CHL Update: Minnesota’s Fleury Sets Record With Five-Goal Game

Jean Pierre Fleury didn’t expect to be playing with the Minnesota Freeze this season.  Last season, Fleury made the Freeze’s parent club, the Anchorage Igloos, out of training camp and remained with the team all season.  Fleury assumed he was with the Igloos to stay after nailing down a spot on the third line.  But after putting up dismal numbers in the first half of the season – recording just 2 points – the Igloos ran out of patience and sent him back to the Freeze as a wake-up call.

“Even though I knew I was not playing well, this was shocking to me,” said Fleury. “I believed I would always be in the majors.”

Jean Pierre Fleury

Shocking though it may have been, Fleury definitely got the message.  He has played like a man possessed since arriving back in Minnesota.  In his 12 games with the Freeze, the winger scored 14 goals and notched 5 assists.  That flurry of brilliance was highlighted by his performance on Thursday, when he became the first player in CHL history to score 5 goals in a game.

“When JP arrived, the first thing I told him was ‘I hope you play well enough that I never see you again,'” said Freeze coach Petr Kokrda.  “He clearly didn’t need me to tell him twice.”

Fleury’s record-setting performance occurred in a 7-1 rout of the Idaho Spuds.  Perhaps even more impressive than the five goals themselves was the fact that he took barely more than a period to score them.

Minnesota went on the power play in the game’s opening minute when Spuds D Jay Brewster was called for elbowing.  Fleury got his first goal on that power play, redirected a shot from D Laszlo Cierny past Idaho goalie Kelvin White.  About three minutes later, Freeze D Brian Coldivar picked off a pass in the neutral zone and fed Fleury, who beat White on the short side for his second tally.  Just over a minu, who te after that, Minnesota C Tanner Everest won a faceoff in the offensive zone and flipped it to Fleury, who tucked it under the crossbar.  The game was just five and a half minutes old and Fleury already had a hat trick, stunning the crowd at Idaho’s Treasure Valley Arena.

D Richard Huckenchuk broke Fleury’s string of goals around the halfway mark of the period, scoring from the top of the faceoff circle to make it 4-0.  But the Minnesota winger struck again before the period was over, firing a shot from the slot that deflected off White’s left pad and trickled into the net.

The Spuds yanked White in favor of backup Xavier St. Pierre after the first period.  A little more than a minute into the second period, Fleury greeted St. Pierre by finishing an odd-man rush with a shot that beat St. Pierre on the glove side for his record-setting fifth tally of the night.

As amazing as it was, Fleury probably could have scored even more goals had not Kokrda not severely limited the minutes of his top line for the rest of the game, in order to give them a rest and spare Idaho further embarrassment.

“If JP had been playing his usual minutes, I really think he could have scored seven or eight, as crazy as that sounds,” said Kokrda after the game.  “He was that locked in, and playing at that high a level.”

For his part, Fleury reacted modestly to his record-breaking performance.  “I could not expect this at all,” he told reporters.  “I am as surprised as everyone else.”

At week’s end, Fleury earned the reward he sought: he was promoted back to the Igloos.  “JP did everything we could have asked him to do and more,” said Anchorage GM Will Thorndike.  “If he can bring that same energy with him that he showed in Minnesota, he’ll be a huge asset to us as we make our playoff push.  We’re not going to expect 5 goals in a game, though.”

CHL Update: Freeze Rookie Arsenyev Is Red-Hot

If you look at the top of the CHL leaderboards for goals-against average (1.22) and save percentage (.960), you’ll see an unexpected name: Kostya Arsenyev of the Minnesota Freeze.  Arsenyev’s presence among the league leaders is unexpected for several reasons.  He’s not just a rookie, but a virtually unknown one, chosen at the tail end of the draft.  Coming into the season, many regarded him as a long shot to make the league at all.  But those who doubted Arsenyev didn’t know about his secret weapon: his determination and drive to succeed.

