Smoke Snap Skid With 6-5 Shocker Over Igloos

The Kansas City Smoke have been stumbling through a dismal month of hockey.  Coming into Saturday’s game, they’d lost five in a row and 13 of their last 14.  Since a rare three-game winning streak that ended on Valentine’s Day, Kansas City has posted a pitiful 1-18-1 record.  They’re weak on both sides of the puck; they’re dead last in goaltending (3.94 GAA and .885 save percentage), tenth on defense (34.5 shots allowed per game), and ninth on offense (100 goals scored).

On Saturday, the Smoke hosted the Anchorage Igloos at Heartland Telecom Center.  Given that the Igloos are fighting tooth and nail for playoff position in the crowded West, they were widely expected to stomp the Smoke.  Instead, Kansas City burst out with a rare offensive explosion, stunning Anchorage with a 6-5 win.  The Smoke scored as many goals in this game as they had during their prior five-game losing streak.

“This is a big win for us!” crowed Smoke RW Zachary Merula.  “When you’re in a slump like we’ve been, it’s easy to get down on yourself.  But we showed that we can beat anybody!”

After the first two periods, Kansas City had played Anchorage close, but still found themselves trailing 4-3.  This seemed like a harbinger of yet another defeat; third periods have been a horror show for the Smoke all season.  They’d blown countless leads in the last period; coming in behind, they seemed ripe for another blowout.

But in the locker room before the third, D Tony Hunt rallied his teammates.  In a young clubhouse, the 35-year-old Hunt has been a vocal leader.  He exhorted the Smoke to go out and steal a win.

“Hey guys, have you noticed [the Igloos] out there?” Hunt said.  “They’re just skating around.  They think they’ve got this one in the bag.  I think it’s time for us to go out there and give ‘em a shock!  We’ve got awesome fans, and it’s been a while since we’ve given them any good news.  Let’s go out and give ‘em a W they won’t forget!”

The fired-up Smoke didn’t take long to make good on Hunt’s words.  Just 41 seconds into the final period, RW Tyler Cloude snapped a shot between the pads of Anchorage goalie Wendell Cantillon to tie the score.  Hunt waved his arms to the crowd and got them to scream at the top of their lungs.

After that, Smoke C Mike Rivera took the spotlight.  Rivera is the Kansas City captain, but he generally prefers to lead by example.  Five minutes after Cloude’s tying blast, Rivera got behind the Anchorage defense and beat Cantillon on the short side to give the Smoke their first lead since the second minute of the game.  Ninety seconds later, Rivera redirected a slapper from LW Trevor Green into the net to make it 6-4 Kansas City.  Rivera jumped into the glass as the fans roared with delight.

“I got goose bumps, no lie,” said Rivera.  “Our crowds are usually pretty chill, but they really got amped this time.  Dude, it was amazing.”

The Smoke may have caught the Igloos napping early in the period, but the defending champs didn’t go down quietly.  Just over a minute after Rivera’s second goal, Igloos C Jake Frost scored to cut KC’s lead to one.  The crowd’s buzz turned uneasy; they’d certainly seen plenty of late collapses before.

But Hunt began thumping his stick against the boards, and persuaded his teammates to do the same.  Pretty soon, they had the crowd clapping in unison.

“What Tony did was really cool,” said Merula.  “I mean, these fans had every reason to think we were going to blow it, but Tony turned ‘em around and got them to believe.  And they got us to believe.”

Throughout the rest of the period, the Smoke fans showered their heroes with cheers and chants.  And the players responded, making rare blocks and steals.  Goalie Dennis Wampler made a couple of ten-bell saves that earned standing ovations.  And for the final minute of the game, all the fans got on their feet and roared, urging the Smoke on to a most unlikely victory.

“How ‘bout that W, huh!” exclaimed Smoke coach Randy Bergner, grinning ear to ear.  “This season’s been a slog at times, so I give a ton of credit to Hunter and the boys for making a stand.  And a big salute to our fans, who were the best I’ve ever seen!  We couldn’t have done this without them.”

