Pistols Mascot Invites Foster, Night to “Fist City”

At this point, it’s well-known around the league that the Hamilton Pistols and New York Night don’t like each other.  The teams have been feuding for multiple seasons.  The rivalry was initially sparked and furiously stoked by Night coach Nick Foster.  The New York organization has also played its part in kindling the dislike, particularly during last season’s “Canada Night” promotion.  The Pistols have lobbed their own barbed remarks and occasionally gotten physical, but have generally preferred to let their play do the talking.  Foster’s recent jabs at the team’s new mascot, however, seem to have crossed the line, and the Pistols finally went after the New York coach and his team in a memorable in-game skit.

Crosscheck

The Pistols debuted Crosscheck, a friendly orange creature, as their new mascot about a month into the season.  Foster saw it for the first time shortly before the All-Star break, and wasted no time making fun of it.  Foster called Crosscheck a “freaky inbred Teletubby” and claimed that it represents a typical Pistols fan, because “it’s fat, missing most of its teeth, and it looks like its family tree is a straight line.”  Pistols fans and players alike were outraged by Foster’s insults, and the team decided to respond in kind.

The Night came to Hamilton on Saturday, and the fans filled the air with boos when Foster’s name was mentioned during the pregame lineup announcements.  Before the opening puck drop, the Pistols dimmed the lights and cued up a video on the Jumbotron.  It began with some clips of Foster’s descriptions of the Hamilton mascot.  Then, after a pause, it showed Crosscheck sitting in the office of owner Cory Blackwood, Jr.  The owner assured Crosscheck, “Listen, whatever you want to do, the organization is behind you.  I think it’s time you got even.”

The video then showed a series of clips of Hamilton players beating up New York players, interspersed with shots of Crosscheck venting his frustrations.  In one scene, he threw darts at a picture of Foster’s face.  In another, he went after a punching bag with Foster’s picture taped to it.  In yet another, he played a special version of Whack-A-Mole where all the “moles” were made to look like the Night coach’s head.  The whole sequence was scored to Loretta Lynn’s 1968 country classic “Fist City.”  The fans laughed and cheered throughout; even some of New York’s players appeared to be watching with evident amusement.

Finally, after the video was complete, Crosscheck came charging out on the ice, wearing boxing trunks and gloves.  He stopped in front of the Night bench, waved his fists around, and pointed at Foster, challenging the Night bench boss to a throwdown.  Foster responded by laughing and blowing kisses, while the fans booed.  Adding injury to insult, the Pistols proceeded to shut out the Night 3-0 during the game, with backup netminder Ron Mason stopping all 42 New York shots.

Nick Foster

“I loved it!” said Foster after the game.  “The freaky Teletubby earned my respect out there today.  It might not be too bright, but it knows how to stand up for itself.  Again, I’d say that the weirdo seemed like a typical Pistols fan, except that it seemed to be basically sober.”

The Pistols, naturally, dubbed Foster a coward for declining Crosscheck’s invitation to fight.  “Crosscheck called [Foster] out like a man, or whatever it is,” said LW Steven Alexander.  “And Foster had a chance to back up his mouth with some action, but of course he wouldn’t do it.  I wish I was surprised.  Crosscheck is ten times the man that Foster is, and Crosscheck’s not even a man.”

One thing’s for certain: the Pistols are clearly not inclined to take Foster’s insults lying down.  Will the Night respond in kind the next time Hamilton visits the Big Apple?  As angry as this rivalry already is, it could be heading for an even greater level of hatred.

Continue reading “Pistols Mascot Invites Foster, Night to “Fist City””

Night’s Foster Roasts Pistols’ New Mascot

New York Night coach Nick Foster is a master at using verbal jabs to stir up rivalries with opposing teams and players.  Over the last couple of seasons, he has trained the bulk of his rhetorical fire on the Hamilton Pistols, turning that rivalry into one of the league’s most heated.

Crosscheck

The two squads faced off again on Sunday, and after a 2-2 tie, Foster took the opportunity in his postgame press conference to open up another front in his verbal war against his opponents from the north: he mocked the Pistols’ new mascot, Crosscheck.