Kostya Arsenyev

The 21-year-old Arsenyev was born in Ukraine.  For the last three seasons, he had played as a backup netminder in the KHL with Vladivostok.  His numbers were decent but not spectacular.  Arsenyev struggled with homesickness and frustration with his playing time.  Over the summer, he made the difficult decision to leave the KHL.  Given the troubled relations between Ukraine and Russia, he and his family felt increasingly uncomfortable with him playing in a Russian-based league.  Arsenyev also worried that he would never have a chance to break through in the league.

Rather than play in the Ukrainian league or in Europe, however, Arsenyev made the bold decision to come to America and declare for the SHL draft.

“I want to come to America for long time,” Arsenyev said.  “It is my dream.”

But deciding to play in America was just the beginning of his challenge.  Arsenyev was one of the older players in the draft; when combined with his undistinguished KHL record, this made him an unappealing prospect to most team.  He almost went undrafted; he was taken with the second-to-last pick by the Anchorage Igloos, who didn’t even have a vacancy in the crease.

“At that stage in the draft, there wasn’t anyone we were really interested in,” said Igloos GM Will Thorndike.  “It wasn’t quite ‘close your eyes and pick a name,’ but it was close to that.”

The cap-strapped Igloos initially considered not bothering to extend Arsenyev a contract.  But they gave him a ticket to training camp and a shot to stick.  Determined to claim his chance, Arsenyev worked extremely hard and beat out incumbent Freeze backup Darren Lovelette.

“During the scrimmages, out of the corner of my eye, I’d see somebody making an incredible save, and I’d look over and it was him,” said Freeze coach Petr Kokrda.  “I kept thinking, ‘Who is this guy?’”

Arsenyev called his parents in Ukraine to share the good news, and they cried together on the phone.  “My dream is true!” Arsenyev said.  “I am very happy.”

When the season began, Arsenyev found himself in a familiar spot: playing second fiddle, in this case to top prospect Curt Freeze.  Arsenyev was determined not to let his KHL experience repeat itself.

“I know I must be great when I play,” said Arsenyev, “or I do not play.”

And great is exactly what Arsenyev has been.  He made his debut at the end of Week 1, stopping 29 shots in a 6-1 rout of the Utah Owls.  Three nights later, facing the defending champion Idaho Spuds, Arsenyev made 28 saves in a 1-1 tie.  Later that week, he managed to top himself, putting up a 36-save shutout over the Milwaukee Hogs.

On Thursday, Arsenyev struggled for the first time in his SHL career.  Facing the Halifax Atlantics, Arsenyev faded in the third period, allowing three goals – including one in the last minute of the game – to turn a 2-0 lead into a loss.  After the game, he sat disconsolately at his locker, feeling that he’d blown his chance.  But then Kokrda came over, put his hand on Arsenyev’s shoulder, and assured him that he would continue to play – and perhaps even get more frequent starts.

“What I’ve seen out of Kostya so far has been incredible,” said Kokrda.  “He’s got an amazing work ethic, and he’s always looking for ways to improve.  If anything, he wants it so badly that he tries too hard to be perfect.  I’m trying to get him to understand that we’re not going to deport him if he has a bad start or two.”

Granted, the season is still young, and there’s plenty of time for this Cinderella story to go awry.  The odds that Arsenyev finishes the season with the league’s best GAA or save percentage are extremely slim.  But then, the odds that he’d get this far were pretty slim too.  And he’s determined to do whatever it takes to ensure that he succeeds.

Igloos Stage “White Out/Purple Out” for Lupus Awareness

For the last several years, the Anchorage Igloos have been active supporters of the fight against lupus.  Igloos LW Les Collins’ sister was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease in 2015.  Collins caused a brief uproar by wearing purple armbands during games that season.  When he explained they were meant to honor his sister, both the league and coach Sam Castor made donations to the Lupus Foundation of America in her name.  Last season, when Collins’ sister took a turn for the worse, Anchorage C Jake Frost announced that he would donate $100 to the Lupus Foundation for every goal he scored.

