CHL Update: Freeze-Moose Dud Prompts Coach’s Call for Refund

As a minor league, the CHL is focused on player development; the on-ice results, while important, are ultimately secondary.  This can sometimes mean that the games themselves aren’t of the highest artistic or competitive caliber.  Sunday’s contest between the Minnesota Freeze and the Maine Moose, though, was so bad that Moose coach Barney Flintridge called for refunds… on behalf of the opposing fans.

What made the game – a 2-0 Minnesota victory – such a dud?  Start with the offenses.  The two teams produced a total of 28 shots – combined – in the contest.  The Moose fired a total of 16 shots, while the victorious Freeze had only 12.  Worse yet, the action declined as the game went on.  In the first period, the teams combined for 13 shots, a fairly respectable number for two defense-minded teams like these.  But across the final two periods, Maine and Minnesota had only 15 shots between them.

And it’s not as though that number concealed a big number of narrow misses or blocked shots, either.  Both teams worked throughout the game to deny entry into the offensive end, meaning that much of the action stalled out in the neutral zone.  And once Minnesota scored a pair of goals in the second, they sat on their lead and focused on keeping the puck away from the Moose, the hockey equivalent of basketball’s old four-corner stall.

There weren’t any fights or big checks to liven up the action, either.  There were a total of four penalties called in the game, all minors: one puck-over-glass penalty, an embellishment call, and a pair of high sticks.

Barney Flintridge

After the game, Flintridge – often a prickly interview – roasted the game in no uncertain terms.  “In my 40 years playing and coaching at every level of this sport, that was the worst game I’ve ever seen,” said Flintridge.  “Just garbage from beginning to end, ugly and boring.  They say hockey is the world’s fastest and most exciting sport, but you wouldn’t know it from watching this game.  My biggest challenge during this game was not falling asleep on the bench.”

The coach then bashed the Freeze’s decision to grind clock once they got ahead.  “At the beginning, at least it sort of looked like hockey,” Flintridge said.  “But once [Minnesota] got a couple-goal lead, they turtled for a period and a half.  Just disgraceful.  And my guys should have tried to break that, but I think they must have taken sleeping pills on the flight out here, and they hadn’t worn off yet.”

Flintridge concluded his harangue with an appeal to the fans.  “If any of the fans out there were watching hockey for the first time, I’m sorry.  It’s not like this most of the time.  I imagine some of the fans were just happy because they won, but the rest of you should demand a refund.  You were promised a hockey game, and instead you got this pile of crap.  At least, [the Freeze] should have given the fans pillows, so they could be comfortable while this was going on.”

Patrick Chillingham

Freeze coach Patrick Chillingham defended his team’s strategy.  “We’re still in the playoff chase, and we’re going to do what it takes to win,” Chillingham said.  “I’m not going to be embarrassed about that.  Besides, it takes two teams to make a slow game.  Barney’s boys weren’t exactly lighting it up out there.  It’s a long season, and not every game’s going to be a barnburner.”

Responding to Flintridge’s call for fan refunds, Chillingham said, “If Barney wants to hand out refunds, he can do it out of his own check.  But I believe our fans were satisfied with this game.  When they come to a Freeze game, our fans are looking for two things: a chance to see tomorrow’s SHL stars, and a home team win.  They got both of those.

“Tell you what, though: the next time the Moose comes to town, we can give Barney a pillow so he can nap on the bench.  I’ll even pay for it.  It must be hard staying up this late at his age.”

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CHL Update: Moose Sold, Headed to Halifax

In each of the three seasons that the Continental Hockey League has been around, they’ve never fielded the same lineup of teams twice.  Between its first and second seasons, the CHL expanded to Hartford and Milwaukee, while the Albuquerque Screaming Eagles moved to Colorado Springs.  Between last season and this season, the Muncie Squirrels decamped for Idaho.