The Pistols originally planned for Crosscheck to debut at the beginning of this season.  After they won the Vandy last year, though, Hamilton’s front office shifted their early promotions to focus on celebrating the team’s title.  The new mascot – a rather unusual-looking orange creature clad in a Pistols jersey – finally took its bow late last month.  It’s received mixed reviews so far; some fans find it fun and cheerful, while others seem to consider it creepy.

Foster’s first exposure to Crosscheck occurred during Sunday’s game, and he wasted no time opening fire on the new mascot.  “So I look up at the scoreboard for a second, and suddenly I’m staring at this freaky inbred Teletubby,” Foster told reporters.  “At first I thought I must be hallucinating, but I rubbed my eyes and it was still there.  I asked [assistant coach] Biff [Lombardi] if he saw it too, and he did, so it must be real.”

After bugging out his eyes in mock shock, Foster continued.  “Now, I know Halloween isn’t for another eight months, so what the hell is this?  Are they trying to scare kids, or get the adults to throw up in the aisles?  I know I’m scarred for life: I’m going to see his one extra-wide tooth in my sleep.

“I finally figured it out, though,” the New York coach concluded.  “This… thing is supposed to represent Hamilton’s fans!  Think about it: It’s fat, missing most of its teeth, and it looks like its family tree is a straight line.  Just like your typical Pistols fan!  It must be like looking in a mirror for them.  So now I get it.”

In the wake of Foster’s barbs, the Pistols and their fans rushed to Crosscheck’s defense.  “Crosscheck is one of us,” said coach Keith Shields.  “Crosscheck is all about fun and love of hockey, and certainly deserves better than Foster’s insults and cruelty.  If you insult any member of the Pistols family – whether it’s a player, a fan, or a mascot – you have to answer to all of us.”

Added LW Steven Alexander, “Crosscheck might be ugly, but it’s better to be ugly on the outside than ugly on the inside.”

Hamilton’s fans have bombarded social media with memes and posts supporting Crosscheck and attacking Foster.  “I think perhaps we owe our gratitude to Coach Foster,” said Pistols GM Marcel LaClaire.  “He has done more to unite our fan base behind our new mascot than anyone ever could.  For this, I am thankful.”

No Early Favorites in East

At the quarter pole of the 2020 SHL season, the Western Division is starting to shake itself out as expected.  The Portland Bluebacks are off to a hot start, eager to prove that their 2019 division crown was no fluke.  The Anchorage Igloos have resuscitated from their dreadful opening weeks and are back in the thick of the race, with the Saskatchewan Shockers and Michigan Gray Wolves also in the mix.

The East, meanwhile, is a totally different story.  There are only six points separating the first- and last-place teams.  No one is running away with the division, and no one is entirely out of it (at least not yet).  Each of the contenders has a key flaw that may derail its postseason aspirations.  Here’s a look at the state of play:

The Hamilton Pistols are the defending SHL champions, and they’re determined to become the league’s first back-to-back title-winners.  And offensively, they’re poised to do so: they lead the league in goals (71) and shots per game (39).  And it’s not just the usual suspects who are producing.  The second line of LW Magnus Gunnarson (7 goals, 15 assists), C Marco Venezio (6 goals, 5 assists), and RW Ben Summers (8 goals, 8 assists) has clicked brilliantly, and blueliners such as Clayton Risch (6 goals, 8 assists) and Hercules Mulligan (5 goals, 8 assists) have been activated on offense as well.

So why aren’t the Pistols dominating?  For one thing, they’ve had issues with injuries.  C Calvin Frye recently missed three games, all of which Hamilton lost.  No sooner did he return than LW Steven Alexander went down; he will likely miss several games as well.

The Pistols are struggling in net as well.  #1 starter Lasse Koskinen has rebounded from a poor start, but his numbers (3.39 GAA, .902 save percentage) are not up to his career norms.  And backup Ron Mason (0-3-1, 5.14 GAA, .851 save %) has been atrocious; it’s possible the 36-year-old is washed up.  The goaltending struggles aren’t helped by Hamilton’s awful penalty kill; their 73.7% kill rate is second-worst in the SHL.  If Koskinen continues to improve and the stars stay on the ice, they should be fine, but neither of those things are guaranteed.

