SHL Digest: This week, the Boston Badgers named their first-ever coach, Cam Prince. And we have the honor of being the first to interview him. Cam, thanks for speaking with us.
Cam Prince: I’m glad to be here! This is an exciting day for me.
SHLD: This is your first head coaching job. How does it feel to be getting your first shot with a brand-new team?
CP: It’s a very cool opportunity, to tell you the truth. It’s a total blank canvas here. I’m so excited to be working with [GM] Jody Melchiorre to build this team from the ground up.
SHLD: What convinced you to take this job?
CP: A number of things. I really like the opportunity to grow together with the team. And I think Boston is just a tremendous hockey team. So many diehard fans here. Finding a way to win them over to the Badgers is going to be a lot of fun.
SHLD: Jody has said that he wants to build a scrappy, hard-working, defense-first team. Meanwhile, you were an assistant coach for New York, which is a very offense-oriented team. Are you prepared to coach a team full of grinders?
CP: Oh, absolutely. My time with the Night definitely showed the limitations of an offense-only approach. And as an expansion team, it’s generally easier to put together a scrappy team rather than a squad of elite scorers.
SHLD: Speaking of your time with New York: Do you think that was a factor in your being selected as coach? Kind of trying to get started on the Boston-New York rivalry?
CP: I don’t think so. I mean, that might have been one reason they interviewed me. But it’s not like the Night fans have a lot of memories of me, or are going to have a grudge against me. I mean, Preston Rivers, sure. But I wasn’t as memorable as him.
SHLD: What about on your end? Do you have a personal rivalry with the Night?
CP: There’s no love lost there, I can promise that. I’ll definitely be fired up to coach against them. And if we can finish ahead of them in the standings, that will be a successful season in my book.
SHLD: So far, you have a grand total of one player: Cary Estabrook. Have you met him yet?
CP: (laughs) Not yet. I talked to him on the phone this morning. I told him I was looking forward to meeting the team. He said, “Well, you just did.”
SHLD: Care to make any predictions about how your first season will go?
CP: Before I even have players? Sure, we’re going to win the Vandy! (laughs) Seriously, with the [expansion draft] protection rules, I think we’ll have a chance to put together a solid team. Are we going to make the playoff right out of the box? I wouldn’t think so. But we should be able to re respectable, at least. And like I said, if we can beat New York, that will be a win for me.
SHLD: Well, we should let you get back to building your team. Congratulations, and good luck next season!
CP: Thanks! I can’t wait to get started.
The first round of the Continental Hockey League playoffs is complete, and the final matchup is set. One of the teams that made it to the championship was expected, a team that established itself as a contender early on and never looked back. The other finalist is a surprise, a team that only emerged down the stretch and got hot at the right moment.
In the East, the Virginia Rhinos emerged from the pack early and never lost their lead. In their first-round series, they faced off against the Maine Moose in a matchup of contrasting styles. “Whoever dictates the pace of this series will win,” said Virginia RW Colton Jabril. The high-flying, high-scoring Rhinos came in hoping to skate past the trapping, hard-hitting Moose. As it turned out, though, the teams were in for a closely-fought series. Virginia took Game 1, but Maine managed to slow down the pace of play and make it a physical game that included a pair of fights. In Game 2, the Moose managed to dominate, outshooting the Rhinos 43-18 and winning it 3-2. In Game 3, as the series shifted to L.L. Bean Center, the Moose scored three in the first period and never looked back, as netminder Guillaume Levan stopped 36 shots and won 4-2 to put Maine within a game of advancing. Game 4 was a tense and tight matchup, as both goalies were at their sharpest. But Moose C Jacob Cunniff took a costly delay-of-game penalty midway through the third period, and Rhinos C Tanner Brooks cashed in on the ensuing power play with what proved to be the winning goal in a 2-1 contest. That set up a Game 5 for all the marbles back at Waterfront Center. The Rhinos scored a goal in each of the first two periods to get the fans excited, but the Moose scored a pair of goals in the first five minutes of the third to tie it up. Virginia needed a hero, and C Cyril Perignon was their man, stuffing home a rebound in the final two minutes for a 3-2 victory.