The CHL’s streak of relocating teams will remain intact next season, as the owner of the Maine Moose announced this week that he is selling his franchise to a group that plans to move the team to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The Moose have generally drawn well during their tenure in the CHL, but their future was thrown into doubt when majority owner Clark Fennister suffered a heart attack and passed away in January at the age of 66.  Fennister’s widow had no interest in operating the team, and his sons lacked the capital to purchase it.  The Fennister family tried to find a local buyer, but came up empty.

The Moose’s parent club, the Quebec Tigres, were interested in having an affiliate in Canada.  They put the Fennister family in touch with Halifax businessman Guy Sullivan, who quickly agreed to purchase the team.

“For all the fans here in Maine who have supported the team these last few seasons, we’re sorry,” said Andrew Fennister, Clark’s oldest son.  “I know Dad would have loved us to find a way to keep the team here, but it just didn’t work out.”

Sullivan, meanwhile, expressed enthusiasm at bringing a team to Halifax.  He plans to call the team the Atlantics, a nod to the Eastern provinces of Canada, collectively known as “Atlantic Canada.”  “This team is going to put the Atlantic provinces on the map,” Sullivan told reporters.  “The Maritimes are the area that everyone overlooks, but they won’t be able to do that anymore!”

The Atlantics will be the second Canadian franchise in the CHL, joining the Oshawa Drive.  Sullivan did his best to spark a rivalry with the Drive during the press conference.

“I know everyone in the [Greater Toronto Area] thinks we’re a bunch of hicks who don’t do anything but drink, fiddle, and catch lobsters, but we’ll show them,” Sullivan said.  “I hope that when they come out here to check on their summer cottages, they’ll see Atlantics jerseys, hats, and T-shirts everywhere.  Get ready to catch the Hali-fever!”

Moose RW Luc LePettier, a native of neighboring province New Brunswick, was excited about the move.  “This is great news for the Maritimes,” said LePettier.  “I never thought we would get to see it happen, but now it is!”

CHL Update: Theroux Finds Fan Love in Maine

When the Quebec Tigres acquired Phil Miller at the trading deadline to be their third-line center, it spelled trouble for Florian Theroux.  The journeyman has traditionally been popular with the fans, but his marginal on-ice contributions and goofy personality have often frustrated coaches.  Quebec boss Martin Delorme was no exception; he nicknamed Theroux “Coo Coo” on the rare, exasperated occasions when he spoke about the player.

Florian Theroux

As such, it came as little surprise when Theroux was banished to the Maine Moose, Quebec’s CHL affiliate, to make room for Miller.  “I knew as soon as the trade was made, my bags should be packed,” said Theroux.

The story does have a bit of a surprising ending, however: Theroux has sparkled with the Moose, and the fans have embraced him even more than the fans in Quebec did.  He already has a fan club, and some female Moose backers have even proposed marriage.

“I think maybe I should run for mayor,” he quipped before Saturday’s game against Colorado Springs.  “I have never been this much loved.”

The key to Theroux’s popularity was displaying even more of the goofy personality for which he is known.  Although Theroux is a famously superstitious player, he did his best to keep that in check around the serious-minded Delorme.  “I knew [Delorme] already thought I was crazy,” Theroux said.  “And I knew I was not good enough that he would not get rid of me if I was too crazy.”

But in the minors, Theroux decided to let all of his quirks run free.  For instance, when the Moose come onto the ice at the start of each period, Theroux always enters last and skates in the opposite direction of his teammates.  He tapes his stick with alternating white and red strips of tape, like a candy cane.  During warm-up shooting drills, he performs an elaborate ritual of rhythmic stick taps.  On the bench, Theroux knocks back Diet Pepsi instead of Gatorade, making sure to finish one can per period and always picking up the can with his right hand.

Perhaps most notable of all, before the teams line up for the opening puck drop, Theroux kneels down and kisses the logo at center ice.  It was this ritual that first garnered the attention of teammates and fans.  “The first time he went down to the ice, we thought he’d pulled something,” said D Hampus Olsson.  “But then we saw him kiss the Moose, and the fans all started cheering.  It was weird.”

