos’ attack nearly unstoppable; if he takes a step back, Frost will need to pick up the slack.  Anchorage lost a chunk of its young depth in the expansion draft, as both RW Tyler Cloude and C Derek Humplik were plucked away.  As a result, they could be vulnerable to injuries.  They’re thinner still in the crease; previous backup Riley Lattimore was a salary-cap casualty, so if Worthington goes down for an extended period, they’ll need to rely on rookie Wendall Cantillon.  Given good health and a strong performance from Koons, there’s no reason not to pick the Igloos to go back to the Finals and win this time.

Michigan Gray Wolves

Well, maybe there’s one reason to pick against the Igloos.  The Wolves have been Anchorage’s fiercest competitor since the SHL began, and with the expanded four-team playoff field, it’s likely they’ll meet in the postseason.  Michigan’s ferocious, take-no-prisoners defense remains its calling card, backstopped by all-world goalie Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist.  There are likely to be a lot of low-scoring games again at Cadillac Place this season.  The Wolves have a weakness, though: age.  A lot of their key players – Cs Hunter Bailes and Warren Marlow, D “Mad Max” Madison, LW Vladimir Beruschko, RW Gordon Lunsford, D Frank Mudrick, LW Todd Douglas, and RW Oskar Denison – are on the wrong side of 30.  Last year, Bailes and Marlow both missed significant time with injury, and Michigan’s offense went down the drain when they were out.  If they or any of the other players on the above list get hurt, the Wolves could find themselves in trouble.  Michigan has a couple of rising young stars, most notably D Fritz Kronstein and RW Benoit Poulin, but their core is aging rapidly and may not have too many more bites at the apple.  And the Wolves are always a Lundquist injury away from slipping back into the pack.  The sun hasn’t set on this bunch yet, though, and Michigan could easily have another Vandy run left in them — if they can stay healthy.

Saskatchewan Shockers

The Shockers continued on their path of slow, steady improvement in 2017; they got a strong performance from rookie C Elliott Rafferty (23 goals, 40 points) to complement LW Troy Chamberlain (27 goals, 59 points) and C Napoleon Beasley (29 goals, 57 points), and they finished in a surprising third-place tie, albeit with an unimpressive 23-35-2 record.  Their moves for 2018 promise more modest improvement; they drafted a quality young center in Riley McCrea, made a surprise free-agent signing in LW Vonnie McLearen, and promoted several promising minor-leaguers (RW Colton Jabril and Ds Robby Rohrman and Valeri Nistrumov).  Perhaps their most impressive move was jettisoning the yellow-and-seafoam color scheme that made them the joke of the league.  With all those steps forward, it’s not hard to imagine Saskatchewan reaching the .500 mark for the first time.  It’s a lot harder, though, to imagine the Shockers challenging either Anchorage or Michigan for a playoff spot.  (They were reportedly in hot pursuit of RW Elliott Pepper from the Jackalopes; if they had acquired him, this team might have been truly dangerous.)  It’s harder still to imagine them holding a promotion that owner Heinz Doofenshmirtz doesn’t screw up somehow.  And it’s still tough to figure out the Shockers’ end game.  Are they trying to become the next Dakota, a team that’s talented enough to post respectable records but not talented enough to go all the way?  Or does Doofenshmirtz think he has the nucleus of a true contender on his hands?  If so, is coach Myron Beasley the man to get them there, or is he merely a quippy nice guy who needs to be replaced with a taskmaster who can make this team elite?  This season should say a lot about the direction of this promising but incomplete young club.

