A week in the making, the Southern Oregon Spartans shook things up in a major way Wednesday when they announced that they had parted ways with head coach Mike Stanaway and agreed in principle to be part of a 14-player deal with Stanaway's new team, the New Mexico Renegades.
In what is believed to be the biggest trade in Western States Hockey League history, the Spartans agreed to allow leading scorer Tim Talty as well as Nick Stirmel, Robby Gervino, Nick DeSimone, Tyler Dunn, Lane King and Scott Dunham to join Stanaway in New Mexico (9-16).
TO SOUTHERN OREGON: Max Rasmussen, Wilhelm Brodin, Wyatt Watkins, Jordan Smith, Dan Doyle, Mike Martelli and Zach Lovelace.
TO NEW MEXICO: Ex-Spartans head coach Mike Stanaway, Tim Talty, Nick Stirmel, Robby Gervino, Nick DeSimone, Tyler Dunn, Lane King and Scott Dunham.
In return, Southern Oregon (13-10) receives the Renegades' third-leading scorer in Max Rasmussen, along with Wilhelm Brodin, Wyatt Watkins, Jordan Smith, Dan Doyle, Mike Martelli and Zach Lovelace.
Southern Oregon also announced Wednesday that Joe Grimaldi will take over as head coach of the Spartans for the second half of the season, which begins Friday with a three-game homestand against the Valencia Flyers (14-12) at The RRRink.
"What it came down to in the end between us and the coaching staff was a philosophical difference on the direction we wanted the team to go and what we wanted them to focus on," said Spartans co-owner Troy Irving.
That difference mainly had to do with the amount of penalty minutes the Spartans were accruing and the number of fights they were involved in. Irving said the WSHL had also talked to the franchise about the situation. Of the 22 teams in the WSHL, Southern Oregon ranked second in number of penalty minutes (1,016) to only the Pacific Division rival Ogden Mustangs (1,035) — a figure that's more than 325 minutes above the league average (688.5).
"We talked about it and didn't see changes occurring and we felt like we needed to make a change," added Irving.
When the decision was finally made to move on without Stanaway, the second-year Spartans head coach found a new home in New Mexico and approached the organization about the possibility of taking some Spartans players with him to his new team. Irving said each player was contacted about their desire to remain in Southern Oregon or move on with Stanaway, and the organization did its best to oblige with their wishes in finalizing a trade with the Renegades.
"We had players who were very loyal to our two coaches," Irving said, noting that Jonathan Pritchard will also not be returning to the team, "and Mike Stanaway, in particular. We wanted them all to stay but some decided they wanted to go with him and so we made it work."
Talty posted 10 goals and 23 assists for a team-best 33 points in the first half of the season, while Stirmel ranked fifth in points with 20 (12 goals, eight assists) and Gervino had 10 points (three goals, seven assists). DeSimone provided leadership on the defense to go with three goals and two assists, and the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Dunn was a fan favorite with his hard-hitting play, although that also led to him ranked 10th in penalty minutes (114) in the WSHL.
The new faces for the Spartans won't be entirely new, however, with Doyle and Rasmussen each boasting playing time here while Brodin was a key to the deal, said Irving.
"Nobody works as hard as him, off the ice or on," said Irving. "We thought it was really important to get guys that wanted to work hard and we know these guys have that kind of character or work ethic. That's not to say that the other players we had didn't have it, don't get me wrong, because they did. I'm just saying that these players are the type of kids that you would want on your team no matter what kind of sports team you had."
Rasmussen's 16 assists and three goals placed him third among the leading scorers for New Mexico with 19 points, while Brodin had five goals and six assists in the first half of the season. Watkins notched four goals and one assist while Smith and Doyle each had three points — although Doyle's was in only four games — and Martelli had two.
Also returning to the Spartans for the second half of the season in separate moves will be former center Sam Holeczy, who scored 17 goals and had 20 assists in 39 games of the 2011-12 season here, and defenseman Brandon Bronze, another popular ex-Spartan who has been playing with the Breezy Point North Stars in Minnesota junior league hockey. Holeczy posted 15 goals and 16 assists in 29 games this season for the Central Wisconsin Saints.
Given the logistics of getting everyone in town and ready to play, Irving said not all the new players will be in uniform for this weekend's series with Valencia but his team will have a full roster for the Flyers and then eagerly move on to what is expected to be a very competitive second-half slate.
"This is a talented, talented hard-working team in the type of kids we have and it'll translate well," said Irving. "It'll be good hockey and a good team moving forward."
Part of the onus to advance the Spartans, currently third in the Pacific Division, will fall on the 26-year-old shoulders of Grimaldi. His main coaching experience stems from a three-year service as assistant coach for the Florida Falcons Junior B men's team. Grimaldi was a defenseman in the American Hockey League, East Coast Hockey League and Ontario Hockey League during a 10-year career that included an invitation to the NHL main camp of the New York Islanders in 2006-07.
Helping Grimaldi's transition will be assistant coach Casey Kudler, who agreed to remain with the team.
"Grimaldi's going to be very, very disciplined and we're going to play more of a system-type hockey and see more of a defensive type of game," said Irving. "The strength of our team this year is defense and goaltending and I think with this new coach here, he's going to bring the best out of both of our main goalies (Sean Buckley and Max Richter) and I think also teach the defense some new things."
"I really believe the team is strong and we're going to compete," he added, "and I think with the type of coach we're bringing in and the players we have, I believe we're a better team, I really do. I think it's going to be a fun team to watch. This is a competitive team and I'm excited, and we'll just move forward from here."
Last year under Stanaway, the Spartans claimed the Northern Pacific Hockey League title and advanced to the USA Hockey Tier III Junior National Championships. They finished with a franchise-best 40-12 record and Talty was named the NORPAC player of the year.