CHL Update: Minnesota’s Fleury Sets Record With Five-Goal Game

Jean Pierre Fleury didn’t expect to be playing with the Minnesota Freeze this season.  Last season, Fleury made the Freeze’s parent club, the Anchorage Igloos, out of training camp and remained with the team all season.  Fleury assumed he was with the Igloos to stay after nailing down a spot on the third line.  But after putting up dismal numbers in the first half of the season – recording just 2 points – the Igloos ran out of patience and sent him back to the Freeze as a wake-up call.

“Even though I knew I was not playing well, this was shocking to me,” said Fleury. “I believed I would always be in the majors.”

Jean Pierre Fleury

Shocking though it may have been, Fleury definitely got the message.  He has played like a man possessed since arriving back in Minnesota.  In his 12 games with the Freeze, the winger scored 14 goals and notched 5 assists.  That flurry of brilliance was highlighted by his performance on Thursday, when he became the first player in CHL history to score 5 goals in a game.

“When JP arrived, the first thing I told him was ‘I hope you play well enough that I never see you again,'” said Freeze coach Petr Kokrda.  “He clearly didn’t need me to tell him twice.”

Fleury’s record-setting performance occurred in a 7-1 rout of the Idaho Spuds.  Perhaps even more impressive than the five goals themselves was the fact that he took barely more than a period to score them.

Minnesota went on the power play in the game’s opening minute when Spuds D Jay Brewster was called for elbowing.  Fleury got his first goal on that power play, redirected a shot from D Laszlo Cierny past Idaho goalie Kelvin White.  About three minutes later, Freeze D Brian Coldivar picked off a pass in the neutral zone and fed Fleury, who beat White on the short side for his second tally.  Just over a minu, who te after that, Minnesota C Tanner Everest won a faceoff in the offensive zone and flipped it to Fleury, who tucked it under the crossbar.  The game was just five and a half minutes old and Fleury already had a hat trick, stunning the crowd at Idaho’s Treasure Valley Arena.

D Richard Huckenchuk broke Fleury’s string of goals around the halfway mark of the period, scoring from the top of the faceoff circle to make it 4-0.  But the Minnesota winger struck again before the period was over, firing a shot from the slot that deflected off White’s left pad and trickled into the net.

The Spuds yanked White in favor of backup Xavier St. Pierre after the first period.  A little more than a minute into the second period, Fleury greeted St. Pierre by finishing an odd-man rush with a shot that beat St. Pierre on the glove side for his record-setting fifth tally of the night.

As amazing as it was, Fleury probably could have scored even more goals had not Kokrda not severely limited the minutes of his top line for the rest of the game, in order to give them a rest and spare Idaho further embarrassment.

“If JP had been playing his usual minutes, I really think he could have scored seven or eight, as crazy as that sounds,” said Kokrda after the game.  “He was that locked in, and playing at that high a level.”

For his part, Fleury reacted modestly to his record-breaking performance.  “I could not expect this at all,” he told reporters.  “I am as surprised as everyone else.”

At week’s end, Fleury earned the reward he sought: he was promoted back to the Igloos.  “JP did everything we could have asked him to do and more,” said Anchorage GM Will Thorndike.  “If he can bring that same energy with him that he showed in Minnesota, he’ll be a huge asset to us as we make our playoff push.  We’re not going to expect 5 goals in a game, though.”

CHL Update: Spuds Spark Controversy with Video

Social media is a double-edged sword for modern athletes.  On the positive side, it can bring players and fans closer than ever before, and offers athletes the chance to provide a view behind the scenes of their lives and careers.  On the downside, sometimes the behind-the-scenes view can create controversy or lead to trouble.  Three members of the CHL’s Idaho Spuds learned that lesson the hard way this week, as they offered fans a somewhat too-unvarnished view of life in the minor leagues of hockey.

The players in question were LW Terry Cresson, D Rusty Sienna, and RW Britt Cadmium.  The trio of friends recorded their on-ice and off-ice activities over the course of a week, which they edited into a 10-minute video that each posted to their Instagram stories, under the title “The REAL Hockey Life.”  Much of the video was fairly innocuous, featuring clips of games, practices, and on-the-road goofing around.  Some moments, however, raised eyebrows among teammates and the front office.

