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Spartans put woes behind, win opener

After four days of turmoil in which the Southern Oregon hockey team lost its head coach and an assistant coach while preparing for its first playoff appearance in history, the Spartans finally had something positive to dwell on.

Southern Oregon, the runner-up in the Pacific Division during the NorPac regular season, defeated the Eugene Generals 6-2 at The Rrrink Tuesday to open a best-of-five series.

The two teams meet at 7:30 tonight in Game 2 at the Lane Events Center in Eugene.

Southern Oregon, in its fourth year of operation, was without general manager and head coach Steve Chelios, who resigned on Sunday, team co-owner Troy Irving said Tuesday.

Chelios' place on the bench was filled by Richard Klapko, who was brought in from a hockey academy in Michigan. Another coach, Jason Quinn, who resigned as head coach of the NorPac's Puget Sound team in December, is expected to join the Spartans in Eugene for tonight's game.

Chelios' resignation came in the wake of a criminal case in which Spartans assistant coach Erik Hamlet was arrested for reportedly trying to mail 20 pounds of marijuana to New Jersey on Friday. He allegedly had a player carry a box containing the pot to the post office in Albany when the team bus stopped there en route to Vancouver, Wash., for a game.

Hamlet turned himself over to police Saturday and was lodged in Linn County Jail; he later was released on bail.

In a statement, the Spartans said Chelios' resignation was for personal reasons unrelated to the investigation.

"He is not involved whatsoever in what happened with the assistant coach," said Irving. "From what we talked about with the police, he had nothing to do with it."

Hamlet has been suspended without pay pending completion of the investigation, according to the release.

Against Eugene, Mike Feagan scored two first-period goals to stake the Spartans to a 2-0 lead.

Feagan scored 3:56 into the game on a power play, with Casey Skolnik assisting. Feagan converted a shorthanded goal on assists from Dane Irving and Brandon Bronze late in the period.

After Eugene cut the Spartans' lead to 2-1 at 8:09 of the second period, Southern Oregon scored four unanswered goals to put the game away.

Other Spartans scoring goals were Vance Bridgman, Jun Martin, Dane Irving and Mike O'Brien.

Troy Irving said recent events have been difficult on the players, who range in age from about 16 to 20.

"They had a hard time with it, a real hard time," said Irving, who co-owns the franchise with Forest Sexton. "They loved their coach. Steve was a great coach. But they're going to rally. It's playoff time. This is why they worked all year. It's a distraction, but just getting on the ice and getting ready to go is the best thing for them."

Klapko has 40 years of hockey experience as a player and coach, according to an online resume. He's been with Cutting Edge Hockey Academy in Michigan most recently, but also has experience as a collegiate assistant coach and at the Junior A Tier III level.

Quinn, then 30, was head coach and director of hockey operations for Puget Sound before resigning. Before that, he worked as an assistant coach for the Tri-City Americans, Portland Winter Hawks and Vancouver Giants, all of the Western Hockey League.

He also coached in the NorPac for four years combined with the Butte Rough Riders and the Helena Bighorns, dating to 2003.

The statement released by the Spartans Tuesday said the team was "shocked and saddened by the events of last Saturday," and that Hamlet "acted alone and we are not aware of anybody else in the Spartan organization being investigated by the police. Our organization is cooperating with authorities at this time."