The Hershey Bliss are currently tied with Hamilton for first place.  They’re probably the most balanced team in the East.  They’re tied for third in goals (59), and they’re in third in shots allowed per game (31.5).  The “Love Line” (LW Lance Sweet, C Justin Valentine, RW Christopher Hart) is clicking along as always.

So why isn’t Hershey much above .500?  They primary culprits appear to be special teams and goaltending.  Their power play, usually a strength, has been merely average so far (20% conversion rate, sixth in the league).  And their penalty kill has struggled; they’re only snuffing 80.4% of power-play chances, ahead of just three other teams.  Neither number is atrocious, but they aren’t helping.

In the net, free-agent signee Christien Adamsson (6-5-1, 2.87, .904) and rookie Nash Gould (2-1-1, 3.18, .906) are putting up quite similar numbers.  Coach Chip Barber has maintained that Adamsson is still the starter, but he may have to explore a more even distribution of minutes if this continues.  And surely, they can’t help noticing that last year’s starter, Brandon Colt (2-0-2, 2.40, .916), is outplaying them both in Michigan.

The Quebec Tigres are two points behind Hamilton and Hershey.  They’re practicing their usual rugged, hard-nosed defense (allowing a league-low 29.1 shots per game and blocking a league-high 16 shots per game), and they’re performing well on special teams.

Part of Quebec’s struggles are typical – their offense is limited, both in quantity (31.3 shots per game, tenth in the league) and quality (8.8% shooting percentage).  But the more surprising issue is the struggles of goalie Riki Tiktuunen (5-5-1, 3.18, .897).  If Tiktuunen cannot resume his usual elite level of play, it’s unlikely that the Tigres will reach the postseason.

The New York Night looked to be out of it last week; there were even rumors that coach Nick Foster was about to be fired.  But they’ve bounced back to the .500 mark, tied with Quebec.  In many ways, they’re the inverse of the Tigres.  They’ve scored 67 goals, second only to the Pistols, powered by a leg-eleading 11.4% shooting percentage.  They are one of two SHL teams with a pair of double-digit goal scorers already in Cs Brock Manning and Rod Remington.

On the defensive end, however, New York is a disaster.  They’re allowing a league-worst 4.08 goals-against average, fueled by a poor defense that yields an eye-popping 41 points per game.  Projected starting netminder Sherman Carter (4-2-1, 5.44, .863) appears to have lost his job to veteran “Jersey Mike” Ross (3-5-1, 3.18, .923), but no goaltender can be expected to stop the barrage of shots that the Night allow.

The Boston Badgers trail Quebec and New York by two points.  Like the Tigres, they’re built around a stout team defense and slow pace (yielding only 29.6 shots per game).  Also like the Tigres, they’re being undermined by a weak offense (having scored a mere 42 on a league-worst 27 shots per game) and a big-name goalie who’s struggling (Roger Orion: 5-6-1, 2.96, .897).  Unlike the Tigres, they are struggling mightily on the penalty kill, with a last-place 70.4% kill rate.

The Washington Galaxy are the one team that seems certain not to contend, although given the traffic jam at the top, they’re still technically within striking distance.  Unlike the other Eastern clubs, however, they’re not strong in any area of the game.  They’re in the bottom third of the league in goals (44), shots per game (32), shots allowed per game (38.8) and GAA (3.67).  They may have an impact on the playoff chase, however, if they decide to move some of their stars, such as LW Casey Thurman.

There’s plenty of time for the division to sort itself out, and for a couple of strong contenders to emerge.  For the time being, however, it looks like it’s (almost) anybody’s game.

Night, Pistols Resume Unpleasantries in OT Thriller

On Sunday, the Hamilton Pistols and New York Night faced off for the first time this season at Gunpowder Armory.  Even though the teams came into the game with very different records, with the Pistols undefeated and the Night winless, the game between the two bitter rivals was expected to be very closely contested.

