Sailors Outlast Smoke in Crazy 8-7 Win

As the regular season winds to a close, it’s looking increasingly likely that the Seattle Sailors will make the postseason for the first time in their existence (and, ironically, in their last season in Seattle).  It also looks increasingly likely that the Kansas City Smoke will finish with the league’s worst record, which means that they’ll get the top pick in the draft.

On paper, Sunday’s game was a mismatch.  But anything can happen in a single game, and the contest turned out to be a wild see-saw affair, culminating in a frenzied third period in which the teams combined to score seven goals.  In the end, Seattle emerged with a razor-thin 8-7 victory that allowed them to hold onto first place in the West for another day.

“This was like playing shinny as a kid,” said Sailors LW Rod “Money” Argent.  “Just firewagon action back and forth, all offense.  It was crazy.”

The game started with a bang, as Argent fired a shot that beat Kansas City netminder Gus Parrish just 26 seconds into the contest.  Smoke RW Tyler Cloude answered a couple minutes with a low shot that went five-hole on Sailors goalie Rocky Goldmire.  Just over five minutes after that, Seattle RW Vince Mango tucked a slapper just under the crossbar to give his team a 2-1 edge, which it maintained for the rest of the period.

In the first minute of the second period, C Darien Picard got Kansas City back even by beating Goldmire on a breakaway.  After that, though, Seattle went on a run, aided by some bad Smoke penalties.  First, C Mike Rivera went to the box for elbowing.  Kansas City killed off the penalty, but couldn’t get the puck out of their own end, allowing RW Rodney McElvern to tip a shot home and put the Sailors back in front.  A minute after McElvern’s goal, D T.K. O’Neill hit Argent in the mouth with his stick, drawing blood and earning a double minor.  Mango made the Smoke pay, hitting pay dirt on a shot from the right faceoff circle.  A couple minutes later, RW Zachary Merula took a cheap slashing penalty in the offensive zone.  This time, it took only 36 seconds for Mango to overwhelm the exhausted KC penalty kill, scoring again to complete his hat trick.  It was now a 5-2 Seattle lead, and it seemed like the rout was on.

The plucky Smoke refused to give up, however.  With 49 seconds left in the second stanza, LW Veikko Sikanen gathered up a rebound and stuffed it home, closing the gap to two.  Then in the first couple of minutes of the third, Rivera and Merula made up for their penalties by scoring just 14 seconds apart, tying the game and stunning the crowd at Century 21 Arena.

“We couldn’t believe that it was a game again,” said Mango.  “We were sure we’d put them away, but they came back on us.”

Seattle answered back just 24 seconds after Merula’s score, as C Napoleon Beasley beat Parrish on the short side to give the Sailors the lead again.  But KC wasn’t ready to give up.  LW Tadeusz Adamczyk scored to tie it yet again, and exactly a minute later, Cloude found the back of the net to give Kansas City its first lead of the game.

“[The Smoke] were like the Black Knight in Monty Python; we cut their limbs off and they just kept coming,” said Mango.  “’It’s just a flesh wound!’”

Fortunately for the Sailors, they had one more good push left, which they deployed in the final five minutes of the game.  C Marco Venezio got behind the defense and scored on a breakway to tie it up one more time.  A mere twelve seconds later, RW Elliott Pepper stormed down the ice on an odd-man rush and scored what provide to be the winning goal.  A pair of late penalties erased whatever chance Kansas City had for a comeback.

Harold Engellund

Sailors coach Harold Engellund praised his team for its resilience.  “One of the things I appreciate about this team is the way they can take a punch and keep going,” said Engellund.  “[The Smoke] didn’t make this one easy on us, but we hung in there and got the W.  That says something about the competitive character around here.”

Critics of the Sailors often argue that their lackluster defense will prevent them from succeeding in the playoffs, and giving up seven goals to the league’s worst team certainly argues in that direction.  Engellund, however, brushed off those concerns: “The bottom line is that we did what it took to win.  Maybe it wasn’t pretty, but so what?  You don’t get points for style, just for winning.”

