- On Monday, the Hamilton Pistols demoted RW Michael Jennings to their farm team in Oshawa, and called up D Russ Klemmer from Oshawa. This move reverses a transaction made at the end of last week, when the Pistols called up Jennings to fill a spot opened up by Claude Lafayette‘s injury. The return move proved necessary when Oshawa LW Troy Blackwood got hurt, leaving the Drive short a forward. Jennings’ second stint of the season in Hamilton lasted a grand total of one game; he failed to record a point.
- On Wednesday, the New York Night activated RW Ivan “Trainwreck” Trujwirnek from the injured list. Trujwirnek was out for the last two and a half weeks with an upper body injury. His absence was a major blow to the Night’s depth, as he was a key contributor on their second line. Recently acquired Nori Takoyaki had filled in on the second line during Trujwirnek’s absence. To make room for Trujwirnek on the roster, the Night sent RW Sylvester Catarino to their farm team in Utah. The 22-year-old Catarino, a New York native, was a fan favorite, but struggled to put up the numbers to keep himself in the lineup. In 34 games with New York this season, Catarino registered 7 points (4 goals, 3 assists) and a +4 rating.
- On Friday, the Pistols activated G Lasse Koskinen from the injured list. It’s not a moment too soon for Hamilton, which has been treading water in the absence of their starting netminder. The 22-year-old Koskinen posted a 17-10-2 record with a 2.30 GAA and a .922 save percentage prior to his injury. With Koskinen returning, the Pistols returned G Hector Orinoco to Oshawa. The 23-year-old Orinoco went 2-0-0 with a 2.00 GAA and an .878 save percentage during his stint with Hamilton.
- On Saturday, the Kansas City Smoke demoted RW Adriaen van der Veen to their CHL affiliate in Omaha, and promoted RW Andrew “Lucky” Fortuno from Omaha. This transaction reversed a move the Smoke made right after the All-Star break, when they sent Fortuno down and called van der Veen up. In 18 games with Kansas City, van der Veen put up only 3 points (2 goals, 1 assists) while recording a -14 rating. Fortuno started the season with the Smoke, and was demoted after recording 7 points (4 goals, 3 assists) in 24 games.
- On Saturday, the Hershey Bliss placed D Steve Cargill on the disabled list. Cargill, who has had a sensational rookie season and played his way onto Hershey’s top pairing, was crunched hard into the boards during the third period of Saturday’s 6-4 win over Boston, and did not return. He was diagnosed with an upper-body injury that is expected to keep him out for 3 to 4 weeks. To replace Cargill on the roster, the Bliss promoted LW Gabriel Swindonburg from their CHL affiliate in Milwaukee. The 20-year-old Swindonburg, who was Hershey’s first-round draft pick this season, has scored 22 goals (tied ofr the CHL lead) with Milwaukee, and earned a trip to the CHL All-Star Game.
- Also on Saturday, the New York Night placed RW Ivan “Trainwreck” Trujwirnek on the disabled list. Trujwirnek suffered a lower-body injury while blocking a shot during the Night’s 7-4 loss against Hamilton. Trujwirnek’s situation is described as “week-to-week.” With Trujwirnek on the shelf, New York recalled RW Mickey Simpson from their farm team in Utah, Its the second stint in New York for Simpson, who was called up during LW Lee Fleming‘s injury back in late January.
- On Saturday, the Hamilton Pistols terminated the contract of LW Diego Garcia. The 26-year-old winger had been playing with Hamilton’s CHL team in Oshawa. After being bench due to a disagreement with Oshawa coach Harvey Williams, Garcia left the team. The Pistols deemed him in breach of contract. More on the story here.
