CHL Update: Harpoons’ Offense Evaporates During Skid

A few short weeks ago, the Hartford Harpoons appeared to be on track to win the CHL’s Eastern Division with ease.  They’d been out front of the division since the beginning, with a quality, balanced offense from their top two lines combined with reliable goaltending from Jonas Schemko.  Over the last seven games, however, the East race has been shaken up significantly, as the Harpoons have come back to the pack thanks to a winless skid highlighted by a vanishing offense.

Hartford’s woes began the week before the All-Star break.  The week began in fine fashion on Sunday, as the Harpoons drubbed the then-second-place Virginia Rhinos 8-2.  Since then, though, Hartford hasn’t scored more than two goals in a game, and they’ve averaged just one goal per game during their 0-6-1 slide.

“I don’t know why it hasn’t been clicking for us lately,” said C Liam Engstrom.  “But it’s been really frustrating, that’s for sure.”

The Harpoons’ most frequent tormentor during their slump: the Oshawa Drive.  During their seven-game winless run, Hartford has played Oshawa four times and gone 0-3-1.  The most agonizing of those games was on Saturday, when Harpoons RW Jacques Bacon scored a power-play goal with 22 seconds left in regulation to tie it up, only to give up an overtime goal to Drive LW Troy Blackwood to fall 3-2.  Unsurprisingly, while Hartford has swooned, Oshawa has surged, going 5-1-1 to close an 11-point gap in the standings to a single point.

“Honestly, they’ve looked a little spooked out there,” said Blackwood.  “They’re trying to force passes and take gambles, the kind of things you do when you’re in a slump and you can’t find your way out.”

The Drive aren’t the only team that has soared in the standings lately.  The Baltimore Blue Claws have won seven games in a row, zooming up from fifth place to tie Hartford for first.  One of those wins came against the Harpoons just before the break.  Baltimore scored twice in the third period to notch a come-from-behind 3-2 win.

Harpoons coach Herman Chambers said that he’s not worried about the team’s recent struggles.  “It’s not like we forgot how to play hockey overnight,” Chambers said.  “We’ve just hit a bit of a dry spell; plenty of time left to straighten it out.  We just have to refocus and play the way we know how.”

Chambers noted that two of the Harpoons’ leading scorers, RW Felix Delorme and D Brett Stolte, were called up to the parent Boston Badgers during the break, and that has played a role in the team’s dry spell.

“There’s no question that we’ve been pressing a little bit,” said Chambers.  “But it’s not really a big thing.  Once we have a game ot two where the puck bounces our way, we’ll be right back on track.”

CHL Update: Spuds Set Goal Record in Rout of Harpoons

The Idaho Spuds have had a tremendous debut season in their new home.  The Dakota Jackalopes affiliate rocketed off to a strong start this season and hasn’t looked back since.  Barring a collapse, they will make the playoffs.  And their merchandise – which features an angry hockey-playing potato – has become the most popular in the league.

On Thursday at Treasure Valley Arena, the Spuds gave their fans another moment to cherish in a memorable season.  Facing off against the Hartford Harpoons, Idaho set a new CHL record for goals scored in a game during a 12-0 whitewashing.

“We were firing on all cylinders, but it went beyond that,” said Spuds coach Gilbert McCoyne.  “We were firing on cylinders I didn’t even know we had.”

Idaho got the scoring started virtually right out of the gate.  It took only 45 seconds for C Dale Wilcox to record the first goal of the game.  Just 42 seconds after that, Wilcox scored again on a shot that deflected off the right leg of Hartford goalie Jonas Schemko and into the net.  Six and a half minutes later, D Victor Addison cashed in on a power play to make it 3-0.  Later in the period, D Brady Prussian banged home a pair of goals.  By the end of the first period, the Spuds led by five and Schemko was out of the game.

