2020 SHL All-Star Break Transactions

The following transactions occurred during the All-Star break:

  • The Anchorage Igloos demoted RW Jean Pierre Fleury and G Wendall Cantillon to their CHL affiliate in Minnesota and called up RW Lionel LaNeige and G Curt Freeze from Minnesota.  Fleury has struggled badly this year, recording only 2 points in 20 games, and has been a healthy scratch in many recent games.  Cantillon has posted a 2-4-2 record with a 4.04 GAA as the Igloos’ backup netminder this season.  The 22-year-old LaNeige makes his SHL debut; he has recorded 17 points (8 goals, 9 assists) in 32 games with Minnesota this year.  Freeze, a longtime Anchorage prospect, has gone 5-11-2 with a 2.59 GAA and a .905 save percentage so far this seaosn.
  • The Boston Badgers sent F Jacques Bacon and D Jackson Creed to their affiliate in Hartford, and recalled RW Felix Delorme and D Brett Stolte from Hartford.  Bacon, a veteran who signed as a free agent in the offseason, has appeared in only 7 games for Boston and has yet to record a point.  The Badgers are hoping that Delorme, nephew of Quebec coach Martin Delorme, can provide a spark for their stagnant offense. Delorme was a starter in the CHL All-Star Game, and has recorded 10 goals and 17 assists so far this season.  The Badgers called up Creed from Hartford two and a half weeks ago; he played in 6 games and recorded an assist.  Stolte, another CHL All-Star, has produced 12 goals and 13 assists so far this year.
  • The Dakota Jackalopes demoted D Geoff Moultrie and promoted D Brady Prussian.  Moultrie recorded 2 goals and a -2 rating in 14 games for Dakota this season; the team hopes to get him more regular playing time with their affiliate in Idaho.  Prussian has produced 26 points (14 goals, 12 assists) and a +13 rating with Idaho on the year.
  • The Hamilton Pistols demoted D Torrey Ashmont and promoted D Russ Klemmer.  Ashmont is a rookie who has struggled for ice time with the Pistols, appearing in only 9 games.  He figures to start regularly with the team’s Oshawa affiliate.  Klemmer, meanwhile, was a CHL All-Star; his 22 assists placed him in the league’s top ten.
  • The Hershey Bliss demoted F Anton Lapointe and promoted RW James Clay.  Lapointe, a capable defensive forward, has struggled to produce offensively at the SHL level; so far this year, he has produced two assists in 9 games.  Clay, another CHL All-Star, led Hershey’s Milwaukee affiliate with 28 points (13 goals, 15 assists).
  • The Kansas City Smoke demoted G Dennis Wampler and promoted G Eric Middleton.  Kansas City’s 3.79 GAA is second-worst in the SHL, and Wampler (3-8-1, 4.06 GAA, .882 save percentage) has contributed to those woes.  Middleton, an 18-year-old rookie, has thrived with the Smoke’s affiliate in Omaha, going 8-6-3 with a 2.06 GAA and a .929 save percentage.
  • The Michigan Gray Wolves demoted RW Kelvin Starkey and F Cary Estabrook and promoted LW Fendrick Scanlan and RW Steve Brandon.  The offensively-challenged Wolves shook up their forward depth, swapping out Starkey (1 goal in 24 games) and Estabrook (no points in 10 games) for the top two scorers (and All-Stars) with their Cleveland affiliate, Scanlan (13 goals, 10 assists) and Brandon (12 games, 10 assists).
  • The New York Night demoted G Corey Franklin-Lee and recalled G Sherman Carter.  This is the reverse of the transaction New York made two weeks earlier, when they sent Carter to their affiliate in Utah in order to regain his form and confidence.  Carter went 4-2-1 with a 1.98 GAA and a .926 save percentage in Utah, while Franklin-Lee went 1-2-0 with a 3.00 GAA and a .925 save percentage in the Big Apple.
  • The Quebec Tigres demoted C Phil Miller and promoted C Dwight Flynn.  The veteran Miller has failed to produce in Quebec this season, with a mere two assists and a -10 rating in 27 games.  Flynn, meanwhile, has produced at an All-Star level with Halifax this year, including 16 goals, 21 assists, and a +3 rating.
  • The Saskatchewan Shockers signed D Kjell Hanson to a minor-league contract.  The Shockers found themselves with a short minor-league roster after calling up D Pierre Chappelle and C Trent Harlow as injury replacements just before the All-Star break, and Hanson will help fill the void.  The 24-year-Hanson started the year in the Kansas City organization, but the Smoke released him the week before the break.
  • The Washington Galaxy demoted D Shane Gladchuk and promoted D Morris Starling.  The rebuilding Galaxy wanted to give Starling, a CHL All-Star with Baltimore, some ice time at the SHL level.  He led the with 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists).  Gladchuk appeared in 12 games with Washington, notching 3 assists and a -8 rating.

