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 Spark Controversy with Video

Social media is a double-edged sword for modern athletes.  On the positive side, it can bring players and fans closer than ever before, and offers athletes the chance to provide a view behind the scenes of their lives and careers.  On the downside, sometimes the behind-the-scenes view can create controversy or lead to trouble.  Three members of the CHL’s Idaho Spuds learned that lesson the hard way this week, as they offered fans a somewhat too-unvarnished view of life in the minor leagues of hockey.

The players in question were LW Terry Cresson, D Rusty Sienna, and RW Britt Cadmium.  The trio of friends recorded their on-ice and off-ice activities over the course of a week, which they edited into a 10-minute video that each posted to their Instagram stories, under the title “The REAL Hockey Life.”  Much of the video was fairly innocuous, featuring clips of games, practices, and on-the-road goofing around.  Some moments, however, raised eyebrows among teammates and the front office.

Some parts of the video were embarrassing to specific players and coaches.  Such as the locker-room clip that included, in the background, a naked player headed toward the shower.  Or the clip of coach Gilbert McCoyne in his office, yelling obscenities at players (captioned “Sent to the principal’s office”).

Other parts depicted inappropriate and immature behavior that caused the team a PR headache.  Like the shot of Cresson’s locker, into which someone had stuffed an inflatable female doll (the caption: “Meet Terry’s new gf”).  Or the clips of players shotgunning an alarming number of beers in a bar.  Or the shot of the team on the bus, chanting a camp song filled with sexist and homophobic lyrics.

Another segment featured the trio base jumping into the Snake River Canyon, which is an activity forbidden by their contracts.

The video circulated among teammate over the week, but later attracted the attention of reporters, who asked McCoyne about it.  From there, the video drew the scrutiny of the organization.

The Spuds issued a statement expressing disappointment in the players.  “This video, and the behaviors and activities depicted in it, do not reflect the values of the Idaho Spuds or the Dakota Jackalopes organization,” the statement read.  “The players involved will be disciplined appropriately, and we will take the opportunity to educate the entire organization about appropriate and respectful behavior.”  All three players were fined, and will each be suspended for a game. (Sienna is currently injured, and will be benched for a game upon his return.)

McCoyne took a somewhat more forgiving tack.  “It was a dumb and immature thing for them to do,” the coach told reporters, “but young guys are dumb and immature sometimes.  I think after they saw what happened here, they’ll be smart enough not to do it again.”

Asked about the part of the video that featured him cursing at players, McCoyne responded, “Yeah, that was me.  No deepfakes there.  I have a potty mouth sometimes.  Sorry, Grandma.”

The players involved publicly apologized for their behavior.  “We thought it would be fun for people to see what our life is like off the ice,” said Cresson, “But yeah, we should have edited it a little better.  And some of it, we shouldn’t have shot at all.”

Added Sienna, “When I found out that they could have dumped us for the base jumping thing, that was definitely a wake-up call.  I know I’m not doing that again.”

CHL Update: Spuds Stop Rhinos in 6 to Claim Title

The Idaho Spuds were an unlikely contender in the CHL.  Last season, playing as the Muncie Squirrels, they finished fourth in their division.  Their rebuilding parent club, the Dakota Jackalopes, called up several of the best prospects from that squad.  The Spuds received a warm reception in their new home, regularly selling out Treasure Valley Arena.  But the idea that they’d finish above .500, much less make the playoffs, seemed far-fetched to most observers.

However, coach Gilbert McCoyne wasn’t interested in what most observers thought.  “I wasn’t about to put any limits on what we could achieve,” McCoyne said.  “I just told my guys, ‘Why not us?’”

McCoyne’s power-of-positive-thinking approach paid dividends.  Idaho not only made the playoffs, they dismissed the heavily-favored division-winning Omaha Ashcats in a stunning sweep.  Then in the Finals, they dethroned the defending champion Virginia Rhinos in six games to win their first-ever Howard Trophy.

“This season has been one wild ride!” said Spuds C Dale Wilcox.  “We never gave up and never stopped believing, and now we’re the champs!”

The series opened in Boise in front of another pair of sellout crowds, and the Spuds gave their fans plenty to cheer about.  In Game 1, fueled by the energy of their fans, a fired-up Idaho team outshot the Rhinos 32-20.  The Spuds capitalized on their power play opportunities, going 3-for-4 in man-advantage situations, and goalie Kelvin White registered a shutout in a 3-0 Idaho win.  In Game 2, the Spuds once again had a huge advantage in shots, outshooting Virginia 43-23, but White wasn’t quite as sharp.  Idaho squandered a 4-2 lead in the third period when Rhinos LW Yuri Laronov and LW Errol Garner scored 90 seconds apart, but RW Britt Cadmium came through with what proved to be the game-winning goal in a 5-4 triumph.

The Rhinos regained their footing a bit in the middle three games, which took place on their ice.  In Game 3, Virginia got a pair of second-period goals from Laronov and D Gustaf Bergstrom, and goalie Quentin Chislic stopped all 30 Idaho shots for a 2-0 win.  In Game 4, Virginia got the early edge, only to see Idaho seize control of the game in the second on the way to a 6-2 blowout that included three third-period goals.  Staring at elimination, the Rhinos pushed back in Game 5, building a 3-0 lead through the first forty minutes.  The Spuds pushed back in the third, putting up another three-goal frame, but Virginia held on for a 5-3 win.  C Trent Harlow scored two goals in a winning effort for the defending champs.

