Yowlers mid-season report
It's amazing how time flies. Here we are, already halfway through season number 5 in the MLD, and fortunately for the Yowlers, they find themselves back in a familiar position: on top of their division.
At the halfway point the Yowlers are sporting a 26-13-3-2 record, good for 57 points. That puts them not only ten points ahead of Okanagan in the division, but only one point behind the resurging Wynadotte Hurons for the President's Trophy.
We spoke to coach yog to learn a little bit about the Yowlers turnaround.
"I really think our improved record this season comes down to two things: Our best players are playing like our best players, and we've had key contributions from new players at key moments."
The Yowlers "best players" in question certainly referring to futurer HOF-ers Sparky Clemons and Anton Boucher, and all-star RW Russell Moorehead.
"You got it. Sparky is playing as well as he ever has. He's just a dynamo out there - he never seems to get tired, and he never takes a shift off. This guy is the Bobby Orr of the MLD. Boucher has been fantastic this year as well. You look at this guy, and you think, 'man, he's small [Boucher is only 5'8"], his glove hand is not the quickest I've ever seen, he goes down too early... there's no way this guy should be an elite goaltender'. But you know what? He gets the ****ing job done. Nobody wants to stop that puck more than Anton. He wants to kill it and eat it for breakfast like Ted Nugent ****ing shooting squirrels with a longbow."
"And what can you say about Rusty? [Moorehead] Something lit a fire under his ***. We let him know in no uncertain terms that his contribution last season was unacceptable, and as you can see, he has responded in a big way. When he plays on top of his game, he can dominate. This seasion we've seen a lot more of the Rusty we traded for, and a lot less of the Rusty that barely knocked in ten goals last year."
In fact, Moorehead finds himself at the top of the MLD goal list with 18 goals. "I can't tell you what a relief it's been," he said over the phone when contaced at home, "Thank Buddah whatever was wrong last year is over. I can't even tell you what it was. It's not like my hands fell off or my family was killed or anything. For some reason, I just could never get into a groove until the playoffs." What is perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that Moorehead is doing it without his usual center, Markus Levy. "Yeah, it kinda sucks that Markus is the minors this year. On one hand, you understand that the team can't have twenty people retire all in the same season, so some players have to redshirt. It still blows when an elite guy like Levy is toiling in the MLDML. [Minor League Dynasty Minor League] I've been playing with a bunch of different centers, but it's really working no matter who I play with."
In terms of new players, nobody has had a bigger impact that defenseman John Sleeman, acquired last year from the Chilliwack Bruins. At the time he was traded to the Yowlers, Sleeman was tearing apart the minors with 50 goals in only 40 games. This followed a long, strange oddessy of victories and letdowns.
"In season 1, things were great. We won our division, and we were one win away from making the conference final. Our team was accused of being sloppy, but man, were we having fun. I was always a big scorer in junior, but even I wasn't expecting to nail fifty goals. I have to admit, by the end of the season, when fifty was in sight, I pretty much stopped playing defense altogether."
In fact, Sleeman finished with a -26, 2nd worst on the team. His extreme popularity with the fans made him such a hit that he felt he could shrug off criticism from the coaches.
"By the second seasons, things got a lot tougher. Offense all over the MLD was dying - we went from a run-and-gun league to a tight defensive league almost overnight. I was still trying to do everything, though! I still managed 26 goals, but the team missed the playoffs. It was a tough year." Despite leading the team in scoring and improving his plus/minus to -17, Sleeman found himself taking the brunt of the blame for the team's poor performance. "I thought I improved my all-around game that year, but it seemed like every time there was a really bad goal, or a sloppy goal against, I was on the ice. As much as the fans loved me in season 1, I was getting booed in season 2."
The third MLD season was nothing short of a disaster for Sleeman. The Bruins improved as a team, but Sleeman only lasted 27 games, 3 goals, and a mind-blowing -26. "I pretty much stopped caring. When everybody blames you for everything, every mistake you make is just magnified. I fell apart. I was trying so hard to score that big goal to prove to everyone that I could still play, that I just wasn't playing D at all. I got sent down early, but honestly, it was the best thing that ever happened to me."
Season 4 saw Sleeman play most of the season in the minors, where he re-found his scoring touch and re-dedicated himself to playing defense. Although he wasn't terribly impressive in his brief callup to the Yowlers, he arrived in training camp for season 5 ready to play. An excellent pre-season earned him a starting position, and his great play (including a selection for the all-star game) have kept him playing big minutes. Not only is he a more complete player offensively, picking up plenty of assists, but he finds himself near the very top of the league plus/minus leader board!
"It doesn't hurt playing with Sparky!" laughed Sleeman. "That guy makes it really easy. I can jump into the play and know that he's going to cover me. If anything, I'm shooting the puck more than ever, but between the two of us, we always manage to get back to cover the man."
Also worth mentioning amongst the new players are several rookies. Pauli Ermakov has found a new commitment to D, so he's finally playing his first full MLD season after being one of the Yowlers' biggest scorers in the season 1 playoffs. Harry Soininen, acquired from Yorkton in the offseason, started the season on fire with 8 assists in his first 14 games before suffering a torn calf muscle. Fellow rookies Ralph Voorhees and Paul Lawton have both been solid on the blueline, with Lawton leading all rookie blueliners in goals.
"That's just amazing," Lawton related before a recent practice. "I don't really consider myself to be an offensive defenceman. I've always played a more physical game. For some reason, the puck's just going in!"
With this early success, the Yowlers are anticipating a big finish to the season. "It's great to see so many new faces but continue our success," said coach yog, "It really shows the depth of our organization that we're able to keep winning even with our best players being warehoused."
"Prowler Yowler" tickets are still available. Just steal them from your local box office.