Strong Showing for Tigres at SHL Annual Awards

Starlight Hockey LeagueThe SHL’s third annual awards banquet had a definite theme.  Several of the awards went to members of the Quebec Tigres, who went from finishing in last place in 2017 to coming within a game of winning their first-ever SHL title.  “The Tigres went on a remarkable journey this season,” said SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell.  “It’s great to see that journey recognized with these very well-deserved honors.”  As always, the awards were voted on by SHL players, coaches, and media.

The 2018 award winners are as follows:

Most Valuable Player: LW Walt Camernitz, Quebec Tigres

Camernitz signed with Quebec as a free agent this season, landing a five-year, $20 million deal.  The Tigres hoped that Camernitz would provide a spark for their stagnant offense, and he provided it in spades.  He wound up recording 31 goals and 74 points, both good enough to place him in the league’s top 10.  In addition to his stellar performance, he elevated his teammates’ games; linemates Stephane Mirac and Mikhail Ilyushin both had career seasons beside him.

“When you are a big-name free agent, there is a great weight on you to perform,” said Tigres coach Martin Delorme.  “Walt took that very seriously, and he gave us everything we could have hoped for.  I am most grateful for him.”

Other finalists for the MVP honor included Hamilton C Calvin Frye, Anchorage C Jake Frost, and Washington RW Jefferson McNeely.

Coach of the Year: Martin Delorme, Quebec Tigres

This season has been a sweet vindication for Delorme, who walked away from a Michigan team on the cusp of championship contention in order to help his hometown team get off the ground.  In only the third season of the Tigres’ existence, Delorme guided the club to the Finals and nearly to the Vandy.

“Coach Delorme has kept us together and focused on playing our best,” said Mirac.  “He doesn’t accept excuses.  But he’s also a good man to play for, and we know that he is solid behind us all the way.

Delorme beat out Hamilton’s Keith Shields. Michigan’s Ron Wright, and Anchorage’s Sam Castor to win the honor.


Rookie of the Year: 
LW Lix Darnholm, Boston Badgers

Darnholm was universally regarded as the best pure scorer in the draft, so it came as little surprise when the expansion Badgers chose the 19-year-old Swede as their franchise centerpiece with the top puck.  Although Boston had a rough debut season, Darnholm delivered on his considerable promise, scoring nearly a quarter of the Badgers’ total goals.  He led all rookies in goals with 29 and in points with 60.

“Lix is a joy to watch on the ice,” said Badgers coach Cam Prince.  “He’s a fluid skater and a sharp passer, and he has a remarkably heavy shot for a guy who’s as skinny as he is.  And he’s got a sense of the game a lot beyond his years.  I’ve guzzled a lot of Maalox coaching this team, but not because of Lix.”

Darnholm withstood a surprisingly strong challenge from Kansas City C Darien Picard to win the votes.  Also receiving consideration were Quebec D Laurie Workman, Kansas City RW Zachary Merula, and Washington G Darrell Bondurant.

Sharp Shooter Award and Commissioner’s Trophy: RW Jefferson McNeely, Washington Galaxy

The Sharp Shooter Award and the Commissioner’s Trophy are the two awards that are not given out as the result of a vote.  The Sharp Shooter Award is given to the player who finished with the highest goal total, while the Commissioner’s Trophy is bestowed on the player with the most points.  This season, for the first time ever, both awards went to the same player: McNeely, who was a shining star in a difficult season for the Galaxy. For the second straight year, Hamilton’s Steven Alexander was the runner-up for the Sharp Shooter award, finishing with one goal fewer than McNeely’s 57.

Meanwhile, the Washington winder finished the year one shy of the century mark in points, adding 42 assists to his league-leading goal total.  That gave him a comfortable eight-point margin over Hamilton’s Claude Lafayette.

“Obviously, this is a team sport, and we really want to win things as a team,” said McNeely.  “But this was a good season for me personally, and I’m glad that I’ll be able to take some positive memories away from the year.  I’d rather have a Vandy on the mantle, sure, but this is a good consolation prize.”


Goalie of the Year: 
Riki Tiktuunen, Quebec Tigres

This award was a bit of a surprise, as it was the first time that Michigan’s Dirk Lundquist didn’t take home the trophy.  In 2018, Lundquist had a bit of a down season by his usual standards, but still remained among the league’s elite, going 38-12-4 with a 1.69 GAA and a .934 save percentage.  But some combination of the Tigres’ surprising season and a desire to reward a fresh face led the voters to select Tiktuunen instead, in a close vote.

