Night Re-Acquire Winger Petronov

According to New York Night GM Jay McKay, letting LW Misha Petronov leave in free agency was his biggest mistake.  Petronov spent three seasons in New York, but after a mildly disappointing 2019 season, the Night allowed him to walk away and sign a 2-year, $2 million contract with the Michigan Gray Wolves.  But Petronov rebounded toward his career norms in Michigan, while New York has badly missed his production on the wing.  So McKay reversed his mistake on Wednesday, re-acquiring Petronov from the Wolves, along with F Cary Estabrook and D Brandon Arrowood, in exchange for LW Flynn Danner, F Henry Constantine, and D Anson Brank.

Misha Petronov

‘We knew we wanted some help on the second line,” said McKay.  “And we talked about a number of guys, but in the end I kept coming back to Misha.  He’s a guy we know and he’s a good fit for our team, so why not bring him back?  Then it was just a matter of making the salaries work.”

In 42 games with the Wolves, Petronov put up 31 points (9 goals, 22 assists) and a team-leading +12 rating.  He has generally been less involved on the defensive end and along the boards, which made him a somewhat awkward fit in Michigan’s style of play, but suits New York’s run-and-gun approach perfectly.

McKay said that the winger will slot right back into his old slot on the second line, beside C Rod Remington and RW Ivan “Trainwreck” Trujwirnek.  “I am glad to be back with my old friends,” said Petronov. “It will be just like my former times again.”

Along with Petronov, the Night acquired a couple young players with potential upside.  The 25-year-old Estabrook was the first player signed by the Boston Badgers.  He has struggled to convert on his potential in the SHL, due both to the lingering effects of a knee injury he suffered in college and his struggles with alcohol and conditioning.  He signed with Michigan in the offseason, and clashed with then-coach Ron Wright virtually from the beginning.  He appeared in only 10 games with the Wolves, failing to record a point, and then he was banished to the minors.  McKay said that Estabrook would be assigned to New York’s farm team in Utah initially, but he would be called up before the end of the season.

“We believe that Cary has a lot to offer this club,” McKay told reporters, “And I’m a big believer in second chances, and Cary deserves one.”

Arrowood, meanwhile, is a 24-year-old offensive-minded defenseman.  He has shown a consistent scoring touch in the minors, but his deficiencies on the defensive end have prevented him from earning a call-up to the majors.

In exchange, New York gave up a pair of prospects that should aid the Wolves as they move into a rebuilding phase.  Danner is a 24-year-old winger who has produced regular 50-point seasons in the minors.  He made his SHL debut this season and produced promising results, with 13 points (7 goals, 6 assists) and a +6 rating in 28 games with New York.  He showed some upside on defense as well, with 23 blocks.

“Flynn checks a lot of the boxes we’re looking for,” said Michigan GM Tim Carrier.  “He’s a strong 200-foot skater, he can create his own shot, and he puts in good effort on defense.”

Brank, meanwhile, is a 20-year-old blueliner who was drafted by the Night two years ago.  He lost a position battle in training camp, but he produced strong numbers in Utah, putting up 22 points (5 goals, 17 assists) in 41 games.

Michigan also adds Constantine, a veteran on an expiring contract who can play any forward position. He should be able to fill in an provide some short-term offensive help for the Wolves.

While the Wolves are looking to the long term, the Night are focused on the present.  McKay came up with a typically creative trade to bolster their offense.  Given the crowded playoff picture in the East, however, the GM will need to hope that neither Danner nor Brank gives him a reason to regret this deal down the road.

Tigres Swing Big, Land Center Marlow

At the trading deadline, the Quebec Tigres found themselves where they’ve been most of the season: within striking distance of a playoff spot, but not quite there.  Faced with a small but persistent gap between them and the Hershey Bliss, GM Pete Gondret decided not to waste time upgrading around the margins, and instead made a big-ticket acquisition, landing C Warren Marlow from the Michigan Gray Wolves in exchange for C Phil Miller, LW Carl Bleyer, and their first-round draft pick.