Dakota Jackalopes

Last season, the Jackalopes shot for the moon, loading up on free agents to take a shot at a title.  Instead, they fizzled, finishing tied with Saskatchewan at 22-35-2 and firing coach Harold Engellund at season’s end.  Since then, things have only gotten worse, as Dakota has slashed payroll and shipped out several big names.  They lost C Mike Rivera in the expansion draft, and have traded away RW Elliott Pepper and Ds Doron Lidjya and Craig Werner, all for prospects.  Rumor has it that they’re fielding offers on D Rusty Anderson and Cs Lars Karlsson and Harvey Bellmore as well.  The roster churn leaves new coach Flim Dahlgren in a challenging position, trying to evaluate and develop the team’s young talent while trying to keep up morale among the veterans.  It’s likely to be a long season at Black Hills Arena, as the Jackalopes are unlikely to contend.  But there will be a lot of young players thrown into the fire; if some of them are able to seize the opportunity and show promise, then this rough season may wind up paying long-term dividends.

Seattle Sailors

Seattle is likely the most improved team in the West, as GM Jay McKay made several aggressive moves in hopes of building a contending team.  The Sailors drafted LW Alphonse Gaspard, signed C Foster Culp and G “Jersey Mike” Ross as free agents, and acquired RW Elliott Pepper and D Doron Lidjya in the Dakota fire sale.  Seattle upgraded behind the bench as well, dumping the volatile Stewart Corrigan and hiring ex-Jackalopes boss Engellund.  Clearly, the Sailors will be better this season… but how much better?  Seattle should be able to surpass rebuilding Dakota, and they should be competitive with Saskatchewan.  The Sailors will be superior offensively, while the Shockers have the better defense and goaltending.  But the question that applies to Saskatchewan applies here: is this the nucleus of a true contender?  The Shockers seem like they might be a top-flight scorer away from challenging Anchorage and Michigan.  For the Sailors, the question is whether Vince Mango can be the superstar that the team needs him to be.  The winger is one of the SHL’s leading scorers, but he’s generally regarded as a one-dimensional player, being a mediocre passer and an indifferent defender.  Many around the league also question his maturity and leadership credentials, as he’s better known for his theatrical goal celebrations than for hard work or heads-up play.  If Seattle is going to become an elite club, they’ll need Mango to become proficient in other aspects of the game than shooting.  If Rocky Goldmire can step it up between the pipes, that would help too.

Kansas City Smoke

Like most expansion teams, the Smoke seem destined for a last-place finish.  The team lacks the offensive firepower to compete, and neither Oliver Richardson nor Brooks Copeland has much experience as a starting goalie.  There will likely be two interesting storylines in Kansas City this season.  The first is how coach Randy Bergner, a highly-regarded minor-league bench boss who won a division title in Omaha last season, will handle the trials and tribulations of an expansion squad.  Bergner has expressed a desire to build a cohesive, team-first organizational culture; if he can pull that off with a ragtag squad that’s likely to pile up the losses, he’ll definitely have earned his stripes.  The other thing to watch is what the Smoke does with their flippable assets.  Unlike their counterparts in Boston, who focused on picking as many young players as possible, Kansas City nabbed a number of veterans (Richardson, C Phil Miller, LWs Pascal Royal and Piotr Soforenko, and Ds Doug Wesson, Hans Mortensen, and Vitaly Dyomin) who could turn into attractive trade pieces.  They also signed free-agent D Tony Hunt and LW Louis LaPlante, who could potentially have value if they can bounce back from down seasons.  If KC finishes the season with the same roster that takes the ice on opening night, they’ll have screwed up royally.  All eyes will be on GM Garth Melvin, who will have to make some shrewd moves to turn those journeyman vets into prospects that might help the Smoke down the road.  If you’re going to Kansas City this season, though, expect to find good barbecue and bad hockey.

Projected Finish:

  1. Anchorage
  2. Michigan
  3. Saskatchewan
  4. Seattle
  5. Dakota
  6. Kansas City

Change of the Guard Seems Imminent in SHL’s Last Week

Going into the final week of the 2017 SHL season, neither division race is terribly close, unlike the last couple of seasons.  Barring a seismic shift in the coming week, we aren’t going to see anything as dramatic as the 2016’s Hershey-Washington last-game showdown for the division.  Nonetheless, even if things unfold as expected, the results will still have their share of surprises.  As it stands, neither of last year’s Finals opponents will make a return trip this season.