Continue reading “Smoke Snap Skid With 6-5 Shocker Over Igloos”

Bliss Run Wild At Sheetz as Season Ends

The Hershey Bliss saw their disappointing season wind to an end this week.  The players have long since resigned themselves to the fact that they won’t have a chance to defend their title.  As a result, they weren’t consumed by sadness or anger as the regular season drew to a close; rather, they were possessed by a feeling that C Justin Valentine described as “a really deep, deep weirdness.”  That weirdness boiled over on Saturday in a most unusual rest stop.

All of Hershey’s games this week were on the road, so the team spent the week flying from one Eastern city to another, including two separate trips across the border and back.  “We were all pretty punchy this week,” admitted Bliss C Spencer Kirkpatrick.  On Thursday night, they flew back in from Quebec.  Rather than heading to Washington, site of Saturday’s finale, the Bliss went home to Hershey to participate in an autograph session scheduled at a local mall on Friday.

Then on Saturday morning, the team boarded a bus down to DC.  “Somehow, it felt like our season in a nutshell,” said Valentine.  “Instead of getting ready for the playoffs, here we are rolling through the countryside in a bus, on our way to a meaningless game against our supposed rivals, who aren’t making the playoffs either.  I think something kind of snapped for us on that ride.”

When the bus got to Thurmont, Maryland, the team insisted on stopping.  The bus pulled into the Sheetz just off of US Route 15, and the team descended on the convenience store.  “We get a lot of buses through here,” said Sheetz clerk Alvin Clark, “but something about the way these guys came in told me they were going to be trouble.”

As the Bliss wandered the aisles, they began behaving (in Valentine’s words) like “a bunch of four-year-olds on a sugar high.”  Valentine and his fellow “Love Line” mates Lance Sweet and Christopher Hart grabbed sodas out of the case, snuck up on their teammates, and poured the sodas over their heads.  The team’s defensemen grabbed a 24-pack of beer and engaged in a drinking contest.  Kirkpatrick and RW Noah Daniels monopolized the Made-to-Order food screens, trying to top each other with increasingly elaborate custom orders.

LW Trevor Green cleaned out the store’s entire supply of jerky, reasoning that “maybe we’ll get in a crash, and this will buy us a day or two before we have to resort to cannibalism.”  Meanwhile, RW Sven Danielsen (known as the team’s “den mother”) bought one of every medicine on the shelf, saying that “you can’t be too careful on the road.”

Goalie Brandon Colt took things to another level when he grabbed a couple of donuts out of the pastry case and used them to play Frisbee with his backup, Milo Stafford.  The pair knocked over display racks left and right as they dove for donuts.

Chip Barber

After about 15 minutes of this madness, coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber (wondering where his team had gone) came into the store.  As he took in the chaos around him, the coach’s eyes bulged and the veins on his forehead throbbed.  “What the hell is going on here?!” Barber shouted, as his players froze.  After a couple of them mumbled attempts at an explanation, the coach held help his hand.  “Never mind, I don’t want to know.  You’ve got two minutes to clean this up and get out of here.”

The players sighed and obeyed the coach’s orders.  Just as the bus was about to pull away, however, Stafford came running out of the store, hollering after his colleagues.  As he got on the bus, Stafford explained that he’d found something he had to buy.  He reached into his pocket and pulled out an inflatable water toy in the shape of a rubber duck.  “I love rubber ducks!” Stafford said by way of explanation.

“I don’t know if I’m a coach or a zookeeper,” sighed Barber.  “Those guys were basically looting that poor store.  And they didn’t even grab any chocolate bars!”

Somehow, in spite of all the craziness of the morning, Hershey managed to win the game that night, defeating rival Washington 4-3 in overtime.  For the Bliss, it was a day to remember at the end of a season to forget.  “It was a cathartic experience, and I’m glad we did it,” said Sweet.  “Even though they’ll probably never let us in that Sheetz again.”

Corrigan Goes Crazy, Gets Suspended Again

Seattle SmallSeattle Sailors coach Stewart “Popeye” Corrigan is has become notorious around the league for his explosive temper and over-the-top outbursts.  Earlier this season, Corrigan was fined and suspended for firing a projectile and directing an ethnic slur at a referee while protesting a call.  This time, though, Corrigan went even further, directing his anger – and his fists – at an opposing player.

