CHL Update: Spuds Stop Rhinos in 6 to Claim Title

The Idaho Spuds were an unlikely contender in the CHL.  Last season, playing as the Muncie Squirrels, they finished fourth in their division.  Their rebuilding parent club, the Dakota Jackalopes, called up several of the best prospects from that squad.  The Spuds received a warm reception in their new home, regularly selling out Treasure Valley Arena.  But the idea that they’d finish above .500, much less make the playoffs, seemed far-fetched to most observers.

However, coach Gilbert McCoyne wasn’t interested in what most observers thought.  “I wasn’t about to put any limits on what we could achieve,” McCoyne said.  “I just told my guys, ‘Why not us?’”

McCoyne’s power-of-positive-thinking approach paid dividends.  Idaho not only made the playoffs, they dismissed the heavily-favored division-winning Omaha Ashcats in a stunning sweep.  Then in the Finals, they dethroned the defending champion Virginia Rhinos in six games to win their first-ever Howard Trophy.

“This season has been one wild ride!” said Spuds C Dale Wilcox.  “We never gave up and never stopped believing, and now we’re the champs!”

The series opened in Boise in front of another pair of sellout crowds, and the Spuds gave their fans plenty to cheer about.  In Game 1, fueled by the energy of their fans, a fired-up Idaho team outshot the Rhinos 32-20.  The Spuds capitalized on their power play opportunities, going 3-for-4 in man-advantage situations, and goalie Kelvin White registered a shutout in a 3-0 Idaho win.  In Game 2, the Spuds once again had a huge advantage in shots, outshooting Virginia 43-23, but White wasn’t quite as sharp.  Idaho squandered a 4-2 lead in the third period when Rhinos LW Yuri Laronov and LW Errol Garner scored 90 seconds apart, but RW Britt Cadmium came through with what proved to be the game-winning goal in a 5-4 triumph.

The Rhinos regained their footing a bit in the middle three games, which took place on their ice.  In Game 3, Virginia got a pair of second-period goals from Laronov and D Gustaf Bergstrom, and goalie Quentin Chislic stopped all 30 Idaho shots for a 2-0 win.  In Game 4, Virginia got the early edge, only to see Idaho seize control of the game in the second on the way to a 6-2 blowout that included three third-period goals.  Staring at elimination, the Rhinos pushed back in Game 5, building a 3-0 lead through the first forty minutes.  The Spuds pushed back in the third, putting up another three-goal frame, but Virginia held on for a 5-3 win.  C Trent Harlow scored two goals in a winning effort for the defending champs.

With the action shifting back to Treasure Valley Arena for Game 6, the Spuds were looking for the quick kill, while the Rhinos were looking to prove that they could be competitive away from home.  Idaho controlled the play once again, outshooting Virginia 38-26, but Chislic kept the Rhinos in the game.  LW Van Dyke Browning scored in the opening minute to give Idaho a quick edge, but Rhinos D Gunther Stephens answered less than four minutes later to tie things up.  The Spuds got back in front in the second on a score by D Brett Stolte, and D Georg Ochre made it 3-1 early in the third with a blast from the top of the faceoff circle.  Idaho then endangered their lead with a string of minor penalties, and Bergstrom finally converted with just over five minutes remaining to pull Virginia within one.  The Spuds managed to stay out of the penalty box after that, though, and the Rhinos couldn’t come up with an equalizer in the time remaining.

Ochre, who led all Idaho scorers with 7 points (3 goals, 4 assists), earned the Finals MVP honors.  His teammates mobbed the quiet, rugged defenseman they fondly call “The Ogre.”  As Wilcox quipped, “I can’t wait to hear the Ogre’s acceptance speech, ‘cause it’ll be the first time he’s said more than two words in a row.”

For many of the Spuds, their next challenge will come in the SHL, as they’re called up and tasked with reviving the Jackalopes’ sagging fortunes.  “Making it in the SHL is a different kind of challenge,” admitted Wilcox.  “But we’ve gotten this far by believing in ourselves, so why not keep going?”

