- On Monday, the Quebec Tigres activated D Ward Jones from the disabled list. Jones had missed more than a month with an upper-body that he suffered before the All-Star break. To make room for Jones on the active roster, the Tigres reassigned D Serge Rimbaud to their farm team in Maine. The 18-year-old Rimbaud appeared in 13 games with Quebec, recording 8 assists and a +1 rating.
- Also on Monday, the Hamilton Pistols placed goaltender Lasse Koskinen on the disabled list. Koskinen suffered an upper-body injury during Sunday’s 7-4 win over New York. He is expected to miss 2 to 3 weeks, a serious blow for a Pistols team that is trying to snatch a playoff spot in the East. To replace Koskinen, the Pistols called up Hector Orinoco from their affiliate in Oshawa. The 23-year-old Orinoco has gone 13-11-0 with a 2.69 GAA and a .902 save percentage with Oshawa this season.
- On Tuesday, the Tigres placed LW Stellan Fisker on the disabled list. Fisker suffered an upper-body injury during the Tigres’ 3-0 win over Hershey. He is expected to miss 3 to 4 weeks. To replace Fisker on the roster, the Tigres called up LW Carl Bleyer from their farm team in Maine. Bleyer has put up 26 points (8 goals, 18 assists) with the Moose on the year.
- Wednesday was the trading deadline. The following trades were consummated at the deadline:
- The New York Night traded RW Mickey Simpson, D Andy Ruger, and a 3rd-round draft pick to the Washington Galaxy for RW Nori Takoyaki. (More details here.) After making the trade, the Night promoted D Craig Werner from their farm team in Utah and signed D Sheldon Harville to a minor-league contract.
- The Galaxy traded Ruger to the Kansas City Smoke in exchange for a 3rd-round pick.
- The Michigan Gray Wolves traded RW Cleo Rodgers, G Gus Parrish, and a 2nd-round pick to the Smoke in exchange for LW Kevin Starkey and D Scott Hexton. (More details here.) After the trade, Kansas City called up Parrish and LW Veikko Sikanen from their CHL affiliate in Omaha, and demoted G Jim Fleetwood to Omaha. They also released G Toby Kemper. Meanwhile, Michigan released D Igor Shovshenkov, demoted F Yann Eberlein to their affiliate in Cleveland, and signed Kemper to a minor-league deal.
- The Saskatchewan Shockers traded C Tanner Brooks to the Dakota Jackalopes in exchange for D Rusty Anderson. (More details here.) After the trade, the Shockers demoted D Valeri Nistrumov to their farm team in Virginia. They also released D Knute Skoeglin and signed F Marvin Cascio to a minor-league deal.
- The Hamilton Pistols traded C Pat Collistone, D Buster Kratz, and a 1st-round pick to the Galaxy in exchange for C Eddie Costello. (More details here.) After the trade, the Pistols called up D Russ Klemmer from their CHL affiliate in Oshawa, and demoted RW Michael Jennings to Oshawa. They also signed D Gresham Sourwine to a minor-league contract. The Galaxy demoted Kratz to their affiliate in Baltimore and promoted C Tucker Barnhill from Baltimore. They also released D Sheldon Harville.
- The Quebec Tigres traded D Kirby Hanlon, C Jacob Cunniff, and a 1st-round pick to the Jackalopes in exchange for D Matt Cherner. (More details here.) After the trade, Dakota released RW Omar Zdurchek; Quebec then signed him to a minor-league deal.
- Finally, the Seattle Sailors traded D Serkan Mratic to the Galaxy for D Stan Gallagher. (More details here.)
- On Saturday, the Jackalopes activated D Rodney Black from the injured list. Black, who was sidelined in only his second SHL game, missed two and a half weeks with an upper-body injury. Since Dakota was one player short of the roster limit, they did not make a corresponding move.