In the West, the Michigan Gray Wolves head into the season’s final week trailing the Anchorage Igloos by 6 points.  The Wolves and Igloos have been the division powers since the league’s inception, so it’s no surprise that they will finish one-two yet again.  But the Wolves have been unable to make up the ground they lost when top scorers Hunter Bailes and Warren Marlow went down with injuries in midseason.  “We’ve fought hard all year, and I know we’re going to keep battling to the end,” said Wolves RW Gordon Lunsford.  “But we’re in a difficult spot right now.”

Michigan’s best chance to narrow the gap came on Wednesday, when they faced the Igloos at Arctic Circle Arena.  The game was a true heavyweight clash, as the Wolves stifled Anchorage’s league-best offense, with the Igloos responding in kind.  After two scoreless periods, Michigan actually drew first blood seven minutes into the third, when Lunsford dented the twine on a hard slapshot between Anchorage goalie Ty Worthington‘s legs.  “That got us fired up,” said Lunsford.  “We thought this was the goal that was going to set us on a run to take the division.”

But with just over a minute left in the game, the Igloos tied the game on a fluky goal by D Sebastian Pomfret, who flicked a rebound that bounced off the back of Michigan netminder Dirk Lundquist back and into the goal.  That sent the game to overtime, where Wolves C Wesley Knight committed a tough holding-the-stick penalty.  15 seconds into the power play, Igloos LW Les Collins beat Lundquist stick-side to seal a 2-1 win.

“That was a back-breaker,” admitted Lunsford.  “To go from thinking you’re on the road to the division to feeling like you’re on the brink of elimination… it’s a kick in the gut, no question.”

As surprising as the West race has been, things have been even more shocking in the East.  The Washington Galaxy have won the division in each of the last two seasons and established themselves as the class of the division.  When they caught fire out of the All-Star Break, winning 10 in a row and snatching first place away from the Hershey Bliss, it looked like they were set up to run to yet another title.  It hasn’t unfolded that way, though, as the Bliss have grabbed the lead right back over the last couple of weeks.

And while Hershey has played well, the race in the East has been a story of Washington collapse.  The Galaxy have dropped 11 of 15 over the last three weeks, and they head into the final week of the season 8 points back of the Bliss.  For a team with a reputation for stepping it up in the second half, their dismal performance has been completely unexpected.  “We can’t figure it out,” said LW Casey Thurman.  “We know we can do better than this, but it’s kind of like we’re stepping on the gas and there’s nothing there.”

Certainly, the Galaxy’s using scoring punch has been absent during their recent skid.  They’ve fallen from sixth in the league in goals scored to second-to-last, ahead of only Quebec.  Several of their stars, including Thurman (2 goals in the last 15 games), C Eddie Costello (3 goals), RW Jefferson McNeely (3 goals), and C J.C. Marais (2 goals), have been in slumps.  But the offense hasn’t been the only culprit.  The normally stout defense, which allowed fewer than two and a half goals per game over the first two-thirds of the season, has allowed over three per game during their slide.  Backup goalie Ron Mason has lost his last five starts.  Their special units have flatlined over the last three weeks, with their power play dropping from a league-leading 24.1% success rate to a middle-of-the-pack 19.6%, and their penalty kill going from 82.9% efficiency to 78.8%.  “It’s like it’s all falling apart at once,” said Costello.

For the Bliss, who have heard over and over that they’re too soft, too sloppy, or too star-dependent to beat the Galaxy, the turnabout has been pretty sweet.  “We’ve taken a lot of crap over the years about how we can never win the big one, or how Washington’s got our number,” said Bliss C Justin Valentine.  “We’ve never bought into that story, but we knew we were were going to keep hearing it until we proved it.”  On Saturday, Hershey came into Constellation Center and walloped Washington 5-1.  “That one definitely felt good,” said Valentine.  “To be able to go into their building and shut them down like that… it gave us confidence that this isn’t going to be like the other years.  It’s a new era for us.”


