Shockers Dismiss Interim Coach Ponder

In a move that was widely anticipated, the Saskatchewan Shockers announced that they would not be bringing back interim coach Caleb Ponder, opening up what could be a wide-ranging search for a new bench boss for a young and rising team.

Caleb Ponder

Ponder took over the Shockers at the All-Star Break when the team fired Myron Beasley, who was the only head coach the team had ever had.  Beasley guided Saskatchewan to a 12-17-1 record before his dismissal.  Ponder, who had been Beasley’s assistant, compiled a similar record to his predecessor, posting a 15-16-3 mark in the second half.

“We appreciate everything that Caleb has done for the Shockers organization in his four years with us, and especially during his half-season as interim head coach,” said Shockers GM Cooper Matthews.  “He’s a good coach and a fine human being.  But we felt like it was time for a fresh start.”

Sources close to the team said that there was no chance that Ponder was going to be considered for the long-term head job, even at the time of his hiring.  “Unless he somehow won the Vandy, Caleb wasn’t coming back,” said one source.  The perception in Saskatchewan’s front office was that Beasley’s cheerful, quippy approach wasn’t working with a young team that both owner Heinz Doofenshmirtz and GM Matthews expect to be a serious contender, and that Ponder wasn’t enough of a change from Beasley.

“Everybody liked Myron,” said one senior front office member, speaking under condition of anonymity.  “He’s a really nice guy, and his press conferences were fun to watch.  But the perception was that he wasn’t driving the team that hard, and we’re at a stage where we need someone with a firmer hand to get to the next level.”

Ponder took the news with grace.  “I’ve really enjoyed my time here,” the coach told reporters.  “I think we have a talented group of guys here, and the sky’s the limit.  I wish them nothing but the best.”

The Shockers are expected to cast a wide net when looking for their next coach.  The names being considered by the team include minor-league coach Jeffrey “Swampy” Marsh, Michigan assistant Morris Thompson, Anchorage assistant Kyle Barrow, and longtime bench boss Harvey Williams.

Saskatchewan’s front office is reportedly looking for a coach who takes a firm hand with discipline and has a track record with building winning teams.  These caveats would seem to rule out Marsh, who is best known for his offbeat sense of humor and has only been a coach for two years.  But multiple sources confirmed that he will be considered, possibly due to his success in molding the Shockers’ minor-league prospects.

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Interview of the Week: Napoleon Beasley

This week’s interview is with Saskatchewan Shockers C Napoleon Beasley.

SHL Digest: We’re here with a young star on a rising contender, Saskatchewan’s Napoleon Beasley.  Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Napoleon.

Napoleon Beasley

Napoleon Beasley: You bet!  Glad to do it.

SHLD: Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first.

NB: Sure!  Always good to get rid of those pesky elephants.

SHLD: Last month, the Shockers fired their coach, who also happened to be your dad.  Was that a tough time for you?

NB: It wasn’t too tough, but it was a little awkward.  My dad’s a professional, and he knows that getting fired comes with the territory.  But I was basically hiding from the press, because I didn’t want to answer questions like ‘Did your dad deserve to get fired?’ or ‘Is the team going to get rid of you now that your dad’s gone?’  As if I was only on the team because my dad was the coach.

SHLD: Obviously not the case.  With production like yours, you could play with any team.

NB: Thanks!  I didn’t have any special insight on the situation just because he’s my dad, so I just didn’t talk about it.

SHLD: How did you find out your dad was fired?

NB: From him, actually.  Right after he got done talking to [GM Cooper] Matthews, he called me and said, “Well, your old dad got the ax.  See you at Easter!”  He took it pretty well, it seemed like.  I think he knew it might be coming.

SHLD: Obviously, one of the reasons your dad was let go was that the Shockers front office expects to contend for the playoffs.  Do you think you’re there yet, as a team?

NB: Obviously we’re not yet, based on the standings.  But I think it’s fair to have those expectations.  When we started out, we were the joke of the league, but we’ve grown and gotten better since that.  I think we should be striving for that next step of becoming contenders.

SHLD: You mention that “we” should be striving to contend.  Your contract is up at the end of the season.  Are you looking to re-sign with the Shockers, or will you plan to test free agency?

NB: Gosh, I don’t know yet.  We haven’t talked with the team about an extension yet, and I don’t even know if they’re interested.  But if they’re interested, I’d definitely want to have that conversation.  We’ve got a good group of young players and I think we’ve got a bright future.

