- On Monday, the Kansas City Smoke placed C Mike Rivera on the injured list. Rivera suffered a lower-body injury during Sunday’s 6-5 win over Portland. He is expected to miss most if not all of the rest of the season. Rivera was one of Kansas City’s leading scorers, leading the team in assists with 29 and being second in points with 43. To take Rivera’s spot on the roster, the Smoke recalled F Randy O’Connor from their CHL affiliate in Omaha. The Smoke sent O’Connor down during the All-Star break as part of a midseason roster shakeup. Prior to being sent down. O’Connor appeared in 6 games with Kansas City, recording a pair of assists. Omaha signed RW Red Bright to a short-term contract to replace O’Connor.
- Wednesday was the trading deadline. The following trades were consummated at the deadline:
- The Washington Galaxy traded G Buzz Carson to the Milwaukee Growlers for G Kelvin White and a 3rd-round draft pick. (More details here.)
- The Galaxy traded RW Brad Stevens to the Hamilton Pistols in exchange for RW Anders Pedersen. (More details here.)
- The Portland Bluebacks traded Ds Stan Gallagher and Wick Berman to the Anchorage Igloos for Ds Jackson Creed and Harold Braintree. (More details here.) After the trade, Portland called up D Gavin Umber from their CHL affiliate in Colorado Springs, and Anchorage demoted D Vitaly Dyomin to their affiliate in Minnesota.
- In a three-way trade, the Kansas City Smoke sent D Leonard Wright to Milwaukee, which sent D Geoff Moultrie to the Boston Badgers, which sent D Marshall Kreitzer and a 3rd-round draft pick to Kansas City. (More details here.) After the trade, Kansas City recalled D Lowell Sharkey from their affiliate in Omaha, while Boston demoted D T.K. O’Neill to their affiliate in Hartford.
- The Bluebacks traded RW Elliott Pepper and D Rusty Sienna to the Michigan Gray Wolves for LW Fendrick Scanlan, D Burton Cullidge, and a 3rd-round draft pick. (More details here.) After the trade, Portland assigned Scanlan to Colorado Springs and called up RW Holden Cadorette from Colorado Springs, while Michigan recalled LW Scot Davenport from their affiliate in Cleveland and demoted RW Rory Socarra to Cleveland.
- The Smoke traded LW Charlie Brooks and D Tuomas Nurmi to the Hershey Bliss for C Yegor Nestorov, D Knute Skoeglin, and a 2nd-round draft pick. (More details here.) After the trade, Kansas City promoted LW Aaron Knorr and D Stan Shakovich from Omaha, while Hershey demoted D Bruce Minnik and F Mason Kilborn to their affiliate in Virginia.
- On Saturday, the Galaxy recalled D Serkan Mratic from their CHL affiliate in Baltimore and demoted D Morris Starling to Baltimore. Starling appeared in 11 games for the Galaxy without recording a point. Mratic played 16 games for Washington earlier in the season, registering 2 points (1 goal, 1 assist).
Coming into Wednesday’s SHL trade deadline, Michigan Gray Wolves GM Tim Carrier faced a dilemma. Thanks to a recent run of good play, the Wolves found themselves at the fringes of the crowded Western Division race, after most observers had already written them off.
At one level, the task facing Carrier was straightforward. The Wolves have two obvious problems: their feeble offense, and their surprisingly poor goaltending, with the normally brilliant Dirk Lundquist going through a nightmare of a season. Giving the available options on the goalie market, Michigan’s best option is clearly to bank on Lundquist rediscovering his form down the stretch. Carrier’s clear focus was upgrading the attack.
The question was not what to acquire, but whether to acquire. The Wolves have been in the process of overhauling their aging roster over the last season or two. At the moment, they’re clearly fourth in a four-horse race for two playoff slots. Given that, was it worth raiding the team’s limited store of prospects to add another aging veteran in hopes of sneaking into the playoffs for the first time since 2018?
After giving the matter serious thought, Carrier decided to go for it, acquiring RW Elliott Pepper from the Portland Bluebacks.
“It’s a vote of confidence in our guys,” said the GM. “If I thought it was a total longshot [to make the playoffs], I’d have kept my powder dry. But after seeing the team work so hard and keep finding ways to win, I believe in us. I’m all in. Let’s do this!”
