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 CHL All-Star Rosters

The day after the SHL’s All-Star Game, their minor league will be holding its third annual All-Star contest.  The game will take place at the Aetna Center, home of the Hartford Harpoons. The rosters for the game, along with each player’s current stats, are below.

 

EAST ALL-STARS

Coach: Jeffrey “Swampy” Marsh (Virginia)

 

First Line

LW: Fendrick Scanlan, Cleveland (13 G, 10 A, 23 Pts, 23 Blk, 52 PIM, +4)

D: Morris Starling, Baltimore (10 G, 13 A, 23 Pts, 31 Blk, 10 PIM, -2)

C: Liam Engstrom, Hartford (13 G, 25 A, 38 Pts, 15 Blk, 2 PIM, +22)

D: Brett Stolte, Hartford (12 G, 13 A, 25 Pts, 37 Blk, 39 PIM, +3)

RW: Felix Delorme, Hartford (10 G, 17 A, 27 Pts, 20 Blk, 2 PIM, +22)

 

Second Line

LW: Jarmann Fischer, Halifax (8 G, 14 A, 22 Pts, 14 Blk, 16 PIM, -1)

D: Russ Klemmer, Oshawa (2 G, 22 A, 24 Pts, 63 Blk, 10 PIM, -1)

C: Dwight Flynn, Halifax (16 G, 21 A, 37 Pts, 11 Blk, 8 PIM, +3)

D: Burton Cullidge, Cleveland (1 G, 18 A, 19 Pts, 70 Blk, 19 PIM, +5)

RW: Anders Pedersen, Oshawa (12 G, 16 A, 28 Pts, 11 Blk, 14 PIM, -3)

 

Third Line

LW: Maurice Coutard, Baltimore (11 G, 11 A, 22 Pts, 9 Blk, 12 PIM, -18)

D: Teddy Morrison, Halifax (4 G, 13 A, 17 Pts, 57 Blk, 14 PIM, -2)

C: Ron Yaeckel, Virginia (10 G, 19 A, 29 Pts, 23 Blk, 41 PIM, +10)

D: Axel Borgstrom, Halifax (7 G, 9 A, 16 Pts, 54 Blk, 27 PIM, -9)

RW: Steve Brandon, Cleveland (12 G, 10 A, 22 Pts, 23 Blk, 24 PIM, +4)

 

Goalies

Hector Orinoco, Oshawa (13-8-2, 2.11 GAA, .918 save %)

Eugene Looney, Cleveland (9-12-3, 1.97 GAA, .917 save %)

 

WEST ALL-STARS

Coach: Gilbert McCoyne (Idaho)

 

First Line

LW: Terry Cresson, Idaho (8 G, 22 A, 30 Pts, 13 Blk, 12 PIM, +14)

D: Trevor Lockwood, Omaha (7 G, 20 A, 27 Pts, 36 Blk, 20 PIM, +5)

C: Lloyd “Goofy” Banjax, Utah (16 G, 23 A, 39 Pts, 28 Blk, 20 PIM, +14)

D: Brady Prussian, Idaho (14 G, 12 A, 26 Pts, 40 Blk, 16 PIM, +13)

RW: Britt Cadmium, Idaho (14 G, 15 A, 29 Pts, 21 Blk, 15 PIM, +16)

 

Second Line

LW: Chuck Alley, Utah (8 G, 19 A, 27 Pts, 29 Blk, 6 PIM, +14)

D: George Brinson, Utah (8 G, 20 A, 28 Pts, 26 Blk, 26 PIM, +11)

C: Yegor Nestorov, Milwaukee (16 G, 11 A, 27 Pts, 15 Blk, 8 PIM, -10)

D: Brian Coldivar, Minnesota (15 G, 10 A, 25 Pts, 32 Blk, 18 PIM, -3)

RW: Harris Wondolowski, Utah (16 G, 17 A, 33 Pts, 11 Blk, 14 PIM, +3)

 

Third Line

LW: Rick Crisak, Idaho (5 G, 22 A, 27 Pts, 8 Blk, 32 PIM, +18)

D: Conrad van Rijn, Milwaukee (3 G, 24 A, 27 Pts, 72 Blk, 39 PIM, -5)

