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.

2020 SHL Week 13 Transactions

  • On Monday, the New York Night demoted RW Harris Wondolowski to their CHL affiliate in Utah and called up F Cary Estabrook from Utah.
  • On Saturday, the Hershey Bliss‘ farm team in Milwaukee activated LW Karl Gjovik from the injured list.  The 21-year-old Gjovik missed almost three weeks with a lingering lower-body injury.  In order to make room for Gjovik on the roster, the team released D Alec Schwartz.  The 22-year-old blueliner appeared in 22 games for Milwaukee, failing to record a point and recording a -14 rating.
  • Also on Saturday, the Dakota Jackalopes sent C Jacob Cunniff down to their affiliate in Idaho, and promoted LW Rick Crisak from Idaho.  The Jackalopes had called up Cunniff before the All-Star break to fill in for the injured Tanner Brooks; since Brooks’ return, he had mostly been a healthy scratch.  In 11 games for Dakota, Cunniff recorded an assist and a -5 rating.  The 22-year-old Crisak is Idaho’s leading scorer, with 47 points (9 goals, 38 assists).
  • In another Saturday move, the Kansas City Smoke called up RW Adriaen van der Veen from their farm club in Omaha and demoted F Louis LaPlante to Omaha.  Van der Veen, who split last season between Kansas City and Omaha, is the affiliate’s scoring leader with 52 points (17 goals, 35 assists).  As for LaPlante, the veteran winger has played sparingly for the Smoke this season, with 6 points (2 goals, 4 assists) in 17 games.

Igloos Prevail Over KC In Wild OT Battle

When the Anchorage Igloos hosted the Kansas City Smoke on Friday, they were hoping for an easy win over a team on an eight-game winless streak, which would allow them to solidify their second-place standing in the West.  While the Igloos did ultimately prevail over the Smoke, it was anything but easy.  Twice, Anchorage had to rally from three-goal deficits, and needed overtime before they escaped with a wild 8-7 victory.

“Man, that was a battle we weren’t expecting!” exclaimed C Jake Frost after the game.  “We showed a lot of fight, a lot of heart, but boy, KC put a scare into us.”

The Smoke showed up ready to play.  It only took 15 seconds for LW Louis LaPlante to get on the board with his first goal of the season, a slapper past Igloos netminder Wendall Cantillon. Frost evened things up two minutes later with a shot from the right faceoff circle, but rookie C Noel Picard put the Smoke back ahead just over a minute later with a tip-in from the slot.  Midway through the first, Kansas City struck twice to take a 4-1 lead, leaving the crowd at Arctic Circle Arena in an uneasy silence.

Igloos coach Sam Castor considered lifting Cantillon at that point.  But given that it was the backup’s first action all week, the coach stayed with his goalie.  “Wendall’s got to have a chance to deal with adversity,” said Castor.  “I wanted to see how he’d react, and how the team would react.”

Anchorage rallied to Cantillon’s rescue, with RW Remi Montrechere and D “Chilly Willy” Calligan scoring to pull within one by the end of the period.  Four minutes into the second period, Montrechere struck again to tie it up and bring the crowd to its feet.

“We felt like the mommentum was going our way,” said Montrechere.  “We were in control and ready to pull away.”

As it turned out, the momentum was about to shift back to the visitors.  Three minutes after Montechere’s tally, Smoke LW Piotr Soforenko deflected a shot past Cantillon to retake the lead.  C Phil Miller went top-shelf to make it a 6-4 game at the end of the second period.

47 seconds into the third period, Kansas City D Tony Hunt notched a power-play tally to give the Smoke another three-goal lead and putting the Igloos behind the eight ball.

“We needed a jolt, and fast,” said Frost.

They got a pair of jolts in short order.  Five seconds after Hunt’s score, Montrechere blasted a shot just inside the pole to complete his hat trick.  Then, a minute later, C Broni Zhlotkin took exception to a rough hit from Hunt and dropped the gloved with him at center ice.  Although the donnybrook completed Hunt’s “Gordie Howe hat trick” (a goal, an assist, and a fight), it fired up both the Anchorage bench and the crowd.

Twenty seconds after the fight, LW Les Collins banged home a juicy rebound to pull the Igloos within one.  Six and a half minutes later, C Nile Bernard went five-hole on KC goaltender Brooks Copeland and tied it up.  Bernard jumped up against the boards in the corner as the fans banged the glass in delight.

Although the atmosphere in the arena remained near delirium for most of the third period, the Igloos couldn’t push the go-ahead goal across.  Frost and Collins each hit the post, and Copeland made a tremendous sprawling stop with three minutes left in regulation to rob Montrechere of a fourth goal.

The game went to overtime, with both teams and the fans exhausted.  “In OT, that was all adrenaline,” said Frost.  “We had no energy left.”  With a minute and a half left in the extra session, RW Nicklas Ericsson faked a pass to Frost in the slot and slid it up to the blue line, where D Ted Keefe fired a blast that hit the crossbar and went in for the game-winning goal.

Keefe’s goal delivered the Igloos their fourth straight win and their fifth in the last six games.  It also moved Anchorage seven points clear of Saskatchewan and Seattle for second place; it’s their largest lead of the season.  But Castor remains dissatisfied with his team’s performance.  “We had no business winning this game,” the coach said.  “We’ve looked a lot better this week, but we’re going to need to tighten it up on a night-to-night basis if we’re going to make the playoffs.”

Castor’s players were happier with the outcome. “Coming back from a three-goal [deficit] in a game is a game is impressive,” said Frost.  “Doing it twice in one game?  That doesn’t happen.  We’re pretty awesome!”