CHL Update: Zoomies Facing Goalie Crisis

The Colorado Springs Zoomies are off to a dreadful start.  Two weeks into the 2020 season, they are the only CHL team that has yet to record a point, having lost all eight of their games.  Looking at the numbers, the source of the Zoomies’ struggles is obvious: their defense and, especially, their goaltending.

Colorado Springs is dead last in the league with a 4.70 GAA, almost a goal and a half worse than the next-worst team.  Their netminders are facing a nightly barrage of shots – on average, the Zoomies are allowing 34.3 shots per game – and they’re stopping too few of them, with a dismal .861 save percentage.

Artie Gambisch

“I’m starting to wonder if our guys’ pads are made of Swiss cheese,” said Zoomies coach Artie Gambisch.  “Some of those shots that get through, I just don’t understand.”

Last season’s starting goaltender, Sonny Kashiuk, earned a call-up to the parent Portland Bluebacks this season.  In spite of the loss of Kashiuk, the Zoomies came into this season feeling reasonably content with their options in the crease.  Last season’s backup, Cecil Healy, was coming off of a solid season and was expected to take over starting duties.  To pair with Healy, the Zoomies acquired Bill Bates, fresh off of a strong performance with the division-winning Omaha Ashcats.  It seemed like a solid if not spectacular tandem.

Thus far, though, it’s been a fiasco.  Healy has gone 0-3-0 with a 4.67 GAA and an .865 save percentage.  Improbably, Bates has managed to be even worse, sporting a 0-5-0 record, a 4.73 GAA, and a .859 save percentage.  (It’s possible that there’s a poor-goaltending virus spreading throughout the organization; Portland has the worst save percentage in the SHL as well, with Kashiuk and starter Jesse Clarkson both struggling.)

“I think Billy and I are both fighting ourselves right now,” said Healy.  “Goaltending is a mental thing, and your confidence is always balanced on a razor edge.  Right now, we’ve both fallen off the razor.”

After the latest thumping – a 6-2 rout at the hands of the Idaho Spuds on Friday – Gambisch decided it was time to do something dramatic to change the team’s fortunes.  He had Healy and Bates come to the practice facility early, then asked them to pile their pads and sticks in the parking lot.  Once they had done so, Gambisch doused the equipment with lighter fluid and set in on fire.

The Zoomies coach is a fan of unconventional motivational techniques, but this one was his wildest yet.  “Watching our stuff go up in flames was pretty crazy,” admitted Bates, “especially since he hadn’t told us he was going to do it.”

“There was bad juju in that equipment,” Gambisch told reporters.  “This was my way of hitting the reset button for Cece and Billy.  Now they can start fresh.”

Taking a cue from their coach, both goaltenders proceeded to cover their helmets with black electrical tape.  “If we want to show off our designs, we’ve got to earn them,” said Healy.  “Every time we win, we can peel off some of the tape.”

Gambisch approved of his netminders’ approach.  “That’s the spirit!” the coach said.  His only comment: “I would have use white tape, to maximize that Friday the 13th-Hannibal Lecter vibe.  Really scare the crap out of the other teams.”

CHL Update: Zoomies Coach Sparks OT Win with Wacky Speech

The Colorado Springs Zoomies have been one of the CHL’s strongest teams since the league’s inception.  They made the playoffs in 2016 and 2017, only to lose in the divisional round.  This season, Colorado Springs is mired around the .500 mark, but they’re hoping to get hot in the second half and win their first title.  If they do reach the promised land, the Zoomies may look back on this week’s comeback win – and coach Artie Gambisch’s unusual inspirational speech – as a turning point.

On Wednesday, Colorado Springs rallied after blowing a third-period lead and snatched a 3-2overtime win over the contending Idaho Spuds.  After the game, several of the players pointed to a between-periods Gambisch pep talk as the key to the comeback.  When asked what the coach had said, the players were a bit vague.  “It’s hard to describe.  It was… a work of art,” said RW Joel Hagendosh, who scored the game-winning goal.  “You should ask him about it.”

Artie Gambisch

Accordingly, the reporters asked Gambisch about the speech in his postgame press conference.  After a long laugh, Gambisch said, “I don’t know.  I feel like it should just be between me and the boys.”  Upon follow-up questioning, however, Gambisch elaborated.