Some parts of the video were embarrassing to specific players and coaches.  Such as the locker-room clip that included, in the background, a naked player headed toward the shower.  Or the clip of coach Gilbert McCoyne in his office, yelling obscenities at players (captioned “Sent to the principal’s office”).

Other parts depicted inappropriate and immature behavior that caused the team a PR headache.  Like the shot of Cresson’s locker, into which someone had stuffed an inflatable female doll (the caption: “Meet Terry’s new gf”).  Or the clips of players shotgunning an alarming number of beers in a bar.  Or the shot of the team on the bus, chanting a camp song filled with sexist and homophobic lyrics.

Another segment featured the trio base jumping into the Snake River Canyon, which is an activity forbidden by their contracts.

The video circulated among teammate over the week, but later attracted the attention of reporters, who asked McCoyne about it.  From there, the video drew the scrutiny of the organization.

The Spuds issued a statement expressing disappointment in the players.  “This video, and the behaviors and activities depicted in it, do not reflect the values of the Idaho Spuds or the Dakota Jackalopes organization,” the statement read.  “The players involved will be disciplined appropriately, and we will take the opportunity to educate the entire organization about appropriate and respectful behavior.”  All three players were fined, and will each be suspended for a game. (Sienna is currently injured, and will be benched for a game upon his return.)

McCoyne took a somewhat more forgiving tack.  “It was a dumb and immature thing for them to do,” the coach told reporters, “but young guys are dumb and immature sometimes.  I think after they saw what happened here, they’ll be smart enough not to do it again.”

Asked about the part of the video that featured him cursing at players, McCoyne responded, “Yeah, that was me.  No deepfakes there.  I have a potty mouth sometimes.  Sorry, Grandma.”

The players involved publicly apologized for their behavior.  “We thought it would be fun for people to see what our life is like off the ice,” said Cresson, “But yeah, we should have edited it a little better.  And some of it, we shouldn’t have shot at all.”

Added Sienna, “When I found out that they could have dumped us for the base jumping thing, that was definitely a wake-up call.  I know I’m not doing that again.”

CHL Update: Harpoons’ Offense Evaporates During Skid

A few short weeks ago, the Hartford Harpoons appeared to be on track to win the CHL’s Eastern Division with ease.  They’d been out front of the division since the beginning, with a quality, balanced offense from their top two lines combined with reliable goaltending from Jonas Schemko.  Over the last seven games, however, the East race has been shaken up significantly, as the Harpoons have come back to the pack thanks to a winless skid highlighted by a vanishing offense.

Hartford’s woes began the week before the All-Star break.  The week began in fine fashion on Sunday, as the Harpoons drubbed the then-second-place Virginia Rhinos 8-2.  Since then, though, Hartford hasn’t scored more than two goals in a game, and they’ve averaged just one goal per game during their 0-6-1 slide.

“I don’t know why it hasn’t been clicking for us lately,” said C Liam Engstrom.  “But it’s been really frustrating, that’s for sure.”

The Harpoons’ most frequent tormentor during their slump: the Oshawa Drive.  During their seven-game winless run, Hartford has played Oshawa four times and gone 0-3-1.  The most agonizing of those games was on Saturday, when Harpoons RW Jacques Bacon scored a power-play goal with 22 seconds left in regulation to tie it up, only to give up an overtime goal to Drive LW Troy Blackwood to fall 3-2.  Unsurprisingly, while Hartford has swooned, Oshawa has surged, going 5-1-1 to close an 11-point gap in the standings to a single point.

“Honestly, they’ve looked a little spooked out there,” said Blackwood.  “They’re trying to force passes and take gambles, the kind of things you do when you’re in a slump and you can’t find your way out.”

The Drive aren’t the only team that has soared in the standings lately.  The Baltimore Blue Claws have won seven games in a row, zooming up from fifth place to tie Hartford for first.  One of those wins came against the Harpoons just before the break.  Baltimore scored twice in the third period to notch a come-from-behind 3-2 win.

