Champion Pistols Look Poised to Repeat

Last season, the Hamilton Pistols delighted the Greater Toronto Area by claiming their first-ever championship.  In the wake of their title — and considerable roster turnover — some wondered whether the Pistols would be up to the challenge of prevailing in the improving East and defending their title.  So far this season, Hamilton looks like they’re very much up to the challenge, and are well-positioned to defend their title.

“We’re not taking anything for granted,” said Pistols coach Keith Shields.  “But we’re feeling good about where we are, and we’re confident that we can match up with anyone who wants to take the Vandy away from us.”

Over the first month or so of the season, Hamilton found themselves in close competition with the Hershey Bliss.  After that, though, they ripped off an 11-game unbeaten streak to establish a comfortable division lead.  They’re currently riding a 15-3-3 run.  They’ve survived their share of injuries, including to stars like C Calvin Frye and LW Steven Alexander.  It’s seemed that nothing can slow them down.

Steven Alexander

“Everyone in this room is focused on repeating,” said Alexander.  “There’s no slowdown and no slacking off.  We’re driven to keep the Vandy here.’

Last season’s success was built on the strength of their powerful offense, and the same is true this season.  Hamilton is tied for the SHL lead in goals per game, averaging an eye-popping 3.8 goals per game.  GM Marcel LaClaire has a knack for finding affordable veterans who produce outsized contributions, and this season is no exception.  The Pistols added RW Ben Summers and C Marco Venezio for a combined $1.5 million, and both players are providing bang for their back.  Venezio (9 goals, 13 assists, +8 rating) has stepped into the second-line center role that Eddie Costello filled so well last season, while Summers (16 goals, 16 assists, +15) has provided the secondary scoring threat that the team was lacking.  They have clicked brilliantly with linemate Magnus Gunnarson, who is on track for a career year (14 goals, 28 assists, +13).

“We have the best second line in the league, no question about it,” said Frye.  “And that makes us a really dangerous team, because nobody has an answer for our top six.”

At the other end of the ice, netminder Lasse Koskinen (17-7-4, 3.13 GAA, .914 save percentage) has rebounded from an early-season slump back to his typical elite level of play.  And when backup Ron Mason (8-3-1, 2.90, .912) is in the crease, the Pistols don’t miss a beat.

“Having Koski and Mase in net is great,” said Shields.  “We know that whoever’s got the start on a given night is going to give us a top-notch performance.  And knowing that, our guys are free to be more aggressive and maximize their scoring chances.”

Are there any warning signs for the Pistols?  They may not have lost much recently, but some of their losses have come against potential playoff opponents.  They’re 2-3-0 this season against Hershey; their last meeting was a 6-0 Bliss blowout at Chocolate Center.  And when the Pistols hosted the Western-leading Portland Bluebacks just before the All-Star break, the Bluebacks cruised to an easy 4-0 victory.

But Alexander says the Pistols aren’t concerned about those results.  “When it gets to be playoff time, it’s a different game and a different atmosphere,” the winger noted.  “We’ve been tested in the battle, and we’ve come out strong.  And we’re going to do that again this year.  Just you wait.”

Pistols’ Goal Song Raises Roof… and Complaints

In recent seasons, the trend of individual goal songs has been spreading throughout hockey.  Most NHL and SHL teams have an anthem that they play when their team scores, but now some teams are playing specific songs when certain players score.  The Hamilton Pistols are the latest team to join that bandwagon, and it’s proven delightful to their fans… and annoying to their opponents.

The Pistols front office discussed the idea of individual goal songs during the offseason.  They decided to start small, with an individual song only for their top scorer, Steven Alexander.  “Alex is a generational talent, so if anyone deserves to have a special song, it’s him,” said Pistols coach Keith Shields.

After discussing the idea with Alexander and considering some possible choices, the team ultimately settled on a techno remix of “Scotland the Brave.”  (Alexander is of Scottish descent.)  “It was the perfect mix: distinctive, energetic, and fun,” said GM Marcel LaClaire.

Steven Alexander

The Pistols rolled out the song at the home opener, and it quickly proved to be a hit.  The song’s tempo and the quirkiness of the bagpipes were an infectious and irresistible combination for the fans.  Several Hamilton diehards dubbed themselves “Clan Alexander,” and now come to the arena dressed in red-and-black plaid kilts and tams, and play “air bagpipes” whenever their hero scores.

So far, so good.  But the song was such a hit that the team also began playing it as a third-period rally song.  The song is accompanied by a cartoon of a kilt-clad Alexander clubbing opponents to death with his hockey stick.  Naturally, the fans responded raucously to the prompt, raising the decibel level within Gunpowder Armory to deafening levels.  This tidal wave of noise drew the ire of Anchorage Igloos coach Sam Castor this week.

In the third period of Tuesday’s game, the Igloos trailed the Pistols 4-3, but Anchorage went on the power play with less than two minutes left and a chance to tie things up.  Castor called time out to discuss strategy with his team.  Unfortunately, he found himself completely drowned out by the music and the roar of the crowd.  The Igloos failed to score on the ensuing power play, and wound up losing the game.

“I’m trying to get my team on the same page for a critical PK, and I can’t even hear the words coming out of my mouth,” fumed Castor after the game.  “I’m used to loud music and screaming fans, but this was another level.  I ought to be able to have a strategy session with my team without having to use sign language.”

Castor claimed to have measured the sound level using an app on his phone; he said that it exceeded 130 decibels, roughly the same as a jet engine during takeoff.

Initially, the team blew off the complaint.  “What, are our fans cheering too loud for you?” said Shields when informed of Castor’s remarks.  After talking to the league office, however, the Pistols apologized and said they would lower the volume on the song somewhat.

