CHL Update: Redline Down Centurions to Win Crown in New Town

The Indianapolis Redline have undergone a number of changes this season.  They moved to a new city, as did their parent club (formerly the Dakota Rapids, now the Milwaukee Growlers).  But the core of their roster was the same group that won the last two CHL titles in Idaho.  The Redline continued their winning ways in this year’s Finals, downing the Cleveland Centurions in 6 games to bring the Howard Trophy to their new hometown.

“It feels great to be on top again!” said Redline LW Terry Cresson, one of several players who has been with the team for all three titles.  “We’re starting to get good at this.”

The Finals matchup presented a battle of contrasting styles.  The Redline were the CHL’s top-scoring team, while Cleveland has the same suffocating defense that the parent Michigan Gray Wolves made famous.  “Whichever team drives the pace of play is going to have the upper hand in this series,” said Indianapolis coach Tony Hunt.

The series opened in northeast Ohio in crumbling Cleveland Arena.  The Centurions got the early advantage, scoring three times in the first period and riding a shutout from goalie Eugene Looney to a 4-0 win.  The Redline were unfazed by the loss, however; they also dropped the first game of last year’s Finals before rolling to a victory. In Game 2, Indy was able to push the pace a bit, and they broke the game open late in the second period, as C Tanner Brooks, RW Britt Cadmium, and D Jay Brewster scored goals in the span of just over six minutes on their way to a 5-1 win that evened the series at a game apiece.

The action shifted to Fairgrounds Coliseum in Indianapolis for the middle three contests.  Game 3 was a bit of a slog, as the play was chippy and penalty-filled (11 infractions in all) and the teams combined for just 93 shot attempts.  The Redline did a better job getting their shots on target, and this time it was netminder Brooks Copeland who posted the shutout in a 5-0 laugher.  For Game 4, Indianapolis used its superior speed to make Cleveland look helpless, outshooting them 33-23 and scoring four times in the first on the way to a 9-2 shellacking that moved them one game away from the title.  Looney, the hero of Game 1, was now the goat as Centurions fans called for a switch to backup Jeff Bingley between the pipes.  Coach Blaine Thurmond stuck with his starter, saying: “He’s the one who got us here, and I believe in him.”

Looney rewarded his coach’s faith in Game 5, making a 26-stop performance in a 3-2 Centurion win to stave off elimination.  D Gil Calvert got the visitors fired up early, dropping the mitts with Redline D Andy Ruger less than four minutes into the game.  The charged-up Centurions promptly scored twice to take an early lead, but a pair of ill-advised penalties late in the first (including a high stick by Calvert) allowed Indy C Dale Wilcox to notch a pair of power-play markers to tie it up.  Fortunately for Cleveland, Calvert came through with the game-winner in the third period on a slapshot through traffic.

Back home for Game 6, Cleveland fought valiantly to extend the series, with LW Carl Bleyer scoring in the first period to give them the lead.  But the Redline managed to overwhelm the Centurions again with their speed.  RW Dylan Alizarin scored twice in the second period to give Indy a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.  In the third period, they outshot hapless Cleveland 16-5, with Cadmium adding an insurance goal down the stretch.  RW Steve Brandon gave the Centurions hope with a goal in the final minute, but they never found the equalizer and bowed out with a 3-2 loss.

For all the goals that the Redline scored in the series, choosing an MVP was somewhat challenging, since the scores were so well distributed: every Indianapolis player except D Clark Blanchard scored at least once.  The award ultimately went to Alizarin, for his game-winning heroics in the clincher.  The winger argued that he didn’t really deserve the honor: “I wish I could cut this trophy into 20 pieces and give one to each of my teammates, because this was a total team effort,” Alizarin said.

The Centurions now face some important questions heading into the offseason.  Owner Brad Pelwicki has stated he will move the team out of Cleveland unless significant upgrades are made to their ancient facility.  The league, however, has indicated that they want to keep the Centurions in town, and believes that Pelwicki lacks sufficient capital to run the team properly.  Thus far, no progress has been made toward upgrading Cleveland Arena, and Pelwicki has made no move to sell.  The players declined to comment on the arena situation in interviews during the Finals.

