- 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.
Ordinarily, a trade between two of the SHL’s worst teams wouldn’t attract much attention. Just shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic, a cynic might say. But this week’s deal between the Dakota Jackalopes and Kansas City Smoke raised eyebrows around the league, and prompted the persistent whispers about the Jackalopes’ financial stability to grow a bit louder.
On its face, the deal looks like an old-fashioned challenge trade. The Smoke shipped G Brooks Copeland and D Geoff Moultrie to Dakota in exchange for backup netminder Dennis Wampler and reserve D Terry “T-Rex” Hendricks. There’s a case to be made that the parties involved could use a change of scenery.
The 24-year-old Copeland began the season as KC’s starting goalie, and the team hoped the former Michigan draft pick would seize the opportunity. However, he quickly lost the job to rookie Jim Fleetwood; he was later banished to the minors after compiling an 0-5-0 record with an unsightly 5.00 GAA and an .843 save percentage.
Kansas City acquired the 22-year-old Moultrie from Quebec last season, but struggled to find a spot in the Smoke’s blueline rotation. Like Copeland, he was demoted to Omaha after recording a single goal and a -6 rating in 8 games with KC this season. He had reportedly asked for a trade.
Like Copeland and Moultrie, the players KC received had worn out their welcome with their former team.
The 24-year-old Wampler has underwhelmed for Dakota this season, going 1-4-0 with a 4.50 GAA and an .865 save percentage. According to sources within the organization, the Jackalopes were considering sending him to the minors before working out the trade.
The 24-year-old Hendricks was drafted by Dakota in 2016 and became a fan favorite due to his hard-hitting style. However, his ice time has steadily decreased from season to season, and he seemed virtually certain to leave in free agency this offseason. He appeared in 7 games for the Jackalopes this season, recording 2 assists.
So why the fuss about the deal? In a word, money. Dakota is the SHL’s smallest market, and their financial troubles have been an open secret for several years. The organization has pared payroll sharply in the last couple seasons, causing fan discontent to grow and attendance to shrink. It’s a negative spiral that may ultimately force the team to relocate.
This year, according to rival GMs, Dakota has been trying to dump its few remaining high-salary players. They’ve aggressively shopped their top defensive pairing of Matt Cherner and Rusty Anderson, both of whom are on expiring deals. They haven’t directly shopped star winger “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston, but they’ve said to be listening to trade proposals. Dakota’s payroll is among the league’s lowest; if those players (especially Airston) are traded, they’d be well under $10 million, an alarming figure in a league with a $25 million salary cap.
Given that, it’s hard to ignore that the trade saves the Jackalopes $650,000 in salary. While it’s not certain that this motivated the deal, it did raise some red flags around the league.
Trading Wampler, in particular, seems curious. The Jackalopes signed him to a three-year deal worth $750,000 per season. The contract was intended in part to reassure skeptical fans that Dakota was willing to spend. Could the organization really have soured on him after less than half a season?
Wampler seemed perplexed by the trade. “When I signed on with [the Jackalopes], I thought we were making a long-term commitment to each other,” the goalie told reporters. “I knew it was going to be a long season, but I thought we were building toward the future. A month later, I’m packing my bags. Go figure. But hey, I like barbecue, so KC should be fun!”
As if to prove his value to his new club, Wampler debuted on Thursday, stopping 24 of 25 shots to lead the Smoke to a 2-1 win over Quebec.
Jackalopes GM Paul Mindegaard vigorously denied that he’d made the trade for financial reasons. “I know everyone thinks we’re passing the hat in the stands to keep the lights on, but it isn’t true,” Mindegaard said at the press conference. “We made this deal for hockey reasons. Brooks Copeland is a promising young netminder; we’ve had our eye on him for a while. In the right environment, he can thrive. Geoff Moultrie is a rugged two-way defenseman who fits right in with the corps of young, talented blueliners we’re trying to create. That’s what matters to us. We didn’t make this trade just to make payroll.”
The deal didn’t seem to trouble the team. In their first game post-trade, the Jackalopes tied New York 2-2, snapping their 11-game losing streak.
