Shockers Get Used to New Role: Contender

The Saskatchewan Shockers are in unfamiliar territory.  For the first couple of years of the SHL’s existence, the Shockers were the joke of the league; they piled up losses left and right and were better known for wacky promotions and player hijinks than for anything they did on the ice.  The last couple of seasons, they were considered a team on the rise, but one that never quite managed to live up to its promise.

This year, under new coach Morris Thompson, the Shockers are in genuine contention in the West.  Instead of looking to sell at next week’s trading deadline, Saskatchewan will be looking to buy.  Instead of looking up at Michigan and Anchorage, the Shockers are side-by-side with them in the standings.

“It’s almost like ‘Hey, Pinocchio, you’re a real boy now,’” said Shockers D Chris “Lightning” Oflyng, who has been with the team since its inception.

Morris Thompson

What has driven Saskatchewan’s success?  Many around the team are giving credit to Thompson.  When the team fired the well-liked Myron Beasley last season, GM Cooper Matthews said that the Shockers needed to get tougher and more disciplined.  That’s why he chose Thompson, a longtime assistant coach in Michigan, to apply the lessons he learned from Wolves coach Ron Wright.

So far, Matthews said, Thompson is living up to expectations.  “I couldn’t be happier with what Morris has done for this team,” said the Shockers GM.  “Watching games last year, you could tell the talent was there, but we needed a little more focus on the little things, the hard and unglamorous work that builds champions.  That’s what Morris has been teaching our team.”

The improvement has been obvious on both sides of the puck.  Last season, the Shockers struggled badly on offense, both in terms of generating shots and quality scoring chances.  This season, they’re averaging 35.3 shots per game (fourth in the SHL) and 2.9 goals (sixth).  “This year, we’ve been focusing on driving to the net more aggressively and looking for the right shot, not just the first shot,” said LW Troy Chamberlain.  “By creating chaos in front of the net, we’re taking the goalie’s eyes away and increasing the chance of a tip-in or rebound for a greasy goal.  It’s really paying off for us.”

The Shockers were solid last year on defense, but they’ve taken a step up this season.  They’re allowing roughly the same number of shots per game as last season, but they’ve reduced their GAA from 2.71 to 2.60.  Their penalty kill has also gotten strong, improving from 82.7% to 84.9%.

“We’ve gotten better about finishing our checks, denying zone entries on power plays, controlling the neutral zone,” said D Wyatt Barnes.  “Pretty basic stuff, but Coach Thompson is death on letting the fundamentals slip.”

The Shockers are proud to note that they don’t rely heavily on one or two stars; instead, they rely on depth, including a number of homegrown players who came up through their farm system.  “We don’t have a lot of big names on our team, but you don’t need big names to win the Vandy,” said Oflyng.

With that in mind, who might the Shockers pursue in trade?  The biggest names likely to be available are Dakota Jackalopes Ds Rusty Anderson and Matt Cherner, and Sasktchewan has the prospects and cap space to acquire at least one of them.  Will they go for such a big splash, given the fierce competition for playoff slots in the division?  Or will they shun the big names and settle for smaller depth additions, and bet big on their team-first chemistry?

“I’m looking at pretty much every option you can think of, and probably some you can’t,” quipped Matthews.  “The next few days are going to be interesting.”

In a lot of ways, Saskatchewan faces the same dilemma that the Hamilton Pistols faced a season ago: a young, rising team with promise gets its first chance at the postseason and has to decide whether to make a big move and go for the Vandy this year, or sit back and try to build a multi-year dynasty.  The Pistols opted for depth moves, and wound up losing in the first round of the playoffs.

“We definitely don’t think this is our only shot at [a title],” said Thompson.  “This team is no fluke, and not a one-year wonder.  If there’s a move that can improve our chances in the short term, I’d be interested.  But we have a foundation that will let us contend for years to come.  I wouldn’t want us to jeopardize that.  I’m not just thinking about this year.”

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West Strikes Early in All-Star Victory

Could this be the year?  The SHL’s Eastern Division squad came into Wednesday’s third annual SHL All-Star Game hungry for revenge.  In last season’s game, the West humiliated the East in a 9-2 rout.  The West has always been considered the league’s stronger division, but the East has slowly been improving.  The Quebec Tigres took the eventual champion Anchorage Igloos to seven games in last year’s finals. Eastern teams have been much more competitive in this season’s interdivision games.  With a raucous and rowdy home crowd behind them at the New York Night’s Neon Sky Center, the East hoped that the third time would be the charm.

Instead, the rule of threes worked against the East, as the West scored three goals in the game’s first three minutes, and wound up winning by three, 5-2, continuing their unbeaten All-Star streak.

“I think we’re all getting pretty sick of those bastards,” said Hamilton Pistols LW Steven Alexander, who was held scoreless in the game.  “We’ve got to win one of these.”

