- On Monday, the Quebec Tigres activated D Ward Jones from the disabled list. Jones had missed more than a month with an upper-body that he suffered before the All-Star break. To make room for Jones on the active roster, the Tigres reassigned D Serge Rimbaud to their farm team in Maine. The 18-year-old Rimbaud appeared in 13 games with Quebec, recording 8 assists and a +1 rating.
- Also on Monday, the Hamilton Pistols placed goaltender Lasse Koskinen on the disabled list. Koskinen suffered an upper-body injury during Sunday’s 7-4 win over New York. He is expected to miss 2 to 3 weeks, a serious blow for a Pistols team that is trying to snatch a playoff spot in the East. To replace Koskinen, the Pistols called up Hector Orinoco from their affiliate in Oshawa. The 23-year-old Orinoco has gone 13-11-0 with a 2.69 GAA and a .902 save percentage with Oshawa this season.
- On Tuesday, the Tigres placed LW Stellan Fisker on the disabled list. Fisker suffered an upper-body injury during the Tigres’ 3-0 win over Hershey. He is expected to miss 3 to 4 weeks. To replace Fisker on the roster, the Tigres called up LW Carl Bleyer from their farm team in Maine. Bleyer has put up 26 points (8 goals, 18 assists) with the Moose on the year.
- Wednesday was the trading deadline. The following trades were consummated at the deadline:
- The New York Night traded RW Mickey Simpson, D Andy Ruger, and a 3rd-round draft pick to the Washington Galaxy for RW Nori Takoyaki. (More details here.) After making the trade, the Night promoted D Craig Werner from their farm team in Utah and signed D Sheldon Harville to a minor-league contract.
- The Galaxy traded Ruger to the Kansas City Smoke in exchange for a 3rd-round pick.
- The Michigan Gray Wolves traded RW Cleo Rodgers, G Gus Parrish, and a 2nd-round pick to the Smoke in exchange for LW Kevin Starkey and D Scott Hexton. (More details here.) After the trade, Kansas City called up Parrish and LW Veikko Sikanen from their CHL affiliate in Omaha, and demoted G Jim Fleetwood to Omaha. They also released G Toby Kemper. Meanwhile, Michigan released D Igor Shovshenkov, demoted F Yann Eberlein to their affiliate in Cleveland, and signed Kemper to a minor-league deal.
- The Saskatchewan Shockers traded C Tanner Brooks to the Dakota Jackalopes in exchange for D Rusty Anderson. (More details here.) After the trade, the Shockers demoted D Valeri Nistrumov to their farm team in Virginia. They also released D Knute Skoeglin and signed F Marvin Cascio to a minor-league deal.
- The Hamilton Pistols traded C Pat Collistone, D Buster Kratz, and a 1st-round pick to the Galaxy in exchange for C Eddie Costello. (More details here.) After the trade, the Pistols called up D Russ Klemmer from their CHL affiliate in Oshawa, and demoted RW Michael Jennings to Oshawa. They also signed D Gresham Sourwine to a minor-league contract. The Galaxy demoted Kratz to their affiliate in Baltimore and promoted C Tucker Barnhill from Baltimore. They also released D Sheldon Harville.
- The Quebec Tigres traded D Kirby Hanlon, C Jacob Cunniff, and a 1st-round pick to the Jackalopes in exchange for D Matt Cherner. (More details here.) After the trade, Dakota released RW Omar Zdurchek; Quebec then signed him to a minor-league deal.
- Finally, the Seattle Sailors traded D Serkan Mratic to the Galaxy for D Stan Gallagher. (More details here.)
- On Saturday, the Jackalopes activated D Rodney Black from the injured list. Black, who was sidelined in only his second SHL game, missed two and a half weeks with an upper-body injury. Since Dakota was one player short of the roster limit, they did not make a corresponding move.