There are perhaps no SHL teams more diametrically opposed in style than the New York Night and the Quebec Tigres. The Night are well known around the league both for the brash boasts and insults of coach Nick Foster and for their fast-paced, high-flying, high-scoring brand of hockey. The Tigres, on the other hand, are renowned for their deliberate, hard-hitting, trapping approach to the game; they also prefer to send messages on the ice, rather than in the press. It’s no surprise that the two teams don’t like each other much, and that their games tend to be fiercely contested. When both teams are in close contention for a playoff spot, as they are now, their matchups gain an extra layer of excitement.
“Us and New York, it’s like the old saying about the irresistible force vs. the immovable object,” said Tigres LW Walt Camernitz. “It’s a battle to dictate the game. Whoever controls the tempo usually wins.”
That’s what made Thursday’s game at Neon Sky Center so unusual and thrilling. In general, the contest – and the delightfully bonkers third period in particular – was played at New York’s preferred pace. But it was Quebec that emerged victorious, by an eyebrow-raising 7-5 score. The win only further tightened the East’s tense playoff chase, in which the top four teams are separated by a mere three points.
“I can’t even be mad we lost this one, because it was just so much fun to watch,” said Foster.
The game’s opening period set the tone for what was to come, as the teams combined for 33 shots (18 of them by the Night). New York got on the board first 5:56 into the game, when C Rod Remington went short-side to beat Tigres netminder Riki Tiktuunen. A mere eight seconds later, Quebec struck back with a goal by RW Stephane Mirac. It took only 51 more seconds for the Tigres to take the lead, courtesy of a top-shelf blast off the stick of Camernitz.
Even though they trailed after the first, the Night remained confident, since the game was being played on their terms. That confidence took a hit in the second period, as the Tigres scored twice exactly two minutes apart to make it a 4-1 game. Foster admitted that he thought of removing goalie Jesse Clarkson at that point, but he elected not to. Instead, in the locker room between periods, the coach urged his team to keep hope alive.
“Remember, you are the most dangerous scoring machine this league has ever seen,” Foster told his players. “You think a little three-goal deficit can stop a great team like this? Not a chance. Let’s go out and show them who we are!”
New York proceeded to go out and do exactly that. As Foster predicted, they scored four goals in the third period, enough to erase that deficit. However, they also gave up three, eliminating any shot at a win.
Most of the period’s action was front-loaded, occurring in a frenetic three minutes that Camernitz described as “total insanity. I’ve never seen that much scoring in a short time, not even playing shinny as a kid.”
Remington kicked off the craziness 47 seconds into the period, jamming home a rebound off a shot by D Dominic Sanchez. That cut the Night’s deficit to two and brought the crowd to its feet. It felt like a momentum-shifter. But less than 30 seconds later, the Tigres swung the momentum firmly back in their direction, thanks to a pair of goals by LW Rupert MacDiarmid only seven second apart.
“Thank God for Rupe,” said Camernitz. “He really saved our bacon there.”
But the Night weren’t dead yet. Less than a minute and a half after MacDiarmid’s second goal, New York C Brock Manning deflected a shot from LW Chase Winchester between Tiktuunen’s legs to make it a 6-3 game. Just 28 seconds later, Winchester and Sanchez got loose on a breakaway. Tiktuunen bit hard on a fake shot from Winchester, who slid the puck over to Sanchez for a layup into the wide-open net to make it a two-goal game again.
A frustrated Tiktuunen smashed his stick over the crossbar as the New York fans serenaded him with sing-song chants of “Ri-ki, Ri-ki.”
“I was so mad at myself,” Tiktuunen said after the game. “That goal was a disaster.”
The crowd was kicked into high gear after Sanchez’s goal, and they only got louder and more frenzied after Tigres D Kirby Hanlon took a delay of game penalty a couple minutes later. “If [the Night] had scored there,” admitted Camernitz, “they probably would have come back and won.”
But Quebec fought off the penalty, and about 20 seconds after it ended, RW Weldon “Candy” Kane buried a shot from the slot to restore the three-goal lead and give everyone on the Tigres bench a chance to breathe.
