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.”

Michigan Hires Wright as Coach

Michigan Grey WolvesThe SHL coaching merry-go-round continues.  Last month, Martin Delorme left the Michigan Gray Wolves to become coach of the expansion Quebec Tigres.  Now, the Gray Wolves have now hired Hamilton Pistols head coach Ron Wright to replace Delorme.

“Needless to say, we’re thrilled,” said Michigan GM Tim Carrier.  “Martin obviously left big shoes to fill, but Ron is more than capable of filling them.  He’s the kind of experienced, smart, hard-working coach we’re looking for.  Ron Wright is a perfect fit with the Gray Wolves organization.”

Ron Wright
Ron Wright

The 62-year-old Wright has over 35 years of coaching experience, largely at the college level.  He is a defense-first coach, which makes him a good match with the Michigan roster.  At his introductory press conference on Friday, Wright seemed almost giddy about the chance to work with such a squad.

“Whenever we’d play against [the Gray Wolves], I’d just be fascinated,” said Wright.  “They were so tough, ferocious and disciplined at the same time, just something to behold.  I’d show my guys game film of them and I’d say, ‘We should be more like these guys.’  The idea that I’d be coaching these guys, the ones I’d held up as our model… I never even dreamed that.”

In addition to his reputation as a brilliant tactician, Wright is also known as a hard-nosed disciplinarian.  That latter quality led to multiple run-ins between the coach and his players in Hamilton, where he guided the Pistols to a 22-35-3 record last season.  There was also considerable friction between Wright and the Hamilton front office, and the coach was given permission to pursue other openings in the offseason.

“That was a tough situation all around,” admitted Wright.  “I could have done some things better; so could they.  My eyes are on the future and what we can achieve here in Michigan.”

The Gray Wolves started their inaugural season strong, bolting out to a 13-3-2 start.  But they were passed and ultimately beaten by the powerhouse Anchorage Igloos.  Despite finishing with the second-best record in the league, Michigan didn’t make it to the playoffs.  Given that Anchorage is strong on both ends of the ice, many observers figured that the Gray Wolves would need to become a more balanced team in order to contend.  Wright, however, said that he intends to double down on defense.

“This is a grind-it-out, hard-checking, hard-nosed team,” said Wright.  “Why mess with that identity?  We are who we are.  Who has a better defense than us?  Nobody.  Who has a better goalie than the Bear [Dirk Lundquist]?  Nobody.  That’s our foundation and our identity, and that’s what we’re going to build on.”

Igloos coach Sam Castor welcomed his new rival by sending a case of Vernor’s ginger ale to Wright with a note that read, “Welcome to the Wild West.  Look forward to beating you!  Warmest regards, Sam.”  Asked about Wright’s hiring, Castor smiled and said, “I love it!  Ron’s a great coach, and I’m sure he’ll do a great job.  If you’re going to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.  Next year’s going to be fun.”

Pistols owner Cory Blackwood, Jr. wished Wright well, saying: “Ronnie’s got what we wanted, and I’m not going to begrudge that.  I expect we’ll be just fine next season.”

It’s not known who the Pistols are targeting as Wright’s replacement. Blackwood said only that he was looking for a coach who was “in it for the long haul.  I don’t want to be having to look for another guy next year.”

Delorme to Coach Quebec

Quebec Tigres

Michigan Gray Wolves coach Martin Delorme is going home.  Delorme, who guided his team to a strong second-place finish in the Western division, has accepted an offer to become the coach of the expansion Quebec Tigres, who take the ice next season.

“From the beginning when I was awarded this team,” said Tigres owner Marc Delattre, “the very first thing I knew was that I wanted Martin to coach us.  I am the sort of person who persists until I get that which I desire.  And I persisted until I got Martin.”

Martin Delorme
Martin Delorme

For the Tigres owner, the appeal of Delorme is clear on a number of levels.  Delattre has made a point of seeking out Quebec natives for his team; Delorme was born in Trois Rivieres.  Delattre envisions the Tigres as a hard-working, defense-first squad; Delorme is famous around the SHL for molding the Gray Wolves into a defensive powerhouse.  Delattre wanted a coach with a good reputation and a strong track record; Delorme is a Coach of the Year candidate for his performance in Michigan.

“If I had tried to create a coach from the ground up that reflected my ideal, I would have created Martin,” said Delattre.

For his part, Delorme admits that it was a very difficult decision to leave Michigan.  “It breaks my heart, to be honest with you,” said Delorme.  “I am leaving behind unfinished business here.  I am walking away from a championship-caliber team.  I believe that very strongly.  It tears at my heart to leave that behind.  However, I could not resist the desire to come back to Quebec and guide the development of this team.”

As part of his deal, Delorme will become the highest-paid coach in the SHL, and he will have a strong say in player personnel decisions alongside GM Pete Gondret.  “These were things I was pleased to offer,” said Delattre.  “I did not hesitate to offer Martin the amount he was worth.  And I wanted him to have the chance to build the team in his image.  Since we want the Tigres to be a team worthy of Martin Delorme, who better than the man himself to build the team?”

Delorme said that he hopes to mold the Tigres into a group resembling the Michigan squad he’s leaving behind.  “Absolutely, if this team develops on the same lines, I would be very pleased,” said Delorme.  “The Gray Wolves work hard, they are not afraid to be physical, and they thrive on controlling the defensive end and winning the battle for the puck.  I intend for the Tigres to become a similar sort of physical, aggressive team.”

Gray Wolves GM Tim Carrier issued a statement wishing Delorme well.  “Obviously, it’s not an easy thing to lose a coach like Martin Delorme, especially after only one season,” the statement read.  “However, it is certainly understandable that he would want to return to his home province and help build the new Quebec franchise.  The Gray Wolves organization would like to extend a ‘thank you’ to Coach Delorme for his contributions to the Gray Wolves, and best of luck in his new position.  We look forward to meeting Coach Delorme and the Tigres in the championship someday.”

The Gray Wolves have not begun their search for Delorme’s replacement, although sources close to the team say that Hamilton Pistols coach Ron Wright and Washington Galaxy assistant Keith Shields are both strong possibilities.