SHL Holds First-Ever Mascot Race

As the SHL was planning for its fourth annual All-Star game, commissioner Perry Mitchell wanted to do something to make the event special.  “Obviously, the game itself is a lot of fun,” said the commissioner.  “But we thought we’d like to add something new and different to make it a little extra-special.”

The league considered adding a skills competition similar to the NHL’s, or perhaps some sort of celebrity game.  But adding a skills competition would make it a multi-day event, which the SHL wanted to avoid.  And identifying participants for a celebrity hockey game was a challenge, due to the need to find celebrities who can skate and are comfortable doing so in front of a live audience.

Eventually, they hit upon a truly unique idea.  It was dreamed up during a brainstorming session, when they were thinking about other events that arenas host.  One league staffer mentioned monster-truck rallies, and suggested that the teams’ mascots each get to drive one.

“We all laughed,” said Commissioner Mitchell, “but then we thought: Hey, that’s actually a cool idea!”

But how could they bring monster trucks on the ice?  They couldn’t, but they did the next best thing: having the mascots mount kids’ ride-on trucks.  Each truck was painted in the team’s colors, complete with logos affixed to the doors.

“We knew that we wanted to get the mascots involved, and what better way than having them ride toy trucks?” said Mitchell.

For the initial heats, the mascots were divided up by division.  The first heat had them compete in groups of three.  The winners of the first-round matches then faced off for the division crown, before the Western and Eastern winners faced off in a championship match.  Each heat was conducted over an obstacle course that circumnavigated the ice.

The first race matched up three Eastern competitors:

The race quickly turned into a two-way battle between the Canadian clubs, as Scratch lost control on the opening straightaway and smashed into the boards, damaging his truck beyond repair.  Le Tigre took an early lead, as he navigated his way through the traffic-cone chicane expertly and surged ahead.  But when he reached the first series of ramps, he tumbled off the side and overturned, allowing his Hamiltonian rival to gain ground.

The Quebec mascot’s hopes of winning were ultimately dashed when he veered off course going into the final turn and wound up in a “water hazard” fashioned from a kid’s wading pool.  Le Tigre’s misfortune allowed Crosscheck to sail down the homestretch to an easy win.

The second heat pitted a trio of Western mascots against one another:

Naturally, Shockers owner Heinz Doofenshmirtz couldn’t resist tinkering with Sparky’s truck, attaching what he called the “Mascot-Race-inator,” which deployed a pair of giant skis that turned the truck into something more like a snowmobile.  This worked well initially, allowing Sparky to zoom ahead of his competitors.  Alas, it made the truck impossible to steer, causing the Saskatchewan mascot to miss the traffic-cone chicane entirely and skid down the Zamboni tunnel, ending his hopes of victory.

With Sparky out of the race, Petey and Salty Sam settled in for a one-on-one duel.  Befitting a team whose name references a locally famous submarine, the Blueback mascot had fitted his truck with “missiles” (actually a couple of giant Nerf guns).  About halfway through the race, Salty Sam opened fire on his northern rival.  The barrage cause Petey to lose control and tip over, and the Portland mascot took the lead.  But Petey righted himself and continued on.  Eventually, the Igloos mascot caught up to his foe, and then unleashed a hidden spray gun that shot vegetable oil out of the side.  Salty Sam spun out, while Petey raced to the line and secured the victory.

The third heat matched up the remaining Eastern mascots:

Unlike the first two heats, none of these three competitors crashed out early, and the battle was close from beginning to end.  Rocketman was the first to the traffic-cone chicane and took the early lead.  But Nibs, who was drafting right behind him, cut to the inside on the following turn and hopped ahead.  Cool Cat sat back a bit at first, but dialed it up after the first quarter of the race.  When Nibs and Rocketman both slid a bit in the back straightaway, Cool Cat split the gap between them and was the first one over the bridge at center ice.

Cool Cat held a narrow but steady lead as the race entered its final stage.  Then Rockman turned on his (previously unseen) rocket booster and soared past his competitors to an apparent win.  Unfortunately for him, the use of the rocket booster led him to be disqualified, and second-place finisher Cool Cat advanced to the division final.

The final heat of the preliminary round matched up the last three from the West:

The race started off well for the KC fans and their mascot, as DJ Crushmore and Wally found that their trucks were chained together.  While they worked feverishly to get unbound, Pete sailed off to a huge lead.  He was almost a third of the way through the course before the other two even got started.  The crowd roared as their hero navigated the course’s challenges with ease, seemingly on a glide path.

