Shockers Owner Tries Hypnotizing Team

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.”

Heinz Doofenshmirtz

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?”

Jackalopes Slice Payroll Again, Deal Cherner, Anderson

One of the ongoing storylines in the SHL over the last couple of seasons has been the Dakota Jackalopes’ financial stability.  The Jackalopes have steadily pared payroll over the last couple of seasons, to the point that observers around the league have wondered whether the team will survive.  Those rumors bubbled up early this season when Dakota dealt netminder Dennis Wampler a few weeks after signing him to a sizable free-agent deal.  They swirled again a couple weeks later when goalie Christien Adamsson ripped the team as “cheap” in a postgame rant.

With the trading deadline arriving this week, the Jackalopes were expected to consider trades that would reduce their payroll even further.  They did just that, trading both of their top-pairing defenseman north of the border: Matt Cherner was dealt to the Quebec Tigres, while Rusty Anderson was sent to the surging Saskatchewan Shockers.

Predictably, the trades set off another round of rumors that the Jackalopes are in financial trouble.  GM Paul Mindegaard stoutly rebuffed those rumors while announcing the deals to the press.  “Neither of these was a dump deal,” said Mindegaard.  “These are hockey trades, and we think they’re going to make us stronger in the long run.”

Mindegaard noted that both Cherner and Anderson will be free agents in this offseason, and that Dakota had concluded that they couldn’t resign either player.  “We’ve been in talks with Matt’s and Rusty’s agents for a while now, but we’ve recognized there isn’t a fit there,” the Dakota GM stated.  “And we’re not competing for a playoff spot, so we made the difficult decision to make these trades and get some value back.”

The trade of Cherner was particularly hard on both the player and the fans.  The defenseman has been with Dakota since the SHL’s inception, and he has developed over time into one of the league’s top two-way defensemen.  Cherner has also been vocal about his desire to stay with the Jackalopes.  When news of the deal came down, he broke down in front of reporters.

“I’ve really been hoping there was a way that this wouldn’t happen,” Cherner said.  “Playing for this team in front of these fans has been a real joy.  This has become my home.  I guess I’ve seen the writing on the wall for a while, but now that it’s here, I just – just can’t… sorry, I have to stop now.”

In exchange for Cherner, the Tigres sent D Kirby Hanlon, C Jacob Cunniff, and their first-round pick to Dakota.  The 21-year-old Hanlon is having a solid rookie season with Quebec, putting up 16 points (3 goals, 13 assists).  Cunniff, also 21, has been a steady contributor with Quebec’s CHL affiliate (12 goals, 20 assists on the season), and he addresses a position of need for the Jackalopes, who are very weak in the middle.

“Matt’s one of the best defensemen in the league, and we weren’t going to let him go for cheap,” said Mindegaard.  “We got two very promising young guys – a quality blueliner and a top prospect center – plus a first.  I’ll stand behind that.”

Quebec, meanwhile, views Cherner as just the shot in the arm they need to make up ground in the East playoff race.  “Our identity is built around defense first,” said Tigres GM Pete Gondret.  “We’ve struggled a bit with keeping guys healthy, but we’ve added the best player available at the deadline.  I can’t wait to see what he achieves with us.”

To acquire Anderson, the Shockers parted with C Tanner Brooks.  The 22-year-old appeared in the CHL All-Star game; he’s known as strong on defense, and his offensive game has blossomed this season.  He’s widely regarded as the best center who hadn’t yet made the SHL.

“Tanner is a player we’ve coveted for a long time,” said Mindegaard.  “Between him and Jake Cunniff, we’ve gotten a lot stronger in our weakest area.  We’ve taken a step back on the blueline, but we have a lot of defensive prospects in the pipeline.”

This is the first time Saskatchewan has been a buyer at the deadline, and GM Cooper Matthews appreciates his haul.  “Rusty Anderson fits right in with our blueline corps, and strengthens us in an area where we’re already strong,” Matthews told reporters.  “It was a tough decision to part with Tanner, and I know I probably made [the Jackalopes] crazy going back and forth on that.  But we see an opportunity here, and we’re going for it.”

It must be noted that with the deals, the Jackalopes shaved about $2 million off of a payroll that was already second-lowest in the league.  Mindegaard stressed that he plans to work quickly to sign extensions with their newly-acquired players, as well as key members of their existing team.  “

“We’re not going broke, folks,” said the Dakota GM.  “Sorry to disappoint you, but it’s fake news.”

Shockers Get Used to New Role: Contender

The Saskatchewan Shockers are in unfamiliar territory.  For the first couple of years of the SHL’s existence, the Shockers were the joke of the league; they piled up losses left and right and were better known for wacky promotions and player hijinks than for anything they did on the ice.  The last couple of seasons, they were considered a team on the rise, but one that never quite managed to live up to its promise.

This year, under new coach Morris Thompson, the Shockers are in genuine contention in the West.  Instead of looking to sell at next week’s trading deadline, Saskatchewan will be looking to buy.  Instead of looking up at Michigan and Anchorage, the Shockers are side-by-side with them in the standings.

“It’s almost like ‘Hey, Pinocchio, you’re a real boy now,’” said Shockers D Chris “Lightning” Oflyng, who has been with the team since its inception.