Corrigan and Wright Have Tense Face-Off

Last week, tensions flared between the Seattle Sailors and Michigan Gray Wolves when Sailors RW Vince Mango snapped an on-ice selfie to celebrate a hat trick and was drilled into the boards by Wolves LW Vladimir Beruschko.  This week, when the teams met for the first time since the incident, and the bad blood nearly turned into a brawl, with the teams’ coaches nearly coming to blows.

Coming into Wendesday’s game, the Sailors talked openly about avenging Mango, their injured star.  “A lot of us weren’t too happy with what [the Wolves] did to Vince,” said LW Rod “Money” Argent.  “We’re really fired up to take them on again.  We’re not taking this lying down.”

Ordinarily, a matchup between basement-dwelling Seattle and high-flying Michigan, especially with the Sailors’ top scorer sidelined, would likely be a blowout.  But the Sailors came in hot and clearly intending to send the Wolves a message.  Seattle took an early 2-0 lead, cashing in on a pair of power plays to get ahead.  Michigan struck back to tie the game by the end of the period, and took the lead on a second-period goal by C Hunter Bailes.

But Seattle didn’t go down easily, as Argent scored on another power play midway through the third to tie it at 3.  When he celebrated his goal using one of Mango’s signature moves, Wolves D “Mad Max” Madison responded by shoving Argent to the ice from behind.  Argent popped up and got in Madison’s face, and both teams swarmed in the center of the ice.  The teams exchanged some shoves, a couple of face washed, and several dirty looks, but the refs managed to break things up before they came to blows.

Stewart Corrigan

Sailors coach Stewart “Popeye” Corrigan took the opportunity to yell at his Michigan counterpart, Ron Wright, between the benches.  “Your team is a bunch of [expletive] thugs!” Corrigan shouted.  “We’re going to get even with you [expletives]!”  Wright largely ignored him.

With three and a half minutes in the game, Bailes scored what proved to be the game-winning goal.  As he skated back to the bench, Sailors D Wayne Snelling gave Bailes a shot to the back of the head.  The furious Wolves jumped off the bench to go after Snelling.  The Sailors raced to their teammate’s assistance.

Ron Wright

As the scrum broke out on the ice, Wright and Corrigan popped over their respective partition to yell at one another.  Wright accused Snelling of deliberately attempting to injure Bailes, who was sidelined with a concussion earlier in the season.  Corrigan shouted back that the Wolves had injured Mango and tried to do the same to Argent.  They continued shouting back and forth, until Corrigan reached down onto his bench and grabbed a stick, which he swung at Wright.  The Michigan boss shouted “You’re [expletive] crazy!” as he jumped back to avoid the stick.

Corrigan was ejected from the game.  Incredibly, no one else on either team was ejected or even penalized.

After the game, both coaches remained irate.  “Corrigan is a clown and a psychopath,” said Wright.  “I don’t know if he’s putting on a show to try to distract everyone from how lousy his team is, or if he really is that much of a rageaholic.  But he’s out of control.  The league needs to do something about him.  Either they need to send him to therapy or just kick him out of the league.  One of these days he’s going to kill somebody.”

In response, Corrigan blasted the Wolves as “a bunch of vicious criminals.  Hockey’s a physical game, but what they do isn’t about hockey.  It’s legalized assault.  Because they won the championship last year, everyone looks the other way.  So when they send their goons out and cripple our best player, everyone says, ‘Oh, who cares?  It’s just [expletive] Seattle.’  But I’m not taking it, and neither is my team.  And you know what?  Every other team out there is secretly cheering us on.  They won’t admit it, but they’re all sick of the [expletive] Michigan gets away with.”