Ultimately, the gigantic lead proved to be Pete’s undoing.  Feeling secure in victory, the Kansas City mascot felt it safe to stop in mid-race to tend to his smoker, which was parked in one of the tunnels just off the ice.  Pete pulled some beautifully-cooked burnt ends off of the grate and handed them out to a grateful crowd.  But while Pete fed his fans, Wally and DJ Crushmore had caught and passed his abandoned truck.  By the time the Smoke mascot returned to his vehicle, it was too late.  The other mascots crossed the finish line in an apparent dead heat.  The decision went to a photo finish, which showed that Wally’s prominent snout crossed the line first.  The Wolves mascot won by a nose – literally.

The Eastern final pitted a pair of bitter rivals against one another, Hamilton’s Crosscheck vs. New York’s Cool Cat. Their two teams have battled fiercely in every game they’ve played over the last couple of seasons. And when Crosscheck debuted earlier this season, Night coach Nick Foster mocked the mascot mercilessly, calling it a “freaky inbred Teletubby” and claimed that Crosscheck’s “family tree is a straight line.” The Pistols rallied to the defense of their mascot, and both teams were eager for a victory in this contest.

Cool Cat got off to an early lead in a somewhat controversial fashion, as he appeared to cut off Crosscheck going into the first turn. But the fuzzy orange creature refused to be shaken, and remained close behind his competitor. In the latter half of the race, Crossheck unveiled a secret weapon; a laser pointer, which it pointed at the side boards just off the track. Sure enough, Cool Cat abandoned his truck and began chasing the red dot around. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Crosscheck surged into the lead. Once Cool Cat realized that he had been tricked, he remounted his truck and launched back into the race, but it was too late.

Meanwhile, the West final pitted a pair of longtime frenemies in Anchorage’s Petey the Polar Bear and Michigan’s Wally Wolf. The two mascots had a rivalry that dates back to the SHL’s earliest days. Petey and Wally seemed to settle their feud at the end of the league’s inaugural season, although there have been occasional flare-ups since then.

Right at the start of the race, Wally ensured himself the early edge by swatting Petey with a giant stuffed fish, an apparent reference to a 2018 incident when Michigan’s radio announcer claimed that the city of Anchorage “smells like rotting fish.” While Petey reeled from the unexpected attack, Wally took the early lead.

But Petey got some help from a friend. As Wally roared down the back straightaway, a figure in a walrus costume emerged from the bench area and tackled Wally. As the Wolves mascot struggled to get free, the walrus character whipped off its head to reveal Igloos LW Jerry Koons. “Don’t you mess with Petey!” Koons hollered as the Anchorage mascot raced by. Wally shook free from Koons and got back on track. But Petey managed to hold off his rival down the stretch and won by a couple truck lengths.

This set up a final matchup between the mascots from last year’s Finals contenders: Crosscheck of the Pistols vs. Petey of the Igloos. This team, both mascots were joined on the ice by the All-Stars from their teams. Some players tried to thwart their opponent; Anchorage’s Ty Worthington whacked Crosscheck with a Nerf bat, while Hamilton’s Hercules Mulligan body-checked Petey into the water hazard. Other players chose a more positive approach, like the Igloos’ Tom Hoffman helping Petey up out of the pool.

It was a tightly pitched battle from beginning to end. But in the end, it was a wet but undaunted Petey who won it for the Igloos, beating Crosscheck to the finish line by a couple feet.

“Petey has always been a top-notch competitor, and he overcame a lot of adversity out there today,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor. “This definitely doesn’t make up for losing the Vandy, but it is a nice little bit of revenge. Petey forever!”

Bliss Celebrate V-Day in “Sweetest” Style

Thursday was Valentine’s Day, and the SHL celebrated with a full slate of games.  Most teams didn’t make much of the holiday, but the Hershey Bliss pulled out all the stops for their game against Kansas City and treated their fans to what the team called “The Sweetest Game on Earth” (a play on the city’s slogan, “The Sweetest Place on Earth”).

For starters, all fans attending the game received a heart-shaped box with the Bliss logo on it, filled with (what else?) Hershey’s Kisses.  The team replaced its usual in-game musical selections with romantic tunes, from “Can’t Help Falling in Love” to “As Long as You Love Me” to “Let’s Get It On.”  The theme continued on the ice, as the team’s usual chocolate-bar shoulder patches were replaced with heart-shaped patches, as were the captain’s “C” and alternate’s “A”.

nibs

The Bliss turned their mascot Nibs into Cupid, complete with toga and angel wings.  Throughout the game, Nibs went through the stands looking for loving couples.  When he found them, he gave them gifts ranging from flowers to giant Special Dark bars to Hersheypark tickets to gift certificates to local restaurants.

