CHL Update: Spuds Down Rhinos, Claim Second Straight Crown

This year’s CHL playoffs had a… familiar ring to them.  Three of the four playoff teams also made it last season.  (Only the Halifax Atlantics were newcomers.)  In the Finals, the Idaho Spuds faced off against the Virginia Rhinos for the second straight season.  Just like last season, the series lasted 6 games.  And just like last season, the Spuds emerged victorious, claiming their second consecutive Howard Trophy.

“This is the way to do it!” said Spuds C Dale Wilcox, shouting to be heard over the booming music in the victorious locker room.  “Go all the way and then have a big party.  I’m ready to do this every year!”

Idaho came into the Finals as the favored team, but they knew that the series would be no cakewalk and that the Rhinos would give them a battle.  “There’s a reason why Virginia makes the Finals every year,” said Spuds coach Gilbert McCoyne before the series started.  “They know how to bring their game up a level when it counts.  I know we’re going to have our hands full.”

The Rhinos showed in Game 1 that they would be no pushovers.  They walked into Treasure Valley Arena and muzzled Idaho’s roaring offense.  They limited the Spuds to just 25 shots, and goalie Quentin Chislic turned them all aside.  Second-period scores by RW Hank Diehl and LW Errol Garner were enough to deliver Virginia a 2-0 victory.  The home team was eager to get even in Game 2, which turned out to be something of a defensive chess match.  D Jackson Creed finally got the Spuds on the board in the series midway through the first period, and RW Dylan Alizarin added a power-play marker early in the second to double the lead.  C Ron Yaeckel struck back for Virginia later in the second, but the Rhinos’ offense sputtered after that (they managed only 19 shots in the contest) and they went on to lose 2-1.

The action shifted to the Tidewater for the next three games.  In Game 3, the pace picked up and both offenses got their opportunities.  The Rhinos took the early lead on a power-play score from D Graham Bellinger.  But Idaho overturned that lead early in the second, as RW Trace Walker and D Geoff Moultrie scored just over a minute apart.   Goalie Kelvin White slammed the door from there, stopping 34 Virginia shots to secure the Spuds’ 2-1 victory.  Game 4 wound up going to overtime, as Idaho LW Terry Cresson scored on the man advantage early in the third to even the score.  In the extra session, Idaho had numerous opportunities to take control of the series, but Chislic made one ten-bell save after another to keep the Rhinos in it.  (He had 10 saves in overtime, and 34 for the game.)  Finally, just over 14 minutes into overtime, Bellinger scored his second goal of the game to give Virginia a 3-2 win and even the series.

LW Zane Skandalakis, who had been one of the Rhinos’ leading regular-season scorers, finally returned from injury for Game 5, and it seemed like the series momentum might be shifting in favor of the underdogs.  But Idaho scored three times in the first five minutes of the third period to break open a tie game.  Virginia battled back, with a goal by Yaeckel and another by D Valeri Nistrumov with under five minutes remaining, but they couldn’t come up with the equalizer, and fell 5-4 to move within one game of elimination.

Coming back home for Game 6, the Spuds were looking to close things out.  But the Rhinos once again refused to go quietly.  D Rusty Sienna‘s goal on a shot from the point gave Idaho the early lead, but Virginia surged ahead before the end of the first on goals by Skandalakis and D Roscoe “Ruckus” Corbetta.  The score remained the same through the second, as Idaho wasted three power-play opportunities.  It looked as though the Rhinos would force Game 7.  But RW Britt Cadmium finally tied it in the third, finishing a beautiful dangle with a snipe between Chislic’s legs.  Then close to the period’s midpoint, Cresson picked up a sloppy pass in the neutral zone and fed Wilcox, who crashed the net and tucked it top-shelf for what would prove to be the game-winning goal in a 3-2 series clincher.

In a tight series that consisted almost entirely of one-goal games, it was fitting that netminder White, who finished the series with a 2.08 GAA and a .929 save percentage, was chosen as the Finals MVP.  “This was a real chess match of a series,” said McCoyne.  “If Kel hadn’t been on his toes in the net, a couple of those games could have easily gone the other way.  He snuffed out a lot of potential rallies.”

