Shockers’ Practice Arena Damaged by Fire

The Saskatchewan Shockers will need to find another venue for their practice skates for the next several weeks, as the locker room at their practice facility was badly damaged by a fire.  The culprits: Shockers C Foster Culp — and a microwave burrito.

The Shockers held their usual off-day practice Thursday morning at Harbour Landing Arena. During a break in between sessions, Culp decided to microwave a couple of breakfast burritos he’d purchased at a nearby restaurant on the way in.  “I always get a little peckish in between skates,” Culp explained later, “so I always make sure to get myself a little something-something to snack on.”

Foster Culp

One problem with Culp’s otherwise sound plan: The burritos were wrapped in aluminum foil, which the center neglected to remove before turning the microwave on.  Presumably, the foil began sparking, and the sparks landed on the inner paper wrapper around the burritos, causing them to catch fire.

Not that Culp noticed; he’d set the microwave and wandered off to find a drink.  But a few minutes later, he thought he smelled something burning and returned to the microwave, to discover that it had become a ball of fire.  He stared at it, transfixed, but took no action as the fire began to spread to the counter on which the microwave sat.

At that point, RW Brad Stevens noticed either the smell or the smoke and went over to examine the situation.  He saw Culp staring at the conflagration and said, “Dude, fire!”  Culp responded, “Yeah, I know.”

Stevens tried again: “Dude, put it out!”  Culp said, “Uh, with what?  I don’t have a hose.”  Stevens pointed at the fire extinguisher on the wall and said, “Use that, stupid!”

Culp snapped out of his trance, ran to the wall, and grabbed the extinguisher.  But rather than point it at the fire and start spraying, Culp took the extinguisher and hurled it at the fire.  Unsurprisingly, this had no effect.

By the time G Zeke Zagurski grabbed another extinguisher and brought it over to the scene, the fire had spread to the adjoining wall and the team was forced to evacuate the area.  The fire department had to be called in, and by the time they extinguished the blaze, the locker room had suffered an estimated $250,000 in damage.

When asked about the incident, coach Myron Beasley put his hand over his face and sighed.  “Foster… he’s a piece of work, he really is,” said Beasley.  “I don’t know if he got dropped on his head a lot as a kid or what.  But he thinks… different than you and I do.”

Culp was chagrined by his mistake.  “Obviously. knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t do that again,” said Culp.  “But I needed those burritos!  Who hasn’t needed a burrito from time to time?”

Shockers Host a Wild Home Opener

The Saskatchewan Shockers are in a difficult spot entering the 2017 SHL season.  By all accounts, Saskatchewan doesn’t have the talent to contend in the West; they’re an up-and-coming team, but they still have a long way to go.  Playing in one of the league’s smallest markets, the Shockers also struggle at times with attendance, and the team’s attempts at splashy promotions have too often gone awry.

Heinz Doofenshmirtz

So when Shockers owner Heinz Doofenshmirtz promised “a really spectacular spectacle” for the team’s home opener against the Anchorage Igloos, many fans held their breath and tried to imagine what might go wrong.  Would the ceremony wind up injuring a star player?  Would Doofenshmirtz accidentally burn the arena down?  The mind reeled at the possibilities.

But the Shockers defied the ill omens and put on a show that, while long and over-the-top, was free of calamity.  “This is it!” crowed the Shockers owner afterward.  “Now we’re going to take over the entire SHL!”

Shortly before the scheduled puck drop, the lights went out at Potash Arena.  At first, nervous fans believed that there might have been a power failure.  But their worries were dispelled when multi-colored spotlights began flashing around the arena, and the sound of thunder filled the arena.  Soon thereafter, the familiar opening strains of “Burn It to the Ground” by Nickelback echoed over the PA system.  The fans began clapping and cheering as a phalanx of skaters wearing Shockers jerseys and waving Canadian flag began to circle the ice.  Soon, they were joined by a kick line of women in old-fashioned Vegas showgirl costumes, which only increased the cheers.

But then the fans’ eyes were drawn skyward, as a large platform began to descend from the roof of the arena.  On the platform was a golden ram’s head with glowing red eyes; flames shot upward from the corners of the platform.  Suddenly, a ’57 Chevy convertible emerged from the ram’s mouth, driven by Doofenshmirtz, who was clad in a leather jacket with a pompadour rising from his head.  Doofenshmirtz drove the Chevy out onto center ice (narrowly missing the showgirls), popped out, and waved to the crowd.

