CHL Update: Can Culp Win Goals Title?

Ask the typical CHL fan for the first word that comes to mind when he or she thinks of Utah Owls C Foster Culp, that word would probably be something like “crazy” or “goofy.”  Culp has a long history of off-kilter behavior, a history that has earned him the nickname “Bananas Foster.”  The last time Culp’s name was in the news, it was for taking a pre-game skate in Cleveland wearing a parka and a miner’s lamp.

One word that’s rarely been associated with Culp is “leader.” And yet, if the season were to end today, the goofball widely known as “Bananas Foster” would win the CHL goal-scoring title.

Foster Culp

“I can’t explain it either,” said Culp.  “I think we must have slipped into an alternate timeline or something.”

Arguably, Culp is being too modest.  Last season with Colorado Springs, Culp scored 29 goals, two less than the league lead.  Last year’s co-leaders, Idaho’s Brady Prussian and Oshawa’s Elvis Bodett, are both currently playing the SHL.  And Culp seems to have taken his game up a notch this season; he’s already scored 25 goals with a quarter of the season left to go. Culp is two ahead of his closest competitor, Halifax Atlantics LW Jarmann Fischer.  Third place currently belongs to RW Harris Wondolowski, who was Culp’s Utah teammate until he was called up to the New York Night last week.  (It comes as little surprise that Utah currently leads the CHL in goals with 158.)

Still, the idea of Culp actually being the CHL’s leading scorer seems to amuse or alarm many of his teammates.  “I’m pretty sure that Culper leading the league in goals is one of the signs of the apocalypse,” said Owls RW Sylvester Catarino.  “If I see any dudes on horseback, I’m going to run.  That’s all I’m saying.”

Utah coach Wiley Kiyotie, on the other hand, thinks that Culp deserves more credit for his performance.  “Honestly, Foster’s got a lot of natural talent,” said Kiyotie.  “He’s fearless about getting to the net, and he knows what to do once he gets there.  From an offensive standpoint, he’s a really capable player.  Everyone tends to forget about that because he acts like a clown.  But he’s not just a clown; he’s also a good hockey player.”

If Culp does pull off the improbable, does he have a celebration in mind?  “Nothing too over the top,” Culp told reporters.  “Just me, my teammates, a couple hundred girls in bikinis with my name on them, and a thousand bottles of champagne.  You know, pretty low-key.”

Might the Night look at calling Culp up if he continues to produce at this rate?  GM Jay McKay wouldn’t say for certain, but he did say that “Foster’s performance is definitely getting attention here in the front office.  If he can manage not to get arrested or burn the locker room down in the meantime, then yeah, I’d say we’ll be having a conversation.”

Night Fire Coach Foster

Over the last three-plus seasons, New York Night coach Nick Foster has become famous and infamous around the SHL for his acid-tongued quips and his enthusiastic attempts to stir up rivalries, especially with the Hamilton Pistols.  More quietly, Foster also transformed the Night’s toxic culture and lifted the team from a punchline to a borderline contender.

He couldn’t quite get them over the hump, however.  And this week Foster was fired as coach of the Night, arguably for failing to back up his boasts and jabs with a title or even a playoff berth.

“This was a tough call for us, because I really like Nick and appreciate all he’s done for the organization,” said Night GM Jay McKay.  “I don’t want to lose sight of that.  But we came to the conclusion that a different voice and a different direction is what we need to get to the next level.”

Nick Foster

Foster departs with a record of 105-114-6.  When he first arrived in New York in 2017, he inherited a feuding, dysfunctional locker room, with star players openly criticizing then-coach Preston Rivers and even leaving the team or refusing to take the ice.  Foster quickly worked to instill discipline in the team, encouraging a greater focus on two-way play, physicality, and accountability, benching or trading players who didn’t want to buy in.

Once he had managed to mold the team in his image, Foster turned his attention outward.  He embraced the role of heel, encouraging his team to lean into the swaggering bad-boy image.  He sprinkled his press conferences with insults aimed at opposing teams and players.  He even mocked Dakota’s famed Corn Palace.  Most famously, he stoked New York’s rivalry with Hamilton, turning it into the fiercest feud in the league.

Foster’s approach earned him a lot of enemies around the league, but it proved popular both with his players and with Night fans.  During each of the last two seasons, the Night finished above .500, the first winning campaigns in franchise history.