“I was telling them not to give up hope just because we had the lead and lost it,” said Gambisch.  “I told them that they shouldn’t be afraid, that fear is the only thing that could hold them back.”

Gambisch’s tempo and volume picked up as he got into the rhythm of it, “I told ‘em, ‘If you’re afraid you can’t win it, kill that fear!  Stab it right in the heart with a rusty jackknife!  Be brave!  Punch a lion in the nuts!  Fear is useless!  Fear is temporary!  Glory is forever!”

Pounding the podium, Gambisch shouted, “You deserve greatness!  Kill anyone who says you don’t and build your castle out of their bones!  Now go out there, grab this game by the throat and choke it to death with your bare hands!!”  The assembled reporters broke into spontaneous applause as Gambisch grinned and said, “That’s what I told ‘em, basically.”

The Colorado Springs players were just as charged up by the speech as the reporters.  “It was the most inspirational thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” said D Ernie Blake.  “When he first got going, we weren’t quite sure what was happening.  We were looking at each other like, ‘Is he having a stroke? Do we need to call 911?’  But then we got into it, and we got pumped up.  By the time he was done, the other team didn’t stand a chance.”

“If General Patton had given that speech to the troops,” said G Sonny Kashiuk, “World War II would have been over in a week.”

“That speech… man, I get chills just thinking about it,” said C Foster Culp.  “He got me so fired up, I was ready to run through a brick wall.  In fact, I was gonna go find a brick wall and run through it, but my teammates kind of grabbed me and guided me out to the ice instead.”

Asked what he planned for an encore, Gambisch said, “I didn’t.  You mean I’ve got to find a way to top that?  Oh Jesus.  I should have saved this one for the playoffs.”

CHL Update: Durien Stars as Zoomies Soar

Last season, the CHL’s Omaha Ashcats got hot in the second half of the season and rolled to the Western Division title (although they were upset by Utah in the first round of the playoffs).  In the offseason, the parent Seattle Sailors moved their affiliate to a new city, Colorado Springs, and got a new name (the Zoomies) and a new coach (Artie Gambisch).  They also saw significant roster turnover, as several top prospects were either promoted or traded.  Despite all the new faces, the Zoomies have picked up right where they left off last year, racing out to a 13-2-0 record and a five-point lead in the West.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Colorado Springs’ success is their breakout stars.  Netminder Sonny Kashiuk, who spent much of last year in Seattle, is off to a magnificent start, going 10-1-0 with a 1.45 GAA and a .946 save percentage.  But the biggest and most unexpected star is RW Philippe Durien.  Last season in Omaha, Durien put up a strong season, producing at a point-per-game pace.  But he was known primarily as a facilitator, racking up 48 assists as he fed the team’s big scorers.  This season, he has emerged as the team’s – and the league’s – top scorer.

Philippe Durien

“We all knew Philippe was a very good player,” said Zoomies C Nikolai Valkov.  “But we didn’t know that he could score like this.”

Now Valkov’s teammates, and the league as a whole, know of Durien’s scoring prowess.  The winger has already scored 15 goals, more than the 12 he tallied all of last season.  He has six more goals than anyone else in the CHL.  Unsurprisingly, he also leads the league in points with 25.

“Last year, my instinct was always to pass,” said Durien.  “I always want to help my teammates and my team.  But this year, Coach has told me to look for my shot first.  He says, ‘Always you are unselfish, but maybe you should be a little more selfish.’  So I tried, and it is great!”

Durien sparkled this week as Colorado Springs played their first inter-division games of the year.  On Saturday, Durien scored a goal and set up LW Kendall Bannon for another as the Zoomies bashed Baltimore 6-2.  The next night, Durien struck twice in the first period to spark a 6-4 win over Cleveland.  On Friday, in a showdown of first-place squads, Durien potted a pair to help Colorado Springs thrash Oshawa 7-2.

“I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but one of the smart things I did was to unleash Philippe,” said Gambisch.  “I’d watch in practice, and I noticed that he had the hardest shot on the whole damn team.  So I said to myself, Why the hell is he passing all the time?  Take the shots!  Now he’s leading the league in goals, and suddenly I’m a genius.   I love it!”