Eastern All-Star Rosters

The roster for the Eastern Division in the SHL’s first All-Star Game, as announced by coach Rodney Reagle, are as follows:

First Line

LW: Steven Alexander, HamiltonThe young, scrappy, and hungry winger has been one of the SHL’s top scorers since the beginning.  This year, Alexander is tied for the league lead in goals with 23.  “I am not throwing away my shot,” Alexander told reporters, confirming that he will play.

D: Reese Milton, HersheyThe 25-year-old blueliner is one of the SHL’s best two-way threats, contributing solidly on offense (7 goals, 24 assists) and providing lock-down defense that has helped propel the Bliss to the top of the division. “For once, Reese will be on my side, instead of kicking my butt,” said Reagle.

C: Justin Valentine, Hershey. Valentine was the top overall vote-getter among Eastern All-Stars.  He needed them all, as this was one of the most competitive positions.  Valentine withstood a determined charge from New York’s Brock Manning, Hamilton’s Calvin Frye, and Washington’s Eddie Costello.  Valentine is tied for the league lead in goals (23) and is in the top five in points (39).

D: Dominic Sanchez, New YorkSanchez was the beneficiary of a late surge in voting from the New York area, allowing him to surpass Hamilton’s Raymond Smyth to claim a starting spot. Sanchez is one of the league’s top offensive defenseman, and he has put up 30 points (6 goals, 24 assists) for the Night so far this season.

RW: Jefferson McNeely, WashingtonMcNeely withstood a late charge from New York’s Rick “The Stick” Nelson to win this starting spot by less than 5,000 votes.  The winger is having a bit of a down season, but he is still among Washington’s top scorers with 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists).  When reporters called McNeely to get his reaction to being selected, they discovered that he had not yet learned he had been chosen.  “What’d I miss?” McNeely said.

 

Second Line

LW: Lance Sweet, Hershey. Sweet is a member of Hershey’s well-known “Love Line,” among the top-scoring lines in the SHL.  Sweet has more than held up his end of the bargain, putting up 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) on the season so far. He is just outside the league’s top 10 in both points and assists.

D: Raymond Smyth, Hamilton. Smyth lost out on a starting spot to Dominic Sanchez in the final days of voting, but Reagle wasted no time tapping him as a reserve.  Smyth has the numbers to back up his case: he has the most points (38) of any defenseman in the league, and he has an excellent defensive reputation as well.

C: Brock Manning, New York. Manning fell short to Valentine  in the voting for the hotly-contested center position, but he was selected by Reagle as a reserve.  Manning has long been one of the SHL’s top scorers, and this season is no exception; his 21 goals puts him in the league’s top five.  As the Night have improved in recent weeks, Manning has led the way, scoring 10 goals in the last two weeks.

D: Kevin Buchanan, Washington. Buchanan was one of three Galaxy players that Reagle named to the Eastern squad.  He is the top point-scorer among Washington’s defensive corps with 18, but he is known primarily as a stay-home defender.  “I was afraid of what Kevin would do to me if I didn’t pick him,” said Reagle.

RW: Christopher Hart, Hershey. Hart joins his linemate Sweet among the Eastern reserves.  He is among the top 10 in the league in points with 36 (10 goals, 26 assists).  “Glad to see the Love Line representing!” Hart said.  “We’re going to tear it up out there.”

 

Third Line

LW: Casey Thurman, Washington. Thurman is having a bit of a down year by his standards, but he remains the Galaxy’s leader in goals scored (with 14), which is good enough to put him in the top 10 in the league.  “I had to talk Casey into it a little,” said Reagle.  “He didn’t think he deserved it, but I convinced him that he did.”

D: Ward Jones, QuebecJones will be the Tigres’ only All-Star representative, as Riki Tiktuunen will miss the game due to injury.  Jones is one of the key contributors to the Tigres’ largely anonymous but second-ranked defense.  He has been a stalwart on Quebec’s top line, producing 3 goals and 3 assists while providing rugged defense.

C: Calvin Frye, Hamilton. Frye was not voted in as a starter despite being in the top ten in the league in both goals (14) and assists (28).  Frye was named SHL Rookie of the Year last season, and he shows no signs of dropping off in his sophomore campaign, on pace for a 25-point improvement from his rookie point total.

D: Grant Warriner, Washington. The Galaxy’s second-year blueliner is proving his worth as a two-way contributor.  He has thrived beside free-agent signing Patrick Banks in Washington’s second pairing, putting up 17 points to go with a +10 rating.  “I didn’t want to pick too many of my own guys,” said Reagle, “but I look at the numbers until my eyes crossed, and I didn’t see anyone who was more deserving.”