SHLD: One more question: yet another Shockers promotional event went awry last week, with the blimp incident.  Do you think the Shockers will ever be able to have a promotion that doesn’t end in disaster?

NB: (laughs) Well, our promotions are always colorful, I’ll say that.  Doof [Heinz Doofenshmirtz] is a real hands-on owner, and he has a lot of creative ideas.  Some of those ideas might be a little better than others.  But there’s never a dull moment.

SHLD: Well, thanks for another fascinating interview.  Good luck with your next contract!

NB: Thanks!  I hope it’s a good one.

Shockers Blimp Photo Blows Fan’s Cover

If there’s one constant in the history of the Saskatchewan Shockers, it’s their penchant for disastrous promotional events.  Whether it was the Japanese Night promo (when the Shockers started a sumo in goalie and had to pull him after one period), the Kazoo Night fiasco (when angry fans littered the ice with hot dogs and malfunctioning instruments  and nearly forced the game’s cancellation), or last season’s Kids Night embarrassment (when the team gave away a “kid’s activity book” that was filled with errors and obscenities), Saskatchewan leads the league by a mile in-game entertainment failures.

“I feel like we’d be better off if we started advertising the nights when we don’t give anything away,” quipped Shockers interim coach Caleb Ponder.  “‘Tonight, every fan in attendance will receive: Nothing!  We promise!'”

Heinz Doofenshmirtz

Despite the team’s sad history with such promotions, the Shockers went ahead and held “Fan Appreciation Night” on Saturday against the Anchorage Igloos.  The team announced that they’d be giving away a “special, limited-edition T-shirt,” and made vague promises of a “special event” for fans in attendance.  Owner Heinz Doofenshmirtz was coy, saying only that it would be “something special the fans will never forget.”

The T-shirts were given out as promised, although the design was unexpected.  The bright yellow T-shirts read “#1 Fan!”  The team said that the Shockers logo supposed to appear below those words.  The version the fans received instead contained a picture of Doofenshmirtz’s face.  According to the owner, he sent the wrong image file to the printing house.  The finished shirts arrived only a couple of days before the event, and (as usual) no one with the Shockers bothered to look at them before handing them out.

The fans’ reaction to the Doof-bedecked T-shirts could fairly be described as “mixed.”  Many fans discarded the shirts immediately; several trash cans in the concourse were overflowing with them.  Other fans chose to wave the shirts over their heads like rally towels.  Others proudly wore the shirts (ironically or otherwise).

“I looked around the stands, and I saw my own face all over, staring back at me,” Doofenshmirtz said.  “It was a little creepy, to be honest.  But also kind of cool!”

After the performance of the anthems and a ceremonial puck drop by rock guitarist and Saskatoon native Pete Friesen, PA announcer Tim Conroy told the fans to “stay in your seats and get ready for something special.”  Shortly afterward, a small blimp with the Shockers logo on the side emerged from one end of the arena.  The blimp was designed and built by the owner himself, and it contained a camera that was taking a panoramic photo of all the fans in attendance.

“I know from my daughter that if there’s one thing the young people today like, it’s taking selfies,” said Doofenshmirtz.  “So I figured, why not take one big selfie of the whole crowd?  And behold!”

After the photo was complete, the blimp was supposed to drop leaflets with the URL the fans could visit to view the group picture.  But Doofenshmirtz was also piloting the craft, and he lost control of it and crashed it into a catwalk hanging from the roof.  The start of the game was delayed for over 15 minutes while workers retrieved the stranded blimp.

After the game, the photo went live online.  (The team posted the URL on the scoreboard, since their leafleting plan was thwarted.)  Once fans started looking at it, however, they started noticing some curiosities.  Several fans greeted the blimp with upraised middle fingers.  Others appeared to be engaged in fisticuffs.  Some female fans raised their shirts for the camera.  As fans started pointing these out on social media, the Shockers responded by blurring the offending photos.

Things went from bad to worse when the team received a call from the Canadian national police.  Apparently, the camera had captured a person who is in the witness protection program and had been moved to Saskatchewan under an assumed identity.  The police said that the fan had received threats on his life after being identified in the photo.  The police demanded that the Shockers take the picture down.  The team initially resisted, but ultimately took it down.