Stewart Corrigan
Stewart Corrigan

The fracas occurred during Seattle’s Friday game against the Dakota Rapids.  D Marty Trammell was in the lineup for Dakota and he played his typically physical game, which seemed to rub Corrigan and the Sailors the wrong way.  The burly defensive got into a couple of fights during the game.  In the first period, he faced off with former teammate Trevor Green, who has been a vocal critic of violence in the game.  Green later claimed that Trammell had targeted him due to lingering resentment over his comments.

“I mean, the guy outweighs me by 100 pounds,” said Green.  “What kind of fair fight is that?”

After several hard checks that weren’t called, much to the dismay of the Seattle bench, Trammell laid a devastating hit on D Joey “Pig Iron” Morris.  The Sailors defender bounced up and began shoving Trammell, who dropped the gloves and threw hands.  The referees wound up separating the two after a bit, with head linesman Ken Glidden pulling Trammell past the Seattle bench.

As Trammell and Glidden skated past, Corrigan yelled and cursed at Trammell.  The Dakota defender broke free of Glidden’s grasp, pointing and shouting back at the Sailors coach.  At that point, Corrigan snapped, grabbed Trammell’s jersey, and threw a couple wild haymakers.  Trammell threw his hands up in shock, and several Seattle players quickly subdued their coach.  Referee Brandon Winters immediately ejected Corrigan from the game.

After the game, Corrigan sounded a defiant note.  “Trammell was steamrolling our guys out there, and someone had to stand up and say enough,” the coach said.  He then added with a laugh, “I have to say, my boxing form could use a little work.  I’ve seen the tape, and it kind of looked like my old bar fighting days, only this time I was sober.”

The league acted swiftly and decisively, suspending Corrigan for 5 games.  “There’s no excuse for a coach to take a swing at a player,” said Commissioner Perry Mitchell.  “None.  We cannot condone this kind of behavior.”

In his first press conference after being suspended, Corrigan was more contrite.  “I know that I went over the line,” the coach said.  “I’m a passionate guy, and I can get caught up in the moment.  I was really upset with Trammell and the fact that we weren’t getting whistles, but I let Angry Stewie take over.  I know I’m not helping our team any if I’m not on the bench.”

Assistant coach Mark Morganhurst will coach the Sailors during Corrigan’s suspension.


Western Contenders Suffer Early Injuries

The SHL’s Western division is expected to be a dogfight this year, with three teams considered by most observers to have a shot at the crown.  Two of those teams suffered major injuries that may affect the balance of power in the division.

Craig Werner

The Dakota Rapids finished third last season, with their high-flying offense unable to overcome a leaky defensive unit and inconsistent goaltending.  The team strengthened its blue-line corps in the offseason in the hopes of becoming a bit more balanced, but Dakota suffered a loss in that area this week.  Veteran D Craig Werner notched his first point of the season in Friday’s 7-4 win over Seattle, scoring a third-period power play goal.  Less than two minutes later, Werner was crumpled on the ice after a brutal knee-on-knee hit by Sailors LW Trevor Green, a former teammate.

Werner had to be helped off the ice, and after the swelling did not subside the next day, he went in for an MRI exam.  The exam revealed significant damage, and the blue-liner is expected to be out for the next three weeks.

Werner was a solid two-way presence for Dakota last year, putting up 11 goals and 22 points.  He was bumped to the second defensive pairing with Gustaf Bergstrom this season, where he is expected to provide a stabilizing presence.  With Werner out, stay-home defender Marty Trammell will get additional playing time.  Trammell will add some grit to Dakota’s defense, but he is generally regarded as too slow to fit the Rapids’ up-tempo style.

“Obviously, this is tough for us,” said Rapids coach Harold Engellund.  “Craig’s a pretty rugged guy, so when he went down and didn’t bounce back up, right away you know it’s trouble.  We hoped it might ease up the next day, but it got worse instead.  He was barely able to walk on it.  Now we’ve just gotta pray he responds well to treatment and gets back here.  We need him.”

