“They whipped us in every aspect of the game. They were better on offense, on defense, on special teams, and in net. We’re lucky you can’t get negative goals, or we probably would have. We’d have lost 3 to negative 1.”
The SHL selected New York Night G Jesse Clarkson as its Player of the Week. Clarkson was outstanding in net for the Night this week, posting a 3-0-0 record with a 1.00 GAA and a .974 save percentage. For the season to date, he sports a 5-1-0 record with a 1.50 GAA and a .960 save percentage, among the league’s best. Clarkson’s heroics in the crease helped lead New York to an undefeated week, which lifted them into first place in the East.
On Sunday, Clarkson stopped 36 shots as the Night melted Hershey 5-1. On Tuesday, facing Hamilton at Neon Sky Center, the netminder came up with 38 saves – including several highlight-reel stops – in a 6-1 rout that knocked the Pistols out of the division lead. On Saturday against Washington, Clarkson came up with 37 stops and stymied six Galaxy power plays on the way to a 4-1 victory.
“I know everyone thinks we’re all about scoring goals and slinging insults, but Jesse’s the guy making it happen in the crease,” said New York coach Nick Foster. “He’s never had the reputation of a guy like [Dirk] Lundquist or [Riki] Tiktuunen, but he’s been consistently strong. Anyone who wants to write us off or say we’re a flash in the pan, Jesse’s gonna have something to say about that.”
SHL Digest: This week, we’re talking to the new coach of the Saskatchewan Shockers, Morris Thompson.
Morris Thompson: I’m pleased to be here.
SHLD: What do you think of your team so far?
MT: There’s a lot of talent here, definitely. We’ve got a good core of young players with speed, with the potential for a sturdy defense and a reliable offense. And in Zeke [Zagurski], we’ve got one of the league’s better netminders. We got off to a bit of a slow start, but we’ve got the pieces to build a contender.
SHLD: Before you came to Saskatchewan, you were Ron Wright’s assistant in Michigan, so you know a lot about building a contender. Do you see any of the Wolves in the Shockers?
MT: Absolutely. Zeke has the same kind of unflappability that you see in [Dirk] Lundquist, and that’s a key to success for any goalie.
MT: Yeah, we had a talk about that. But in general, this team is willing to do the kind of unglamorous work in their own end that a lot of teams won’t. That’s what made Michigan so successful.
SHLD: And now you’re having to do battle with your old team, as well as the defending champs in Anchorage. What do you think it will take to reach the next level, to compete with those teams?
MT: It’s a matter of attitude. Any professional athlete wants to win; it’s in their nature. But the best athletes hate to lose, which isn’t the same thing. They hate losing so much that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to prevent it. They’ll practice shooting until their hands bleed. They’ll skate laps past the point that they feel they want to drop. They’ll push themselves to the limit, then they’ll keep going, because that’s what it takes to beat the best teams.
SHLD: And you think that attitude has been missing in Saskatchewan?
SHLD: They’ve definitely had some crazy stories, yeah.
MT: Whenever the Shockers would play us, we’d be licking our chops, because we knew we could skunk them. They had plenty of talent, but they didn’t know what to do with it.
SHLD: And you’re looking to change that.
MT: Exactly. Just like Michigan, we want to be the team nobody wants to play. You might beat us on any given night, but we won’t make it easy. You’ll have to work your butt off and take a beating if you’re going to get that W.
SHLD: Tell us a little bit about what you’re like away from the arena. Are you married? Do you have kids? What do you do for fun?
MT: I am married, and we’ve got a 3-year-old daughter. She’s the joy of my life. As for fun: During the season, honestly, my focus is here at the rink. During the offseason, though, I make it a point to unplug. We like to go hiking and bike riding. And I like to work on my car?
SHLD: Cool! What kind of car do you have?
MT: It’s a ’67 Mustang. I found it in a field, a total heap. Paid $200 for it. And for the last 5 years, I’ve been restoring it, bringing it back to life piece by piece.
SHLD: Man, that sounds like a lot of work.
MT: It is. But I’m not afraid of work. And it’s almost sort of meditative, just me out in the garage with Sally. It’s a great way to decompress from the stress and chaos of the season.
SHLD: Sounds very nice. That about wraps up our interview for today. Thanks for your time, Morris, and good luck this season!
Ed Francis is the very definition of a journeyman hockey player. The 29-year-old has spent his entire career as a steady but unremarkable depth defenseman. After graduating from Lake Huron State in 2010, Francis spent a couple years playing in Switzerland before joining the SHL. In four seasons split between Washington and Saskatchewan, he never made much of an impact, never scoring more than 7 goals or recording more than 11 points in a season. He is known as a hard worker and a positive clubhouse personality (earning the nickname “Easy Ed” for his gentle demeanor), but he hasn’t been quite fast or talented enough to nail down a starting job.
