- On Wednesday, the Saskatchewan Shockers activated D Chris Oflyng from the injured list. Oflyng, the Shockers’ top-scoring blueliner, had been out for more than a month with a lower-body injury suffered just before the All-Star break. In order to make room for Oflyng on the roster, the Shockers reassigned D Valeri Nistrumov to their CHL affiliate in Halifax. Nistrumov as appeared in 20 games for Saskatchewan this season, recording 5 assists and a -7 rating.
- On Friday, the Shockers activated C Cyril Perignon from the injured list. Perignon was injured during the last game of the first half, and after a setback in rehab, is now returning to action. To allow Perignon’s return, the Shockers returned C Trent Harlow to Virginia, and released D Kjell Hanson.
- On Saturday, the Michigan Gray Wolves‘ affiliate in Cleveland activated D Gil Calvert from the injured list. Calvert missed two and a half weeks with a lower-body injury. To make room for Calvert on the roster, the Gray Wolves released D Davis McNeely. McNeely appeared in four games with Cleveland, and did not record a point.
- Also on Saturday, the Hershey Bliss recalled F Anton Lapointe from their affiliate in Milwaukee, and demoted RW James Clay to Milwaukee. Clay appeared in 4 games with Hershey, recording an assist and a +1 rating.
- On Monday, the Kansas City Smoke‘s CHL affiliate in Omaha activated D Lowell Sharkey from the injured list. Sharkey, who is a highly-regarded prospect in the Kansas City organization, missed five weeks with a lower-body injury. In order to make room for Sharkey on the roster, the team released D Kjell Hanson. The 24-year-old Hanson appeared in 15 games for Omaha, recording 2 assists and a -4 rating.
- On Friday, the Dakota Jackalopes placed C Tanner Brooks on the injured list. The 23-year-old Brooks suffered an upper-body injury during Thursday’s 4-1 win over Quebec, and is expected to miss at least three weeks. To fill in during Brooks’ absence, the Jackalopes promoted C Jacob Cunniff from their CHL affiliate in Idaho. Cunniff is Idaho’s leading scorer, with 36 points (12 goals, 24 assists) so far on the season.
- Also on Friday, the Hershey Bliss activated LW Russell Nahorniak from the injured list. Nahorniak missed five weeks with a lower-body injury. In order to accommodate Nahorniak’s return, the Bliss sent LW Sergei Tarisov back to their affiliate in Milwaukee. Tarisov appeared in 13 games during Nahorniak’s absence, recording 3 goals and a +3 rating. To make room for Tarisov on Milwaukee’s roster, the team released F Jerry Casenovia.
- In one more Friday move, the Saskatchewan Shockers placed D Chris “Lightning” Oflyng on the injured list. Oflyng had to be helped off the ice after being slammed head-first into the boards on Thursday, and is expected to miss up to six weeks. The loss is devastating to the surging Shockers, as Oflyng led the team in points with 30 (8 goals, 22 assists). To fill Oflyng’s roster spot, Saskatchewan called up D Pierre Chappelle from their CHL affiliate in Virginia. The 31-year-old Chappelle was tied for the Virginia team lead in goals (with 15) and points (with 29).
- On Saturday, the Hamilton Pistols placed C Marco Venezio on the injured list. Venezio suffered a lower-body injury during Saturday’s game against Saskatchewan, and is expected to miss three to four weeks. Venezio has been a stalwart on Hamilton’s second line, putting up 22 points (9 goals, 13 assists) on the season. To fill Venezio’s spot on the roster, Hamilton called up C Hilliard Macy from their affiliate in Oshawa. It’s the second SHL stint for the 20-year-old Macy, who appeared in 5 games for Hamilton earlier in the season. The Pistols also signed F Bobby Warner to a minor-league contract.
- Also on Saturday, the Shockers placed C Cyril Perignon on the injured list. Perignon suffered a lower-body injury against Hamilton on Saturday; he is expected to miss at least a month. Perignon has recorded 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists) and a +1 rating on the season for Saskatchewan. To replace Perignon, the Shockers called up C Trent Harlow from Virginia. At the time of his callup, Harlow led the Rhinos with 30 points.
The Saskatchewan Shockers are the West’s answer to the Quebec Tigres: a solid team that has hung around the .500 mark all season, lurking around the edges of the playoff race but not quite getting over the hump into contention.
The attitudes of the two teams couldn’t be more different, however. While Quebec seems downcast, having struggled with injuries and offensive stagnation – the latter serious enough that their star winger groused about it to reporters last week – the Shockers remain cheerful and upbeat.
What’s the difference? It seems that the credit goes to a group of Shockers players who refer to themselves as the “Ministry of Fun.”
“Hockey can be a pretty intense business,” said goalie Zeke Zagurski, who is considered the Ministry’s ringleader. “That’s why we spread nonsense and silliness wherever we go, to bring a little bit of balance to the whole thing.”
What sort of silliness does the Ministry engage in? Some of it is garden-variety pranks and practical jokes: whoopee cushions, fake dog turds, dribble glasses and the like. Some of their moves, though, require a bit more sophistication. There was the time, for instance, that they hacked into the PA system at the team’s practice facility and started blasting “I Feel Pretty” in the middle of morning skate. Or the time that they showed up for the team picture and slipped on Groucho glasses just as the shot was taken. Or the time they burst into a flash mob-style dance in the middle of the airport.