“This team really showed what it was made of in this series,” said Rhinos coach Jeffrey “Swampy” Marsh. “Maine’s a tough competitor, and they didn’t let up on us. They did a good job neutralizing our speed, and we had to go in there and win it the hard way. And we did it!”
Out West, the Utah Owls came into their division series as a heavy underdog to the Omaha Ashcats. They were at or under the .500 mark for much of the season, and they finished 10 points behind Omaha. However, they had a couple things going for them. They were hot, having gone 13-3-4 over their final 20 games. And they had a secret weapon in net: top prospect Sherman Carter, who spent much of the season with the parent New York Night before rejoining the team in the final days. In Game 1, the Owls walked into the Switching Yard and stunned the favored Ashcats, scoring the first three goals of the game and rolling to a 5-2 win, with Carter making 39 saves. In Game 2, both teams failed to score in the first two periods. Utah shocked the home crowd by taking a 2-0 lead in the third, but Omaha scored a pair in the final three minutes to force overtime. The Ashcats and their fans assumed the tide was turning in the game and the series, but Owls D Jose Martinez scored the winning goal just over four minutes into overtime, pushing Omaha to the brink. The Ashcats stayed alive with a 2-1 win in Game 3, but it came at a cost: top-pairing D Victor Addison went down with an upper-body injury. Then in Game 4, Utah again put up three goals in the first period, and Carter stopped 37 shots to secure a 4-2 win and a 3-1 series victory.
“Anybody out there still doubting us?” said Owls coach Wiley Kiyotie. “We may not look like the best team out there, but we’ve already slayed one giant and we’re ready to slay another.”
The best-of-seven finals series kicks off on Saturday at Waterfront Center. “It’ll be a great series if you’re a fan of the color purple,” joked Marsh.
In a move that is both surprising and seemingly inevitable, the Dakota Jackalopes announced that they would not renew the contract of coach Harold Engellund. Over three seasons with Dakota, Engellund compiled a respectable 84-85-11 record, but his teams failed to live up to lofty expectations and the coach never seemed to earn the trust of the front office.
“We’ve really wanted to bring the Vandy home for the fans here,” said Jackalopes GM Paul Mindegaard. “We haven’t been able to accomplish that, and we’ve decided that it was the right time to make a change.”
Engellund’s job with Dakota was in jeopardy last season, when the team got off to a sub-.500 start and the coach was rumored to be clashing with the front office over whether Jesse Clarkson or Christien Adamsson should get the bulk of the playing time in net. The players rallied to Engellund’s defense and the team went on a winning streak to save the coach’s job, but the team dealt Clarkson at the deadline. They wound up finishing with a 32-22-6 record, well behind both Michigan and Anchorage.
This season, the small-market Jackalopes spent a considerable amount of money upgrading their roster with the goal of being a true contender. However, the results haven’t been there. When Dakota struggled out of the gate again, Engellund was once again rumored to be on the edge of dismissal. They were never able to climb into contention, and they wound up finishing 22-35-3, tied with Saskatchewan for third place in the West. Given the gap between expectations and reality, Engellund wound up paying the price with his job.
“I can’t say I’m surprised by this,” said Engellund. “I’ve spent the last year and a half answering questions about when I’m going to get fired. This organization’s made it clear that they expect to win a championship. When that’s where the bar is and you don’t even break 50 points, it’s hard to argue that you deserve to stick around. It’s a shame, but it is what it is. That’s show business.”
Engellund remained popular with the players all the way to the end, and the clubhouse was reportedly very unhappy when they heard the news. “I don’t think there’s a single guy in here who thought that Coach Engellund deserved to be let go,” said LW “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston. “If you can’t play for him, you can’t play for anybody. I feel responsible for what happened. I feel like I let him down. I feel like we all did.”
Although Engellund was dismissed for failing to contend for a championship, it remains to see whether the Jackalopes will be contending anytime soon. Rumors are flying that Dakota won’t be able to maintain their payroll next season and will be forced to tear the team down and rebuild. They dealt fan favorite Vonnie McLearen at the deadline, reportedly because they couldn’t afford to sign him to an extension. Mindegaard declined to comment on the team’s personnel plan for the offseason, but if a rebuilding effort is planned, it would make sense to bring in a new face to oversee it.