For the Rhinos, who have been to the Finals four straight years but have only won once.  they could only ponder what might have been.  “Ever see that movie ‘Sliding Doors’?” said coach Jeffrey Marsh.  “When you lose a series, it’s a lot like that.  The puck goes in instead of hitting the post, that failed clear actually makes it out of the zone instead of winding up in the back of the net, and suddenly you’re dyeing your hair blond and marrying some other guy.  I don’t actually remember how that movie ended because I fell asleep halfway through, but it was probably like that.”

CHL Update: Spuds Aim for Repeat Against Rhinos

This year’s CHL Finals has something in common with this year’s SHL Finals: it’s a rematch.  One team finished with the league’s best record, and is looking to win back-to-back titles.  The other is turning Finals trips into a habit, having made it every year of the league’s existence.  Both teams got here by sweeping their division-round opponents.

In the West, the Idaho Spuds came into the playoffs as the favorite, not to mention the defending champs.  They demonstrated strength on both ends of the ice this season, and they came into the playoffs with a quiet confidence.  “We’re definitely looking to go back-to-back,” said C Dale Wilcox.  “We’ve got the talent and the drive, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be us.”

But before they could defend their title, the Spuds had to make it past the Omaha Ashcats, who surged down the stretch to make it into the playoffs.  The series opened before a noisy sellout crowd at Boise’s Treasure Valley Arena, and the Spuds ran the Ashcats off the ice in a dominant first period. The visitors struck first on a goal by RW Rene Courcel just 31 seconds in, but Idaho ruled the ice from there, scoring three times (one by Wilcox and two by C Chayce Yonge) and outshooting the Ashcats 17-6, on their way to a 4-1 victory.  Game 2 was a different story; both teams were flying up and down the ice and taking shots by the bucketload; they combined for an astounding 94 shots.  The teams traded the lead throughout the game; Ashcats RW Louis LaPlante scored with just 2:30 left in regulation to tie it up and force overtime, but it was Spuds RW Dylan Alizarin who was the ultimate hero, scoring just under 9 minutes into the extra session to seal a 6-5 Idaho win.  As the series shifted to Omaha for Game 3, Ashcats superfan “Krazy Karl” Loesser – who burned jerseys and dolls outside the arena as a “sacrifice” to the hockey gods to get his team into the postseason – wanted to hold another pregame sarcifice ceremony, but the team vetoed his request.  They may have regretted it later, as the Spuds won 4-2 to complete the sweep.  D Geoff Moultrie scored the go-ahead goal for Idaho late in the second period, and LW Terry Cresson added an insurance tally in the third to seal it.  Goalie Kelvin White came up big with a 40-save performance to thwart Omaha’s comeback bid.

“I really loved the energy and intensity I saw, from the players and our fans too,” said Spuds coach Gilbert McCoyne.  “We’re playing great hockey, probably our best of the season, and I can’t wait to see what happens in the Finals.”

In the East, the Virginia Rhinos surged in the second half to make it back to the postseason, but they finished just three points ahead of their first-round opponent, the Halifax Atlantics.  The series, which pitted Halifax’s patient defense-focused attack against Virginia’s more well-rounded game, was widely expected to be a close match.  But the Rhinos quickly demonstrated otherwise, turning up their speed to expose the Atlantics’ highly-regarded D.

Game 1 quickly turned into a laugher; the Rhinos scored three times in the first period and never looked back in a 6-1 rout.  Each Virginia goal was scored by a different player; RW Mark Clark even recorded a short-handed tally to put an exclamation point on the blowout.  Halifax switched goalies from Jonathan Crane to Art Cowan for Game 2, but it made no difference.  Virginia skated rings around the slow-footed Atlantics, outshooting them 30-13 and outscoring them 5-0.  Unlike the previous game, the Rhinos had a multi-goal scorer this time: D Roscoe “Ruckus” Corbetta struck twice.  Quentin Chislic managed to stay awake in net long enough to complete the shutout.  With their backs against the wall and back at home for Game 3, Halifax finally managed to slow the game down; the teams combined for just 32 shots, After RW Alois Rodney scored a power-play within the first minute of the game, Halifax turned the contest into a rock fight, bogging down the action in the neutral zone and clinging desperately to their lead.  But Virginia finally broke through the trap in the third period, and Clark scored to tie the game.  Halifax managed to force overtime, but C Trent Harlow put the Atlantics (and everyone watching the game) out of their misery less than four minutes in, banging one home off the left post for a 2-1 victory.

