CHL Update: Cleveland Coach Reichler Returns to Ice

Glenn Reichler is not a name that many SHL fans will remember.  The journeyman reserve forward played 79 games over four seasons in the league with four different teams.  When the contract offers dried up after the 2018 season, the then-33-year-old Reichler retired without fanfare and accepted a job as an assistant coach for the Michigan Gray Wolves’ minor-league affiliate, the Cleveland Centurions.

“I love the game enough that I wasn’t ready to go get a real job,” said Reichler, “even though I wasn’t good enough to play anymore.”

Just when Reichler was getting used to his playing days being over, however, a key injury and a thin market in free-agent forwards combined to offer the now-35-year-old a second chance of sorts.

On Sunday, the Centurions faced off against the Omaha Ashcats.  Cleveland lost 1-0, and to add injury to insult, RW Boris Badenov was helped off the ice in the third period after being crunched into the boards, and he did not return.  He is expected to be out until after the All-Star break, and could miss as much as six weeks.  The offense-starved Centurions suddenly found themselves with a hole on their second line and no good options for filling it.

There are a handful of available free-agent forwards out there, but they all have reputations as very poor defenders, which makes them unpalatable to a defense-minded Cleveland club.  The coaching staff gathered to review the possible options.  Reichler was so unimpressed with the available options that he blurted, “Hell, I’d be better than most of these guys!”

Glenn Reichler

It was a careless remark born of frustration, but Cleveland’s other coaches took it seriously.  Reichler has reportedly remained in good shape during his transition to the bench, and he’s looked sharp while running drills with the team.  After some persuasion from the front office and after passing a medical exam, Reichler signed a short-term contract with the team.

“I’m not deluding myself here,” the coach-turned-player noted.  “I don’t think this is my ticket back to the big leagues or anything.  But if I can help the team weather a temporary problem by getting back on the ice, I’m not going to pass that up.”

Wisely, the 35-year-old didn’t rush back to the ice; he gave himself a few days to get into game shape. He made his debut on Saturday, skating on the third line and recording a +2 rating in a 5-4 overtime upset of first-place Hartford.

“It felt good to be out there, moving at game speed again,” Reichler noted after his re-debut.  “It’s a real rush.”

He acknowledged again, however, that he doesn’t expect the rush to last forever.  “Ask me again tomorrow, when the muscles start to stiffen up,” Reichler said with a smile.  “I’m happy to relive my playing days for a few weeks, but I know that’s as far as it goes.  Making it through a game is one thing; making it through a season at 35 is something else.”

Does Reichler anticipate a wave of recently-retired players deciding to lace up their skates again?  “Definitely not,” he said.  “If anything, I’ll probably prove why us old goats are better off staying retired.”

CHL Update: Culp’s Pre-Game Stunt Draws Ire in Cleveland

Utah Owls C Foster Culp has a reputation as… a bit of a flake.  He once got his team detained at the airport for hours by joking that he had guns and drugs packed in his luggage.  On another trip, he and a teammate stole a baggage tractor and went joyriding, causing a ground stop at the airport.  He once nearly burned down his team’s practice facility by overcooking a microwave burrito.  These and other stunts caused Culp to earn the nickname “Bananas Foster.”

Culp has been in the minors for the last couple of seasons, but his goofiness remains undimmed, as he demonstrated this week with a stunt that earned the anger of his coach and a razzing from visiting fans.

The Owls traveled to northeast Ohio on Sunday to take on the Cleveland Centurions.  The Centurions’ home, Cleveland Arena, is a 70-year-old facility that is showing its age, as demonstrated last season when some roosting pigeons caused a power failure at the arena.  Even in the absence of birds, the arena is considered drafty, dim, and outdated.  It’s universally agreed to be the worst facility in the CHL.

Many players have grumbled about having to play there, but Culp took his protest to a new level.  During the Owls’ pre-game warmups, the center hit the ice wearing a parka with a miner’s lamp strapped to his helmet.

“Lots of guys complain about the conditions here,” Culp explained, “but no one ever does anything about it.  I decided that it was time for someone to take some action.  Why not be comfortable out there?”

Unsurprisingly, Culp’s stunt wasn’t popular with the fans in Cleveland.  When he first came onto the ice, there were a couple ripples of laughter at the site of his bright-red parka, and a couple more when he turned on the miner’s lamp.  But the laughs were quickly drowned out by heckling, as the fans told Culp to “lose the coat” and “act like a man.”

