- On Monday, the Dakota Jackalopes activated C Tanner Brooks from the injured list. Shortly before the All-Star break, Brooks suffered an upper-body injury. Although the injury initially did not seem that serious, Brooks wound up missing over three weeks. As the Jackalopes had an available roster spot, they did not need to make a compensating move to activate Brooks.
- Also on Monday, the Hershey Bliss‘ CHL affiliate in Milwaukee placed LW Karl Gjovik on the injured list. Gjovik exited in the first period of Sunday’s 3-1 win over Cleveland after being upended on a devastating check, and did not return. He is expected to miss at least two weeks. To replace Gjovik, Milwaukee signed F Jerry Cazenovia to a short-term contract.
- On Wednesday, the Hamilton Pistols activated C Marco Venezio from the injured list. The veteran center missed 10 games with a lower=body injury suffered just before the All-Star break. In order to make room for Venezio, the Pistols reassigned C Hilliard Macy to their CHL affiliate in Oshawa, and released F Bobby Warner from Oshawa.
- Wednesday was the trading deadline. The following trades were consummated at the deadline:
- The Michigan Gray Wolves traded RW Gordon Lunsford to the Boston Badgers for RW Rory Socarra. (More details here.) After the trade, Boston demoted RW Felix Delorme to their CHL affiliate in Hartford, and recalled F Jacques Bacon from Hartford.
- The Gray Wolves traded LW Misha Petronov, F Cary Estabrook, and D Brandon Arrowood to the New York Night for LW Flynn Danner, F Henry Constantine, and D Anson Brank. (More details here.) After the trade, Michigan demoted LW Fendrick Scanlan to their CHL affiliate in Cleveland, and New York promoted RW Harris Wondolowski from their affiliate in Utah.
- The Dakota Jackalopes traded D Victor Addison to Boston in exchange for D Jackson Creed. After the trade, the Badgers demoted D Bjorn Tollefson to their minor-league affiliate in Hartford.
- Michigan traded C Warren Marlow to the Quebec Tigres in exchange for C Phil Miller, LW Carl Bleyer, and a 1st-round draft pick. (More details here.) After the trade, the Gray Wolves released F Caleb Moulton. The Tigres demoted C Dwight Flynn to their CHL affiliate in Halifax, and signed F Tim Daisey to a minor-league deal.
- On Saturday, the Anchorage Igloos recalled RW Jean Pierre Fleury from their CHL affiliate in Minnesota. The Igloos demoted Fleury to Minnesota during the All-Star break, and he played brilliantly there, recording 19 points in 12 games, including the CHL’s first-ever five-goal game. To make room for Fleury, the Igloos reassigned RW Lionel LaNeige to Minnesota.
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.”
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.”
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.”
Four weeks ago, the Michigan Gray Wolves looked unbeatable. Literally. Twelve games into the season, they had yet to lose (or tie) once. It looked as though the Western title was all but assured, and the rest of the season would be a race for second place.
What a difference a month makes. Since their 12-0-0 start, Michigan has stumbled to a 4-7-5 record. This week, they lost three games in a row for the first time in three years, and they ended the week in second place for the first time in almost a season and a half. The team’s performance was so concerning that coach Ron Wright took the rare step of publicly chiding his team.
The week began on Sunday in Kansas City against the struggling Smoke. The Wolves fell behind 2-0 before rallying with a pair of goals in the third period to salvage a tie. After the game, the players expressed disappointment in their performance. “We definitely didn’t play our best hockey today,” said D Max Madison. Although they had no way of knowing it at the time, it would be Michigan’s best performance of the week.
On Tuesday, they headed west to take on their strongest challenger to date, the Seattle Sailors. The Wolves were thoroughly outplayed by their rivals. Seattle outshot Michigan 17-7 in the first period, setting the tone for the contest. Although netminder Dirk Lundquist stopped all 17 to keep it scoreless, the dam burst in the second as the Sailors scored three times. In the end, the Wolves were outshot 37-23 and outscored 4-0.
The Wolves then flew coast-to-coast for an interdivision game against the New York Night on Thursday. The Night have scuffled recently, but the Wolves found no reprieve in the Big Apple. New York dictated the tempo of play, and although Michigan outshot them 37-36, goalie Jesse Clarkson stymied them for a second straight shutout, 3-0.
