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.”

2020 SHL Week 11 Transactions

  • On Monday, the Dakota Jackalopes activated C Tanner Brooks from the injured list.  Shortly before the All-Star break, Brooks suffered an upper-body injury.  Although the injury initially did not seem that serious, Brooks wound up missing over three weeks.  As the Jackalopes had an available roster spot, they did not need to make a compensating move to activate Brooks.
  • Also on Monday, the Hershey Bliss‘ CHL affiliate in Milwaukee placed LW Karl Gjovik on the injured list.  Gjovik exited in the first period of Sunday’s 3-1 win over Cleveland after being upended on a devastating check, and did not return.  He is expected to miss at least two weeks.  To replace Gjovik, Milwaukee signed F Jerry Cazenovia to a short-term contract.
  • On Wednesday, the Hamilton Pistols activated C Marco Venezio from the injured list.  The veteran center missed 10 games with a lower=body injury suffered just before the All-Star break.  In order to make room for Venezio, the Pistols reassigned C Hilliard Macy to their CHL affiliate in Oshawa, and released F Bobby Warner from Oshawa.
  • Wednesday was the trading deadline. The following trades were consummated at the deadline:
    • The Michigan Gray Wolves traded RW Gordon Lunsford to the Boston Badgers for RW Rory Socarra. (More details here.) After the trade, Boston demoted RW Felix Delorme to their CHL affiliate in Hartford, and recalled F Jacques Bacon from Hartford.
    • The Gray Wolves traded LW Misha Petronov, F Cary Estabrook, and D Brandon Arrowood to the New York Night for LW Flynn Danner, F Henry Constantine, and D Anson Brank.  (More details here.) After the trade, Michigan demoted LW Fendrick Scanlan to their CHL affiliate in Cleveland, and New York promoted RW Harris Wondolowski from their affiliate in Utah.
    • The Dakota Jackalopes traded D Victor Addison to Boston in exchange for D Jackson Creed.  After the trade, the Badgers demoted D Bjorn Tollefson to their minor-league affiliate in Hartford.
    • Michigan traded C Warren Marlow to the Quebec Tigres in exchange for C Phil Miller, LW Carl Bleyer, and a 1st-round draft pick. (More details here.) After the trade, the Gray Wolves released F Caleb Moulton.  The Tigres demoted C Dwight Flynn to their CHL affiliate in Halifax, and signed F Tim Daisey to a minor-league deal.
  • On Saturday, the Anchorage Igloos recalled RW Jean Pierre Fleury from their CHL affiliate in Minnesota. The Igloos demoted Fleury to Minnesota during the All-Star break, and he played brilliantly there, recording 19 points in 12 games, including the CHL’s first-ever five-goal game.  To make room for Fleury, the Igloos reassigned RW Lionel LaNeige to Minnesota.

Badgers Bulk Up With Lunsford, Addison

The Boston Badgers are in a challenging position.  They’re on the fringes of the playoff race in the crowded East.  It was a seller’s market at this year’s deadline, and the Badgers had some pieces – like winger Jorma Seppa and defenseman Patrick Banks – that could have fetched a solid return.  On the other hand, Boston already made one aggressive go-for-it move this season – acquiring LW Casey Thurman from Washington – and they’d clearly need more help if they were going to make the postseason.

GM Jody Melchiorre considered both paths nearly up to the deadline.  He entertained deals for Seppa, Banks, and others.  But in the end, he decided to double down and go for it.

“At some point, if you’ve got enough chips in the pot, it doesn’t make sense to fold,” said Melchiorre.  “Our fans want to see a playoff team, and I want to give it to them.”

The Badgers needed an upgrade to their lackluster offense; adding Thurman was a much-needed boost, but their goal numbers are still in the league’s lower half.  But they also needed to find players who fit the team’s rugged, grinding, hard-hitting style.  In the end, Melchiorre found what he was looking for, landing RW Gordon Lunsford from the Michigan Gray Wolves and D Victor Addison from the Dakota Jackalopes.

Lunsford has been a quietly consistent cog in Michigan’s offense for years.  He’s regularly put up 50-point seasons with little flair or drama.  He’s capable of laying the kinds of heavy checks that Badgers fans love.  And he’s been a steady, dependable clubhouse leader for the Wolves since the beginning.  Although his numbers this year (8 goals, 20 assists, +10 rating) aren’t quite up to his career norms, he continues to be a solid performer.

“Gordon is exactly the kind of strong veteran presence I want here,” said Melchiorre.  “He’ll fit in perfectly on the ice and off the ice.  He’s got playoff experience, and he can help lead our team to great things.”

The Badgers didn’t give up a ton to get him, either: they acquired Lunsford in a one-for-one swap for RW Rory Socarra.  The 21-year-old Socarra has shown dazzling flashes of athleticism, but has yet to fully harness his potential.  He has yet to exceed 20 points in a season, and his current-season numbers (4 goals, 6 assists, -3) have once again disappointed.

All in all, it seems like a steal for Boston.  There is, however, one risk factor: Lunsford’s age.  He is currently 37 years old, the league’s oldest active player.  He has shown clear signs of decline the last couple of seasons.  And he’s signed through the 2021 season at a sizable hit of $2.5 million per season.  Might that come back to bite Boston down the road?

For his part, Lunsford isn’t concerned.  “I don’t think I’m near the end of the road,” he told reporters.  “I’m in great shape, and I’ve been healthy as a horse my entire career.  I’m ready to keep going and producing until I’m 40, or longer.”

In Addison, whom they acquired for minor-league blueliner Jackson Creed, the Badgers are hoping to find a defenseman who can provide some help in the offensive end as well.  The Badgers have two blueliners with a solid scoring touch: Banks and Matt Cherner.  They’ve also gotten help from Brody “Bruiser” McCallan, who has a good passing touch.  The rest of their defensive corps, however, has contributed virtually nothing offensively.  So Melchiorre picked up Addison, hoping that he can slot in on the second pairing beside McCallan and provide a bit of a spark.

The 24-year-old Addison has put up solid numbers in the minor-leagues, but has struggled to replicate those at the SHL level.  In 19 games with Dakota this season, he recorded no goals and 7 assists with a -5 rating.  But Melchiorre believes that Addiston can unlock the offensive side of his game with more consistent ice time.

“Victor’s been jerked around a lot in his career,” said Melchiorre.  “He’s been moved up and down pairing, on the ice one day and not the next.  No wonder he can’t find consistency.  What we plan to do is give him a consistent role beside the same partner and consistent minutes, and not panic and bench him if he doesn’t light it up immediately.  I’m confident that with some time and trust, he can thrive.”

That’s music to Addison’s ears.  “All I’ve ever wanted is the chance to prove myself,” he told reporters.  “In my last organization, I felt like I never got that chance.  I’m glad to have a fresh start, away from the chaos.”

Will Lunsford and Addison prove to be the difference-makers that launch Boston into a playoff spot?  Or will they prove to be too little, too late in a packed race?  Melchiorre and the Badgers look forward to finding out.

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.