RW: Ivan Trujwirnek, New York. The second-year winger known affectionately as “Trainwreck” has been a consistent contributor on a struggling Night team.  His rugged, hard-working play quickly earned the notice of coach Nick Foster, who wound up promoting him from the third line up to the top line.  He has continued to produce even with the promotion, putting up 8 goals and 11 assists.

 

Goaltenders

Roger Orion, Washington. The Galaxy have been a defense-first team this season, and Orion has been a key piece of the equation. He is among the top 5 in the league in wins (9), GAA (2.50), and save percentage (.922).  He was voted the starter by over 10,000 votes more than his closest competitor.

Dennis Wampler, Hamilton. Orion originally named Quebec’s Riki Tiktuunen as the backup netminder, but the sophomore star was injured in Friday’s loss to Dakota.  Pistols rookie Lasse Koskinen was another possibility, but he was also injured this week and therefore unavailable.  So Reagle turned to Koskinen’s backup, Wampler.  The second-year man has been strong, going 6-3-1 with a 2.47 GAA and a .913 save percentage.

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2016 SHL Finals – Game 1

Michigan SmallWashington SmallMICHIGAN GRAY WOLVES 4, WASHINGTON GALAXY 0

Despite his team coming into the SHL Finals as a strong favorite, Michigan Gray Wolves coach Ron Wright stressed the importance of starting the series strong.  “In a short series, it’s all about momentum,” said Wright.  “Fall into a hole, no matter how strong you are, and it can be impossible to get out.  I want to see us make a statement right away.”

In Game 1, the Wolves did exactly what their coach wanted.  They made about as strong a statement as possible, seizing control of the game in the first period and cruising from there.  Behind the brilliant play of G Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist (31 saves), Michigan put up a 4-0 shutout that left the visiting Washington Galaxy dazed and confused.

“Man, they really came to play,” said Washington LW Casey Thurman.  “We’re really going to have to step it up in the next game, or we’re just going to get run over.”

The Galaxy came into the game determined not to let Michigan push them around.  “We know the Wolves play a physical game,” said Galaxy D Bruce “Boom Boom” Hogaboom.  “We wanted to show them that we’re not scared.”

As a result, Washington started the game in a feisty mood, throwing elbows and hips at the Wolves.  Less than eight minutes into the game, Galaxy LW Walt Camernitz took exception to a hard check into the boards by Wolves D Bjorn Tollefson and came up swinging.  Both players wound up getting majors.

Washington’s aggressive play wound up getting them into trouble later in the period.  Rookie D Grant Warriner was whistled for high-sticking with about six minutes left in the first period.  The Galaxy managed to kill off that penalty, but no sooner had they done so than D Kevin Buchanan was hit with a double minor for spearing Michigan C Hunter Bailes.  The crowd at Cadillac Place booed Buchanan lustily, but the boos turned to cheers a couple minutes later when Michigan D Fritz Kronstein went top-shelf on Washington netminder Roger Orion to put the home team on the board.

“I saw a little daylight and I took advantage,” said Kronstein, who was Michigan’s first-round pick in this year’s draft.

Less than a minute later, the Wolves doubled their advantage as LW Jorma Seppa, filling in on the top line due to Vladimir Beruschko‘s injury, scored on a wraparound.

“That second goal really threw us off,” said Hogaboom.  “We’d been holding our own all period, then boom-boom, we’re in a hole.”

The Galaxy hoped just to survive the rest of the first and head into the locker room down 2-0, but Michigan RW Oskar Denison scored on a slapper in the waning seconds of the period for a three-goal advantage.

“At that point, we knew we were basically done for,” said Camernitz.

The rest of the game was somewhat anticlimactic, highlighted by one more goal (by Wolves C Warren Marlow in the third period) and one more fight (between Hogaboom and Michigan D “Mad Max” Madison).  The real star of the day, though, was Lundquist.  The goalie flashed his athletic prowess making some brilliant saves to keep the shutout intact.  In the second, Lundquist made several brilliant saves to help Michigan kill off back-to-back penalties.  In the third, he made a tremendous glove save to stone Washington C Eddie Costello on a breakaway attempt.

“The Bear’s motor is really incredible,” said Wright.  “Even after the outcome of the game wasn’t in doubt, he was still in top form, still hustling.  If he keeps up this level of play, it’s going to be a real short series.”

After the game, Galaxy coach Rodney Reagle sought to put the game behind him.  “I’m not going to watch the film of this game,” said Reagle.  “I think I’m going to burn the film, in fact.  If I want to watch something, I’ll watch Die Hard instead.  At least that one has a happy ending.”