- Also on Saturday, the Hershey Bliss placed LW Lance Sweet on long-term injured reserve. Sweet was carried off the ice on a stretcher after being crunched into the boards late in the second period during Saturday’s 6-3 win over Saskatchewan. Sweet underwent surgery on his right leg, and is expected to be out for the rest of the season. To fill Sweet’s roster spot, Hershey called up D Seth Dowd from their CHL affiliate in Milwaukee. The 33-year-old Dowd, who last played in the SHL in 2016, recorded 27 points with Milwaukee this season.
One of the ongoing storylines in the SHL over the last couple of seasons has been the Dakota Jackalopes’ financial stability. The Jackalopes have steadily pared payroll over the last couple of seasons, to the point that observers around the league have wondered whether the team will survive. Those rumors bubbled up early this season when Dakota dealt netminder Dennis Wampler a few weeks after signing him to a sizable free-agent deal. They swirled again a couple weeks later when goalie Christien Adamsson ripped the team as “cheap” in a postgame rant.
With the trading deadline arriving this week, the Jackalopes were expected to consider trades that would reduce their payroll even further. They did just that, trading both of their top-pairing defenseman north of the border: Matt Cherner was dealt to the Quebec Tigres, while Rusty Anderson was sent to the surging Saskatchewan Shockers.
Predictably, the trades set off another round of rumors that the Jackalopes are in financial trouble. GM Paul Mindegaard stoutly rebuffed those rumors while announcing the deals to the press. “Neither of these was a dump deal,” said Mindegaard. “These are hockey trades, and we think they’re going to make us stronger in the long run.”
Mindegaard noted that both Cherner and Anderson will be free agents in this offseason, and that Dakota had concluded that they couldn’t resign either player. “We’ve been in talks with Matt’s and Rusty’s agents for a while now, but we’ve recognized there isn’t a fit there,” the Dakota GM stated. “And we’re not competing for a playoff spot, so we made the difficult decision to make these trades and get some value back.”
The trade of Cherner was particularly hard on both the player and the fans. The defenseman has been with Dakota since the SHL’s inception, and he has developed over time into one of the league’s top two-way defensemen. Cherner has also been vocal about his desire to stay with the Jackalopes. When news of the deal came down, he broke down in front of reporters.
“I’ve really been hoping there was a way that this wouldn’t happen,” Cherner said. “Playing for this team in front of these fans has been a real joy. This has become my home. I guess I’ve seen the writing on the wall for a while, but now that it’s here, I just – just can’t… sorry, I have to stop now.”
In exchange for Cherner, the Tigres sent D Kirby Hanlon, C Jacob Cunniff, and their first-round pick to Dakota. The 21-year-old Hanlon is having a solid rookie season with Quebec, putting up 16 points (3 goals, 13 assists). Cunniff, also 21, has been a steady contributor with Quebec’s CHL affiliate (12 goals, 20 assists on the season), and he addresses a position of need for the Jackalopes, who are very weak in the middle.
“Matt’s one of the best defensemen in the league, and we weren’t going to let him go for cheap,” said Mindegaard. “We got two very promising young guys – a quality blueliner and a top prospect center – plus a first. I’ll stand behind that.”
Quebec, meanwhile, views Cherner as just the shot in the arm they need to make up ground in the East playoff race. “Our identity is built around defense first,” said Tigres GM Pete Gondret. “We’ve struggled a bit with keeping guys healthy, but we’ve added the best player available at the deadline. I can’t wait to see what he achieves with us.”
To acquire Anderson, the Shockers parted with C Tanner Brooks. The 22-year-old appeared in the CHL All-Star game; he’s known as strong on defense, and his offensive game has blossomed this season. He’s widely regarded as the best center who hadn’t yet made the SHL.
“Tanner is a player we’ve coveted for a long time,” said Mindegaard. “Between him and Jake Cunniff, we’ve gotten a lot stronger in our weakest area. We’ve taken a step back on the blueline, but we have a lot of defensive prospects in the pipeline.”
This is the first time Saskatchewan has been a buyer at the deadline, and GM Cooper Matthews appreciates his haul. “Rusty Anderson fits right in with our blueline corps, and strengthens us in an area where we’re already strong,” Matthews told reporters. “It was a tough decision to part with Tanner, and I know I probably made [the Jackalopes] crazy going back and forth on that. But we see an opportunity here, and we’re going for it.”