“We had the chance for a big move, and we took it,” said Gondret.  “Life is too short for weak measures.”

Gondret said that he’d originally engaged Michigan about acquiring veteran winger Todd Douglas, who would have provided some depth scoring for the Tigres.  But as they talked, Wolves GM Tim Carrier mentioned that Marlow was available.  “And then I heard the angels singing in my ear,” the Quebec GM said with a laugh.  “This was a player I have always wanted.”

Warren Marlow

Center has long been a weak spot for the Tigres, and the 34-year-old Marlow provides a reliable option to fill that need.  He has been a consistent two-way threat, averaging about 20 goals per season and providing stout defense.  He’s lost a step with age, but he still recorded 19 points (11 goals, 8 assists) with Michigan so far this season.  With the Wolves failing to contend this season, they chose to move on from their veteran center.

“It definitely wasn’t an easy decision to part with Warren,” said Carrier.  “He’s given so much to this team over the years.  We wouldn’t have won the Vandy [in 2016] without him.  But we’re at a stage where we need to get younger, and we had a chance to get a top pick and a prospect.  I couldn’t say no to that.”

For his part, Marlow is happy to join the contending Tigres.  “Obviously, in Michigan for so many years, we were always in the playoff hunt,” said the center.  “And as a player, you get used to that.  Being able to get back to a contending team… that’s huge for me.  I’m looking forward to helping bring the Vandy to Quebec.”

In the 21-year-old Bleyer, Michigan acquires a promising young winger.  He has appeared in a total of 14 games for Quebec over the past two seasons, recording a goal and an assist.  With the Tigres’ farm team in Halifax, Bleyer has produced 17 points (8 goals, 9 assists) in 30 games.

“Carl is a prototype Michigan Gray Wolves player,” said Carrier.  “He’s good on defense, he’s a hard worker, and he knows how to score.  I think he’s going to be a big contributor for us down the road.”

Phil Miller

As for Miller, he was primarily thrown in for salary-cap reasons, but it represents another stop for the well-traveled journeyman.  Michigan is the sixth SHL team for which the 31-year-old Miller has played in his career.  This is the third time that he has changed teams at the trade deadline, having gone from Saskatchewan to Dakota in 2016 and Kansas City to Quebec in 2018.

Miller struggled badly with the Tigres this season, recording only 2 assists and a -10 rating in 27 games before being sent down to the minors.

Regarding his latest relocation, Miller displayed a sense of humor when speaking with reporters about the deal.

“At this point, I keep my suitcase packed around the deadline, because I just assume I’m going somewhere,” said the veteran.  “If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my career, it’s this; don’t buy any green bananas.”

Wolves Coach Wright Resigns

For the last four and a half seasons, Ron Wright has been the driving force behind the Michigan Gray Wolves.  He has pushed them hard in grueling practices, demanded a relentless commitment to excellence, and shaped the team’s selfless, hard-nosed identity.  It’s an approach that has yielded results, including a Vandy in 2016 and two playoff appearances.

Ron Wright

But Wright and his players have grown increasingly disenchanted with one another as the Wolves’ record has sunk.  They finished last season in a tailspin, ultimately finishing in fourth place.  And this season, Michigan has been battling with Dakota and Kansas City to stay out of the cellar.  This shocking performance led to an even more shocking development on Saturday, as Wright resigned as Wolves coach.

“Our performance this year has been a disappointment and an embarrassment,” said Wright.  “And the responsibility for that starts with me.  I have failed to motivate this team, and our performance has not been up to our standards.  So the only responsible thing for me to do is to step aside and let the team find a new leader.”

To say that the move was a surprise would be an understatement.  “I think you could sum up the mood in the locker room as stunned,” said C Hunter Bailes.  “Coach Wright always talked about the importance of commitment and being all in, and for him to walk away in the middle of a season is – well, it’s unexpected.”