CHL Update: Rhinos to Defend Title Against Spuds

This year’s CHL finals present an interesting contrast.  One team has been in the finals every year of the league’s existence, and is bidding for back-to-back titles after surviving a back-and-forth first-round series that went the distance.  The other club is in its first year in a new city, and is trying to go all the way in its first-ever postseason appearance, coming off of a surprising sweep of the league’s best regular-season team.

In the East, the Virginia Rhinos are getting to be old hands at the postseason; this is their third straight trip.  Despite losing a number of key contributors from last season’s title-winning squad, the Rhinos managed to eke out the top seed in a closely-packed division.  But Virginia wasn’t the least bit embarrassed or deterred by their narrow playoff qualification; they remain fixated on the ultimate goal.  “We’re all focused on the repeat,” said RW Chris Quake.  “No one in here doubts that we can pull it off.”

In the division playoff, they faced the Cleveland Centurions, who sported the league’s best regular-season defense.  The Rhinos hunkered down for what they knew would be a tense, hard-fought battle.  Game 1 was a chippy affair with a slew of penalties, a couple of fights, and not a lot of offense (28 shots between both teams).  Virginia got goals from Quake and LW Jayden Gunn, while goalie Quentin Chislic stopped all 16 Cleveland shots for a 2-0 shutout.  In Game 2, the Rhinos rallied from behind with a pair of third-period tallies just 29 seconds apart from C Marvin Cascio and LW Yuri Laronov, turning a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 victory.  The action shifted to the shores of Lake Erie for Games 3 and 4, and the Centurions battled back.  In Game 3, Rhinos C Trent Harlow notched a third-period goal to erase another deficit and force overtime, but Cleveland C Phoenix Cage scored 36 seconds into the extra session to stave off elimination with a 2-1 win.  In Game 4, Centurions netminder Eugene Looney came up big, stopping all 27 shots in a 3-0 triumph to force a fifth game back in Virginia Beach.  But in the deciding game, it was Chislic’s turn for another shutout (24 saves) as D Roscoe “Ruckus” Corbetta netted two to lead the 3-0 series-clinching victory.

“That was a tough series, for sure,” said Corbetta.  “But it got us tuned up, and we’re firing on all cylinders now and playing our best hockey.”

Virginia’s Finals opponent will be the Idaho Spuds, who played to sellout crowds after moving from Muncie in the offseason.  The Spuds came into the postseason with the CHL’s top-ranked offense (3.6 goals per game), but they had a lackluster performance in the last few weeks of the regular season, and they were largely written off in their first-round series against the heavily favored Omaha Ashcats.

But the boys in russet brown not only beat the Ashcats, they did so in a stunning three-game sweep.  In Game 1, they buried Omaha in an avalanche of shots (45 vs. the Ashcats’ 22) and scored three goals (from LW Rick Crisak, D Victor Addison, and LW Terry Cresson) before the game was 3 minutes old, on the way to a 4-2 win.  For Game 2, Ashcats coach Butch Slazenger switched goalies from Bill Bates to Jim Fleetwood.  Fleetwood did a better job, stopping 28 of 30 shots, but Spuds LW Van Dyke Browning scored three minutes into overtime for a 2-1 win.  In order for Omaha to rally in the series, they’d have to win twice on enemy ice.  Slazenger raised a number of eyebrows by going back to Bates for Game 3, a decision that looked foolish when Idaho went up 2-0 by the first minute of the second period.  The Ashcats rallied back to tie thanks to tallies from blueliners Trevor Lockwood and Lowell Sharkey.  With just over three minutes left in regulation, however, Spuds C Jacob Cunniff scored a power-play goal that would prove to be the difference in a 3-2 contest.  Treasure Valley Arena – sold out as usual – exploded in cheers as the players formed a celebratory circle in front of their net.

