CHL Update: Screaming Eagles Move to Colorado Springs, Affiliates Shuffle

Change is coming to the SHL for 2018, as the Boston Badgers and Kansas City Smoke will be joining the fold.  Similarly, change is coming to the SHL’s minor league, the Continental Hockey League.  The CHL will also be adding two teams to match the SHL’s expansion; in addition, several teams will be swapping affiliates, and one team – the Albuquerque Screaming Eagles – will be relocating.

The Screaming Eagles lasted only one season in New Mexico, finishing fourth in the West with a 24-34-2 record that led to coach Butch Slazenger‘s firing.  The team drew poorly, finishing last in the league with an average attendance under 3,000 per game.  Arguably the most memorable features of the team was their garish uniforms, featuring gigantic stars on the sleeves and flames on the breezers.

“It’s going to be a lot easier on the eyes this year with the Eagles gone,” quipped Utah Owls coach Wiley Kiyotie.

The Eagles franchise was purchased by shipping magnate Rick Gilborn, who will relocate the team to his hometown of Colorado Springs.  In addition to a new home, the franchise will have a new nickname: the Zoomies.  Gilborn, a graduate of the Air Force Academy, said that the name is a slang term applied to cadets at the Academy.  “Speed, valor, skill,” said Gilborn.  “Makes for a great cadet, and makes for a great hockey player.”

To go along with their new city and name, the Zoomies will have a new parent club.  The Screaming Eagles were affiliated with the SHL champion Hershey Bliss, The Bliss wanted an affiliate closer to home, so they chose to partner with the Milwaukee Hogs, one of the CHL’s expansion clubs.  Colorado Springs will instead link up with the Seattle Sailors.  Seattle was in the market for a new minor-league club after their previous affiliate, the Omaha Ashcats, decided to link up with the Smoke.

“We couldn’t be happier to be in Colorado Springs,” said Sailors GM Jay McKay.  “It’s closer to us, so I should be able to get out and see our prospects in person more often.  And it should be a strong market with a great bunch of fans.  I can’t wait for the new season!”

Over in the CHL’s Eastern Division, the picture is less complicated, as no teams will be moving or changing affiliates.  The division’s expansion team, the Hartford Harpoons, will be affiliated with (and partially owned by) the Badgers.

“This is a tremendous opportunity,” said veteran coach Mel Lonigan, who was hired as the Harpoons’ first bench boss.  “Hartford’s a great hockey town – hell, the Whalers never should have left – and we’re getting in on the ground floor with a new team.  I see no reason why we can’t compete right out of the box.  We’re going to bring some exciting, competitive hockey here to Whale Country.”

SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell is excited by the growth and change in the CHL.  “There’s been a little reorganization between seasons, but in a good way,” said Commissioner Mitchell.  “By adding two great expansion teams in Hartford and Milwaukee and relocating to Colorado Springs, our minor league is stronger then it’s ever been, just as the SHL is stronger than it’s ever been.  2018 is going to be our best year yet.”

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Jackalopes Pick Dahlgren as Next Coach

The last coaching vacancy for the 2018 SHL season has now been filled.  The Dakota Jackalopes have been searching for a replacement after firing Harold Engellund at the end of the 2017 season.  Now, after a lengthy set of interviews and at least one reported refusal, the Jackalopes have finally chosen Flim Dahlgren as their next bench boss.

Flim Dahlgren

“Obviously, this hasn’t been the quickest process,” said Jackalopes GM Paul Mindegaard.  “But it’s been important for us to take the time and find the right man for this job.  Flim is definitely the right man.”

There’s no doubt that Dakota’s coaching search was deliberate.  It’s not clear, though, whether that was the Jackalopes’ doing.  On the contrary, the league rumor mill suggests that if anything, Mindegaard was struggling to find someone willing to take the job.

Many around the league felt that Dakota had mistreated Engellund, a widely respected coach who had no trouble landing another job with Seattle.  Prior to his dismissal, Engellund had frequently clashed with Mindegaard over roster construction and the direction of the franchise.  Also, Dakota reportedly plans to cut payroll and move several star players this offseason.  Those factors may have combined to make the job less appealing.

The candidates who the Jackalopes interviewed included Engellund’s former assistant Manfred Obronski, minor league coach Ross Roberts, Michigan assistant Morris Thompson, Anchorage assistant Kyle Barrow, and Omaha Ashcats coach Randy Bergner.  Reportedly, after the first round of interviews, Mindegaard offered the job to Bergner.  But Bergner turned the job down, choosing instead to become the first coach of the expansion Kansas City Smoke.  It’s also reported that Barrow was also uninterested, although it’s not known whether he was formally offered the job.