According to sources close to the team, Wright’s intense, hard-driving personality was embraced by the players when the team was winning.  But as the team’s fortunes have declined, the grumbling about the coach’s demands and brutal practices have grown louder.

“Most of the guys in here are veterans, and we’ve been working in this system for years,” said one player.  “For [Wright] to still be yelling at us like we’re raw rookies, it doesn’t sit right.”

Several players also cited the departure of assistant coach Morris Thompson as a key factor in the decline of Wright’s relationship with his team.  Thompson left to become the head coach of the Saskatchewan Shockers for the 2019 season.  According to several players, Thompson served as a vital buffer between Wright and the players.

“Morris knew how to get [Wright] to tone it down a notch, cool out when needed,” said one player.  “And the players knew that if they had a problem, they could go to Morris and he’d smooth it over.  When he left, the emergency brake was gone.”

One theory is that Wright chose a midseason departure in order to control the terms of his exit.  Many on the team believed that, barring a second-half turnaround to claim a playoff spot, Wright was going to be fired at season’s end.  Rather than wait for the ax to fall, Wright could depart on his own terms.

The team announced that assistant coach Roger Stackledge will take over as interim head coach for the rest of the season.  Barring an unexpected turnaround, GM Tim Carrier will face some interesting decisions at the trading deadline and in the coming offseason.  The Wolves are the league’s oldest team, and while they arguably have too much talent (starting with G Dirk Lundquist and including a stellar defensive corps) to be torn apart, they do not have enough offensive firepower to be a top-tier contender.

“I was not expecting to be holding this press conference in the middle of the season,” said Carrier.  “But I am confident that this team is still capable of being a strong contender.  I am confident in Roger’s ability to lead this team.  We’ll re-group over the All Star break and come back strong.”

Wolves Bolster Depth in Trade With KC

The Michigan Gray Wolves have never been ones for the trade market.  While other contenders have frequently used the trade deadline as a chance to patch weaknesses before the stretch run, the Wolves have always passed.  In some cases, this has been because they were too far ahead to be caught.  But it also seemed to be a matter of philosophy; Michigan tended to trust their own players, even when they struggled, rather than looking to add outsiders.

“The guys in this locker room have been around from the beginning,” said Wolves coach Ron Wright in the run-up to this year’s deadline.  “They’ve made the sacrifices and bought in to what we’re trying to do.  I’m happy with what we have.”

But with Michigan clinging to a razor-thin lead in the West and with three other teams hot on their heels, GM Tim Carrier decided to break with tradition and make a deal.  The Wolves picked up LW Kelvin Starkey and D Scott Hexton from the Kansas City Smoke in exchange for minor-league winger Cleo Rodgers, goalie Gus Parrish, and a 2nd-round draft pick.

“This is obviously not our usual approach at the deadline,” said Carrier.  “And this is not in any way a commentary on the players on our current rosters.  But with the race as tight as it is, I’d be remiss if I wasn’t looking for ways to improve our team.  And this is a deal that makes us better now and in the future.”

While Michigan’s success has always been built on defense and goaltending, their punchless offense and aging roster have been growing concerns.  As of the deadline, the Wolves were tied with Boston for dead last in the league with only 88 goals.  And of their 15 regular starting skaters, eight of them are over age 30.

Starkey helps the Wolves address both concerns.  The winger has been a reliable and steady scorer for Kansas City, with 23 points (9 goals, 14 assists) so far on the season.  The 26-year-old is also signed for this year and next at a very reasonable $200,000 annual salary, another plus for the cap-strapped Wolves.

“This is a pretty cool opportunity for me,” said Starkey.  “Knowing that a strong team like Michigan was interested in me… that’s a real boost.  I can’t wait to get over there!”