Continue reading “2016 SHL Finals – Game 1”

Washington Surges in East

Washington SmallLast season, the Washington Galaxy led the East virtually wire-to-wire, maintaining a steady single-digit lead for almost the entire season.  This season was different, as the Hamilton Pistols and Quebec Tigres got off to surprisingly strong starts and the division remains tightly bunched in the early weeks.  Over the last couple of weeks, though, the Galaxy have quietly kicked things into gear, going on a tear and opening up a double-digit advantage over their stumbling competitors.  As the league hits midseason, Washington appears well-positioned for a return trip to the playoffs.

“That whole team should wear ninja outfits,” said New York Night C Brock Manning, whose team trails the Galaxy by 11 points.  “They rarely look dominating, they don’t have a bunch of big-name stars… but damned if you don’t look up and see them pulling away every time.  I don’t know how they do it.”

How do they do it?  With a surprisingly potent and balanced offense, combined with a sturdy defense and solid goaltending.  To the surprise of many observers, Washington is second in the league in goals with 104.  The Galaxy’s top scorer is RW Jefferson McNeely, who has rebounded in a big way from a down year in 2015 to establish himself as a star.  McNeely’s 18 goals and 36 points puts him in the top 10 in the league in both categories.  McNeely’s emergence has taken considerable pressure off of linemate Casey Thurman, who was the team’s leading scorer in ’15 but got off to a slow start this year.

“I’m really glad to see Jefferson having a strong season,” said teammate Eddie Costello.  “He’s an electric personality, and the fans are really getting to see that now that he’s breaking out.  The people in DC are going to love this guy.”

But McNeely is far from the only quality scorer in the Galaxy’s lineup.  Thurman (10 goals, 25 points) has been gaining steam during Washington’s recent run.  Costello has done a great job setting up McNeely and Thurman, but is also a scoring threat in his own right (12 goals, 36 points).  Washington has strong scorers on its second and third lines as well, including LW Walt Camernitz (15 goals, 29 points), RW Sindri Pentti (11 goals, 17 points), and C J.C. Marais (25 points)

“That’s what makes us so dangerous,” said Camernitz.  “We pack a punch on all three lines, and we can score at any time.  Some other teams, you contain their one or two big guys and you can shut them down.  We’re not like that.”

Washington is no slouch in its own end, either.  The Galaxy’s defensive prowess was a key reason they were able to push the heavily favored Anchorage Igloos to 7 games in last season’s SHL Finals, and if anything, they’re stronger this year.  Defenseman Bruce “Boom Boom” Hogaboom is the team’s chief enforcer, and his willingness to scrap is legendary around the league.  But Washington is well stocked with solid two-way threat on the blue line.  Top pairing Leonard Wright and Kevin Buchanan are strong playmakers at both ends, and second pairing Rusty Anderson and Grant Warriner provide a bit of a heavier, more defense-oriented look.  The team also has several rugged wingers, most notably the hard-checking Pentti.

“A lot of teams in this league are imbalanced toward offense or defense,” said Buchanan.  “We pride ourselves on being balanced.  We can bang with the big boys, but we also have the speed and scoring ability to keep up with the faster clubs.”

Backstopping the defense is netminder Roger Orion, who has provided steady and drama-free prowess in the crease since the beginning.  “Other goalies have flashier reps and bigger names,” said Costello.  “But we’re happy to go to war with Roger any time.  We know he’s going to take care of business back there.”

Overseeing the whole circus is the league’s most colorful coach, Rodney Reagle.  A former goalie who was nicknamed “Reagle the Eagle” in his playing days, he’s done nothing to disprove the adage that goaltenders are a strange breed.  Players, though, say that his offbeat style keeps the cluhbhouse loose even in tense moments.

“Coach, well… what can you say?” said Costello.  “He’s one of a kind.  And by that I mean he’s hard-core nuts.  But we love that.”

Reagle keeps up a seemingly never-ending stream of pranks and jokes.  Recently, in reaction to the “creepy clowns” stories circulating on the Internet, he had the visiting locker room at Constellation Center decorated with pictures of clowns.

“I’ve been in there,” said Reagle, “and afterward I had to curl up in the fetal position for a half hour.  It’s totally going to unnerve our opponents.  Think of it as psychological warfare.”

While creepy clowns may or may not be essential to Washington’s recent success, critics argue that the Galaxy are simply cleaning up against a weak division.  As of this writing, none of the other teams in the East have an above-.500 record.  The West, meanwhile, has a pair of powerhouses in the Igloos and the Michigan Gray Wolves.  Even if Washington cruises back to the Finals, won’t they simply be crushed by whoever emerges from the West?

Reagle pointed out that people said the same thing last year, and the Galaxy nearly won the title.  “If everyone wants to overlook us and say that we’re weak because our division is struggling, go ahead,” said the coach.  “We’ll be happy to prove them wrong again.”