CHL Update: Squirrels Owner Forfeits Team

The Continental Hockey League was thrown into turmoil this week, as the owner of the Muncie Squirrels abruptly announced that he was abandoning his franchise due to mounting debts and poor attendance.  With a month left in the regular season, the announcement led to league-wide concerns about the fate of the Squirrels and their players.  The league quelled the fears by week’s end, though, ensuring that Muncie would finish out the season.

On Wednesday, Squirrels owner Kenny Cheswell held an impromptu press conference at which he announced that he was “waving the white flag.  I’m tapped out, friends.  I’m taking a bath on my car dealerships, and I’m taking a bath on this hockey team.  I ain’t in the charity business, and neither are the banks that hold my paper.  Something’s gotta give, and it’s gonna be the team.”

The timing of the announcement was a surprise, as was the fact that Cheswell had apparently not informed anyone on the team about his plans.  But it wasn’t a shock that the Squirrels are in rough shape financially.  Muncie finished second-to-last in CHL attendance last year; the team that finished behind them, the Albuquerque Screaming Eagles, moved to Colorado Springs in the offseason.  This year, the Squirrels’ attendance has fallen further, dipping below 2,000 per game on average.  The team’s most popular promotions have been themed around TV painter Bob Ross, who recorded his shows in Muncie, but the allure of those promos has diminished over time.  Given that the team is not likely to make the playoffs, which might provide an additional windfall, Cheswell decided to get out now rather than wait for the season’s end.

Although the players (who are being paid by their parent organization, the Dakota Jackalopes) have been receiving their paychecks, team coaches and staffers reportedly have been getting paid late or not at all in recent months.  “I’m not going to say that you can hear the checks bouncing in the hallways,” joked coach Ross Roberts, “but it’s definitely been an anxious time around here.  Just ask my landlord.”

At the time Cheswell made his announcement, the Squirrels were in Milwaukee getting ready for that night’s game against the Hogs.  “We weren’t sure what was going on,” said Squirrels D Zander Phthalo.  “We were sitting in the hotel, eating beef jerky and Cheez-Its, trying to figure it out.  We didn’t know if we were going to play the next night, or if they’d pay to fly us home, or what.”

After some frantic phone calls between Roberts, the Squirrels front office, and the league headquarters, the team went ahead and played on Wednesday night, battling to a 2-2 draw with Milwaukee.  “We weren’t sure if we would get paid, or if we were even really still a team,” said Phthalo.  “But the league told us to keep going, so we did.”

By Thursday, the league officially stepped in, announcing that the Squirrels would remain in business under league control until the end of the season.  In the meantime, the league will seek a buyer to take over the team going forward.  “Obviously, this is not something we envisioned happening,” said CHL Commissioner Denny McNerny.  “But once it did, we knew we had to take action.  We had to protect the integrity of our league, and the future of these young players.  So we’ll make sure they get to finish out the year.”

The Squirrels were delighted and relieved with the late-week stay of execution.  “I really wasn’t sure where this was going to wind up,” said Roberts.  “I didn’t think they’d just send us home, but I also didn’t think our owner would quit in midseason.  I didn’t even know you could do that.”

The league is taking steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.  McNerny said that going forward, he would ask team owners to put up performance bonds to guard against this sort of situation.  In addition, the league plans to perform a more vigorous financial vetting of prospective owners.  “We all need to understand that this can’t happen,” said the commissioner.  “If you’re going to buy in, you need to make the commitment to play the whole season, come what may.”

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CHL Update: Meloche Fights His Way to Spotlight

The SHL’s new minor league, the Continental Hockey League, has completed its first week of play.  So far, there aren’t any dominant teams, top-flight goal scorers, or dominant netminders.  In general, the league’s leaders have yet to emerge… except one.

Cedric Meloche

When it comes to penalty minutes, there’s an undisputed leader: Albuquerque Screaming Eagles defenseman Cedric Meloche.  In his first five games, Meloche has already racked up 26 penalty minutes, twice as many as his nearest competitor.  He has earned that lofty total largely through his fists, as he has already gotten into four fights.

“I like to fight,” Meloche admitted cheerfully.

The 20-year-old attributes his professional success to his pugilistic abilities.  “When i we were young, we all wanted to be hockey players,” said Meloche.  “But I was a little guy and could not skate too fast or shoot too good, so I had to fight.  I learned to fight good, so I moved up.”

It took all of 42 seconds for Meloche to get into his first professional bout against the Minnesota Freeze.  When Freeze D “Chilly Willy” Calligan gave Eagles C Vance Ketterman a hard check into his own bench, Meloche took exception and clocked Calligan in the chest, touching off a donnybrook.  Late in the third period, it was Calligan’s turn to take umbrage after Meloche enthusiastically fouled a couple Minnesota players, and the two wound up throwing hands again.

On Saturday, Meloche against fought twice in the Eagles’ game against the Muncie Squirrels.  In the first period, Squirrels C Britt Cadmium leveled Eagles RW Ashton Starhawk with a vicious hit that was not penalized.  Meloche responded by hauling Cadmium down from behind.  Surprised and irked, Cadmium bounced up and stared Meloche down yelling, “You wanna go, little man?”  Meloche replied, “Yes, I wish to go!”  They proceeded to drop gloves and trade blows, with Meloche bloodying Cadmium’s nose before they could be separated.

Two periods later, Meloche and Muncie D Zander Phthalo began jostling vigorously during a faceoff.  The jostling escalated to shoving and then to punching, and Meloche wrestled Phthalo to the ground before they were separated by the referees.

After Saturday’s slugfest, league officials threatened to suspend Meloche if he continued racking up fighting majors at this rate.  Eagles coach Butch Slazenger, recognizing Meloche’s value to the team, also counseled his blueliner to rein it in.  “I love Cedric Meloche,” said Slazenger.  “He’s my favorite player.  And all the guys love that he has their back.  But he’s not just a goon.  He’s strong on both ends, and we can’t afford to have him suspended.  So I told him to pump the brakes a bit.  Try not to get into multiple fights in a game, watch out for instigator penalties, stuff like that.  Don’t give them an excuse to suspend you, because we need you.”

Meloche said he will try to heed his coach’s advice.  “I always play the way I play,” said Meloche, “so I will stand up for my team and fight.  But I know it is bad if they throw me out, so I will maybe not fight so much.  I want to do the best thing for my team.”