The 28-year-old Hexton has struggled with the Smoke this season, recording a lone assist in 16 games as he has shuttled between Kansas City and their Omaha farm club.  But he is a veteran with a reliable track record, and he was reportedly highly disenchanted with a Smoke team that he considered directionless and unprofessional.  According to team sources, he had asked to be dealt if the opportunity presented itself.

With the Wolves, he’ll replace Igor Shovshenkov, a depth defender who was another member of the over-30 club.  To facilitate the trade, the Smoke agreed to retain $150,000 of Hexton’s salary.

For the Smoke, the 21-year-old Rodgers provides the team with a much-needed scoring prospect.  He had been considered a likely replacement for one of Michigan’s aging wingers, but despite a solid season with the Wolves’ affiliate in Cleveland (14 goals, 20 assists), his star seemed to have dimmed a bit within the organization.  He will report to the Smoke’s farm club in Omaha, but is considered a strong shot to make the big-league roster next season.

The 29-year-old Parrish, meanwhile, will reportedly head straight to Kansas City to aid the Smoke’s woes in the crease.  Kansas City is last in the league in GAA (4.13) and save percentage (.880).  Parrish was having an exceptional season in Cleveland (8-9-4, 1.97 GAA, .912 save percentage), but was blocked in Michigan by the exceptional tandem of Dirk Lundquist and Art Cowan.

So after his “happy with what we have” comment a couple days earlier, how does Wright feel about the new additions?  “I’m all for it,” the coach said.  “What, you thought they were going to make this deal without asking me?”

Hamilton’s Dramatic New Look Highlights 2019 Uni Changes

As the SHL prepares to take the ice for its 2019 season, several teams are announcing updates to their uniforms.  The list of changes isn’t as extensive as last season, when there were two new teams and four other clubs with new or modified looks.  This time around, however, there is one team – the Hamilton Pistols – that has completely overhauled its look, with a new logo, color scheme, and uniforms.

“Last year, our team showed that it was ready to be a rising power in this league,” said Pistols owner Cory Blackwood, Jr.  “Now we’ve got a fresh, up-to-date look that matches our fresh young roster.”

The Pistols’ logo has evolved over their tenure in the SHL.  The original logo prominently featured the silhouette of a handgun, a controversial choice that drew protests from gun-control groups.  Possibly as a result, the team began de-emphasizing the gun as a design element, increasingly featuring a secondary logo consisting of the letter “H” superimposed over a red maple leaf.  The team claimed that this logo was designed to highlight the team’s Canadian identity.  However, that logo earned the ire of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, who threatened the Pistols with trademark action.

Now, the Pistols have scrapped both their original gun-based logo and the secondary maple-leaf logo in favor of a striking new “Pistols” wordmark that includes a gun sight in place of the “O.”  

“We wanted something simple, clean, and modern-looking,” said Pistols GM Marcel LaClaire.  “Our old logo had kind of a ’70s Starsky-and-Hutch type of appearance, especially with that mustard yellow.  It was a little dated, and not suitable for today.  We found ourselves asking, ‘When our team wins the Vandy, do we want to be in these uniforms?’  We quickly realized that we did not.”

New home uniforms

The Pistols’ new uniforms pay homage to their previous look, while still providing a major departure.  Red is still Hamilton’s dominant color, but the secondary color has gone from mustard yellow to black.  The uniforms still have a contrasting color band along the shoulders and down the sleeves, but it narrows below the numbers.  The stripe at the bottom of the jersey kicks up at the end, as the silver trim has been modified to look like a hockey stick.

“We’re going to look a lot cooler on the ice now,” said Pistols star Steven Alexander.  “Our new threads are cutting-edge, cool, and a little dangerous.  No one’s going to want to mess with us.”

New alternate jersey

In lieu of their previous maple-leaf jersey, the Pistols unveiled a new third jersey that’s primarily black. In place of the “Pistols” wordmark that appears on the home and road jerseys, the jersey includes the team’s secondary logo – a gunsight with a capital “H” in the crosshairs.

“I really like the alts,” said D Raymond Smyth.  “They make us look like assassins, ready to take out the competition.”