Smoke Snap Skid With 6-5 Shocker Over Igloos

The Kansas City Smoke have been stumbling through a dismal month of hockey.  Coming into Saturday’s game, they’d lost five in a row and 13 of their last 14.  Since a rare three-game winning streak that ended on Valentine’s Day, Kansas City has posted a pitiful 1-18-1 record.  They’re weak on both sides of the puck; they’re dead last in goaltending (3.94 GAA and .885 save percentage), tenth on defense (34.5 shots allowed per game), and ninth on offense (100 goals scored).

On Saturday, the Smoke hosted the Anchorage Igloos at Heartland Telecom Center.  Given that the Igloos are fighting tooth and nail for playoff position in the crowded West, they were widely expected to stomp the Smoke.  Instead, Kansas City burst out with a rare offensive explosion, stunning Anchorage with a 6-5 win.  The Smoke scored as many goals in this game as they had during their prior five-game losing streak.

“This is a big win for us!” crowed Smoke RW Zachary Merula.  “When you’re in a slump like we’ve been, it’s easy to get down on yourself.  But we showed that we can beat anybody!”

After the first two periods, Kansas City had played Anchorage close, but still found themselves trailing 4-3.  This seemed like a harbinger of yet another defeat; third periods have been a horror show for the Smoke all season.  They’d blown countless leads in the last period; coming in behind, they seemed ripe for another blowout.

But in the locker room before the third, D Tony Hunt rallied his teammates.  In a young clubhouse, the 35-year-old Hunt has been a vocal leader.  He exhorted the Smoke to go out and steal a win.

“Hey guys, have you noticed [the Igloos] out there?” Hunt said.  “They’re just skating around.  They think they’ve got this one in the bag.  I think it’s time for us to go out there and give ‘em a shock!  We’ve got awesome fans, and it’s been a while since we’ve given them any good news.  Let’s go out and give ‘em a W they won’t forget!”

The fired-up Smoke didn’t take long to make good on Hunt’s words.  Just 41 seconds into the final period, RW Tyler Cloude snapped a shot between the pads of Anchorage goalie Wendell Cantillon to tie the score.  Hunt waved his arms to the crowd and got them to scream at the top of their lungs.

After that, Smoke C Mike Rivera took the spotlight.  Rivera is the Kansas City captain, but he generally prefers to lead by example.  Five minutes after Cloude’s tying blast, Rivera got behind the Anchorage defense and beat Cantillon on the short side to give the Smoke their first lead since the second minute of the game.  Ninety seconds later, Rivera redirected a slapper from LW Trevor Green into the net to make it 6-4 Kansas City.  Rivera jumped into the glass as the fans roared with delight.

“I got goose bumps, no lie,” said Rivera.  “Our crowds are usually pretty chill, but they really got amped this time.  Dude, it was amazing.”

The Smoke may have caught the Igloos napping early in the period, but the defending champs didn’t go down quietly.  Just over a minute after Rivera’s second goal, Igloos C Jake Frost scored to cut KC’s lead to one.  The crowd’s buzz turned uneasy; they’d certainly seen plenty of late collapses before.

But Hunt began thumping his stick against the boards, and persuaded his teammates to do the same.  Pretty soon, they had the crowd clapping in unison.

“What Tony did was really cool,” said Merula.  “I mean, these fans had every reason to think we were going to blow it, but Tony turned ‘em around and got them to believe.  And they got us to believe.”

Throughout the rest of the period, the Smoke fans showered their heroes with cheers and chants.  And the players responded, making rare blocks and steals.  Goalie Dennis Wampler made a couple of ten-bell saves that earned standing ovations.  And for the final minute of the game, all the fans got on their feet and roared, urging the Smoke on to a most unlikely victory.

“How ‘bout that W, huh!” exclaimed Smoke coach Randy Bergner, grinning ear to ear.  “This season’s been a slog at times, so I give a ton of credit to Hunter and the boys for making a stand.  And a big salute to our fans, who were the best I’ve ever seen!  We couldn’t have done this without them.”