Fortunately, Collins’ sister has seen her health improve this year.  But the Igloos remain committed to the battle against the disease.  On Sunday, Anchorage held a unique “White Out/Purple Out” night that doubled as a fundraiser for the cause.

Les Collins

“Obviously, this is personal for those of us in the Igloos family because of Les,” said Igloos GM Will Thorndike.  “But it’s also a worthwhile cause in its own right, and we’re glad to do our part.”

The idea for the unusual night came about as the Igloos marketing department was planning its promotions for the season.  The team wanted to do a “White Out” night in which the team gave away white T-shirts for the fans to wear.  The idea of fans all wearing the same color has a long history in hockey, dating back to the Calgary Flames’ “C of Red” and the Jets’ “Winnipeg White Out” in the 1980s.

“People are always complaining that they come to Anchorage and get snow blindness,” quipped Thorndike.  “So we thought, why not try to re-create that effect indoors?”

In addition, the team also planned to have a fundraising night for lupus.  Since the color purple is associated with lupus awareness, the team wanted to work in the color in some way.  Thorndike isn’t sure who came up with the idea of combining the two promotions, but the team quickly embraced the idea.

The question then became: how do you feature white and purple on the same night?  The Igloos experimented with several concepts.  They considered white T-shirts with a purple wolf head (the wolf is another symbol of lupus awareness); the team decided that might be viewed as inadvertent support for the rival Michigan Gray Wolves.  They looked into reversible T-shirts that was white on one side and purple on the other, but the shirts were too expensive to produce.  They considered white shirts with purple sleeves, but worried they would ruin the “white out” effect.

Finally, the team settled on giving away white T-shirts and light-up purple wrist bands.  During most of the game, the arena was bathed in white as the fans wore their T-shirts with pride.  Then between the second and third periods, the arena lights went out and the fans were instructed to hold their wrist bands high, bathing the crowd in a purple glow.

Collins recorded the purple-light tribute on his phone and sent it to his sister, who was moved to tears.  “She’s known that everyone on the team is behind her,” said Collins after the game.  “But to see the whole stadium lit up purple, and knowing the fans are behind her too… I got chills.”

The night wasn’t just a symbolic tribute; the Igloos also raised money for the cause.  The team donated $1 of the cost of each ticket to the Lupus Foundation, along with the proceeds from that night’s 50/50 raffle.  They also raffled off Collins’ game-worn jersey.  In total, the Igloos wound up giving over $30,000 to the foundation.

“I think it’s great that the team did this,” said Igloos C Jake Frost.  “Les is family to us, and so is his sister.  We’re glad to show the world that we have her back.

Igloos Coach Calls Out Team During Skid

The Anchorage Igloos had a brilliant run in 2017, seizing the division lead midway through the season and never looking back on the way to the Western title.  But the Igloos suffered a stunning loss in the Finals to the Hershey Bliss, and they haven’t looked the same since.  After slogging through an uninspired preseason, Anchorage has continued to underwhelm during the regular season.  Over the last couple week, the Igloos’ play has taken a turn for the worse, to the point that coach Sam Castor took the rare step of publicly criticizing his team this week.

The Igloos are currently on a swing through the East, a trip that got off to a rough start.   They opened their trip with back-to-back one-goal losses against the Bliss and Boston Badgers, the worst teams in the league.  The next night, the Igloos put up a listless effort against the Hamilton Pistols, getting drilled 4-1.  It was Anchorage’s fourth straight loss and the seventh in their last nine games.  After the game, Castor stepped to the podium and roasted his team’s lack of effort.

Sam Castor

“Look, I understand that the loss in the Finals was a blow,” said Castor.  “It knocked us off our stride.  But at some point we’ve got to put it behind us and move on.  We haven’t looked like ourselves this season.  We’re going through the motions.  It feels like we’re taking the playoffs for granted.  But if we keep playing this way, we might not even make the playoffs.”