- Also on Saturday, the Hershey Bliss placed LW Lance Sweet on long-term injured reserve. Sweet was carried off the ice on a stretcher after being crunched into the boards late in the second period during Saturday’s 6-3 win over Saskatchewan. Sweet underwent surgery on his right leg, and is expected to be out for the rest of the season. To fill Sweet’s roster spot, Hershey called up D Seth Dowd from their CHL affiliate in Milwaukee. The 33-year-old Dowd, who last played in the SHL in 2016, recorded 27 points with Milwaukee this season.
The Michigan Gray Wolves have never been ones for the trade market. While other contenders have frequently used the trade deadline as a chance to patch weaknesses before the stretch run, the Wolves have always passed. In some cases, this has been because they were too far ahead to be caught. But it also seemed to be a matter of philosophy; Michigan tended to trust their own players, even when they struggled, rather than looking to add outsiders.
“The guys in this locker room have been around from the beginning,” said Wolves coach Ron Wright in the run-up to this year’s deadline. “They’ve made the sacrifices and bought in to what we’re trying to do. I’m happy with what we have.”
But with Michigan clinging to a razor-thin lead in the West and with three other teams hot on their heels, GM Tim Carrier decided to break with tradition and make a deal. The Wolves picked up LW Kelvin Starkey and D Scott Hexton from the Kansas City Smoke in exchange for minor-league winger Cleo Rodgers, goalie Gus Parrish, and a 2nd-round draft pick.
“This is obviously not our usual approach at the deadline,” said Carrier. “And this is not in any way a commentary on the players on our current rosters. But with the race as tight as it is, I’d be remiss if I wasn’t looking for ways to improve our team. And this is a deal that makes us better now and in the future.”
While Michigan’s success has always been built on defense and goaltending, their punchless offense and aging roster have been growing concerns. As of the deadline, the Wolves were tied with Boston for dead last in the league with only 88 goals. And of their 15 regular starting skaters, eight of them are over age 30.
Starkey helps the Wolves address both concerns. The winger has been a reliable and steady scorer for Kansas City, with 23 points (9 goals, 14 assists) so far on the season. The 26-year-old is also signed for this year and next at a very reasonable $200,000 annual salary, another plus for the cap-strapped Wolves.
“This is a pretty cool opportunity for me,” said Starkey. “Knowing that a strong team like Michigan was interested in me… that’s a real boost. I can’t wait to get over there!”
The 28-year-old Hexton has struggled with the Smoke this season, recording a lone assist in 16 games as he has shuttled between Kansas City and their Omaha farm club. But he is a veteran with a reliable track record, and he was reportedly highly disenchanted with a Smoke team that he considered directionless and unprofessional. According to team sources, he had asked to be dealt if the opportunity presented itself.
With the Wolves, he’ll replace Igor Shovshenkov, a depth defender who was another member of the over-30 club. To facilitate the trade, the Smoke agreed to retain $150,000 of Hexton’s salary.
For the Smoke, the 21-year-old Rodgers provides the team with a much-needed scoring prospect. He had been considered a likely replacement for one of Michigan’s aging wingers, but despite a solid season with the Wolves’ affiliate in Cleveland (14 goals, 20 assists), his star seemed to have dimmed a bit within the organization. He will report to the Smoke’s farm club in Omaha, but is considered a strong shot to make the big-league roster next season.
The 29-year-old Parrish, meanwhile, will reportedly head straight to Kansas City to aid the Smoke’s woes in the crease. Kansas City is last in the league in GAA (4.13) and save percentage (.880). Parrish was having an exceptional season in Cleveland (8-9-4, 1.97 GAA, .912 save percentage), but was blocked in Michigan by the exceptional tandem of Dirk Lundquist and Art Cowan.
So after his “happy with what we have” comment a couple days earlier, how does Wright feel about the new additions? “I’m all for it,” the coach said. “What, you thought they were going to make this deal without asking me?”
The SHL’s trading deadline occurred this week, which meant that the league’s contenders were all looking for ways to shore up their squads for that playoff push down the stretch. By all accounts, no team was more active in seeking upgrades than the Hershey Bliss. Although the Bliss spent most of the first half out front in the East, the Washington Galaxy have caught fire the last couple of weeks, winning 9 of their last 10 and passing Hershey for first place.