“We’re probably going to be the underdogs again in the final, since [the Rhinos are] the defending champs,” said Idaho coach Gilbert McCoyne.  “But we like that underdog role.  If anyone’s thinking of sleeping on us, they’d better think again, because we’re ready to shock the world.”

2019 CHL All-Star Rosters

The day after the SHL’s All-Star Game, their minor league will be holding its second annual All-Star contest.  The game will take place at Wasatch Arena, home of the Utah Owls. The rosters for the game, along with each player’s current stats, are below.

WEST ALL-STARS

Coach: Patrick Chillingham (Minnesota)

 

First Line

LW: Veikko Sikanen, Omaha (16 G, 19 A, 35 Pts, 42 PIM, +16)

D: Rodney Black, Idaho (19 G, 10 A, 29 Pts, 10 PIM, +6)

C: Dale Wilcox, Idaho (13 G, 25 A, 38 Pts, 16 PIM, +16)

D: Brady Prussian, Idaho (15 G, 13 A, 28 Pts, 16 PIM, +6)

RW: Adriaen van der Veen, Omaha (16 G, 23 A, 39 Pts, 6 PIM, +16)

 

Second Line

LW: Terry Cresson, Idaho (11 G, 22 A, 33 Pts, 16 PIM, +16)

D: Laszlo Cierny, Minnesota (6 G, 19 A, 25 Pts, 46 PIM, +2)

C: Foster Culp, Colorado Springs (16 G, 16 A, 32 Pts, 12 PIM, Even)

D: Lowell Sharkey, Omaha (4 G, 19 A, 23 Pts, 12 PIM, +8)

RW: Harris Wondolowski, Utah (15 G, 24 A, 39 Pts, 18 PIM, +2)

 

Third Line

LW: Gabriel Swindonburg, Milwaukee (19 G, 10 A, 29 Pts, 34 PIM, -4)

D: Trevor Lockwood, Omaha (12G, 14 A, 26 Pts, 29 PIM, +11)

C: Lloyd “Goofy” Banjax, Utah (13 G, 19 A, 32 Pts, 10 PIM, -6)

D: Craig Werner, Utah (7 G, 17 A, 24 Pts, 12 PIM, +2)

RW: Joel Hagendosh, Colorado Springs (13 G, 20 A, 33 Pts, 63 PIM, -13)

 

Goalies

Hobie Sanford, Milwaukee (7-8-3, 2.02 GAA, .931 save %)

Curt Freeze, Minnesota (12-8-1, 2.07 GAA, .924 save %)

 

EAST ALL-STARS

Coach: Jeffrey “Swampy” Marsh (Virginia)

 

First Line

LW: Alan Youngman, Baltimore (18 G, 22 A, 40 Pts, 22 PIM, +17)

D: Ambroz Melicar, Baltimore (11 G, 25 A, 36 Pts, 10 PIM, +2)

C: Tucker Barnhill, Baltimore (17 G, 30 A, 47 Pts, 24 PIM, +17)

D: Elvis Bodett, Oshawa (14 G, 8 A, 22 Pts, 19 PIM, +12)

RW: Steve Brandon, Cleveland (19 G, 12 A, 31 Pts, 24 PIM, +2)

 

Second Line

LW: Yuri Laronov, Virginia (16 G, 15 A, 31 Pts, 16 PIM, -5)

D: Teddy Morrison, Maine (8 G, 13 A, 21 Pts, 14 PIM, Even)

C: Hilliard Macy, Oshawa (15 G, 18 A, 33 Pts, 12 PIM, +15)

D: Casimir Druzek, Virginia (2 G, 20 A, 22 Pts, 27 PIM, -4)

RW: Sidney Archer, Baltimore (15 G, 16 A, 31 Pts, 2 PIM, +17)

 

Third Line

LW: Marty “Fish” Pescatelli, Hartford (12 G, 16 A, 28 Pts, 39 PIM, -9)

D: Roscoe “Ruckus” Corbetta, Virginia (6 G, 12 A, 18 Pts, 70 PIM, -5)