Mindegaard said that assistant coach Manfred Obronski remained under contract and would be considered to replace Engellund; if Obronski is not chosen, the new coach will decide whether or not to retain him.
After two seasons full of memorable outbursts and eruptions, the Seattle Sailors have fired coach Stewart “Popeye” Corrigan. The move brings the tenure of the SHL’s most volatile, explosive bench boss to an end.
In two seasons with Seattle, Corrigan compiled a record of 30-84-6. But it wasn’t the Sailors’ on-ice performance that triggered Corrigan’s dismissal; rather, it was the coach’s track record of over-the-top meltdowns when things didn’t go Seattle’s way. Reportedly, the team felt that the coach’s lack of self-control was embarrassing and unprofessional.
“We didn’t have any complaints with the job Stewart was doing, to be honest,” said Sailors GM Jay McKay. “He’s a perfectly fine coach. But we’ve thought a lot about the sort of person we want representing the public face of the Sailors. And as much as I like Stewart, we made the call that he wasn’t the right guy for us going forward.”
Corrigan’s list of temper-fueled incidents is legendary around the league. He threw a roll of athletic tape and shouted an ethnic slur at a referee. He threw punches at an opposing player who had been attacking his team. He threw his bench on the ice to protest a call. He attempted to assault Wolves D Vladimir Beruschko after the player crushed Sailors RW Vince Mango to protest his celebratory on-ice selfie. He swung a hockey stick at Michigan coach Ron Wright during an argument.
“I understand that I did this to myself,” said Corrigan. “I’m a passionate guy, sometimes too much. I’ve always had a temper, and I’ve let it get the better of me on a number of occasions. I can’t say that I agree with this decision, but I do understand it. I wish this team the best of luck. Whoever winds up coaching this team next is going to be a lucky guy. This is going to be a great team.”
McKay said that he intends to “cast a wide net” in searching for Corrigan’s successor. He indicated that both assistant coach Mark Morganhurst and minor-league coach Randy Bergner would be on the list of candidates.
This week was the culmination of a three-year jersey for the Hershey Bliss. Along the way, they have endured injury, heartbreak, self-doubt, frustration, and accusations that they couldn’t win the big one. “Yeah, we’ve got a couple monkeys on our back,” said Bliss coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber. “Heck, we’ve probably got the whole zoo back there at this point.”
The monkeys finally dropped off this week, as the Bliss outlasted the Washington Galaxy to claim their first-ever Eastern Division title and trip to the SHL Finals.
“I couldn’t be more excited about this,” said Barber. “We’ve worked so hard and come so far. For three years, we’ve had our faces pressed against the window of the candy store, but we haven’t been able to get in. Now, we’ve finally unlocked the door, and now we can dig in and enjoy all the sweet, glorious chocolate bars we can eat.”
Hershey came into the season’s final week all but assured of clinching the division, leading second-place Washington by eight points with five games remaining. After pounding New York 7-3 on Saturday, the Bliss moved to the brink, needing only one more point to clinch. On Sunday, facing a Michigan team desperate to remain alive in its own division race, the Bliss nearly put up a shutout. But Wolves LW Jorma Seppa tied the game with 1:17 left, and then D Max Madison potted the game-winner with 47 seconds left in overtime to hand Hershey a 2-1 loss. Meanwhile, the Galaxy bulldozed New York 6-1 to avoid elimination.
On paper, nothing had changed: the Bliss were still one point away from nirvana. But suddenly, it was all too easy to picture a nightmare scenario. If the Bliss dropped their next two games and the Galaxy won both of theirs, that would set up a showdown between the teams on Friday for all the marbles. And that would bring back memories of last season, when Hershey gave up four goals in the third period and cost themselves the division.
“We didn’t think history would repeat itself, but it was definitely on our minds,” admitted C Justin Valentine.
The easiest way to keep the nightmare at bay was to beat Quebec on Tuesday at Chocolate Center. Though Quebec has struggled this season, it was no sure win: netminder Riki Tiktuunen is capable of putting up a shutout at any time. But the Bliss came in determined, and it was they who earned the shutout, beating the Tigres 4-0. D Reese Milton scored a pair of goals, and Valentine and C Spencer Kilpatrick each added one. Meanwhile, their defense limited Quebec to only 14 shots.