The Big Apple crowd definitely made its presence felt, even during the introductions.  They cheered loudly for the four Night players who made the Eastern squad, while booing each of the Western players with remarkable vigor.  They also booed their loathed rival Alexander, who responded by blowing kisses to the crowd, and Washington Galaxy C Eddie Costello, who won a slot that the Night’s fans felt should have gone to their own Brock Manning.

“One thing about the New York fans: you always know where you stand,” joked Anchorage’s Sam Castor, who coached the Western team.

Once the game started, though, the West wasted no time asserting control of the contest.  Just 71 seconds into the game, Saskatchewan Shockers D Wyatt Barnes redirected a shot from teammate Elliott Rafferty into the top-left corner of the net to put the West on the board.  Just over a minute later, Igloos LW Jerry Koons and RW Nicklas Ericsson got loose on a 2-on-1 rush, and Koons finished with a shot through the five-hole to make it 2-0.  35 seconds after that, Seattle Sailors RW Vince Mango fired a slapshot that beat Eastern goalie Jesse Clarkson on the glove side for the West’s third tally.

“They really came out firing,” said Clarkson after the game.  “My head was just spinning trying to keep up.”

East coach Martin Delorme considered lifting Clarkson after the initial onslaught, but did not want to embarrass the netminder in front of his home fans.  He did wind up relieving the starter after the first period, however.

The East’s backup netminder was Hamilton’s Lasse Koskinen, who started last year’s game but was removed after being rocked for five goals in the first period.  He admitted afterward that he’d celebrated a bit too hard in the run-up to the game.  He was much more solid this time around.  Michigan Gray Wolves D “Mad Max” Madison greeted him with a screened blast from the blue line that found the twine 55 seconds into the period.  After that, Koskinen stopped all but one of the 25 shots he faced the rest of the way. A deflection from Igloos C Jake Frost later in the second was the only other blemish on his record.

“I feel I made up for myself this time,” said Koskinen.  “Not as much parties, not as much stay out late.”

Unfortunately for the East, any hope of a comeback was stymied by Michigan’s Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist, who smothered everyone of the 34 shots he faced over two periods.  Even the East-favoring crowd gave Lundquist a standing ovation when he came up with a sprawling stop on a breakaway attempt by the Night’s Rick “The Stick” Nelson late in the first period.

“Lundquist is just a force of nature,” said Castor.  “Nothing puts that guy off his game.”

Lundquist’s brilliance earned him the All-Star MVP honors, the first time a goalie has received the award.  “When you consider the fact that the whole game is basically defense-optional,” said Barnes, “you’re that much more impressed about what The Bear did.”

Along with the award, Lundquist received a brand-new Kia Telluride SUV.  “Wow, this is a big one,” said the Wolves goalie.  “You could fit a whole kid’s hockey team in there.  But I have no kids, so I can put all of my fishing gear in it.”

The East did manage to break the shutout in the third period, scoring twice against the Western backup, Anchorage’s Ty WorthingtonHershey Bliss RW Christopher Hart struck first, beating Worthington through the five-hole about five and a half minutes into the period.  A minute and a half later, New York’s Chase Winchester scored on a wraparound that snuck past Worthington’s pad, touching off the largest cheer of the night, as the crowd saluted one of its own.

“We managed to save a little pride,” said Winchester.  “But that’s no substitute for actually winning.  Next year, it’s ours.”

If so, the East will need to win on the road; next year’s game is at Heartland Telecom Center in Kansas City.

 

SHL All Star Game 
West All Stars @ East All Stars, Neon Sky Center

                   1   2   3   OT   F
West All Stars     3   2   0        5
East All Stars     0   0   2        2 
 
East All Stars         G   A PTS PIM +/-   West All Stars         G   A PTS PIM +/-

Alexander       LW     0   0   0   0  -2   Koons           LW     1   1   2   0   2
Sanchez         D      0   0   0   0  -2   Kronstein       D      0   0   0   0   2
Frye            C      0   0   0   0  -2   Frost           C      1   1   2   0   2
Milton          D      0   0   0   0  -2   Madison         D      1   1   2   0   2
Nelson          RW     0   0   0   0  -2   Ericsson        RW     0   1   1   0   2
Winchester      LW     1   0   1   0   0   Collins         LW     0   0   0   0   0
Mulligan        D      0   0   0   0  -2   Barnes          D      1   0   1   0   2
Beauchesne      C      0   0   0   0   0   Beasley         C      0   1   1   0   0
Risch           D      0   0   0   0  -2   Pomfret         D      0   0   0   0   2
Lafayette       RW     0   1   1   0   0   Mango           RW     1   0   1   0   0
Camernitz       LW     0   0   0   0  -1   Airston         LW     0   2   2   0   1
Aubin           D      0   0   0   0   1   Chouinard       D      0   0   0   0  -1
Costello        C      0   1   1   0  -1   Rafferty        C      0   2   2   0   1
Workman         D      0   2   2   0   1   Fairwood        D      0   1   1   0  -1
Hart            RW     1   0   1   0  -1   Merula          RW     0   0   0   0   1
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 2   4   6   0  -3   TOTALS                 5  10  15   0   3