C: Tanner Brooks, Virginia (19 G, 12 A, 31 Pts, 10 PIM, -5)

D: Burton Cullidge, Cleveland (1 G, 15 A, 15 Pts, 42 PIM, -4)

RW: Felix Delorme, Hartford (15 G, 13 A, 28 Pts, 14 PIM, -9)

 

Goalies

Eugene Looney, Cleveland (8-7-0, 1.79 GAA, .925 save %)

Jonathan Crane, Maine (9-9-2, 2.06 GAA, .917 save %)

CHL Update: Rhinos, Freeze Advance to Finals

The first round of the CHL playoffs mirrored the first round of the SHL playoffs in a number of ways.  One series ended in a sweep, with the victor headed to the finals for the second straight season, trying to avenge last year’s shocking loss.  The other series went the distance, with both teams holding serve on home ice; the winner is making their first-ever trip to the championship round.

In the East, the Virginia Rhinos felt as though they should have won the title last season, even though they were upended by Utah in 5 games in last season’s final.  “I think we all had the belief that the better team lost last time,” said C Cyril Perignon.  “We are on a mission of revenge.”

The Rhinos played with purpose and passion in the division playoff, dispatching the Oshawa Drive in three straight.  Despite the fact that Virginia thrived on scoring this season, they relied on stout defense to succeed in this playoff; they shut out the Drive in each of the first two games. They won Game 1 by a 4-0 margin, with C Tanner Brooks getting a short-handed goal to open the scoring and LW Yuri Laronov recording a power-play tally to end it.  The Rhinos eked out a 1-0 victory in Game 2, with RW “Real” Hank Diehl scoring the lone goal on a deflection early in the second period.  Goalie Gus Parrish was at the top of his game, turning aside 22 shots in the first game and 19 shots in the second.  In Game 3, with the series moving north of the border, Virginia opened up a 3-0 lead before D Ingolf Gudmundsen finally recorded the Drive’s first goal of the series late in the second period.  Oshawa LW Norris “Beaver” Young struck on the power play two minutes into the third period to close the gap to one, but they couldn’t muster the tying tally as the Rhinos completed the clean sweep.

“Everyone in this locker room is focused on one thing: winning the Howard Trophy,” said Rhinos coach Jeffrey “Swampy” Marsh.  “If we have to go over, under, around, or through our opponents to make it happen, that’s what we’re going to do.  We’re like Andy Dufresne in ‘Shawshank Redemption,’ climbing through that sewer pipe on our way to freedom.”

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Freeze had a bumpier road than the Rhinos did, as the Colorado Springs Zoomies pushed the series to the limit.  But like their parent club, the Anchorage Igloos, the Freeze survived and will advance to the Finals.

Game 1 was a back-and-forth affair, with the Freeze and Zoomies trading goals, and it ultimately went into overtime.  D Julian Staples ultimately nailed the game-winner six minutes into the extra session to give Minnesota a 4-3 win.  Game 2 was another close contest; Zoomies RW Joel Hagendosh got a short-handed goal midway through the third, and the game wound up in overtime once again.  One extra period wasn’t enough this time, but C Mason Alpine ended it a minute into the second OT with a slapper from the point that lifted Minnesota to a 3-2 victory.  Back home for Game 3, Colorado Springs kicked their offense into high-gear, rallying from a two-goal deficit to snatch a 6-4 win that staved off elimination.  In Game 4, the Zoomies made the most of the man advantage, scoring all three of their goals on the power play.  Even though the Freeze outshot them 39-23, Colorado Springs goalie Sonny Kashiuk stood on his head, making 38 saves in a 3-1 win.  In the winner-take-all Game 5, Minnesota again dominated on offense, outshooting the Zoomies 35-17.  But even though the Freeze scored four goals in a wide-open second period, the Zoomies hung tough, ultimately coming up short by a 5-4 score.

The Igloos sent their minor-league club a congratulatory video, with Anchorage players calling on their minor-league counterparts to help the organization capture both championship.  “We’re going to prove that we’re the best team right now,” said Igloos C Jake Frost.  “We’re hoping you guys can go out and prove that we’re going to win the future too.”