Sparky

Doofenshmirtz then pointed dramatically back toward the ram’s head, and out skated the Shockers’ new mascot, Sparky.  Sparky, an anthropomorphic lightning bolt in team colors, took a couple laps around the ice and tossed candy necklaces to the crowd.  Some of the children seated near the ice appeared to be frightened by Sparky, but they were soon mollified by the candy.

An inflatable slide then unfurled, connecting the ram’s-head platform to the club level of the arena.  The Shockers players slid down one at a time from the club level and came out through the ram’s head, to the crowd’s rapturous approval.

Finally, Doofenshmirtz opened the trunk of his convertible and out popped the members of Nickelback themselves.  They mounted the platform and proceeded to blast their way through a hard-rock rendition of “O, Canada.”

After the anthem was complete, the fans roared deliriously as the Shockers’ in-game entertainment crew fanned out along the catwalks on the roof and flung T-shirts and caps onto the masses below.  Doofenshmirtz and Nickleback hopped back into the Chevy and drove off the ice, and the ram’s head rose back to the roof.

Shockers fan Howie Crawford of Regina summed the ceremony up aptly: “I don’t really know what was going on, but it was a lot of fun.”

The visiting Igloos (who wound up winning the game 3-0) were reportedly unhappy about the length of the ceremony, which delayed the start of the game by almost 40 minutes.  But the fans left happy, and for Doofenshmirtz, that’s what really matters.

“Behold!” crowed the Shockers owner after the game.  “We actually had a successful event for a change.  Now, what can I do to top this next time?  Maybe I can fly a jet around the arena, or I can have the team enter through a ring of fire, or…”

SHL 2017 Season Preview – West

Michigan Gray Wolves

The defending SHL champions return largely intact for the 2017 season.  They lost only one significant contributor in D Patrick Banks, who went to Washington in free agency (rookie Brooks Zabielski takes over Banks’ spot in the third pairing).  But the loss of Banks should be offset by the arrival of LW Todd Douglas, bumping struggling Travis Gauss to the bench.  While their offense – particularly LW Vladimir Beruschko – showed some signs of age last season, the Wolves’ dominant defense and the peerless goaltending of Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist remain as strong as ever.  And it seems unlikely that coach Ron Wright will let the team rest on its laurels.  So what could slow them down?  The West is a tough division; Anchorage and Dakota should put up strong challenges.  But the biggest risk this team faces is injury, particularly to Lundquist.  If their star netminder goes down for any extended period, is rookie Brooks Copeland up to the job?  The Wolves hope they won’t have to find out.

 

Anchorage Igloos

The Igloos have made no secret of their desire to get back to the form that won them the 2015 SHL title.  Have they made the progress they needed?  It’s possible.  The biggest new addition is LW Ben Summers, a 10-goal scorer with New York last season.  He replaced Misha Petronov, whom the Igloos let go after a disappointing season.  But Anchorage’s fortunes are likely to hinge on the performance of their youngsters and their stars.  The Igloos are moving LW Les Collins, who had a breakout 35-point season in 2016, up the second line; they’re depending on him continuing to blossom as a scorer.  Their third defensive pairing is also new, combining rookie Tony Citrone with Sebastian Pomfret, who looked solid in limited action last year.  If those three have strong seasons, Anchorage should do well.  But their title chances likely rest on the shoulder of sniper Jake Frost.  Last season, Frost put up 45 goals, which would be a fine year for most players but an off year by Frost’s standards.  Since he is the key to Anchorage’s offense, a return to his typical output would make the Igloos dangerous.  If he has another off season, they’re likely to come up short again.

 

Dakota Jackalopes

For 2017, the Jackalopes have a new name (they changed from the Rapids) and a number of new faces.  After a couple disappointing seasons falling well short of contention, Dakota’s hoping that combination will be enough to help them catch up with the Western powers.  They did more to improve themselves than any other contender, adding C Mike Rivera via trade and D Rusty Anderson in free agency.  They also acquired D Scott Hexton from Hershey to make their defense that much stouter.  While the Jackalopes will always be an offense-first club, they’re arguably stronger on both sides of the puck than they’ve ever been.  If they were in the weaker East, Dakota would be at least a co-favorite to win the division.  This is the West, though.  If there’s an area where the Jackalopes may come up short, it’s between the pipes.  They’re relying on a pair of young goalies, Buzz Carson and Christien Adamsson.  Carson, the likely starter, had an impressive rookie season in 2016, and clearly improved as the season went on.  But nobody considers Carson to be in the same class as Michigan’s Lundquist or Anchorage’s Ty Worthington.  If Dakota finishes out of the money yet again, they may wind up ruing the day the front office ran Jesse Clarkson out of town.  But if Carson can take another step forward, the Jackalopes’ high-octane offense would make them a dangerous team.