Quickly, the fans began embracing Theroux’s superstitions.  (The fact that he’s been highly productive with Maine, with 15 points in as many games, likely helped.)  They handed him Diet Pepsis as he came down the tunnel.  They clapped in time with his pre-game stick taps.  They held up signs with slogan such as “Kiss Me Like I’m Center Ice.”

The forward revealed that since he arrived in Maine, he has received numerous date requests and even marriage proposals both in person and on social media.  “I am amazed by these women lining up for me,” said Theroux, who is single.  “It is wonderful and strange.  I guess crazy is sexy now.”

This newfound adulation represents a double-edged sword for Theroux, whose contract is up at the end of the season.  While he clearly loves life in Maine, it’s likely that he’ll want to look for an SHL job next season.  He’s a capable enough player to land a job almost anywhere, and a starting spot on some teams.  Given that, this love affair seems likely to be brief.

But neither Theroux nor Moose fans appear worried about that.  Rather, the minor-league town and the goofy forward with the crazy habits are just happy that they’ve found each other.

CHL Update: Inaugural Playoff Field Set

The first regular season of the Continental Hockey League, the SHL’s minor league, is now in the books.  (They finished a week ahead of the SHL due to the fact that they didn’t have an All-Star break.)  Now the league is looking forward to its first postseason.  The CHL will have a four-team playoff field, a setup that the SHL plans to adopt next season.  The division playoff will be a best-of-five matchup, with the winners facing off in a best-of-seven series for the league championship.  Here’s a preview of the first-round matchups:

Eastern Division

The Eastern playoff will feature a battle of contrasting styles.  The Virginia Rhinos got off to a strong start this season and never looked back on their way to claiming the division title.  The Rhinos built their success on the strength of a potent offense; their 223 goals were the most in the league by a considerable margin.  They had three of the league’s top 10 goal scorers in LW Yuri Laronov, D Blake Blacklett, and RW Colton Jabril.  Their high-octane offense is backed up by netminder Shawn Stickel, the league’s winningest goaltender, who went 30-16-1 with a 2.54 GAA and a .913 save percentage.  “We’ve got a mighty force here,” said Rhinos coach Jeffrey “Swampy” Marsh.  “Anyone who’s going to stop us is going to have to put up a hell of a fight.”

The Maine Moose might just be a team capable of giving them that fight.  The Moose are the best defensive team in the CHL, true to the spirit of their parent club, the Quebec Tigres.  They are well known for their slow-down style, which is focused on denying opponents offensive zone time.  Maine’s rigid defense allowed only 1551 shots, over 100 fewer than their nearest competitor.  They also have the leagues stingiest penalty kill, stopping 87.8% of power plays cold.  “We might not be the prettiest team out there,” said Moose coach Barney Flintridge, “but our style is darned effective.”   The Moose aren’t all about defense; they have scorers, too.  LW Aaron Knorr, who was the only player in the CHL to put up a four-goal game, scored 23 goals in the season; their top defensive pairing of Richard McKinley and Kirby Hanlon scored 18 apiece.  “Momentum’s been on our side,” said Knorr.  “If Virginia thinks we’re going to be an easy mark, they’re in for a shock.”

 

Western Division

Ever since they emerged from the pack in the West after the first quarter of the season, the Omaha Ashcats have been regarded as perhaps the CHL’s best team.  They’re not a team with a lot of flashy stars, but they’re a team with impressive strength and depth, as their league-leading +49 rating attests.  They have the league’s top three in plus/minus (LW Kendall Bannon, RW “Action” Asher Ravenbloom, and C Dale Wilcox), with D Duncan DeShantz close behind.  “This isn’t a team that relies on star power,” said coach Randy Bergner.  “We get our strength from the fact that we play as a unit.  All for one and one for all; it may sound corny, but we believe it.”  Goalie Gus Parrish provides some veteran experience to back up a young squad (24-12-1, 2.72 GAA).  Small wonder that Omaha is generally considered the favorite to win the CHL championship.

