CHL Update: Milwaukee’s Fit to Be Tied, Over and Over

In sports, nobody likes a tie.  As the old expression goes, a tie is like kissing your sister.  Ties are so unpopular that the NHL switched to deciding deadlocked games by shootout in order to get rid of them.  But in the SHL and its minor-league CHL, ties remain a fact of life.  And the CHL’s Milwaukee Hogs have proven surprisingly prone to them this season, a situation that vexes and perplexes their coach and players alike.

Through the first 16 games of the season, the Hogs have already recorded six ties.  They had a stretch last week in which they recorded three ties in a row.  They’ve already tied the all-time CHL record, recorded last year by the Minnesota Freeze.  They’re only one away from the all-time SHL record of seven, held by the 2016 Anchorage Igloos and the 2017 Quebec Tigres.  And there’s still three-quarters of the season left to go.  At their current pace, Milwaukee would finish the season with 24 ties, which would shatter all records.

“It’s almost like there’s some mysterious force that’s making us tie all the time,” said Hogs LW Gabriel Swindonburg.  “None of us really understand it.”

Why has Milwaukee been so prone to deadlocked games?  No one’s really certain.  Historically, teams with strong defense and goaltending and lackluster offense are often tie-prone (the 2017 Tigres would be an example of this).  But the Hogs don’t really fit this category.  They’re roughly in the middle of the pack on both ends of the ice.  They’re solidly in the middle of the pack in the CHL in scoring goals with 38, and third in GAA with a 2.41 average.

Some teams that end up in frequent ties tend to play conservatively late in close games and in overtime, aiming more to stave off defeat than to push hard for victory.  Coach Robbie Lear insisted that this was not the case for his club.

“I’m all about winning,” Lear told reporters.  “If I ever saw any of our guys taking their foot off the gas in OT and playing for the tie, you’d better believe they’ll be riding the pine.  But our guys aren’t doing that.  They’re going all out.  We just keep ending up with these godawful ties.”

Sunday’s contest was a particularly frustrating example.  The Hogs hosted the Oshawa Drive, and wasted little time getting out to a lead, scoring twice in the first 98 seconds of the game and making it 3-0 in the first minute of the second period.  The contest appeared headed for a rout; the Hogs were on the verge of knocking Oshawa starting goalie Garrett Hill out of the game.  Instead, the momentum shifted, and the Drive slowly rallied, ultimately erasing the Milwaukee lead on a tip-in goal by D Elvis Bodett in the third.  And sure enough, the game ended in yet another deflating, inexplicable tie.

“The strangest part is the locker room after,” said LW Sergei Tarisov of the team’s many stalemates.  “When we win, we are happy.  When we lose, we are sad.  When we tie… we do not know what to be.”

In an effort to change the momentum, the Hogs hosted “No More Ties Night” on Thursday.  The team encouraged fans to bring in old neckties and deposit them in wheeled bins at the arena entrances; those who did received a coupon for a free bratwurst from the concession stands.  Lear and his assistant coaches went tieless on the bench.  During the second intermission, the Hogs wheeled out the fans’ discarded ties and set them on fire at center ice, as the crowd cheered.

The good news: The game didn’t end in a tie!  The bad news: the visiting Baltimore Blue Crabs thumped the Hogs by a score of 4-1.

“At least we had a result this time, even if it was a bad one,” said Lear after the game.  “I’m hoping we finally have this tie thing behind us.  I love my sister and all, but I’m sick of kissing her.”

In their next game on Saturday, Milwaukee tied the Cleveland Centurions 3-3.

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CHL Update: Saying Cheese In Milwaukee

The Milwaukee Hogs were one of the teams added to the CHL this season.  The team has done a fine job bonding with the local community, developing a number of creative promotions with local businesses to give the fans “something that’s uniquely Milwaukee,” as GM Carlton Neilson put it.  They’ve had the Brewers’ Racing Sausages wander the concourses.  They’ve raffled off a Harley-Davidson motorcycle (only fitting, as they play at Harley-Davidson Arena).  They’ve held nights to represent virtually every ethnic group in the area.  And on Tuesday Night, they celebrated Wisconsin’s status as “America’s Dairyland” by holding Cheese Night.

“Cheese, sausage, and beer are the major Wisconsin food groups,” said Neilson.  “Cheese Night is a tribute to one of the foods that makes Milwaukee great.”

The event was sponsored by the Mars Cheese Castle, a cheese emporium located in nearby Kenosha.  As fans entered the arena, they received Wisconsin “cheesehead” hats with the Hogs logo on the back.  “A little cliche, maybe, but no Cheese Night would be complete without them,” Neilson said.

During breaks in the action, the Hog Heaven Hype Squad (Milwaukee’s in-game entertainment crew) hosted a variety of exciting cheese-themed games.  One of the most popular was “Guess the Cheese,” in which blindfolded fans were given a sample of one of the Castle’s many cheeses and challenged to identify it.  (Winning fans received a T-shirt reading “I’m The Big Cheese” and a Mars Cheese Castle gift card.)