Finally, the Jackalopes settled on Dahlgren, who served last year as assistant coach of the Minnesota Freeze, Anchorage’s minor-league affiliate.  Previously, the 45-year-old has served as a junior coach and as a scout.  This is not the first time that Dahlgren has been considered for a head-coaching job in the SHL.  Last offseason, he was interviewed by the New York Night for their opening; they ultimately went with Nick Foster.

“I am very excited for this opportunity,” said Dahlgren.  “I know the fan base here is very passionate, like a junior team.  I look forward to giving these fans a team they can be passionate about.”

The Jackalopes players, many of whom were loyal to Engellund and are worried about their own futures, greeted the news with mixed emotions.  “I think Coach Engellund left behind some big shoes to fill,” said LW “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston.  “I haven’t met the new guy yet, but I’m sure he wants to succeed, just like we all do.  Hopefully we get that chance.”

Sailors Hire Ex-Dakota Coach Engellund

When the Dakota Jackalopes fired coach Harold Engellund at the end of the 2017 season after a three-season tenure, it seemed likely that he would land a job elsewhere in fairly short order.  That happened today, as the Seattle Sailors announced that they had hired Engellund as head coach, replacing Stewart Corrigan.

“We’ve been looking for the coach who can take our team to the next level,” said Sailors GM Jay McKay.  “Harold checks all the boxes for us.  We’re really glad to have him.”

Harold Engellund

After dismissing Corrigan, whose frequent temperamental outbursts were legendary, the Sailors were looking for a calmer hand on the tiller. In addition, with a fairly young roster, Seattle wanted to find an experienced bench boss.  The 59-year-old Engellund has over 25 seasons of coaching experience, and his even-keeled demeanor couldn’t be more different from the volatile Corrigan.

“Harold is everything we’re looking for in a coach,” said McKay.  “He’s an experienced teacher, the perfect man to mold a young roster and help us grow.  And he’s also a stable, calming personality, which is definitely a good change of pace for us.”

Engellund was well-liked by both players and fans in Dakota; he compiled an 84-85-11 record during his time there.  But he frequently clashed with the front office over roster decisions and the direction of the team.  After compiling a 22-35-3 record in 2016, a season when the Jackalopes were expected to contend, Engellund was dismissed.

“It was a shame the way things ended for Dakota, but it worked out for the best,” said Engellund.  “They obviously wanted to go in a different direction, and I wasn’t going to fight about it.  Now I’m here in Seattle, which is a great city, and I’ve got the chance to work with a great young team.  I’ll miss the players in Dakota, but I can’t wait to get started here.”

Engellund said that he had also interviewed with the expansion Kansas City Smoke, but that he was drawn to the Sailors “because they’re a little further along.  With an expansion team, it’s a pig in a poke.  You have no idea what you’re getting.  Here in Seattle, we’ve got some fast, young players and good scorers.  It reminds me a lot of the situation in Dakota, actually.”

The coach said that he’d like to see the Sailors get to a .500 record in his first year, and go to the playoffs in “two or three years.  I know it’s a tough division – Anchorage and Michigan are both tough teams – but I think we can take a run at them.”

 

 

Smoke Announce First Coach, Sign First Player

The Kansas City Smoke, one of the SHL expansion teams set to debut in 2018, held a press conference today at Heartland Telecom Center to introduce their coaching staff and their first-ever player.

“We know the fans are getting excited to see the team take the ice next season,” said Smoke GM Garth Melvin.  “So we’re excited to introduce them to some of the faces they’re going to see when they come to the arena.”

Randy Bergner

Kansas City’s new head coach will be a familiar face for fans of the SHL’s minor league.  Randy Bergner was the coach of the Omaha Ashcats, former affiliate of the Seattle Sailors.  Under Bergner’s leadership, the Ashcats finished with a 38-21-1 record, best in the league.  They were stunned in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual champion Utah Owls.  Omaha will be Kansas City’s affiliate this coming season, and Bergner is excited to remain in the area and receive a promotion.

“When Garth called me and asked me to come in for an interview, I thought they were maybe looking at me to coach Omaha,” said Bergner.  “That sounded pretty great to me, because I’d enjoyed my time there and I wanted to stay.  But after we’d talked for a bit, I realized he was looking at me for the top job.  Even better!”

Bergner hopes to instill in the Smoke the same team-first spirit he oversaw with the Ashcats.  “We didn’t have a big star to build around in Omaha, so we focused on building a tight, cohesive unit,” Bergner told reporters.  “And that’s what I expect to do here.  That Three Musketeers all-for-one-and-one-for-all attitude, that’s what we’re shooting for.”  The coach credited his assistant, Rex Claymore, with helping to create that spirit in Omaha; Claymore will join Bergner in KC.

