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.

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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.”