It must be noted that with the deals, the Jackalopes shaved about $2 million off of a payroll that was already second-lowest in the league. Mindegaard stressed that he plans to work quickly to sign extensions with their newly-acquired players, as well as key members of their existing team. “
“We’re not going broke, folks,” said the Dakota GM. “Sorry to disappoint you, but it’s fake news.”
The day after the SHL’s All-Star Game, their minor league will be holding its second annual All-Star contest. The game will take place at Wasatch Arena, home of the Utah Owls. The rosters for the game, along with each player’s current stats, are below.
Coach: Patrick Chillingham (Minnesota)
LW: Veikko Sikanen, Omaha (16 G, 19 A, 35 Pts, 42 PIM, +16)
D: Rodney Black, Idaho (19 G, 10 A, 29 Pts, 10 PIM, +6)
C: Dale Wilcox, Idaho (13 G, 25 A, 38 Pts, 16 PIM, +16)
D: Brady Prussian, Idaho (15 G, 13 A, 28 Pts, 16 PIM, +6)
RW: Adriaen van der Veen, Omaha (16 G, 23 A, 39 Pts, 6 PIM, +16)
LW: Terry Cresson, Idaho (11 G, 22 A, 33 Pts, 16 PIM, +16)
D: Laszlo Cierny, Minnesota (6 G, 19 A, 25 Pts, 46 PIM, +2)
C: Foster Culp, Colorado Springs (16 G, 16 A, 32 Pts, 12 PIM, Even)
D: Lowell Sharkey, Omaha (4 G, 19 A, 23 Pts, 12 PIM, +8)
RW: Harris Wondolowski, Utah (15 G, 24 A, 39 Pts, 18 PIM, +2)
LW: Gabriel Swindonburg, Milwaukee (19 G, 10 A, 29 Pts, 34 PIM, -4)
D: Trevor Lockwood, Omaha (12G, 14 A, 26 Pts, 29 PIM, +11)
C: Lloyd “Goofy” Banjax, Utah (13 G, 19 A, 32 Pts, 10 PIM, -6)
D: Craig Werner, Utah (7 G, 17 A, 24 Pts, 12 PIM, +2)
RW: Joel Hagendosh, Colorado Springs (13 G, 20 A, 33 Pts, 63 PIM, -13)
Hobie Sanford, Milwaukee (7-8-3, 2.02 GAA, .931 save %)
Curt Freeze, Minnesota (12-8-1, 2.07 GAA, .924 save %)
Coach: Jeffrey “Swampy” Marsh (Virginia)
LW: Alan Youngman, Baltimore (18 G, 22 A, 40 Pts, 22 PIM, +17)
D: Ambroz Melicar, Baltimore (11 G, 25 A, 36 Pts, 10 PIM, +2)
C: Tucker Barnhill, Baltimore (17 G, 30 A, 47 Pts, 24 PIM, +17)
D: Elvis Bodett, Oshawa (14 G, 8 A, 22 Pts, 19 PIM, +12)
RW: Steve Brandon, Cleveland (19 G, 12 A, 31 Pts, 24 PIM, +2)
LW: Yuri Laronov, Virginia (16 G, 15 A, 31 Pts, 16 PIM, -5)
D: Teddy Morrison, Maine (8 G, 13 A, 21 Pts, 14 PIM, Even)
C: Hilliard Macy, Oshawa (15 G, 18 A, 33 Pts, 12 PIM, +15)
D: Casimir Druzek, Virginia (2 G, 20 A, 22 Pts, 27 PIM, -4)
RW: Sidney Archer, Baltimore (15 G, 16 A, 31 Pts, 2 PIM, +17)
LW: Marty “Fish” Pescatelli, Hartford (12 G, 16 A, 28 Pts, 39 PIM, -9)
D: Roscoe “Ruckus” Corbetta, Virginia (6 G, 12 A, 18 Pts, 70 PIM, -5)
C: Tanner Brooks, Virginia (19 G, 12 A, 31 Pts, 10 PIM, -5)
D: Burton Cullidge, Cleveland (1 G, 15 A, 15 Pts, 42 PIM, -4)
RW: Felix Delorme, Hartford (15 G, 13 A, 28 Pts, 14 PIM, -9)
Eugene Looney, Cleveland (8-7-0, 1.79 GAA, .925 save %)
Jonathan Crane, Maine (9-9-2, 2.06 GAA, .917 save %)
Does hockey run in the blood? There are plenty of examples of family acts in NHL history: the Sutter brothers, Gordie Howe and his sons, Bobby and Brett Hull, and many others. The SHL doesn’t have any of those… yet. But there are three CHL players who are working hard and hoping to join their relatives in the big time.