Jon Rogers

Joining Bergner and Claymore at the press conference was the Smoke’s first official player: defenseman Jon Rogers.  The 22-year-old graduated from Minnesota State-Bemidji and went to training camp with Seattle on a professional tryout agreement, but failed to make the team.  He spent the season in the KHL instead, putting up 3 goals and 6 assists, but the British Columbia native was eager for an opportunity to return to North America.  Rogers is considered a stay-home blueliner who’s not afraid to scrap.

“I saw Jon in camp last season and I was impressed,” said Bergner.  “It was a numbers game when he got cut, but I definitely took his name down.  I felt he was a guy who could play at this level if he got a chance.  So when I got hired here, he was my first call.  After my wife, I mean.”

“I’m really grateful I made that much of an impression,” said Rogers.  “I’m honored to be the first official player for this franchise.  This is a terrific opportunity, and I hope I can make my career here.”

Melvin said that the coaches and player will spend the offseason visiting schools, shopping centers, and bars in the Kansas City area, meeting the locals and educating them about the Smoke and the SHL.  “We know the fans here might not be totally tuned in to hockey yet,” said Melvin.  “So we want to get out into the community, let ’em know we’re here, and get’ em fired up for the season to come.”

SHL Issues Year-End Awards

Starlight Hockey LeagueAt the SHL’s second annual awards banquet, SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell handed out the trophies that recognized the league’s best players and coaches.  “The fierce competition for these awards shows just how strong our league is,” said Commissioner Mitchell.  These awards were voted on by SHL players, coaches, and media.

The 2017 award winners are as follows:

Most Valuable Player: LW Jerry Koons, Anchorage Igloos

Koons had a breakout season, scoring 44 goals and 90 points along with a +56 rating, and played a key role in the Igloos’ charge to the best record in the SHL.  He finished with the third-most goals in the league, behind teammate Jake Frost and Hamilton’s Steven Alexander.

“Jerry’s emergence this season gave us a valuable extra weapon,” said Anchorage coach Sam Castor.  “Opposing defenses couldn’t overload on Frosty, because then Jerry would burn them big-time.  He makes us a more balanced and more dangerous team.”

Other finalists for the MVP honor included fellow Igloos G Ty Worthington, Hershey C Justin Valentine, and Hamilton C Calvin Frye.


Rookie of the Year: 
LW Rod “Money” Argent, Seattle Sailors

The freshman class in the SHL wasn’t quite as strong this season as it had been the previous year, but there were a number of strong contenders for the award.  Argent was a surprise choice by the Sailors as the #1 pick in the draft, and he rewarded them with an impressive rookie campaign, leading the league in points among first-year players with 49, and tying Saskatchewan’s Elliott Rafferty for the most goals with 23.

“I understand where he got the nickname Money, because his shot is money in the bank,” said Sailors RW Vince Mango.  “His shot is like a laser, and he can thread it through traffic and find the tiniest cracks to slip the puck into the net.  He’s strong in the defensive end, too, unlike me.  He’s the total package.”

Argent narrowly beat out Hamilton G Lasse Koskinen to claim the honor.  Others who received votes included Rafferty, New York G Sherman Carter, and Anchorage D Tony Citrone.

 

Coach of the Year: Sam Castor, Anchorage Igloos

Castor was recognized for steering the Igloos to a league-best 42-12-6 mark, outlasting Michigan in a brutal Western race and claiming the division.  One testament to Castor’s brilliance was the fact that Anchorage was one of two teams with a better road record than home record.  Their 22-5-3 performance on the road was all the more impressive given that the Igloos’ road trips are much longer than any other team in the league.

“We’ve got a ton of talent on this team, but Coach Castor really knows how to get the most out of us,” said Frost, the Igloos star.  “He knows when to push us, when to lay back and trust us, when to find a way to take the pressure off.  He’s really great at figuring out situations for everybody to shine.  He knows just the right buttons to push to get us all performing at our best.”

Castor received the nod over Hershey’s “Chocolate Chip” Barber and Hamilton’s Keith Shields.

 

Sharp Shooter Award: C Jake Frost, Anchorage Igloos

The Sharp Shooter Award is one of two honors that is not awarded as the result of the vote.  Instead, it is given to the player who finished with the highest goal total.  This season, the winner was Frost, who finished with two more goals than runner-up Steven Alexander of Hamilton.  Frost sat out a game in the last week of the season after the Igloos clinched the division, possibly costing him a shot at 50 goals.