Tiktuunen had a very strong campaign, and played a key role in Quebec’s success.  On the season, Tiktuunen went 31-20-1 with a 2.03 GAA and a .930 save percentage.  The Finnish-born netminder gained a reputation around the league for his stoic, cold-blooded demeanor and his ability to avoid getting rattled in difficult situations.

“Riki’s so cool and calm that he helps keep the rest of us calm,” said teammate Richard McKinley.  “He’s like a security blanket, because you know he’s going to take care of business no matter what happens.”

Defenseman of the Year: Fritz Kronstein, Michigan Gray Wolves

This is the second straight year that a Wolves player won this honor; Kronstein’s teammate Max Madison captured the award last season.  Kronstein is not as pugilistically inclined as Madison, who is infamous for dropping the gloves at the slightest provocation.  However, Kronstein is just as capable a defender as his counterpart on Michigan’s top pairing, leading the league in blocked shots and among the top five in takeaways.

In addition to his defensive excellence, Kronstein is a strong contributor in the offensive end.  His 59 points were the second-most among SHL blueliners in 2018, and his 18 goals and +34 rating led all defensemen.  “Fritz is an amazingly dynamic young player,” said coach Ron Wright.  “He’s a strong physical presence, but he’s also surprisingly fast, and he’s an excellent scorer and passer.  He’s the total package.”

Kronstein emerged victorious out of a crowded field that included 2016 winner Raymond Smyth of Hamilton, along with Dakota’s Matt Cherner, Hershey’s Reese Milton, and New York rookie Donald Duckworth.

 

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Night’s Foster Accuses Officials of Anti-NY Bias

Nick Foster

In a bizarre coda to the New York Night‘s 6-5 victory over the Washington Galaxy on Saturday, Night coach Nick Foster used his postgame press conference to accuse referee Brandon Fosse and his crew of being biased against New York.  Foster went on to argue that the league was “scared of” his team and determined to keep them out of the postseason.

In a lot of ways, the game was a successful one for the Night.  They outshot the rival Galaxy 47-32 and secured a key win that all but guarantees them a third-place finish in the East.  But the third period was a harrowing one for New York, as Washington scored four unanswered goals that nearly erased a 6-1 Night lead.  Many observers thought the late rally was evidence that the Night took their foot off the gas, or that netminder Jesse Clarkson was continuing his recent stretch of shaky play.  But to Foster, the real cause of the Washington rally was a string of penalties called by Fosse and his crew.

“It’s pretty impressive that we pulled that one out, considering that we were playing against 10 guys there in the third,” said the Night coach, referring to the six Washington players and the four officials.  “They really didn’t want us to win this one, but we got the W anyway.”  Asked to elaborate, Foster said, “Come on, you’re all smart guys.  You’ve got eyes.  You think it was a coincidence that all the whistles went against us down the stretch?  I’m not sure what we did to piss [Fosse] off, or if the call came from upstairs, but he had it in for us.”

Foster continued, “I’m going to talk to the league; I don’t want his crew working our games any more.  I don’t think they’ll listen, though.  Now that we’re getting better, they’re scared of us winning.  The last thing they want to see is us in the playoffs.”

On the surface, it seemed Foster’s complaint might have some merit.  The last four penalties of the game, called in the latter half of the third period all went against New York, including two in quick concession that gave the Galaxy a 5-on-3 edge for over a minute and a half.  Foster contended that the fatigue of the extended penalty-kill shifts left his team exhausted and vulnerable to a late rally.

On the other hand, only one of Washington’s third-period goals actually came on the power play.  And Foster’s accusation ignored the fact that over the game as a whole, New York actually had more power plays than Washington.  In fact, the Galaxy didn’t go a man up even once until the third.

Fosse and the other officials join a lengthy list of people and teams with which Foster has feuded this season, including the Hamilton Pistols, their star Steven Alexander, the Dakota Jackalopes, and the Corn Palace.

The league did not make Fosse available for comment after the game, but they did take swift action against Foster, fining the coach $5,000.  “The idea that our referees or our league are biased against any of our teams is ludicrous,” said Commissioner Perry Mitchell.  “I don’t know why Coach Foster would make crazy accusations like that.  It’s disappointing on a personal level; more importantly, it’s inappropriate and unacceptable.”

Galaxy coach Rodney Reagle, on the other hand, reacted to Foster’s accusations with amusement.  “I’ve got to hand it to that guy,” Reagle said.  “Ordinarily, after a game like that, you’d figure he’d be answering questions about why his team can’t close out a game, or why his goalie couldn’t stop a cold.  Instead, he’s got us all talking about whether the refs and the league have a vendetta against his team.  Talk about post-game spin!”

