Engellund On Hot Seat Again

Groundhog Day seems to be coming early for the Dakota Jackalopes and coach Harold Engellund this season.  Last year, Dakota came into the season with high expectations.  But when they stumbled out of the gate with a sub-.500 record, Engellund’s job was reported to be in jeopardy.  Shortly thereafter, the team rallied around their coach and went on a winning streak, and Engellund was spared.  This season, the Jackalopes spent heavily on trades and free agents and again came into the season expecting great things.  But they’re off to a sub-.500 start again, and Engellund is reportedly on the hot seat… again.

Harold Engellund

“The sense here is that ownership has spent a lot of money building a contender,” said a team source.  “And we’re still seeing average results.  At some point, you’ve got to start wondering if Harold is the coach that can get us to the next level.”

After the Jackalopes allowed six goals in the third period in a 7-4 loss to Anchorage, Engellund was asked about his job security.  “It’s not like I’m not used to this,” said the coach.  “This is a results-based business, and we’re not having the kind of results that would make me secure.  I know that the only way you stop the rumors is by winning.”

Prior to the season, the Jackalopes made perhaps more moves to improve than any other team in the league.  They bolstered their already-potent offense by trading for C Mike Rivera from New York, and aimed to shore up their defense by signing Rusty Anderson from Washington and acquiring Scott Hexton from Hershey.

The results?  Dakota’s offense has been even better than last year; their 104 goals are the most in the league.  Rivera (7 goals, 20 assists) has fit right in with the Jackalopes’ fast-paced attack.  But the defense, if anything, has taken a step back.  They’ve allowed 94 goals (they allowed 86 through this point last year).  The blueline corps itself has posted similar stats to last season; it’s the goaltending that has slipped a notch.

Last season, one of the points of contention between Engellund and the Dakota front office revolved around the net.  Engellund reportedly preferred veteran Jesse Clarkson, while the front office wanted prospect Christien Adamsson to get more playing time.  The team wound up trading Clarkson at the deadline, clearing the way for Adamsson (in conjunction with another youngster, Buzz Carson, who came over in the Clarkson deal).  The duo has combined to post an .899 save percentage; only cellar-dwelling Seattle is worse.

It all adds up to a so-so team, which is not what small-market Dakota wants to see.  The team is reportedly losing money at a concerning rate, and if the team isn’t going to challenge for the Vandy in its current form, ownership would like to tighten its belt and cut payroll.  Others within the front office, though, think that the Jackalopes can contend with the current roster, and that Engellund isn’t a strong enough leader to get the most out of the team.

Engellund remains popular with the players, a definite point in his favor.  But some in the organization feel that he is too close to the players, and is unwilling to call them out or push them hard.

“I don’t think there’s any magic bullet here,” said the coach.  “It’s a tough division, and Michigan and Anchorage set a high bar.  But that’s the bar we’ve got to clear.”

Asked if he was tired of the constant speculation about his employment status, Engellund said, “Well, yeah, it gets old.  At some point, you want to fish or cut bait.  But that’s how it is in this line of work.  There’s no tenure in coaching, no life appointment.  You do the job or you’re out the door.”

Jackalopes LW “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston strongly defended his coach this week.  “If you ask around the locker room, you’ll find out in a hurry that we’re all behind Coach Engellund 100%,” said Airston.  “Every one of us is happy that he’s in charge.  I’m sick of these rumors coming out of nowhere that Coach Engellund needs to go.  If the front office isn’t happy, they should man up and say it in public.  And don’t point the finger at Coach Engellund.  He’s not the problem.”

But Engellund himself said it best: It’s a results-based business.  As long as ownership expects a championship contender and the Jackalopes don’t deliver, the coach and players alike will be on the hot seat.


Night Fans Nearly Riot Over Stolen Spinners

Finding ways to draw fans is essential for any professional sports team.  But the challenge is more acute for some teams than others.  For the New York Night, fighting for attention in a market with three NHL teams and without a title (or even a pennant chase) to their name, the fight for fans and attention is a real struggle.  As such, the team’s marketing department is always looking for creative promotions that will draw crowds to the Neon Sky Center.