On Saturday, the Wolves showed up at Centre Citadelle to face the Quebec Tigres. The Tigres are built in the same deliberate, defense-first mold as the Wolves, and the game was a taut and close affair. The game remained scoreless until the third period, when Tigres RW Sindri Pentti bulled his way into the slot and jammed a rebound past Lundquist. Unfortunately for the Wolves, they were unable to come up with the equalizer and lost 1-0. It was their third defeat in a row and dropped them a point behind Seattle.
After the Quebec loss, Wright critiqued his squad during his postgame press conference. “I’m not going to lie, I’m a little concerned by what I’m seeing,” Wright told reporters. “The first three weeks of the season, they were a thing of beauty. We were tight, we were winning the battles along the boards, our passes were on target. But I think we’ve gotten complacent. We started believing our own headlines a little too much, acting like we’d already clinched. The intensity level isn’t where it needs to be.”
The coach cautioned that his team can’t take the postseason for granted. “Last season was basically a cakewalk,” Wright said. “But this year is different. Seattle’s playing out of their minds. Anchorage is coming on strong. Even Saskatchewan’s right in the mix. We better not let it slip too far, or we might not even make the playoffs.”
Wright concluded on a hopeful note: “Fortunately, we know we’ve got plenty of talent, and we’ve got time to get things back on track. And I think we’ll be better off having to work for it, rather than waltzing through the season. We’ll be sharp, and we’ll need to be if we’re going to win the Vandy.”
The players generally agreed with their coach’s assessment. “We’re not playing the kind of game we need to play,” said C Warren Marlow. “I think we’re all pretty disappointed. But like Coach Wright said, we’ve got time to turn it around.”
Marlow noted one key factor that might explain Michigan’s recent struggles: the absence of C Hunter Bailes, one of Michigan’s top scorers. Bailes is currently on the disabled list with a lower-body injury, his second ailment of the season. The Wolves have gone 4-6-1 without Bailes, and 12-1-4 with him in the lineup. “Once we get Hunter back, we’ll be in a lot better place,” said Marlow. “He’s the guy we need.”
The Michigan Gray Wolves have historically succeeded on the strength of their defense and the sure-handed goaltending of Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist. As the Wolves begin their quest to dethrone the Anchorage Igloos atop the Western division, they came out firing on all cylinders, as Lundquist became the first netminder in SHL history to open the season with back-to-back shutouts.
“All hail The Bear!” crowed Wolves D “Mad Max” Madison. “We like to talk about how nothing gets past him, but literally, nothing is getting past him right now.”
The Wolves opened the season on the road against the Saskatchewan Shockers, a team widely perceived as a rising power. Lundquist, however, barely broke a sweat in turning aside 21 Saskatchewan shots, and LW Scot Davenport’s short-handed goal stood up as the lone tally in a 1-0 Michigan win.
On Tuesday, the Wolves traveled up north to face the rival Anchorage Igloos at Arctic Circle Arena. Coming off of a disappointing tie against Dakota to open the season, the Igloos were determined to make a statement. But they ran into a brick wall in the crease, as Lundquist stopped 25 Igloos blasts and C Warren Marlow banged home a slapshot from the slot in the second period to give the Wolves another 1-0 victory.
Lundquist’s streak came to an end during Thursday’s home opener against Saskatchewan, when Shockers D Chris Oflyng scored on a power play 1 minute and 41 seconds into the opening period. Fortunately, the Wolves’ offense showed up this time in the form of four third-period goals, and Michigan rolled to a 6-2 rout.
“Talk about taking your game to the next level,” said Michigan C Hunter Bailes. “Some of the saves he makes, I don’t understand how he does it. He’s like Inspector Gadget, stretching out his arms and legs further than humanly possible.”
Lundquist, meanwhile, said that the Wolves’ defense deserved the real credit. “As a goalie, the fewer high-danger shots you face, the better you look,” Lundquist told reporters. “Our D is just incredible. They’re really strong at protecting the home-plate area and clearing out in front of the crease, and they’re all over the ice blocking shots and denying good angles. They make things easy for me.”
Michigan coach Ron Wright praised Lundquist’s torrid start, but was quick to point out that his netminder’s brilliance obscured the team’s early struggles on offense. The Wolves averaged a mere 1.3 goals per game while stumbling through an uninspired preseason, and Wright called on his team to improve.
“The Bear is the best goalie in the league, no doubt, but he’s not superhuman,” Wright told reporters. “If we’re counting on winning every game 1-0, this season isn’t going to go well for us. As great as Lundquist is, I think we tend to use him as a security blanket sometimes. We need more games like [Thursday’s]. We need to focus on sharpening our offensive game, so that we’re not relying on The Bear to be perfect.”