- On Monday, the New York Night demoted RW Harris Wondolowski to their CHL affiliate in Utah and called up F Cary Estabrook from Utah.
- On Saturday, the Hershey Bliss‘ farm team in Milwaukee activated LW Karl Gjovik from the injured list. The 21-year-old Gjovik missed almost three weeks with a lingering lower-body injury. In order to make room for Gjovik on the roster, the team released D Alec Schwartz. The 22-year-old blueliner appeared in 22 games for Milwaukee, failing to record a point and recording a -14 rating.
- Also on Saturday, the Dakota Jackalopes sent C Jacob Cunniff down to their affiliate in Idaho, and promoted LW Rick Crisak from Idaho. The Jackalopes had called up Cunniff before the All-Star break to fill in for the injured Tanner Brooks; since Brooks’ return, he had mostly been a healthy scratch. In 11 games for Dakota, Cunniff recorded an assist and a -5 rating. The 22-year-old Crisak is Idaho’s leading scorer, with 47 points (9 goals, 38 assists).
- In another Saturday move, the Kansas City Smoke called up RW Adriaen van der Veen from their farm club in Omaha and demoted F Louis LaPlante to Omaha. Van der Veen, who split last season between Kansas City and Omaha, is the affiliate’s scoring leader with 52 points (17 goals, 35 assists). As for LaPlante, the veteran winger has played sparingly for the Smoke this season, with 6 points (2 goals, 4 assists) in 17 games.
- On Monday, the Kansas City Smoke‘s CHL affiliate in Omaha activated D Lowell Sharkey from the injured list. Sharkey, who is a highly-regarded prospect in the Kansas City organization, missed five weeks with a lower-body injury. In order to make room for Sharkey on the roster, the team released D Kjell Hanson. The 24-year-old Hanson appeared in 15 games for Omaha, recording 2 assists and a -4 rating.
- On Friday, the Dakota Jackalopes placed C Tanner Brooks on the injured list. The 23-year-old Brooks suffered an upper-body injury during Thursday’s 4-1 win over Quebec, and is expected to miss at least three weeks. To fill in during Brooks’ absence, the Jackalopes promoted C Jacob Cunniff from their CHL affiliate in Idaho. Cunniff is Idaho’s leading scorer, with 36 points (12 goals, 24 assists) so far on the season.
- Also on Friday, the Hershey Bliss activated LW Russell Nahorniak from the injured list. Nahorniak missed five weeks with a lower-body injury. In order to accommodate Nahorniak’s return, the Bliss sent LW Sergei Tarisov back to their affiliate in Milwaukee. Tarisov appeared in 13 games during Nahorniak’s absence, recording 3 goals and a +3 rating. To make room for Tarisov on Milwaukee’s roster, the team released F Jerry Casenovia.
- In one more Friday move, the Saskatchewan Shockers placed D Chris “Lightning” Oflyng on the injured list. Oflyng had to be helped off the ice after being slammed head-first into the boards on Thursday, and is expected to miss up to six weeks. The loss is devastating to the surging Shockers, as Oflyng led the team in points with 30 (8 goals, 22 assists). To fill Oflyng’s roster spot, Saskatchewan called up D Pierre Chappelle from their CHL affiliate in Virginia. The 31-year-old Chappelle was tied for the Virginia team lead in goals (with 15) and points (with 29).
- On Saturday, the Hamilton Pistols placed C Marco Venezio on the injured list. Venezio suffered a lower-body injury during Saturday’s game against Saskatchewan, and is expected to miss three to four weeks. Venezio has been a stalwart on Hamilton’s second line, putting up 22 points (9 goals, 13 assists) on the season. To fill Venezio’s spot on the roster, Hamilton called up C Hilliard Macy from their affiliate in Oshawa. It’s the second SHL stint for the 20-year-old Macy, who appeared in 5 games for Hamilton earlier in the season. The Pistols also signed F Bobby Warner to a minor-league contract.
- Also on Saturday, the Shockers placed C Cyril Perignon on the injured list. Perignon suffered a lower-body injury against Hamilton on Saturday; he is expected to miss at least a month. Perignon has recorded 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists) and a +1 rating on the season for Saskatchewan. To replace Perignon, the Shockers called up C Trent Harlow from Virginia. At the time of his callup, Harlow led the Rhinos with 30 points.
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.”
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.”