CHL Update: Rhinos to Defend Title Against Spuds

This year’s CHL finals present an interesting contrast.  One team has been in the finals every year of the league’s existence, and is bidding for back-to-back titles after surviving a back-and-forth first-round series that went the distance.  The other club is in its first year in a new city, and is trying to go all the way in its first-ever postseason appearance, coming off of a surprising sweep of the league’s best regular-season team.

In the East, the Virginia Rhinos are getting to be old hands at the postseason; this is their third straight trip.  Despite losing a number of key contributors from last season’s title-winning squad, the Rhinos managed to eke out the top seed in a closely-packed division.  But Virginia wasn’t the least bit embarrassed or deterred by their narrow playoff qualification; they remain fixated on the ultimate goal.  “We’re all focused on the repeat,” said RW Chris Quake.  “No one in here doubts that we can pull it off.”

In the division playoff, they faced the Cleveland Centurions, who sported the league’s best regular-season defense.  The Rhinos hunkered down for what they knew would be a tense, hard-fought battle.  Game 1 was a chippy affair with a slew of penalties, a couple of fights, and not a lot of offense (28 shots between both teams).  Virginia got goals from Quake and LW Jayden Gunn, while goalie Quentin Chislic stopped all 16 Cleveland shots for a 2-0 shutout.  In Game 2, the Rhinos rallied from behind with a pair of third-period tallies just 29 seconds apart from C Marvin Cascio and LW Yuri Laronov, turning a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 victory.  The action shifted to the shores of Lake Erie for Games 3 and 4, and the Centurions battled back.  In Game 3, Rhinos C Trent Harlow notched a third-period goal to erase another deficit and force overtime, but Cleveland C Phoenix Cage scored 36 seconds into the extra session to stave off elimination with a 2-1 win.  In Game 4, Centurions netminder Eugene Looney came up big, stopping all 27 shots in a 3-0 triumph to force a fifth game back in Virginia Beach.  But in the deciding game, it was Chislic’s turn for another shutout (24 saves) as D Roscoe “Ruckus” Corbetta netted two to lead the 3-0 series-clinching victory.

“That was a tough series, for sure,” said Corbetta.  “But it got us tuned up, and we’re firing on all cylinders now and playing our best hockey.”

Virginia’s Finals opponent will be the Idaho Spuds, who played to sellout crowds after moving from Muncie in the offseason.  The Spuds came into the postseason with the CHL’s top-ranked offense (3.6 goals per game), but they had a lackluster performance in the last few weeks of the regular season, and they were largely written off in their first-round series against the heavily favored Omaha Ashcats.

But the boys in russet brown not only beat the Ashcats, they did so in a stunning three-game sweep.  In Game 1, they buried Omaha in an avalanche of shots (45 vs. the Ashcats’ 22) and scored three goals (from LW Rick Crisak, D Victor Addison, and LW Terry Cresson) before the game was 3 minutes old, on the way to a 4-2 win.  For Game 2, Ashcats coach Butch Slazenger switched goalies from Bill Bates to Jim Fleetwood.  Fleetwood did a better job, stopping 28 of 30 shots, but Spuds LW Van Dyke Browning scored three minutes into overtime for a 2-1 win.  In order for Omaha to rally in the series, they’d have to win twice on enemy ice.  Slazenger raised a number of eyebrows by going back to Bates for Game 3, a decision that looked foolish when Idaho went up 2-0 by the first minute of the second period.  The Ashcats rallied back to tie thanks to tallies from blueliners Trevor Lockwood and Lowell Sharkey.  With just over three minutes left in regulation, however, Spuds C Jacob Cunniff scored a power-play goal that would prove to be the difference in a 3-2 contest.  Treasure Valley Arena – sold out as usual – exploded in cheers as the players formed a celebratory circle in front of their net.

“We’re probably going to be the underdogs again in the final, since [the Rhinos are] the defending champs,” said Idaho coach Gilbert McCoyne.  “But we like that underdog role.  If anyone’s thinking of sleeping on us, they’d better think again, because we’re ready to shock the world.”

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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.”

2019 CHL All-Star Rosters

The day after the SHL’s All-Star Game, their minor league will be holding its second annual All-Star contest.  The game will take place at Wasatch Arena, home of the Utah Owls. The rosters for the game, along with each player’s current stats, are below.