Nick Foster

In case anyone thought that the mutual enmity between the clubs had cooled since last year, Night coach Nick Foster happily re-stoked the flames in his press conference the day before, stating: “We’ve had this one circled on our calendar since the schedule came out.  We’re excited to come to Tank Town and skate into that festering old dump and snatch a win from the Nutcracker and his boys.  My guys all got their tetanus shots and their cups, so they’re ready.  As long as we get out before the roof caves in, we’re good.”

Pistols star Steven Alexander shot back, “It’s too bad [the Night] can’t play as good as their coach runs his mouth.  Apparently Foster forgot who won the Vandy last year.”

The match lived up to its advance billing, as a sellout crowd got to see a fast-paced see-saw of a contest with action from beginning to end.  Regulation wasn’t enough to settle things, but in the end the Night backed up Foster’s boast, heading back to the Big Apple with a 7-6 win.

According to league sources, the Pistols sought permission from the SHL to delay their banner-raising ceremony until this game, but the league vetoed the idea.  So instead, when the Pistols took the ice for the pre-game skate, Alexander came out holding the Vandy over his head and took a lap while the PA system played “We Are the Champions.”  As Alexander skated past the New York bench, the visitors greeted him with upraised middle fingers.

Once the game began, it took the champs a mere 25 seconds to get on the board, as D Burt “Hacksaw” Hampton deflected a shot by RW Ben Summers into the lower right corner of the net.  The rest of the period, however, belonged to the Night.  Just over two minutes after Hampton’s goal, the visitors struck twice, as D Rocky Winkle and C Rod Remington scored just eight seconds apart to give the Night the lead.  When Hampton went to the sin bin for high-sticking late in the period, Remington banged home a slapper to make it 3-1.

In the locker room between periods, Pistols coach Keith Shields exhorted his team to get back into it.  “Coach Shields never curses,” said Alexander, “but you could tell he wanted to.  ‘All right, boys, let’s go stick it to those flipping buggers!’”

Hamilton drew back even early in the second.  About ninety seconds into the frame, LW Magnus Gunnarson finished an odd-man rush with a shot that went through the five-hole on Night netminder Sherman Carter.  Less than a minute later, LW Jamie Campbell got the equalizer on a shot from the bottom of the faceoff circle that snuck in above Carter’s catching glove.  The score remained even for much of the second, but Night LW Charlie Brooks jammed one in from the slot with just under seven minutes left to give New York a 4-3 edge, which they took to the dressing room.

Steven Alexander

Less than two minutes into the third, Campbell got his second goal of the night, finishing on a beautiful pass from RW Kenny Patterson that split the Night defenders.  Campbell waved his arms to the crowd, which responded with ecstatic approval.  That tie lasted barely over three minutes, before Brooks scored again on a tip-in for a 5-4 New York.  A few minutes later, Alexander scored on a laser-beam slapper that bounced off of Carter’s blocker and in.  The feisty winger by holding his stick like a rifle and firing “shots” at the New York bench, who responded with another middle-finger salute.  Alexander was later fined by the league for his actions.

The crowd was roaring for more; they got it with six minutes remaining, as C Calvin Frye redirected an Alexander slapper just under the crossbar to give the Pistols their first lead since the opening minutes.  If the Hamilton fans thought it was over, though, they had another think coming.  Two minutes after Frye’s go-ahead tally, rookie C Norris Fletcher jabbed home the tying goal for New York, prying it loose from under the pad of Pistols goalie Lasse Koskinen.  The Pistols argued vigorously that the play should have been whistled dead, but the referees denied their appeal.  As boos filled the arena, Fletcher smirked and cupped his hand to his ear.

Less than two minutes later, Fletcher cemented his status as Public Enemy#1 in Hamilton by felling Alexander with a high stick that opened a gash under the winger’s eye.  Alexander went down the tunnel to get stitches, and Shields argued that Fletcher should be ejected for attempting deliberate injury.  Instead, he got a double minor.  Angry fans poured beer on the rookie as he sat in the penalty box; Fletcher responded by blowing kisses.