Blackwood said that the team’s new look symbolized a new era of championship competition.  “We want our fans to know, and the world to know, that we’re going all in,” the owner said.  “We’re expecting big things from the team in the next few seasons.  We’re breaking out in a big way, and we want everyone to know about it.”

While the Pistols’ image overhaul is the biggest sartorial news of the offseason, a couple of other SHL teams also announced smaller refreshes:

  • The Seattle Sailors are brightening their accent color, going from spring green to a neon green.  “Between the Seahawks and the Eclipse,” said owner Gary Blum, referencing Seattle’s NFL and UBA teams, “neon green is a popular color around here, and we thought it would work for us too.”  In addition, the team is adding more black to their alternate uniforms, and are dropping the numbers on their sleeves.
  • The Michigan Gray Wolves are switching their home and alternate jerseys.  Now, their jersey with the wolf-and-moon logo is their primary home uniform, while the one with the “Gray Wolves” wordmark has been relegated to alternate status.  “Just looking at our merchandise sales, it’s clear that our fans love the moon logo,” said GM Tim Carrier.  “So we figured it was time for us to catch up.”  The “Gray Wolves” wordmark remains on the team’s road jerseys, however.  Also, the numbers on the back of the home and alternate jerseys have changed from white to red.

CHL Update: Cleveland’s Cowan Charges Favoritism

The CHL’s Cleveland Centurions were officially eliminated from playoff contention this week.  There are a variety of reasons why the Centurions won’t make the playoffs.  The team’s generally stout defense was undermined by a mediocre offense (440 points, 7th in the league), a struggling penalty kill (76.9%, worst), and an inability to win on the road (8-15-3, third-worst).

Art Cowan

According to goaltender Art Cowan, though, there’s another key reason why Cleveland isn’t a playoff team: they didn’t play him often enough.

“I think the numbers speak for themselves,” Cowan told reporters on Friday after watching the Centurions’ 4-3 loss to Maine from the bench.  “I clearly demonstrated myself to be the #1 goalie here, but I didn’t get the ice time.  If I’d been the #1 starter, we’d be in the playoffs.  I have no doubt in my mind about that.”

Cowan charged that the only reason he wasn’t named the top starter was because coach Chad Grimes favored rookie Jonas Schemko over him.  “From the beginning, it was clear to me that Schemko was the coach’s pet,” said Cowan.  “Even in training camp, I could tell that Coach wanted Schemko to succeed and he didn’t care about me.  Even after the season started and it was clear I was the better netminder, the coach never wanted to admit he was wrong, so he kept giving Schemko chance after chance.  I don’t know if I pissed him off or what, but it was obvious that I’m never going to be top dog around here.”

Jonas Schemko

The statistics seem to validate Cowan’s argument.  He posted a 14-7-4 record with a 2.66 GAA and a .907 save percentage, while Schemko has gone 11-18-1 with a 3.02 GAA and a save percentage of .892.  Cowan’s .640 winning percentage, extrapolated over a full season, would indeed put Cleveland in the playoffs.  But Cowan has actually started fewer games than Schemko (25 vs. 30).

According to Grimes, this is not a case of favoritism; rather, it’s a player development issue.  “The plan all season long was to split the minutes between them,” said the Cleveland coach.  “I want to win games as much as the next guy.  But ultimately, our main goal here is to develop players for the big club [Michigan Gray Wolves].  From an organizational perspective, the big club wants to see both guys and find out what they can do.  And they know more about what Artie can do, because he was with them last year.  So they need to see a little more of Schemmer, to get a better picture.”

Cowan was not mollified by this explanation.  “Every other team in this league has a #1 goalie, even though they’re all supposed to be ‘developing players.’  The better goalie gets more ice time, just like on a normal team.  But not here, for some reason.  So I’m not buying a crap excuse like that.”