Idaho seemed to throttle back a bit in the second period against backup netminder Jeff Bingley.  LW Terry Cresson scored within the first 90 seconds of the period, and Addison tipped in a rebound for his second goal of the evening in the latter half, but those were the only tallies.  After the frenzied barrage of goals in the first, the middle stanza gave the fans a chance to catch their breath.

The Spuds got things cranked back up again quickly in the third, however.  Forty-seven second in, Wilcox fired a shot over Bingley’s left blocker to complete his hat trick.  The fans sailed their lids onto the ice in tribute.  Just over a minute later, Prussian stuffed one home for a hat trick of his own.  The fans who had held onto their hats during Wilcox’s tally relinquished them now to salute Prussian.  Several of the Spuds tossed their helmets on the ice to augment the total a bit.

“I told Victor he’d better not score again, because there weren’t any hats left in the building,” quipped Prussian.

Addison didn’t score again, but D Rusty Sienna put the Spuds in double digits just over seven and a half minutes into the period with a blast from the blueline that beat a screened Bingley.  The fans barely had time to process that milestone, because RW Dylan Alizarin scored again a mere seven seconds later.  Less than two minutes later, Cresson got has second goal of the game on a wraparound, making it an even dozen.  Amazingly, the Spuds made it through the last half of the final frame without scoring again, which would have tied the Michigan Gray Wolves’ all-time SHL record for highest-scoring shutout.

“Somebody better check on [PA announcer] Brody Watkins,” joked McCoyne after the game.  “He probably got laryngitis from calling out all those goals.  I’d consider him day-to-day at this point.  Hopefully, he can stay off the DL.”

The final stats were staggering.  Four Idaho players had five-point games: Wilcox, Prussian, Addison, and C Jacob Cunniff, who had five assists.  Only three Spuds failed to record a point: LW Rick Crisak, C Sammy Fryer, and D Gray Torian.

Harpoons coach Herman Chambers took the result in stride.  “This only counted as one loss, thank God,” Chambers told reporters.  “It’s not one we’re proud of, but it’s over now.  Let’s bury this game film at the bottom of the ocean and move on.”

Galaxy Pick James as New Coach

The Washington Galaxy surprised a number of observers around the league when they fired coach Rodney Reagle, who had guided the team to a pair of Finals appearances in four seasons.  After the surprising dismissal of Reagle, the team made an unsurprising choice for his replacement, tapping Oshawa Drive coach Peter James to take over the bench next season.

Peter James

“When we looked for our next coach, we had several criteria in mind,” said Galaxy GM Ace Adams.  “We wanted a coach who was professional and dedicated.  We wanted someone who was firm but not overbearing, someone who was serious but not too straitlaced, someone who could help mentor younger players while also relating well to veterans.  We wanted someone who was comfortable with the demands of a bigger market, but wouldn’t be looking to grab headlines.  Peter met all of our criteria.”

Several of those criteria could be interpreted as a veiled shot at Reagle, who had a well-earned reputation as the SHL’s clown prince.  He was well known for wearing costumes on the bench and frequently dropping movie quotes and offbeat accents into his press conferences.  These antics made Reagle a colorful and popular character, but team sources say the front office and some players found his behavior childish and that owner Perry Dodge felt the coach was too easy with the players.

James represents a virtual 180-degree change in personality from Reagle.  The 55-year-old Kitchener native has a reputation as for being serious and mild-mannered; one Oshawa player described James as having “milk running through his veins.”

The coach confirmed the accuracy of his reputation at his introductory press conference.  “If you’re expecting a lot of memorable quotes out of me, well, you’ll be disappointed,” said James.  “I’m always willing to talk to the press, but my plan is to keep my head down and do my job.”

Those who might equate James’ politeness and lack of flair with meekness or weakness, however, are mistaken.  He demonstrated this in Oshawa last season when he physically repelled an opposing defender who attempted to climb onto the Drive’s bench and start a fight.  Asked about this incident, James said, “My first instinct to protect my players, always.  I’m not a fighter, but I’m also not a pushover.”