“It’s kind of a bittersweet feeling,” said Frost.  “I’m glad I had a strong season, absolutely.  But it feels a little empty because we weren’t able to bring the Vandy home.  We accomplished so much this year, but we couldn’t capture the ultimate prize.  It’s great that our team is winning so many awards, but we didn’t get the one that really counts.  That’s going to fuel us big time next season.”


Commissioner’s Trophy: 
LW Jerry Koons, Anchorage Igloos

Like the Sharp Shooter Award, the Commissioner’s Trophy isn’t awarded based on a vote. Rather, it goes to the player who finishes with the highest season point total.  Koons’ breakout offensive year allowed him to capture the point title.  With 90 points (44 goals, 46 assists), Koons finished a point ahead of teammate Nicklas Ericsson and three ahead of Frye.  He is the first player to win multiple individual awards in the same season, having also captured the MVP.

“I think we’re really set up well for the long run,” said Koons.  “We’ve got me and Frosty and Nicky, some quality young guys coming up like Collie [Les Collins] and Humps [Derek Humplik], plus excellent defense and a great goalie in Ty [Worthington].  We’re a strong team from top to bottom.  Yeah, it stings that we lost in the end this year, but I think we’ll be competing for titles a long time.”


Goalie of the Year: 
Dirk Lundquist, Michigan Gray Wolves

Lundquist becomes the first-ever repeat award winner; as the league’s unquestioned top netminder, it’s a well-deserved honor.  “The Bear” performed up to his usual standards again this year, going 32-13-4 with a 1.39 GAA and a .952 save percentage.

Unlike last season, though, Lundquist didn’t win the award unanimously; Anchorage’s Worthington (31-6-4, 1.78 GAA, .942 sv%) received a number of votes, and Quebec’s Riki Tiktuunen (17-14-7, 1.88, .941) received consideration as well.

“I think it’s a good thing for the league that there are other goalies who can challenge for the award,” said Lundquist.  “If I’m just racking up the award automatically every year, that’s not good for me or the SHL.  We’ve got some young pups coming along who are going to be able to push me, and they might even surpass me sometime.  That’s exciting.”

Defenseman of the Year: Max Madison, Michigan Gray Wolves

Although the Wolves missed the playoffs this year, they did managed to nab a pair of awards, one for Lundquist and one for Madison.  The man known as “Mad Max” is a throwback blueliner in a lot of ways.  He’s one of the fiercest and hardest-hitting defensemen in the league; his 101 penalty minutes was second in the league only to Hershey’s Ruslan Gromov.  “Max will drop gloves if you so much as look at him cross-eyed,” said Wolves coach Ron Wright.  “He’s an old-school guy, and I love him for it.”

But Madison isn’t just a one-dimensional thug.  He’s also a capable passer and scorer; this season, he turned in 10 goals and 34 points this season, while recording a +30 rating.  “In today’s game, there’s no room for guys who can’t do anything but fight,” said Wright.  “The game’s become too skilled and fast for that.  But if you have a blueliner who can contribute on offense and makes some noise, but knows how to put a hurting on a guy too, that’s a player who’s worth his weight in gold.  Max is that player.”

To win the award, Madison beat out Hershey’s Reese Milton, Anchorage’s Ted Keefe, Dakota’s Matt Cherner, and fellow Wolf Fritz Kronstein.

 

CHL Update: Owls Shock Rhinos in 5 To Win Championship

Coming into the first-ever CHL playoffs, no one gave the Utah Owls much of a chance to win.  Although they had been hot during the last month of the season, they only finished a few games above the .500 mark.  They had few players among the league leaders in any category, and they were better known for their wacky hotel escapades than for anything they did on the ice.  The smart money suggested that the Owls would be easily knocked out by the Omaha Ashcats in the Western Division playoff; failing that, they’d be taken down by the high-scoring Virginia Rhinos in the finals.

By the time the playoffs were over, however, the smart money wasn’t looking so smart.  Utah stunned Omaha by winning the division finals in four games and making it look easy.  Then in the Finals, with barely more drama, the Owls defeated the Rhinos 4 games to 1 to claim the inaugural Howard Trophy as CHL champions.

“Nobody believed in us,” said Owls C Lloyd “Goofy” Banjax.  “Everyone was just standing around, waiting for us to fail.  But we showed them!  We showed everybody that we’re the best there is!”

In Game 1, Utah walked into Waterfront Center and pushed the pace, with the teams combining for 85 shots.  The Owls hammered the Rhinos 6-2, with six different players scoring goals for the Owls.  “I absolutely did not see that coming,” said Virginia goalie Shawn Stickel.  “We’d heard those guys liked to play fast, but we weren’t expecting that kind of crazy speed.  It’s like they had rockets in their skates.”  Not only did the Rhinos lose the game, they lost winger Nick Krombopoulos for the series with an upper-body injury.