WEST ALL-STARS

Coach: Patrick Chillingham (Minnesota)

 

First Line

LW: Veikko Sikanen, Omaha (16 G, 19 A, 35 Pts, 42 PIM, +16)

D: Rodney Black, Idaho (19 G, 10 A, 29 Pts, 10 PIM, +6)

C: Dale Wilcox, Idaho (13 G, 25 A, 38 Pts, 16 PIM, +16)

D: Brady Prussian, Idaho (15 G, 13 A, 28 Pts, 16 PIM, +6)

RW: Adriaen van der Veen, Omaha (16 G, 23 A, 39 Pts, 6 PIM, +16)

 

Second Line

LW: Terry Cresson, Idaho (11 G, 22 A, 33 Pts, 16 PIM, +16)

D: Laszlo Cierny, Minnesota (6 G, 19 A, 25 Pts, 46 PIM, +2)

C: Foster Culp, Colorado Springs (16 G, 16 A, 32 Pts, 12 PIM, Even)

D: Lowell Sharkey, Omaha (4 G, 19 A, 23 Pts, 12 PIM, +8)

RW: Harris Wondolowski, Utah (15 G, 24 A, 39 Pts, 18 PIM, +2)

 

Third Line

LW: Gabriel Swindonburg, Milwaukee (19 G, 10 A, 29 Pts, 34 PIM, -4)

D: Trevor Lockwood, Omaha (12G, 14 A, 26 Pts, 29 PIM, +11)

C: Lloyd “Goofy” Banjax, Utah (13 G, 19 A, 32 Pts, 10 PIM, -6)

D: Craig Werner, Utah (7 G, 17 A, 24 Pts, 12 PIM, +2)

RW: Joel Hagendosh, Colorado Springs (13 G, 20 A, 33 Pts, 63 PIM, -13)

 

Goalies

Hobie Sanford, Milwaukee (7-8-3, 2.02 GAA, .931 save %)

Curt Freeze, Minnesota (12-8-1, 2.07 GAA, .924 save %)

 

EAST ALL-STARS

Coach: Jeffrey “Swampy” Marsh (Virginia)

 

First Line

LW: Alan Youngman, Baltimore (18 G, 22 A, 40 Pts, 22 PIM, +17)

D: Ambroz Melicar, Baltimore (11 G, 25 A, 36 Pts, 10 PIM, +2)

C: Tucker Barnhill, Baltimore (17 G, 30 A, 47 Pts, 24 PIM, +17)

D: Elvis Bodett, Oshawa (14 G, 8 A, 22 Pts, 19 PIM, +12)

RW: Steve Brandon, Cleveland (19 G, 12 A, 31 Pts, 24 PIM, +2)

 

Second Line

LW: Yuri Laronov, Virginia (16 G, 15 A, 31 Pts, 16 PIM, -5)

D: Teddy Morrison, Maine (8 G, 13 A, 21 Pts, 14 PIM, Even)

C: Hilliard Macy, Oshawa (15 G, 18 A, 33 Pts, 12 PIM, +15)

D: Casimir Druzek, Virginia (2 G, 20 A, 22 Pts, 27 PIM, -4)

RW: Sidney Archer, Baltimore (15 G, 16 A, 31 Pts, 2 PIM, +17)

 

Third Line

LW: Marty “Fish” Pescatelli, Hartford (12 G, 16 A, 28 Pts, 39 PIM, -9)

D: Roscoe “Ruckus” Corbetta, Virginia (6 G, 12 A, 18 Pts, 70 PIM, -5)

C: Tanner Brooks, Virginia (19 G, 12 A, 31 Pts, 10 PIM, -5)

D: Burton Cullidge, Cleveland (1 G, 15 A, 15 Pts, 42 PIM, -4)

RW: Felix Delorme, Hartford (15 G, 13 A, 28 Pts, 14 PIM, -9)

 

Goalies

Eugene Looney, Cleveland (8-7-0, 1.79 GAA, .925 save %)

Jonathan Crane, Maine (9-9-2, 2.06 GAA, .917 save %)

