The Central Hockey League indirectly and unintentionally made the headlines at the sport’s highest level earlier this month.
After Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke collided with Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson, ending Karlsson’s season due to a lacerated Achilles tendon, Ottawa owner Eugene Melnyk blasted Cooke in a rant that included a slam of the CHL.
According to the Ottawa Sun, Melnyk said, “…(Cooke) doesn’t belong in the (NHL). He belongs somewhere where the goons play. Get him in the Central League. He can be a $60,000-a-year guy playing pickup hockey there.”
The most alarming part of the quote, at least according to some Thunder personnel, was the idea that CHL players’ salaries register in the mid-five figures. In fact, it is often much less.
“What’s there to say,” Thunder enforcer Aaron Boogaard said. “There’s nothing to say. I wish we were all making about 60 grand like he said.”
The actual most inflammatory words from Melnyk related to his assessment that the CHL is heavily populated by players who make rosters simply for their ability to fight.
While that element does exist in the CHL, it’s not as prevalent as Melnyk implied.
The CHL may feature more tough guys than a typical minor league — Wichita had two enforcers, Boogaard and Erick Lizon, at the beginning of the season — it’s also filled with skill players looking to get noticed by the Triple-A American Hockey League or the NHL.
“I don’t know even if (Melnyk) saw a game in the Central Hockey League,” McClelland said. “That’s the reputation the Central Hockey League had a long time ago. It’s a pretty good brand of hockey and I think a lot of people just haven’t kept in touch with it.”
McClelland would probably be one of the first to recognize if a player was taking liberties that crossed the line physically. He walked that line consistently over 588 games in the NHL, mostly as the enforcer charged to protect Wayne Gretzky with the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s.
McClleland had four straight seasons of 200 or more penalty minutes but contributed in other ways. Between 1983 and 1989, he averaged better than 25 points in helping Edmonton to four Stanley Cups.
Though there are CHL players who do little but fight, McClelland doesn’t want them.
“That’s gone wayward,” McClelland said. “You look at the guys on our team who are physical players, Boogaard and Lizon — Boogaard has been in the AHL and Lizon is doing well up there right now. These are guys who are part of a team but they can go out and take regular shifts.”
• The CHL race for home-ice advantage in the playoffs is becoming more congested by the day. The latest team whose hot streak has it threatening for a high seed is Rapid City, which has won four in a row. The Rush moved into fourth place, one point ahead of Missouri.
• Allen became the first team to reach 70 points and the Americans created distance between its closest pursuers with wins over Fort Worth and Wichita last weekend. Allen is three points ahead of Fort Worth and four ahead of the Thunder.
Six Wichita players — Matt Summers, RG Flath, Neil Trimm, Greger Hanson, Chad Painchaud and Matt Robinson — are averaging more than a point per game on the road.
Goalie Torrie Jung continues to be out after being hit in the throat by a shot last week. McClelland wouldn’t disclose Jung’s status, and the team signed Dan Dunn to replace him. Jung had been starting in place of Kevin Regan, who is also injured. Grant Rollheiser, a rookie from Boston University, is the temporary starter.
Tap of the stick
Painchaud has had a balanced month. The Thunder forward has led the team in scoring in February with 17 points while contributing 14 penalty minutes and six points on the power play.
The Thunder is hosting Bring Back Joyland night on Sunday, joining forces with the Joyland Restoration Project to raise funds in an effort to revive the southside amusement park.
Wichita’s wins at home, a total that leads the CHL.
He said it
“What a carousel we’ve got at goaltender right now. It’s always a tough spot when you lose both of your goaltenders, but the guys who have come in have done well and now we’re going to have to make some decisions.”