James will face a challenge navigating an aging roster that lost key contributor Walt Camernitz to free agency last season and may see #1 goaltender Roger Orion depart this offseason.  “I would really like to see us re-sign Roger,” James said.  “He’s a really top-notch goalie.”

The new bench boss will also have some work to do in the clubhouse, whose chemistry reportedly went south during the Galaxy’s second-half swan dive, when they went 11-20-1 to finish below .500 for the first time in team history.  “Obviously, losing makes things tough on everybody,” James said.  “But even during tough times, if you put the right foundation in place, the team will hold together.”

The team reportedly didn’t interview many candidates for the vacancy.  The team is known to have also spoken to former assistant coach Herman Chambers and Michigan assistant Morris Thompson.  Sources say that the front office was torn between James and Thompson; the latter’s reputation for building stout defenses was appealing.

It was James’ calm demeanor, Adams said, that put him over the top.  “The longer we talked to Peter, the more I noticed how calm and confident he was, no matter what questions I threw at him,” said the Galaxy GM.  “He was so calm that he made me feel calmer just listening to him.  And I knew this was the guy to guide us through good times and bad.”

As for Washington’s ex-coach, it appears unlikely that Reagle will find himself behind a bench this season.  The only remaining open SHL job is with the Saskatchewan Shockers, who are said to be looking for a disciplinarian.  Reagle said that he was open to a job in broadcasting, but “if I wind up spending the season at home with my wife, sipping lemonade and cashing checks, I’m okay with that too.  I’m not sure if she will be, though.”

Pistols Tab Shields as New Coach

Hamilton PistolsThe SHL’s game of musical coaches appears to have reached its end.  First, Martin Delorme left the Michigan Gray Wolves to become the first coach of the expansion Quebec Tigres.  Next, Michigan hired Ron Wright away from the Hamilton Pistols to replace Delorme.  Now, the Pistols have hired Washington Galaxy assistant coach Keith Shields to serve as their head coach for next season.

“This is a real coup for us,” said Pistols GM Marcel LaClaire.  “We’ve got ourselves the brightest young coaching mind out there.”

Keith Shields
Keith Shields

Shields was highly regarded in SHL circles, having reportedly made the short list in both Quebec’s and Michigan’s coaching searches.  He could hardly be more different than Wright, the man he’s replacing.  Wright has been coaching longer than the 33-year-old Shields has been alive.  Wright is a defense-first coach, while Shields said he likes “a nice high-flying offense.”  Wright is known as a strict disciplinarian, while Shields shares the fun-loving outlook of his former boss, Galaxy head coach Rodney Reagle.

“Obviously, I want everybody working hard when they’re on the ice,” said Shields.  “But the season can be a long grind, and it’s important to relax and have fun sometimes too.  It’s a balance.”

The hiring of Shields is part of a larger rebuild for Hamilton, which finished with the league’s second-worst record last season.  The Pistols appear to be retooling around their high-scoring trio of LW Steven Alexander, C Rod Remington, and RW Claude Lafayette.  They recently shipped second-line C Cliff Derringer and RW “King George” Lane to the expansion Seattle Sailors for a package of draft picks.

“We believe this is the best path to a championship for us,” said LaClaire.  “In Steven, Rod, and Claude, we have the strongest first line in the league.  We intend to surround them with a group of fine young players.  Together with Keith’s leadership, we are confident that we are building a long-term contender.”

Shields expressed excitement at the opportunity to coach the Pistols.  “I really like what we’ve got here,” he told reporters.  “We’ve got a great first line, lots of scoring punch.  And I know we’re going to have a great draft and get a bunch of exciting young players.  I can’t wait to coach ‘em up!”

Reagle believes his protégé is destined for greatness.  “I’m gonna miss Keith, for sure, but I knew some smart team was going to snap him up,” said Reagle.  “He’s young, but he’s got a good head on his shoulders.  It’s going to be fun competing against him.”

The Galaxy announced that second assistant coach Herman Chambers will be promoted to lead assistant to replace Shields.