Night fidget spinner in black

This season, the Night came up with a giveaway sure to be a hit with children and adults alike: fidget spinners.  The stress-relieving toy has become a great fad this year; spinners are ubiquitous in schools and an increasingly common desk accessory for bored office workers.  The team decided to give away spinners in black and purple (the Night’s colors) with the team logo on the center pad.

Unsurprisingly, the promotion was a smash; tickets for Wednesday’s game against Saskatchewan, when the spinners were to be given away, sold out in a matter of hours.  “Given the lead times involved with promotions like this,” said New York GM Royce McCormick, “it’s hard to hit these trends when they’re really hot.  But I think we’ve really done it this time.”

There was a bit of grumbling at the door when, rather than handing out the spinners, the team handed out coupons that could be redeemed for the toys on the way out the door.  According to the team, this was done for safety reasons: since fidget spinners are relatively small and easily flingable, they could become a hazard if flung onto the ice en masse to protest a bad call or a poor showing by the Night.  Most fans accepted the coupons without complaint, but some who were more interested in getting the collectible than watching the game complained vociferously.

Grumbling turned to outright anger at game’s end, when the fans came to redeem their coupons only to be told that the spinners were gone.  Apparently, at some point either before or during the 7-4 Night victory, the spinners were stolen from their storage area within the arena.  The Night believe that the culprit was a disgruntled, recently terminated employee, working in concert with some friends, possibly including current team employees.

Needless to say, the fans reacted with outrage and disbelief.  “This is ridiculous,” said 37-year-old Steve Schneckel of Nyack, surrounded by his three crying children.  “I brought these kids all the way into town to watch a bad game, all because they wanted the damn spinners.  And the team can’t even manage to keep them from getting stolen during the game?  I can’t believe it.”  Other fans turned to social media to voice their displeasure, flooding the Night’s Facebook page and Twitter feed with complaints.  One fan even posted a review of the team on Yelp just to protest; within 24 hours, over 500 other fans had posted their own negative reviews.

Some fans were suspicious that the whole thing was a stunt, that the team never had the fidget spinners and had fabricated the promotion to draw crowds.  “So a ‘professional’ team in an arena full of cameras and security people cant keep 1000s of spinners from getting ‘stolen’…. sounds like a scam to me!!!” said one Yelper.

McCormick was quick to deny rumors that the promotion was a hoax. “We’re really upset about what happened,” the GM said, “and this absolutely was not a hoax or a scam of any kind.  Why would we want to cheat our own fans?”

The stolen spinners were still at large as of press time.  Team officials are confident that they will be returned promptly.  As a backup plan, the Night are working with the manufacturer to make another run of the spinners.  The team asked that fans hold on to their coupons and game tickets; once the toys are available, the team will issue the spinners to any fans who present their coupon or ticket at the box office.  By way of apology, the team will also provide free tickets to a future Night game.

It’s unknown whether this will placate angry fans.  “I had a bad enough time at this game,” said one fan on Twitter. “Why would I want to go back?”

Michigan-Anchorage Rivalry Heats Up

Things could still change with more than half of the season yet to go, but one thing seems likely: Either the Michigan Gray Wolves or the Anchorage Igloos will win the SHL’s Western Division.  The teams have traded titles in the last two years, and they appear to be shaping up for another heavyweight clash.  The already-fierce rivalry gained a new, nastier edge after a chippy game between the two teams at Cadillac Place on Friday.

Prior to the game, Wolves coach Ron Wright seemed to hint that the contest might be a brutal one, saying, “These are the games that set the tone for the season.  The team that’s able to set the tone physically and dictate the pace of play is definitely going to have the upper hand.”  Igloos coach Sam Castor responded in kind, saying, “We’re not the kind of team that starts something, but we’re not going to let ourselves be pushed around.”