Castor specifically criticized the team’s top line of LW Jerry Koons, C Jake Frost, and RW Nicklas Ericsson.  “We rely on Koonsy, Frosty, and Nick to drive our offense,” the coach said.  “This season, the feel hasn’t been there, the spark hasn’t been there.  Our lower lines are doing their job, but the top line needs to take on more of the load.”

The coach also dinged his team’s play in its own end.  “We’ve been sloppy and careless on defense,” said Castor.  “It’s the little things, a sloppy pass to set up an easy chance, a missed check there, shying away from wall work, not clearing the dirty areas in front of the net.  W’re giving up too many high-quality chances, and we’re getting burned.”

He concluded by saying, “The whole division is a traffic jam right now, except for Michigan.  That’s a good thing for us, because it’s keeping us in the race.  If the Shockers or Sailors go on a run, we could find ourselves in a hole quick.  We’ve got time to pull it together, but probably not a lot of time.”

The Igloos largely agreed with Castor’s assessment.  “We could all be doing better right now, starting with myself,” said Frost.  “We’re too talented to be limping along the way we are.  We can do better, and we need to start doing better.”  Koons added, “It’s time for us to look in the mirror.  We need to take the intensity level up a notch and get on a winning streak.”

Anchorage looked good in their next game, thrashing the New York Night 7-1 on Friday.  But the Igloos closed out the week still below the .500 mark, tied with Saskatchewan for second place.  “It’s a good win for us,” said Castor, “but one win doesn’t fix everything.  We need to see this kind of performance night in and night out.”

Might Castor have spoken up because he’s starting to feel the heat?  Despite the fact that he’s taken the Igloos to two Finals in three seasons and won the Vandy in 2015, some irate fans have been calling for the coach’s head.  GM Will Thorndike shot down any rumors, though.  “Sam’s not going anywhere,” Thorndike told reporters.  “He’s a big reason why we’ve been as successful as we have.  This is a bump in the road; it will pass.”

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.”

Igloos Nab Winger Miranda from Seattle

This week, the Anchorage Igloos nosed into first place in the West for the first time all season.  The previous division leaders, the defending champion Michigan Gray Wolves, have been beset by injuries, and the Igloos have taken advantage.  Hoping to make their advantage stick, Anchorage made a trade at the deadline to bolster their depth at forward, picking up LW Waldo Miranda from the Seattle Sailors in exchange for F Rodney McElvern.

“We’re confident that we have a team strong enough to win the championship,” said Igloos GM Will Thorndike.  “But when we see a low-cost opportunity to improve, we’re going to pounce on it.  We saw an opportunity here, and we took it.”

Waldo Miranda

Miranda was in his second season with Seattle; they originally selected him from Hamilton in the expansion draft.  The 25-year-old winger bounced between the second and third line for the Sailors, putting up 11 goals and 8 assists in 38 games this season.  With the Igloos, he projects as a reserve, but one who’s ready to step in should an Anchorage winger get injured or need a rest.

“When you’re making a push for the postseason, you need depth,” said Thorndike.  “You never know when somebody’s going to go down or go into the slump, or you’re going to need to sub a guy in or out to take advantage of a matchup.  Waldo’s a guy who’s perfectly capable of starting, and probably would for most teams in the league.  To have someone like that coming off the bench, that’s a real luxury.  But it’s the kind of luxury that can make the difference between winning and losing the division, or winning or losing a playoff series.”

The Wolves are currently learning that lesson the hard the way.  Earlier this month, they lost top-line C Hunter Bailes to a major upper-body injury; he is due to return next week after missing almost a month.  Then on Tuesday they lost another center, Warren Marlow, to a lower-body injury.  Although his injury is far less severe than Bailes’, he is expected to be out for a week.  In the absence of two of their top scorers, Michigan’s offense has crumbled.  The Wolves declined to make any trades to fill the gap, believing that they’ll get back on track when Bailes and Marlow return.

