Bluebacks Make Portland Debut with Win

On Sunday, the Portland Bluebacks made their eagerly-awaited debut at Willamette River Arena.  The former Seattle Sailors have spent the last several months in their new hometown, meeting the fans and building up excitement for hockey in the Rose City. Since the team held their uniform unveiling at the beginning of December, anticipation has reached a fever pitch.

“It feels like we’re a part of the city already,” said RW Vince Mango.  “But until we actually hit the ice, it’s not going to feel 100% real.”

The matchup for the Bluebacks’ first game was a favorable one, as they faced the rebuilding Dakota Jackalopes.  A sellout crowd came hungry for victory.  And the Bluebacks were able to send their fans home happy, dispatching the Jackalopes by a 3-2 score.

Harold Engellund

“We really wanted to get this first one at home,” said Bluebacks coach Harold Engellund.  “It was a little closer than we wanted, but we’ll take it.”

It took all of 33 seconds for Portland to get on the board for the first time.  Bluebacks D Stan Gallagher picked off a Dakota pass in the neutral zone and fed RW Philippe Durien, who ripped a shot past the blocker of Jackalopes goalie Lorne Mollenkamp.  The team’s goal song, “Smoke It” by the Dandy Warhols, blared as the fans roared their approval.

Less than four minutes later, the Bluebacks got their first power play, as Jackalopes D Kirby Hanlon was sent off for elbowing.  On the ensuing power play, Mango deked the defense by faking a slapper, then fed D Benny Lambert, who found the back of the net, triggering another round of the Dandy Warhols.

Dakota cut the margin in half before the opening period ended, however, and they refused to let the Bluebacks put the game away.  Although Portland dominated the puck, outshooting Dakota 50-25, Mollenkamp made a number of dazzling saves to keep his team from falling too far behind.  Things got a bit too close for comfort at the end, when RW Elliott Pepper took a double-minor with two and a half minutes remaining and the Bluebacks up by only a single goal.  But the penalty kill came through, and the home team came away with the victory.

“The energy in the arena was electric,” said Mango, who had an assist in the game.  “It was one big party.  The fans were really vibing with us, and it was awesome.  I hope we can keep that energy for the rest of the year.”

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Jackalopes Slice Payroll Again, Deal Cherner, Anderson

One of the ongoing storylines in the SHL over the last couple of seasons has been the Dakota Jackalopes’ financial stability.  The Jackalopes have steadily pared payroll over the last couple of seasons, to the point that observers around the league have wondered whether the team will survive.  Those rumors bubbled up early this season when Dakota dealt netminder Dennis Wampler a few weeks after signing him to a sizable free-agent deal.  They swirled again a couple weeks later when goalie Christien Adamsson ripped the team as “cheap” in a postgame rant.

With the trading deadline arriving this week, the Jackalopes were expected to consider trades that would reduce their payroll even further.  They did just that, trading both of their top-pairing defenseman north of the border: Matt Cherner was dealt to the Quebec Tigres, while Rusty Anderson was sent to the surging Saskatchewan Shockers.

Predictably, the trades set off another round of rumors that the Jackalopes are in financial trouble.  GM Paul Mindegaard stoutly rebuffed those rumors while announcing the deals to the press.  “Neither of these was a dump deal,” said Mindegaard.  “These are hockey trades, and we think they’re going to make us stronger in the long run.”

Mindegaard noted that both Cherner and Anderson will be free agents in this offseason, and that Dakota had concluded that they couldn’t resign either player.  “We’ve been in talks with Matt’s and Rusty’s agents for a while now, but we’ve recognized there isn’t a fit there,” the Dakota GM stated.  “And we’re not competing for a playoff spot, so we made the difficult decision to make these trades and get some value back.”

The trade of Cherner was particularly hard on both the player and the fans.  The defenseman has been with Dakota since the SHL’s inception, and he has developed over time into one of the league’s top two-way defensemen.  Cherner has also been vocal about his desire to stay with the Jackalopes.  When news of the deal came down, he broke down in front of reporters.