The Centurions didn’t appreciate the display much, either.  When Culp wandered toward center ice, Cleveland LW Fendrick Scanlan stuck out his stick and sent his opponent tumbling to the ice, earning appreciative cheers from the crowd.  The Centurions’ defensemen also seemed to target Culp for multiple hard hits during the game. Cleveland also punished Culp’s team on the scoreboard, pummeling the Owls by a 5-1 score.

The home team and fans weren’t the only ones who didn’t appreciate Culp’s stint.  Owls coach Wiley Kiyotie called Culp out after the game.  “Look, I know Foster is a nut job; that just comes with the territory,” said Kioytie.  “But a stunt like this just gets the other team fired up, and we definitely didn’t need that, especially not with the beatdown they gave us.  I know Culp thinks he’s a comedian, but if he’s looking for laughs, he should go do a stand-up set at the Improv.  We’ve got a job to do.”

Culp reacted defensively to the criticism.  “I don’t get what all the fuss is about,” he told reporters.  “I was just having a little fun, but the way everybody’s reacting, you’d think I body-slammed Miss America at center ice or something.”

In the end, after airing his complaints, Culp’s coach took a philosophical view of the incident: “At least he didn’t burn the building down or get us arrested,” Kiyotie said.  “So by his usual standards, this wasn’t a big deal.”

CHL Update: Playoff Picture Clicks Into Place

The SHL’s minor league, the Continental Hockey League, wrapped up its regular season this week.  Both divisions weren’t resolved until the final week, with the wide-open, topsy-turvy East going down to the very last day.  As usual, the division series will be best-of-five, with the winners facing off in a best-of-seven Finals with the Howard Trophy at stake.  Here’s a preview of the first-round matchups:

Eastern Division

The defending champion Virginia Rhinos battled through a bumpy season.  Several of their key contributors from last season departed; Ds Rennie Cox and Blake Blacklett were called up by the parent Saskatchewan Shockers, while starting goalie Gus Parrish departed in free agency. The Rhinos suffered another blow when C Tanner Brooks, who was in the midst of a breakout season, was moved in a deadline trade.  But the Rhinos held on in the closely contested East (only seven points separated first place from last) and won their third straight division title.  As befits their just-above-.500 record, the Rhinos were in the middle of the pack this year on offense and GAA.  The secret to their success has been special team; both their power play (20.9% conversion rate) and penalty kill (85.1%) were second-best in the league.  Virginia also did a good job staying out of the penalty boxes; their 585 PIMs were the CHL’s fewest.  Even though they just squeaked into the postseason, the Rhinos are eager to defend their title and confident that their past experience will serve them well.  “We do not get scared in the big situations,” said LW Yuri Laronov, whose 29 goals led the team.  “This has all happened for us before.”

The Cleveland Centurions didn’t secure a spot in the postseason until the last day of the regular season, when they beat the Oshawa Drive 2-1 to leapfrog the Canadian club into second place.  Like their parent club, the Michigan Gray Wolves, the Centurions are built around defense and goaltending.  Cleveland allowed only 21.8 shots per game, the fewest in the league by far, and 19-year-old Eugene Looney (19-15-1, 1.84 GAA, .914 save percentage) had a breakout season in net.  They’ve also got some punch on offense, with a trio of 20-goal scorers in LW Fendrick Scanlan, C Phoenix Cage, and RW Steve Brandon.  And like the Rhinos, they excel on special teams; their 24.8% power-play percentage led the league, while their 84% penalty kill percentage was fourth.  In the end, though, Cleveland wins when they can bang bodies, control the neutral zone, and slow the pace of the game.  “We don’t play pretty hockey,” admitted D Burton Cullidge.  “But guess what?  Life ain’t pretty either.  Ugly and effective beats pretty and soft every time.”

 

Western Division

The Omaha Ashcats were the only CHL team to punch their playoff ticket last week, completing a worst-to-first turnaround that they celebrated memorably with their “World’s Smallest Playoff Parade.”  The Ashcats are a strong team at both ends of the ice; they had the third-most goals in the league and finished fourth in GAA.  They have one of the league’s best offensive defensemen in Brandon Lockwood (22 goals, 33 assists).  They don’t have any players on the offensive leaderboards, but they have a couple of quality scorers in RW Adriaen van der Veen (23 goals, 26 assists in 44 games) and LW Aaron Knorr (25 goals).  They have a pair of strong goalies in Bill Bates (22-8-2, 2.19 GAA, .920 save percentage) and rookie Jim Fleetwood (6-5-0, 2.16, .913).  Several of these players are likely to be called up to the parent Kansas City Smoke next season, so this season may have a bit of a last-dance quality for the squad.  “It’s been great for me watching this team grow up and grow together over the season,” said coach Butch Slazenger.  “Now I want to see us take the next step and go all the way to the title.”