Arguably, Virginia Rhinos C Tanner Brooks is the closest of the three to making the leap. The 22-year-old center has been in the CHL since 2017, and he has earned raves for his strong defensive plays. The Rhinos’ parent club, the Saskatchewan Shockers, seriously considered making Brooks their third-line center out of training camp this year. Instead, the Shockers kept him in the minors for another season to develop his offensive game further.
2019 has been a breakout year for Tanner; he’s among the CHL’s top scorers with 15 goals and 10 assists so far. He seems to be on the verge of making the big time, either with Saskatchewan or as an attractive deadline trade piece.
When Tanner does reach the majors, he’ll follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Washington Galaxy LW Charlie Brooks. Charlie is seven years older than Tanner, and he serves as example and inspiration to his little brother. “I wouldn’t be a hockey player today if it wasn’t for Charlie,” Tanner Brooks said. “He taught me how to skate, and he let me tag along with him to the rink when I got older. And he was always teaching me what he knew about the game.”
Charlie has followed Tanner’s career with great interest, and he’s excited to someday take the ice against (or with) his brother. “I think Tanner will be a better player than me,” Charlie said. “He’s taller and stronger, and he’s always been driven to succeed. If he does, I’ll be proud as heck.”
Charlie and Tanner’s parents still live in their childhood home in the Toronto area, but they faithfully attend as many of both brothers’ games as possible each year. “They always come to the same number of games for both of us, so they aren’t playing favorites,” said Tanner. “When I’m playing in Oshawa or Charlie’s in Hamilton, they’re definitely there for those. But they travel to see us too. It’s really great.”
Hartford Harpoons RW Felix Delorme doesn’t have a brother in the SHL, but he has another family connection: his uncle is Quebec Tigres coach Martin Delorme. Felix is only 20, and he was drafted by the Boston Badgers in 2018. He’s off to a strong start this year (13 goals, 8 assists), but likely still a season or two away from his SHL debut. But when he does, he knows he’ll have at least one fan, albeit behind the opposing bench.
Felix grew up in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec. His father worked the second shift in a paper mill; due to his late hours, he had few opportunities to teach his son about the game. Fortunately, Uncle Martin was able to step in and help.
Beginning at age 7, Felix began attending his uncle’s summer hockey camps in Montreal. These sessions didn’t always go smoothly. “Uncle Martin always talked about defense and fundamentals, and all I wanted to do was shoot,” Felix admitted. But he did absorb a lot of key lessons about the game, lessons he practiced in the winter playing shinny with his friends.
Martin Delorme believes that his nephew will make the SHL someday. “He was a strong-minded boy, and sometimes we clashed heads,” Martin said. “But he was very determined and confident in himself. Plus he has a great natural talent. I know he will be a good player.”
Martin and Felix text regularly, and they speak via video chat when their schedules allow. Felix fills his uncle in on his latest progress; Martin gives his nephew tips and suggests SHL players to watch. “I hope we can still do this even when we are on enemy teams,” Felix said.
Both Tanner Brooks and Felix Delorme are in different organizations then their SHL relatives. So far, there is only one SHL-CHL family pairing where both members are in the same system. RW Jefferson McNeely is a star for the Washington Galaxy. And his younger brother, D Davis McNeely, plays for the Galaxy’s CHL affiliate, the Baltimore Blue Crabs.