Scratches:
WAS:  none
EAS:  none

 
East All Stars      SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Clarkson            18    15    3  0.833
Koskinen            26    24    2  0.923

West All Stars      SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Lundquist           34    34    0  1.000
Worthington         18    16    2  0.889
 

First Period
------------

GOALS:
01:11  WAS  Barnes (Rafferty, Airston)
02:24  WAS  Koons (Ericsson, Frost)
02:59  WAS  Mango (Beasley, Madison)

PENALTIES:
None


Second Period
-------------

GOALS:
00:55  WAS  Madison (Rafferty, Airston)
14:28  WAS  Frost (Koons, Fairwood)

PENALTIES:
None


Third Period
------------

GOALS:
05:35  EAS  Hart (Workman, Costello)
07:03  EAS  Winchester (Lafayette, Workman)

PENALTIES:
None



 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
West All Stars    18  13  13       44
East All Stars    18  16  18       52

 
POWER PLAYS
-----------

West All Stars   0 for 0
East All Stars   0 for 0

 
INJURIES
--------

None

2019 SHL Western All-Star Roster

The roster for the Western Division in the 2019 SHL All-Star Game, as announced by coach Sam Castor, was as follows:

First Line

LW: Jerry Koons, AnchorageKoons receives his third All-Star selection, and was voted into the starting lineup for the second time, winning by about 10,000 votes over Seattle’s Rod Argent.  Last season, Koons won All-Star MVP honors after scoring a pair of goals in the West’s 9-2 rout.  The Igloos have been red-hot lately, and Koons has been a key driver of their surge.  He’s in the league’s top 10 in points (38) and assists (24).

D: Fritz Kronstein, Michigan.  There are apparently three certainties in life: death, taxes, and the election of the Wolves’ top defensive pairing to the All-Star Game.  Kronstein and teammate Max Madison will the West’s starting defensive pair for the third straight season.  For the second straight year, Kronstein received the most votes of any defenseman in the West.  The 26-year-old continues to be among the SHL’s best two-way blueliners; he’s among the league’s top 10 in assists with 26, and has a solid +11 rating to boot.  In addition, he retains his reputation as a heavy hitter and ferocious fighter when challenged.

C: Jake Frost, Anchorage.  Like Kronstein and Madison, Frost has been a fixture in the starting lineup at every All-Star Game.  He cruised to victory once again this year, getting over 25,000 more votes than his nearest competitor.  As the Igloos have gotten stronger over the last month or so, Frost has as well.  The tall, cool center has always been among the league’s top scorers, and his 21 goals this season place him fourth in the league.  “I thought Frosty might be getting a little tired of never getting the All-Star break off,” quipped Castor, “but he seems to like it just fine.”

D: “Mad Max” Madison, Michigan.  Last season, Madison nearly missed the All-Star Game with a lower-back injury, but recovered just in time to play in the game in front of his home crowd.  This season, Madison is in excellent health (although he missed a week early in the season with a nagging lower-body issue) and is ready to make his third straight All-Star start.  The son of an amateur boxer, Madison is renowned as one of the league’s meanest and most dangerous fighters.  But he’s not just a goon; he also handles the puck responsibly.  He’s recorded 16 points (4 goals, 12 assists) so far in the 2019 season.

RW: Nicklas Ericsson, Anchorage.  For the first time, all three members of the Igloos’ top line will be skating together in the All-Star Game.  The sweet-skating Swede makes his third All-Star appearance, and makes it to the starting lineup for the second time, beating Seattle’s Vince Mango by less than 800 votes.  Ericsson’s claim to fame is his ability to pass and set up scores by his linemates, and this season is no exception; his 36 assists make him #2 in the SHL in that category.  “I’m looking forward to these guys working their All-Star magic together,” said Castor.

 

Second Line

LW: Les Collins, Anchorage.  In a move that raised a few eyebrows around the league, Castor chose his own second-line player, Collins, instead of other top left wingers like Argent or Saskatchewan’s Troy Chamberlain.  It’s the first All-Star bid for Collins, and Castor pointed out that he is having a terrific contract year, putting up 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists) and a +14 rating (among the SHL’s top ten).  He even spent some time on Anchorage’s top line, skating beside Frost and Ericsson.  “I think Les would a top-line guy for a lot of teams,” said Castor.  “He’s done it for us.  I’d put him against the best wingers out there.”

D: Wyatt Barnes, SaskatchewanBarnes has become an All-Star regular; this is his third appearance.  The Shockers are in the thick of the playoff chase this season, and Barnes and teammate Chris Oflyng have combined to form perhaps the SHL’s most dynamic defensive pairing.  Barnes is tied for the team lead in assists with 20, and has added six goals into the bargain.  While Oflyng is an even more potent offensive force, Barnes is a lockdown defender, frustrating opponents’ zone entries and blocking shooting lanes again and again.  It’s no surprise that Barnes and Oflyng are tied for the team lead in plus-minus at +8.