Rodney McElvern

In exchange for Miranda, the Sailors received McElvern, a 22-year-old rookie who was Anchorage’s second-round draft pick out of Lake Ontario State.  McElvern was a 20-goal scorer in college; with the Igloos, he appeared in only 3 games, scoring no points and recording a -1 rating.

“We’re really excited to see what Rodney can do for us,” said Sailors GM Jay McKay.  “He’ll have plenty of ice time with us to show us what he’s got.  We’re not going to make the playoffs, so we’re looking to give our young guys more playing time down the stretch, and Rodney’s definitely going to get a real good look.”

Igloos-Wolves Rivalry Gains New Edge

Anchorage IgloosMichigan Grey WolvesThe Anchorage Igloos and the Michigan Gray Wolves have developed a fierce on-ice rivalry as they have battled for supremacy in the West.  This week, the rivalry exploded off the ice as well, thanks to an incident involving a Gray Wolves player and a giant polar bear.

Petey the Polar Bear
Petey the Polar Bear

During the third period of Tuesday’s Wolves-Igloos game, Igloos mascot Petey the Polar Bear stood behind the Wolves bench, mocking and taunting them.  The Michigan players responded by banging the glass and squirting Petey with their water bottles in an attempt to get the mascot to go away.  But Petey hung in there, wiggling his fluffy behind in their direction and sticking his head over the glass.  Finally, Gray Wolves LW Vladimir Beruschko couldn’t take it any longer and snapped, whacking Petey in the face with his stick and causing the mascot to tumble onto the fans in the front rows.  Beruschko raised his arms in triumph and accepted high-fives from his teammates, but the Igloos were incensed at the violence visited on their mascot.

“There’s nothing wrong with a high-spirited rivalry,” said Anchorage coach Sam Castor after the game.  “But when you bring Petey into it, you’ve crossed the line.  We consider Petey to be one of us.  An attack on him is an attack on the whole team.  Beruschko better watch his back.”

Sam Castor
Sam Castor

Igloos GM Will Thorndike doubled down in a press release issued the next morning.  Titled “Justice For Petey,” the press release called on the league to “take swift action to punish the senseless brutality leveled against Petey the Polar Bear.  Petey is a beloved symbol of joy and family-friendly entertainment throughout the Anchorage community.  To see him savagely attacked in this way is an affront to all of us.  The sentiments of the entire Igloos organization can be summed up by a 6-year-old fan named Dwight.  After witnessing the heinous assault, Dwight said with tears in his eyes: ‘Mommy, what happened to Petey?  Why would that mean man hit him?’  Why indeed, Dwight.  While we are not necessarily calling for Mr. Beruschko to be banned from the league for his actions, we expect justice to be swift and severe.”  The press release went on to suggest that Beruschko be prosecuted under the Endangered Species Act for threatening a vulnerable animal.  Igloos fans rallied to the cause, starting the Twitter hashtag #IAmPetey to demand punishment for Beruschko.

Later in the week, the league announced that Beruschko would be fined $500 for “unsportsmanlike conduct.”  The league’s press release acknowledged that the Igloos had sought harsher punishment, but noted: “Upon further investigation, the league discovered that Petey was not an actual polar bear, but rather a team employee in a costume.  Therefore, the Endangered Species Act does not apply in this case.  Furthermore, while the league in no way condones Mr. Beruschko’s actions, the fact remains that Petey was trespassing on the Gray Wolves bench during the game.”

For his part, Beruschko claimed not to understand the fuss.  “He was being a big jerk,” Beruschko said of Petey, “so I got him out of the way.  On ice, this would not even be penalty.”

The Igloos proclaimed deep dissatisfaction with the outcome of the incident.  “Everyone in this locker room knows that Petey’s been done wrong,” said C Jake Frost.  “We’re not going to forget this, believe me.”  Asked if the Igloos might be plotting revenge against Michigan’s mascot, Wally Wolf, Frost replied: “We’ll deal with this matter however we deem appropriate.  We believe in policing ourselves.  Petey knows we have his back.”