Harpoons coach Herman Chambers said that he’s not worried about the team’s recent struggles.  “It’s not like we forgot how to play hockey overnight,” Chambers said.  “We’ve just hit a bit of a dry spell; plenty of time left to straighten it out.  We just have to refocus and play the way we know how.”

Chambers noted that two of the Harpoons’ leading scorers, RW Felix Delorme and D Brett Stolte, were called up to the parent Boston Badgers during the break, and that has played a role in the team’s dry spell.

“There’s no question that we’ve been pressing a little bit,” said Chambers.  “But it’s not really a big thing.  Once we have a game ot two where the puck bounces our way, we’ll be right back on track.”

CHL Update: West Rolls to Rout in All-Star Game

In the first two CHL All-Star Games, the home team had come away with the win.  With this year’s contest taking place at Hartford’s Aetna Center, the East was hoping that history would repeat itself.  Unfortunately, the Western squad had other ideas.  They broke the game open with a four-goal eruption in the second period, and wound up cruising to a 7-2 win.

“I’ve coached every one of these, and each time is a different experience,” said East coach Jeffrey Marsh.  “This time, we got the experience of what it feels like to get run over by a Mack truck.”

The most critical stretch of the game was in the middle of the second period, when the West scored three times in a three-minute span.  The game was competitive through the first period, when the score stood 2-1 in the West’s favor.  The teams traded goals early in the second, with Idaho Spuds LW Terry Cresson striking first and Hartford Harpoons RW Felix Delorme answering a few minutes later.  Then came the West’s big run.

Milwaukee Hogs C Yegor Nestorov got things going by going five-hole on Oshawa Drive G Hector Orinoco a few seconds shy of the the nine-minute mark.  A minute and a half later, Delorme coughed up the puck to Cresson on a bad pass in the neutral zone.  Cresson found Utah Owls D George “Brain” Brinson, who got Orinoco to commit down low, then went high to find the twine for a three-goal lead.  Just over a minute after that, Spuds D Brady Prussian fired a shot from near the blue line that beat a screened Orinoco.  Suddenly, a 3-2 game was 6-2, and the West had control of the game from there.

“That was the game right there, absolutely,” said West coach Gilbert McCoyne.  “We felt the ice tilting in our direction, and we decided to keep the hammer down and take advantage of that.  And we did.”

McCoyne also praised his team for spreading the offensive load around.  “I loved the way that all three lines and all of our D pairings were engaged and involved on offense,” the coach said.  Each of the West’s seven goals was scored by a different player.

Hogs D Conrad van Rijn received All-Star MVP honors for recording a most unusual achievement: a Gordie Howe hat trick (that is, a goal, an assist, and a fight.)  van Rijn got the fight out of the way first, dropping the mitts with Halifax Atlantics D Axel Borgstrom early in the second period.  Less than two minutes after he got out of the box, van Rijn got the primary assist for setting up Nestorov’s goal.  Then, in the third period, van Rijn redirected a shot past the East’s backup netminder, Eugene Looney of the Cleveland Centurions, to complete the feat.

“I don’t know what kind of maniac gets into a fight in the All-Star game,” said McCoyne, “but at least Connie went on to get the Gordie.  Good for him!”

van Rijn, who was reportedly unaware of his accomplishment until the game ended, received a sailboat from Morris Yachts, a Maine-based company.  “It is a beautiful boat,” said the Milwaukee defenseman.  “I want to sail it after the season, when the weather is more warm.”

Continue reading “CHL Update: West Rolls to Rout in All-Star Game”

CHL Update: Locker Room Thief Discovered in Milwaukee

There’s been a thief at Harley-Davidson Arena.  This season, several Milwaukee Hogs players have reported items going missing from their lockers: deodorant, combs, sunglasses, stick tape.  None of the items were particularly large or valuable, but the disappearances sent an understandable wave of unease through the team.