Francis was a free agent in the offseason, in a crowded market for blueliners. When it became clear that he wouldn’t receive a major-league contract, he gave serious thought to retiring. Francis had an open offer to become a high-school gym teacher in his hometown of Charlevoix, Michigan. He and his wife Judy have two young children, and the thought of spending less time on the road and more time raising his kids held considerable appeal.
In the end, though, Francis decided “I hadn’t gotten the game out of my blood quite yet.” He signed a minor-league deal with the New York Night and reported to their CHL affiliate, the Utah Owls. Finally having a chance to play every day, the defenseman has found joy with the Owls. And this week, he recorded an achievement he never imagined possible: he scored a hat trick in Utah’s wild 6-5 overtime win over the Idaho Spuds on Sunday.
It was unusual enough that Francis was the first one on the board, receiving a pass at the blue line from RW Mickey Simpson and firing a slapshot past Idaho goalie Kelvin White less than 2 minutes into the game. His tally was quickly forgotten, though, as the Spuds beat Utah netminder Corey Franklin-Lee three times in a five-minute span to take a two-goal lead at the first intermission.
The Owls quickly erased the deficit with a pair of scores early in the second period, only for D Brady Prussian’s slapper to put Idaho on top again. But just past the halfway point of the second, Utah generated some pressure in the slot in front of White. Francis crashed the net, picked up a deflection from C Gilles Valmont, and stuffed it over White’s catching glove for his second goal of the game, tying it at 4.
“At that point, I was just focused on the fact that we’d tied it up,” said Francis. “I wasn’t even thinking about [a hat trick].”
At 1:25 in the third period, Francis fired another blue-line shot that RW Harris Wondolowski redirected into the net, giving the Owls a 5-4 lead, their first edge since Francis’ opening tally.
“A three-point game? That was huge for me, probably my first one since high school,” Francis noted afterward. “And it gave us the lead, which was great.” Little did he know that the best was yet to come.
The Spuds didn’t go away quietly, as Prussian went five-hole on the power play to equalize the score again. Somewhat surprisingly, neither team scored again in regulation, sending things to overtime.
About a minute into the extra session, Francis joined a three-on-two rush for the Owls. “Usually on an odd-man rush like that, I don’t have the speed to be part of it,” he explained. “But I happened to be in a good spot when Gilles picked it off and started going the other way.”
Valmont found RW Jake Grifka below the hash marks. Grifka faked a shot, then slid a pass to Francis, who went top-shelf over a sprawling White to win the game as the crowd at Wasatch Arena exploded with delight.
It wasn’t until their hats began hitting the ice that Francis realized what he’d done. His mouth flew open as his teammates lifted him up and carried him off the ice.
Francis still seemed in shock as he talked to reporters after the game. “In my whole life, I never imagined I’d get a hatty,” he said. “It never even crossed my mind, not in my craziest dreams. It’s a good thing I didn’t know it was happening at the time, or I’d have shot it fifty feet over the goalie’s head.”
Owls coach Wiley Kiyotie was delighted by the unexpected achievement. “Ed’s the kind of guy who really deserves a moment like this,” Kiyotie told reporters. “He’s paid his dues, and he works his butt off and never complains. A guy like that ought to get to be the hero once in his life, at least.”
Once his postgame interviews were over, Francis pulled out his phone and called home to Judy, the wife who’d agreed to stay back in Michigan with the kids while her husband chased his dream for one more season. When she answered, Francis exclaimed: “Honey, you’ll never believe what just happened to me!”
New York Night coach Nick Foster, who has earned a reputation around the league for takingverbaljabs at opposing teams, seems to have identified a new target for this season: the Hershey Bliss. New York traveled to Hershey to face the Bliss on Sunday. After the Night sent the Bliss fans home unhappy with a 5-1 beatdown, Foster added insult to injury by firing some salvos at the Keystone club, accusing them of being soft.
Foster wasted no time jabbing at the Bliss in his postgame press conference. “Hey, I’ve got a mystery for you guys,” the coach told reports. “Can anyone tell me how Hershey managed to luck into the Vandy two years ago? All these old-time hockey types talk about how hard-nosed defense wins championships. So how did a team like Hershey, who’s as soft as a roll of Charmin, manage to win one? They must have bribed somebody.”
Pressed to elaborate, Foster cheerfully did so. “I mean, look at who they’ve got. Their top line is basically a boy band in skates. Those cuties are afraid to muss up their hair, much less lose a tooth or get a black eye. Their top blueliner [Reese Milton] plays with squirrels. They had one guy who could fight worth a damn [Ruslan Gromov], but he retired.