“We wanted to show our appreciation to the couples who chose to spend their Valentine’s Day with us,” said Bliss GM Scott Lawrence.  “Because what could be more romantic than a hockey game for two?  That’s what I’ve tried to convince my wife, at least.”

The Bliss didn’t forget their single fans, either.  The team held a “Blind Date” promotion, in which fans who bought special tickets in Section 214 were randomly seated beside other single Bliss rooters.  Those who hit it off were offered two tickets for a future Bliss game.  Lawrence said that several fans in the section took the team up on its offer.  “Who knows?  Maybe someday there will be a marriage out of it!” said Lawrence.

Unsurprisingly, the “Love Line” (Hershey’s top line of LW Lance Sweet, C Justin Valentine, and RW Christopher Hart) featured heavily in the promotion.  The team held a silent auction to raffle off each of the trio’s game-worn jerseys, as well as a date with Hart (the only “Love Line” member who is still single).  Proceeds from the silent went to the local Boys and Girls Club.

“To me, this is a really cool opportunity to give back to the community,” said Hart.  “I mean, I go on dates all the time, but I don’t usually do it for charity!”

Perhaps inspired by all the love in the air, Hershey rolled to a 4-0 shutout win.  The Love Line played their part in the rout: Valentine scored a goal and Hart had an assist.

Bliss coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber felt that the “Sweetest Game” was a fun promotion, and he hopes the team will do it again in the future.  He did have one suggestion, though.

“You’re handing out all this chocolate to the fans, which is great,” said Barber.  “But what about me?  I was expecting to come in and find a bouquet of chocolate-covered strawberries on my desk, or one of those big Special Dark bars or something.  But I got nothing.  Where’s the love for the coach?”

Galaxy Stokes Rivalry with “Hershey-pocalypse”

The Washington Galaxy and Hershey Bliss have forged one of the SHL’s strongest rivalries.  They have proven to be the strongest teams in the East since the SHL’s beginning. Last season, the teams battled for the division title all the way to the very last day.  Yet in spite of their spirited competition, the Galaxy and Bliss have remained fairly cordial; the coaches and players largely seem to get along, as have the teams’ fan bases.

That may change going forward, as the Galaxy turned up the temperature on the rivalry this week with a controversial promotion that left both teams talking.

Prior to Wednesday’s game against the Bliss at Constellation Center, the Galaxy asked each fan to bring a Hershey bar with them, but didn’t explain why.  When the fans arrived at the gate, they were asked to turn in their Hershey bar.  In exchange, they each received a Milky Way bar.  The choice of the replacement candy bar was symbolic on two levels.  The first is the obvious connection with the “Galaxy” name.  Second, the Mars corporation (which manufactures the Milky Way bar) is headquartered in McLean, Virginia, a DC suburb.

“We wanted to offer our fans the chance for a superior chocolate-eating experience,” said Galaxy GM Ace Adams.  “And we want to encourage them to support their hometown candymaker, not our rival’s.”

But the promotion didn’t end there.  Between the second and third periods, the song “Candy Man” began playing over the arena speakers.  A brown rabbit bearing a suspicious similarity to Nibs, the Bliss mascot, skipped out onto the ice pushing a bin full of the turned-in Hershey bars.  He was greeted with scattered boos.

Rocketman

Suddenly, the Galaxy’s mascot Rocketman came out onto the ice, accompanied by a pair of talking M&M mascots.  They came up to the rabbit and knocked him down, confiscating the bin of Hershey bars, as “Candy Man” stopped playing, replaced by “Pour Some Sugar On Me.”  Then members of Washington’s operations crew wheeled a wood chipper onto the ice.  Rocketman and the M&Ms began feeding the Hershey bars into the wood chipper, with the spit-out fragments landing on the fallen rabbit.  The fans cheered this display wildly.

Once all the Hershey bard has been shredded, the rabbit jumped up and ran off the ice, chased by the M&Ms.  Meanwhile, Rocketman glided around the ice, flexing his muscles and tossing out coupons for Mars products.  Meanwhile, the PA announcer crowed, “Welcome to the Hershey-pocalypse!” and stated that henceforth, “any fan bringing Hershey candy into the arena will be ejected,” which was met by a roar of approval.  The crowd’s mood only improved after Washington completed a 5-4 win.