Nile Bernard

The day before Werner’s injury, the Anchorage Igloos might have suffered an even greater loss.  In Thursday’s 5-3 win over (oddly enough) Seattle, Igloos C Nile Bernard got caught in a pileup near his own net.  He came up limping, and was subsequently diagnosed with a lower-body injury.  Anchorage team doctors expect that he too might miss up to three weeks.

Bernard was an essential part of Anchorage’s offense last season, anchoring the second line and scoring 17 goals and 37 points.  He netted a pair of goals in the SHL Finals, as the Igloos took home the league’s inaugural title.

Igloos coach Sam Castor was visibly distraught while discussing Bernard’s injury.  “Nile’s such a big piece of the puzzle for us,” Castor told reporters.  “He’s strong on both ends of the ice, he’s a terrific passer, a good hard shooter, and he’s got a real gift for knowing where the play’s going.  Our team isn’t built to rely on any one guy, but not having Nile for an extended period is going to hurt.”

Rookie C Derek Humplik has been tapped to take Bernard’s spot on the second line, and reserve F David Facinelli will see significantly more ice time in the coming weeks.

With the Igloos and Rapids both missing significant contributors for long periods, this would be a good chance for the Michigan Grey Wolves to separate themselves from the pack.  Wolves coach Ron Wright is cautiously optimistic, but warned his team to avoid gloating.  “There’s no denying that this provides us with an opportunity,” said Wright.  “But I don’t want to hear any of my guys whooping it up out there.  Hockey’s a fickle game, and I’m a big believer in karma.  Next thing you know, it could be one of our big guns going down.  We just need to keep our heads down and play the best game we can.  And be extra careful when we play Seattle.”

Green’s Violence Comments Spark Controversy

Dakota RapidsDakota Rapids RW Trevor Green stirred up some controversy this week by arguing that hockey should become a less violent sport.  “The Europeans are way ahead of us on this,” said Green in an interview after Dakota’s game against the Michigan Gray Wolves.  “To me, the real beauty of hockey is in great puck-handling, beautiful passes, speed and momentum.  It’s like ballet on ice, really.  Instead, here we have smaller ice and we glorify big hits and fights.  It’s less athletic, frankly.”

Trevor Green
Trevor Green

Green’s comments were criticized on two fronts.  First, many perceived the comments as a shot at the Gray Wolves, who are famous for their physical style.  Predictably, Michigan’s players took offense.

“To me, that sounds like loser whining,” said Gray Wolves RW Gordon Lunsford.  “I’m sure [the Rapids] get frustrated because they can’t beat us.  But the game is the game, and the rules are the rules.  If you don’t want to bang bodies, fine.  But don’t go crying about it when you lose.”

Michigan D Bjorn Tollefson added, “I’m European, and I love big hits.  If [Green] doesn’t, he should go to the European league.”

Other players suggested that Green wanted the game to focus less on hitting because of his short stature (he stands only 5’8”).  Meanwhile, others focused on the ballet reference in his remarks, and made the sadly expected jokes about Green’s masculinity.  When the Rapids faced Michigan against later in the week, the fans at Cadillac Place serenaded Green with chants of “Tinkerbell,” and several fans held up signs depicting Green in a pink tutu or making bad jokes about his sexuality.

These taunts and posters drew the ire of Rapids coach Harold Engellund.  The coach was nicknamed “Harry the Hit Man” during his playing days for his hard-hitting style, but he stood up for his player.

Harold Engellund
Harold Engellund

“Hey, look, I love a good fight as much as the next guy,” Engellund said.  “I believe in good heavy hockey, and I’d like to see more of it out of our guys, to tell you the truth.  But Trevor feels differently, and he’s entitled to his opinion.  Great passing and puck-handling are fun to watch, too, in a different way.  We’ve got more of that now than when I came up, and that’s a good thing.  It’s better than when you had enforcers who could barely skate just looking to start fights.  The game is more skilled now.”

Engellund particularly decried the sexist taunts directed at Green.  “All those fans calling Trevor a fairy and a sissy, that’s gotta stop.  That kind of talk has no place in today’s game.  There are a lot of women hockey fans, and gay fans too.  How do think they feel when you’ve got idiots in the stands screaming at a guy and calling him Tinkerbell?  The next time I hear any of that stuff, whoever says it is getting a punch in the mouth from me.”