- On Monday, the Quebec Tigres activated D Ward Jones from the disabled list. Jones had missed more than a month with an upper-body that he suffered before the All-Star break. To make room for Jones on the active roster, the Tigres reassigned D Serge Rimbaud to their farm team in Maine. The 18-year-old Rimbaud appeared in 13 games with Quebec, recording 8 assists and a +1 rating.
- Also on Monday, the Hamilton Pistols placed goaltender Lasse Koskinen on the disabled list. Koskinen suffered an upper-body injury during Sunday’s 7-4 win over New York. He is expected to miss 2 to 3 weeks, a serious blow for a Pistols team that is trying to snatch a playoff spot in the East. To replace Koskinen, the Pistols called up Hector Orinoco from their affiliate in Oshawa. The 23-year-old Orinoco has gone 13-11-0 with a 2.69 GAA and a .902 save percentage with Oshawa this season.
- On Tuesday, the Tigres placed LW Stellan Fisker on the disabled list. Fisker suffered an upper-body injury during the Tigres’ 3-0 win over Hershey. He is expected to miss 3 to 4 weeks. To replace Fisker on the roster, the Tigres called up LW Carl Bleyer from their farm team in Maine. Bleyer has put up 26 points (8 goals, 18 assists) with the Moose on the year.
- Wednesday was the trading deadline. The following trades were consummated at the deadline:
- The New York Night traded RW Mickey Simpson, D Andy Ruger, and a 3rd-round draft pick to the Washington Galaxy for RW Nori Takoyaki. (More details here.) After making the trade, the Night promoted D Craig Werner from their farm team in Utah and signed D Sheldon Harville to a minor-league contract.
- The Galaxy traded Ruger to the Kansas City Smoke in exchange for a 3rd-round pick.
- The Michigan Gray Wolves traded RW Cleo Rodgers, G Gus Parrish, and a 2nd-round pick to the Smoke in exchange for LW Kevin Starkey and D Scott Hexton. (More details here.) After the trade, Kansas City called up Parrish and LW Veikko Sikanen from their CHL affiliate in Omaha, and demoted G Jim Fleetwood to Omaha. They also released G Toby Kemper. Meanwhile, Michigan released D Igor Shovshenkov, demoted F Yann Eberlein to their affiliate in Cleveland, and signed Kemper to a minor-league deal.
- The Saskatchewan Shockers traded C Tanner Brooks to the Dakota Jackalopes in exchange for D Rusty Anderson. (More details here.) After the trade, the Shockers demoted D Valeri Nistrumov to their farm team in Virginia. They also released D Knute Skoeglin and signed F Marvin Cascio to a minor-league deal.
- The Hamilton Pistols traded C Pat Collistone, D Buster Kratz, and a 1st-round pick to the Galaxy in exchange for C Eddie Costello. (More details here.) After the trade, the Pistols called up D Russ Klemmer from their CHL affiliate in Oshawa, and demoted RW Michael Jennings to Oshawa. They also signed D Gresham Sourwine to a minor-league contract. The Galaxy demoted Kratz to their affiliate in Baltimore and promoted C Tucker Barnhill from Baltimore. They also released D Sheldon Harville.
- The Quebec Tigres traded D Kirby Hanlon, C Jacob Cunniff, and a 1st-round pick to the Jackalopes in exchange for D Matt Cherner. (More details here.) After the trade, Dakota released RW Omar Zdurchek; Quebec then signed him to a minor-league deal.
- Finally, the Seattle Sailors traded D Serkan Mratic to the Galaxy for D Stan Gallagher. (More details here.)
- On Saturday, the Jackalopes activated D Rodney Black from the injured list. Black, who was sidelined in only his second SHL game, missed two and a half weeks with an upper-body injury. Since Dakota was one player short of the roster limit, they did not make a corresponding move.
- Also on Saturday, the Hershey Bliss placed LW Lance Sweet on long-term injured reserve. Sweet was carried off the ice on a stretcher after being crunched into the boards late in the second period during Saturday’s 6-3 win over Saskatchewan. Sweet underwent surgery on his right leg, and is expected to be out for the rest of the season. To fill Sweet’s roster spot, Hershey called up D Seth Dowd from their CHL affiliate in Milwaukee. The 33-year-old Dowd, who last played in the SHL in 2016, recorded 27 points with Milwaukee this season.