C: Nikolai Valkov, Colorado Springs (16 G, 11 A, 27 Pts, 8 Blk, 24 PIM, -15)

D: Laszlo Cierny, Minnesota (5 G, 18 A, 23 Pts, 58 Blk, 36 PIM, -3)

RW: James Clay, Milwaukee (13 G, 15 A, 28 Pts, 16 Blk, 12 PIM, -4)

 

Goalies

Kelvin White, Idaho (14-5-1, 2.07 GAA, .927 save %)

Kostya Arsenyev, Minnesota (9-4-1, 1.92 GAA, .933 save %)

 

CHL Update: Spuds Stop Rhinos in 6 to Claim Title

The Idaho Spuds were an unlikely contender in the CHL.  Last season, playing as the Muncie Squirrels, they finished fourth in their division.  Their rebuilding parent club, the Dakota Jackalopes, called up several of the best prospects from that squad.  The Spuds received a warm reception in their new home, regularly selling out Treasure Valley Arena.  But the idea that they’d finish above .500, much less make the playoffs, seemed far-fetched to most observers.

However, coach Gilbert McCoyne wasn’t interested in what most observers thought.  “I wasn’t about to put any limits on what we could achieve,” McCoyne said.  “I just told my guys, ‘Why not us?’”

McCoyne’s power-of-positive-thinking approach paid dividends.  Idaho not only made the playoffs, they dismissed the heavily-favored division-winning Omaha Ashcats in a stunning sweep.  Then in the Finals, they dethroned the defending champion Virginia Rhinos in six games to win their first-ever Howard Trophy.

“This season has been one wild ride!” said Spuds C Dale Wilcox.  “We never gave up and never stopped believing, and now we’re the champs!”

The series opened in Boise in front of another pair of sellout crowds, and the Spuds gave their fans plenty to cheer about.  In Game 1, fueled by the energy of their fans, a fired-up Idaho team outshot the Rhinos 32-20.  The Spuds capitalized on their power play opportunities, going 3-for-4 in man-advantage situations, and goalie Kelvin White registered a shutout in a 3-0 Idaho win.  In Game 2, the Spuds once again had a huge advantage in shots, outshooting Virginia 43-23, but White wasn’t quite as sharp.  Idaho squandered a 4-2 lead in the third period when Rhinos LW Yuri Laronov and LW Errol Garner scored 90 seconds apart, but RW Britt Cadmium came through with what proved to be the game-winning goal in a 5-4 triumph.

The Rhinos regained their footing a bit in the middle three games, which took place on their ice.  In Game 3, Virginia got a pair of second-period goals from Laronov and D Gustaf Bergstrom, and goalie Quentin Chislic stopped all 30 Idaho shots for a 2-0 win.  In Game 4, Virginia got the early edge, only to see Idaho seize control of the game in the second on the way to a 6-2 blowout that included three third-period goals.  Staring at elimination, the Rhinos pushed back in Game 5, building a 3-0 lead through the first forty minutes.  The Spuds pushed back in the third, putting up another three-goal frame, but Virginia held on for a 5-3 win.  C Trent Harlow scored two goals in a winning effort for the defending champs.

With the action shifting back to Treasure Valley Arena for Game 6, the Spuds were looking for the quick kill, while the Rhinos were looking to prove that they could be competitive away from home.  Idaho controlled the play once again, outshooting Virginia 38-26, but Chislic kept the Rhinos in the game.  LW Van Dyke Browning scored in the opening minute to give Idaho a quick edge, but Rhinos D Gunther Stephens answered less than four minutes later to tie things up.  The Spuds got back in front in the second on a score by D Brett Stolte, and D Georg Ochre made it 3-1 early in the third with a blast from the top of the faceoff circle.  Idaho then endangered their lead with a string of minor penalties, and Bergstrom finally converted with just over five minutes remaining to pull Virginia within one.  The Spuds managed to stay out of the penalty box after that, though, and the Rhinos couldn’t come up with an equalizer in the time remaining.

Ochre, who led all Idaho scorers with 7 points (3 goals, 4 assists), earned the Finals MVP honors.  His teammates mobbed the quiet, rugged defenseman they fondly call “The Ogre.”  As Wilcox quipped, “I can’t wait to hear the Ogre’s acceptance speech, ‘cause it’ll be the first time he’s said more than two words in a row.”

