CHL Update: Spuds Aim for Repeat Against Rhinos

This year’s CHL Finals has something in common with this year’s SHL Finals: it’s a rematch.  One team finished with the league’s best record, and is looking to win back-to-back titles.  The other is turning Finals trips into a habit, having made it every year of the league’s existence.  Both teams got here by sweeping their division-round opponents.

In the West, the Idaho Spuds came into the playoffs as the favorite, not to mention the defending champs.  They demonstrated strength on both ends of the ice this season, and they came into the playoffs with a quiet confidence.  “We’re definitely looking to go back-to-back,” said C Dale Wilcox.  “We’ve got the talent and the drive, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be us.”

But before they could defend their title, the Spuds had to make it past the Omaha Ashcats, who surged down the stretch to make it into the playoffs.  The series opened before a noisy sellout crowd at Boise’s Treasure Valley Arena, and the Spuds ran the Ashcats off the ice in a dominant first period. The visitors struck first on a goal by RW Rene Courcel just 31 seconds in, but Idaho ruled the ice from there, scoring three times (one by Wilcox and two by C Chayce Yonge) and outshooting the Ashcats 17-6, on their way to a 4-1 victory.  Game 2 was a different story; both teams were flying up and down the ice and taking shots by the bucketload; they combined for an astounding 94 shots.  The teams traded the lead throughout the game; Ashcats RW Louis LaPlante scored with just 2:30 left in regulation to tie it up and force overtime, but it was Spuds RW Dylan Alizarin who was the ultimate hero, scoring just under 9 minutes into the extra session to seal a 6-5 Idaho win.  As the series shifted to Omaha for Game 3, Ashcats superfan “Krazy Karl” Loesser – who burned jerseys and dolls outside the arena as a “sacrifice” to the hockey gods to get his team into the postseason – wanted to hold another pregame sarcifice ceremony, but the team vetoed his request.  They may have regretted it later, as the Spuds won 4-2 to complete the sweep.  D Geoff Moultrie scored the go-ahead goal for Idaho late in the second period, and LW Terry Cresson added an insurance tally in the third to seal it.  Goalie Kelvin White came up big with a 40-save performance to thwart Omaha’s comeback bid.

“I really loved the energy and intensity I saw, from the players and our fans too,” said Spuds coach Gilbert McCoyne.  “We’re playing great hockey, probably our best of the season, and I can’t wait to see what happens in the Finals.”

In the East, the Virginia Rhinos surged in the second half to make it back to the postseason, but they finished just three points ahead of their first-round opponent, the Halifax Atlantics.  The series, which pitted Halifax’s patient defense-focused attack against Virginia’s more well-rounded game, was widely expected to be a close match.  But the Rhinos quickly demonstrated otherwise, turning up their speed to expose the Atlantics’ highly-regarded D.

Game 1 quickly turned into a laugher; the Rhinos scored three times in the first period and never looked back in a 6-1 rout.  Each Virginia goal was scored by a different player; RW Mark Clark even recorded a short-handed tally to put an exclamation point on the blowout.  Halifax switched goalies from Jonathan Crane to Art Cowan for Game 2, but it made no difference.  Virginia skated rings around the slow-footed Atlantics, outshooting them 30-13 and outscoring them 5-0.  Unlike the previous game, the Rhinos had a multi-goal scorer this time: D Roscoe “Ruckus” Corbetta struck twice.  Quentin Chislic managed to stay awake in net long enough to complete the shutout.  With their backs against the wall and back at home for Game 3, Halifax finally managed to slow the game down; the teams combined for just 32 shots, After RW Alois Rodney scored a power-play within the first minute of the game, Halifax turned the contest into a rock fight, bogging down the action in the neutral zone and clinging desperately to their lead.  But Virginia finally broke through the trap in the third period, and Clark scored to tie the game.  Halifax managed to force overtime, but C Trent Harlow put the Atlantics (and everyone watching the game) out of their misery less than four minutes in, banging one home off the left post for a 2-1 victory.

“The only problem with making the Finals every year,” said Rhinos coach Jeffrey Marsh, “is that I’m running out of movies to steal inspirational speeches from.  I think this year, it’s going to be either ‘Patton’ or ‘Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer.'”

Idaho is favored to prevail in the Finals; their combination of skills and their ability to adjust to any playing style makes them a dangerous foe.  But Virginia’s been here before – many times – and they’re not apt to let the Spuds dictate the terms of play.  One thing’s for sure: it’s unlikely that another sweep is in the cards.  Whoever intends to win the title is in for a long, hard fight.