“The only problem with making the Finals every year,” said Rhinos coach Jeffrey Marsh, “is that I’m running out of movies to steal inspirational speeches from.  I think this year, it’s going to be either ‘Patton’ or ‘Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer.'”

Idaho is favored to prevail in the Finals; their combination of skills and their ability to adjust to any playing style makes them a dangerous foe.  But Virginia’s been here before – many times – and they’re not apt to let the Spuds dictate the terms of play.  One thing’s for sure: it’s unlikely that another sweep is in the cards.  Whoever intends to win the title is in for a long, hard fight.

2020 SHL All-Star Break Transactions

The following transactions occurred during the All-Star break:

  • The Anchorage Igloos demoted RW Jean Pierre Fleury and G Wendall Cantillon to their CHL affiliate in Minnesota and called up RW Lionel LaNeige and G Curt Freeze from Minnesota.  Fleury has struggled badly this year, recording only 2 points in 20 games, and has been a healthy scratch in many recent games.  Cantillon has posted a 2-4-2 record with a 4.04 GAA as the Igloos’ backup netminder this season.  The 22-year-old LaNeige makes his SHL debut; he has recorded 17 points (8 goals, 9 assists) in 32 games with Minnesota this year.  Freeze, a longtime Anchorage prospect, has gone 5-11-2 with a 2.59 GAA and a .905 save percentage so far this seaosn.
  • The Boston Badgers sent F Jacques Bacon and D Jackson Creed to their affiliate in Hartford, and recalled RW Felix Delorme and D Brett Stolte from Hartford.  Bacon, a veteran who signed as a free agent in the offseason, has appeared in only 7 games for Boston and has yet to record a point.  The Badgers are hoping that Delorme, nephew of Quebec coach Martin Delorme, can provide a spark for their stagnant offense. Delorme was a starter in the CHL All-Star Game, and has recorded 10 goals and 17 assists so far this season.  The Badgers called up Creed from Hartford two and a half weeks ago; he played in 6 games and recorded an assist.  Stolte, another CHL All-Star, has produced 12 goals and 13 assists so far this year.
  • The Dakota Jackalopes demoted D Geoff Moultrie and promoted D Brady Prussian.  Moultrie recorded 2 goals and a -2 rating in 14 games for Dakota this season; the team hopes to get him more regular playing time with their affiliate in Idaho.  Prussian has produced 26 points (14 goals, 12 assists) and a +13 rating with Idaho on the year.
  • The Hamilton Pistols demoted D Torrey Ashmont and promoted D Russ Klemmer.  Ashmont is a rookie who has struggled for ice time with the Pistols, appearing in only 9 games.  He figures to start regularly with the team’s Oshawa affiliate.  Klemmer, meanwhile, was a CHL All-Star; his 22 assists placed him in the league’s top ten.
  • The Hershey Bliss demoted F Anton Lapointe and promoted RW James Clay.  Lapointe, a capable defensive forward, has struggled to produce offensively at the SHL level; so far this year, he has produced two assists in 9 games.  Clay, another CHL All-Star, led Hershey’s Milwaukee affiliate with 28 points (13 goals, 15 assists).
  • The Kansas City Smoke demoted G Dennis Wampler and promoted G Eric Middleton.  Kansas City’s 3.79 GAA is second-worst in the SHL, and Wampler (3-8-1, 4.06 GAA, .882 save percentage) has contributed to those woes.  Middleton, an 18-year-old rookie, has thrived with the Smoke’s affiliate in Omaha, going 8-6-3 with a 2.06 GAA and a .929 save percentage.
  • The Michigan Gray Wolves demoted RW Kelvin Starkey and F Cary Estabrook and promoted LW Fendrick Scanlan and RW Steve Brandon.  The offensively-challenged Wolves shook up their forward depth, swapping out Starkey (1 goal in 24 games) and Estabrook (no points in 10 games) for the top two scorers (and All-Stars) with their Cleveland affiliate, Scanlan (13 goals, 10 assists) and Brandon (12 games, 10 assists).
  • The New York Night demoted G Corey Franklin-Lee and recalled G Sherman Carter.  This is the reverse of the transaction New York made two weeks earlier, when they sent Carter to their affiliate in Utah in order to regain his form and confidence.  Carter went 4-2-1 with a 1.98 GAA and a .926 save percentage in Utah, while Franklin-Lee went 1-2-0 with a 3.00 GAA and a .925 save percentage in the Big Apple.
  • The Quebec Tigres demoted C Phil Miller and promoted C Dwight Flynn.  The veteran Miller has failed to produce in Quebec this season, with a mere two assists and a -10 rating in 27 games.  Flynn, meanwhile, has produced at an All-Star level with Halifax this year, including 16 goals, 21 assists, and a +3 rating.
  • The Saskatchewan Shockers signed D Kjell Hanson to a minor-league contract.  The Shockers found themselves with a short minor-league roster after calling up D Pierre Chappelle and C Trent Harlow as injury replacements just before the All-Star break, and Hanson will help fill the void.  The 24-year-Hanson started the year in the Kansas City organization, but the Smoke released him the week before the break.
  • The Washington Galaxy demoted D Shane Gladchuk and promoted D Morris Starling.  The rebuilding Galaxy wanted to give Starling, a CHL All-Star with Baltimore, some ice time at the SHL level.  He led the with 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists).  Gladchuk appeared in 12 games with Washington, notching 3 assists and a -8 rating.