From the drop of the puck, it was clear that Michigan intended to slow down Anchorage’s high-flying offense with a brutal, punishing defensive style that harkened back to Martin Delorme‘s 2015 team.  The Wolves defenders clamped down in the neutral zone; any Anchorage player that went into the corner for a puck or got near a board paid for it, harshly.

“Mad Max” Madison

The Igloos felt that several players, most notably the top defensive pairing of “Mad Max” Madison and Fritz Kronstein, crossed the line from hard play into assault.  Midway through the first period, Madison gave Igloos LW Jerry Koons a rough ride into the boards in the Anchorage end; Koons came up wobbly and a bit woozy, and headed down the tunnel briefly before returning.  Castor repeatedly castigated the officials, who he felt were allowing the game to get out of control.

“I feel like the officials really fell down in this one,” the Igloos coach said later.  “They had a chance to keep it from turning into a bloodbath with some early whistles, but they didn’t do it.”

The first period ended in a scoreless tie.  Anchorage RW Remi Montrechere came off the ice bleeding from the eyebrow after an apparent high stick by Wolves D Bjorn Tollefson that went uncalled.  Castor and his team grew furious in the locker room.

In the second period, the physical play continued, and Anchorage began to respond in kind.  But when Madison went for a brutal open-ice hit on C Jake Frost that the Igloos felt was a low blow, matters came to a head.  LW Les Collins went to Castor and asked to be put on the ice against Madison.  Collins is a quiet player who generally eschews fights, but he’s also considered secretly tough.

Les Collins

Castor put Collins on the ice for the next shift, and the young winger immediately skated to Madison and challenged him to a fight.  The burly defender, who outweighs Collins by at least 50 pounds, initially laughed off the challenge.  But Collins persisted, shoving Madison repeatedly in the chest, and the blueliner eventually dropped the gloves and went at it.  Collins emerged bruised and bloodied, but he landed a couple of good shots on Madison before referees separated the two and assessed them both fighting majors.

The two cooled their heels in the box for the next 5 minutes (and in the meantime, LW Todd Douglas scored to give the Wolves a 1-0 lead).  But less than a minute after they were sprung, Collins came up to Madison again looking to scrap.  This time, the veteran defenseman wasted no time unleashing his fists, and Collins suffered a nasty cut under his eye and lost a couple of teeth.

“I don’t look kindly on guys taking cheap shots at our players, especially stars like Jerry and Jake,” said Collins later.  “We’re a family here, and when someone goes after the family, I’m not going to stand for it.”

The referees again assessed matching majors and warned both benches that any further incidents would lead to ejections.  The teams managed to avoid any further fights, although the mood on the ice remained tense.

The Wolves took a 2-0 lead early in the third on a slapper from Kronstein, but the Igloos struck back in the final 5 minutes of the game, scoring twice within 24 seconds to tie it up.  Collins assisted on the tying goal, feeding Montrechere for a shot from the faceoff circle, and he made a point of skating past the Michigan bench and staring Madison down.

The game ended as a 2-2 tie, and several players on both sides, including Collins and Madison, had to be restrained from throwing hands after the final siren.

“I couldn’t believe that little shrimp wanted a piece of me,” said Madison afterward.  “He might be crazier than me.  He’s like a little yappy dog.  But I’ll give him credit – he fought like hell.  And he kept coming, even after I loosened his teeth.  That little guy showed me something.”

Both teams suggested that unpleasantries might well resume in their next matchup.  “I think there’s plenty of bad blood to go around here,” said Wright.  “Neither of these teams is going down without a fight.”