C: Napoleon Beasley, SeattleEarlier in his career, Beasley was trapped on a weak Saskatchewan club, and constantly faced whispers that he only played because of his father Myron, who coached the team.  After signing with the Sailors in the offseason, Beasley is demonstrating that he is a thoroughly deserving star in his own right.  It’s a breakout season for Seattle, which would qualify for its first-ever playoff berth if the season ended today, and also for Beasley, who has put up 13 goals and 19 assists on the season so far.  It all adds up to Beasley’s first trip to the All-Star Game.

D: Sebastian Pomfret, Anchorage.  Castor certainly wasn’t shy about selecting his own players to the team; he selected three Igloos to go along with the three already in the starting lineup.  “Hey, we are the defending division champs,” he noted.  The 24-year-old Pomfret signed a 4-year, $3.6 million extension in the offseason, and he’s living up to it so far.  He’s second among Anchorage blueliners with 20 points (8 goals, 12 assists), and his +13 rating is tied for the best among Igloos defensemen.

RW: Vince Mango, Seattle.  The high-scoring winger and reality television star makes his second All-Star appearance after winning a starting spot in 2018.  Mango has long been knocked for his poor defense and his love of flashy on-ice celebrations, but with the Sailors having their best year ever, their star is finally earning the grudging respect of old-time fans.  He still contributes primarily with his offense, as he’s in the SHL’s top ten for points (37) and goals (19).  But his assist total is up, and he’s more dialed in on defense than in years past.  He remains as colorful as ever, though; he promised that he’s working on a “special one-of-a-kind goal celebration” for the All-Star contest.

 

Third Line

LW: “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston, DakotaAirston gets an All-Star nod for the second time; he was in the West’s starting lineup in 2017.  This year, he is the sole Jackalopes player to receive the honor, which is fitting given the dismal season they’ve had so far.  In spite of missing nearly three weeks with an upper-body injury, Airston has still managed to out up 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists), which places him one off the team lead.  As Dakota looks to cut payroll amid rumors of serious financial trouble, Airston is practically the only team star who’s not being shopped.

D: Bastien Chouinard, Kansas CityThe 20-year-old rookie blueliner made the cut as one of the Smoke’s two All-Star representatives.  Although Boston’s Alain Beauchesne is the consensus Rookie of the Year favorite, Chouinard may give him a run for his money.  The young Quebecois D-man is putting up surprising offensive numbers (5 goals, 19 assists) to back up a give-no-quarter defensive style that has him tied for second in the NHL in penalty minutes, with 60.  “Defensemen are a pretty rough bunch, but that guy’s legitimately scary,” said Smoke coach Randy Bergner of Chouinard.  “If I had to go down a dark alley at midnight, I’d want him next to me.”

C: Elliott Rafferty, Saskatchewan.  Many league insiders thought Rafferty’s teammate Lars Karlsson would get this spot, but Castor instead tapped Rafferty to make his All-Star debut.  Karlsson has the big contract and the superior pedigree, but Rafferty’s got the better numbers this season.  He leads the Shockers with 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists), and he’s one of only three forwards on Saskatchewan with a positive plus-minus (+3).  Rafferty’s breakout performance earned him Player of the Week honors a couple weeks before the break; that might have influenced Castor’s thinking.

D: Woody Fairwood, Seattle.  Amid a crowded field of strong two-way defensemen, Castor made a somewhat unexpected pick in tapping the 23-year-old Fairwood as another first-time All-Star.  Prior to this season, Fairwood was perhaps best known around the league for the time he sat on the opposing goalie and flung the puck into the net by hand.  But this year, he’s earning notice for his high caliber of play.  In the first half, he produced 26 points (8 goals, 18 assists).  Even more impressive, his +19 rating is second-best in the league.  “Good things happen when Woody’s on the ice,” said Sailors coach Harold Engellund.  “That’s all there is to it.”

RW: Zachary Merula, Kansas City.  Yet another All-Star newcomer, the 23-year-old Merula joins teammate Chouinard on the bottom line.  Merula had an impressive rookie season, and he looks to be on track to eclipse that performance in his sophomore year.  He is KC’s second highest point-scorer with 28 (13 goals, 15 assists).  And he doesn’t shy away from rough play, either, as his 45 penalty minutes will attest.

 

Goalies

Dirk “The Bear” Lindquist, Michigan.  Who else?  The lusciously-bearded Lundquist regularly tops the list of SHL goaltenders, both in terms of statistics and fan support.  Even though Michigan has slipped a bit after a dominant start, Lundquist remains the king of the Western crease, having almost twice as many votes as his nearest competitor.  As usual, he leads the league in wins (with 16) and in save percentage (.942).  His 1.64 goals-against average is second only to his rarely-used backup, Art Cowan.