“Yeah, I guess I didn’t think this one through as well as I should have,” admitted Doofenshmirtz.  “I definitely don’t want us to get in trouble with the police.  But why would you go to a hockey game if you’re in the witness protection program?!  Seriously, dude, just watch it on your couch next time.”

SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell has noticed Saskatchewan’s sad history with promotions.  “As a rule, we try to encourage our teams to do as many promotional events as is practical,” the commissioner said.  “It’s a great way to boost attendance and give fans something to look forward to.  In the case of the Shockers, however, I’d like to ask them to stop doing them altogether.  Or at least Mr. Doofenshmirtz shouldn’t be allowed to plan them, design them, or really be involved with them in any way.  It’s for the best.”

SHL Player of the Week – Week 9

Zeke Zagurski

The SHL selected Saskatchewan Shockers G Zeke Zagurski as its Player of the Week.  Zagurski had a tremendous week in net for the Shockers, going 3-0-1 with a 0.73 GAA and a .976 save percentage.  With Zagurski leading the way, the Shockers posted a 3-1-1 record on the week, better than any other team in the West.  For the season, Zagurski stands at 12-18-3, with a 2.52 GAA and a .917 save percentage.

On Saturday, Zagurski made 28 saves to outduel Riki Tiktuunen and the Quebec Tigres, 2-1.  On Tuesday, he stopped all 37 Washington shots as the Shockers knocked off the Galaxy 1-0.  On Friday, Zagurski made 29 stops as Saskatchewan rolled to a 10-1 thrashing of New York.

“One of these days, people are going to realize that Zeke is one of the league’s best netminders,” said Shockers interim coach Caleb Ponder.  “He doesn’t get enough credit because we don’t win enough games, but when we finally make it to the playoffs and make some noise, the world will finally recognize Zeke’s greatness.”

Shockers Fire Coach Beasley

When the Saskatchewan Shockers first took the ice, they were the joke of the SHL.  They finished with the league’s worst record by far in their first season, and were best known for a promotional stunt in which they started a sumo wrestler in goal.  Their record improved in subsequent seasons, but their reputation was still marred by player hijinks and promotions gone wrong.

This season, the organization has made significant strides to become more professional.  They revamped their color scheme, dumping seafoam in favor of electric blue on their uniforms.  They signed a big-name free agent, LW Vonnie McLearen.  And they declared their intention to compete for a playoff spot.  “It’s time for us to turn the corner and become a contender,” said GM Cooper Matthews before the season.  “No more excuses.”

Myron Beasley

This week, Matthews backed up his words with action.  With the Shockers mired in mediocrity at the midpoint of the season and on track for virtually the same record as last season, the Shockers announced on Wednesday that they’d parted ways with Myron Beasley, the only coach the team has ever had.

The Shockers got off to a solid start early, posting an above-.500 record and remaining in the playoff mix in a wide-open Western division.  But the team hit the skids shortly thereafter, going 4-10-1 over its next 15 games.  Reportedly, it was Saskatchewan’s winless week before the All-Star break, which included a scoreless tie against expansion Kansas City, that convinced the front office to dismiss Beasley.

“As an organization, we’ve been clear that we expect to take the next step forward,” said Matthews.  “That hasn’t happened, so it’s time to make a change.”

The Shockers have been hampered by a sputtering offense.  The team was averaging a mere 2.27 goals per game at the time of Beasley’s firing; only the expansion Boston Badgers had scored fewer.

Beasley leaves Saskatchewan with a record of 67-138-5 over three and a half seasons.  The coach’s supporters note that he was a key force of stability during the franchise’s chaotic early days, and that most bosses would not have had the patience and tolerance to deal with some of the team’s more outlandish antics over the years.  “A lot of coaches would have quit if they’d had to go through what Myron went through,” said one source close to the coach.  “But he felt like he’d made a commitment, and he wanted to see it through.”

Beasley’s critics, on the other hand, argued that he lacks the discipline and vigor to lead a contending club.  After the Shockers’ dismal 11-48-1 showing in 2015, they improved by 10 wins the following season.  Since then, though, the team’s progress has stalled.  With owner Heinz Doofenshmirtz eager to put a Vandy in his trophy case, Saskatchewan’s lack of improvement was no longer acceptable.

