Unlike last year, there were some significant deals made at the trading deadline this year. Perhaps the most significant deal involved the Hershey Bliss acquiring goalie Jesse Clarkson from the Dakota Rapids in exchange for netminder Buzz Carson and a first-round pick. With the trade, Hershey patched their biggest hole to prepare for a playoff run, while Dakota finally pulled the trigger on a move they’ve seemingly planned to make since the SHL began.
“Going into the deadline, our #1 target was picking up a top-quality goalie,” said Bliss GM Scott Lawrence. “Jesse was far and away the best guy available, and we got what we needed. Now we’re ready to make a run at the division.”
Goaltending has been a consistent problem for Hershey since the SHL’s inception. Last year, the Bliss shuffled between Riley Lattimore and Milo Stafford between the pipes, with neither producing consistent results. So in the offseason, the Bliss shipped Lattimore to Anchorage and drafted Carson, a highly-regarded prospect from Lake Ontario State. The 22-year-old has shown flashes of promise (10-11-2, 2.88 GAA, .901 save percentage) and has improved with experience, but the Hershey front office felt that neither he nor Stafford was capable of providing playoff-caliber netminding.
“This wasn’t an easy deal for us to make,” said Lawrence. “We really like what Buzz has shown, and he’s really blossomed with experience. I believe he could be a goaltender in the Finals someday. But we’re ready to get to the Finals right now, and Buzz isn’t quite there yet. Jesse’s the guy we need now.”
Dealing Clarkson represents a victory of sorts for Rapids GM Paul Mindegaard. The 27-year-old Clarkson has provided solid netminding for Dakota since the league’s inception (including a 15-10-3 record, 3.21 GAA, and .914 save percentage this season), but Mindegaard has reportedly never been sold on him as an elite goaltender. The GM has expressed a clear desire to give more playing time to youngster Christien Adamsson, a South Dakota native. Rapids coach Harold Engellund, on the other hand, preferred Clarkson. This created a rift between the two that reportedly put the coach’s job in jeopardy after a lackluster start to the season.
The Rapids’ recent 10-1-1 streak was enough to save Engellund, but it apparently wasn’t enough to spare Clarkson. Mindegaard noted that the Rapids trail division-leading Michigan by 17 points as justification for the deal. “Unfortunately, we’re not in a position to contend right now,” said the Dakota GM. “With that in mind, we made a deal that will open up some more opportunities for Christien, sure. But we’ve also got another high-quality goalie prospect in the deal, plus we’ve got a pick that will allow us to land another top young player. We’re looking down the road at what it’s going to take to get by Michigan and Anchorage.”
Clarkson expressed relief that the deal had finally been made and expressed excitement at joining the Bliss. “It feels like I’ve been on my way out of town for two seasons now,” said Clarkson. “That really wears on a guy, so I’m glad that it finally happened. And I’m really glad to go to a team that’s got a real shot to go all the way. I’m really looking forward to seeing what we can do.”
Carson, meanwhile, had a more mixed reaction. “I really liked it in Hershey,” said the young goalie. “I liked my teammates and the chemistry, and I really liked the chocolate. But I’m hoping to have a good opportunity where I go next. I think Christien Adamsson and I will inspire each other to get better.”