 

Saskatchewan Shockers

Last season was a tale of two halves for the Shockers.  In the first 30 games, the fine goaltending of Zeke Zagurski and the scoring punch of rookie winger Troy Chamberlain had Saskatchewan hovering around the .500 mark and attracting notice as a young team on the rise.  The second half saw a dramatic fall from grace, as the Shockers lost 11 of their final 13 games and 23 of their last 30, and the team suffered a string of embarrassing personnel incidents that suggested a franchise coming apart at the seams.  The team improved in the offseason, drafting C Elliott Rafferty and trading for veteran G Oliver Richardson to back up Zagurski.  But the Shockers clearly lag far behind the contenders, with a subpar offense and a mediocre defense.  As a result, there are far more questions than answers headed into 2017.  Is coach Myron Beasley’s job in jeopardy if the Shockers stumble out of the gate, or fade in the second half again?  Can the front office get its act together and run the team in a more professional manner?  Can the team’s slow but steady building plan ever lift Saskatchewan into contention?  Should they consider dealing Zagurski and other veterans and go for a hard rebuild?  Can the team last in Saskatoon, or will owner Heinz Doofenshmirtz be forced to relocate?  Will the team ever abandon its bizarre yellow-and-seafoam color scheme?  Can this team ever be a real contender, or will they forever be a poorly-run, mistake-prone joke?  It’s hard to know what the future holds for this truly strange team, but it’s safe to expect that there won’t be a ton of wins this season.

 

Seattle Sailors

The Sailors had a rough inaugural season, looking weak on both ends of the ice.  Their star rookie, RW Vince Mango, turning in a disappointing campaign, scoring only 33 goals and lacking the explosive shot that made him such a highly-regarded prospect.  The Sailors are likely to finish last again, so the 2017 season is all about showing signs of growth.  The team defied expectations to draft LW Rod “Money” Argent with the top pick in the draft; Seattle hopes that he’ll add some scoring punch to the top line and force opposing defenses to stop overloading on Mango.  The Sailors will be eager to see progress from Mango, Argent, and D Benny Lambert.  In a surprising signing, they added D Timothy “Cyclone” Winston to bolster their leaky blueline corps; the defense is still nowhere near Michigan’s level, but it should be better.  Last season, goalie Rocky Goldmire struggled and looked shell-shocked at times; a stronger defense should help him get more comfortable in the crease.  If Seattle’s going to become a contender down the road, they’ll need to see their young core come together and take a step forward.  They’ll also need to decide if volatile coach Stewart “Popeye” Corrigan has the temperament to be a leader of men.  Sailors fans should try not to fixate on the win-loss record this season; instead they should watch to see if they have a solid foundation for the future.

SHL Offseason Trade Summary

The following trades took place in the offseason before Season 3:

The Quebec Tigres made a huge deal at the top of the draft after their planned choice went awry.  The Tigres had planned to take scoring winger Rod “Money” Argent with the #2 pick, addressing their major shortcomings on offense.  But after the Seattle Sailors surprisingly drafted Argent with the first pick, Quebec found themselves with no obvious choice.  So they traded down, dealing the #2 pick to the Hamilton Pistols in exchange for the #5 pick, a second-round pick, and D Dmitri Kalashnikov. Hamilton sought the #2 pick in order to grab G Lasse Koskinen, who immediately became the team’s top netminder.  While Quebec did not wind up with an impact player of Argent’s caliber, they traded quality for quantity.  With the #5 pick, they plucked RW Rupert MacDiarmid, who put up 15 goals and 39 points in juniors last year.  In Kalashnikov, the Tigres added an elite and ferocious defender, whose 109 penalty minutes were the second-most in the SHL last season.  The Tigres used the second-round selection to nab D Hal Pugliese, who took Penn Tech to the NCAA tournament three times in his collegiate career.

