I know it seems like the FHL season just started, but we’re already 20 percent of the way through the schedule after this past weekend’s games, and this slate of games was interesting for a lot of reasons.
The Carolina Thunderbirds debuted the pre-game shootout idea, with it actually taking effect in Saturday night’s game, every game this weekend featured at least one team scoring four goals so fans were treated to plenty of action, and the expansion Elmira Enforcers started their climb towards the top of the standings with a convincing sweep of Danville, who had been the strongest team on home ice this year.
Three Stars of the Week
THIRD STAR: Fans in Carolina have their say on the pre-game shootout
This weekend was the debut of the much-controversial pre-game shootout rule, with the Thunderbirds holding the shootout before the game actually started, and whether it was needed or not. It wasn’t needed Friday night as the ‘Birds rolled to a 4-0 win over Port Huron, but it came into play on Saturday. The Prowlers won Saturday’s pre-game shootout 1-0, then the two teams played a 4-4 thriller that went to overtime. From what we’ve heard the overtime session was a combination of excitement, stalling by Port Huron, a pulled goalie by Carolina even though the game was “technically” still tied, and disappointed fans.
After the overtime session ended without a goal, that was it and Port Huron took home the win by virtue of a goal that happened when more than 50 percent of the fans that attended the game weren’t even in their seats.
Fans took to Facebook after the game and in my rough estimation, it was probably 90-10 with fans NOT in favor of continuing the pre-game shootout.
We kind of expected this result from the fans, because truthfully the idea never really made sense, but give credit to Scott Brand and Co. for trying something different. Every national hockey outlet picked up the story (after we posted about it /sips tea/) and put the Thunderbirds in the spotlight for the week. Now, we’ll see if they keep it going, but it seems the fans have spoken, and they would prefer if the shootout happened after the overtime period.
SECOND STAR: Holy goals, Batman!
If you like lots of scoring, this weekend was for you in the FHL, while Friday’s games were all blowouts, the winning teams scored four, six, and seven goals in their wins, while on Saturday the three games combined for a whopping 29 goals, not counting the one Port Huron gets for winning the shootout Saturday.
The real thriller of the weekend was in Mentor where the Watertown Wolves erupted for four third-period goals to earn an 8-5 win over the Breakers and a split on the weekend. This was a night after Mentor put up seven, including what might be the best individual goal-scoring effort of the year by Hunter Drake, who tallied four goals in that Friday shutout.
But it wasn’t just Drake who had a big night, on Friday, Jan Salak netted a hat trick for Carolina, and on Saturday Watertown’s Brandon Wahlin (who was also named FHL Player of the Month last night), had a hat trick and two assists to pull within two points of the FHL scoring lead.
There have been a lot of SPHL call-ups recently involving goalies, so maybe that had something to do with this weekend’s outburst, but nobody has ever been upset about too many goals…unless it was your team giving them up.
FIRST STAR: Elmira crushes Danville…on the road!
While all eyes were on Carolina and Port Huron to see how the pre-game shootout went, the expansion Elmira Enforcers quietly traveled to Danville to take on the league’s best home-ice team. And in the ultimate “can’t predict hockey” weekend, the Enforcers dominated Danville on both nights, posting 6-1 and 6-2 wins.
Suddenly, the Enforcers are the hottest team in the FHL and have a 3-game win-streak that has them up to 17 points on the year, but more importantly, within six points of third-place Danville.
Like their expansion brothers in Mentor, the Enforcers started the year slow, dropping their first four games in convincing fashion, but since then have gone 5-0-2-2 (W-OTW-L-OTL), including road sweeps at Port Huron, and now Danville.
They’ve also started to find their stride on offense and are up to 49 goals, third in the league, and seem to have found steady goaltending with the duo of Troy Passingham and Ryan Mulder.
The Enforcers will get a tough test this weekend when first-place Carolina visits First Arena on Friday, then plays host for an expansion vs. expansion game Saturday against Mentor.
More Teams Should Try Things Like Carolina Did
Regardless of if you thought the pre-game shootout rule was great or terrible, it did bring the Thunderbirds attention, and attempted to make overtime more exciting.
Shawn previously touched on this, but I think the FHL and its teams should go all in on experimental rules, and maybe each team gets to try one for a weekend, or maybe even the whole year.
Now, the challenge is finding and creating rules that don’t make a complete mockery of the rules or something that doesn’t give one team a decided advantage, so it can’t be something like, Elmira plays with soccer-sized nets, or Watertown gets to play with an extra player on Sunday’s, or anything so absurd that fans would riot over.
So maybe Danville plays its home games with the teams making the long change in the 1st and 3rd periods instead of just the 2nd to see if that makes for higher scoring games. Or maybe Port Huron has a rule where the player serves the full two-minute penalty regardless of if the team scores on the power play. Or in Mentor you can’t just dump the puck the length of the ice on the penalty kill and have to send it in like you do when you’re at even strength.
If the FHL wants to stand out, try different rules and then bring the results of them to higher leagues as concrete proof that playing two periods with the long change increases goal scoring, and who knows, maybe the NHL or other leagues will give you a little credit and attention.
Ryan Marker, Danville – 28
Brandon Wahlin, Watertown – 26
Tyler Gjurich, Watertown – 23
Gavin Yates, Watertown – 22
Matt Graham, Port Huron – 17
Tyler Gjurich, Watertown – 14
Ryan Marker, Danville – 13
Gavin Yates, Watertown – 12
Stephen Gaul, Danville – 9
Two tied with 8
Brandon Wahlin, Watertown – 20
Matt Graham, Port Huron – 15
Ryan Marker, Danville – 15
Christian Whitcomb, Watertown – 13
Dustin Henning, Danville – 12
Cody Karpinski, Watertown – 5
Henry Dill, Carolina – 5
Aaron Taylor, Danville – 4
Derek Moser, Mentor – 4
Matt Kaludis, Danville – 4
GAA (NOTE: Goalies must play 45% of games to qualify under FHL rules)
Henry Dill, Carolina – 1.85
Matt Kaludis, Danville – 2.65
Derek Moser, Mentor – 3.15
Cory Simons, Port Huron – 3.18
Aaron Taylor, Danville – 3.44
Save % (Note: Goalies must play 45% of games to qualify under FHL rules)
Matt Kaludis, Danville – .940
Henry Dill, Carolina – .924
Aaron Taylor, Danville – .921
Derek Moser, Mentor – .917
Cory Simons, Port Huron – .915
This Week’s Schedule
Friday, December 7
- Carolina at Elmira, 7:05pm
- Mentor at Watertown, 7:30pm
- Port Huron at Danville, 7:05pm (CST)
Saturday, December 8
- Mentor at Elmira, 7:05pm
- Carolina at Watertown, 7:30pm
- Port Huron at Danville, 7:05pm (CST)
This is the benefit of having teams nearby, as you see Carolina and Mentor swap opponents on Friday and Saturday. If the FHL can find a travel partner for each team going forward, maybe Battle Creek for Port Huron, or Asheville for Carolina, then you can have a cool weekend like this where Watertown and Elmira get a pair of home games, but it’s a different team each night rather than a series. It just helps break out the monotony of having one team in town all weekend for every home weekend on the season.