2019 SHL Week 5 Transactions

  • On Monday, the Quebec Tigres returned RW Luc LePettier to their minor-league affiliate in Maine.  The Tigres called up LePettier two weeks ago, at a time when LW Stellan Fisker was injured and Quebec needed forward depth.  Fisker returned shortly after, and LePettier appeared in only one game with Quebec, failing to record a point.  After suffering a couple injuries of their own, Maine is now in need of some forward help; additionally, Quebec wanted to avoid stunting LePettier’s development due to a lack of playing time.  The Tigres are currently one shy of the roster limit due to D Richard McKinley‘s injury; for now, they will leave the slot unfilled.
  • On Wednesday, the Dakota Jackalopes traded G Dennis Wampler and D Terry “T-Rex” Hendricks to the Kansas City Smoke in exchange for G Brooks Copeland and D Geoff Moultrie.  Read more about the trade here.  In order to make room for Wampler and Hendricks on their roster, the Smoke demoted G Bill Bates and D Lowell Sharkey to their CHL farm club in Omaha.  The 20-year-old Bates went 1-1-0 with a 3.50 GAA and an .872 save percentage with Kansas City.  The 19-year-old Sharkey, who was called up last week, appeared in only 2 games without recording a point.
  • On Friday, the Jackalopes reinstated LW “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston from the injured list.  Airston missed nearly three weeks with an upper-body injury.  Airston’s return can’t come soon enough for the struggling Jackalopes; they have lost every game they played without him, and averaged a pitiful 1.8 goals per game in his absence.  To make room for Airston on the roster, Dakota reassigned LW Van Dyke Browning to their affiliate in Idaho.  Browning appeared in 3 games with the Jackalopes, recording an assist and a -1 rating.
  • On Saturday, the Michigan Gray Wolves placed C Hunter Bailes on the 10-game DL.  Bailes suffered a lower-body injury blocking a shot in the third period of the Wolves’ 1-1 tie against Quebec.  It’s the second injury of the year for the fragile center, who missed 3 games last week with an upper-body ailment.  To replace Bailes on the roster, Michigan called up C Phoenix Cage from their farm team in Cleveland.  Cage has 2 goals and 11 assists in the CHL this season.

2019 SHL Week 4 Transactions

  • On Tuesday, the New York Night placed LW Lee Fleming on the disabled list.  Fleming went down awkwardly in the third period of the Night’s 3-2 win over Boston after taking a puck off of his right leg.  He was later diagnosed with a lower-body injury and is expected to miss 3 to 4 weeks.  To fill Fleming’s roster spot, New York promoted RW Mickey Simpson from their minor-league affiliate in Utah.  Simpson was having a strong campaign with the Owls, putting up 15 points (4 goals, 11 assists) in 14 games.
  • On Wednesday, the Washington Galaxy and Kansas City Smoke swapped minor leaguers.  The Galaxy sent RW Brendan Bailey and a 3rd-round pick to the Smoke in exchange for F Jimmy Horton.  The 23-year-old Bailey recorded a goal and a +1 rating in 11 games for Washington’s minor-league club in Baltimore.  The 21-year-old Horton notched 2 assists and a +4 rating in 4 games with KC’s affiliate in Omaha.  The primary purpose of the trade was to open up salary cap space for the Galaxy, who needed to sign an additional defenseman due to injuries in Baltimore.  After making this deal, they inked free agent Zbynek Otradovec to a temporary 10-game contract.
  • On Saturday, the Boston Badgers demoted F Liam Engstrom to their CHL affiliate in Hartford and promoted C Hollis Shivers to the majors.  According to the Badgers front office, the move was made to give the 19-year-old Engstrom more ice time in order to foster his development.  Engstrom had appeared in only 3 games for Boston this season, and had not recorded a point.  The 22-year-old Shivers recorded 9 points (4 goals, 5 assists) in 16 games with Hartford.
  • Also on Saturday, Kansas City shuffled their blueline corps yet again, demoting Scott Hexton to their farm club in Omaha and calling up Lowell Sharkey to the SHL.  The 28-year-old Hexton signed with KC as a free agent this offseason.  The front office hoped that he could provide some veteran stability to their young defensive group, but things didn’t work out as planned.  In 9 games, Hexton put up a -9 rating and failed to record a point.  The 19-year-old Sharkey was a 4th-round draft pick in 2018, and has impressed in Omaha.  After putting up 36 points in his rookie season, Sharkey has already registered 17 points (2 goals, 15 assists) so far this year.