Morris Thompson

What has driven Saskatchewan’s success?  Many around the team are giving credit to Thompson.  When the team fired the well-liked Myron Beasley last season, GM Cooper Matthews said that the Shockers needed to get tougher and more disciplined.  That’s why he chose Thompson, a longtime assistant coach in Michigan, to apply the lessons he learned from Wolves coach Ron Wright.

So far, Matthews said, Thompson is living up to expectations.  “I couldn’t be happier with what Morris has done for this team,” said the Shockers GM.  “Watching games last year, you could tell the talent was there, but we needed a little more focus on the little things, the hard and unglamorous work that builds champions.  That’s what Morris has been teaching our team.”

The improvement has been obvious on both sides of the puck.  Last season, the Shockers struggled badly on offense, both in terms of generating shots and quality scoring chances.  This season, they’re averaging 35.3 shots per game (fourth in the SHL) and 2.9 goals (sixth).  “This year, we’ve been focusing on driving to the net more aggressively and looking for the right shot, not just the first shot,” said LW Troy Chamberlain.  “By creating chaos in front of the net, we’re taking the goalie’s eyes away and increasing the chance of a tip-in or rebound for a greasy goal.  It’s really paying off for us.”

The Shockers were solid last year on defense, but they’ve taken a step up this season.  They’re allowing roughly the same number of shots per game as last season, but they’ve reduced their GAA from 2.71 to 2.60.  Their penalty kill has also gotten strong, improving from 82.7% to 84.9%.

“We’ve gotten better about finishing our checks, denying zone entries on power plays, controlling the neutral zone,” said D Wyatt Barnes.  “Pretty basic stuff, but Coach Thompson is death on letting the fundamentals slip.”

The Shockers are proud to note that they don’t rely heavily on one or two stars; instead, they rely on depth, including a number of homegrown players who came up through their farm system.  “We don’t have a lot of big names on our team, but you don’t need big names to win the Vandy,” said Oflyng.

With that in mind, who might the Shockers pursue in trade?  The biggest names likely to be available are Dakota Jackalopes Ds Rusty Anderson and Matt Cherner, and Sasktchewan has the prospects and cap space to acquire at least one of them.  Will they go for such a big splash, given the fierce competition for playoff slots in the division?  Or will they shun the big names and settle for smaller depth additions, and bet big on their team-first chemistry?

“I’m looking at pretty much every option you can think of, and probably some you can’t,” quipped Matthews.  “The next few days are going to be interesting.”

In a lot of ways, Saskatchewan faces the same dilemma that the Hamilton Pistols faced a season ago: a young, rising team with promise gets its first chance at the postseason and has to decide whether to make a big move and go for the Vandy this year, or sit back and try to build a multi-year dynasty.  The Pistols opted for depth moves, and wound up losing in the first round of the playoffs.

“We definitely don’t think this is our only shot at [a title],” said Thompson.  “This team is no fluke, and not a one-year wonder.  If there’s a move that can improve our chances in the short term, I’d be interested.  But we have a foundation that will let us contend for years to come.  I wouldn’t want us to jeopardize that.  I’m not just thinking about this year.”

Shockers Dismiss Interim Coach Ponder

In a move that was widely anticipated, the Saskatchewan Shockers announced that they would not be bringing back interim coach Caleb Ponder, opening up what could be a wide-ranging search for a new bench boss for a young and rising team.

Caleb Ponder

Ponder took over the Shockers at the All-Star Break when the team fired Myron Beasley, who was the only head coach the team had ever had.  Beasley guided Saskatchewan to a 12-17-1 record before his dismissal.  Ponder, who had been Beasley’s assistant, compiled a similar record to his predecessor, posting a 15-16-3 mark in the second half.

“We appreciate everything that Caleb has done for the Shockers organization in his four years with us, and especially during his half-season as interim head coach,” said Shockers GM Cooper Matthews.  “He’s a good coach and a fine human being.  But we felt like it was time for a fresh start.”

Sources close to the team said that there was no chance that Ponder was going to be considered for the long-term head job, even at the time of his hiring.  “Unless he somehow won the Vandy, Caleb wasn’t coming back,” said one source.  The perception in Saskatchewan’s front office was that Beasley’s cheerful, quippy approach wasn’t working with a young team that both owner Heinz Doofenshmirtz and GM Matthews expect to be a serious contender, and that Ponder wasn’t enough of a change from Beasley.

“Everybody liked Myron,” said one senior front office member, speaking under condition of anonymity.  “He’s a really nice guy, and his press conferences were fun to watch.  But the perception was that he wasn’t driving the team that hard, and we’re at a stage where we need someone with a firmer hand to get to the next level.”

Ponder took the news with grace.  “I’ve really enjoyed my time here,” the coach told reporters.  “I think we have a talented group of guys here, and the sky’s the limit.  I wish them nothing but the best.”

The Shockers are expected to cast a wide net when looking for their next coach.  The names being considered by the team include minor-league coach Jeffrey “Swampy” Marsh, Michigan assistant Morris Thompson, Anchorage assistant Kyle Barrow, and longtime bench boss Harvey Williams.

Saskatchewan’s front office is reportedly looking for a coach who takes a firm hand with discipline and has a track record with building winning teams.  These caveats would seem to rule out Marsh, who is best known for his offbeat sense of humor and has only been a coach for two years.  But multiple sources confirmed that he will be considered, possibly due to his success in molding the Shockers’ minor-league prospects.