Like the Ashcats, the Idaho Spuds sailed through most of the year in comfortable playoff position.  They cooled off a bit toward the end of the season, though, and ultimately had to withstand a late charge from the defending division champion Minnesota Freeze in order to clinch their postseason spot.  The Spuds’ success has been built on a potent offense.  They scored 233 goals this season, far and away the most in the league; their +65 plus-minus rating is by far the league’s best.  They have three of the CHL’s top 10 goal scorers (D Brady Prussian with 31 – tied for the league lead, C Dale Wilcox with 29, and LW Terry Cresson with 28) and three of the top 10 assist leaders (Wilcox with a league-leading 51, RW Dylan Alizarin with 47, and Cresson with 37).  Idaho’s firewagon style meant that they gave up a lot of shots (30.9 per game, second-most in the CHL), but they got strong work from netminders Kelvin White (20-16-4, 2.44, .917) and Xavier St. Pierre (12-9-1, 3.28, .901).  They’re especially dangerous on their own ice: their 22-7-3 mark at Treasure Valley Arena was the league’s best home record.  If there’s a big hole in their game, it’s the penalty kill; their 78.5% kill rate was second-worst in the league, and they took 699 penalty minutes, which is the third-highest.  They come into the postseason on a cold streak, having lost 7 of their last 11 games.  Like the Ashcats, there’s a good chance that several of these players will be toiling for the parent Dakota Jackalopes next season.  Coach Gilbert McCoyne believes that the Spuds’ high-powered offense will be too much for Omaha to handle.  “We’re a well-oiled scoring machine,” said McCoyne.  “When we’re on, nothing can slow us down.  I think we’ll just run past [the Ashcats] and bury ‘em in an avalanche of goals.”

CHL Update: Birds Trigger Power Outage in Cleveland

The Cleveland Centurions may not be the CHL’s best team, but they do have one dubious distinction: they play in the league’s oldest arena.  Cleveland Arena was built in 1949, and although it has been renovated since then, the facility shows its age in many ways.  Centurions players have long since grown accustomed to the arena’s quirks, such as the cramped locker rooms and the inconsistent supply of hot water in the showers.

This week, however, Cleveland Arena’s age – along with some rogue pigeons – caused a game to be postponed, after the lights went out during a game.

On Sunday, the Centurions were hosting their season opener against the Oshawa Drive.  With about seven minutes remaining in the third period and Cleveland leading 3-0, the arena suddenly went dark.  Parts of the arena have experienced outages previously, but this was the first time that the entire building had gone out.

When it occurred, the fans let out a brief whoop, while the players sighed and rolled their eyes.  “I think our first reaction was ‘Here we go again,’” said Centurions RW Cleo Rodgers.  “I was thinking someone needed to go up to the attic and put the hamster back on his wheel so we could have power again.”

Team officials quickly verified that the outage with confined to the arena, as nearby buildings were operating just fine.  While arena staff scrambled to fix the problem, the crowd clapped and chanted “We want the lights!  We want the lights!”  In order to try to keep the situation from spiraling out of control, Rodgers and some of the other Cleveland players gathered at center ice and led the crowd in singing along to “Cleveland Rocks,” the team’s entrance music.  Meanwhile, vendors distributed food and Centurions team pictures to the crowd by way of apology.

After 25 minutes passed and there were no signs of the power being restored, the team announced that the game was postponed and ordered fans to evacuate the arena.

Electricians and arena maintenance workers worked frantically over the next several hours to diagnose the issue.  Eventually, they located the culprit: a flock of pigeons that roosted in the upper reaches of the arena.  They had apparently taken up residence during the offseason, picking away pieces of insulation to build their nests.  Apparently, a combination of the nests and the pigeon droppings had caused a short circuit which knocked out power throughout the building.  Once the area was thoroughly cleaned and the pigeons evicted, crews were able to restore power by the following morning. The game resumed the next day, and Cleveland closed out the win without further incident.

