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”

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CHL Update: Squirrels Move to Gem State

Heading into 2019, the SHL’s minor circuit, the Continental Hockey League, will field largely the same lineup as last year.  With no expansion and no teams swapping affiliates, there is only one change, as the CHL disposed of a franchise that wound up in its hands last season.

In the closing weeks of last season, Muncie Squirrels owner Kenny Cheswell rocked the league by announcing that he was forfeiting his franchise, claiming that he was “tapped out” and losing a great deal of money on his team.  The CHL operated the Squirrels for the remainder of the season, but was determined to find a buyer.  Finding no one who was willing to keep the team in Muncie, they sold the franchise to William Franklin, the owner of a paper company based in Boise.

During his introductory press conference, Franklin announced that the team will be based in Boise and will be known as the Idaho Spuds.

“The Mountain West is really warming up to hockey,” said Franklin.  “You’ve seen what a big hit it is in Vegas, which proves that hockey can work in non-traditional markets.  And Boise is a growing city, one that’s a lot bigger and more vibrant that most people realize.  This team is our chance to show the rest of the country what we’re becoming.”

CHL Commissioner Denny McNerny noted that the Spuds were a good geographic fit with the other teams in the CHL’s Mountain region, the Utah Owls and the Colorado Springs Zoomies.  “From a travel perspective, having three teams close to each other makes things easier, especially for our East Coast teams.  And this is a great opportunity for some regional rivalries to form.”

The newly relocated Spuds will retain their affiliation with the Dakota Jackalopes.  Jackalopes GM Paul Mindegaard indicated his pleasure with the team’s new location.  “We’re at the edge of the High Plains, and we’ve always thought of ourselves as more of a Western than a Midwestern team,” Mindegaard said.  “Even though Boise isn’t that much closer to us, it’s a city that feels a lot like ours in spirit.  I think this will be a great fit for us.”

As part of the press conference, the Spuds introduced their new uniforms – which feature shades of brown highly reminiscent of Dakota’s popular fauxback look – as well as new coach Gilbert McCoyne.  McCoyne is an Alberta native, and he declared that “Boise feels just like home to me.”

McNerny noted that he was proud of the league’s stability.  “In a lot of minor leagues, you see teams moving like gypsies every year,” the commissioner said.  “The CHL isn’t like that, and I think it’s a testament to the strong roots we’re building in our cities.”

CHL Update: Squirrels Owner Forfeits Team

The Continental Hockey League was thrown into turmoil this week, as the owner of the Muncie Squirrels abruptly announced that he was abandoning his franchise due to mounting debts and poor attendance.  With a month left in the regular season, the announcement led to league-wide concerns about the fate of the Squirrels and their players.  The league quelled the fears by week’s end, though, ensuring that Muncie would finish out the season.

On Wednesday, Squirrels owner Kenny Cheswell held an impromptu press conference at which he announced that he was “waving the white flag.  I’m tapped out, friends.  I’m taking a bath on my car dealerships, and I’m taking a bath on this hockey team.  I ain’t in the charity business, and neither are the banks that hold my paper.  Something’s gotta give, and it’s gonna be the team.”

The timing of the announcement was a surprise, as was the fact that Cheswell had apparently not informed anyone on the team about his plans.  But it wasn’t a shock that the Squirrels are in rough shape financially.  Muncie finished second-to-last in CHL attendance last year; the team that finished behind them, the Albuquerque Screaming Eagles, moved to Colorado Springs in the offseason.  This year, the Squirrels’ attendance has fallen further, dipping below 2,000 per game on average.  The team’s most popular promotions have been themed around TV painter Bob Ross, who recorded his shows in Muncie, but the allure of those promos has diminished over time.  Given that the team is not likely to make the playoffs, which might provide an additional windfall, Cheswell decided to get out now rather than wait for the season’s end.

Although the players (who are being paid by their parent organization, the Dakota Jackalopes) have been receiving their paychecks, team coaches and staffers reportedly have been getting paid late or not at all in recent months.  “I’m not going to say that you can hear the checks bouncing in the hallways,” joked coach Ross Roberts, “but it’s definitely been an anxious time around here.  Just ask my landlord.”

At the time Cheswell made his announcement, the Squirrels were in Milwaukee getting ready for that night’s game against the Hogs.  “We weren’t sure what was going on,” said Squirrels D Zander Phthalo.  “We were sitting in the hotel, eating beef jerky and Cheez-Its, trying to figure it out.  We didn’t know if we were going to play the next night, or if they’d pay to fly us home, or what.”

After some frantic phone calls between Roberts, the Squirrels front office, and the league headquarters, the team went ahead and played on Wednesday night, battling to a 2-2 draw with Milwaukee.  “We weren’t sure if we would get paid, or if we were even really still a team,” said Phthalo.  “But the league told us to keep going, so we did.”

By Thursday, the league officially stepped in, announcing that the Squirrels would remain in business under league control until the end of the season.  In the meantime, the league will seek a buyer to take over the team going forward.  “Obviously, this is not something we envisioned happening,” said CHL Commissioner Denny McNerny.  “But once it did, we knew we had to take action.  We had to protect the integrity of our league, and the future of these young players.  So we’ll make sure they get to finish out the year.”

The Squirrels were delighted and relieved with the late-week stay of execution.  “I really wasn’t sure where this was going to wind up,” said Roberts.  “I didn’t think they’d just send us home, but I also didn’t think our owner would quit in midseason.  I didn’t even know you could do that.”

The league is taking steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.  McNerny said that going forward, he would ask team owners to put up performance bonds to guard against this sort of situation.  In addition, the league plans to perform a more vigorous financial vetting of prospective owners.  “We all need to understand that this can’t happen,” said the commissioner.  “If you’re going to buy in, you need to make the commitment to play the whole season, come what may.”