2020 SHL Week 6 Transactions

  • On Sunday, the New York Night announced that D Ed Francis, who had been playing for their minor-league affiliate in Utah, will miss the rest of the season.  The 30-year-old Francis suffered a severely broken leg during last Saturday’s game against Minnesota, an injury so severe that it required surgery to reconstruct the leg.  In the wake of the injury, Francis announced that he would retire from hockey. (Story here.)  To replace Francis on the roster, the Night signed D Gustaf Bergstrom for the rest of the season.  Bergstrom recently played a 10-game stint in Halifax, where he recorded a goal and six assists.
  • On Friday, the Washington Galaxy traded LW Casey Thurman to the Boston Badgers in exchange for LW Marty “Fish” Pescatelli, D Kermit Kaufman, and a first-round draft pick.  (Story here.)  In related moves, Boston demoted LW Norris Young to their CHL affiliate in Hartford and promoted D Jackson Creed from Hartford.  They also signed D Gerry Michaud to a minor-league deal.
  • On Friday, the Night demoted G Sherman Carter to their CHL affiliate in Utah and promoted G Corey Franklin-Lee from Utah.  Carter, expected to be New York’s top starter in the next, has been atrocious so far this season.  Despite compiling a 5-5-1 record, he has put up a 5.75 GAA and an .861 save percentage.  The 20-year-old Franklin-Lee makes his first appearance on an SHL roster; with Utah this season, he has gone 9-4-2 with a 2.82 GAA and a .905 save percentage.
  • On Saturday, the Quebec Tigres placed D Kevin Buchanan on the injured list.  The veteran blueliner has been plagued by injuries this season; he missed 10 games with an upper-body injury earlier this season.  It is unknown whether this latest setback, suffered in the second period of Saturday’s 2-0 loss to Hershey, is an aggravation of his prior injury or a new one.  To replace Buchanan on the roster, Quebec recalled D Hampus Olsson from their CHL affiliate in Halifax.  Olsson was sent down two weeks ago when Buchanan returned from his prior IL stint; he spent 9 games in the minors, recording 5 points (2 goals, 3 assists).  To fill Olsson’s roster spot in Halifax, the Tigres signed veteran D Igor Shovshenkov.

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.

Pistols Get Mad, Get Even in Rout of Night

The hottest rivalry in the SHL right now is clearly the feud between the Hamilton Pistols and the New York Night.  Night coach Nick Foster has spent multiple seasons adding fuel to the fire by slinging insults at the Pistols’ arena, their fans, and star Steven Alexander.  Foster’s barbs have turned every game between the teams into a grudge match.

Last week, the Night and Pistols tangled for the first time this season at Hamilton’s Gunpowder Armory.  It proved to be a wild match full of insults, physical play, and shots galore.  In the end, the Night walked away with a 7-6 overtime win, with Foster making sure to twist the knife on his way out of town.

On Sunday, the teams held the rematch at New York’s Neon Sky Arena.  It promised to be another feud-filled game.  Most observers expected that the Night would have to answer for rookie C Norris Fletcher’s high stick to Alexander’s eye in last week’s game.  The Pistols, however, chose not to seek revenge with their fists, but with their sticks, scoring six goals in a frenetic first period on the way to a 10-5 drubbing.

Keith Shields

“The Lord reminds us that vengeance is His,” said Pistols coach Keith Shields, “but I have to admit this was pretty sweet.”

When the Pistols took the ice, they were greeted by the sounds of Craig Morgan’s “Redneck Yacht Club,” as well as the jeers of the New York faithful.  The cheers and jeers only got louder when Night RW Ivan Trujwirnek scored just 17 seconds into the game.  But Hamilton quickly flipped the script.  Just 23 seconds after Trujwirnek’s tally, Pistols RW Claude Lafayette found the upper-leftt corner of the net to tie things up.  Just over a minute late, LW Magnus Gunnarson drilled a slapper home past night netminder Sherman Carter to give Hamilton the lead.