“It’s one of those things you take for granted,” said Hogs G Hobie Sanford.  “You leave stuff in your locker, and you expect it’s still going to be there when you get back.  You don’t even think twice about it, and it’s uncomfortable to have to start wondering.”

Naturally, the clubhouse managers took immediate steps to identify the perpetrators.  Initial suspicion fell on the arena cleaning crew, but players reported items going missing during games, when the cleaning crew was not present.  The clubhouse managers tracked the comings and goings in the locker room, but did not notice anyone unusual, while items continued to disappear.

For the first couple weeks of the season, the low-level mystery persisted.  When players began reporting watches and wallets missing, however, the situation became impossible to ignore.  So the managers installed cameras throughout the locker room.  Eventually, they were able to identify the thief: a cat.

“Turns out that we have a felonious feline among us,” said Hogs GM Carlton Neilson.

Oliver

The cat, who apparently lives within the arena, accessed the locker room by way of an HVAC duct.  He snuck into the players’ lockers and made off with whatever he could carry in his mouth.

“Thanks to the cameras we had installed, we were able to catch the perpetrator red-handed – or red-pawed, I should say,” said Neilson.

By tracing the cat’s path back through the ductwork, the clubhouse managers were able to locate his stash, which included virtually all of the items reported missing over the last several weeks.  Some of them were a bit worse for wear, but most were intact.

“We’re happy to discover that no one associated with our organization was involved in the thefts,” said Neilson.

Once the offender was identified and the missing items returned, the Hogs planned to turn the cat in to a nearby shelter.  But the players demanded clemency for the thief.

“We wanted to show there were no hard feelings,” said C Greg Enrath.  “Besides, he’s a cute little guy.”

The cat now has a name – Oliver (as in Twist) – and he has a new home inside the clubhouse.  He has a bed and an ample supply of cat toys to keep him from being tempted to resume his old disreputable ways.

The players enjoy spending time with him before and after practices and games.  He’s even appeared in videos on the Jumbotron during games.

“Playing in the minors isn’t the easiest life,” said Sanford.  “That’s why we love Oliver: because we’ve all felt like him at some time or another.  He gets us.”

There is one Milwaukee figure who’s not as entranced by the story: coach Geoff Matson, who is allergic to cats.  “I just keep my door shut,” he said.

CHL Update: Cleveland Coach Reichler Returns to Ice

Glenn Reichler is not a name that many SHL fans will remember.  The journeyman reserve forward played 79 games over four seasons in the league with four different teams.  When the contract offers dried up after the 2018 season, the then-33-year-old Reichler retired without fanfare and accepted a job as an assistant coach for the Michigan Gray Wolves’ minor-league affiliate, the Cleveland Centurions.

“I love the game enough that I wasn’t ready to go get a real job,” said Reichler, “even though I wasn’t good enough to play anymore.”

Just when Reichler was getting used to his playing days being over, however, a key injury and a thin market in free-agent forwards combined to offer the now-35-year-old a second chance of sorts.

On Sunday, the Centurions faced off against the Omaha Ashcats.  Cleveland lost 1-0, and to add injury to insult, RW Boris Badenov was helped off the ice in the third period after being crunched into the boards, and he did not return.  He is expected to be out until after the All-Star break, and could miss as much as six weeks.  The offense-starved Centurions suddenly found themselves with a hole on their second line and no good options for filling it.

There are a handful of available free-agent forwards out there, but they all have reputations as very poor defenders, which makes them unpalatable to a defense-minded Cleveland club.  The coaching staff gathered to review the possible options.  Reichler was so unimpressed with the available options that he blurted, “Hell, I’d be better than most of these guys!”

Glenn Reichler

It was a careless remark born of frustration, but Cleveland’s other coaches took it seriously.  Reichler has reportedly remained in good shape during his transition to the bench, and he’s looked sharp while running drills with the team.  After some persuasion from the front office and after passing a medical exam, Reichler signed a short-term contract with the team.

“I’m not deluding myself here,” the coach-turned-player noted.  “I don’t think this is my ticket back to the big leagues or anything.  But if I can help the team weather a temporary problem by getting back on the ice, I’m not going to pass that up.”