The 34-year-old Pepper is a rental, as his contract expires at season’s end. He has been a reliable 20- to 25-goal scorer throughout his career. He hasn’t matched his usual production so far this season, putting up 17 points (6 goals, 11 assists) with Portland, although he had pointed a team-best 52.9 CF%. The veteran winger has spoken openly about his desire to win a Vandy, something he’s never done in his career.
“I’m definitely focused on getting that ring,” said Pepper. “I’d hoped we could pull it off [in Portland] this year, but that didn’t work out. I’m ready to step in here and contribute right away. This is a good club that knows how to win.
Pepper did not come cheaply for the Wolves. They parted with LW Fendrick Scanlan, a rugged 24-year-old who made his SHL debut with Michigan this season (recording 5 goals, 10 assists, and a 49.2 CF% in 39 games), along with D Burton Cullidge, a hard-hitting 25-year-old stay-home defenseman who was blocked in the Wolves’ system, and a third-round pick. They also received minor-league D Rusty Sienna from Portland.
“We’re definitely going to miss Scan and Burt,” said Carrier. “Both of those guys have been in our system a long time, and they play the game the right way. But you’ve got to give in order to get, and we felt it was worth it.”
Ironically, Michigan was already relatively strong at right wing; Pepper joins Remi Montrechere and Benoit Poulin at the position. Losing Scanlan, meanwhile, depletes the Wolves’ depth at left wing, by far their worst position. Carrier said that he’d explored several options at left wing, but that “Pep was head and shoulders above the field, so why not strengthen a strength?”
If the Wolves are going to shock the league and make the postseason, they’ll need Lundquist to turn things around. Carrier expressed confidence about the possibility. “You look at The Bear’s track record, and you’ve got to figure it’ll click for him,” said the GM. “He’s our secret weapon. If we get the old Bear back, the rest of the league better watch out.”
Last season, the Portland Bluebacks posted the best regular-season record in the SHL. They seized the lead in the West within the first month of the season and never looked back. Although they were dispatched by the Anchorage Igloos in the divisional round of the playoffs, the Bluebacks entered 2021 confident that this was the year they would get over the hump. They returned most of the same roster that played so well last season, and they were ready to repeat their dominant performance.
“We feel like this is our year to win the Vandy,” said Bluebacks RW Vince Mango during the preseason. “We’ve got the talent, and we’re ready to get the trophy.”
Unfortunately for Mango, the Bluebacks’ coronation drive isn’t off to a good start. They opened the season with three home games and lost them all. After the first week of the season, Portland is the only winless team in the league.
“Definitely didn’t see that coming,” said Mango. “It’s a definite shock.”
The Bluebacks opened the season at Willamette River Arena against the Kansas City Smoke, a team that is not expected to compete this year. Unsurprisingly, the game unfolded at a breakneck pace, with both teams flying up and down the ice and firing shots with abandon. Portland took an early first-period lead when LW Rod “Money” Argent scored twice just over a minute apart. But the Smoke hung tough, and RW Bengt Frederiksson scored a power-play goal on a shot from the slot late in the second period to knot the game at 3. The third period was pure firewagon hockey, as both teams combined for 35 shots, but neither could score the go-ahead tally. In the first 90 seconds of overtime, the Bluebacks controlled the play, taking the first four shot attempts. But smoke RW Adriaen van der Veen got loose on a breakaway shortly afterward, and went top shelf for the winning goal in a 4-3 contest.
On Tuesday, Portland hosted the Michigan Gray Wolves, a team with a stout defense but a slow, limited offense. In spite of Michigan’s lack of speed, the game opened at the same frenetic pace as the opener against Kansas City. But the Bluebacks were stifled by Michigan goalie Dirk Lundquist in a frustrating opening frame; they fired 18 shots at him but scored only once. In a pivotal sequence, the Wolves killed off a double-minor on LW Fendrick Scanlan, limiting the Bluebacks to less than 30 seconds of zone time through the four-minute window. The period looked set to end as a 1-1 deadlock before an unusual flurry of offense from Michigan in the final couple of minutes. RW Remi Montrechere scored a power-play goal to put the Wolves ahead with 1:52 left in the period, and C Hunter Bailes tipped home a shot to make it 3-1 with just under a minute to play. Michigan’s defense largely smothered the Bluebacks over the final two periods, with a lone goal from argent in the final five minutes of a 4-2 defeat.