Continue reading “Smoke Snap Skid With 6-5 Shocker Over Igloos”

Interview of the Week: Mike Rivera

This week’s interview is with Kansas City Smoke C Mike Rivera.

SHL Digest: This week, we’re talking to the captain of the Kansas City Smoke, Mike Rivera.  Mike, thanks for speaking with us.

Mike Rivera

Mike Rivera: It’s cool.  You asked me to do it, so I did.

SHLD: And we appreciate that.  You have a reputation for being a pretty laid-back guy.

MR: That I do.  My nickname’s “River,” and it fits, ‘cause I just go with the flow.

SHLD: And yet you’ve got the captain’s “C” on your sweater.  How did that come about?

MR: [laughs] Well, you know, on an expansion team you got a lotta young guys, and you can’t give them the C.  Originally, they were gonna give it to Hunter [D Tony Hunt], but he didn’t want it.  We’d played together in New York, so he told them to give me the C instead.  It might have been a joke.  No big deal, though.

SHLD: As team captain, you have a leadership role on a team with a lot of young players.  Do you see yourself as a mentor to those youngsters?

MR: I don’t know, dude.  I mean, if they come and ask me something, like for tips on taking faceoffs or if they want to know the good restaurants in town – I’m happy to talk to ‘em.  But I’m not, you know, their dad, so I let ‘em come to me.  I don’t go to them.  I figure the coaches do the teaching around here.  I don’t want to get in the way of that.

SHLD: How do you feel about the young players on your team?

MR: They’re cool.  And they’re good.  I mean, Ruler [RW Zachary Merula], Cloudy [RW Tyler Cloude], Pic [C Darien Picard]… they’re a damn good bunch of dudes, and they all work way harder than I did at their age.  They’re gonna crush it.  And on the D side, we got Hermie [Gary Hermine] and the Bastard [Bastien Chouinard].  Tough dudes, for sure.  I bet one of them is gonna get the C soon.

SHLD: You grew up in southern California, near Los Angeles.

MR: That’s right.  La-La Land, that’s me!

SHLD: How did a SoCal kid wind up getting into hockey?

MR: Well, my mom’s family is from Canada, believe it or not.  We’d go visit them, and they’d be talking about hockey, and it got me excited.  So one day my dad took me to a Kings game, and it was like whoa!  It was just magic for me.  Gretzky was still with the Kings then, and he was awesome.

SHLD: Must have been hard to find friends to play hockey with in LA.

MR: Yeah, no kidding.  Roller hockey sometimes, maybe.  But ice hockey?  No chance.  Fortunately, there was a league in the area, and my folks made pretty good money, so they signed me up.

SHLD: Returning to the present, you’re having a strong year in Kansas City.  What do you think are the keys to your success?

MR: Mostly, I’ve just been relaxing and doing my thing.  We don’t have a lot of drama in the locker room like there was in New York.  We don’t have a bunch of expectations on us like I had in Dakota.  I can just… be, and do my thing, you know.

SHLD: The trade deadline is coming up next month, and your strong play might earn you the attention of contending clubs.  Would you be excited to go to a contender, or would you prefer to stay put?

MR: Either way’s cool with me.  Not like it’s my decision, though.  It’s not like our GM’s gonna get an offer and go, “Wait, Mike Rivera?  He said he wanted to stay here!  Better not trade that dude.”  In the end, we’re all pieces of meat in the supermarket window.  If I stay, cool.  If I go somewhere else, that’s cool too.  You know, go with the flow.

SHLD: For a guy with such a laid-back attitude, it was a surprise to hear your quote from last week that going winless for a week was “reality… crashing down on us like a ton of cement dropped off the top of the Empire State Building.”

MR: (laughs) Well, come on, dude.  I mean, winning’s better than losing, right?  Losing sucks.  But it comes with the territory so, you know.

SHLD: Well, that about wraps this one up, Mike.  Thanks for an engaging interview!

MR: Sure thing.  Peace out!