CHL Update: Rhinos to Defend Title Against Spuds

This year’s CHL finals present an interesting contrast.  One team has been in the finals every year of the league’s existence, and is bidding for back-to-back titles after surviving a back-and-forth first-round series that went the distance.  The other club is in its first year in a new city, and is trying to go all the way in its first-ever postseason appearance, coming off of a surprising sweep of the league’s best regular-season team.

In the East, the Virginia Rhinos are getting to be old hands at the postseason; this is their third straight trip.  Despite losing a number of key contributors from last season’s title-winning squad, the Rhinos managed to eke out the top seed in a closely-packed division.  But Virginia wasn’t the least bit embarrassed or deterred by their narrow playoff qualification; they remain fixated on the ultimate goal.  “We’re all focused on the repeat,” said RW Chris Quake.  “No one in here doubts that we can pull it off.”

In the division playoff, they faced the Cleveland Centurions, who sported the league’s best regular-season defense.  The Rhinos hunkered down for what they knew would be a tense, hard-fought battle.  Game 1 was a chippy affair with a slew of penalties, a couple of fights, and not a lot of offense (28 shots between both teams).  Virginia got goals from Quake and LW Jayden Gunn, while goalie Quentin Chislic stopped all 16 Cleveland shots for a 2-0 shutout.  In Game 2, the Rhinos rallied from behind with a pair of third-period tallies just 29 seconds apart from C Marvin Cascio and LW Yuri Laronov, turning a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 victory.  The action shifted to the shores of Lake Erie for Games 3 and 4, and the Centurions battled back.  In Game 3, Rhinos C Trent Harlow notched a third-period goal to erase another deficit and force overtime, but Cleveland C Phoenix Cage scored 36 seconds into the extra session to stave off elimination with a 2-1 win.  In Game 4, Centurions netminder Eugene Looney came up big, stopping all 27 shots in a 3-0 triumph to force a fifth game back in Virginia Beach.  But in the deciding game, it was Chislic’s turn for another shutout (24 saves) as D Roscoe “Ruckus” Corbetta netted two to lead the 3-0 series-clinching victory.

“That was a tough series, for sure,” said Corbetta.  “But it got us tuned up, and we’re firing on all cylinders now and playing our best hockey.”

Virginia’s Finals opponent will be the Idaho Spuds, who played to sellout crowds after moving from Muncie in the offseason.  The Spuds came into the postseason with the CHL’s top-ranked offense (3.6 goals per game), but they had a lackluster performance in the last few weeks of the regular season, and they were largely written off in their first-round series against the heavily favored Omaha Ashcats.

But the boys in russet brown not only beat the Ashcats, they did so in a stunning three-game sweep.  In Game 1, they buried Omaha in an avalanche of shots (45 vs. the Ashcats’ 22) and scored three goals (from LW Rick Crisak, D Victor Addison, and LW Terry Cresson) before the game was 3 minutes old, on the way to a 4-2 win.  For Game 2, Ashcats coach Butch Slazenger switched goalies from Bill Bates to Jim Fleetwood.  Fleetwood did a better job, stopping 28 of 30 shots, but Spuds LW Van Dyke Browning scored three minutes into overtime for a 2-1 win.  In order for Omaha to rally in the series, they’d have to win twice on enemy ice.  Slazenger raised a number of eyebrows by going back to Bates for Game 3, a decision that looked foolish when Idaho went up 2-0 by the first minute of the second period.  The Ashcats rallied back to tie thanks to tallies from blueliners Trevor Lockwood and Lowell Sharkey.  With just over three minutes left in regulation, however, Spuds C Jacob Cunniff scored a power-play goal that would prove to be the difference in a 3-2 contest.  Treasure Valley Arena – sold out as usual – exploded in cheers as the players formed a celebratory circle in front of their net.

“We’re probably going to be the underdogs again in the final, since [the Rhinos are] the defending champs,” said Idaho coach Gilbert McCoyne.  “But we like that underdog role.  If anyone’s thinking of sleeping on us, they’d better think again, because we’re ready to shock the world.”