Wisely, the 35-year-old didn’t rush back to the ice; he gave himself a few days to get into game shape. He made his debut on Saturday, skating on the third line and recording a +2 rating in a 5-4 overtime upset of first-place Hartford.

“It felt good to be out there, moving at game speed again,” Reichler noted after his re-debut.  “It’s a real rush.”

He acknowledged again, however, that he doesn’t expect the rush to last forever.  “Ask me again tomorrow, when the muscles start to stiffen up,” Reichler said with a smile.  “I’m happy to relive my playing days for a few weeks, but I know that’s as far as it goes.  Making it through a game is one thing; making it through a season at 35 is something else.”

Does Reichler anticipate a wave of recently-retired players deciding to lace up their skates again?  “Definitely not,” he said.  “If anything, I’ll probably prove why us old goats are better off staying retired.”

CHL Update: Utah’s Francis Retires After Gruesome Leg Injury

When veteran SHL defenseman Ed Francis decided last season to sign a minor-league deal with the New York Night rather than retiring, he said he hadn’t “gotten the game out of [his] blood”.  He chose to stay in the game while keeping alive his slim hopes of making it back to the SHL.

Ed Francis

Francis’ time in Utah has proved to be unexpectedly eventful.  On the bright side, he recorded his first-ever hat trick last season.  The downside came this week, when the 30-year-old blueliner suffered a grotesque leg injury that ended his season and, he announced, his career as well.

Last Saturday, Francis and the Night faced off against the Minnesota Freeze.  With about six minutes left in the third period, Minnesota began an odd-man rush.  Francis pursued Freeze C Tanner Everest, who carried the puck across the blue line.  Everest faked a pass to LW Henry Van Alpin, then skated hard toward the net.  Francis threw himself to the ice in an effort to block the shot, but in doing so he caught Everest’s left skate.  The towering center tangled with Francis and went down in a heap.  They shot past the goal and slammed hard into the boards.

After a brief moment of disorientation, Everest rose up and skated away.  Francis, however, remained crumpled against the boards.  When the defenseman did try to move, he immediately noticed something disconcerting: “My leg was pointing the wrong way.”

Replays of the incident would show what happened: Francis’ right skate caught the ice just shy of the boards, and Everest’s full weight rammed into it.  This caused the Utah blueliner’s lower leg to shatter.

Several Owls teammates came over to help Francis up, but he waved them away.  “I could already tell something was really wrong,” Francis said.

Owls trainer Carey Clarkson rushed out to aid the fallen Francis.  As soon as he saw the defenseman’s right leg, he immediately waved for the stretcher.  “I could see the bone pressed up against the skin,” said Clarkson later.  “I was trying not to throw up on the ice.”

The arena fell silent as the fans recognized the severity of the injury.  Francis was hustled off the ice and to the nearest hospital, where surgeons quickly went to work reducing the swelling and reconstructing the bones in Francis’ leg.

Thanks to the quick work of the surgical team, Francis was stabilized and his leg was saved.  However, the surgeon informed him that while he should be able to walk unaided eventually, his odds of being able to play hockey again at a competitive level are virtually zero.

After discussing the situation with his family, Francis officially announced that he will be retiring.  “Obviously, this isn’t the way I wanted to go out,” said a visibly emotional Francis.  “But I’m not bitter.  The way I think about it, I consider myself fortunate that I had the chance to play the sport I love and get paid.  With the love and support of my family and God’s blessing, I will focus on my recovery.  After that, I can figure out the next chapter in my life.”

Owls coach Wiley Kiyotie spoke admiringly of Francis’ courage and his mentorship of Utah’s younger players.  “If anyone has the strength – on the inside and the outside – to recover from something like this, it’s Easy Eddie,” said Kiyotie.  “The entire Owls organization will be in Eddie’s corner as he goes through this.  And if he feels like coaching is something he wants to do later on, he’s always got a spot on my staff.  He’s been an unofficial coach of sorts these last couple seasons, and I’ve been grateful for his help.”