“The way I see it, sometime before New Year’s, they’ll tell us where we’re going to play, and I’ll show up and play there,” said Bleyer.  “If it’s somewhere that has hot water in the showers and where the lights work all the time, that would be awesome.”

2019 SHL Week 11 Transactions

  • On Monday, the Quebec Tigres activated D Ward Jones from the disabled list.  Jones had missed more than a month with an upper-body that he suffered before the All-Star break.  To make room for Jones on the active roster, the Tigres reassigned D Serge Rimbaud to their farm team in Maine.  The 18-year-old Rimbaud appeared in 13 games with Quebec, recording 8 assists and a +1 rating.
  • Also on Monday, the Hamilton Pistols placed goaltender Lasse Koskinen on the disabled list.  Koskinen suffered an upper-body injury during Sunday’s 7-4 win over New York.  He is expected to miss 2 to 3 weeks, a serious blow for a Pistols team that is trying to snatch a playoff spot in the East.  To replace Koskinen, the Pistols called up Hector Orinoco from their affiliate in Oshawa.  The 23-year-old Orinoco has gone 13-11-0 with a 2.69 GAA and a .902 save percentage with Oshawa this season.
  • On Tuesday, the Tigres placed LW Stellan Fisker on the disabled list.  Fisker suffered an upper-body injury during the Tigres’ 3-0 win over Hershey.  He is expected to miss 3 to 4 weeks.  To replace Fisker on the roster, the Tigres called up LW Carl Bleyer from their farm team in Maine.  Bleyer has put up 26 points (8 goals, 18 assists) with the Moose on the year.
  • Wednesday was the trading deadline. The following trades were consummated at the deadline:
    • The New York Night traded RW Mickey Simpson, D Andy Ruger, and a 3rd-round draft pick to the Washington Galaxy for RW Nori Takoyaki.  (More details here.)  After making the trade, the Night promoted D Craig Werner from their farm team in Utah and signed D Sheldon Harville to a minor-league contract.
    • The Galaxy traded Ruger to the Kansas City Smoke in exchange for a 3rd-round pick.
    • The Michigan Gray Wolves traded RW Cleo Rodgers, G Gus Parrish, and a 2nd-round pick to the Smoke in exchange for LW Kevin Starkey and D Scott Hexton.  (More details here.) After the trade, Kansas City called up Parrish and LW Veikko Sikanen from their CHL affiliate in Omaha, and demoted G Jim Fleetwood to Omaha. They also released G Toby Kemper.  Meanwhile, Michigan released D Igor Shovshenkov, demoted F Yann Eberlein to their affiliate in Cleveland, and signed Kemper to a minor-league deal.
    • The Saskatchewan Shockers traded C Tanner Brooks to the Dakota Jackalopes in exchange for D Rusty Anderson. (More details here.) After the trade, the Shockers demoted D Valeri Nistrumov to their farm team in Virginia.  They also released D Knute Skoeglin and signed F Marvin Cascio to a minor-league deal.
    • The Hamilton Pistols traded C Pat Collistone, D Buster Kratz, and a 1st-round pick to the Galaxy in exchange for C Eddie Costello.  (More details here.) After the trade, the Pistols called up D Russ Klemmer from their CHL affiliate in Oshawa, and demoted RW Michael Jennings to Oshawa.  They also signed D Gresham Sourwine to a minor-league contract.  The Galaxy demoted Kratz to their affiliate in Baltimore and promoted C Tucker Barnhill from Baltimore.  They also released D Sheldon Harville.
    • The Quebec Tigres traded D Kirby Hanlon, C Jacob Cunniff, and a 1st-round pick to the Jackalopes in exchange for D Matt Cherner.  (More details here.) After the trade, Dakota released RW Omar Zdurchek; Quebec then signed him to a minor-league deal.
    • Finally, the Seattle Sailors traded D Serkan Mratic to the Galaxy for D Stan Gallagher.  (More details here.)
  • On Saturday, the Jackalopes activated D Rodney Black from the injured list.  Black, who was sidelined in only his second SHL game, missed two and a half weeks with an upper-body injury. Since Dakota was one player short of the roster limit, they did not make a corresponding move.
  • Also on Saturday, the Hershey Bliss placed LW Lance Sweet on long-term injured reserve.  Sweet was carried off the ice on a stretcher after being crunched into the boards late in the second period during Saturday’s 6-3 win over Saskatchewan.  Sweet underwent surgery on his right leg, and is expected to be out for the rest of the season.  To fill Sweet’s roster spot, Hershey called up D Seth Dowd from their CHL affiliate in Milwaukee.  The 33-year-old Dowd, who last played in the SHL in 2016, recorded 27 points with Milwaukee this season.