“We’re not wanting to deafen anybody,” said LaClaire.  “We just want everybody to have a fun time.  But never fear, ‘Scotland the Brave’ is here to stay.”

Continue reading “Pistols’ Goal Song Raises Roof… and Complaints”

Night’s Foster Roasts Pistols’ New Mascot

New York Night coach Nick Foster is a master at using verbal jabs to stir up rivalries with opposing teams and players.  Over the last couple of seasons, he has trained the bulk of his rhetorical fire on the Hamilton Pistols, turning that rivalry into one of the league’s most heated.

Crosscheck

The two squads faced off again on Sunday, and after a 2-2 tie, Foster took the opportunity in his postgame press conference to open up another front in his verbal war against his opponents from the north: he mocked the Pistols’ new mascot, Crosscheck.

The Pistols originally planned for Crosscheck to debut at the beginning of this season.  After they won the Vandy last year, though, Hamilton’s front office shifted their early promotions to focus on celebrating the team’s title.  The new mascot – a rather unusual-looking orange creature clad in a Pistols jersey – finally took its bow late last month.  It’s received mixed reviews so far; some fans find it fun and cheerful, while others seem to consider it creepy.

Foster’s first exposure to Crosscheck occurred during Sunday’s game, and he wasted no time opening fire on the new mascot.  “So I look up at the scoreboard for a second, and suddenly I’m staring at this freaky inbred Teletubby,” Foster told reporters.  “At first I thought I must be hallucinating, but I rubbed my eyes and it was still there.  I asked [assistant coach] Biff [Lombardi] if he saw it too, and he did, so it must be real.”

After bugging out his eyes in mock shock, Foster continued.  “Now, I know Halloween isn’t for another eight months, so what the hell is this?  Are they trying to scare kids, or get the adults to throw up in the aisles?  I know I’m scarred for life: I’m going to see his one extra-wide tooth in my sleep.

“I finally figured it out, though,” the New York coach concluded.  “This… thing is supposed to represent Hamilton’s fans!  Think about it: It’s fat, missing most of its teeth, and it looks like its family tree is a straight line.  Just like your typical Pistols fan!  It must be like looking in a mirror for them.  So now I get it.”

In the wake of Foster’s barbs, the Pistols and their fans rushed to Crosscheck’s defense.  “Crosscheck is one of us,” said coach Keith Shields.  “Crosscheck is all about fun and love of hockey, and certainly deserves better than Foster’s insults and cruelty.  If you insult any member of the Pistols family – whether it’s a player, a fan, or a mascot – you have to answer to all of us.”

Added LW Steven Alexander, “Crosscheck might be ugly, but it’s better to be ugly on the outside than ugly on the inside.”

Hamilton’s fans have bombarded social media with memes and posts supporting Crosscheck and attacking Foster.  “I think perhaps we owe our gratitude to Coach Foster,” said Pistols GM Marcel LaClaire.  “He has done more to unite our fan base behind our new mascot than anyone ever could.  For this, I am thankful.”

Pistols Make Big Splash in Landing Costello from DC

Last season, the Hamilton Pistols were headed for their first-ever playoff appearance, and they faced a choice: dip into their store of top prospects and make a big win-now deal, or make a smaller depth deal and hold on to their young talent.  They chose the latter path, and wound up being bounced in the first round by Quebec.

This year, in the midst of an intense race in the East, the Pistols decided to go for a big-splash deal.  They acquired C Eddie Costello from the Washington Galaxy in exchange for C Pat Collistone, D Buster Kratz, and their first-round pick.

“To be honest, I’m surprised to be here announcing this deal,” said Pistols GM Marcel LaClaire.  “When we began to discuss it, it was almost as a joke.  But the longer we talked, the more serious it became.  Finally I said, ‘Let’s take the dare and do it.’”

The trade is a big swing designed to address Hamilton’s biggest weakness, which is scoring beyond their top line.  The 28-year-old Costello led the Galaxy in points with 45 and in assists with 33.  He will slot into the second-line center position in Hamilton, between LW Magnus Gunnarson and RW Kenny Patterson.  In order to fit under Hamilton’s salary cap, the Galaxy will retain $1 million of Costello’s salary.

“Eddie is a dynamite player, and he gives us an immediate boost on offense,” said Pistols coach Keith Shields.  “I’ve watched him beat us enough times over the years; I know what he can offer us.”

For Washington, the trade brings an end of the tenure of one of their most popular players.  Costello was a key contributor to the Galaxy teams that made back-to-back SHL finals appearances, and was also a colorful character on the ice and in the locker room.  Many young Galaxy fans copied his signature fauxhawk haircut.

“It’s pretty tough for me to leave DC, since I’ve had so many good times here,” Costello said.  “But I’m excited to join the playoff hunt again, and I’ll keep in touch with all my boys back here.”

The rental of Costello (who will be a free agent at the end of the season) didn’t come cheaply.  Collistone has been a longtime favorite in the Pistols organization.  The 23-year-old known affectionately as “Stoner” was strongly considered for the third-line center role in Hamilton this season; the Pistols wound up signing veteran J.C. Marais instead.  He was a 2018 CHL All-Star, and though his numbers are down a bit this season (13 goals, 17 assists with Oshawa), he remains a well-regarded prospect.

The 21-year-old Kratz is another homegrown Hamilton prospect.  He’s been a depth defenseman for the Pistols this season, appearing in only 12 games and failing to record a point.

“I never thought [LaClaire] would make Stoner available,” said Galaxy GM Ace Adams.  “He and Kratz both help us restock our prospect pool, which is great as we look to the next chapter for our team.  We wish Eddie all the best.  I hope he brings home the Vandy.”