“They’ll take a few cheap shots here and there, but challenge them to back it up, and they run and hide. But if you so much as look cross-eyed at any of those cute little boy banders, they’ll cry and scream to the officials.”
Foster went on to claim that other teams shared his view of the Bliss. “Everyone knows how soft they are. Ask around the league, and people will tell you about it… off the record. No one wants to say it on the record, because the league wants to make stars out of the boy-band cuties. Apparently they think we can tap into the 12-year-old girl fanbase. But I’ll say it out loud, even if no one else does.”
The Bliss responded with a few pokes of their own. “I don’t know whether we bribed anybody or not, but I do know that we have a ring and [Foster] doesn’t,” said C Justin Valentine. “And I know we worked and fought hard to get there. Also, I don’t know why he keeps calling me ‘cute.’ I guess I’m flattered?”
“I’m mad that [Foster] seems to be biased against squirrel lovers,” said Milton. “But if he or any of his players want to fight about it, I’m ready to go!”
“Everybody knows what Nick’s up to at this point, and I’m not interested in rolling around in the mud with him,” said Bliss coach Chip Barber. “I’ll just say that there are plenty of fake tough guys out there, all talk and no action. Our game is as smooth as melted couverture chocolate, and that’s how we like it.”
The New York coach went on to claim that his team now “owns” the Bliss, and predicted that his team will sweep the season series against Hershey.
“We’ve got plenty more games yet to come,” said Foster. “It’s a long season, and it separates the men from the boys. You’ll see.”
Ever since Stewart Corriganwas fired from the Seattle Sailors’ coaching job at the end of the 2017 season, he has kept a low profile. Corrigan has not spoken to the press since his dismissal, nor has he been publicly considered for any openings since then. Given his history of volcanic and sometimes violent meltdowns behind the bench, many around the league hoped that Corrigan was seeking therapy for his anger issues.
The ex-Sailors coach resurfaced in Seattle for a game this week. What might have been a feel-good first step toward reconciliation instead ended in a bizarre display that, depending on who you believe, was either a disturbing public unraveling or a misunderstood joke.
Corrigan flew up from Santa Rosa, where he has made his home since his dismissal, to take in Thursday’s game against the Michigan Gray Wolves. “Even though I’m not with the team any more, I still feel a connection with them,” said Corrigan. “It’s kind of like a parent with adult kids. Even though they’re out of the house, you still want them to do well.” He indicated that he did not hold a grudge against the organization for his firing.
Before the puck dropped on Thursday, PA announcer Sean Winters announced Corrigan’s presence to the crowd, which responded with a smattering of applause. Corrigan, who had a microphone, shouted to the crowd: “Come on, Sailors fans, it’s time to get crazy! Let’s get loud!” He then began a “Let’s Go Sailors” chant, which the crowd returned.
Corrigan cupped his hand behind his ear and shouted, “You call that a chant? Come on, people!” The crowd began chanting somewhat louder, but it was still evidently not enough to satisfy the former coach.
“All right, people, I’ll make this simple,” Corrigan snapped. “Get up and cheer or I’ll kill you! And I have the means!” He then pulled a handgun out of the waistband of his pants and pointed it toward the sky. The camera quickly cut away from Corrigan, and security officers rushed to disarm him and escorted him out of the seating bowl.
Corrigan immediately claimed that he’d been joking. And upon examination, it turned out that his “gun” was a plastic toy. On the other hand, the security officers noted that Corrigan was visibly intoxicated and seemed agitated. They ushered him out of the arena and forbid him from returning.
“We sincerely apologize to any fans who may have been traumatized by Mr. Corrigan’s actions at today’s game,” said GM Taylor Teichman after the game, which the Sailors lost 3-2 in overtime. “We had no idea that he was planning anything like this, and we never would have let him speak if we had known. We’ve asked him not to come back to Century 21 Arena, and we hope that he gets the help he so clearly needs.”
Reached for comment afterward, Corrigan insisted that this was all a joke gone awry. “I’m well aware that I have a reputation as a dangerous hothead,” the former coach told reporters. “And I thought I would have a little fun with that reputation. I figured it would be obvious to everyone that it was a joke, but apparently not. Did they really think I was going to shoot up the place because the fans weren’t cheering loud enough? How crazy do they think I am?”
Corrigan did acknowledge that he’d been drinking before the game (“perhaps to excess”). And he said that in retrospect, he should have run the joke by the team first.
Asked to comment on the incident, current Sailors coach Harold Engellund said, “I don’t know what all that was about. But I can promise you that if I get fired, I’m not going to come back to the arena packing a gun. I’m not real big into guns. I prefer fishing.”