The league fined Corrigan $3,000 and suspended him for a game – the latest in a long line of disciplinary actions that he has faced in his two years as Sailors coach – while also fining Snelling and Madison $1,000 each for their hits.  Wright also received a $500 fine for his part in the hostilities.  “While we have no problem with spirited rivalries in this league,” said SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell, “we definitely have a problem with deliberately trying to injure opposing players.  Both the Wolves and Sailors should be aware that I will have a zero-tolerance policy for any extracurricular activities between them going forward.”

Responded Corrigan: “How much do you want to bet this ‘zero-tolerance policy’ only goes one way?  If one of my guys hits a Michigan player, he’s banned for life.  If one of their thugs maims my guy, he gets a stern talking-to and that’s it.  I know how this league works.”


Mascot War Rekindled: Wally Wolf Hacks Rival’s Twitter Account

It was supposed to be over.  During the 2015 season, the Anchorage Igloos‘ Petey the Polar Bear and the Michigan Gray Wolves‘ Wally Wolf were proxies for the rivalry between the West’s two top teams.  Both mascots feuded throughout the season before finally burying the hatchet during an on-ice sumo wrestling match in the last week of the season.  Since the mascots made nice, members of both teams (including Michigan LW Vladimir Beruschko and Anchorage coach Sam Castor) have insisted that the hostilities were dead and gone, never to resume.

Petey the Polar Bear

Looks like the declaration of peace was a bit premature.  When the Igloos and Wolves clashed on Friday at Arctic Circle Arena, Petey’s official Twitter account was hacked.  Upon investigation, the hack was discovered to be the work of Michigan’s mascot.  Not only is the Petey-Wally rivalry back, it has entered a new frontier.

Wally traveled with the Wolves for Friday’s much-anticipated showdown.  It’s unusual for a mascot to join a team for road games, but the Wolves said that they had brought him as “a good-luck charm” and “to give him a chance to catch up with his friend Petey.”  The two mascots met for tea on Friday afternoon at an Anchorage cafe; video of the rendezvous appeared on both teams’ websites.  All seemed normal.

But during Friday’s game, a series of unusual tweets appeared on the @IgloosPetey account.  Typically, the Anchorage mascot doesn’t tweet much during games, apart from a few pro-Igloos messages and the occasional selfie with fans.  During this game, though, Petey was atypically active.  In addition, the content of his messages was far different than his standard fare.

“My butt itches,” @IgloosPetey tweeted about six minutes into the games.  From there, he issued a series of tweets predicting that the Igloos would lose the game, adding insults directed at several Anchorage players and even the city itself.  After C Jake Frost pushed a slapshot wide late in the first period, a tweet reading “Frost is overrated” appeared on the account.  Later, @IgloosPetey issued the following slam: “Anchorage is a two-bit town that smells like rotten fish… ugh!”

Igloos officials became aware of the situations when fans began tweeting complaints to the account.  At first, they thought the culprit was a disgruntled employee, but they later realized that the account had been hacked.  The team quickly took steps to regain control of the account, and by the end of the game (a 3-2 Igloos win in overtime) the offending tweets had been deleted.

Wally Wolf

When the front office discovered that the account’s password had been changed to “W@llyRuleS!”, they were able to identify the culprit.  Apparently, during the seemingly friendly lunch, Wally got hold of Petey’s phone and was able to change the password to his Twitter account.

Anchorage GM Will Thorndike took umbrage to the hack.  “I am deeply disturbed that Wally Wolf would resort to cyber warfare,” Thorndike told reporters.  “And to take advantage of a friendly get-together to launch his nefarious plan… that’s so low, I have no words.  But if that’s the way he and the Wolves want to play it, we can do that.  The mascot war is back on!”

Replied Michigan GM Tim Carrier, “I am disappointed to hear these accusations against Wally on the basis of very flimsy evidence.  But if the mascot war is back on, so be it.  Oh, and in case the Igloos intend to try something when they come to town: Wally’s Twitter account has two-factor authentication.”