Shockers Blimp Photo Blows Fan’s Cover

If there’s one constant in the history of the Saskatchewan Shockers, it’s their penchant for disastrous promotional events.  Whether it was the Japanese Night promo (when the Shockers started a sumo in goalie and had to pull him after one period), the Kazoo Night fiasco (when angry fans littered the ice with hot dogs and malfunctioning instruments  and nearly forced the game’s cancellation), or last season’s Kids Night embarrassment (when the team gave away a “kid’s activity book” that was filled with errors and obscenities), Saskatchewan leads the league by a mile in-game entertainment failures.

“I feel like we’d be better off if we started advertising the nights when we don’t give anything away,” quipped Shockers interim coach Caleb Ponder.  “‘Tonight, every fan in attendance will receive: Nothing!  We promise!'”

Heinz Doofenshmirtz

Despite the team’s sad history with such promotions, the Shockers went ahead and held “Fan Appreciation Night” on Saturday against the Anchorage Igloos.  The team announced that they’d be giving away a “special, limited-edition T-shirt,” and made vague promises of a “special event” for fans in attendance.  Owner Heinz Doofenshmirtz was coy, saying only that it would be “something special the fans will never forget.”

The T-shirts were given out as promised, although the design was unexpected.  The bright yellow T-shirts read “#1 Fan!”  The team said that the Shockers logo supposed to appear below those words.  The version the fans received instead contained a picture of Doofenshmirtz’s face.  According to the owner, he sent the wrong image file to the printing house.  The finished shirts arrived only a couple of days before the event, and (as usual) no one with the Shockers bothered to look at them before handing them out.

The fans’ reaction to the Doof-bedecked T-shirts could fairly be described as “mixed.”  Many fans discarded the shirts immediately; several trash cans in the concourse were overflowing with them.  Other fans chose to wave the shirts over their heads like rally towels.  Others proudly wore the shirts (ironically or otherwise).

“I looked around the stands, and I saw my own face all over, staring back at me,” Doofenshmirtz said.  “It was a little creepy, to be honest.  But also kind of cool!”

After the performance of the anthems and a ceremonial puck drop by rock guitarist and Saskatoon native Pete Friesen, PA announcer Tim Conroy told the fans to “stay in your seats and get ready for something special.”  Shortly afterward, a small blimp with the Shockers logo on the side emerged from one end of the arena.  The blimp was designed and built by the owner himself, and it contained a camera that was taking a panoramic photo of all the fans in attendance.

“I know from my daughter that if there’s one thing the young people today like, it’s taking selfies,” said Doofenshmirtz.  “So I figured, why not take one big selfie of the whole crowd?  And behold!”

After the photo was complete, the blimp was supposed to drop leaflets with the URL the fans could visit to view the group picture.  But Doofenshmirtz was also piloting the craft, and he lost control of it and crashed it into a catwalk hanging from the roof.  The start of the game was delayed for over 15 minutes while workers retrieved the stranded blimp.

After the game, the photo went live online.  (The team posted the URL on the scoreboard, since their leafleting plan was thwarted.)  Once fans started looking at it, however, they started noticing some curiosities.  Several fans greeted the blimp with upraised middle fingers.  Others appeared to be engaged in fisticuffs.  Some female fans raised their shirts for the camera.  As fans started pointing these out on social media, the Shockers responded by blurring the offending photos.

Things went from bad to worse when the team received a call from the Canadian national police.  Apparently, the camera had captured a person who is in the witness protection program and had been moved to Saskatchewan under an assumed identity.  The police said that the fan had received threats on his life after being identified in the photo.  The police demanded that the Shockers take the picture down.  The team initially resisted, but ultimately took it down.

“Yeah, I guess I didn’t think this one through as well as I should have,” admitted Doofenshmirtz.  “I definitely don’t want us to get in trouble with the police.  But why would you go to a hockey game if you’re in the witness protection program?!  Seriously, dude, just watch it on your couch next time.”

SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell has noticed Saskatchewan’s sad history with promotions.  “As a rule, we try to encourage our teams to do as many promotional events as is practical,” the commissioner said.  “It’s a great way to boost attendance and give fans something to look forward to.  In the case of the Shockers, however, I’d like to ask them to stop doing them altogether.  Or at least Mr. Doofenshmirtz shouldn’t be allowed to plan them, design them, or really be involved with them in any way.  It’s for the best.”

Wolves’ Knight Suspended for PED Usage

Halfway through the season, the Michigan Gray Wolves seem to be cruising toward a playoff spot and a strong shot at capturing their second Vandy.  Their otherwise marvelous season hit a speed bump today, however, as C Wesley Knight was hit with a 15-game suspension after failing a test for performance-enhancing drugs.

