Pistols Add Soforenko, Dyomin for Stretch Run

It was an active trading deadline this season, with almost all contending teams making moves to strengthen their position.  The first-place team in the East, the Hamilton Pistols, made the first move several days before the deadline, acquiring LW Piotr Soforenko and D Vitaly Dyomin from the Kansas City Smoke on Sunday to bolster their depth.

Piotr Soforenko

The Pistols have been leaning heavily on rookies on their third line (LW Jamie Campbell and RW Michael Jennings) and bottom defensive pairing (Albie Glasco and Buster Kratz).  GM Marcel LaClaire had already been contemplating a move to add a couple of veterans, but when Glasco went down with an injury on Friday and Campbell was hurt on Saturday, the matter became a priority.

“We’re getting to a critical point in the season, where we cannot afford to lose our ground,” LaClaire told reporters.  “With Piotr and Vitaly, we have a pair of proven, reliable players who can give us some additional grit and solidity, and they can fill holes that we have right away.”

The 32-year-old Soforenko has been one of Kansas City’s leading scorers this season, with 12 goals and 20 assists.  He is a graceful skater and smooth passer, and he has worked well with the Smoke’s rookies; he has helped linemates C Darien Picard and RW Zachary Merula compile strong debut seasons.  On the other hand, he is not a rugged player and is considered below average on defense.

Vitaly Dyomin

The 29-year-old Dyomin is a stay-home defenseman who has a reputation as a grinder.  He has put up respectable offensive numbers with KC (3 goals, 11 assists), but his primary contributions are through checking and wall work.  He is not particularly fast, but he makes up for it with hard hits.  Unlike Soforenko, who is a pure rental, Dyomin is signed through next season; this made him an appealing pickup for Hamilton.

In the short term, Soforenko and Dyomin will fill in for the injured Campbell and Glasco; once the latter two return to health, it is expected that the new players will take over for Jennings and Kratz.

Last week, LaClaire publicly agonized over whether to part with some of the team’s top prospects to take a shot at winning now.  In this deal, they dealt a pair of youngsters with promise, but held onto their most highly-regarded players.

Gary Hermine
Owen Griffin

C Owen Griffin was one of the last cuts in training camp, and he has put up solid numbers with their minor-league affiliate in Oshawa (13 goals, 16 assists).  The 21-year-old reported to the Smoke’s affiliate in Omaha in the immediate aftermath of the trade, but he is likely to see time with the big club before season’s end.

D Gary Hermine is well-regarded as an offensive-minded defenseman; the 20-year-old has thrived with Oshawa, putting up 12 goals and 35 assists in 38 games this season.  He reported directly to Kansas City, where he joined their bottom pairing and is expected to see time on the power play.

“I’m excited to have Owen and Gary join our team,” said Smoke GM Garth Melvin.  “As an expansion club, our eyes are firmly fixed on the future, and we’ve got a couple of young guys who we believe can be a key part of our club for years to come.”

LaClaire stated that he does not expect the Pistols to make any more deals before the deadline.  “We have the players we want,” he told reporters.  “And we believe we have struck the balance, taking our shot now and still being strong for the future.”

Igloos Prevail Over KC In Wild OT Battle

When the Anchorage Igloos hosted the Kansas City Smoke on Friday, they were hoping for an easy win over a team on an eight-game winless streak, which would allow them to solidify their second-place standing in the West.  While the Igloos did ultimately prevail over the Smoke, it was anything but easy.  Twice, Anchorage had to rally from three-goal deficits, and needed overtime before they escaped with a wild 8-7 victory.

“Man, that was a battle we weren’t expecting!” exclaimed C Jake Frost after the game.  “We showed a lot of fight, a lot of heart, but boy, KC put a scare into us.”

The Smoke showed up ready to play.  It only took 15 seconds for LW Louis LaPlante to get on the board with his first goal of the season, a slapper past Igloos netminder Wendall Cantillon. Frost evened things up two minutes later with a shot from the right faceoff circle, but rookie C Noel Picard put the Smoke back ahead just over a minute later with a tip-in from the slot.  Midway through the first, Kansas City struck twice to take a 4-1 lead, leaving the crowd at Arctic Circle Arena in an uneasy silence.

Igloos coach Sam Castor considered lifting Cantillon at that point.  But given that it was the backup’s first action all week, the coach stayed with his goalie.  “Wendall’s got to have a chance to deal with adversity,” said Castor.  “I wanted to see how he’d react, and how the team would react.”

Anchorage rallied to Cantillon’s rescue, with RW Remi Montrechere and D “Chilly Willy” Calligan scoring to pull within one by the end of the period.  Four minutes into the second period, Montrechere struck again to tie it up and bring the crowd to its feet.

“We felt like the mommentum was going our way,” said Montrechere.  “We were in control and ready to pull away.”

As it turned out, the momentum was about to shift back to the visitors.  Three minutes after Montechere’s tally, Smoke LW Piotr Soforenko deflected a shot past Cantillon to retake the lead.  C Phil Miller went top-shelf to make it a 6-4 game at the end of the second period.

47 seconds into the third period, Kansas City D Tony Hunt notched a power-play tally to give the Smoke another three-goal lead and putting the Igloos behind the eight ball.

“We needed a jolt, and fast,” said Frost.

They got a pair of jolts in short order.  Five seconds after Hunt’s score, Montrechere blasted a shot just inside the pole to complete his hat trick.  Then, a minute later, C Broni Zhlotkin took exception to a rough hit from Hunt and dropped the gloved with him at center ice.  Although the donnybrook completed Hunt’s “Gordie Howe hat trick” (a goal, an assist, and a fight), it fired up both the Anchorage bench and the crowd.

Twenty seconds after the fight, LW Les Collins banged home a juicy rebound to pull the Igloos within one.  Six and a half minutes later, C Nile Bernard went five-hole on KC goaltender Brooks Copeland and tied it up.  Bernard jumped up against the boards in the corner as the fans banged the glass in delight.

Although the atmosphere in the arena remained near delirium for most of the third period, the Igloos couldn’t push the go-ahead goal across.  Frost and Collins each hit the post, and Copeland made a tremendous sprawling stop with three minutes left in regulation to rob Montrechere of a fourth goal.

The game went to overtime, with both teams and the fans exhausted.  “In OT, that was all adrenaline,” said Frost.  “We had no energy left.”  With a minute and a half left in the extra session, RW Nicklas Ericsson faked a pass to Frost in the slot and slid it up to the blue line, where D Ted Keefe fired a blast that hit the crossbar and went in for the game-winning goal.

Keefe’s goal delivered the Igloos their fourth straight win and their fifth in the last six games.  It also moved Anchorage seven points clear of Saskatchewan and Seattle for second place; it’s their largest lead of the season.  But Castor remains dissatisfied with his team’s performance.  “We had no business winning this game,” the coach said.  “We’ve looked a lot better this week, but we’re going to need to tighten it up on a night-to-night basis if we’re going to make the playoffs.”

Castor’s players were happier with the outcome. “Coming back from a three-goal [deficit] in a game is a game is impressive,” said Frost.  “Doing it twice in one game?  That doesn’t happen.  We’re pretty awesome!”