The Dakota Jackalopes also dealt a first-round pick, sending the #6 selection to the New York Night along with C Phil Miller in exchange for C Mike Rivera.  The trade represents a bold gamble for both teams.  For Dakota, adding Rivera augments their high-flying offense, as the Jackalopes attempt to catch up with their division rivals in Michigan and Anchorage.  Last season, Rivera banged home 23 goals and collected 39 points with New York. He is expected to anchor Dakota’s second line this year.  For New York, the trade reflects new coach Nick Foster’s desire to build a more balanced club.  Although Rivera was a strong contributor on offense, he is widely considered a defensive liability.  Miller, who put up 18 goals and 30 points between Saskatchewan and Dakota in ’16, is regarded as more of a two-way player.  With the sixth pick, the Night grabbed goaltending prospect Sherman Carter, who recorded a 2.27 GAA and a .930 save percentage in juniors last season.  In addition to drafting Carter, New York signed the top free-agent netminder, Jesse Clarkson, to complete an overhaul of one of their weakest positions.

After the draft, the Night made a pair of deals aimed at improving their third line.  First, they swapped G Oliver Richardson to the Saskatchewan Shockers for the rights to G Hector Orinoco, then sent Orinoco’s rights along with F Dill Howlter to Hamilton for winger Andrei Volodin.  Richardson, who posted a 6-10-0 mark with a 4.37 GAA for New York last season, became expendable after the Night drafted Carter and signed Clarkson.  He represents an upgrade for the Shockers, who have struggled to find a solid backup for Zeke Zagurski since the league’s inception.  Orinoco played last season in the German league, where he record a 17-11-2 record with a 3.06 GAA.  He will likely spend the season in the minors for Hamilton, barring an injury.  The 25-year-old Volodin should bring a little extra scoring punch to New York’s third line.  He scored 18 goals and 34 points for Hamilton in the 2016 season.  The 20-year-old Howlter failed to record a point in 9 games for New York last season.

The Washington Galaxy sent longtime backup goalie Gus Parrish to the Seattle Sailors in exchange for F Yann Eberlein.  The deal was a bit disappointing for the fans, as Parrish was a beloved figure in Washington, adored for his boyish enthusiasm and flair for colorful quotes.  Last season, Parrish went 7-6-0 with a 3.21 GAA as the Galaxy defended their Eastern Division title.  But after Washington signed free agent Ron Mason in the offseason, Parrish found himself without a job.  Eberlein struggled in limited action with the Sailors last year, recording 2 goals and 7 points in 34 games.  Washington hopes that the 25-year-old Swiss forward can provide a solid presence off the bench.  The Galaxy suffered from poor third-line and bench production last season, as rookies Henry Van Alpin, Barry Sullivan, and Oliver Wallington all turned in disappointing campaigns.

The Jackalopes and the Hershey Bliss made a minor deal just before the start of the season, swapping bottom-pairing defensemen.  Dakota sent Pierre Chappelle to Hershey in exchange for Scott Hexton.  The Jackalopes were looking to strengthen their blueline corps a bit, and Hexton (3 goals, 12 points last season) grades out as an above-average defender.  On the other hand, the Bliss were looking to enhance their offensive production beyond their loaded top line.  Chappelle (5 goals, 20 points last year) provides an upgraded scoring threat relative to Hexton.  The 28-year-old Montreal native is on his third team in as many seasons; Dakota picked him up from Hamilton during last offseason.

Shockers Stumble to Finish Line

Saskatchewan SmallIt’s fair to say that the second half of this season was a disaster for the Saskatchewan Shockers.  After a surprisingly strong 14-15-1 record in the first half, the Shockers collapsed in the second half, posting a 7-23-0 mark.  That record included a pair of seven-game losing streaks.  Their late-season misadventures ranged from a stick getting wedged in the boards to a pair of players getting arrested after taking a joyride at the airport.  Their dismal half came to a suitably disappointing close, as the Shockers stumbled through a memorable final week.

“We took a big step forward this year,” said Saskatchewan coach Myron Beasley.  “It just doesn’t feel like it right now.”

The week began on an embarrassing note, as the Shockers lost in overtime to the SHL’s worst team, the expansion Seattle Sailors.  The win allowed Seattle to tie last year’s Shockers for the fewest-ever points recorded in a season with 23.  (The Sailors did wind up setting a record for fewest victories, finishing with 10 vs. the Shockers’ 11.)  Seattle won only two of its final 27 games; both were against Saskatchewan.

After the game, Beasley called the loss “kind of humiliating, to tell you the truth.”  Little did he know how much worse it could get.