Wesley Knight

The 28-year-old Knight tested positive for an anabolic steroid called Tetrahydrogestrinone, or THG.  THG is a well-known drug, allegedly used by high-profile athletes from Barry Bonds to Marion Jones.  The steroid’s primary purpose is to assist with the building of muscle mass, which allows athletes to participate in more rigorous workouts and recover more quickly from injuries or intensive training.

“We have a no-tolerance policy for drug abuse in this league,” said SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell in the press conference announcing the suspension.  “No matter who you are or how good your team is, if you’re using PEDs, you’re going to be caught and you’re going to be punished.

Knight is in his fourth season as Michigan’s third-line center.  He has been struggling this season – generating only 1 goal and 7 assists so far this season – and has seen his ice time steadily decrease as the season has gone on.  He acknowledged that he started taking PEDs this season in hopes of getting back to his usual production.

“It’s been tough for me this year, so tough,” said Knight.  “I’ve just been looking for any way I can to turn things around.  And I took a stupid shortcut, trying to get better.  I’m so embarrassed and humiliation.  I apologize to my teammates and the fans.  This is completely on me.”

Wolves coach Ron Wright condemned Knight’s PED use.  “There’s no excuse for that kind of thing in this game, none,” Wright told reporters.  “Hockey’s a tough sport, and you’ve got to be in good condition to play.  PEDs are an easy out, for players who don’t want to put in the work.  Wes is a good player and he puts in the work, which makes this so disappointing.  I’d expect a lot better out of him.  I’m just really disappointed, that’s the bottom line.”

At the All-Star Game earlier in the week, rumors were swirling that a Michigan player had failed a drug screening and was about to be suspended.  Many of the whispers centered around LW Vladimir Beruschko, who has had a surprisingly strong season at age 35.  After Knight’s suspension was announced, Beruschko stood up for his teammate.

“All of our team likes Wes,” said Beruschko.  “He made a mistake, but all of us make mistakes sometimes.  He was a man to admit it and take responsibility.  He has to serve the suspension, but when he comes back, we will all welcome him back.  We have a job to do together, to win the championship.”

Reagle’s Surfer Garb Earns League Reprimand

Washington Galaxy coach Rodney Reagle has a long and illustrious history of coaching games in unorthodox outfits, dressing up as a cowboy or a vampire or Mr. T.  The league’s tolerance for Reagle’s eccentric apparel appears to be waning, however, as his latest costume earned him a fine and a stern warning from the commissioner.

Rodney Reagle

DC has been in a cold snap recently; the temperature in the nation’s capital has been unseasonably chilly.  Wednesday night was the second half of a home-and-home against the Quebec Tigres; the Galaxy had dropped the first game 6-3.  Before Wednesday’s game, Reagle made a seemingly off-hand remark, telling reporters that “my mom always told me it’s important to stay on the sunny side, so that’s what we’re going to do.”

When Reagle took the bench that evening, however, it became clear exactly what he meant.  The coach was dressed more for a day at the beach than a hockey game.  He wore a Hawaiian shirt, board shorts, flip-flops, and sunglasses.  He even appeared to have smeared zinc oxide on his nose.

The Galaxy players took the costume in stride, but the visiting Tigres and the officials were taken somewhat aback.  “I didn’t notice anything at first,” said head referee Scott Pritchard.  “But then I hear Reagle calling me over to talk, so I skate over and suddenly I’m staring at Jimmy Buffett.  I’m thinking, ‘What in the world is going on over here?’”

After the Galaxy’s 4-0 win, Reagle (still in his beach garb) explained the method to his madness.  “It’s just been too darn cold here lately,” the coach said, “so I’m just trying to think sunny!  Change your mind and you can change the world, right?  If I’m dressed for good surfing weather, then good surfing weather will come!  That’s, like, totally how it works.”  Reagle continued the beach theme by dropping phrases such as “cowabunga” and “totally tubular” into his answers.

The league was unamused, fining Reagle $500 for violating the rules against coaches wearing “professional attire” on the bench.  “Coach Reagle is a colorful character, and I appreciate that,” said SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell.  “And we’ve looked the other way at some of his costume choices before.  But at some point, we’ve got to draw the line.  We don’t want to turn the league into a sideshow.”  The commissioner added that the league would consider further action, including possible suspensions, if Reagle continued to flout the dress code.