CHL Update: Ashcats Fan Makes Sacrifice for Luck

If the Omaha Ashcats are synonymous with a single person, it has to be superfan Karl Loesser (aka “Krazy Karl”).  Win or lose, Krazy Karl is there, most likely engaging in some wild stunt in support of the team he loves.

“Winning requires dedication and hard work,” he explains.  “That’s true if you’re a player, and it’s true if you’re a fan too.  You have to be willing to go the extra mile for your team.”

This year, the Ashcats have been competitive, but they’ve remained a frustrating few points out of playoff position for much of that time.  With the season reaching a critical stretch, Krazy Karl felt it was time for him to act.

“The hockey gods must be appeased,” as Loesser put it.  “Special measures are called for.”

Krazy Karl decided to make a sacrifice.  On Sunday, he and a group of fellow fans gathered outside the Ashcats’ arena, the Switching Yard.  Krazy Karl removed his Ashcats T-shirt and threw it on the ground, and invited the others to do the same.  Several of them did so.  The superfan then reached into his backpack and withdrew a stuffed model of Engineer Eddie, the team’s mascot, which he placed atop the pile of discarded shirts.

“Hockey gods, we call on you,” shouted Krazy Karl.  “We are the Omaha Ashcats, and to earn your favor, this cat will now become ashes.”

He then withdrew a stick lighter from his backpack and touched it to the pile, setting it ablaze.  As the fire built, the fans chanted “Fire! Fire! Fire!”

As the flames continued to rise, Krazy Karl turned on a boom box, which played “Disco Inferno” as the fans cheered.

“Accept our sacrifice, hockey gods, and bring us wins!” Krazy Karl concluded, thrusting his arms into the air.

It was an unorthodox approach, but it seems to have worked: Since the sacrifice, the Ashcats have gone 3-0-1 and moved into a tie for second place.  “Clearly, the hockey gods have deemed our sacrifice worthy,” said Krazy Karl.  “We have changed the energy around this team!”

The Omaha players themselves had mixed reactions about the action performed in their name.  “I’m as superstitious as the next guy,” said C Owen Griffin, “but they’re letting fans set fire to stuff in front of the stadium?  That sounds… kinda dangerous, really.” (Krazy Karl claims that he had a fire extinguisher on hand in case things went haywire.)

On the other hand, LW Cleo Rodgers regarded the sacrifice positively.  “Knowing that our fans are out there doing stuff like this for us, that makes you feel good,” he said.  Does he actually believe it can have an effect?  “Hey, I’ve got family from New Orleans, and they taught me to take that stuff seriously.  And at this point of the season, I’ll take all the good juju we can get.”

When D Melchior Okonseniak was informed of Krazy Karl’s actions, he paused for a moment.  “That’s the guy who runs through the aisles banging his drum and screaming at people to cheer?” When told that it was, Okonseniak smiled.  “Yes, that sounds like what he would do.”

CHL Update: Ashcats Celebrate Playoffs With “World’s Smallest Parade”

This season has seen a remarkable turnaround for the Omaha Ashcats.  Last season, the Kansas City Smoke affiliate finished dead last in the West, thanks in large part to a late-season swoon that got so bad that superfan Karl Loesser (aka “Krazy Karl”) staged a “live-in,” during which he refused to leave the arena until the team won.

This year, thanks to an influx of young prospects, the Ashcats have been at or near the top of their division all season long.  They sent an impressive four players to the CHL All-Star Game, several of whom have since been promoted to the SHL.  The Omaha fans have largely stuck by the team in good times and bad, but the atmosphere has definitely been more festive now that the team is winning.

This week, the Ashcats completed their turnaround by clinching a playoff spot with a 3-2 win over the Utah Owls.  Naturally, the fans wanted to celebrate… and Krazy Karl was there to lead the way.

“No one lives and dies with this team quite like Krazy Karl,” said Ashcats GM Steve Galesko.  “This season has been a real thrill ride for him.”

In order to celebrate the Ashcats’ triumph, Loesser wanted to hold a parade in downtown Omaha.  He quickly realized this plan would be impractical.  “Permits, building floats, all that stuff… that’s not for me,” the superfan told reporters.

Instead, Krazy Karl talked to the Aschats management about a smaller-scale parade that could take place inside the arena.  On Saturday, the team staged what Loesser dubbed “The World’s Smallest Playoff Parade.”  As he put it: “You know the saying ‘Go big or go home?’  I decided to go small instead.”

The parade route consisted of a loop around the main concourse of the Ashcats’ arena, the Switching Yard.  Loesser naturally led the parade, wearing a drum major outfit and a sash with the words “#1 FAN” and blowing his trademark railroad whistle.