Ty Worthington, Anchorage.  In each of the past two years, Worthington has been Lundquist’s backup on the Western squad.  Castor decided to keep the tradition going for 2019, despite considerable support for Seattle’s Rocky Goldmire, who is having a career season.  Unlike many of his Igloos teammates, who started slow and then get hot, Worthington has been strong throughout the first half.  He is tied with Hershey’s Brandon Colt for second-most goaltender wins, with 14.  His 2.38 GAA placed his among the league’s top five.

Fairwood Gives Sailors A Hand, Gets In Trouble

On Sunday, the Saskatchewan Shockers and Seattle Sailors faced off in a virtual must-win situation for both squads’ flickering playoff hopes.  As a result, the game unfolded with a fierce intensity, as both teams did whatever they could to snag a victory.  As it turned out, one Sailors player went a bit too far over the line in helping his team score a key goal.

From the opening puck drop, the game moved at a breakneck pace, a style for which Seattle is well-suited.  But the Shockers hung tough, trading goals with the Sailors throughout the contest.

“It was almost like an All-Star Game, defense optional,” said Shockers D Wyatt Barnes.

By the middle of the third period, the score stood 5-5.  At that point, the offensive flow seemed to dry up.  Both teams had chances to go ahead, but pinged shots off of posts or pushed them just wide.

With less than two minutes left in the game, the puck got lost in a scrum in front of the Shockers’ goal, as a mass of players struggled for control.  Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, the puck wound up in the back of the net.  The goal horn blasted as the Sailors celebrated.  But Shockers netminder Zeke Zagurski protested vigorously that he’d been interfered with, prompting the referees took a close look at the replay.

At first, it was almost impossible to see what had happened, given the mass of humanity in and in front of the crease.  But eventually, matters became clear.

Woody Fairwood

Zagurski appeared to see the puck in the middle of the scrum and dove to cover it up, but missed.  Sailors D Woody Fairwood, seeing an opportunity, sat on top of Zagurski and pinned him to the ice.  With the Shockers goalie helpless, Fairwood spotted the puck, scooped it up, and flipped it into the net by hand.

Referee Darren St. James announced that the goal had been disallowed, and gave Fairwood a minor penalty for goaltender interference.  (After the game, St. James indicated that he wanted to give Fairwood an additional penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, but that his fellow referees disagreed.)

“I’m going to do whatever I can in that situation to get us a W,” said Fairwood after the game.  “Was it too far?  Well, I got caught, so yeah.  But you can’t blame me for trying.”

“It was obviously the right call,” said Shockers interim coach Caleb Ponder.  “You’re not allowed to sit on the goalie, and you’re not allowed to grab the puck and throw it in the net.  I don’t know what [Fairwood] was thinking.”

Sailors coach Harold Engellund, on the other hand, couldn’t suppress a smile when discussing the play.  “Yeah, okay, Woody shouldn’t have done it,” said Engellund.  “But honestly, I kind of like that hustle in a young player.  It’s do-or-die time for us, and Woody’s giving it the good fight.  The league isn’t going to give him a good-conduct medal for that, but if you’re going to win, you need to push it right up to the line.  And if you go a little over, that’s fine by me.”

Fortunately for Fairwood and the Sailors, they weathered the late penalty, and LW George Lane scored in overtime to give Seattle a 6-5 win.  Fairwood earned a beer shower from his teammates for the play.

“If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying,” said Sailors RW Vince Mango.  “Woody’s definitely trying!”

Continue reading “Fairwood Gives Sailors A Hand, Gets In Trouble”

2018 Western All-Star Roster

The roster for the Western Division in the 2018 SHL All-Star Game, which will be held at Michigan’s Cadillac Place, was announced today by coach Sam Castor.  The selections were as follows:

First Line

LW: Jerry Koons, AnchorageIt’s the second straight All-Star appearance for the Igloos winger, but it’s his first time being voted into the starting lineup.  In a reverse of last year’s results, Koons was voted in over Dakota’s “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston.  He had a breakout season in 2017, scoring 44 goals and 90 points and winning the MVP award.  He hasn’t been on that same pace this season, but he’s off to a solid point; his 35 points put him in the top 10 in the league.

D: Fritz Kronstein, MichiganThe Wolves remain the top defensive squad in the SHL, and their top defensive pairing was rewarded with their second straight starting appearance.  This season, Kronstein was the top-vote getter among all defensemen, a recognition of his emergence as a two-way force.  He leads the Wolves with 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists), and he is the leader among all blueliners in the league in plus-minus with a +24 rating.

C: Jake Frost, Anchorage.  For the second straight season, Frost was the runaway winner of the starting center spot for the West, garnering almost 60% of the votes at the position.  The tall center has been one of the SHL’s top scorers since his debut, and this season is no exception; his 22 goals are the fourth-highest total in the SHL.  “Having Koonsy and Frosty out there on the top line, that makes you feel good as a coach,” said Castor.  “With the kind of year we’re having, I wasn’t taking that for granted.”

D: “Mad Max” Madison, Michigan.  It wasn’t clear whether Madison was going to be able to make the game, as he has missed the last three weeks with a lower-body injury.  But he has declared that he’s “feeling great and ready to go,” and plans to make his return to the ice in front of his home crowd.  Madison’s numbers have taken a hit due to his injury, but he was off to a solid start before getting hurt, putting up 3 goals and 7 assists in the first 15 games of the season.