Although Minnesota finished the regular season 11 points ahead of Virginia, most observers expect a closely-fought battle in the Finals.  The Rhinos will be looking to win the title they felt they were robbed of last year, while the Freeze will be looking to make their parent club proud.  The series begins Sunday at Northwoods Auditorium in Duluth.

2018 CHL All-Star Rosters

This year, the SHL’s minor league will also be holding an All-Star Game.  The game will take place at Waterfront Center, home of the Virginia Rhinos. The rosters for the game, along with each player’s current stats, are below.

EAST ALL-STARS

Coach: Jeffrey “Swampy” Marsh (Virginia)

 

First Line

LW: Norris “Beaver” Young, Oshawa (15 G, 27 A, 42 Pts, 10 PIM, +19)

D: Gary Hermine,  Oshawa (11 G, 28 A, 39 Pts, 16 PIM, +20)

C: Pat “Stoner” Collistone, Oshawa (17 G, 26 A, 43 Pts, 8 PIM, +19)

D: Rennie Cox, Virginia (15 G, 20 A, 35 Pts, 4 PIM, +7)

RW: Anders Pedersen, Oshawa (12 G, 25 A, 37 Pts, 23 PIM, +19)

 

Second Line

LW: Yuri Laronov, Virginia (17 G, 19 A, 36 Pts, 16 PIM, -2)

D: Blake Blacklett, Virginia (14 G, 19 A, 33 Pts, 26 PIM, +7)

C: Cyril Perignon, Virginia (17 G, 24 A, 41 Pts, 0 PIM, +2)

D: Ambroz Melicar, Baltimore (12 G, 21 A, 33 Pts, 8 PIM, +3)

RW: Chris Quake, Virginia (6 G, 24 A, 30 Pts, 20 PIM, -2)

 

Third Line

LW: Rex Batten, Baltimore (11 G, 21 A, 32 Pts, 31 PIM, Even)

D: Kirby Hanlon, Maine (6 G, 12 A, 18 Pts, 20 PIM, +1)

C: Phoenix Cage, Cleveland (7 G, 17 A, 24 Pts, 6 PIM, -9)

D: Hampus Olsson, Maine (6 G, 8 A, 14 Pts, 6 PIM, +1)

RW: Felix Delorme, Hartford (11 G, 12 A, 23 Pts, 6 PIM, -12)

 

Goalies

Jonathan Crane, Maine (10-8-3, 2.06 GAA, .917 save %)

Hector Orinoco, Oshawa (15-6-0, 2.75 GAA, .896 save %)

 

WEST ALL-STARS

Coach: Wiley Kiyotie (Utah)

 

First Line

LW: Diego Garcia, Utah (8 G, 23 A, 31 Pts, 10 PIM, -1)

D: Steve Cargill, Milwaukee (7 G, 23 A, 30 Pts, 48 PIM, +8)

C: Dale Wilcox, Colorado Springs (12 G, 19 A, 31 Pts, 29 PIM, +13)

D: Georg Ochre, Muncie (5 G, 21 A, 26 Pts, 49 PIM, +12)

RW: Philippe Durien, Colorado Springs (24 G, 22 A, 46 Pts, 22 PIM, +13)

 

Second Line

LW: Veikko Sikanen, Omaha (15 G, 15 A, 30 Pts, 23 PIM, +5)

D: Brian Coldivar, Minnesota (12 G, 14 A, 26 Pts, 18 PIM, +6)

C: Tanner Everest, Minnesota (7 G, 24 A, 31 Pts, 18 PIM, +7)

D: Rudolf Kerasov, Minnesota (8 G, 17 A, 25 Pts, 22 PIM, +6)

RW: James Clay, Milwaukee (8 G, 22 A, 30 Pts, 16 PIM, +3)

 