“This was a tough decision for all of us,” said Matthews.  “Coach Beasley is a wonderful person, and we’ve always considered him a member of the Shockers family.  But we felt like we needed a new voice and a new face in charge in order to help us reach our goals as an organization.”

Caleb Ponder

Matthews indicated that assistant coach Caleb Ponder would take over the head up on an interim basis.  Ponder has been Beasley’s assistant since the team’s beginning.  Team sources indicated that barring a surprise development, Ponder would remain in charge of the team for the rest of the season, and the team will perform a full search for a replacement during the offseason.

For his part, Beasley says that he has no hard feelings about the decision.  “I’ve enjoyed my time here, but in the end it’s all about results,” he told reporters.  “That’s how the business goes.  Whoever takes over next, they’re getting a team with a heck of a lot of talent.  And no matter what, we’ll always have Dr. Coconut.”

Adding a layer of awkwardness to the situation, Beasley’s son Napoleon remains the Shockers’ top line center.  The younger Beasley declined to comment on his father’s firing.  Matthews said that the team had no plans to get rid of Napoleon: “He remains a key piece of our roster going forward.”

Shockers Hold Night to Honor “Bananas Foster”

This offseason, C Foster Culp left the Saskatchewan Shockers in free agency and signed with the Seattle Sailors.  He was not widely missed by Shockers fans or management.  After showing considerable promise as a rookie, he stagnated over the next two seasons, never breaking the 20-goal mark or surpassing the 31 points he amassed in his first season.  He was far better known for his screwball off-ice antics and bizarre quotes than for anything he achieved on the ice.

Foster Culp

As a result, when Culp returned to Saskatchewan for the first team in the season’s second week, the Shockers didn’t do anything to mark the occasion.  After the game, the center admitted that he was miffed at the lack of recognition.  “I mean, I wasn’t expecting them to retire my number or anything, but why wasn’t there a Foster Culp Night?” he asked reporters.  “I gave these guys three years of my life, and I don’t get even a gold watch or anything?  Not cool, man.”

When informed of Culp’s displeasure, Saskatchewan coach Myron Beasley barely managed to stifle his laughter.  “He thinks we should have a night for him?  Typical Bananas Foster.”  Beasley explained that “Bananas Foster was our nickname for him in the clubhouse.  Don’t get me wrong, he was a nice guys and a decent player.  But his elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top floor, if you know what I mean.  We’ve got some loose screws on this team, but Foster was something else again.  We were just glad he didn’t wind up in prison.”

But in the wake of the exchange, some Shockers fans emailed and tweeted at the front office urging them to make “Bananas Foster Night” a reality.  And given their past difficulties with promotions, the team saw an opportunity for an easy win.  “If the fans want Bananas Foster Night, for whatever reason,” said GM Cooper Matthews, “then Bananas Foster Night they will have.”

When the Sailors arrived at Potash Arena on Tuesday, Shockers fans greeted Culp (who was a healthy scratch for the game) with cutouts of his face and stuffed bananas, giveaways from the team.  And between the first and second periods, the team played a “tribute” video of Culp, with clips of him fumbling passes and shooting wide of the net interspersed with reminders of some of his more outlandish incidents, including the time he caused the team to be detained at customs with a smart remark about smuggling drugs, the time he was arrested for joyriding a baggage cart at the airport, and the time he microwaved a burrito for too long and caused the team’s practice facility to catch fire.  In between, the video included clips of some of Culp’s post-game quotes, such as “If you can outscore your opponent, you’ll win most times” and “Practice is like masturbation: it’s okay if you have to do it, but it’s not as much fun as the real thing.”

After the video was complete, the crowd gave Culp a standing ovation and tossed their bananas onto the ice.  Culp stood, blew kisses to the crowd, and took several sweeping bows.  And after the game, a 2-1 Shockers win, he expressed appreciation for the tribute — sarcastic or not.

“When I first heard they were gonna do Bananas Foster Night, I was afraid they were going to set me on fire,” said Culp.  “But this was cool, feeling the love of my people.  A piece of me will always be here.  Literally. One time I took a puck to the mouth and lost a couple of teeth, and I think they’re still here somewhere.”

Beasley also paid a compliment to his former player.  “Strange as it seems, I do miss Foster a little sometimes,” the coach said.  “Then I remember all the dumb stunts he pulled, and I got over it.  But there’s no question that he’s one of a kind.  He’s the only guy who wouldn’t get to play on his own tribute night.”