RW: Vince Mango, Seattle.  The Sailors sniper has proven to be a polarizing figure around the league, as his theatrical goal celebrations and loquaciousness with the press rub some traditionalist fans the wrong way.  But he’s attracted enough fans to squeak out a narrow victory in fan voting, garnering a few thousand more votes than Michigan’s Gordon Lunsford and Anchorage’s Nicklas Ericsson.  Mango is known for his scoring, and he has 16 tallies on the season, which places him among the Top 10 in the league.  Mango described the results as a “changing of the guard.”

 

Second Line

LW: Troy Chamberlain, SaskatchewanThe Shockers winger makes his second straight All-Star appearance.  Chamberlain continues to be the driving force behind Saskatchewan’s offense, leading the team in both goals (with 13) and points (29).  But he’s also not just a force on offense; he’s known around the league as a diligent and capable two-way player.  Although the Shockers have slipped back in the playoff race recently, Chamberlain’s play has been a key to their push to contend.

D: Wyatt Barnes, Saskatchewan. For the second season in a row, Chamberlain and Barnes represent the Shockers’ only All-Star representatives.  Barnes continues to emerge as one of the SHL’s top blueline talents.  His 21 assists are the most among Saskatchewan players, and he’s also managed to light the lamp four times.  In addition, he’s a rugged and hard-hitting defender who’s been nicknamed “Stonewall” by his teammates due to his ability to deny opposing skaters entry into the offensive zone.  He’s even in plus-minus rating this season, one of only three Saskatchewan players not in the negative.

C: Lars Karlsson, Dakota.  Karlsson is one of two Jackalopes players appearing in this year’s All-Star Game, although it’s hard to know how much longer he will remain in a Dakota uniform.  Karlsson’s contract is up at the end of the season, and he figures to be one of the most sought-after rentals, as the rebuilding ‘Lopes seem unlikely to resign him.  The veteran center has done a good job blocking out the distractions and is putting up a fine season, leading the team in both goals (15) and points (31).

D: Ted Keefe, Anchorage. The top two defensive pairings for the West look the same this year as last, as Castor turned to his veteran puck-moving stalwart to fill out the second pair.  Keefe turns 33 this season, but is playing like a man a decade younger.  He’s got the best offensive numbers among the Igloos’ defensive corps, with 8 goals and 19 assists on the season.  He’s a hard-checking defenseman who likes to scrap, and he’s one of the league’s best at steals and forcing turnovers as well.

RW: Nicklas Ericsson, Anchorage. As mentioned above, Ericsson narrowly missed being voted into a starting slot on the Western squad, and Castor had no hesitation about picking his own player to complete the second line. Despite having what for him is a bit of a down season (7 goals, 20 assists), Ericsson continues to be regarded as one of the league’s elite passers.  “He could fit a puck through the eye of a needle if he had to,” said Castor.

 

Third Line

LW: Pascal Royal, Kansas CityThe SHL requires that every team be represented on the All-Star teams, and Royal is the Smoke’s lone representative.  The 27-year-old winger has had something of a career resurgence in KC, and he leads the team in points (31) and assists (19).  The All-Star Game is something of a showcase for Royal, who seems a likely possibility to be moved at the trading deadline.

D: Matt Cherner, Dakota.  Cherner makes his first-ever All-Star appearance.  Like his Jackalopes teammate Karlsson, he’s likely to attract attention from teams around the trading deadline, although given that his contract doesn’t expire until 2020, he’s less likely to be moved.  Cherner is one of the league’s best offensive-minded defensemen, and he’s putting up a strong season, scoring 7 goals and 23 assists to date.

CWarren Marlow, Michigan. Marlow was not originally chosen as an All-Star last season, but he wound up going as a replacement after teammate Hunter Bailes suffered an injury in the days before the game.  He is the only Wolves player selected by Castor… a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed at Cadillac Place. Marlow has actually recorded more points than Bailes so far this season (27 to 26), although Bailes has scored more goals (18 to 13).  He also has the unusual distinction of being one of four regular starters in the SHL who has yet to record a penalty this season.

D: Dave Frederick, Anchorage. In a selection considered debatable by some, Castor tabbed the 31-year-old Frederick to make his All-Star debut in the West’s bottom pairing.  Wolves fans argued for the selection of Brooks Zabielski or Frank Mudrick over Frederick, while Sailors supporters protested that Doron Lidjya was unfairly snubbed.  In fairness to Frederick, he has some points in his favor: he’s second among Western defenders in plus-minus at +19, and he’s produced on offense, putting up 4 goals and 11 assists so far this season.

RW: Elliott Pepper, Seattle. The Sailors get their second representative in Pepper, who’s making his first All-Star appearance.  The winger got off to a strong start that earned him Player of the Week honors in the season’s first week.  He’s cooled off some since, but he remains one of the league’s better offensive performers, with 16 goals (tied with fellow All-Star Mango for the Seattle team lead) and 13 assists so far on the year.