The frantic firewagon pace of the game continued over the next several minutes, but the scoring hit a temporary lull, as Carter and the Pistols’ Lasse Koskinen both made acrobatic saves.  Just over six minutes into the period, C Rod Remington jammed home a rebound to pull back even.  That deadlock lasted a mere 11 seconds, though, before Pistols RW Ben Summers stuffed in a wraparound shot to put his team back in the lead.

Just before the midway point of the period, Pistols D Raymond Smyth forced a neutral-zone turnover and started an odd-man rush, which Alexander finished with a shot between Carter’s legs.  In the last game, the Pistols star drew a fine for a goal celebration that included a mock round of gunshots at the New York bench.  This time, Alexander dropped his stick and skated past the Night bench while taking a deep bow.

Less than a minute after Alexander’s goal, C Marco Venezio made it 5-2 by going top shelf from the slot.  D Clayton Risch closed out the scoring for the period with a deflection that a helpless Carter failed to corral.

When the clock struck zero on the opening frame, the Pistols had fired 27 shots at the New York net and scored a half-dozen times.  They’d driven Carter out of the game.  They’d also rendered the arena utterly quiet.

“We headed down the tunnel and we heard total silence,” said Lafayette.  “They were too shocked to even boo us.  It was beautiful.”

When the game resumed, a healthy chunk of the crowd did not return.  They correctly sensed that the Night were not going to rally.  And the Pistols declined to take their foot off the gas, scoring four more times against relief goalie “Jersey Mike” Ross.

The Pistols’ scoring was impressively democratic: their 10 goals were scored by nine different players, with only C Calvin Frye recording more than one.  (Frye had a chance at a hat trick during a third-period power play, but he instead passed to Smyth, who beat Ross on the short side.)  Every Hamilton player recorded at least one point.

“I think it’s a testament to what a balanced team we are,” said Shields.  “We don’t just rely on our stars.”  This could be interpreted as a shot at the Night, whose offense revolves around their star-laden top line.

After a pause, Shields added an unambiguous shot: “It’s also a testament to how fired up our whole team was after the last game.  Coach Foster is a great motivator, at least for our guys.”

For his part, Foster reacted to the shellacking with humor.  “Man, somebody really stuck a bee in their jockstraps, huh?  I guess it was mine.  I’m honored that I mean so much to them, that they went to all that trouble to whip my [expletive].  Well, congrats, you bastards!  We can’t wait to return the favor next time we’re in Tank Town, assuming their barn doesn’t collapse before then.”

Continue reading “Pistols Get Mad, Get Even in Rout of Night”

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”

Both Divisions Decided on Final Day

The SHL has had its share of close division races over the years.  Some of them have even gone all the way to final day of the regular season, such as 2016’s epic Washington-Hershey contest or last season’s showdown between Hamilton and Quebec.  But never before has the identity of both division winners been decided during the regular-season finale.  This season, however, the battles in both the East and West went the distance, setting up an epic slate of games on Saturday.

Out West, the defending champion Anchorage Igloos entered the last day one point ahead of the upstart Seattle Sailors.  The Sailors finished their season on the road against the Saskatchewan Shockers, while the Igloos hosted the Kansas City Smoke for their finale.  The Sailors, who had already clinched their first-ever playoff berth, expressed confidence heading into the game.  “We know what we need to do,” said RW Vince Mango, “now we just need to go out and do it.”

The Sailors got off to a fast start.  Shockers D Rusty Anderson went to penalty box just seven seconds into the game, and Sailors LW Rod “Money” Argent cashed in on the ensuing power play to give Seattle the early lead.  Later in the period, D Bud Gatecliff banged home a short from the point to make it 2-0.  The score remained that way throughout the rest of that period and the next, and it appeared the Sailors were set to get the victory they needed.

In the third period, however, Saskatchewan got their game in gear.  In the opening minutes of the period, LW Troy Chamberlain emerged from a scrum in front of the net and tucked a shot under the crossbar to put Saskatchewan on the board.  Just 24 seconds after that, C Cyril Perignon deflected a slapper past the glove of Seattle goalie “Jersey Mike” Ross to tie the score.  A half-minute later, the Sailors reclaimed the lead on a short-side blast by D Hans Mortensen.  But Saskatchewan wasn’t finished; less than three minutes after Mortensen’s tally, Anderson tied things back up with a blast from the slot that got between Ross’s pads.  Both teams kept the pressure on, combining for 26 shots in the period, but the tie persisted through the end of regulation.