Night Strike First, Acquire Takoyaki from Galaxy

With the SHL trade deadline approaching on Wednesday, the New York Night made the first move.  With the team’s grip on a playoff spot slipping and with a crucial injury on the right wing, the Night picked up RW Nori Takoyaki from the Washington Galaxy in exchange for RW Mickey Simpson, D Andy Ruger, and a 3rd-round draft pick.

“Being hard up against the cap, there was only so much we could do,” said Night GM Royce McCormick.  “But we saw a need, and we were able to fill it fairly cheaply.”

Takoyaki, who is the SHL’s only player of Japanese ancestry, had played with the Galaxy since the SHL’s beginning.  He continued to produce solid numbers (6 goals, 15 assists) even in the midst of a disappointing season in the nation’s capital.  He has a reputation as a weak defender, but he’ll fit right in with the Night’s shoot-first philosophy.  With New York, Takoyaki will plug immediately into the open right-wing slot on the second line, which became vacant when Ivan “Trainwreck” Trujwirnek went down with a lower-body injury at the end of last week.

“Obviously, we all want Trainwreck to get healthy and get back in the lineup as soon as possible,” said Night coach Nick Foster.  “But with Tako here, he should help us keep humming and keep the wins rolling in.”

When Trujwirnek returns, Takoyaki is expected to slot in on the third line, where Sylvester Catarino has struggled this season.  “The deeper we are, the better we are,” said Foster.

The 22-year-old Simpson is the prize of the deal for Washington.  Simpson has shuttled back and forth between the Night and their farm team in Utah this season.  In 10 games with New York, Simpson recorded 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists) and a -5 rating.

“Right now, we’re a team in transition,” said Galaxy GM Ace Adams.  “We’re focused on picking up prospects and giving our young guys some opportunities to shine.  We’ll miss Tako and everything he did for our team.  But I can’t wait to see what Mickey can do for us.”

The 30-year-old Ruger was a solid defender for the Night (he put up 4 points and a +2 rating in 11 games this season), but he was included solely to help the deal fit under the salary cap for the Night.  The Galaxy also retained $500,000 of Takoyaki’s salary for this reason.

Immediately after the deal was completed, Washington turned around and dealt Ruger to the perpetually defense-starved Kansas City Smoke in exchange for future considerations.

Bliss, Night Get Nasty in Division Showdown

The Eastern Division race is as hot as it gets right now.  With the trading deadline coming next week, both playoff spots are up for grabs, and four of the division’s six teams have a real shot at the postseason.  With such a fierce and wide-open competition, the stakes of each game are heightened – especially when two contenders face off.

Sunday’s game between the Hershey Bliss and New York Night was a case in point.  Neither team is particularly known for playing rough; they generally focus on scoring rather than fighting.  But this time, they produced a notably chippy, nasty game in a 5-2 Hershey win.  If this is a preview of coming attractions down the stretch, the East could be in for a wild ride.

“There was a lot of hate out there on the ice today,” said Night D Dominic Sanchez.  “It was fun and scary at the same time.”

This was the back end of a home-and-home between the Night and Bliss, who entered the game tied for first place in the East.  Hershey came into the game hungry for revenge: New York had won Saturday’s game 3-2 at the Chocolate Center, handing the Bliss there fourth straight loss.

Nick Foster

And per his usual, Night coach Nick Foster rubbed salt in the wound during his postgame press conference.  Foster, who has ridiculed the Bliss as soft all season, came to the podium holding a roll of Charmin.  “I brought this because it reminds me of Hershey,” said Foster.  “It’s really soft, easy to squish, and I love wiping my [butt] with it.”