 

Goaltenders

Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist, Michigan.  Although the SHL’s best-bearded goalie isn’t quite as dominant this season as he has been in years past, he still won the starting nod handily, according to the fan vote.  Lundquist’s numbers are certainly nothing to sneeze at, either: his 18 wins are tied for the league lead, while his 1.91 GAA is second-best and his .926 save percentage is good for third overall.

Ty Worthington, Anchorage. The Igloos netminder will be the Western backup once again this time around. Although Worthington got off to something of a slow start this season, he’s rebounded nicely in recent weeks, helping Anchorage firm up their hold on second place in the West.  Overall, his numbers remain quite respectable: 13-11-0, 2.41 GAA, .923 save percentage  — good enough to get the nod over Saskatchewan’s Zeke Zagurski.

West Wide Open

Looking at the Western Division standings about one-third of the way through the 2018 SHL season, one thing is clear: the Michigan Gray Wolves are the overwhelming favorites to win the division title.  They’re already 12 points clear of their nearest competitor and are outscoring their opponents by nearly a 2-to-1 ratio.  Goaltender Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist and the defense remain as stingy as ever; even a serious injury to top blueline “Mad Max” Madison has barely slowed the Wolves down.  Michigan seems well on its way to nailing down that top spot.

But there are two playoff spots in each division this season.  And if first place appears all but sewn up, second place is up for grabs.  No team is out of the running, and no team seems to have much of an edge at this stage.

“It’s just a wide-open brawl, is what it is,” said Saskatchewan Shockers D Wyatt Barnes.  “A total pig pile.  No one knows what’s going to happen.”

At the start of the season, the Anchorage Igloos were heavily favored to make it to the playoffs.  Indeed, they’ve held down second place for much of the year.  But the defending division champs haven’t been playing up to their usual standards; in fact, they’ve struggled to get much above the .500 mark, and they haven’t won more than two in a row since the first week of the season.  “We’ve really struggled to find our rhythm,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor.  “We show flashes of our true form, especially against tough opponents, but then we sleepwalk against lesser teams.  We’re going to get more consistent if we’re going to make the playoffs.”

This week’s games demonstrated Castor’s point.  Anchorage put up a huge statement win on Sunday, stomping mighty Michigan 5-0.  But they followed up that effort with a pair of embarrassing losses, falling 3-1 to Dakota and 7-5 to Kansas City.  “I know the feeling in the clubhouse is that we’re the superior team,” said the Anchorage coach, “but we’ve got to prove that on the ice.”

Two points behind Anchorage are the Saskatchewan Shockers, who look ready to shake their hapless reputation.  They had a shot to take over sole possession of second place on Friday, but dropped a 5-2 decision to the Igloos.  The key to the Shockers’ success this season has been their defense.  Coach Myron Beasley has made a point of tightening up his team’s play in its own end, and his efforts are paying dividends.  Saskatchewan is limiting opponents to 29.3 shots per game, the fourth-best total in the league.  The improved defense has been a blessing for goalie Zeke Zagurski, who has historically faced a barrage of enemy shots on a nightly basis.  This season, he’s lowered his GAA to 2.52 while stopping shots at a .919 clip.  Backup Shawn Stickel has been even better in limited action, compiling a stingy 1.33 GAA and .929 save percentage.

Unfortunately, the Shockers’ defensive efforts seem to be taking a toll on their offense.  Saskatchewan has averaged 32.8 shots per game, solidly in the middle of the pack, but they’ve only scored 53 goals, third-worst total in the league.  “We’re not putting ourselves in position to get top-quality shots,” said LW Troy Chamberlain.  “We’re not getting the net-front presence we need to create chaos.  We need some more of those greasy goals that a team like Michigan is so good at.”

Saskatchewan is one point up on the Seattle Sailors, who are the Shockers’ mirror image.  The Sailors have a potent attack, having scored 75 goals already this season, led by RWs Elliott Pepper (13 goals) and Vince Mango (11).  However, their fast tempo and aggressive approach has led to a vulnerability on defense.  Seattle has given up 82 goals, the highest total in the league.  Part of the issue is their tendency to allow odd-man rushes (they’re allowing 37 shots per game).  They’re not getting much help between the pipes, either.  The Sailors have rotated between Rocky Goldmire (6-7-0, 4.12 GAA, .893 save percentage) and “Jersey Mike” Ross (3-3-1, 4.00, .883); neither has done enough to nail down the starting job.

“We need to spend a little less time on the fun stuff and a little more on the lunch-pail, building-block stuff,” said Sailors coach Harold Engellund.