Centurions owner Brad Pelwicki said that the outage underscored the shortcomings of Cleveland Arena.

“Look, we all know that this building isn’t exactly state of the art,” said Pelwicki.  “We knew that when we moved in.  But there’s a difference between a charming old barn and a deathtrap.  If the city’s not going to sink the money into keeping this place up, we’re going to have to look at our options.”  Pelwicki said that these options included relocation.  “I’m a Cleveland boy through and through, and I don’t want to leave and disappoint our fans.  But we can’t have things like this happening.”

CHL Commissioner Denny McNerny echoed Pelwicki’s concerns.  “We have to think about the health and safety of our players and fans,” McNerny said in a statement.  “If the Centurions are going to keep playing in this arena, we need to make sure that incidents like this don’t happen again.”  McNerny added that he will work with the owner and city officials to explore possible options.

The fans, meanwhile didn’t seem to mind.  “I thought it was kind of cool,” said 27-year-old Samuel Glenn of Rocky River.  “A lot of fun things happen in the dark.”

Continue reading “CHL Update: Birds Trigger Power Outage in Cleveland”

CHL Update: Cleveland’s Cowan Charges Favoritism

The CHL’s Cleveland Centurions were officially eliminated from playoff contention this week.  There are a variety of reasons why the Centurions won’t make the playoffs.  The team’s generally stout defense was undermined by a mediocre offense (440 points, 7th in the league), a struggling penalty kill (76.9%, worst), and an inability to win on the road (8-15-3, third-worst).

Art Cowan

According to goaltender Art Cowan, though, there’s another key reason why Cleveland isn’t a playoff team: they didn’t play him often enough.

“I think the numbers speak for themselves,” Cowan told reporters on Friday after watching the Centurions’ 4-3 loss to Maine from the bench.  “I clearly demonstrated myself to be the #1 goalie here, but I didn’t get the ice time.  If I’d been the #1 starter, we’d be in the playoffs.  I have no doubt in my mind about that.”

Cowan charged that the only reason he wasn’t named the top starter was because coach Chad Grimes favored rookie Jonas Schemko over him.  “From the beginning, it was clear to me that Schemko was the coach’s pet,” said Cowan.  “Even in training camp, I could tell that Coach wanted Schemko to succeed and he didn’t care about me.  Even after the season started and it was clear I was the better netminder, the coach never wanted to admit he was wrong, so he kept giving Schemko chance after chance.  I don’t know if I pissed him off or what, but it was obvious that I’m never going to be top dog around here.”

Jonas Schemko

The statistics seem to validate Cowan’s argument.  He posted a 14-7-4 record with a 2.66 GAA and a .907 save percentage, while Schemko has gone 11-18-1 with a 3.02 GAA and a save percentage of .892.  Cowan’s .640 winning percentage, extrapolated over a full season, would indeed put Cleveland in the playoffs.  But Cowan has actually started fewer games than Schemko (25 vs. 30).

According to Grimes, this is not a case of favoritism; rather, it’s a player development issue.  “The plan all season long was to split the minutes between them,” said the Cleveland coach.  “I want to win games as much as the next guy.  But ultimately, our main goal here is to develop players for the big club [Michigan Gray Wolves].  From an organizational perspective, the big club wants to see both guys and find out what they can do.  And they know more about what Artie can do, because he was with them last year.  So they need to see a little more of Schemmer, to get a better picture.”

Cowan was not mollified by this explanation.  “Every other team in this league has a #1 goalie, even though they’re all supposed to be ‘developing players.’  The better goalie gets more ice time, just like on a normal team.  But not here, for some reason.  So I’m not buying a crap excuse like that.”

Cowan said that he had not yet demanded a trade, but he hoped that he will play elsewhere next season.  “I hope they let me go in the expansion draft, or that they deal me somewhere else.  Clearly they don’t think I can do the job, and they want Schemko.  Fine, then let me go somewhere else where I can get a shot.”

Wolves GM Tim Carrier denied that the organization has anything against Cowan.  “We really like what we’ve seen from Artie this season,” said Carrier.  “Obviously, up here we’re committed to The Bear [Dirk Lundquist] up here, but we consider Artie to be a major part of our future.”

For his part, Schemko said he was confused by the controversy.  “Artie is my friend,” Schemko said.  “I like that we both get to play together.  I’m sad that he’s not happy.  I hope we both get to stay and play again.”