After an unsettling, distraction-filled week, the Spokane Shock will try to shift their focus to the football field tonight.
Spokane entertains West Division rival Utah at 7 at the Arena. Utah (8-5) is one of several teams Spokane (7-5) is chasing for four National Conference playoff spots. The Blaze won the first meeting 84-63 six weeks ago.
The game comes two days after linebacker Kevin Ellison was arrested and faces arson charges for allegedly setting fire to the Liberty Lake apartment he shared with defensive lineman Chris Tucker.
Shock majority owner Brady Nelson will not attend the game. He’ll be in Chicago, along with four other AFL owners and commissioner Jerry Kurz, to meet with AFL players union executives to try to hammer out a collective bargaining agreement. If a resolution isn’t reached by 5 p.m. Sunday, owners plan to lock out the players and pursue replacement players.
“I think the guys are so stunned … one thing about it is they’ve stayed busy so that it doesn’t have a lot of time to sink in with everything that’s going on,” Nelson said.
The game itself should be interesting, even beyond its impact on the playoff picture. It’ll mark the return of former Shock head coach Rob Keefe, now Utah’s defensive coordinator. Andy Olson replaced Keefe as head coach, beating out ex-Shock offensive coordinator Matt Sauk, who is in his second year as Utah offensive coordinator.
“It’ll be different, I’ve never coached against (Keefe) before,” Olson said. “It’s going to be fun. Both of us are going to be excited and I think it’ll be a great game to watch.”
Utah’s roster includes seven former Shock players.
A loss would be a serious blow to Spokane’s playoffs hopes. Third-place Utah would own a 1 1/2-game edge and the tiebreaker over last-place Spokane, which has to finish ahead of at least one West Division foe to have a chance at qualifying for the playoffs.
“We know we have a tough schedule and the next four are going to be extremely hard,” Olson said. “We have to win the first one for the rest to matter.”
Nelson, on whether the league is close to an agreement with the players: “In general, I think we’re close, but there’s 17 different owner partners in the league and we have a long way to go to get the deal done. I want this week to end positively. A win (tonight) and a deal would be the ultimate.” … Spokane activated defensive lineman Jonathan Williams from injured reserve. Standout DB/kick returner Terrance Sanders was placed on IR and backup quarterback Jason Boltus was released.