Foster’s jibe riled up the Bliss clubhouse, which made it clear that they were going to respond physically.  “We’ll show Foster who’s really soft,” one Hershey player said.

Sure enough, less than two and a half minutes into the game, Bliss D Steve Cargill dropped the gloves with New York blueliner Donald Duckworth.  The two traded blows until Cargill wrestled Duckworth to the ice – no small task given Duckworth’s rugged physique.  Both sides smacked their sticks on the boards in appreciation.  The Bliss had made their point; outside observers might have assumed that was the end of hostilities.  In fact, though, said hostilities were just beginning.

A couple minutes after the Cargill-Duckworth scrap, Bliss LW Russell Nahorniak hit Night star Brock Manning with a high stick, opening a gash next to Manning’s left eye.  Nahorniak claimed the high stick was accidental; the Night insisted it was intentional, and called for the Hershey winger to be ejected.  Nahorniak received a double minor instead.

Manning dashed into the locker room to be patched up, then returned and scored a game-tying power-play goal, then pointed at Nahorniak.  (Manning finished out the first period, but did not return to the ice after that; he also missed the following two games.)

Not to be outdone, Hershey proceeded to score a pair of goals a little more than two minutes apart.  Each time, their celebration “coincidentally” wound up in front of the Night bench.

A couple minutes after that, New York C Tom Hoffman avenged Manning by ramming the butt end of his stick into Nahorniak’s stomach in the middle of a scrum in front of the Hershey net.  That earned Hoffman a double minor penalty of his own.  The Night committed a couple more penalties before the period ended, but the score remained the same.

Tensions didn’t ease in the second period.  After only 46 seconds, Night D Andy Ruger challenged Cargill to another fight.  Cargill gladly accepted the challenge; this time, Ruger got the better end, bloodiyng Cargill rather badly.  Both players received majors for their trouble.

Less than a minute after that bout, Bliss C Vance Ketterman scored to make it 4-1.  With the competitive portion of the game essentially over, both teams turned the physicality up even further.

Night D Rocky Winkle enraged Hershey by spearing Bliss C Spencer Kirkpatrick in the groin.  This time, it was Hershey calling for Winkle to be ejected; instead, he received a double minor.  Bliss RW Remi Montrechere upset New York with a high stick that nearly caught Night C Rod Remington in the teeth.

Early in the third period, Hershey LW Lance Sweet dumped New York LW Chase Winchester into the boards with a hard cross-check.  The Night were angered that Sweet received only a two-minute penalty, instead of a major or an ejection.  On the ensuing power play, Duckworth and Winkle combined on a score; they celebration by flashing their middle fingers at the Hershey bench.  They weren’t penalized, but Bliss D Reese Milton earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty a little bit later for squirting his water bottle at the New York bench.

The rest of the game unfolded with a slew of hard checks and minor penalties, but no major conflagrations.  After the game ended, both teams dissolved into a fit of pushing and shoving that didn’t quite turn into a line brawl.

After the team, both teams pointed fingers at their opponents.  Bliss coach Chip Barber focused on the two Night spearing penalties.  “Butt-ending is one of the dirtiest plays in hockey, and everyone knows it,” said Barber.  “Normally, you might get two of those [penalties] in a year.  But two in one game?  That’s just ugly hockey.”

Foster, meanwhile, noted the attack against some of his top players.  “I know [the Bliss are] desperate to show me how tough they are,” the New York coach quipped, “but this is ridiculous.  They tried to take Brock’s head off, then they tried to put Chase in a wheelchair.  Okay, we get it, you’re big tough boys.  Now put your [genitals] away and play some hockey next time.”

The league declined to hand out any supplemental discipline, but Commissioner Perry Mitchell warned that they wouldn’t be so lenient next time.  “We know that emotions run high in games like this,” Mitchell said in a statement.  “But there’s a line between good hard hockey and dirty hockey, and both teams came too close to that line.  If it happens again, the league will act appropriately.”

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