But New York never made the postseason, and they’d shown some signs of stagnation or even regression recently.  With aging owner Marvin Kingman reportedly desperate for a Vandy, there was growing concern about whether Foster had taken the team as far as he could, and about whether his press-conference remarks were serving to fire up opponents more than the Night.

“This isn’t just about Nick,” said McKay of the firing.  “Ultimately, this is a challenge to all of us. We need to step up our game and reach the next level.  Mr. Kingman expects a great deal out of this team, and it’s on us to deliver.”

“Live by the sword, die by the sword,” said Foster.  “I know lots of people around the league have been longing for the day I got the ax, so today’s your day!  Live it up.  The bastards won this round, but this team isn’t done, and I’m not either.  Enjoy the peace and quiet for now, but remember that I’ll be back.  You’re not getting rid of me that easy!”

Assistant coach Biff Lombardi was named the interim head coach, but the team is not expected to retain him long-term.  The team is reportedly considering former Washington Galaxy coach Rodney Reagle and Harvey Williams of the minor-league Oshawa Drive as possible replacements.

Night Re-Acquire Winger Petronov

According to New York Night GM Jay McKay, letting LW Misha Petronov leave in free agency was his biggest mistake.  Petronov spent three seasons in New York, but after a mildly disappointing 2019 season, the Night allowed him to walk away and sign a 2-year, $2 million contract with the Michigan Gray Wolves.  But Petronov rebounded toward his career norms in Michigan, while New York has badly missed his production on the wing.  So McKay reversed his mistake on Wednesday, re-acquiring Petronov from the Wolves, along with F Cary Estabrook and D Brandon Arrowood, in exchange for LW Flynn Danner, F Henry Constantine, and D Anson Brank.

Misha Petronov

‘We knew we wanted some help on the second line,” said McKay.  “And we talked about a number of guys, but in the end I kept coming back to Misha.  He’s a guy we know and he’s a good fit for our team, so why not bring him back?  Then it was just a matter of making the salaries work.”

In 42 games with the Wolves, Petronov put up 31 points (9 goals, 22 assists) and a team-leading +12 rating.  He has generally been less involved on the defensive end and along the boards, which made him a somewhat awkward fit in Michigan’s style of play, but suits New York’s run-and-gun approach perfectly.

McKay said that the winger will slot right back into his old slot on the second line, beside C Rod Remington and RW Ivan “Trainwreck” Trujwirnek.  “I am glad to be back with my old friends,” said Petronov. “It will be just like my former times again.”

Along with Petronov, the Night acquired a couple young players with potential upside.  The 25-year-old Estabrook was the first player signed by the Boston Badgers.  He has struggled to convert on his potential in the SHL, due both to the lingering effects of a knee injury he suffered in college and his struggles with alcohol and conditioning.  He signed with Michigan in the offseason, and clashed with then-coach Ron Wright virtually from the beginning.  He appeared in only 10 games with the Wolves, failing to record a point, and then he was banished to the minors.  McKay said that Estabrook would be assigned to New York’s farm team in Utah initially, but he would be called up before the end of the season.

“We believe that Cary has a lot to offer this club,” McKay told reporters, “And I’m a big believer in second chances, and Cary deserves one.”

Arrowood, meanwhile, is a 24-year-old offensive-minded defenseman.  He has shown a consistent scoring touch in the minors, but his deficiencies on the defensive end have prevented him from earning a call-up to the majors.

In exchange, New York gave up a pair of prospects that should aid the Wolves as they move into a rebuilding phase.  Danner is a 24-year-old winger who has produced regular 50-point seasons in the minors.  He made his SHL debut this season and produced promising results, with 13 points (7 goals, 6 assists) and a +6 rating in 28 games with New York.  He showed some upside on defense as well, with 23 blocks.

“Flynn checks a lot of the boxes we’re looking for,” said Michigan GM Tim Carrier.  “He’s a strong 200-foot skater, he can create his own shot, and he puts in good effort on defense.”

Brank, meanwhile, is a 20-year-old blueliner who was drafted by the Night two years ago.  He lost a position battle in training camp, but he produced strong numbers in Utah, putting up 22 points (5 goals, 17 assists) in 41 games.