2017 SHL Week 4 Team Stats

Team Totals

Team             GP    SH    G    A  Pts   PP%  +/-
Dakota           20   882   84  158  242  20.0    8
Hershey          20   722   73  135  208  24.1    7
Anchorage        20   891   70  132  202  19.4   16
Hamilton         20   695   69  132  201  16.2   15
Saskatchewan     20   620   65  122  187  20.3   -6
Michigan         20   686   62  114  176  16.2   27
Seattle          20   646   59  112  171  21.2  -39
Washington       20   711   55  105  160  19.7    4
New York         20   777   53   99  152  17.6  -19
Quebec           20   490   38   70  108  16.9  -13

Team             GP   W   L   T   GAA   SH   SV    SV%   PK%  PIM
Michigan         20  13   5   2  1.53  621  590  0.950  87.7  185
Hamilton         20  12   7   1  2.58  678  626  0.923  85.1  192
Washington       20  11   9   0  2.59  643  591  0.919  83.1  225
Quebec           20   6  10   4  2.66  638  584  0.915  82.5  202
Anchorage        20  11   6   3  2.66  663  609  0.919  84.4  194
Hershey          20  12   5   3  3.06  644  582  0.904  76.2  168
Saskatchewan     20   8  11   1  3.44  824  755  0.916  81.4  165
New York         20   6  13   1  3.68  832  758  0.911  76.9  178
Dakota           20   9  11   0  3.92  749  670  0.895  71.7  161
Seattle          20   4  15   1  4.99  828  727  0.878  77.0  182

Continue reading “2017 SHL Week 4 Team Stats”

2017 SHL Week 4 Leaders

Frye           HAM     37
Smyth          HAM     33
Alexander      HAM     29
Lafayette      HAM     28
Hart           HSY     27
Ericsson       ANC     26
Valentine      HSY     26
Koons          ANC     24
Cherner        DAK     24
Karlsson       DAK     23

Alexander      HAM     20
Valentine      HSY     15
Koons          ANC     14
Mango          SEA     13
Frost          ANC     11
Airston        DAK     11
Lafayette      HAM     11
Manning        NY      11
Karlsson       DAK     10
Golynin        DAK     10

Smyth          HAM     27
Frye           HAM     27
Ericsson       ANC     23
Hart           HSY     21
Lidjya         DAK     20
Cherner        DAK     19
Lafayette      HAM     17
Winchester     NY      17
Venezio        SEA     17
Rivera         DAK     16

     Penalty Minutes     
Zhzhynov       QUE     48
Gromov         HSY     47
Hogaboom       WSH     42
Madison        MIC     40
Kalashnikov    QUE     39
Warriner       WSH     36
Citrone        ANC     34
McCallan       SAS     34
Hendricks      DAK     33
Frederick      ANC     31

Alexander      HAM     25
Frye           HAM     25
Wesson         HAM     25
Lafayette      HAM     25
Smyth          HAM     24
Douglas        MIC     12
Knight         MIC     12
Zabielski      MIC     12
Poulin         MIC     12
Frederick      ANC     11

       Goalie Wins       
Lundquist      MIC     11
Colt           HSY      9
Koskinen       HAM      8
Orion          WSH      7
Worthington    ANC      6

Lundquist      MIC   1.22
Tiktuunen      QUE   1.50
Wampler        HAM   2.24
Orion          WSH   2.28
Stafford       HSY   2.45

         Save %          
Lundquist      MIC  0.961
Tiktuunen      QUE  0.953
Orion          WSH  0.926
Koskinen       HAM  0.925
Carter         NY   0.921

SHL Player of the Week – Week 4

Lars Karlsson

The SHL selected Dakota Jackalopes C Lars Karlsson as its Player of the Week.  Karlsson had a strong week, putting up 5 goals and 9 points.  His performance helped vault him into the league’s top 10 in both categories.

Karlsson’s most impressive performance came on Wednesday, when he had a hat trick and added two assists in the Jackalopes’ 7-3 win over Hershey.  Karlsson and teammate Matt Cherner (1 goal, 4 assists) became the first two players to record five-point games this season.

“Lars has been one of our cornerstones since the beginning,” said Jackalopes coach Harold Engellund.  “He’s got a terrific motor, and he’s not afraid to do the dirty work on both ends of the ice. “