Smoke Hail Chiefs With “Super Sports-Tastic Sunday”

When one sports team goes on a championship run, it’s not uncommon for other teams in the same city to express support, whether through social media posts or through players wearing the jerseys of the other team and showing up at games.  On Sunday, the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs won their first Super Bowl title in 50 years.  The SHL’s Kansas City Smoke honored their football brethren by hosting a Super Bowl watch party in their arena after their matinee game against the New York Night.

“It was a cool cross-sport event, and I thought it worked out great,” said Smoke president Eddie Whitmore.

The idea for the watch party came together quickly after the Chiefs won the AFC championship two weeks earlier.  In the wake of the win, some Smoke staffers consulted the schedule, and quickly realized that there was a home game scheduled on Super Bowl Sunday. It was due to start at 3 PM, which meant that the game would likely be ending around the time that the football game was kicking off.

Eddie Whitmore

“Obviously, we started worrying that people wouldn’t come to our game,” Whitmore said.

The team frantically explored its options.  They considered pushing the game back to Monday, but the visiting Night nixed that idea.  They considered moved the start time ahead to noon, but they had a game scheduled the night before.

At one point, a team marketing staffer jokingly suggested cancelling the game and just broadcasting the Super Bowl on the Jumbotron instead.  This gave Whitmore an idea, and he quickly worked to make it happen.

The team dubbed the event “Super Sports-Tastic Sunday.”  They moved the start of the Sunday game back to 1:30, and everyone who attended receive a rally towel that had the logos of both the Chiefs and the Smoke on it.  The concession stands offered discounts on popular Super Bowl snacks such as wings, nachos, and chips.  The crowd had a healthy portion of red Chiefs jerseys sprinkled among the gray Smoke sweaters, and Smoke goals and power plays were frequently accompanied by the Chiefs’ “Arrowhead Chop.”.

“It was a great energy,” said 36-year-old Scott Phillips of Independence, proudly sporting a Travis Kelce jersey in Section 122.  “The whole city’s fired up, and this was a great way to pre-game.”

After the Smoke closed out their 7-6 loss, the PA announcer invited fans to stick around in the lower bowl to watch the Super Bowl.  Several thousand fans did so; they were rewarded by appearances from the Smoke Show, the team’s cheer squad, as well as several players, who circulated through the stands offering high fives, autographs, and selfies.

“I thought it was an awesome way to watch the game,” said D Geoff Moultrie.  “Just me, the guys, and a couple thousand of our closest friends soaking up the electricity.”

The Smoke may not have brought home a win, but the Chiefs did, coming from behind for a 31-20 triumph.  As the final seconds ticked away, the fans at the Heartland Telecom Center began shouting and hugging.  They then poured out of the arena into the neighboring Power & Light District, where they mingled with the fans who’d been at the outdoor viewing party there.

In the end, Whitmore proclaimed himself pleased with the event.  “I’m glad we were able to turn our game into a big party and a celebration of both teams,” he told reporters.  “I’m sorry that we couldn’t bring home the W, but the Chiefs came through.  Hopefully they’ll be have a viewing party at Arrowhead when we make it to the Vandy!”