One point back of the Sailors are the Dakota Jackalopes, having a bit of a surprising season under new coach Flim Dahlgren.  The Jackalopes had a good deal of success during the inter-divison round last week, winning five in a row against the East.  They’ve come back to earth this week, dropping three of their last four.  But for a team that’s widely assumed to be in a rebuilding mode, Dakota has been surprisingly competitive.  They’re getting a boost from two of the only remaining veterans on the team: C Lars Karlsson (tied for the team lead with 11 goals) and D Matt Cherner (whose 19 assists).  Karlsson and Cherner are widely assumed to be top targets at the trading deadline; if the Jackalopes remain in contention, GM Paul Mindegaard may have some difficult decisions to make.

Even the expansion Kansas City Smoke are only seven points out of second place.  To be fair, their relative success to this point has been driven largely by an unsustainble shot-conversion percentage (they’re scoring on almost 14% of their shots, by far the highest rate in the league).  That said, they’re seeing strong seasons from LW Pascal Royal (12 goals, 28 points), C Mike Rivera (13 goals), and rookie Zachary Merula (8 goals, 18 points).  “We’re definitely not expecting a playoff spot this year,” said coach Randy Bergner.  “But I’m really liking what I’m seeing out of the boys so far.”

There’s plenty of time left in the season, and things could shake out in the coming weeks.  Anchorage could take control of the race; Dakota and Kansas City could fall off the pace; Saskatchewan or Seattle could get more balanced and go on a run.  But for the time being, the race remains a muddle.  “It’s up for grabs,” said Seattle’s Mango.  “Anybody could swoop in and take this.  This is a chance to show what we’re made of.”

Shockers Set SHL Record with 11-Goal Game

There’s no denying that it’s been another long season for the Saskatchewan Shockers.  They fell out of contention from almost the beginning of the season, and they were mathematically eliminated with almost three weeks left.  They unleashed yet another disastrous promotion on their fans, this time a poorly designed kids’ activity book.  Until this week, perhaps the most notable event of Saskatchewan’s season was when one of their players accidentally set fire to the locker room.

That all changed on Friday, as the Shockers finally delivered a season highlight worth celebrating.  They may be having a season to forget, but Friday was a game to remember, as Saskatchewan set a new SHL record for goals in a game in an 11-5 thumping of the Dakota Jackalopes.

“We sure know how to deliver excitement, huh?” said Shockers coach Myron Beasley with a huge grin.  “You saw more goals in this game than you’d see in a week watching Michigan or Anchorage.  You want fun, come see us!”

C Elliott Rafferty pointed out that Saskatchewan had scored 11 despite the fact that no player managed a hat trick.  “That’s a testament to the kind of depth we have here,” the center said.  Rafferty, C Napoleon Beasley, and D Dick Bradshaw each scored two goals, while LW Troy Chamberlain, D Wyatt Barnes, RW Brad Stevens, D Ed Francis, and RW Andrew “Lucky” Fortuno got one apiece.

The game was not a blowout at the beginning; at the end of the first period, the score stood 4-3.  The Shockers peppered Dakota goalie Buzz Carson, but the Jackalopes fired 19 shots at Oliver Richardson and put three behind him.  In the second period, Saskatchewan blew it open, scoring five unanswered goals and sending Carson to the showers.

The Shockers came into the third chasing history, but it seems that no one was aware of it.  The PA announcer made no mention of it, and the fans and benches seemed equally unaware.  Eight and a half minutes into the period, Chamberlain snapped a shot past new Dakota netminder Christen Adamsson for Saskatchewan’s tenth goal, tying the SHL record, first set by Dakota against the Shockers last season.   Five minutes later, Barnes buried a rebound to set a new record.  The crowd roared its approval, but again, no mention was made of the new record.

It wasn’t until after the game, when a journalist who had looked up the record asked about it, that the Shockers discovered what they had done.  “Hey, we’re famous!” shouted Beasley when informed of the record.  “That’s really cool.  Now we’ll be able to go to the record books and point and say, ‘Hey, I was part of that.'”

“This team is more dangerous than people think,” said Rafferty, who had two assists in the game in addition to his pair of goals.  “We’ve got some real snipers here.  We’re a young team and we’re still learning, but games like this show what we’re capable of.”

Heinz Doofenshmirtz

Owner Heinz Doofenschmirtz, whose passion for his team is well-known around the league, was ecstatic with his team’s performance.  The owner reportedly came into the locker room after the game and gave each player an $1,100 bonus check in recognition of the record-setting performance.  “I believe he’s doing a few laps around the ceiling about now,” said Beasley.

For the Shockers, the game was a welcome bright spot in an unremarkable year.  For the Jackalopes, it was yet another reminder of a season gone wrong.  Small-market Dakota spent heavily in the offseason to build a team that could contend for a title.  Instead, the Jackalopes have turned in another so-so season, and ownership has signaled that they intend to cut payroll next season.

Jackalopes coach Harold Engellund, whose job is reportedly in jeopardy, responded wearily to news of Saskatchewan’s record-setting performance.  “Well, congratulations to them,” said Engellund.  “They’re a team on the rise and they deserve it.  But that’s not a record you really want to be part of, not on the other end.  If this is what we’re remembered for this year, that’s not too good.”