Unlike Brooks and Delorme, the 20-year-old McNeely is not considered a top prospect. Since signing with the Galaxy in 2017, he has generally been relegated to Baltimore’s bottom pairing, and this year he has only 1 assist in 21 games (albeit with a +4 rating).
For Davis, the family connection brings pain as well as pleasure. “Everyone seems to think I only got signed because of Jeff,” said Davis. “I get heckled about it in other cities. ‘Your brother’s better than you!’ and stuff like that. Even here, when I’m slumping, people say, ‘They can’t get rid of him because, well, you know.’ Sometimes I want to go to another team, just so I can prove I deserve to be here.”
Jefferson McNeely vigorously denies that he asked the Galaxy to sign his younger brother. “Davis is his own man, always has been,” said Jefferson. “The Galaxy scouted him and signed him all on their own. I’m glad they did, because he’s a good player. But this idea that I ‘made’ the team sign him is just silly. I don’t have that kind of pull, anyway.”
Davis’ case may be an extreme example, but all three can’t help but he overshadowed by their big-league relatives. For now, Tanner Brooks is still “Charlie’s brother,” and Felix Delorme is still “Martin’s nephew.” But all three of them eagerly await their shot at the SHL spotlight, and the chance to make a name for themselves.
The first round of the CHL playoffs mirrored the first round of the SHL playoffs in a number of ways. One series ended in a sweep, with the victor headed to the finals for the second straight season, trying to avenge last year’s shocking loss. The other series went the distance, with both teams holding serve on home ice; the winner is making their first-ever trip to the championship round.
In the East, the Virginia Rhinos felt as though they should have won the title last season, even though they were upended by Utah in 5 games in last season’s final. “I think we all had the belief that the better team lost last time,” said C Cyril Perignon. “We are on a mission of revenge.”
The Rhinos played with purpose and passion in the division playoff, dispatching the Oshawa Drive in three straight. Despite the fact that Virginia thrived on scoring this season, they relied on stout defense to succeed in this playoff; they shut out the Drive in each of the first two games. They won Game 1 by a 4-0 margin, with C Tanner Brooks getting a short-handed goal to open the scoring and LW Yuri Laronov recording a power-play tally to end it. The Rhinos eked out a 1-0 victory in Game 2, with RW “Real” Hank Diehl scoring the lone goal on a deflection early in the second period. Goalie Gus Parrish was at the top of his game, turning aside 22 shots in the first game and 19 shots in the second. In Game 3, with the series moving north of the border, Virginia opened up a 3-0 lead before D Ingolf Gudmundsen finally recorded the Drive’s first goal of the series late in the second period. Oshawa LW Norris “Beaver” Young struck on the power play two minutes into the third period to close the gap to one, but they couldn’t muster the tying tally as the Rhinos completed the clean sweep.
“Everyone in this locker room is focused on one thing: winning the Howard Trophy,” said Rhinos coach Jeffrey “Swampy” Marsh. “If we have to go over, under, around, or through our opponents to make it happen, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re like Andy Dufresne in ‘Shawshank Redemption,’ climbing through that sewer pipe on our way to freedom.”
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Freeze had a bumpier road than the Rhinos did, as the Colorado Springs Zoomies pushed the series to the limit. But like their parent club, the Anchorage Igloos, the Freeze survived and will advance to the Finals.
Game 1 was a back-and-forth affair, with the Freeze and Zoomies trading goals, and it ultimately went into overtime. D Julian Staples ultimately nailed the game-winner six minutes into the extra session to give Minnesota a 4-3 win. Game 2 was another close contest; Zoomies RW Joel Hagendosh got a short-handed goal midway through the third, and the game wound up in overtime once again. One extra period wasn’t enough this time, but C Mason Alpine ended it a minute into the second OT with a slapper from the point that lifted Minnesota to a 3-2 victory. Back home for Game 3, Colorado Springs kicked their offense into high-gear, rallying from a two-goal deficit to snatch a 6-4 win that staved off elimination. In Game 4, the Zoomies made the most of the man advantage, scoring all three of their goals on the power play. Even though the Freeze outshot them 39-23, Colorado Springs goalie Sonny Kashiuk stood on his head, making 38 saves in a 3-1 win. In the winner-take-all Game 5, Minnesota again dominated on offense, outshooting the Zoomies 35-17. But even though the Freeze scored four goals in a wide-open second period, the Zoomies hung tough, ultimately coming up short by a 5-4 score.