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2019 SHL Week 5 Transactions

  • On Monday, the Quebec Tigres returned RW Luc LePettier to their minor-league affiliate in Maine.  The Tigres called up LePettier two weeks ago, at a time when LW Stellan Fisker was injured and Quebec needed forward depth.  Fisker returned shortly after, and LePettier appeared in only one game with Quebec, failing to record a point.  After suffering a couple injuries of their own, Maine is now in need of some forward help; additionally, Quebec wanted to avoid stunting LePettier’s development due to a lack of playing time.  The Tigres are currently one shy of the roster limit due to D Richard McKinley‘s injury; for now, they will leave the slot unfilled.
  • On Wednesday, the Dakota Jackalopes traded G Dennis Wampler and D Terry “T-Rex” Hendricks to the Kansas City Smoke in exchange for G Brooks Copeland and D Geoff Moultrie.  Read more about the trade here.  In order to make room for Wampler and Hendricks on their roster, the Smoke demoted G Bill Bates and D Lowell Sharkey to their CHL farm club in Omaha.  The 20-year-old Bates went 1-1-0 with a 3.50 GAA and an .872 save percentage with Kansas City.  The 19-year-old Sharkey, who was called up last week, appeared in only 2 games without recording a point.
  • On Friday, the Jackalopes reinstated LW “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston from the injured list.  Airston missed nearly three weeks with an upper-body injury.  Airston’s return can’t come soon enough for the struggling Jackalopes; they have lost every game they played without him, and averaged a pitiful 1.8 goals per game in his absence.  To make room for Airston on the roster, Dakota reassigned LW Van Dyke Browning to their affiliate in Idaho.  Browning appeared in 3 games with the Jackalopes, recording an assist and a -1 rating.
  • On Saturday, the Michigan Gray Wolves placed C Hunter Bailes on the 10-game DL.  Bailes suffered a lower-body injury blocking a shot in the third period of the Wolves’ 1-1 tie against Quebec.  It’s the second injury of the year for the fragile center, who missed 3 games last week with an upper-body ailment.  To replace Bailes on the roster, Michigan called up C Phoenix Cage from their farm team in Cleveland.  Cage has 2 goals and 11 assists in the CHL this season.

2019 SHL Week 3 Transactions

  • On Monday, the Dakota Jackalopes placed star LW “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston on the 10-game DL.  Airston was knocked out with an upper-body injury on Sunday against Saskatchewan.  Airston’s injury was a major blow to Dakota’s feeble offense, as he is one of their leading scorers.  To take his place, the Jackalopes promoted LW Van Dyke Browning from their minor-league affiliate in Idaho.  Browning, 20, was off to a strong start in Idaho (2 goals and 4 assists in 9 games); he made his SHL debut on Thursday against Kansas City
  • On Friday, the Boston Badgers placed D Patrick Banks on the 10-game DL.  Banks suffered an upper-body injury during Thursday’s game against Quebec.  It’s the second injury-marred season in a row for Banks, who missed most of 2018’s second half after suffering a broken leg and torn ACL.  To fill Banks’ roster spot, Boston called up D Kermit Kaufman from their minor-league affiliate in Hartford.  The 21-year-old Kaufman, who appeared in 21 games for the Badgers last season, recorded 3 assists in 11 games with Hartford.
  • Also on Friday, the Quebec Tigres placed D Richard McKinley on the DL.  McKinley left Thursday’s contest against Boston with an upper-body injury; he is expected to be out of action for up to 4 weeks.  McKinley was one of Quebec’s top blueliners, posting 8 points (4 goals, 4 assists) and a +7 rating.  The Tigres promoted RW Luc LePettier from their CHL affiliate in Maine to fill the open roster slot.  LePettier had recorded 4 goals and 5 assists on the season with the Moose.
  • On the good-news front for Quebec, they activated LW Stellan Fisker on Saturday.  Fisker went on the DL with a lower-body injury during the season’s opening week.  Fisker was an essential piece of last year’s Eastern Division-winning Tigres squad, as he scored 23 goals and anchored the second line.
  • On Saturday, the Kansas City Smoke demoted G Brooks Copeland to their affiliate in Omaha, and called up G Bill Bates from Omaha.  The Smoke’s 4.30 GAA and .875 save percentage are worst in the league, both by significant margins.  Copeland is off to a dismal start between the pipes, going 0-5-0 with a 5.00 GAA and an .843 save percentage.  He lost the starting netminder job this to rookie Jim Fleetwood.  With Omaha this season, Bates recorded a 4-2-1 record with a 2.51 GAA and a .907 save percentage.