“I’ve really been hoping there was a way that this wouldn’t happen,” Cherner said.  “Playing for this team in front of these fans has been a real joy.  This has become my home.  I guess I’ve seen the writing on the wall for a while, but now that it’s here, I just – just can’t… sorry, I have to stop now.”

In exchange for Cherner, the Tigres sent D Kirby Hanlon, C Jacob Cunniff, and their first-round pick to Dakota.  The 21-year-old Hanlon is having a solid rookie season with Quebec, putting up 16 points (3 goals, 13 assists).  Cunniff, also 21, has been a steady contributor with Quebec’s CHL affiliate (12 goals, 20 assists on the season), and he addresses a position of need for the Jackalopes, who are very weak in the middle.

“Matt’s one of the best defensemen in the league, and we weren’t going to let him go for cheap,” said Mindegaard.  “We got two very promising young guys – a quality blueliner and a top prospect center – plus a first.  I’ll stand behind that.”

Quebec, meanwhile, views Cherner as just the shot in the arm they need to make up ground in the East playoff race.  “Our identity is built around defense first,” said Tigres GM Pete Gondret.  “We’ve struggled a bit with keeping guys healthy, but we’ve added the best player available at the deadline.  I can’t wait to see what he achieves with us.”

To acquire Anderson, the Shockers parted with C Tanner Brooks.  The 22-year-old appeared in the CHL All-Star game; he’s known as strong on defense, and his offensive game has blossomed this season.  He’s widely regarded as the best center who hadn’t yet made the SHL.

“Tanner is a player we’ve coveted for a long time,” said Mindegaard.  “Between him and Jake Cunniff, we’ve gotten a lot stronger in our weakest area.  We’ve taken a step back on the blueline, but we have a lot of defensive prospects in the pipeline.”

This is the first time Saskatchewan has been a buyer at the deadline, and GM Cooper Matthews appreciates his haul.  “Rusty Anderson fits right in with our blueline corps, and strengthens us in an area where we’re already strong,” Matthews told reporters.  “It was a tough decision to part with Tanner, and I know I probably made [the Jackalopes] crazy going back and forth on that.  But we see an opportunity here, and we’re going for it.”

It must be noted that with the deals, the Jackalopes shaved about $2 million off of a payroll that was already second-lowest in the league.  Mindegaard stressed that he plans to work quickly to sign extensions with their newly-acquired players, as well as key members of their existing team.  “

“We’re not going broke, folks,” said the Dakota GM.  “Sorry to disappoint you, but it’s fake news.”

Tigres Topple Night in Wild 7-5 Contest

There are perhaps no SHL teams more diametrically opposed in style than the New York Night and the Quebec Tigres.  The Night are well known around the league both for the brash boasts and insults of coach Nick Foster and for their fast-paced, high-flying, high-scoring brand of hockey.  The Tigres, on the other hand, are renowned for their deliberate, hard-hitting, trapping approach to the game; they also prefer to send messages on the ice, rather than in the press.  It’s no surprise that the two teams don’t like each other much, and that their games tend to be fiercely contested.  When both teams are in close contention for a playoff spot, as they are now, their matchups gain an extra layer of excitement.

“Us and New York, it’s like the old saying about the irresistible force vs. the immovable object,” said Tigres LW Walt Camernitz.  “It’s a battle to dictate the game.  Whoever controls the tempo usually wins.”

That’s what made Thursday’s game at Neon Sky Center so unusual and thrilling.  In general, the contest – and the delightfully bonkers third period in particular – was played at New York’s preferred pace.  But it was Quebec that emerged victorious, by an eyebrow-raising 7-5 score.  The win only further tightened the East’s tense playoff chase, in which the top four teams are separated by a mere three points.