The Night gave it one more run when RW Ivan Trujwirnek scored with 2:19 left in the game to get New York within two. But they couldn’t get another tally, and a clipping penalty by D Anson Brank in the final minute snuffed out their final chance at a comeback.
“We really pushed the pace, huh?” said a grinning Foster after the game. “The grinding little bastards got the W, but they were playing our game. Nine times out of ten, when we get in a firewagon game like that, we win.”
Predictably, Quebec coach Martin Delorme had a different spin on the outcome. “Obviously, this game was not to our usual comfort,” he told reporters, “but at this point, the victory is what matters. Next time we play them, we can win 1-0 and make me happier.”
The roster for the Eastern Division in the SHL’s first All-Star Game, as announced by coach Rodney Reagle, are as follows:
LW: Steven Alexander, Hamilton. The 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, Hershey. The 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 York. Sanchez 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, Washington. McNeely 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.
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.”
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, Quebec. Jones 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.
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.
When Nick Foster signed on to coach the New York Night this offseason, it was widely assumed that he had a mandate to make changes, potentially sweeping ones, in order to mold the team into a contender. With the team mired in the Eastern basement with an unsightly 3-7-0 record, Foster held a press conference on Friday to suggest that those changes might be coming sooner rather than later.
“I’m not the kind of guy to beat around the bush,” said Foster. “And right now, I’m looking at a team that’s not built to compete, and a team that’s not as good as they think they are.”
These statements were a major departure for Foster, who has responded to most personnel questions so far by saying that he’s “still evaluating.” But he hasn’t been shy about making moves, and sources close to the coach say that he’s fed up with the team and weighing a major housecleaning, possibly including trades of some of the team’s biggest names.
“Nick was hoping that this was a champion in the rough, one that just needed a few tweaks and a new voice in charge,” said the source. “But he’s quickly figured out that he’s got a team full of lazy, undisciplined egomaniacs, and that the best solution might be to take a fire hose and clean out the locker room. The hard part will be getting ownership on board.”
It took Foster all of four games to decide the Night needed a kick in the pants. After getting shut out by Quebec 1-0 last Wednesday to fall to 0-4-0, Foster called for an unscheduled practice on their off day Thursday. RW Daniel Bellanger and D Teddy Morrison skipped the practice, and Foster responded by benching both of them for the next day’s game, in which the Night finally recorded a win in an 8-5 romp over Hamilton.
As New York continued to struggle in Week 2, Foster continued tinkering with his lineup. He booted D Tuomas Nurmi and RW Rick “The Stick” Nelson off the top line, while promoting RW Ivan “Trainwreck” Trujwirnek and D Shane Gladchuk up to that line. He benched D Jean-Luc Aubin for a couple of games as well.
After Friday’s 4-3 loss to Hershey, Foster finally sounded off publicly for the first time. He didn’t call out any players by name, but team sources say that the coach is especially disenchanted with Nelson, Bellanger, and goaltending duo of Jesse Clarkson and “Jersey Mike” Ross, who have been roughly equally ineffective.
Foster is reportedly weighing benching Nelson and demoting Bellanger and either Clarkson or Ross to the minors. “We’re not going to get anywhere unless we try something different,” the coach said at his Friday press conference. “We’ve been trying the status quo for two seasons, and it’s gotten us nothing but mediocrity.”
The grand plans of Foster may meet resistance, however, from owner Marvin Kingman. Kingman is eager for a Vandy, but he reportedly believes that the Night can get there with the current roster. “He spent a lot of money on these guys,” said the team source, “and he want to keep them around.”
Asked on Friday if he expect Kingman to object to his planned shakeup, Foster responded, “Ownership wants to win, same as I do. We’re all looking for results, and I’m going to keep making moves until we get there.”
Assistant coach Biff Lombardi, who was a finalist for the head job, thinks Foster is on the right track. “Let me tell you, Nick’s not afraid of nobody,” said Lombardi. He’s not about talk; he’s all about action. Everyone’s going to need to get with the program, or they won’t be around long.”