Between the first and second periods, there was a cheese-eating contest, in which 12 Hogs fans were challenged to eat as many cheese curds as they could in a 2-minute period.  The winner was Jake Kovaleski, a factory worker from Kenosha, who downed a half-pound of the curds in that time.   “I’m probably going to regret this tomorrow,” Kovaleski said, “but I feel good tonight!” He received a pair of tickets to a future Hogs game.

Between the second and third periods, the Hogs unveiled their piece de resistance: they laid out a giant maze on the ice, then had four fans in rat costumes enter at different corners of the maze.  The goal was to get to the “cheese” at the middle, which was actually a stack of cheesehead hats filled with Hogs merchandise and Mars Cheese Castle gift cards.  The first fan to reach the middle was Steve Morris, a home health-care worker from Waukesha.  “I’m king of the cheese!” exclaimed Morris.

The celebration of cheese extended beyond the food itself.  The team invited fans to submit entries in the Cheesiest Pun Contest.  Several fans shared their best groaners on the big screen; afterward, everyone had a chance to cast their vote for the cheesiest of the puns.  The winner, submitted by Marlene Graybeck of Brookfield, went as follows: “There was an explosion at a cheese factory in France.  Nothing but de-brie everywhere!”

 

In addition to all of the cheese-tastic festivities, Milwaukee fans got to see the home team win big, 7-2 over the Utah Owls.  D Steve Cargill scored a pair of goals, and narrowly missed completing the hat trick, pinging a shot off the post.  “It’s a good thing that I didn’t [get the hat trick],” Cargill quipped.  “If all the fans threw their cheeseheads on the ice, someone might have gotten hurt.”

All in all, the night was a hit, and Neilson said that the team would likely look to do it again in the future.  In fact, only one person wasn’t happy about the promotion: coach Robbie Lear.  “I’m lactose intolerant,” the coach moaned.

CHL Update: Screaming Eagles Move to Colorado Springs, Affiliates Shuffle

Change is coming to the SHL for 2018, as the Boston Badgers and Kansas City Smoke will be joining the fold.  Similarly, change is coming to the SHL’s minor league, the Continental Hockey League.  The CHL will also be adding two teams to match the SHL’s expansion; in addition, several teams will be swapping affiliates, and one team – the Albuquerque Screaming Eagles – will be relocating.

The Screaming Eagles lasted only one season in New Mexico, finishing fourth in the West with a 24-34-2 record that led to coach Butch Slazenger‘s firing.  The team drew poorly, finishing last in the league with an average attendance under 3,000 per game.  Arguably the most memorable features of the team was their garish uniforms, featuring gigantic stars on the sleeves and flames on the breezers.

“It’s going to be a lot easier on the eyes this year with the Eagles gone,” quipped Utah Owls coach Wiley Kiyotie.

The Eagles franchise was purchased by shipping magnate Rick Gilborn, who will relocate the team to his hometown of Colorado Springs.  In addition to a new home, the franchise will have a new nickname: the Zoomies.  Gilborn, a graduate of the Air Force Academy, said that the name is a slang term applied to cadets at the Academy.  “Speed, valor, skill,” said Gilborn.  “Makes for a great cadet, and makes for a great hockey player.”

To go along with their new city and name, the Zoomies will have a new parent club.  The Screaming Eagles were affiliated with the SHL champion Hershey Bliss, The Bliss wanted an affiliate closer to home, so they chose to partner with the Milwaukee Hogs, one of the CHL’s expansion clubs.  Colorado Springs will instead link up with the Seattle Sailors.  Seattle was in the market for a new minor-league club after their previous affiliate, the Omaha Ashcats, decided to link up with the Smoke.

“We couldn’t be happier to be in Colorado Springs,” said Sailors GM Jay McKay.  “It’s closer to us, so I should be able to get out and see our prospects in person more often.  And it should be a strong market with a great bunch of fans.  I can’t wait for the new season!”

Over in the CHL’s Eastern Division, the picture is less complicated, as no teams will be moving or changing affiliates.  The division’s expansion team, the Hartford Harpoons, will be affiliated with (and partially owned by) the Badgers.

“This is a tremendous opportunity,” said veteran coach Mel Lonigan, who was hired as the Harpoons’ first bench boss.  “Hartford’s a great hockey town – hell, the Whalers never should have left – and we’re getting in on the ground floor with a new team.  I see no reason why we can’t compete right out of the box.  We’re going to bring some exciting, competitive hockey here to Whale Country.”

SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell is excited by the growth and change in the CHL.  “There’s been a little reorganization between seasons, but in a good way,” said Commissioner Mitchell.  “By adding two great expansion teams in Hartford and Milwaukee and relocating to Colorado Springs, our minor league is stronger then it’s ever been, just as the SHL is stronger than it’s ever been.  2018 is going to be our best year yet.”