Shockers Snap Up Thompson to be Bench Boss

Michigan Gray Wolves assistant coach Morris Thompson has been one of the most sought-after SHL head coaching candidates for the last two seasons.  The Washington Galaxy reportedly gave serious consideration to hiring Thompson to replace Rodney Reagle.  After the Galaxy opted for Peter James instead, the Saskatchewan Shockers wasted no time in tabbing Thompson as their next coach.

Morris Thompson

“Behold!” exclaimed Shockers owner Heinz Doofenshmirtz as he introduced Thompson.  “If there was such a thing as a Coachinator, this guy would be it!”

Over the last several seasons, the Shockers have gone from being the joke of the SHL to a young team on the rise.  As the team’s progressed seemed to stall in the 2018 season, however, Doofenshmirtz and the front office decided that change was in order.  They fired Myron Beasley, the only coach the team had ever had, in midseason.  Assistant coach Caleb Ponder was appointed as the interim head man, but was never seriously considered for the long-term job and was dismissed at the end of the season.

Reportedly, the Shockers were seeking a coach who would impose a firmer hand on discipline than either Beasley or Ponder, as well as someone who help the team take the next leap to become a contender.  When seeking a model for the kind of organization they wanted to build, they kept coming back to the Wolves and coach Ron Wright as a model.  “Michigan is everything we want to be: disciplined, hard-working, willing to do whatever it takes to win,” said Saskatchewan GM Connor Matthews.  “So why not go get one of the guys who helped build that?”

The 39-year-old Thompson started out playing for Wright and built a reputation as a grinding fourth-line winger.  After a shattered kneecap ended his playing career a decade ago, Wright suggested that Thompson get into coaching, and he’s been on Wright’s staff ever since.  In the SHL, Thompson followed Wright from Hamilton to Michigan.

“Everything I know about coaching, I learned from Coach Wright,” Thompson said.  “He taught me what it really means to work hard and be prepared.  He taught me that championships are won in practice, when a team commits itself to be all in.  He taught me that a coach can’t ask his players to make the sacrifices they need to win if he’s not willing to make those same sacrifices himself.  He taught me that hard work and sweat trumps raw talent every time.  That’s the culture I plan to bring here.”

Like Wright, Thompson is regarded as a defensive specialist.  With Saskatchewan, he will be working to strengthen a strength; the Shockers’ 2.71 GAA was good for fifth in the league.  Where they fell down was on offense, as they converted only 8% of their shots and outscored only the expansion teams in Kansas City and Boston.  Critics of the hire wonder if Thompson has the skill set to jump-start Saskatchewan’s sluggish offense.

“There’s nothing wrong with this team’s ability to create shots,” said Thompson.  “The problem is that too many of them are one-timers and slappers from way out, and any good goalie can stop those.  We need the ability to follow up.  We need to strengthen our net-front presence, get into the dirty areas where we might be able to get a deflection or rebound or take the goalie’s eyes away.  Work hard and be physical.”

The expectations are high for Thompson and the Shockers, as Matthews made clear.  “We know that champions aren’t built overnight,” the GM said.  “But we aren’t afraid to set that expectation.  The goal is not just to get a little better or be respectable.  We’re building to a championship.  That’s the goal, nothing less.”

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Shockers Dismiss Interim Coach Ponder

In a move that was widely anticipated, the Saskatchewan Shockers announced that they would not be bringing back interim coach Caleb Ponder, opening up what could be a wide-ranging search for a new bench boss for a young and rising team.

Caleb Ponder

Ponder took over the Shockers at the All-Star Break when the team fired Myron Beasley, who was the only head coach the team had ever had.  Beasley guided Saskatchewan to a 12-17-1 record before his dismissal.  Ponder, who had been Beasley’s assistant, compiled a similar record to his predecessor, posting a 15-16-3 mark in the second half.

“We appreciate everything that Caleb has done for the Shockers organization in his four years with us, and especially during his half-season as interim head coach,” said Shockers GM Cooper Matthews.  “He’s a good coach and a fine human being.  But we felt like it was time for a fresh start.”

Sources close to the team said that there was no chance that Ponder was going to be considered for the long-term head job, even at the time of his hiring.  “Unless he somehow won the Vandy, Caleb wasn’t coming back,” said one source.  The perception in Saskatchewan’s front office was that Beasley’s cheerful, quippy approach wasn’t working with a young team that both owner Heinz Doofenshmirtz and GM Matthews expect to be a serious contender, and that Ponder wasn’t enough of a change from Beasley.