Cowan said that he had not yet demanded a trade, but he hoped that he will play elsewhere next season.  “I hope they let me go in the expansion draft, or that they deal me somewhere else.  Clearly they don’t think I can do the job, and they want Schemko.  Fine, then let me go somewhere else where I can get a shot.”

Wolves GM Tim Carrier denied that the organization has anything against Cowan.  “We really like what we’ve seen from Artie this season,” said Carrier.  “Obviously, up here we’re committed to The Bear [Dirk Lundquist] up here, but we consider Artie to be a major part of our future.”

For his part, Schemko said he was confused by the controversy.  “Artie is my friend,” Schemko said.  “I like that we both get to play together.  I’m sad that he’s not happy.  I hope we both get to stay and play again.”

Mascot War Rekindled: Wally Wolf Hacks Rival’s Twitter Account

It was supposed to be over.  During the 2015 season, the Anchorage Igloos‘ Petey the Polar Bear and the Michigan Gray Wolves‘ Wally Wolf were proxies for the rivalry between the West’s two top teams.  Both mascots feuded throughout the season before finally burying the hatchet during an on-ice sumo wrestling match in the last week of the season.  Since the mascots made nice, members of both teams (including Michigan LW Vladimir Beruschko and Anchorage coach Sam Castor) have insisted that the hostilities were dead and gone, never to resume.

Petey the Polar Bear

Looks like the declaration of peace was a bit premature.  When the Igloos and Wolves clashed on Friday at Arctic Circle Arena, Petey’s official Twitter account was hacked.  Upon investigation, the hack was discovered to be the work of Michigan’s mascot.  Not only is the Petey-Wally rivalry back, it has entered a new frontier.

Wally traveled with the Wolves for Friday’s much-anticipated showdown.  It’s unusual for a mascot to join a team for road games, but the Wolves said that they had brought him as “a good-luck charm” and “to give him a chance to catch up with his friend Petey.”  The two mascots met for tea on Friday afternoon at an Anchorage cafe; video of the rendezvous appeared on both teams’ websites.  All seemed normal.

But during Friday’s game, a series of unusual tweets appeared on the @IgloosPetey account.  Typically, the Anchorage mascot doesn’t tweet much during games, apart from a few pro-Igloos messages and the occasional selfie with fans.  During this game, though, Petey was atypically active.  In addition, the content of his messages was far different than his standard fare.

“My butt itches,” @IgloosPetey tweeted about six minutes into the games.  From there, he issued a series of tweets predicting that the Igloos would lose the game, adding insults directed at several Anchorage players and even the city itself.  After C Jake Frost pushed a slapshot wide late in the first period, a tweet reading “Frost is overrated” appeared on the account.  Later, @IgloosPetey issued the following slam: “Anchorage is a two-bit town that smells like rotten fish… ugh!”

Igloos officials became aware of the situations when fans began tweeting complaints to the account.  At first, they thought the culprit was a disgruntled employee, but they later realized that the account had been hacked.  The team quickly took steps to regain control of the account, and by the end of the game (a 3-2 Igloos win in overtime) the offending tweets had been deleted.

Wally Wolf

When the front office discovered that the account’s password had been changed to “W@llyRuleS!”, they were able to identify the culprit.  Apparently, during the seemingly friendly lunch, Wally got hold of Petey’s phone and was able to change the password to his Twitter account.

Anchorage GM Will Thorndike took umbrage to the hack.  “I am deeply disturbed that Wally Wolf would resort to cyber warfare,” Thorndike told reporters.  “And to take advantage of a friendly get-together to launch his nefarious plan… that’s so low, I have no words.  But if that’s the way he and the Wolves want to play it, we can do that.  The mascot war is back on!”

Replied Michigan GM Tim Carrier, “I am disappointed to hear these accusations against Wally on the basis of very flimsy evidence.  But if the mascot war is back on, so be it.  Oh, and in case the Igloos intend to try something when they come to town: Wally’s Twitter account has two-factor authentication.”