CHL Update: SHL’s a Family Affair for These Players

Does hockey run in the blood?  There are plenty of examples of family acts in NHL history: the Sutter brothers, Gordie Howe and his sons, Bobby and Brett Hull, and many others.  The SHL doesn’t have any of those… yet.  But there are three CHL players who are working hard and hoping to join their relatives in the big time.

Tanner Brooks

Arguably, Virginia Rhinos C Tanner Brooks is the closest of the three to making the leap.  The 22-year-old center has been in the CHL since 2017, and he has earned raves for his strong defensive plays.  The Rhinos’ parent club, the Saskatchewan Shockers, seriously considered making Brooks their third-line center out of training camp this year.  Instead, the Shockers kept him in the minors for another season to develop his offensive game further.

2019 has been a breakout year for Tanner; he’s among the CHL’s top scorers with 15 goals and 10 assists so far.  He seems to be on the verge of making the big time, either with Saskatchewan or as an attractive deadline trade piece.

When Tanner does reach the majors, he’ll follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Washington Galaxy LW Charlie Brooks.  Charlie is seven years older than Tanner, and he serves as example and inspiration to his little brother.  “I wouldn’t be a hockey player today if it wasn’t for Charlie,” Tanner Brooks said.  “He taught me how to skate, and he let me tag along with him to the rink when I got older.  And he was always teaching me what he knew about the game.”

Charlie has followed Tanner’s career with great interest, and he’s excited to someday take the ice against (or with) his brother.  “I think Tanner will be a better player than me,” Charlie said.  “He’s taller and stronger, and he’s always been driven to succeed.  If he does, I’ll be proud as heck.”

Charlie and Tanner’s parents still live in their childhood home in the Toronto area, but they faithfully attend as many of both brothers’ games as possible each year.  “They always come to the same number of games for both of us, so they aren’t playing favorites,” said Tanner.  “When I’m playing in Oshawa or Charlie’s in Hamilton, they’re definitely there for those.  But they travel to see us too.  It’s really great.”

Felix Delorme

Hartford Harpoons RW Felix Delorme doesn’t have a brother in the SHL, but he has another family connection: his uncle is Quebec Tigres coach Martin Delorme.  Felix is only 20, and he was drafted by the Boston Badgers in 2018.  He’s off to a strong start this year (13 goals, 8 assists), but likely still a season or two away from his SHL debut.  But when he does, he knows he’ll have at least one fan, albeit behind the opposing bench.

Felix grew up in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec.  His father worked the second shift in a paper mill; due to his late hours, he had few opportunities to teach his son about the game.  Fortunately, Uncle Martin was able to step in and help.

Beginning at age 7, Felix began attending his uncle’s summer hockey camps in Montreal.  These sessions didn’t always go smoothly.  “Uncle Martin always talked about defense and fundamentals, and all I wanted to do was shoot,” Felix admitted.  But he did absorb a lot of key lessons about the game, lessons he practiced in the winter playing shinny with his friends.

Martin Delorme believes that his nephew will make the SHL someday.  “He was a strong-minded boy, and sometimes we clashed heads,” Martin said.  “But he was very determined and confident in himself.  Plus he has a great natural talent.  I know he will be a good player.”

Martin and Felix text regularly, and they speak via video chat when their schedules allow.  Felix fills his uncle in on his latest progress; Martin gives his nephew tips and suggests SHL players to watch.  “I hope we can still do this even when we are on enemy teams,” Felix said.

Davis McNeely

Both Tanner Brooks and Felix Delorme are in different organizations then their SHL relatives.  So far, there is only one SHL-CHL family pairing where both members are in the same system.  RW Jefferson McNeely is a star for the Washington Galaxy.  And his younger brother, D Davis McNeely, plays for the Galaxy’s CHL affiliate, the Baltimore Blue Crabs.

Unlike Brooks and Delorme, the 20-year-old McNeely is not considered a top prospect.  Since signing with the Galaxy in 2017, he has generally been relegated to Baltimore’s bottom pairing, and this year he has only 1 assist in 21 games (albeit with a +4 rating).

For Davis, the family connection brings pain as well as pleasure.  “Everyone seems to think I only got signed because of Jeff,” said Davis.  “I get heckled about it in other cities. ‘Your brother’s better than you!’ and stuff like that.  Even here, when I’m slumping, people say, ‘They can’t get rid of him because, well, you know.’  Sometimes I want to go to another team, just so I can prove I deserve to be here.”

Jefferson McNeely vigorously denies that he asked the Galaxy to sign his younger brother.  “Davis is his own man, always has been,” said Jefferson.  “The Galaxy scouted him and signed him all on their own.  I’m glad they did, because he’s a good player.  But this idea that I ‘made’ the team sign him is just silly.  I don’t have that kind of pull, anyway.”

Davis’ case may be an extreme example, but all three can’t help but he overshadowed by their big-league relatives.  For now, Tanner Brooks is still “Charlie’s brother,” and Felix Delorme is still “Martin’s nephew.”  But all three of them eagerly await their shot at the SHL spotlight, and the chance to make a name for themselves.

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CHL Update: Baltimore’s Humphrey Gives Opponent a Hand

Dean Humphrey’s SHL career has been a strange one, to say the least.  The blueliner’s excellent speed and decent passing ability made him a fringe prospect for a time, but his defensive struggles, awkward skating style, and unfortunate knack for bonehead mistakes kept him from seizing a starting job (although it did make him a folk hero in Seattle for a while).

Dean Humphrey

This season, Humphrey couldn’t find a major-league job at all; he wound up signing a minor-league pact with the Washington Galaxy and has spent the season playing for their CHL affiliate, the Baltimore Blue Crabs.  There, the 25-year-old defenseman has continued his typical career trajectory: flashes of promise marred by frustrating errors, a handful of assists, and no goals.