“I can’t even be mad we lost this one, because it was just so much fun to watch,” said Foster.

The game’s opening period set the tone for what was to come, as the teams combined for 33 shots (18 of them by the Night).  New York got on the board first 5:56 into the game, when C Rod Remington went short-side to beat Tigres netminder Riki Tiktuunen.  A mere eight seconds later, Quebec struck back with a goal by RW Stephane Mirac.  It took only 51 more seconds for the Tigres to take the lead, courtesy of a top-shelf blast off the stick of Camernitz.

Even though they trailed after the first, the Night remained confident, since the game was being played on their terms.  That confidence took a hit in the second period, as the Tigres scored twice exactly two minutes apart to make it a 4-1 game.  Foster admitted that he thought of removing goalie Jesse Clarkson at that point, but he elected not to.  Instead, in the locker room between periods, the coach urged his team to keep hope alive.

“Remember, you are the most dangerous scoring machine this league has ever seen,” Foster told his players.  “You think a little three-goal deficit can stop a great team like this?  Not a chance.  Let’s go out and show them who we are!”

New York proceeded to go out and do exactly that.  As Foster predicted, they scored four goals in the third period, enough to erase that deficit.  However, they also gave up three, eliminating any shot at a win.

Most of the period’s action was front-loaded, occurring in a frenetic three minutes that Camernitz described as “total insanity.  I’ve never seen that much scoring in a short time, not even playing shinny as a kid.”

Remington kicked off the craziness 47 seconds into the period, jamming home a rebound off a shot by D Dominic Sanchez.  That cut the Night’s deficit to two and brought the crowd to its feet.  It felt like a momentum-shifter.  But less than 30 seconds later, the Tigres swung the momentum firmly back in their direction, thanks to a pair of goals by LW Rupert MacDiarmid only seven second apart.

“Thank God for Rupe,” said Camernitz.  “He really saved our bacon there.”

But the Night weren’t dead yet.  Less than a minute and a half after MacDiarmid’s second goal, New York C Brock Manning deflected a shot from LW Chase Winchester between Tiktuunen’s legs to make it a 6-3 game.  Just 28 seconds later, Winchester and Sanchez got loose on a breakaway.  Tiktuunen bit hard on a fake shot from Winchester, who slid the puck over to Sanchez for a layup into the wide-open net to make it a two-goal game again.

A frustrated Tiktuunen smashed his stick over the crossbar as the New York fans serenaded him with sing-song chants of “Ri-ki, Ri-ki.”

“I was so mad at myself,” Tiktuunen said after the game.  “That goal was a disaster.”

The crowd was kicked into high gear after Sanchez’s goal, and they only got louder and more frenzied after Tigres D Kirby Hanlon took a delay of game penalty a couple minutes later.  “If [the Night] had scored there,” admitted Camernitz, “they probably would have come back and won.”

But Quebec fought off the penalty, and about 20 seconds after it ended, RW Weldon “Candy” Kane buried a shot from the slot to restore the three-goal lead and give everyone on the Tigres bench a chance to breathe.

The Night gave it one more run when RW Ivan Trujwirnek scored with 2:19 left in the game to get New York within two.  But they couldn’t get another tally, and a clipping penalty by D Anson Brank in the final minute snuffed out their final chance at a comeback.

“We really pushed the pace, huh?” said a grinning Foster after the game.  “The grinding little bastards got the W, but they were playing our game.  Nine times out of ten, when we get in a firewagon game like that, we win.”

Predictably, Quebec coach Martin Delorme had a different spin on the outcome.  “Obviously, this game was not to our usual comfort,” he told reporters, “but at this point, the victory is what matters.  Next time we play them, we can win 1-0 and make me happier.”