Third Line

LW: Jean Pierre Fleury, Minnesota (14 G, 11 A, 25 Pts, 14 PIM, +8)

D: Trevor Lockwood, Omaha (7G, 17 A, 24 Pts, 53 PIM, -1)

C: Vance KettermanMilwaukee (11 G, 15 A, 26 Pts, 12 PIM, +3)

D: Duncan DeShantz, Colorado Springs (4 G, 18 A, 22 Pts, 45 PIM, +17)

RW: Mark Winters, Minnesota (7 G, 20 A, 27 Pts, 24 PIM, +7)

 

Goalies

Sonny Kashiuk, Colorado Springs (20-3-1, 1.57 GAA, .943 save %)

Kelvin White, Muncie (12-10-0, 1.85 GAA, .937 save %)

CHL Update: Virginia’s Rhinos Rolling

So far in the SHL’s minor league, the competitors have been pretty well matched.  Most of the teams are within a game or two of the .500 mark.  There are a couple of exceptions, however.  In particular, there’s one team that stands head and shoulders above the rest: the Virginia Rhinos.  The affiliate of the Saskatchewan Shockers is threatening to run away with the league.

The Rhinos’ record is an astounding 18-6-1.  They are 7 points ahead of the next-best team in the league; in the East, they’re 9 points up on the second-place Maine Moose.  “This must have been what it was like to race against Secretariat,” said Moose coach Barney Flintridge.  “Right now, all we can see are the taillights.”

Shawn Stickel

What’s been the secret to the Rhinos’ success?  It starts with a turnaround season in net.  Last year, Shawn Stickel was a newly-drafted goalie backing up Zeke Zagurski in Saskatchewan.  Stickel’s rookie season was a disaster, going 1-12-0 with a 5.29 GAA.  His most notable exploit was getting arrested after getting liquored up on a cross-country flight and joyriding a baggage cart.  “I was on my own for the first time,” Stickel admitted, “so I was acting young and dumb.”

At risk of throwing away his career, Stickel devoted the offseason to getting himself back on track.  He went to an alcohol treatment program and swore off drinking.  He also spent countless hours refining his craft, studying tape to identify the flaws in his game and working with coaches and ex-teammates to correct them.  The results have been evident: this season, Stickel has gone 14-4-1 with a 2.20 GAA and a .927 save percentage.

“Honestly, I’m glad I wound up in the minors,” said Stickel.  “When you’re a backup in the pros, especially as a young guy, it’s hard to stay sharp and improve.  And you wind up with a lot of time on your hands, which I filled with drinking and goofing around.  Here, knowing my team’s counting on me almost every day, it’s easy to keep that mental edge.  And it’s given me an opportunity to practice the things I worked on over the summer, and continue to get better.”

Stickel’s solid goaltending seals up the defensive end for the Rhinos.  On the offensive end, they benefit from a potent and varied offense.  Their top line features two of the CHL’s top scorers, LW Yuri Laronov (11 goals, 28 points) and RW Colton Jabril (12 goals, 29 points), flanking one of the best passers, C Tanner Brooks (24 assists).  Coach Jeffrey “Swampy” Marsh likes to activate his defensemen on the attack, and the results have been evident.  Blake Blacklett is the CHL’s premier offensive defenseman (12 goals, 26 points), and Virginia has a couple other strong two-way threats in Robby Rohrman (9 goals, 21 points) and Rennie Cox (8 goals, 19 points).

“I’m seeing a lot of guys here who are SHL-caliber already, to be honest,” said Marsh.  “I don’t know if there’s going to be room in Saskatchewan next year for all the guys who deserve to be there.”

To be sure, the season’s not yet at the halfway point, and the Rhinos could easily cool off between now and the end of the year.  But right now, it’s easy to look at the talent on the ice in Virginia every night and imagine them powering a future contender in Saskatchewan.  “All the guys we have are happy to be here,” said Marsh, “but I know none of them really wants to be here.  They want to be in the majors.  And it’s my job to help them get there.  I can’t wait to see how their careers unfold.”