In Game 2, Virginia seemed to restore order, downing Utah 3-1.  But both sides wound up losing a defenseman to injury; the Rhinos lost Ivan Ackler, while the Owls saw Boris Badenov go down.  The series shifted to Wasatch Arena for Game 3, where the Owls turned the tables with a 3-1 win of their own.  In Game 4, Virginia took an early 2-0 lead, only to see Utah tie it up with a pair in the second period.  RW Colton Jabril put the Rhinos back up with a tally two minutes into the third period, and it looked like his team was about to tie the series up again.  But Owls LW Mickey Simpson banked one in off the crossbar with 12 seconds left to send it to overtime, and then C Remi “Roadrunner” Gallert nabbed the game-winner 2:05 into OT to give Utah a 3-1 series lead.

“After that, we knew we had it,” said Banjax.

The Owls took care of business in Game 5, with F Diego Garcia scoring two goals to lead his team to a 4-1 win.  The infamously boisterous team managed not to lay waste to the arena; instead, they formed a dogpile on the ice and soaked in the joy of an unexpected victory.

Utah’s secret?  Goalie Sherman Carter.  The top prospect started the season with the Owls before earning a quick call-up to the New York Night, before being sent down for the final games of the CHL season.  He was the key to the Owls’ postseason success, putting up a 1.99 GAA and a .949 save percentage against the league’s highest-scoring team.  Unsurprisingly, Carter was chosen as the Finals MVP.

“Sherm has been nothing short of awesome for us,” said Owls coach Wiley Kiyotie.  “The only sad thing is that he’s probably not going to be back here next year.  He’s headed to the pros to stick next year, and I know he’s going to be special.”

In the midst of the postgame celebration, Banjax was asked whether he thought his team could repeat next year.  “Probably not,” said the Utah center.  “But then, no one thought we’d win it this year.  So who knows?  I can’t wait to find out.”

Igloos Struggle with Stunning Upset

After the Hershey Bliss won Game 7 of the SHL Finals in overtime to claim the Vandy, the Anchorage Igloos lined up to shake hands with their opponents and congratulate them on a game well played.  After that, they quietly filed off the ice, barely acknowledging their stunned and heartbroken fans, and headed into the locker room.  In the clubhouse, they encountered workers hastily tearing down the plastic sheeting they’d put up, preparing for a celebration that never happened.  It was a fitting metaphor for the Igloos, who sat quietly and pondered how they had lost a series everyone thought they would win.

“It’s hard to believe,” said C Jake Frost, who led the league in goals but couldn’t get his team over the hump in the Finals.  “I don’t know that it’s really sunk in yet.  It doesn’t seem real.”

Coming into this series, Anchorage seemed almost guaranteed to win their second SHL title.  They finished the season 20 points ahead of Hershey, and appeared to be the superior team in virtually every way.  And after blasting the Bliss 5-1 in Game 1, it appeared the only question was whether the Igloos would sweep or win it in five.  But every game after that was a one-goal affair (save for a blowout Hershey win in Game 5), and two went to overtime.

“It was about as close to a tie as it could be,” said RW Nicklas Ericsson.  “But in the playoffs, there are no ties.  Someone must win.”

Anchorage’s league-best offense was virtually invisible after that first game; they scored only 8 times in the final six games of the series.  “We had a hard time establishing momentum on the attack,” said Frost.  “Most games during the season, we were able to play our game and impose our will on the other team.  Not in this series.  This was more like a Michigan game, the defense was that strong.”

Some Anchorage players pointed to the loss of netminder Ty Worthington, who was injured at the beginning of Game 5, as a pivotal factor in the series.  “I think we win it with Ty in there and healthy,” said D Ted Keefe.  “He was such a huge factor for us.”  On the other hand, the Bliss also lost their leading scorer, C Justin Valentine, in that game.

Igloos coach Sam Castor was blunt in his assessment of his team’s performance.  “It was a close series, but we were outplayed,” Castor told reporters.  “They wanted it more, and I don’t think we were properly prepared for that.  As a coach, I take responsibility for that.  I think we took them too lightly, which is always dangerous in a playoff situation.”

Looking forward, Castor and his players remain confident, especially with the expanded four-team playoff field next season.  “The good news is that with the bigger playoffs, we can make it even if Michigan finishes ahead of us,” said Frost.  “The bad news is that we’ll probably play them in the first round no matter what.  But that’s fine.  If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.”