Eager to avoid falling behind Washington, Hershey GM Scott Lawrence pursued numerous options for strengthening his roster. In the end, he made a single deal, acquiring LW Vonnie McLearen and D Gustaf Bergstrom from the Dakota Jackalopes in exchange for F Kelvin Starkey, minor-league D Alex Angelos, and a 2nd-round draft pick.
In McLearen, the Bliss add a rising star who will give their already-solid offense a boost. The 23-year-old winger was one of Dakota’s top scorers, putting up 12 goals and 20 assists on the season. Over the last couple of seasons, McLearen has risen from a lightly-used reserve to become a key offensive contributor. He has a reputation as a hard worker and a strong two-way player.
“Honestly, I was a little surprised to discover that Vonnie McLearen was available,” said Lawrence. “Great young guys like that are usually tough to come by. He’s a tremendous pickup for us. We’re really excited about the energy and spark he’s going to bring to our team.”
The Bliss also added a veteran grinder in Bergstrom. The 30-year-old blueliner will be the seventh defenseman for Hershey, replacing rookie Kermit Kaufman. He was a longtime starter for the Jackalopes before being demoted to reserve duty this year. He appeared in only 6 games with Dakota in the 2017 season, recording an assist.
“When you’re playing those tough games down the stretch and in the Finals, you could always use a little extra grit,” said Lawrence. “Bergstrom’s an old-fashioned banger, the kind of guy who isn’t afraid to scrap and does the dirty work. He gives us that quality depth, a guy we can count on when we need him.”
While the acquisition was welcomed by Bliss fans, the deal got a chilly reception in Dakota. McLearen has long been a favorite among Jackalopes rooters, who have enjoyed watching him blossom into a top-notch starter. The fans were heartbroken to see McLearen dealt, and they bombarded the front office with angry tweets and emails.
“This was a tough deal to make,” said Jackalopes GM Paul Mindegaard. “Everyone around here loves Vonnie. Heck, I love Vonnie, and I hated to give him up. But sometimes you have to make tough deals in this business.”
According to team sources, the trade was financially motivated. The small-market Jackalopes spent freely this season in hopes of building a contender. Instead, the team has languished around the .500 mark, well behind Anchorage and Michigan. McLearen will be a free agent this offseason and is likely to command a significant raise. The strapped-for-cash Jackalopes are unlikely to be able to re-sign the young winger, and they wanted to get a return for him rather than see him walk away for nothing.
In exchange for McLearen, the Jackalopes received a pair of young prospects. The 24-year-old Starkey was signed by Hershey before last season, and displayed considerable promise. He had worked his way into a starting role for the Bliss prior to the trade. In 11 games with Hershey, Starkey scored 8 points (1 goal and 7 assists).
“We’re hoping that we got ourselves the next Vonnie McLearen in this deal,” said Mindegaard. “Kelvin is a guy who has worked his way up the hard way, and we think he’s got considerable room to grow with some additional playing time.”
The 20-year-old Angelos is an offensive-minded defenseman who flashed considerable promise with Hershey’s minor-league affiliate in Albuquerque. With the Screaming Eagles, Angelos put up 34 points (14 goals, 20 assists) in 44 games.
“Alex Angelos is a guy who fits well with our team concept,” said Mindegaard. “He’s a fast skater, and he’s shown that he can contribute in a high-tempo environment. He’s also a strong shooter and he has a great passing touch. He’s a player who has the potential to have a long and successful career here.”
While the Jackalopes are gearing up to get younger, the Bliss are hoping that the acquisition of McLearen will put them over the top. Each of the last two seasons, Hershey has come up short against the Galaxy, and the team and their fans are growing impatient for a shot at the title. “Everyone in this organization is hungry for a championship,” said Lawrence. “We believe that this trade puts us in position to make that run to the title.”