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2018 CHL All-Star Rosters

This year, the SHL’s minor league will also be holding an All-Star Game.  The game will take place at Waterfront Center, home of the Virginia Rhinos. 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: Norris “Beaver” Young, Oshawa (15 G, 27 A, 42 Pts, 10 PIM, +19)

D: Gary Hermine,  Oshawa (11 G, 28 A, 39 Pts, 16 PIM, +20)

C: Pat “Stoner” Collistone, Oshawa (17 G, 26 A, 43 Pts, 8 PIM, +19)

D: Rennie Cox, Virginia (15 G, 20 A, 35 Pts, 4 PIM, +7)

RW: Anders Pedersen, Oshawa (12 G, 25 A, 37 Pts, 23 PIM, +19)

 

Second Line

LW: Yuri Laronov, Virginia (17 G, 19 A, 36 Pts, 16 PIM, -2)

D: Blake Blacklett, Virginia (14 G, 19 A, 33 Pts, 26 PIM, +7)

C: Cyril Perignon, Virginia (17 G, 24 A, 41 Pts, 0 PIM, +2)

D: Ambroz Melicar, Baltimore (12 G, 21 A, 33 Pts, 8 PIM, +3)

RW: Chris Quake, Virginia (6 G, 24 A, 30 Pts, 20 PIM, -2)

 

Third Line

LW: Rex Batten, Baltimore (11 G, 21 A, 32 Pts, 31 PIM, Even)

D: Kirby Hanlon, Maine (6 G, 12 A, 18 Pts, 20 PIM, +1)

C: Phoenix Cage, Cleveland (7 G, 17 A, 24 Pts, 6 PIM, -9)

D: Hampus Olsson, Maine (6 G, 8 A, 14 Pts, 6 PIM, +1)

RW: Felix Delorme, Hartford (11 G, 12 A, 23 Pts, 6 PIM, -12)

 

Goalies

Jonathan Crane, Maine (10-8-3, 2.06 GAA, .917 save %)

Hector Orinoco, Oshawa (15-6-0, 2.75 GAA, .896 save %)

 

WEST ALL-STARS

Coach: Wiley Kiyotie (Utah)

 

First Line

LW: Diego Garcia, Utah (8 G, 23 A, 31 Pts, 10 PIM, -1)

D: Steve Cargill, Milwaukee (7 G, 23 A, 30 Pts, 48 PIM, +8)

C: Dale Wilcox, Colorado Springs (12 G, 19 A, 31 Pts, 29 PIM, +13)

D: Georg Ochre, Muncie (5 G, 21 A, 26 Pts, 49 PIM, +12)

RW: Philippe Durien, Colorado Springs (24 G, 22 A, 46 Pts, 22 PIM, +13)

 

Second Line

LW: Veikko Sikanen, Omaha (15 G, 15 A, 30 Pts, 23 PIM, +5)

D: Brian Coldivar, Minnesota (12 G, 14 A, 26 Pts, 18 PIM, +6)

C: Tanner Everest, Minnesota (7 G, 24 A, 31 Pts, 18 PIM, +7)

D: Rudolf Kerasov, Minnesota (8 G, 17 A, 25 Pts, 22 PIM, +6)

RW: James Clay, Milwaukee (8 G, 22 A, 30 Pts, 16 PIM, +3)

 

Third Line

LW: Jean Pierre Fleury, Minnesota (14 G, 11 A, 25 Pts, 14 PIM, +8)

D: Trevor Lockwood, Omaha (7G, 17 A, 24 Pts, 53 PIM, -1)

C: Vance KettermanMilwaukee (11 G, 15 A, 26 Pts, 12 PIM, +3)

D: Duncan DeShantz, Colorado Springs (4 G, 18 A, 22 Pts, 45 PIM, +17)

RW: Mark Winters, Minnesota (7 G, 20 A, 27 Pts, 24 PIM, +7)

 

Goalies

Sonny Kashiuk, Colorado Springs (20-3-1, 1.57 GAA, .943 save %)

Kelvin White, Muncie (12-10-0, 1.85 GAA, .937 save %)