With the SHL trade deadline approaching on Wednesday, the New York Night made the first move. With the team’s grip on a playoff spot slipping and with a crucial injury on the right wing, the Night picked up RW Nori Takoyaki from the Washington Galaxy in exchange for RW Mickey Simpson, D Andy Ruger, and a 3rd-round draft pick.
“Being hard up against the cap, there was only so much we could do,” said Night GM Royce McCormick. “But we saw a need, and we were able to fill it fairly cheaply.”
Takoyaki, who is the SHL’s only player of Japanese ancestry, had played with the Galaxy since the SHL’s beginning. He continued to produce solid numbers (6 goals, 15 assists) even in the midst of a disappointing season in the nation’s capital. He has a reputation as a weak defender, but he’ll fit right in with the Night’s shoot-first philosophy. With New York, Takoyaki will plug immediately into the open right-wing slot on the second line, which became vacant when Ivan “Trainwreck” Trujwirnek went down with a lower-body injury at the end of last week.
“Obviously, we all want Trainwreck to get healthy and get back in the lineup as soon as possible,” said Night coach Nick Foster. “But with Tako here, he should help us keep humming and keep the wins rolling in.”
When Trujwirnek returns, Takoyaki is expected to slot in on the third line, where Sylvester Catarino has struggled this season. “The deeper we are, the better we are,” said Foster.
The 22-year-old Simpson is the prize of the deal for Washington. Simpson has shuttled back and forth between the Night and their farm team in Utah this season. In 10 games with New York, Simpson recorded 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists) and a -5 rating.
“Right now, we’re a team in transition,” said Galaxy GM Ace Adams. “We’re focused on picking up prospects and giving our young guys some opportunities to shine. We’ll miss Tako and everything he did for our team. But I can’t wait to see what Mickey can do for us.”
The 30-year-old Ruger was a solid defender for the Night (he put up 4 points and a +2 rating in 11 games this season), but he was included solely to help the deal fit under the salary cap for the Night. The Galaxy also retained $500,000 of Takoyaki’s salary for this reason.
Immediately after the deal was completed, Washington turned around and dealt Ruger to the perpetually defense-starved Kansas City Smoke in exchange for future considerations.
- On Saturday, the Hershey Bliss placed D Steve Cargill on the disabled list. Cargill, who has had a sensational rookie season and played his way onto Hershey’s top pairing, was crunched hard into the boards during the third period of Saturday’s 6-4 win over Boston, and did not return. He was diagnosed with an upper-body injury that is expected to keep him out for 3 to 4 weeks. To replace Cargill on the roster, the Bliss promoted LW Gabriel Swindonburg from their CHL affiliate in Milwaukee. The 20-year-old Swindonburg, who was Hershey’s first-round draft pick this season, has scored 22 goals (tied ofr the CHL lead) with Milwaukee, and earned a trip to the CHL All-Star Game.
- Also on Saturday, the New York Night placed RW Ivan “Trainwreck” Trujwirnek on the disabled list. Trujwirnek suffered a lower-body injury while blocking a shot during the Night’s 7-4 loss against Hamilton. Trujwirnek’s situation is described as “week-to-week.” With Trujwirnek on the shelf, New York recalled RW Mickey Simpson from their farm team in Utah, Its the second stint in New York for Simpson, who was called up during LW Lee Fleming‘s injury back in late January.
- On Saturday, the Hamilton Pistols terminated the contract of LW Diego Garcia. The 26-year-old winger had been playing with Hamilton’s CHL team in Oshawa. After being bench due to a disagreement with Oshawa coach Harvey Williams, Garcia left the team. The Pistols deemed him in breach of contract. More on the story here.
- On Sunday, the New York Night activated LW Lee Fleming from the disabled list. Fleming missed nearly a month with a lower-body injury sustained after blocking a shot. To make room for Fleming on the roster, the Night returned RW Mickey Simpson back to their minor-league affiliate in Utah. Simpson, who had been called up when Fleming was injured, recorded 3 assists and a -5 rating in 9 games up with the big club.