Smoke GM Garth Melvin, meanwhile, likes his team’s return in the trade. “We’re real glad to have Wamp on board,” Melvin said. “He’s a rising young player, and I look forwarded to seeing what he and Fleet can do together. And T-Rex is a great young D-man. Our fans are going to love him! We might not win the Vandy this year, but we’re in for a fun season.”
- 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.
When the Anchorage Igloos hosted the Kansas City Smoke on Friday, they were hoping for an easy win over a team on an eight-game winless streak, which would allow them to solidify their second-place standing in the West. While the Igloos did ultimately prevail over the Smoke, it was anything but easy. Twice, Anchorage had to rally from three-goal deficits, and needed overtime before they escaped with a wild 8-7 victory.
“Man, that was a battle we weren’t expecting!” exclaimed C Jake Frost after the game. “We showed a lot of fight, a lot of heart, but boy, KC put a scare into us.”
The Smoke showed up ready to play. It only took 15 seconds for LW Louis LaPlante to get on the board with his first goal of the season, a slapper past Igloos netminder Wendall Cantillon. Frost evened things up two minutes later with a shot from the right faceoff circle, but rookie C Noel Picard put the Smoke back ahead just over a minute later with a tip-in from the slot. Midway through the first, Kansas City struck twice to take a 4-1 lead, leaving the crowd at Arctic Circle Arena in an uneasy silence.
Igloos coach Sam Castor considered lifting Cantillon at that point. But given that it was the backup’s first action all week, the coach stayed with his goalie. “Wendall’s got to have a chance to deal with adversity,” said Castor. “I wanted to see how he’d react, and how the team would react.”
Anchorage rallied to Cantillon’s rescue, with RW Remi Montrechere and D “Chilly Willy” Calligan scoring to pull within one by the end of the period. Four minutes into the second period, Montrechere struck again to tie it up and bring the crowd to its feet.
“We felt like the mommentum was going our way,” said Montrechere. “We were in control and ready to pull away.”
As it turned out, the momentum was about to shift back to the visitors. Three minutes after Montechere’s tally, Smoke LW Piotr Soforenko deflected a shot past Cantillon to retake the lead. C Phil Miller went top-shelf to make it a 6-4 game at the end of the second period.
47 seconds into the third period, Kansas City D Tony Hunt notched a power-play tally to give the Smoke another three-goal lead and putting the Igloos behind the eight ball.
“We needed a jolt, and fast,” said Frost.
They got a pair of jolts in short order. Five seconds after Hunt’s score, Montrechere blasted a shot just inside the pole to complete his hat trick. Then, a minute later, C Broni Zhlotkin took exception to a rough hit from Hunt and dropped the gloved with him at center ice. Although the donnybrook completed Hunt’s “Gordie Howe hat trick” (a goal, an assist, and a fight), it fired up both the Anchorage bench and the crowd.
Twenty seconds after the fight, LW Les Collins banged home a juicy rebound to pull the Igloos within one. Six and a half minutes later, C Nile Bernard went five-hole on KC goaltender Brooks Copeland and tied it up. Bernard jumped up against the boards in the corner as the fans banged the glass in delight.
Although the atmosphere in the arena remained near delirium for most of the third period, the Igloos couldn’t push the go-ahead goal across. Frost and Collins each hit the post, and Copeland made a tremendous sprawling stop with three minutes left in regulation to rob Montrechere of a fourth goal.
The game went to overtime, with both teams and the fans exhausted. “In OT, that was all adrenaline,” said Frost. “We had no energy left.” With a minute and a half left in the extra session, RW Nicklas Ericsson faked a pass to Frost in the slot and slid it up to the blue line, where D Ted Keefe fired a blast that hit the crossbar and went in for the game-winning goal.
Keefe’s goal delivered the Igloos their fourth straight win and their fifth in the last six games. It also moved Anchorage seven points clear of Saskatchewan and Seattle for second place; it’s their largest lead of the season. But Castor remains dissatisfied with his team’s performance. “We had no business winning this game,” the coach said. “We’ve looked a lot better this week, but we’re going to need to tighten it up on a night-to-night basis if we’re going to make the playoffs.”
Castor’s players were happier with the outcome. “Coming back from a three-goal [deficit] in a game is a game is impressive,” said Frost. “Doing it twice in one game? That doesn’t happen. We’re pretty awesome!”