“Everybody liked Myron,” said one senior front office member, speaking under condition of anonymity.  “He’s a really nice guy, and his press conferences were fun to watch.  But the perception was that he wasn’t driving the team that hard, and we’re at a stage where we need someone with a firmer hand to get to the next level.”

Ponder took the news with grace.  “I’ve really enjoyed my time here,” the coach told reporters.  “I think we have a talented group of guys here, and the sky’s the limit.  I wish them nothing but the best.”

The Shockers are expected to cast a wide net when looking for their next coach.  The names being considered by the team include minor-league coach Jeffrey “Swampy” Marsh, Michigan assistant Morris Thompson, Anchorage assistant Kyle Barrow, and longtime bench boss Harvey Williams.

Saskatchewan’s front office is reportedly looking for a coach who takes a firm hand with discipline and has a track record with building winning teams.  These caveats would seem to rule out Marsh, who is best known for his offbeat sense of humor and has only been a coach for two years.  But multiple sources confirmed that he will be considered, possibly due to his success in molding the Shockers’ minor-league prospects.

Shockers Fire Coach Beasley

When the Saskatchewan Shockers first took the ice, they were the joke of the SHL.  They finished with the league’s worst record by far in their first season, and were best known for a promotional stunt in which they started a sumo wrestler in goal.  Their record improved in subsequent seasons, but their reputation was still marred by player hijinks and promotions gone wrong.

This season, the organization has made significant strides to become more professional.  They revamped their color scheme, dumping seafoam in favor of electric blue on their uniforms.  They signed a big-name free agent, LW Vonnie McLearen.  And they declared their intention to compete for a playoff spot.  “It’s time for us to turn the corner and become a contender,” said GM Cooper Matthews before the season.  “No more excuses.”

Myron Beasley

This week, Matthews backed up his words with action.  With the Shockers mired in mediocrity at the midpoint of the season and on track for virtually the same record as last season, the Shockers announced on Wednesday that they’d parted ways with Myron Beasley, the only coach the team has ever had.

The Shockers got off to a solid start early, posting an above-.500 record and remaining in the playoff mix in a wide-open Western division.  But the team hit the skids shortly thereafter, going 4-10-1 over its next 15 games.  Reportedly, it was Saskatchewan’s winless week before the All-Star break, which included a scoreless tie against expansion Kansas City, that convinced the front office to dismiss Beasley.

“As an organization, we’ve been clear that we expect to take the next step forward,” said Matthews.  “That hasn’t happened, so it’s time to make a change.”

The Shockers have been hampered by a sputtering offense.  The team was averaging a mere 2.27 goals per game at the time of Beasley’s firing; only the expansion Boston Badgers had scored fewer.

Beasley leaves Saskatchewan with a record of 67-138-5 over three and a half seasons.  The coach’s supporters note that he was a key force of stability during the franchise’s chaotic early days, and that most bosses would not have had the patience and tolerance to deal with some of the team’s more outlandish antics over the years.  “A lot of coaches would have quit if they’d had to go through what Myron went through,” said one source close to the coach.  “But he felt like he’d made a commitment, and he wanted to see it through.”

Beasley’s critics, on the other hand, argued that he lacks the discipline and vigor to lead a contending club.  After the Shockers’ dismal 11-48-1 showing in 2015, they improved by 10 wins the following season.  Since then, though, the team’s progress has stalled.  With owner Heinz Doofenshmirtz eager to put a Vandy in his trophy case, Saskatchewan’s lack of improvement was no longer acceptable.

“This was a tough decision for all of us,” said Matthews.  “Coach Beasley is a wonderful person, and we’ve always considered him a member of the Shockers family.  But we felt like we needed a new voice and a new face in charge in order to help us reach our goals as an organization.”

Caleb Ponder

Matthews indicated that assistant coach Caleb Ponder would take over the head up on an interim basis.  Ponder has been Beasley’s assistant since the team’s beginning.  Team sources indicated that barring a surprise development, Ponder would remain in charge of the team for the rest of the season, and the team will perform a full search for a replacement during the offseason.

For his part, Beasley says that he has no hard feelings about the decision.  “I’ve enjoyed my time here, but in the end it’s all about results,” he told reporters.  “That’s how the business goes.  Whoever takes over next, they’re getting a team with a heck of a lot of talent.  And no matter what, we’ll always have Dr. Coconut.”

Adding a layer of awkwardness to the situation, Beasley’s son Napoleon remains the Shockers’ top line center.  The younger Beasley declined to comment on his father’s firing.  Matthews said that the team had no plans to get rid of Napoleon: “He remains a key piece of our roster going forward.”