- On Monday, the Night released F Bobby “Wacko” Warner and signed F Harper Hawking for the remainder of the season. The Night signed Hawking to a short-term contract to replace Simpson with their Utah farm club. The 20-year-old Hawking played in 9 games for Utah, notching 3 assists and a +2 rating. He played well enough to earn the respect of the coaching staff, who opted to keep him around after Simpson returned. Warner, who had been with Utah since the 2017 season, had 2 assists and a -1 rating in 13 games this season.
- On Wednesday, the Michigan Gray Wolves activated C Hunter Bailes from the disabled list. Bailes, who is Michigan’s leading goal scorer despite playing in only 19 of their 32 games, was out for two and a half weeks with a lower-body injury. In a corresponding room to make roster space for Bailes’ return, the Wolves reassigned C Phoenix Cage to their affiliate in Cleveland. Cage has spent time with Michigan in each of the last three seasons, and recorded three points (2 goals, 1 assist) during this most recent stint.
- 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.
Ed Francis is the very definition of a journeyman hockey player. The 29-year-old has spent his entire career as a steady but unremarkable depth defenseman. After graduating from Lake Huron State in 2010, Francis spent a couple years playing in Switzerland before joining the SHL. In four seasons split between Washington and Saskatchewan, he never made much of an impact, never scoring more than 7 goals or recording more than 11 points in a season. He is known as a hard worker and a positive clubhouse personality (earning the nickname “Easy Ed” for his gentle demeanor), but he hasn’t been quite fast or talented enough to nail down a starting job.
Francis was a free agent in the offseason, in a crowded market for blueliners. When it became clear that he wouldn’t receive a major-league contract, he gave serious thought to retiring. Francis had an open offer to become a high-school gym teacher in his hometown of Charlevoix, Michigan. He and his wife Judy have two young children, and the thought of spending less time on the road and more time raising his kids held considerable appeal.
In the end, though, Francis decided “I hadn’t gotten the game out of my blood quite yet.” He signed a minor-league deal with the New York Night and reported to their CHL affiliate, the Utah Owls. Finally having a chance to play every day, the defenseman has found joy with the Owls. And this week, he recorded an achievement he never imagined possible: he scored a hat trick in Utah’s wild 6-5 overtime win over the Idaho Spuds on Sunday.
It was unusual enough that Francis was the first one on the board, receiving a pass at the blue line from RW Mickey Simpson and firing a slapshot past Idaho goalie Kelvin White less than 2 minutes into the game. His tally was quickly forgotten, though, as the Spuds beat Utah netminder Corey Franklin-Lee three times in a five-minute span to take a two-goal lead at the first intermission.
The Owls quickly erased the deficit with a pair of scores early in the second period, only for D Brady Prussian’s slapper to put Idaho on top again. But just past the halfway point of the second, Utah generated some pressure in the slot in front of White. Francis crashed the net, picked up a deflection from C Gilles Valmont, and stuffed it over White’s catching glove for his second goal of the game, tying it at 4.
“At that point, I was just focused on the fact that we’d tied it up,” said Francis. “I wasn’t even thinking about [a hat trick].”
At 1:25 in the third period, Francis fired another blue-line shot that RW Harris Wondolowski redirected into the net, giving the Owls a 5-4 lead, their first edge since Francis’ opening tally.
“A three-point game? That was huge for me, probably my first one since high school,” Francis noted afterward. “And it gave us the lead, which was great.” Little did he know that the best was yet to come.
The Spuds didn’t go away quietly, as Prussian went five-hole on the power play to equalize the score again. Somewhat surprisingly, neither team scored again in regulation, sending things to overtime.
About a minute into the extra session, Francis joined a three-on-two rush for the Owls. “Usually on an odd-man rush like that, I don’t have the speed to be part of it,” he explained. “But I happened to be in a good spot when Gilles picked it off and started going the other way.”
Valmont found RW Jake Grifka below the hash marks. Grifka faked a shot, then slid a pass to Francis, who went top-shelf over a sprawling White to win the game as the crowd at Wasatch Arena exploded with delight.