The Bluebacks were determined to get back on track Thursday against the Saskatchewan Shockers, who came in winners of their first two games. It was a slower, chippier game than Portland’s first two, and the Bluebacks found themselves stymied by Shockers goalie Zeke Zagurski, who handled everything the home team could fire in his direction. In the middle of the second period, on the power play, Mango found himself with a wide open net, but yanked the shot high. On a penalty kill in the third period, D Benny Lambert picked off a pass in the neutral zone and took off on a shorthanded breakaway, only to be robbed with a brilliant glove save from Zagurski. Mango finally spoiled the shutout bid on a slapper with less than three minutes left in the game, but it wasn’t enough in an agonizing 2-1 defeat.
On Saturday, the Bluebacks went on the road for the first time, facing off against Michigan. Facing Brandon Colt, Lundquist’s backup, they hoped for a change of fortunes. And Portland struck first this time, with C Napoleon Beasley drilling a one-timer past Colt on the short side midway through the first period. But Wolves D Olaf Martinsson tied it up with a blast from the point in the final two minutes of the period, and Michigan’s D locked things down after that, limiting Portland to just 14 shots over the final 40 minutes and pulling away for a 3-1 win.
Coach Harold Engellund said it’s too soon to panic. “We’ve run into some bad puck luck, for sure,” he noted. “It’s not like we’ve been getting killed in these games, or even outplayed too bad. But there’s no easy wins in this division, and we’ve got to be ready to battle all the way through.”
If the Bluebacks are looking for inspiration to turn things around, they could take a page from their rivals in Anchorage. Last season, the Igloos dropped their first four games and seven of their first nine, then pulled themselves together and rolled to a playoff berth and an appearance in the Finals.
But Portland’s players aren’t taking a turnaround for granted. “It gets late early in this league,” said Mango. “We’ve dug ourselves a hole, and we’d better stop digging and climb out of it before it becomes our grave.”
- On Monday, the Dakota Jackalopes activated C Tanner Brooks from the injured list. Shortly before the All-Star break, Brooks suffered an upper-body injury. Although the injury initially did not seem that serious, Brooks wound up missing over three weeks. As the Jackalopes had an available roster spot, they did not need to make a compensating move to activate Brooks.
- Also on Monday, the Hershey Bliss‘ CHL affiliate in Milwaukee placed LW Karl Gjovik on the injured list. Gjovik exited in the first period of Sunday’s 3-1 win over Cleveland after being upended on a devastating check, and did not return. He is expected to miss at least two weeks. To replace Gjovik, Milwaukee signed F Jerry Cazenovia to a short-term contract.
- On Wednesday, the Hamilton Pistols activated C Marco Venezio from the injured list. The veteran center missed 10 games with a lower=body injury suffered just before the All-Star break. In order to make room for Venezio, the Pistols reassigned C Hilliard Macy to their CHL affiliate in Oshawa, and released F Bobby Warner from Oshawa.
- Wednesday was the trading deadline. The following trades were consummated at the deadline:
- The Michigan Gray Wolves traded RW Gordon Lunsford to the Boston Badgers for RW Rory Socarra. (More details here.) After the trade, Boston demoted RW Felix Delorme to their CHL affiliate in Hartford, and recalled F Jacques Bacon from Hartford.
- The Gray Wolves traded LW Misha Petronov, F Cary Estabrook, and D Brandon Arrowood to the New York Night for LW Flynn Danner, F Henry Constantine, and D Anson Brank. (More details here.) After the trade, Michigan demoted LW Fendrick Scanlan to their CHL affiliate in Cleveland, and New York promoted RW Harris Wondolowski from their affiliate in Utah.
- The Dakota Jackalopes traded D Victor Addison to Boston in exchange for D Jackson Creed. After the trade, the Badgers demoted D Bjorn Tollefson to their minor-league affiliate in Hartford.
- Michigan traded C Warren Marlow to the Quebec Tigres in exchange for C Phil Miller, LW Carl Bleyer, and a 1st-round draft pick. (More details here.) After the trade, the Gray Wolves released F Caleb Moulton. The Tigres demoted C Dwight Flynn to their CHL affiliate in Halifax, and signed F Tim Daisey to a minor-league deal.
- On Saturday, the Anchorage Igloos recalled RW Jean Pierre Fleury from their CHL affiliate in Minnesota. The Igloos demoted Fleury to Minnesota during the All-Star break, and he played brilliantly there, recording 19 points in 12 games, including the CHL’s first-ever five-goal game. To make room for Fleury, the Igloos reassigned RW Lionel LaNeige to Minnesota.