Going into overtime, Seattle had a choice: play defensively to preserve the tie, or go for the win?  For the Sailors, it was no choice at all: “We wanted the W,” said Mango.  In the first minute of the extra session, Mango nearly won as he ripped slapshot that dribbled through the legs of Shockers goalie Shawn Stickel, but the puck stopped on the goal line and Stickel fell on it before anyone could jam it home.  Finally, just over two minutes in, Chamberlain got loose on a breakaway and went top shelf to beat Ross and win the game.

“Missed it by that much,” said Mango, holding his thumb and forefinger just slightly apart.

With nothing to play for, the Igloos lost 3-2 to Kansas City, but still won the division.  The celebration was fairly subdued, as Anchorage is focused on winning its second straight Vandy.  “Everyone in this room isn’t going to be satisfied unless we go all the way,” said Igloos C Jake Frost.  “Winning the division is nice, but it’s not enough.”

Meanwhile, in the East, the Hershey Bliss entered the finale a point up on the red-hot Hamilton Pistols.  The Bliss expected to have the division clinched already, as they’d entered the final week with a five-point lead.  But they proceeded to drop two of their three games on the week, while the Pistols won all three of theirs.  Still, all Hershey needed to do to ensure that the division would be theirs was to win or tie against the last-place Boston Badgers.

Unfortunately for the Bliss, even though they outshot the Badgers 40-26, they were unable to take the victory.  Hershey was stymied by a brilliant goaltending performance from Boston backup Carson Wagner.  Then, with just over five minutes left in a tie game, Bliss RW Noah Daniels was called for a controversial interference penalty on Boston’s Pascal Royal, one that left coach Chip Barber and the Bliss bench hollering in frustration; they contended that Royal should have been penalized for embellishment instead.  Their anger only grew more acute when Badgers LW Lix Darnholm scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal.

“I only hope that the division doesn’t wind up turning on that call,” said Barber after the game.  “You’d hate to see that.  It would be like biting into a Hershey’s Kiss and finding out someone hid a Lemonhead in the middle: a sour ending to what should be sweet.”

Hershey’s loss opened the door for the Pistols.  Standing in their way were their bitter rivals, the New York NightNick Foster‘s club was officially eliminated from contention earlier in the week, but they relished the opportunity to deny the Pistols the title.

“If you can’t make it to the promised land, the next best thing is stopping your enemy from getting there,” Foster said.  “That’s the hockey version of the Golden Rule.”

The game unfolded at a furious pace: both teams combined for an astounding 43 shots in the first period alone, with Hamilton taking 26 of them.  But New York goalie Sherman Carter was in top form, turning aside all those shots except one, a slapper from Pistols C Henry Constantine that hit the crossbar and went in.  Night C Tom Hoffman answered with a bouncing shot that hopped over Hamilton netminder Ron Mason‘s pad, creating a 1-1 tie that would last the rest of the period.

LW Misha Petronov gave New York its first lead just five seconds into the second period, bringing the crowd at Neon Sky Center to its feet, razzing Mason with sing-song chants.  Those chants didn’t last long, however, as Pistols D Albie Glasco tied it up a mere 16 seconds later with a shot from just inside the blueline that got past a screened Carter.  Just under two minutes after that, LW Steven Alexander fired home a slapper from his favorite spot between the faceoff circles to put Hamilton back on top.

In the third period, it took Night C Rod Remington just 30 seconds to rip a shot just above Mason’s blocker to tie things up again.  The New York fans resumed their sing-song taunts of Mason, later adding Alexander to their chants as he shanked shots or fired them just wide. The Pistols thought they had taken the lead when C Calvin Frye scored on a power play at the midpoint of the period, but Foster challenged and sit turned out that Hamilton had entered the offensive zone offside.  When the tally came off the board, the fans roared with delight. Hamilton had a few grade-A chances later in the period, but Carter kept stonewalling them, and the score remained deadlocked at the end of regulation.

In the overtime period, the Night focused on grinding the clock as much as possible, and the game ended in a 3-3 tie.  Hamilton and Hershey wound up with the same number of points, but Hershey had more total wins, so they won the title.  (The same thing happened to the Pistols last season, as they ended up in a tie with Quebec on points, but the Tigres had more victories.)