With the action shifting back to Treasure Valley Arena for Game 6, the Spuds were looking for the quick kill, while the Rhinos were looking to prove that they could be competitive away from home.  Idaho controlled the play once again, outshooting Virginia 38-26, but Chislic kept the Rhinos in the game.  LW Van Dyke Browning scored in the opening minute to give Idaho a quick edge, but Rhinos D Gunther Stephens answered less than four minutes later to tie things up.  The Spuds got back in front in the second on a score by D Brett Stolte, and D Georg Ochre made it 3-1 early in the third with a blast from the top of the faceoff circle.  Idaho then endangered their lead with a string of minor penalties, and Bergstrom finally converted with just over five minutes remaining to pull Virginia within one.  The Spuds managed to stay out of the penalty box after that, though, and the Rhinos couldn’t come up with an equalizer in the time remaining.

Ochre, who led all Idaho scorers with 7 points (3 goals, 4 assists), earned the Finals MVP honors.  His teammates mobbed the quiet, rugged defenseman they fondly call “The Ogre.”  As Wilcox quipped, “I can’t wait to hear the Ogre’s acceptance speech, ‘cause it’ll be the first time he’s said more than two words in a row.”

For many of the Spuds, their next challenge will come in the SHL, as they’re called up and tasked with reviving the Jackalopes’ sagging fortunes.  “Making it in the SHL is a different kind of challenge,” admitted Wilcox.  “But we’ve gotten this far by believing in ourselves, so why not keep going?”

CHL Update: Rhinos to Defend Title Against Spuds

This year’s CHL finals present an interesting contrast.  One team has been in the finals every year of the league’s existence, and is bidding for back-to-back titles after surviving a back-and-forth first-round series that went the distance.  The other club is in its first year in a new city, and is trying to go all the way in its first-ever postseason appearance, coming off of a surprising sweep of the league’s best regular-season team.

In the East, the Virginia Rhinos are getting to be old hands at the postseason; this is their third straight trip.  Despite losing a number of key contributors from last season’s title-winning squad, the Rhinos managed to eke out the top seed in a closely-packed division.  But Virginia wasn’t the least bit embarrassed or deterred by their narrow playoff qualification; they remain fixated on the ultimate goal.  “We’re all focused on the repeat,” said RW Chris Quake.  “No one in here doubts that we can pull it off.”

In the division playoff, they faced the Cleveland Centurions, who sported the league’s best regular-season defense.  The Rhinos hunkered down for what they knew would be a tense, hard-fought battle.  Game 1 was a chippy affair with a slew of penalties, a couple of fights, and not a lot of offense (28 shots between both teams).  Virginia got goals from Quake and LW Jayden Gunn, while goalie Quentin Chislic stopped all 16 Cleveland shots for a 2-0 shutout.  In Game 2, the Rhinos rallied from behind with a pair of third-period tallies just 29 seconds apart from C Marvin Cascio and LW Yuri Laronov, turning a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 victory.  The action shifted to the shores of Lake Erie for Games 3 and 4, and the Centurions battled back.  In Game 3, Rhinos C Trent Harlow notched a third-period goal to erase another deficit and force overtime, but Cleveland C Phoenix Cage scored 36 seconds into the extra session to stave off elimination with a 2-1 win.  In Game 4, Centurions netminder Eugene Looney came up big, stopping all 27 shots in a 3-0 triumph to force a fifth game back in Virginia Beach.  But in the deciding game, it was Chislic’s turn for another shutout (24 saves) as D Roscoe “Ruckus” Corbetta netted two to lead the 3-0 series-clinching victory.

“That was a tough series, for sure,” said Corbetta.  “But it got us tuned up, and we’re firing on all cylinders now and playing our best hockey.”

Virginia’s Finals opponent will be the Idaho Spuds, who played to sellout crowds after moving from Muncie in the offseason.  The Spuds came into the postseason with the CHL’s top-ranked offense (3.6 goals per game), but they had a lackluster performance in the last few weeks of the regular season, and they were largely written off in their first-round series against the heavily favored Omaha Ashcats.

But the boys in russet brown not only beat the Ashcats, they did so in a stunning three-game sweep.  In Game 1, they buried Omaha in an avalanche of shots (45 vs. the Ashcats’ 22) and scored three goals (from LW Rick Crisak, D Victor Addison, and LW Terry Cresson) before the game was 3 minutes old, on the way to a 4-2 win.  For Game 2, Ashcats coach Butch Slazenger switched goalies from Bill Bates to Jim Fleetwood.  Fleetwood did a better job, stopping 28 of 30 shots, but Spuds LW Van Dyke Browning scored three minutes into overtime for a 2-1 win.  In order for Omaha to rally in the series, they’d have to win twice on enemy ice.  Slazenger raised a number of eyebrows by going back to Bates for Game 3, a decision that looked foolish when Idaho went up 2-0 by the first minute of the second period.  The Ashcats rallied back to tie thanks to tallies from blueliners Trevor Lockwood and Lowell Sharkey.  With just over three minutes left in regulation, however, Spuds C Jacob Cunniff scored a power-play goal that would prove to be the difference in a 3-2 contest.  Treasure Valley Arena – sold out as usual – exploded in cheers as the players formed a celebratory circle in front of their net.

“We’re probably going to be the underdogs again in the final, since [the Rhinos are] the defending champs,” said Idaho coach Gilbert McCoyne.  “But we like that underdog role.  If anyone’s thinking of sleeping on us, they’d better think again, because we’re ready to shock the world.”