Washington’s front office and fans both responded with outrage to the decision.  The hashtag “#FreeRodney” began trending on Twitter shortly after the decision was announced, and Galaxy GM Garnet “Ace” Adams stoutly defended his coach.  “Look, we all know that Rodney’s a little kooky,” said Adams.  “Okay, maybe more than a little.  All right, he’s basically a lunatic.  But we love him for that!  And this is a free country!  Who’s the commissioner to say that Rodney can’t wear a Hawaiian shirt on the bench?  He has a right to bare arms!”

For his part, Reagle reacted with bemusement.  “I mean, this is where they draw the line?  Really?” the coach said.  “Dressing up like Mr. T was OK, but wearing a beach outfit is demeaning to the game?  I don’t get it.  It’s not like I was naked out there or anything.”

The coach added that the decision is popular with at least one person.  “My wife is behind the commish 100% on this one,” said Reagle.  “Being married to me is embarrassing enough as it is.  She told me that from now on, I’m not leaving the house until she’s approved my outfit.  That’s probably for the best.”

Foster Proposes “Alexander Rule,” Starts Feud

Last year, as the new coach of the New York Night, Nick Foster focused his attention on evaluating his players and trying to install strategic changes and a better work ethic.  In his second season, Foster has dropped hints that he wants to stoke rivalries with the other teams in the East.  “In sports, a little hate makes the world go round, right?” Foster told reporters during the preseason.  “When you’re playing against your rival, the game has a little extra juice for the players, the fans, everybody.  I’m all for some extra juice.”

This week, the New York coach lit the fire under the rivalry he hopes to start.  The target is the Hamilton Pistols, who are off to a surprisingly strong start and look to be a top playoff contender.  Foster created a stir around the SHL by proposing a new rule aimed at Pistols LW Steven Alexander, a battle that culminated in a Twitter feud between the coach and the player.

Nick Foster

After the Night’s 6-4 against the Pistols on Sunday, a game in which Alexander scored a goal, Foster was asked about the Hamilton star’s scoring prowess.  “Well, he’s one of the top goal scorers in the league,” the coach responded.  “But that’s not a surprise, because he cheats.”

Asked to elaborate, Foster pointed out Alexander’s habit of chopping upward with his stick to create separation from the defender before shooting.  “I mean, the guy guarantees himself good looks by swiping his stick at guys’ nuts like he’s teeing off at Pebble Beach,” said Foster.  “So he gets three-four feet of space every time ’cause my guys want to have kids someday.  It’s a great trick if you can get away with it. And The Nutcracker gets away with it.”

The Night coach then called on the league to pass a rule outlawing Alexander’s move.  “Remember when the NHL created the Sean Avery Rule, ’cause he was always standing in front of goalies and acting like a dick?  Well, here in the SHL, we need the Steven Alexander Rule, to outlaw swinging your stick at a guy’s family jewels.  The Nutcracker’s career would be finished overnight.”

Steven Alexander

Sources around the league viewed this soliloquy as an attempt to get under Alexander’s notoriously thin skin.  If so, it worked; the next day, the Pistols star fired back on Twitter.  “Typical cheap stunt from @TrickyNick,” Alexander tweeted.  “Attacks other players to distract from his own failure.  Glad I play for a team & coach with class.”

Foster wasted no time in replying. “Hey @MyNameIsAlexander: you cheat, admit it.  League looks the other way bc they want ratings, but everyone knows it.”

Alexander shot back with another barb: “Grow up & stop looking for excuses.  Ur a pathetic excuse for a leader.  No other team would hire you.”

Foster’s response: “Ok, nutcracker.  Try 2 score some goals wo cheating & then we can talk abt who’s pathetic.”

Alexander snapped back, “Anytime u want to settle this with fists instead of tweets, come find me.”

Keith Shields

Pistols coach Keith Shields stood up for his player.  “The idea that Stevie would ever cheat is just outrageous to me.  He’s a fierce competitor who doesn’t give an inch, but he plays within the rules.  And to suggest otherwise is just inappropriate.  Coach Foster should apologize.”

The league quickly shot down the idea of creating an “Alexander Rule.”  “The existing rules are perfectly sufficient,” said SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell.  “We certainly have no intention of creating new rules to target specific players, as Coach Foster knows very well.  The referees have been instructed to call the rulebook as written.”  The commissioner added that both Alexander and Foster would be fined if their Twitter war continued.

Foster declared a ceasefire, though he couldn’t resist slipping in one last shot across the bow.  “I guess speaking the truth will cost me,” the Night coach told reporters.  “But all right, the commish says drop it, so I’ll drop it.  Instead, I’ll just have my guys watch tape of The Nutcracker in action.  They might just learn a thing or two for the next time we play Hamilton.”

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!”