Shockers Hold Night to Honor “Bananas Foster”

This offseason, C Foster Culp left the Saskatchewan Shockers in free agency and signed with the Seattle Sailors.  He was not widely missed by Shockers fans or management.  After showing considerable promise as a rookie, he stagnated over the next two seasons, never breaking the 20-goal mark or surpassing the 31 points he amassed in his first season.  He was far better known for his screwball off-ice antics and bizarre quotes than for anything he achieved on the ice.

Foster Culp

As a result, when Culp returned to Saskatchewan for the first team in the season’s second week, the Shockers didn’t do anything to mark the occasion.  After the game, the center admitted that he was miffed at the lack of recognition.  “I mean, I wasn’t expecting them to retire my number or anything, but why wasn’t there a Foster Culp Night?” he asked reporters.  “I gave these guys three years of my life, and I don’t get even a gold watch or anything?  Not cool, man.”

When informed of Culp’s displeasure, Saskatchewan coach Myron Beasley barely managed to stifle his laughter.  “He thinks we should have a night for him?  Typical Bananas Foster.”  Beasley explained that “Bananas Foster was our nickname for him in the clubhouse.  Don’t get me wrong, he was a nice guys and a decent player.  But his elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top floor, if you know what I mean.  We’ve got some loose screws on this team, but Foster was something else again.  We were just glad he didn’t wind up in prison.”

But in the wake of the exchange, some Shockers fans emailed and tweeted at the front office urging them to make “Bananas Foster Night” a reality.  And given their past difficulties with promotions, the team saw an opportunity for an easy win.  “If the fans want Bananas Foster Night, for whatever reason,” said GM Cooper Matthews, “then Bananas Foster Night they will have.”

When the Sailors arrived at Potash Arena on Tuesday, Shockers fans greeted Culp (who was a healthy scratch for the game) with cutouts of his face and stuffed bananas, giveaways from the team.  And between the first and second periods, the team played a “tribute” video of Culp, with clips of him fumbling passes and shooting wide of the net interspersed with reminders of some of his more outlandish incidents, including the time he caused the team to be detained at customs with a smart remark about smuggling drugs, the time he was arrested for joyriding a baggage cart at the airport, and the time he microwaved a burrito for too long and caused the team’s practice facility to catch fire.  In between, the video included clips of some of Culp’s post-game quotes, such as “If you can outscore your opponent, you’ll win most times” and “Practice is like masturbation: it’s okay if you have to do it, but it’s not as much fun as the real thing.”

After the video was complete, the crowd gave Culp a standing ovation and tossed their bananas onto the ice.  Culp stood, blew kisses to the crowd, and took several sweeping bows.  And after the game, a 2-1 Shockers win, he expressed appreciation for the tribute — sarcastic or not.

“When I first heard they were gonna do Bananas Foster Night, I was afraid they were going to set me on fire,” said Culp.  “But this was cool, feeling the love of my people.  A piece of me will always be here.  Literally. One time I took a puck to the mouth and lost a couple of teeth, and I think they’re still here somewhere.”

Beasley also paid a compliment to his former player.  “Strange as it seems, I do miss Foster a little sometimes,” the coach said.  “Then I remember all the dumb stunts he pulled, and I got over it.  But there’s no question that he’s one of a kind.  He’s the only guy who wouldn’t get to play on his own tribute night.”

West Wide Open

Looking at the Western Division standings about one-third of the way through the 2018 SHL season, one thing is clear: the Michigan Gray Wolves are the overwhelming favorites to win the division title.  They’re already 12 points clear of their nearest competitor and are outscoring their opponents by nearly a 2-to-1 ratio.  Goaltender Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist and the defense remain as stingy as ever; even a serious injury to top blueline “Mad Max” Madison has barely slowed the Wolves down.  Michigan seems well on its way to nailing down that top spot.

But there are two playoff spots in each division this season.  And if first place appears all but sewn up, second place is up for grabs.  No team is out of the running, and no team seems to have much of an edge at this stage.

“It’s just a wide-open brawl, is what it is,” said Saskatchewan Shockers D Wyatt Barnes.  “A total pig pile.  No one knows what’s going to happen.”

At the start of the season, the Anchorage Igloos were heavily favored to make it to the playoffs.  Indeed, they’ve held down second place for much of the year.  But the defending division champs haven’t been playing up to their usual standards; in fact, they’ve struggled to get much above the .500 mark, and they haven’t won more than two in a row since the first week of the season.  “We’ve really struggled to find our rhythm,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor.  “We show flashes of our true form, especially against tough opponents, but then we sleepwalk against lesser teams.  We’re going to get more consistent if we’re going to make the playoffs.”