In the wake of the penalty, Hampton challenged New York D Donald Duckworth to answer for Fletcher’s high stick, but Duckworth declined the invitation.  “Typical New York,” Alexander fumed after the game.  “Big talk and cheap shots, but they won’t back it up.”

The Pistols tried furiously to score the game-winner on the ensuing power play, but their shots kept missing the net.  The penalty continued into the overtime session, when a sewed-up Alexander returned to the ice to rapturous applause.  Even with their star on the ice, though, Hamilton couldn’t get the puck over the line.  Finally, about midway through the overtime session, LW Chase Winchester scored from a severe angle to give the Night the win.

The visitors celebrated by blasting Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove” in the locker room – “loud enough for [the Pistols] to hear,” said RW Rick “The Stick” Nelson.  In his postgame press conference, Foster sarcastically thanked the Pistols for their pre-game Vandy skate.  “That gave us all the inspiration we needed,” the coach said with a grin.  “No matter what else happens this season, we’ll always remember we got our first W here in Tank Town.  Love you guys!”

Continue reading “Night, Pistols Resume Unpleasantries in OT Thriller”

Night Dismiss GM McCormick, Hire McKay

The New York Night have decided to clean house in their front office.  This week, the Night announced that they would not renew the contract of Royce McCormick, the only general manager the franchise has ever had.  McCormick will be replaced by former Seattle Sailors GM Jay McKay.

“We’ve come a long way in the last couple of seasons,” said Night owner Marvin Kingman.  “But we haven’t gotten to the level I expect.  We haven’t made the playoffs, much less won the Vandy.  And so, it’s time for a new direction.”

Royce McCormick

McCormick exits after five seasons with a record of 140-151-17.  The GM never hesitated to make bold moves or bring in big names, most notably his 2016 trade to acquire C Rod Remington.  But McCormick’s draft record was somewhat spotty, in part due to his penchant for trading away high draft picks.  The Night also struggled to find the additional pieces needed to get the team over the hump and into the postseason.  The top-heavy payroll made it difficult to add quality veteran depth, and McCormick balked at the idea of moving any of the team’s highly-paid stars.

“I felt like we were really close to breaking through here, as soon as next season,” said McCormick.  “But when you don’t deliver the results, you can’t count on unlimited chances.  I think Jay’s coming into a good place, and I wish him the best.”

According to team sources, coach Nick Foster has had an increased hand in personnel decisions over the last couple of seasons, a fact that irked McCormick.  There have been persistent rumors of a power struggle between the two, and this decision indicates that the owner has chosen to side with the coach.

For his part, Foster declined to comment on any role he may have played in McCormick’s dismissal.  “I think Mr. Kingman has made it clear that we have high standards around here, as it should be,” said Foster.  “I’m glad that I’m still around, and I think next season’s going to be huge for us.”

Jay McKay

In hiring McKay, New York adds a GM who is no stranger to big moves.  The 63-year-old calls himself a “hockey vagabond.”  He has spent nearly 30 years in various front-office roles at every level of the game, most recently as general manager of the Sailors.  During his tenure, he built the expansion club from scratch and never shied away from major moves.  Most notably, with the team on the brink of contention at the 2018 trading deadline, McKay made a couple of big deals designed to get the team over the hump.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out, as Seattle missed the postseason and McKay was fired.  This season, though, the Sailors made their first-ever playoff appearance, largely with the same roster he left behind.

“I can’t wait to get started over here,” said McKay.  “We play in the greatest city in the world, and we’ve got a loaded roster.  We’ve got a great coach in Nick Foster.  With a couple of the right moves here and there, I think we can be the champion Mr. Kingman wants to see.”

McKay declined to discuss any specific moves he might have in mind.  “I tell you here, and suddenly the price on the guys I want goes through the roof,” joked the incoming GM.  “But basically, I’m looking to build on our strengths, especially our high-scoring offense, while upgrading our depth and fortifying our D.”

The new boss has a number of big decisions to make right away.  New York has a number of pending free agents, including the entire top line (LW Chase Winchester, C Brock Manning, and RW Rick “The Stick” Nelson), top-pairing defender Tuomas Nurmi, and goaltenders Jesse Clarkson and Sherman Carter.