For many of the Spuds, their next challenge will come in the SHL, as they’re called up and tasked with reviving the Jackalopes’ sagging fortunes.  “Making it in the SHL is a different kind of challenge,” admitted Wilcox.  “But we’ve gotten this far by believing in ourselves, so why not keep going?”

CHL Update: St. Pierre Shines in Idaho

Xavier St. Pierre wasn’t supposed to be special.  The 20-year-old goaltender was completely ignored by the NHL, and was selected with the third-to-last pick in this year’s SHL draft.  After an undistinguished career in junior hockey, St. Pierre hardly seemed like a promising prospect.  The goalie-needy Dakota Jackalopes took a low-risk flyer and assigned him to the Idaho Spuds, their new CHL affiliate.  Even there, he had to win a training-camp battle for the backup spot.  The Jackalopes crossed their fingers and hoped for the best.

Xavier St. Pierre

“The best” turned out to be better than anyone imagined.  Through the first half of the season, St. Pierre looks like a potential breakout star.  So far this year, he has recorded a 10-3-1 record with a 2.81 GAA and a .916 save percentage.  And thanks in no small part to his strong play, Idaho sits in playoff position in the West.

“For me, everything is a dream right now,” said St. Pierre.  “I am blessed.”

Spuds coach Gilbert McCoyne says he saw something in St. Pierre, in spite of his mediocre track record.  “He had a hunger; you could tell he’d fought for every opportunity he’d ever had,” said McCoyne.  “He always stayed late in practice.  Anyone who would work with him, he jumped on it.  Some guys on the bubble, you can tell their hustle is a show for the coaches.  But with X, you could tell it’s the only way he knew.”

When McCoyne chose St. Pierre over incumbent backup Guy “Blinky” Laroche, the young netminder stopped by the coach’s office to thank him, adding: “I will be sure you are never sorry for this decision.”

“And he’s definitely made sure of that!” McCoyne added.

Once St. Pierre made the team, his hard-working habits continued.  Most backups relax on the bench during their days off; St. Pierre watched starter Kelvin White and the opposing skaters intently, absorbing whatever he could.  He studied as much film as he could get his hands on.  And he continued to be the last one off the ice at practice.

McCoyne and the coaching staff noticed.  They also noticed that whenever they gave St. Pierre a start, he played extremely well.  McCoyne started giving St. Pierre additional opportunities when he could, and the netminder always performed.

Then, about a month into the season, White went down with an injury, one that would ultimately sideline him for almost three weeks.  It was a golden opportunity for St. Pierre… but the Spuds quickly signed Laroche, their former backup, to a short-term contract.  Was it training camp all over again?

“Coach told me quickly, ‘You are the starter, Guy will be your backup,’” St. Pierre said.  “I was very glad for his faith in me.  I told him I would show he was correct again.”

Facing a starter’s workload, St. Pierre struggled a bit, but continued to play solidly.  “We’ve got a high-powered offensive team, but we’re not much for shot suppression,” said McCoyne.  “That means that none of our goalies have an easy time of it.  But X doesn’t get rattled back there.”

St. Pierre handily outplayed Laroche, but slid right back into the backup role without complaint when White returned.  “Sometimes with backup, you feel like they’re almost rooting for you to get hurt so they can get a shot,” said White.  “But Xav’s been totally supportive all the way.”

Although he has triumphed in the face of long odds, St. Pierre has remained calm and unruffled, like he was supposed to be here all along.  In part, that’s due to a remarkable coincidence.  The netminder hails from a small town in Quebec called Saint-Michel, and he comes from a long line of – believe it or not – potato farmers.

“All through my life, it is potatoes,” said St. Pierre.  “So when I come to a team named ‘Spuds,’ with a potato [logo] on the chest, I know this is my place.”

The fans in Boise have embraced him, chanting “X-S-P! X-S-P!” after each of his acrobatic saves.  “I think he’s probably the most popular guy on the team,” quipped White.

Of course, one good half-season does not a career make.  St. Pierre has a long way to go before he has a shot to make the SHL, much less to succeed there.  But McCoyne warns everyone not to bet against the young netminder: “If you can work your way into the big time, this is the kid who can do it.  I expect you’ll be hearing more about him down the line.”