This week’s games demonstrated Castor’s point.  Anchorage put up a huge statement win on Sunday, stomping mighty Michigan 5-0.  But they followed up that effort with a pair of embarrassing losses, falling 3-1 to Dakota and 7-5 to Kansas City.  “I know the feeling in the clubhouse is that we’re the superior team,” said the Anchorage coach, “but we’ve got to prove that on the ice.”

Two points behind Anchorage are the Saskatchewan Shockers, who look ready to shake their hapless reputation.  They had a shot to take over sole possession of second place on Friday, but dropped a 5-2 decision to the Igloos.  The key to the Shockers’ success this season has been their defense.  Coach Myron Beasley has made a point of tightening up his team’s play in its own end, and his efforts are paying dividends.  Saskatchewan is limiting opponents to 29.3 shots per game, the fourth-best total in the league.  The improved defense has been a blessing for goalie Zeke Zagurski, who has historically faced a barrage of enemy shots on a nightly basis.  This season, he’s lowered his GAA to 2.52 while stopping shots at a .919 clip.  Backup Shawn Stickel has been even better in limited action, compiling a stingy 1.33 GAA and .929 save percentage.

Unfortunately, the Shockers’ defensive efforts seem to be taking a toll on their offense.  Saskatchewan has averaged 32.8 shots per game, solidly in the middle of the pack, but they’ve only scored 53 goals, third-worst total in the league.  “We’re not putting ourselves in position to get top-quality shots,” said LW Troy Chamberlain.  “We’re not getting the net-front presence we need to create chaos.  We need some more of those greasy goals that a team like Michigan is so good at.”

Saskatchewan is one point up on the Seattle Sailors, who are the Shockers’ mirror image.  The Sailors have a potent attack, having scored 75 goals already this season, led by RWs Elliott Pepper (13 goals) and Vince Mango (11).  However, their fast tempo and aggressive approach has led to a vulnerability on defense.  Seattle has given up 82 goals, the highest total in the league.  Part of the issue is their tendency to allow odd-man rushes (they’re allowing 37 shots per game).  They’re not getting much help between the pipes, either.  The Sailors have rotated between Rocky Goldmire (6-7-0, 4.12 GAA, .893 save percentage) and “Jersey Mike” Ross (3-3-1, 4.00, .883); neither has done enough to nail down the starting job.

“We need to spend a little less time on the fun stuff and a little more on the lunch-pail, building-block stuff,” said Sailors coach Harold Engellund.

One point back of the Sailors are the Dakota Jackalopes, having a bit of a surprising season under new coach Flim Dahlgren.  The Jackalopes had a good deal of success during the inter-divison round last week, winning five in a row against the East.  They’ve come back to earth this week, dropping three of their last four.  But for a team that’s widely assumed to be in a rebuilding mode, Dakota has been surprisingly competitive.  They’re getting a boost from two of the only remaining veterans on the team: C Lars Karlsson (tied for the team lead with 11 goals) and D Matt Cherner (whose 19 assists).  Karlsson and Cherner are widely assumed to be top targets at the trading deadline; if the Jackalopes remain in contention, GM Paul Mindegaard may have some difficult decisions to make.

Even the expansion Kansas City Smoke are only seven points out of second place.  To be fair, their relative success to this point has been driven largely by an unsustainble shot-conversion percentage (they’re scoring on almost 14% of their shots, by far the highest rate in the league).  That said, they’re seeing strong seasons from LW Pascal Royal (12 goals, 28 points), C Mike Rivera (13 goals), and rookie Zachary Merula (8 goals, 18 points).  “We’re definitely not expecting a playoff spot this year,” said coach Randy Bergner.  “But I’m really liking what I’m seeing out of the boys so far.”

There’s plenty of time left in the season, and things could shake out in the coming weeks.  Anchorage could take control of the race; Dakota and Kansas City could fall off the pace; Saskatchewan or Seattle could get more balanced and go on a run.  But for the time being, the race remains a muddle.  “It’s up for grabs,” said Seattle’s Mango.  “Anybody could swoop in and take this.  This is a chance to show what we’re made of.”

Shockers Coach Goes On Travel Adventure

When Saskatchewan Shockers coach Myron Beasley fell ill in Anchorage on Saturday night, he feared that he might be out of commission for a while.  The good news is that he was fine medically.  The bad news is that his extended stay in Alaska wound up forcing him to make a mad scramble halfway across the country in order to make it to Kansas City for the next night’s game.