It wasn’t until their hats began hitting the ice that Francis realized what he’d done. His mouth flew open as his teammates lifted him up and carried him off the ice.
Francis still seemed in shock as he talked to reporters after the game. “In my whole life, I never imagined I’d get a hatty,” he said. “It never even crossed my mind, not in my craziest dreams. It’s a good thing I didn’t know it was happening at the time, or I’d have shot it fifty feet over the goalie’s head.”
Owls coach Wiley Kiyotie was delighted by the unexpected achievement. “Ed’s the kind of guy who really deserves a moment like this,” Kiyotie told reporters. “He’s paid his dues, and he works his butt off and never complains. A guy like that ought to get to be the hero once in his life, at least.”
Once his postgame interviews were over, Francis pulled out his phone and called home to Judy, the wife who’d agreed to stay back in Michigan with the kids while her husband chased his dream for one more season. When she answered, Francis exclaimed: “Honey, you’ll never believe what just happened to me!”
Coming into the first-ever CHL playoffs, no one gave the Utah Owls much of a chance to win. Although they had been hot during the last month of the season, they only finished a few games above the .500 mark. They had few players among the league leaders in any category, and they were better known for their wacky hotel escapades than for anything they did on the ice. The smart money suggested that the Owls would be easily knocked out by the Omaha Ashcats in the Western Division playoff; failing that, they’d be taken down by the high-scoring Virginia Rhinos in the finals.
By the time the playoffs were over, however, the smart money wasn’t looking so smart. Utah stunned Omaha by winning the division finals in four games and making it look easy. Then in the Finals, with barely more drama, the Owls defeated the Rhinos 4 games to 1 to claim the inaugural Howard Trophy as CHL champions.
“Nobody believed in us,” said Owls C Lloyd “Goofy” Banjax. “Everyone was just standing around, waiting for us to fail. But we showed them! We showed everybody that we’re the best there is!”
In Game 1, Utah walked into Waterfront Center and pushed the pace, with the teams combining for 85 shots. The Owls hammered the Rhinos 6-2, with six different players scoring goals for the Owls. “I absolutely did not see that coming,” said Virginia goalie Shawn Stickel. “We’d heard those guys liked to play fast, but we weren’t expecting that kind of crazy speed. It’s like they had rockets in their skates.” Not only did the Rhinos lose the game, they lost winger Nick Krombopoulos for the series with an upper-body injury.
In Game 2, Virginia seemed to restore order, downing Utah 3-1. But both sides wound up losing a defenseman to injury; the Rhinos lost Ivan Ackler, while the Owls saw Boris Badenov go down. The series shifted to Wasatch Arena for Game 3, where the Owls turned the tables with a 3-1 win of their own. In Game 4, Virginia took an early 2-0 lead, only to see Utah tie it up with a pair in the second period. RW Colton Jabril put the Rhinos back up with a tally two minutes into the third period, and it looked like his team was about to tie the series up again. But Owls LW Mickey Simpson banked one in off the crossbar with 12 seconds left to send it to overtime, and then C Remi “Roadrunner” Gallert nabbed the game-winner 2:05 into OT to give Utah a 3-1 series lead.
“After that, we knew we had it,” said Banjax.
The Owls took care of business in Game 5, with F Diego Garcia scoring two goals to lead his team to a 4-1 win. The infamously boisterous team managed not to lay waste to the arena; instead, they formed a dogpile on the ice and soaked in the joy of an unexpected victory.
Utah’s secret? Goalie Sherman Carter. The top prospect started the season with the Owls before earning a quick call-up to the New York Night, before being sent down for the final games of the CHL season. He was the key to the Owls’ postseason success, putting up a 1.99 GAA and a .949 save percentage against the league’s highest-scoring team. Unsurprisingly, Carter was chosen as the Finals MVP.
“Sherm has been nothing short of awesome for us,” said Owls coach Wiley Kiyotie. “The only sad thing is that he’s probably not going to be back here next year. He’s headed to the pros to stick next year, and I know he’s going to be special.”
In the midst of the postgame celebration, Banjax was asked whether he thought his team could repeat next year. “Probably not,” said the Utah center. “But then, no one thought we’d win it this year. So who knows? I can’t wait to find out.”