The Bliss celebrated their win by soaking each other with Hershey’s Syrup. “I think I’m going to need someone to soak me with champagne or beer just to get this out of my hair,” said LW Lance Sweet. In the middle of the celebration, Barber made a brief but emotional speech to his team. “Everybody doubted us,” said Barber. “They called us chokers, called us weak, said we couldn’t win the big one. Well, we just won it! Everyone in here is a winner!”
Now Hershey prepares to head to the Finals, where they will be a significant underdog against the Anchorage Igloos. “None of that scares us,” said Valentine. “We’re used to being doubted and underestimated. But they were wrong about us before, and they’ll be wrong about us again. We’ve got the Love Line, and a great defense, and we’ve got two great goalies. Bring it on, Anchorage!”
The Anchorage Igloos were the first team to win the Vandenberg Trophy back in 2015. They’ll now have a chance to win it for the second time in three seasons after outlasting the Michigan Gray Wolves to claim the SHL’s Western Division title.
“Going up against a team like Michigan, that’s really getting forged in the fire,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor. “You have to be a special and very strong team to survive that kind of test. We not only survived, we passed with flying colors. Our guys really earned their stripes.”
Anchorage came into the final week of the season with a six-point lead over Michigan. “Just take care of your own business,” Castor told his players, “and we’ll get this done. We don’t have to worry about what they do.”
Following the plan, the Igloos swept their way through the weekend, knocking off Quebec 4-2 on Saturday and downing Seattle 3-1 on Sunday. The Wolves matched the Igloos stride-for-stride, winning both of their weekend contests. Anchorage came into Tuesday’s game against Saskatchewan needing only a win or a Michigan loss to clinch the title.
The Igloos took care of business in decisive fashion, drubbing the Shockers 9-1 to finish their quest with a bang. The impressive victory was even more so given the performance of their top line. C Jake Frost scored four goals and added four assists, while LW Jerry Koons put up a hat trick to go with three assists. RW Nicklas Ericsson contributed five assists along with a goal of his own.
“We were just out there fast and loose and having a great time, just like playing shinny on the pond back home,” said Frost. “The fans were rocking the house, and we were right there with there, riding that wave of pure joy.”
After the victory, the Igloos went up into the stands to celebrate with their fans, sharing hugs and high-fives and giving some rooters the selfie of a lifetime. “There was one lady who was so excited that she just kept shrieking,” said Koons. “She just kept screaming in my ear, ‘It’s you! Oh my God, I’m here with you!’ So I might be half-deaf for a few days, but it was worth it.” The Igloos signed their jerseys and gave them to the fans, and tossed a few signed pucks into the crowd as well.
In the locker room, the Igloos doused each other with champagne and took a moment to reflect after a hard-fought campaign and prepare themselves for what’s next. “It feels great tonight,” said Frost. “But after we clean up and wash the champagne out of our hair, it’ll be time to focus on the Finals. Hershey’s a tough team, and I know they’ll give us a good fight.”
Wolves coach Ron Wright tipped his cap to his rivals. “All credit to the Igloos,” said Wright. “They’re a really damn good club, and they earned this. It was a battle well fought.”
Still, Wright couldn’t help pointing out that the trajectory of the race changed when Michigan C Hunter Bailes, one of the team’s top scorers, suffered an upper-body injury that caused him to miss a quarter of the season. “Would things be different if we hadn’t lost Hunter for as long as we did?” said Wright. “Hard to say. But injuries are a part of the game, and that’s how it goes sometimes. We’ll be ready to come back next year and try to take the title back.”
Next year, the race won’t be quite so pre. With the league expanding to 12 teams, the SHL will be instituting four-team playoffs next season. Barring a major change in the balance of power during the offseason, the Igloos and Wolves will be the overwhelming favorites to face each other in the division round next season. Will that dim the fires of competition between the clubs? “I don’t think so,” said Frost. “We’re both hyper-competitive teams, and we don’t like each other that much. And there’s the blood feud between Petey and Wally. The war will still be fierce.”