True to form, the Night celebrated as though they’d won the division.  As the game ended, the New York players dogpiled at center ice.  In the locker room, they sprayed each other with champagne and blasted victory music.  “It’s a thing of beauty, it really is,” said Foster, wiping the bubbly out of his eyes.  “For us to prevent the Nutcracker and his gang of clowns from winning the division, it warms my heart.  It really does.  If they wind up having to play Game 7 on enemy ice and they wind up losing to those Hershey softies, I hope they’ll think of me.”

The Pistols, naturally, didn’t appreciate New York’s attitude.  “I thought the way they played in overtime and then their little post-game party was totally lacking in class and sportsmanship,” said coach Keith Shields.  “But then, that’s typically of the way they operate.  Fortunately, we’ve got enough talent that we can win in the playoffs with or without home-ice advantage.  And since [the Night] will be watching the playoffs on TV once again, they might see if they can learn something.”

Alexander was more blunt than his coach.  “I believe in karma,” he told reporters, “and that’s why I’m confident that Foster and his boys will never win anything.  They’ve got a loser’s mentality; any team that celebrates like that for a game they didn’t even win, for a playoff spot that they didn’t get, is just pathetic.  Enjoy the golf course, you [jerks].”

CHL Update: Owls Shock Rhinos in 5 To Win Championship

Coming into the first-ever CHL playoffs, no one gave the Utah Owls much of a chance to win.  Although they had been hot during the last month of the season, they only finished a few games above the .500 mark.  They had few players among the league leaders in any category, and they were better known for their wacky hotel escapades than for anything they did on the ice.  The smart money suggested that the Owls would be easily knocked out by the Omaha Ashcats in the Western Division playoff; failing that, they’d be taken down by the high-scoring Virginia Rhinos in the finals.

By the time the playoffs were over, however, the smart money wasn’t looking so smart.  Utah stunned Omaha by winning the division finals in four games and making it look easy.  Then in the Finals, with barely more drama, the Owls defeated the Rhinos 4 games to 1 to claim the inaugural Howard Trophy as CHL champions.

“Nobody believed in us,” said Owls C Lloyd “Goofy” Banjax.  “Everyone was just standing around, waiting for us to fail.  But we showed them!  We showed everybody that we’re the best there is!”

In Game 1, Utah walked into Waterfront Center and pushed the pace, with the teams combining for 85 shots.  The Owls hammered the Rhinos 6-2, with six different players scoring goals for the Owls.  “I absolutely did not see that coming,” said Virginia goalie Shawn Stickel.  “We’d heard those guys liked to play fast, but we weren’t expecting that kind of crazy speed.  It’s like they had rockets in their skates.”  Not only did the Rhinos lose the game, they lost winger Nick Krombopoulos for the series with an upper-body injury.

In Game 2, Virginia seemed to restore order, downing Utah 3-1.  But both sides wound up losing a defenseman to injury; the Rhinos lost Ivan Ackler, while the Owls saw Boris Badenov go down.  The series shifted to Wasatch Arena for Game 3, where the Owls turned the tables with a 3-1 win of their own.  In Game 4, Virginia took an early 2-0 lead, only to see Utah tie it up with a pair in the second period.  RW Colton Jabril put the Rhinos back up with a tally two minutes into the third period, and it looked like his team was about to tie the series up again.  But Owls LW Mickey Simpson banked one in off the crossbar with 12 seconds left to send it to overtime, and then C Remi “Roadrunner” Gallert nabbed the game-winner 2:05 into OT to give Utah a 3-1 series lead.

“After that, we knew we had it,” said Banjax.

The Owls took care of business in Game 5, with F Diego Garcia scoring two goals to lead his team to a 4-1 win.  The infamously boisterous team managed not to lay waste to the arena; instead, they formed a dogpile on the ice and soaked in the joy of an unexpected victory.

Utah’s secret?  Goalie Sherman Carter.  The top prospect started the season with the Owls before earning a quick call-up to the New York Night, before being sent down for the final games of the CHL season.  He was the key to the Owls’ postseason success, putting up a 1.99 GAA and a .949 save percentage against the league’s highest-scoring team.  Unsurprisingly, Carter was chosen as the Finals MVP.

“Sherm has been nothing short of awesome for us,” said Owls coach Wiley Kiyotie.  “The only sad thing is that he’s probably not going to be back here next year.  He’s headed to the pros to stick next year, and I know he’s going to be special.”

In the midst of the postgame celebration, Banjax was asked whether he thought his team could repeat next year.  “Probably not,” said the Utah center.  “But then, no one thought we’d win it this year.  So who knows?  I can’t wait to find out.”