Behind him came a series of “floats” that rode on top of little red wagons.  The “floats” included cardboard cutouts of Omaha players, mannequins dressed in Ashcats uniforms, inflatable hockey goals, and a paper-mache rendition of the team’s logo, built by Krazy Karl himself.  “It’s not exactly true to life,” admitted Loesser, “but hey, it’s my first time with paper mache.”

In lieu of a marching band, the parade featured a group of elementary schoolers wearing Omaha jerseys and railroad engineer hats, playing songs on recorders, kazoos, and slide whistles.  “They sure were… enthusiastic,” said one parade-goer.

Galesko, coach Butch Slazenger, and several players also appeared in the parade.  In a normal parade, they might have ridden in the back of a convertible or on top of a bus.  In Krazy Karl’s version, they sat on lawn chairs on top of platform trucks pushed by members of the Cool Cats, the team’s fan club.  The players and staff threw plastic necklaces, candy, stress balls, and leftover promotional items to the fans lining the concourse.

“It was pretty cool,” said D Lowell Sharkey, who rode on one of the makeshift cars.  “I think the guy pushing me had had a few beers, and he had a hard time pushing in a straight line, but it worked out okay.”

Engineer Eddie, the Ashcats’ mascot, ran up and down the parade route high-fiving fans, signing autographs, and handing out trinkets.  At one point, Eddie hopped up on Sharkey’s platform and began wiggling his tail at passersby.  “I think Eddie might have had a few beers too,” said Sharkey.  “I don’t know why he didn’t bring me any.”

Loesser proclaimed the parade a “total and unqualified success.  This was a true fan’s celebration, and it just proves again that the fans here in Omaha are the best in hockey.  Krazy Karl out!”

“Overall, it was a really fun experience, and our fans loved it,” said Galesko.  “The credit goes to Krazy Karl, for dreaming this up and figuring out a way to see it through.  The only downside of it for me is that they put me right in front of the kids’ band, and all those recorders.  But I’m sure the headache will go away eventually.”

CHL Update: Omaha Superfan Stages Live-In For A Win

When the Omaha Ashcats switched parent clubs this offseason from the Seattle Sailors to the expansion Kansas City Smoke, most fans assumed that the team would take a step back in the standings.  For the first month of the season, the Ashcats defied expectations, posting a respectable 11-8-0 record.  Since then, though, gravity has reasserted itself: the team has gone 6-24-2 to sink into the Western division basement.

By and large, the fan base has accepted this decline with a shrug, as attendance in Omaha has remained strong all season.  One diehard Ashcats fan, however, is distressed by his team’s slide – and is going to great lengths to bring his team some good luck.

43-year-old Karl Loesser, known as “Krazy Karl” to the Omaha faithful, has proclaimed himself “the Ashcats’ biggest fan.”  He is a well-known and very vocal presence at the Switching Yard.  He comes to games with a railroad whistle, which he blows to fire up the crowd, and a seemingly endless supply of posters and banners – “I’ve got one for everyone on the team,” he told reporters.

“If someone claims they’re an Ashcats fan but they’ve never heard of Krazy Karl,” said Omaha GM Steve Galesko, “then they’re not really a fan.”

When the Ashcats went on a lengthy losing streak earlier this season, Krazy Karl made an “offering to the hockey gods” by burning a T-shirt with the logo of that night’s opponent in front of the arena.  But when the team hit the skids again after the trading deadline, he suspected that stronger measures might be needed.

As a result, Krazy Karl is now living inside the arena… and vows to keep doing so until the Ashcats win again.

“I’m offering myself up to the hockey gods this time,” Loesser said this week.  “I don’t know what we did to piss them off, but it must have been huge.”

Krazy Karl approached Galesko to request permission to stay in the arena, and the GM was hesitant at first.  “I love Krazy Karl, don’t get me wrong,” said Galesko, “but our security staff wasn’t wild about having a guy wandering around the arena in the middle of the night.”

But the GM worked out an arrangement with his superfan.  Loesser spends the nights on a couch in the Ashcats’ locker room and uses the team showers in the mornings.  He eats breakfasts and some lunches with team employees; during games, he has unlimited access to the concessions stands.  For exercise and to pass the time, he walks laps around the concourse.

“It’s not a bad life, to be honest,” said Krazy Karl.  “But I want the team to win so I can go home!”

Thus far, the Ashcats have not fulfilled his hopes.  On Friday, they blew a late lead against Colorado Springs and fell 3-2 for their ninth straight loss.  But Krazy Karl remains optimistic.  “The hockey gods will recognize my sacrifice and reward us with a win soon,” he said.  “It’s meant to be.”