This week, Humphrey scored his first goal of the season; in fact, it’s the first goal of his entire SHL tenure.  Normally, this would be a cause for celebration.  But because this is Humphrey, this was nothing to cheer about.  The reason is that his tally occurred when he inadvertently flung the puck into his own net.

“It’s never easy to guess what you’re going to get with Dean,” said Blue Crabs coach Roland Tedesco.  “But this… this was something else again.”

The incident occurred early in the third period of Friday’s game against the Milwaukee Hogs.  In real time, it unfolded so quickly that it was hard to tell what had happened.  One moment, Humphrey and Hogs D Seth Dowd were chasing after a loose puck in the corner; the next moment, it was behind Crabs goalie Gennady Kulbakin in the net.

It was only after viewing it in slow-motion that the disaster became clear.  Dowd got to the puck first and flipped it toward the crease, only for it to get stuck in Humphrey’s glove.  Humphrey tried to fling the puck away, but it managed to find daylight between the goalie and the crossbar.  Since Dowd was the last Milwaukee player to touch the puck, he received credit for the goal.

“I know closing your hand around the puck is a penalty, so once I felt it in my hand I knew I had to get rid of it,” said Humphrey.  “I just wanted to throw it down in the other corner or flip it to [Kulbakin] so he could cover it, but it just… wound up in the net.”

As the clip replayed on the Jumbotron, the Crabs sarcastically saluted their teammate by thumping their sticks against the boards, while Humphrey tried to hide his face behind a towel.  “The guys already make fun of me a lot,” he admitted.  “And this isn’t really going to help with that.”

Given that Baltimore won the game 6-2 despite the friendly-fire goal, the Crabs’ general postgame reaction was bemusement.  “I’ve seen own goals before, sure,” said C Tucker Barnhill.  “Usually it’s because you’re defending and it takes a bad bounce off your stick, or deflects off your skate blade.  Throwing it into the next, that’s… something you don’t usually see.”

“I was kind of impressed with Humps’ aim there,” said D Stan Shakovich.  “Normally his shots are way off the mark, but this time he throws it and in it goes.  Maybe he should use his hands more often.”

Tedesco’s initially had a hard time seeing the humor in the situation.  “An incredibly dumb move by a dumb player,” the coach fumed in his post-game press conference.  “Humphrey’s got talent, but he’s throwing it away because he doesn’t have two brain cells to rub together.  If I have to watch that again, I’m going to puke.”

The next day, though, he had calmed down a bit.  “Slow-mo makes it look worse than it was, almost like he did it on purpose,” Tedesco said of the play.  “It was a split-second mistake, and that could happen to anybody.  Somehow, though, it feels like it could only happen to Humphrey.  He’s one of a kind, he really is.”

CHL Update: Baltimore Bus Breakdown Ends Badly

Life in the minor leagues isn’t always glamorous.  The CHL’s Baltimore Blue Claws learned that lesson the hard way this week, as they saw a simple bus ride turn into an ordeal that nearly ended in tragedy for one player.

On Monday, the Blue Claws played the Cleveland Centurions on the road and lost 2-1.  The next night, they had a game at Harborside Arena.  Rather than spend an extra night in the hotel and fly back the next morning, the Blue Crabs faced a six-hour overnight bus ride to get back to Baltimore.

Unsurprisingly, the long ride after a loss already had the team in a bad mood.  But things went from bad to worse when the bus broke down outside of Pittsburgh at about 3:00 in the morning.

“A lot of guys were asleep,” said Blue Claws RW Alberto Fedregotti. “All of a sudden, the bus started making these terrible noises and we started to slow down.  You could just hear everybody start to groan.  We were thinking maybe we would need to hitchhike back to Baltimore.”

It took over an hour to summon a tow truck, and another forty minutes for a replacement bus to arrive.  The team did not make it back home until around 10 in the morning, as the players staggered back to their houses for a few hours of shut-eye before reporting back to the arena for the game.

When they arrived, they received more bad news: The tow truck that hauled off the original bus got into an accident, causing the bus to plunge into the Allegheny River.  Many of the Blue Crabs’ personal effects were still on the bus, so several players groused about the loss of their sticks, clothes, or jewelry.

Mr. Fluffykins

D Sheldon Harville, however, feared for the loss of something even more precious: his childhood teddy bear, Mr. Fluffykins.  Harville brought Mr. Fluffykins with him on every road trip he’d been on since high school as a good-luck charm.  The bond between the two was practically unbreakable.

When he heard that his precious bear was likely lost, Harville “started having, like, a panic attack.  I knew the guys would give me all kinds of grief if they found out what was up, though, so I tried to play it cool.  But I was freaking out at the thought of not having Mr. Fluffykins anymore.  He’s been with me so long that he’s like family.  I’m supposed to be preparing for the game, and all I can think about is trying not to bust out crying.”

Fortunately, though, the story has a happy ending.  The bus was rescued from the river and Mr. Fluffykins was retrieved, a little wet but none the worse for wear.  “Thank God Mr. Fluffykins was okay,” said Harville.  “If I’d lost him, I might have had to quit hockey.”

And despite their nightmarish bus ride and fitful sleep, the Blue Crabs managed to win that night’s game against the Oshawa Drive, 3-2.  “It’s not really the kind of situation you can plan for,” said coach Roland Tedesco.  “You can plan for what to do if your star player gets hurt or something.  You don’t really have a plan for what to do when your team bus breaks down and one of your guys loses his lucky teddy bear.  This is a strange life sometimes.”