The Ministry was the brainchild of Zagurski, a well-known eccentric. He is dubbed the “Prime Minister,” and many of the group’s shenanigans stem from his fertile, if twisted, imagination. Backup netminder Shawn Stickel was named Deputy Prime Minster. Other Ministry members include C Elliott Rafferty (Minister of Foreign Affairs – “because he helps us meet women on the road,” according to Zagurski), LW Vonnie McLearen (Minister of Practical Joke Innovation), D Rennie Cox (Minister of Funkitude), and D Chris Oflyng (Minister of Silly Walks).
The Ministry initially formed in the 2019 season, after Morris Thompson was named head coach. Thompson is a disciple of Michigan coach and noted disciplinarian Ron Wright, and he was hired in part to encourage a more serious and dedicated attitude from a team with a reputation for (often drunken) hijinks. Several players thought that Thompson’s initial approach was too firm, and the Ministry was their form of civil disobedience.
“We’re not opposed to working hard or taking our jobs seriously,” explained Zagurski. “But frankly, a lot of our guys have a couple screws loose. This isn’t a team that’s going to react well to a drill-sergeant approach.”
When Thompson first figured out what was going on, he was furious and wanted to crack down on the players involved. But after he cooled down, he decided to take a different tack.
“After I thought about it, I realized that if I went hard after these guys, I’d probably tear the team apart,” Thompson said. “Especially since a lot of these guys are leaders in the locker room. What good is it to win the battle and lose the team? Besides, most of what they were doing was just goofy. They were working hard and playing well, just blowing off a little steam afterward.”
So Thompson made the Ministry a deal: As long as they worked hard in practice and in games, he wouldn’t complain about their antics. He even agreed that whenever the team won, he would designate a 15-minute period after practice where the Ministry could engage the locker room in whatever sort of lunacy they dreamed up.
The Ministry took the deal, and it’s worked quite well so far. “Every once in a while, we’ll do something so ridiculous that [Thompson] will just kind of bury his face in his hand, like a frustrated dad,” said Zagurski. “But he’s been good to his word: as long as we play hard and don’t embarrass the team too much, he lets us do our thing.”
Will the Ministry of Fun and their zaniness propel Saskatchewan into the postseason? It’s too soon to tell. But the team is playing solid hockey and having a good time, and that’s a good place to start.
In the last couple of seasons, the Saskatchewan Shockers have earned a reputation as a young team with promise that can’t quite get over the hump. And since the SHL’s beginning, Shockers owner Heinz Doofenshmirtz has had a reputation as an… unconventional thinker. Those two narratives intersected this week, as Doofenshmirtz reportedly resorted to mind-control techniques in order to improve his team’s play.
“We’ve seen some weird stuff around here,” said longtime Saskatchewan D Chris “Lightning” Oflyng, “but this one probably takes the cake.”
Apparently, Doofenshmirtz dreamed up his latest idea when he read an article about a baseball team bringing in a motivational speaker to inspire the players with the power of positive thinking. According to sources in the Shockers front office, Doofenshmirtz felt that such a tactic might help his club take the next step.
Rather than hiring an actual motivational speaker, however, the owner decided to do the motivating himself. Last week, Shockers coach Morris Thompson arrived at the arena to find a package in his office. It contained a pair of videotapes, with a note from the owner instructing Thompson to play them for the team before the morning skate.
Thompson did as he was asked (although he had to find a VCR first). He gathered the players in the locker room and played the first tape. This consisted of a continuous loop of Doofenshmirtz’s spinning, sunglasses-clad head chanting “My name is Doof and you’ll do what I say. Whoop whoop!” over and over.
The players watched in stunned silence for about a minute before Thompson ejected the tape. “I figured he probably gave me the wrong tape,” the coach said. “Although why he’d want one like that, I don’t know.”
The second tape featured the owner in cowboy garb, singing a country-western song. This seemed more promising, although on closer inspection the song contained lyrics such as “You’ll be my obedient mindless slaves, and nobody will blame me/ Because you’ll yodel-odel-odel-odel-obey me.”
This time, several players got annoyed, and Thompson stopped the tape. He promptly informed GM Cooper Mathews that if the owner ever provided tapes like that again, Thompson would resign.
“It felt to a lot of the guys like he was trying to hypnotize us or something, and that’s not cool,” said Oflyng.
“That song was horrible,” added C Elliott Rafferty. “I mean, it was catchy, but the lyrics were way too on the nose.”
Matthews apologized to the team, and made clear that the idea was Doofenshmirtz’s alone. “At the end of the day, he wants us to win, and that’s what we all want,” the GM said. “But I don’t think that’s the best way to go about it.”
“Come on, what’s the big deal?” Doofenshmirtz said to reporters. “People pay good money to go on stage and have a hypnotist make them bark like a dog or act like a chicken or whatever. I was just trying to brainwash my guys a little into playing good hockey, that’s all. It’s not like I was trying to make them my minions in some plot to take over the world or anything. I mean, who would even think of that?”