“Ever see Planes, Trains, and Automobiles?” said Beasley, referring to the 1987 comedy starring Steve Martin and John Candy.  “It was basically like that.”

Myron Beasley

After the Shockers upset the Anchorage Igloos 6-3 at Arctic Circle Arena, Beasley began experiencing chest pains.  He consulted with the team doctor, who advised him to go to the hospital.  The coach checked into the ER, fearing the worst.  Fortunately, tests revealed that it was merely a case of acid reflux.  Unfortunately, by the time Beasley left the hospital, the Shockers’ plane had already left Anchorage.

Unconcerned, the coach took the next flight to Seattle.  When he arrived there, he found he had missed the connecting flight to Kansas City, and the next flight would not leave until the next day, too late for the game.  Beasley did a bit of research on his phone and found a flight to Denver with a connection to KC that would get him there in plenty of time for the game.  However, a snowstorm in Denver forced the coach’s plane to divert to Albuquerque, leaving him out of luck again.

“At that point, I called [assistant coach] Caleb [Ponder] and told him to get ready to coach the game,” Beasley said.  “Mother Nature was clearly conspiring against me.”

Some further research led the Shockers coach to Amtrak’s Southwest Chief line, which runs between Albuquerque and Kansas City.  The train gave Beasley a chance to get some much-needed shut-eye.  However, when he awoke several hours later, he found that he was still in New Mexico.  The train was not scheduled to arrive in Kansas City for 12 more hours, too late for the game.

“This all started because I thought I was having a heart attack,” said Beasley.  “Now it seemed like all this travel craziness was going to give me one.”

Beasley got off the train in Trinidad, Colorado around 10:30 AM.  He then rented a car and drove the rest of the way.  It’s about nine and a half hours from Trinidad to Kansas City, but Beasley made it in eight and a half.  “I may not have stuck to the speed limit the entire way,” he admitted.

A haggard and starving Beasley arrived at Heartland Telecom Center shortly after the puck dropped.  While Ponder coached the team during the first period, Beasley grabbed a brisket sandwich from one of the concession stands and watched the game in the visiting locker room.  When the Shockers tromped back to the clubhouse after the period, they welcomed their coach with a round of applause, awakening him from a catnap.

“We were just glad to see him back,” said LW Troy Chamberlain.  “At that point, we didn’t know what he’d been through.”

Saskatchewan went on to beat the Smoke 2-1 in overtime, then flew back to Saskatchewan the next day.  Beasley came with them this time.

SHL Solicits Fan Videos in Contest

As Commissioner Perry Mitchell likes to say, the SHL is “a league that puts the fans first.”  The league is backing up that statement with a new contest called “For the Love of Hockey,” in which they’re asking fans to submit short videos explaining why they are the SHL’s best fan.

“We’ve been around for long enough now that we’re developing a devoted fan base,” said Commissioner Mitchell at the press conference announcing the contest.  “We’ve been delighted to share our story with them for the last three-plus seasons.  Now we want to give the fans a chance to tell their stories.  How did they fall in love with hockey?  How did they discover the SHL?  Who’s their favorite team or their favorite player, and why?  But really, we just want to hear whatever they have to say.”

Fans are encouraged to submit their videos via social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat).  The Commissioner’s office and other prominent league figures will view the videos and select 12 finalists, each of whom will receive a custom jersey for their favorite team and two tickets to a future game.  The league will then allow fans to vote on their favorite of the finalists, and the winner will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the 2018 SHL All-Star Game at Cadillac Place, home of the Michigan Gray Wolves.

In addition to displaying the videos on their social media sites, the league will display them on the Jumbotron at games throughout the season.  “We want to make sure we’re sharing these stories with everyone,” said Commissioner Mitchell.  “Our fans’ love of hockey, their passion and energy for the sport and our league and our players, is what makes the SHL great.”

The immediate reaction around the league was positive, with fans stating their plans to get started on their videos right away and players and coaches saying they looked forward to seeing the submissions.  “I know that the fans we have are second to none, so I’m certain that their videos will be awesome,” said Saskatchewan Shockers coach Myron Beasley.  “I’m glad that I’m on the selection committee, because that means I’ll get to watch them all.

“I was all set to make a video about how my love of the SHL is all about the glory and the sweet paychecks I get,” said New York Night RW Rick “The Stick” Nelson.  “But then I found out that players aren’t eligible to enter, which sucks.  No problem, though, ‘cause I’m going to be at the All-Star Game anyway, on the ice!”