Washington coach Rodney Reagle was a big fan of the promotion and the attempt to stoke the rivalry.  “Personally, I’ve always been a Snickers man, because the peanuts fill you up and help you make it through those afternoon blood-sugar crashes,” said Reagle.  “But I’ll happily eat any of the fine Mars family of products.  They taste great, unlike Hershey bars, which taste like somebody scraped them out of the bottom of a bird cage.”

The coach added, “I’m all for fanning the flames of this rivalry.  I mean, it’s a little one-sided, since we’ve won all the titles.  But hate makes the world go round – sports hate, anyway – and I’m all for stirring the pot.  So come on, Galaxy fans: put a little hate in your heart!”

Bliss coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber objected to the between-periods display, saying “it’s a waste of good chocolate, and I can’t get behind that.”  He added, “A lot of guys in this room took notice, and they didn’t appreciate it.  We will proudly stand up for the superiority of Hershey’s chocolate any time.  We know that America’s best chocolate comes from central Pennsylvania, and we’ll fight anybody who says otherwise.”

Asked if the Bliss planned any revenge for the activity, Barber said, “The best revenge will come when we win the division this year.  But yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if our guys come up with something.”

Hershey’s Kennedy Skates With the Kids

Gene Kennedy

Hershey Bliss F Gene Kennedy is one of the few SHL players who has yet to see any ice time this season.  Tired of waiting for a chance to skate, Kennedy decided to make his own opportunity in an unorthodox manner that raised some eyebrows in the Bliss clubhouse and around the league.

Between the first and second periods of Tuesday’s game against the Washington Galaxy at the Chocolate Center, the Bliss held their usual “Pee Wee Playtime” game.  The game is a scrimmage between two team of local youth hockey players, who relish the opportunity to spend a few minutes on the same ice and shooting at the same nets as their heroes.

Observers quickly noticed that one of the players seemed a little different than the rest.  It was Kennedy, who had decided to join the youngsters for their scrimmage.  At 6-foot-2, the 25-year-old Kennedy didn’t exactly blend in with the 7-to-8-year-olds who made up the rest of the players.

“He just came out of nowhere,” said Bliss PA announcer Steve Leadbetter, who posted pictures and narratives of the scene on his Twitter account.  “At first, the kids were just doing their regular thing.  Then all of a sudden, Kennedy just came out from the Zamboni tunnel and just started skating with them.  Nobody was really sure what to make of it.”

“I was just trying to get my work in,” Kennedy explained after the game.  “I mean, you’ve got to stay sharp.  Skating in practice is okay, but I really need to get some work in at game speed.  Practice isn’t the same.  And from what I could tell, this was my best opportunity to get some ice time in-game.”

With a significant speed and size advantage over his fellow players, Kennedy dominated the scrimmage.  He had no trouble skating by the pee wee players, muscling them off the puck on occasion.  Shooting at both nets, the reserve forward scored 3 goals.

Nibs

At first, the fans assumed it was a deliberate joke, and reacted to Kennedy’s antics with laughter and cheers.  But as play continued and Kennedy hip-checked 7-year-old Jaylen Crossley and sent the young man sprawling to the boards, the cheers turned to boos.  At that point the Bliss mascot, Nibs, corraled Kennedy and ushered him off the ice.

“I felt bad about that,” Kennedy said of the check on Crossley.  “Totally unintentional.  I didn’t see him, but I felt him bump up against me.”  The winger signed his jersey and gave it to Crossley to make up for it.

Asked about Kennedy’s stunt, Bliss coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber quipped, “Well, I didn’t see it.  How did he look out there?”  The coach then added, “Look, I understand Gene’s frustrated about not getting to play. But all out forwards have been playing great.  Who do you sit?”

Kennedy’s teammates were more critical of his actions.  “It’s pretty unprofessional, if you ask me,” said Bliss C Henry Constantine.  “You’re not happy ’cause you’re not playing, fine.  Take it up with the coach.  Don’t show up your team and run the kids’ fun.  I know Gene’s kind of flaky, but there’s a limit.”

Barber said that he does not plan to discipline Kennedy for the incident, and he will look to get Kennedy some playing time.  “I’m doing it for the kids,” the coach joked.  “I’m trying to protect them from Gene.”