The Igloos sent their minor-league club a congratulatory video, with Anchorage players calling on their minor-league counterparts to help the organization capture both championship. “We’re going to prove that we’re the best team right now,” said Igloos C Jake Frost. “We’re hoping you guys can go out and prove that we’re going to win the future too.”
Although Minnesota finished the regular season 11 points ahead of Virginia, most observers expect a closely-fought battle in the Finals. The Rhinos will be looking to win the title they felt they were robbed of last year, while the Freeze will be looking to make their parent club proud. The series begins Sunday at Northwoods Auditorium in Duluth.
So far in the SHL’s minor league, the competitors have been pretty well matched. Most of the teams are within a game or two of the .500 mark. There are a couple of exceptions, however. In particular, there’s one team that stands head and shoulders above the rest: the Virginia Rhinos. The affiliate of the Saskatchewan Shockers is threatening to run away with the league.
The Rhinos’ record is an astounding 18-6-1. They are 7 points ahead of the next-best team in the league; in the East, they’re 9 points up on the second-place Maine Moose. “This must have been what it was like to race against Secretariat,” said Moose coach Barney Flintridge. “Right now, all we can see are the taillights.”
What’s been the secret to the Rhinos’ success? It starts with a turnaround season in net. Last year, Shawn Stickel was a newly-drafted goalie backing up Zeke Zagurski in Saskatchewan. Stickel’s rookie season was a disaster, going 1-12-0 with a 5.29 GAA. His most notable exploit was getting arrested after getting liquored up on a cross-country flight and joyriding a baggage cart. “I was on my own for the first time,” Stickel admitted, “so I was acting young and dumb.”
At risk of throwing away his career, Stickel devoted the offseason to getting himself back on track. He went to an alcohol treatment program and swore off drinking. He also spent countless hours refining his craft, studying tape to identify the flaws in his game and working with coaches and ex-teammates to correct them. The results have been evident: this season, Stickel has gone 14-4-1 with a 2.20 GAA and a .927 save percentage.
“Honestly, I’m glad I wound up in the minors,” said Stickel. “When you’re a backup in the pros, especially as a young guy, it’s hard to stay sharp and improve. And you wind up with a lot of time on your hands, which I filled with drinking and goofing around. Here, knowing my team’s counting on me almost every day, it’s easy to keep that mental edge. And it’s given me an opportunity to practice the things I worked on over the summer, and continue to get better.”
Stickel’s solid goaltending seals up the defensive end for the Rhinos. On the offensive end, they benefit from a potent and varied offense. Their top line features two of the CHL’s top scorers, LW Yuri Laronov (11 goals, 28 points) and RW Colton Jabril (12 goals, 29 points), flanking one of the best passers, C Tanner Brooks (24 assists). Coach Jeffrey “Swampy” Marsh likes to activate his defensemen on the attack, and the results have been evident. Blake Blacklett is the CHL’s premier offensive defenseman (12 goals, 26 points), and Virginia has a couple other strong two-way threats in Robby Rohrman (9 goals, 21 points) and Rennie Cox (8 goals, 19 points).
“I’m seeing a lot of guys here who are SHL-caliber already, to be honest,” said Marsh. “I don’t know if there’s going to be room in Saskatchewan next year for all the guys who deserve to be there.”
To be sure, the season’s not yet at the halfway point, and the Rhinos could easily cool off between now and the end of the year. But right now, it’s easy to look at the talent on the ice in Virginia every night and imagine them powering a future contender in Saskatchewan. “All the guys we have are happy to be here,” said Marsh, “but I know none of them really wants to be here. They want to be in the majors. And it’s my job to help them get there. I can’t wait to see how their careers unfold.”