Michigan also adds Constantine, a veteran on an expiring contract who can play any forward position. He should be able to fill in an provide some short-term offensive help for the Wolves.

While the Wolves are looking to the long term, the Night are focused on the present.  McKay came up with a typically creative trade to bolster their offense.  Given the crowded playoff picture in the East, however, the GM will need to hope that neither Danner nor Brank gives him a reason to regret this deal down the road.

2020 Uni Changes Feature New KC Logo and New Alts for Night, Shockers

Earlier this week, the Portland Bluebacks revealed the uniforms for their debut season after relocating from Seattle.  But the Bluebacks aren’t the only team that will be donning new togs in 2020.  Several other SHL teams are modifying their look, in ways both small and large.

The biggest changes came from the Kansas City Smoke, who also rolled out a new logo this season. When the Smoke took the ice for their debut season, their logo was mocked by KC ‘cue heads for omitting a key element: smoke.  “One of the consistent pieces of feedback we got on the logo was that it was about grilling, not smoking,” said team president Eddie Whitmore.  “I’d point out that plenty of people smoke ‘cue in their backyard kettle grill, but what we kept hearing was that it wasn’t real ‘cue.  So we decided to go a different direction.”

The Smoke drew up a new logo that features wisps of smoke, and they put the logo front and center on their uniforms, replacing the old “SMOKE” wordmark that looked like it was being licked by flames.

In addition to that change, they updated their jersey templates with a more modern look that replaces the previous diagonal-stripe-based motif.  The team kept its existing color scheme of gray, black, and burnt red.

“We figured: as long as we’re changing the logo, why not go ahead and freshen it all up?” Whitmore said.  “This gives us a uniform that can stand the test of time, that our fans can wear with pride as we build toward our goal of winning the Vandy.”

The Smoke and the Bluebacks are the only teams making wholesale uniform changes for the coming season, but two other teams are debuting eye-catching alternate uniforms.

The New York Night, aiming to remain on trend, ditched their previous silver alternates for a dramatic gradient look that changes from purple to black.

“Gradients are really hot right now,” said new Night GM Jay McKay.  “This gives us a look that’s flashy but still classy, and full of energy, just like the Big Apple, the city that never sleeps!”

Star RW Rick “The Stick” Nelson was one of the players who modeled the new sweater at the unveiling, and he was audibly impressed.  “Damn,” he was heard to exclaim, “these threads look almost as fine as I do!”

McKay predicted that the new jerseys would become the top sellers in the SHL.  After the unveiling, at least, his words seemed prophetic: local sporting goods stores indicated that the jerseys were flying off the shelves.

The Saskatchewan Shockers, meanwhile, did make changes to their home and road jerseys, simplifying the striping pattern on the socks and sleeves.  But that change was not what had people talking after Saskatchewan rolled out its new look.  Rather, it was the new third jersey the left mouths agape.

For the past couple of years, the Shockers have sported an electric-blue third jersey that they generally wore on Sundays and holidays.  It was eye-catching, but in the same template as their home and road jersey.  Their new third jersey, however, doesn’t match their usual template – or any other, for that matter.

The new jersey is half yellow, half blue, split diagonally with a white lightning bolt.  Immediate reactions were mixed: some fans on social media dubbed it the “Franken-jersey” while others noted its resemblance to the Grateful Dead’s logo.

According to Shockers owner Heinz Doofenshmirtz, the polarizing look was inspired by some of the NHL’s uniform designs from the ‘90s.  “In those days, it was all about trying new stuff and moving the merch.  Yeah, some people think those styles were a complete disaster, but nobody ever forgets them!  And they’re not going to forget us either!”

Saskatchewan’s players regarded the new uniforms a bit warily.  “It’s going to take some getting used to,” said LW Troy Chamberlain.  “It’s definitely different than what other teams are wearing.”

“We’re not going to be able to sneak up on anyone in these,” quipped C Lars Karlsson.

Other smaller changes for 2020 include:

  • Last year, the Michigan Gray Wolves switched from using the “Gray Wolves” wordmark to the wolf-and-moon logo as its primary home jersey. This season, the Wolves are making the same change to their road jerseys. “We wanted to unify our look,” said GM Tim Carrier.  Also, the numbers on the back of the jersey have changed from blue to red.
  • The Washington Galaxy have updated their logo, but their uniforms will remain the same as last year.