The next night, the Shockers hosted their rivals, the Dakota Rapids.  The Rapids soared in the second half (19-8-3) while the Shockers cratered, and this game starkly illustrated the team’s opposite trajectories.  When the shelling stopped, the Rapids had set a new SHL record for goals in a game, pounding the Shockers 10-4.  Stickel, one of the stars of the airport misadventure, started in goal for Saskatchewan and surrendered all 10 goals. Beasley took some criticism for subjecting his backup netminder to such a pummeling, although he later admitted, “I kind of lost track of the score after a while.  I didn’t know it was that bad.”

On Tuesday, the Shockers watched Michigan outshoot them 42-18 and clinch the West division title with a 3-1 win.  In many ways, it was the highlight of the Shockers’ week.  “At least we got to see someone having a good time,” said RW Brad Stevens.

The next night, the Shockers were in Anchorage, and Stickel was back in net.  The result was another thumping, with the Igloos winning 8-2.  Stickel’s last two calamitous outings swelled his GAA from 4.61 to 5.29.  “I think I’m kind of going deaf from the goal horn going off in my ear so many times,” he said after the Anchorage fiasco.

The Shockers closed out the season at home, and managed to salvage a shred of dignity, beating an imploding New York team 6-4.  But even in victory, Saskatchewan lost.  The win dropped the Shockers out of the second spot in the draft, allowing them to finish a single point ahead of Quebec.  In a shallow draft, the slip could cost the Shockers dearly.

Despite the second-half swan dive, the team announced that Beasley will return as coach next season.  “There were some guys offering me condolences after the announcement,” admitted the coach.  “But I’m happy about it.  After all, it means I still get paid!  Yippee!”

Beasley added in all seriousness that he was optimistic about next season.  “I know these last severaal weeks were kind of a slog,” the coach said, “but I think it’s made us stronger.  Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?  We’re not dead yet.”

Shockers Players Detained in Airport Hijinks

Saskatchewan SmallA pair of Saskatchewan Shockers found themselves in hot water this week after a mischievous prank at the airport went awry.

The Shockers were feeling pretty punch at the end of a long flight home from Quebec on Friday night after toppling the Tigres 4-2.  The second half of the season has been a slog for Saskatchewan; after getting off to a better-than-expected 14-15-1 start, the team has lost 15 of 20 since.  So it’s little surprise that players might be looking to blow off some steam.

As they were leaving the plane, C Foster Culp and backup goalie Shawn Stickel decided to have a little fun.  They slipped down the stairs from the jetway, snuck onto the tarmac, hopped into the baggage tractor, and went for a joyride.  They were on the loose for about 10 minutes, merrily eluding airport personnel, but were ultimately stopped by a blockade before they could make it onto the runway.  The kerfuffle caused a 30-minute ground stop at the airport, in order to avoid endangering passengers.

shawn-stickel
Shawn Stickel
Foster Culp
Foster Culp

After being stopped, Culp and Stickel were taken into custody by airport security, and after questioning were detained overnight by the Saskatchewan police.  Coach Myron Beasley bailed the pair out the next day.

This isn’t the first time that Culp has gotten into trouble on the Shockers’ travels.  Last season, he caused the Shockers to be detained at the airport for several hours after jokingly telling customs officials that he had brought guns and drugs with him on the plane.  This incident was taken considerably more seriously, with officials threatening to press charges for the escapade.  (At press time, it was not clear what charges, if any, the pair might face.)

As the center later explained, it all began innocently enough.  “We’d been caged up on that plane for hours, and Shawn and I just wanted some fresh air,” Culp told reporters.  “We figured we’d just go outside for a bit, have a cigarette maybe, and that was it.  But then we noticed all the cool little trucks and things that go zipping around there, and we thought it would be fun to take a ride.”

Culp said that originally, they had planned to take one vehicle each and have a drag race on the runway.  “But the baggage cart was the only one close by, so we decided to just take that and go Thelma and Louise.”

“Needless to say, alcohol was involved in the incident,” Beasley said.

The Shockers fined both Culp and Stickel for their antics.  “I mean, I get it,” said the coach.  “Long flight, tough season, guys are going to get lubed up and these things can happen.  But it’s embarrassing to the team, and it’s a problem for everybody in the airport.”

The coach added that he felt the overnight detention was appropriate.  “It gave those guys a chance to dry out,” Beasley said.  “Which they clearly needed.”