It’s certainly not a surprise that the Ashcats are a huge favorite over the Utah Owls, who slipped into the playoffs with a less-than-breathtaking 31-24-5 record and are probably best known around the league for their rambunctious antics on the road.  Even though the Owls saw a couple of their top prospects, LW Sylvester Catarino and D Rocky Winkle, called up to the parent New York Night early in the season, they still held their own.  Utah’s greatest strength is their goaltending.  Veteran “Jersey Mike” Ross was the starter for much of the season and he was excellent, but prospect Sherman Carter rejoined the team down the stretch, and his numbers (2.30 GAA and .929 save percentage) suggest a player who could give the Ashcats fits.  But the player who really puts the fear of God into opponents is D Donald Duckworth.  He’s a two-way threat, the only player in the league to be in the top 10 in both goals (25) and penalty minutes (108).  “That guy’s just plain crazy,” said Owls C Lloyd “Goofy” Banjax.  “You look at him the wrong way, and he’s liable to knock you into next week.  If you make him mad, God help you.”  Utah also finished the season hot, going 13-3-4 over the final month.  If the Owls can keep their penchant for on-the-road revelry (which have contributed to their 12-16-2 road record, the worst by far among playoff teams), they might give Omaha a run for their money.

 

CHL Update: Knorr Scores 4 for Maine

Aaron Knorr

Two weeks into the first season of the Continental Hockey League, the SHL’s minor league, Maine Moose LW Aaron Knorr has made history.  In Friday’s 8-2 pounding of the Baltimore Blue Crabs, Knorr became the first player in SHL or CHL history to score four goals in a game.  For Knorr, who had scored only three goals on the season prior to this game, it was a night to remember.

“This was the game of my life,” said Knorr.  “I never scored four in a game before.  Not in juniors, not even in pee wee.  It seemed like I couldn’t miss.”

Knorr first got on the board a little more than eight minutes into the 1st period, with Baltimore ahead 1-0.  Knorr got on an odd-man rush with teammates Richard McKinley and Jacob Cunniff.  Cunniff deked a shot in the high slot, then flicked a pass to Knorr, who buried it just under the crossbar to tie the game up at one.

Knorr’s second tally came on a power play in the 2nd.  D Kirby Hanlon fed Knorr in the left faceoff circle, and the winger blistered a slapshot just over Baltimore goalie Jean-Luc Menard’s catching glove to give the Moose a 2-1 lead.

Three and a half minutes later, Knorr banked home a rebound off Menard to complete the hat trick.  Since few of the Baltimore fans were willing to toss their hats in on the ice to recognize Knorr’s feat, several of his teammates flung their helmets on the ice instead.

Then with just over three minutes remaining in the 2nd, Blue Crabs LW Alan Youngman went to the box for elbowing.  On the ensuing power play, Knorr slipped one between Menard’s pads for goal #4.  Disgruntled Blue Crabs fans responded to Knorr’s triumph with a hail of boos and a cascade of half-full beer cups.

“I think that’s the traditional celebration when you get four,” quipped Knorr.  “When you get three, everyone throws their hats.  When you get four, everyone throws their beer.”

Moose coach Barney Flintridge said that he was surprised but not shocked by Knorr’s achievement.  “I mean, you wouldn’t expect to see four in a game.  But if anyone could do it, it’s Aaron.  He’s one of the best pure shooters in the entire league.

Miroslav Novotny

Knorr wasn’t the only Maine player to achieve a landmark accomplishment on Friday, however.  Teammate Miroslav Novotny achieved what is known in hockey lore as a “Gordie Howe hat trick”: a goal (on a slapshot with four minutes left in the 2nd), an assist (feeding C Leo Rozmirovich five minutes into the 3rd), and a fight (dropping gloves with Baltimore D Woody Fairwood midway through the 3rd).

“Honestly, I think what Miroslav did is the bigger accomplishment,” said Knorr.  “To get the Gordie Howe hat trick, you need to be strong in all parts of the game: you’ve got to be able to shoot, pass, and fight.”