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.”

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Jackalopes Sack Engellund

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.”

Harold Engellund

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.

Interview of the Week: Arkady Golynin

This week’s interview is with Dakota Jackalopes RW Arkady Golynin.

SHL Digest: We’re here this week with one of the SHL’s brightest young scoring prospects, Arkady Golynin of the Dakota Jackalopes.  Arkady, thanks for speaking with us.

Arkady Golynin

Arkady Golynin: It is a great honor.  Thank you very much.

SHLD: You’re not a household name, but with the way you’ve been playing, you might be on your way to becoming one.  Last season, in your rookie year, you broke out with 23 goals.  This year, you’re on pace to match that mark. What’s the secret to your success?

AG: I have a good shot.  When I was a boy, I drew a box on the side of my house.  Every day I practiced shots at the box.  Aim for this corner, that corner, in the five-hole.  After many years, I got it so that I could make my shots with my eyes closed.  Now when I am on the ice, in the middle of a big game, I just pretend I am looking at the box.

SHLD: A born shooter like you must really enjoy playing for a team like Dakota, which is geared toward offense.

AG: Yes, I like it very much.  To me, this is the heart of hockey: speed and skill.  Close timing, skillful passes.  It is a ballet on skates, and it is beautiful.

SHLD: Obviously, other teams in the league have a very different philosophy, teams like Michigan and Quebec.

AG: Yes, their style is heavy and hard.  Hard hits, blood on the ice.  I think it is ugly, but I know it is Canadian and American style.  In Russia, we grew up on the game of Tarasov, Tretiak, like that.  Very fluid and beautiful.

SHLD: You are one of the smaller players in the league at only 5’7″.  Some of the league’s harder-hitting defensemen have targeted you because of your size, figuring they can push you around.

AG: Yes, but they are slow and I can skate around them! (laughs)

SHLD: So you don’t find that your size is a challenge when playing hockey at the highest level?

AG: No, I do not.  In the end, it is the skill that makes the player, not the height.  Would I like to be a tall man like Jumbo Joe [Freedlander]?  Maybe it would be nice, especially when dealing with ladies.  But for hockey, I am happy to be just as I am.

SHLD: Let’s talk about the Jackalopes for a moment.  Despite playing in a beautiful style, as you put it, you haven’t been able to keep up with the division powers in Michigan and Anchorage.  What do you think has held you back from greater success?

AG: It is difficult for me to say.  But I think one important thing is that those teams, they can dictate their type of play.  Michigan likes to slow it down, and it is very hard to prevent that.  Anchorage is faster, but they are very smart with possession; they control the ice.

SHLD: There’s some talk about Dakota rebuilding this offseason.  Are you worried what might happen to the team in the future?

AG: I have many friends on the team, and I will be said if they are not around anymore.  But I am sure we will still have many good players, and we will still be a good team.

SHLD: One last question.  You’ve been in Dakota for almost two years now.  Have you ever seen a jackalope?

AG: (laughs) When I was a rookie, some of the older guys on the team took me and the other rookie out to the Badlands to go on a jackalope hunt.  They sent us rookies out ahead to do “scouting,” while they went back to Wall Drug and had some beers.  I never saw a jackalopes, but I saw a snake.  I do not get along with snakes at all.  When I saw him, I think I ran all the way out of the Badlands by myself.

SHLD: Sounds like quite the adventure!  Well, thank you for your time, Arkady, and best of luck.

AG: This was a fun talk.  I hope we can do it again.

Jackalopes Go “Fauxback” on ’70s Night

The throwback trend has become increasingly popular in sports in recent years.  A team will wear the uniforms it wore in a bygone era, and will often incorporate musical and visual cues to evoke the time period in question.  Fans often get into the spirit by wearing vintage clothes or team apparel.  All in all, it’s a fun time for everybody.

But what if you’re the Dakota Jackalopes, and you decide to throw back to a time – the 1970s – when your team didn’t exist?  What do you wear then?

Dakota Jackalopes Fauxback Uniform

For the Jackalopes, the answer is the “fauxback.”  A fauxback uniform is designed to look like a uniform from a previous era, but it’s one that didn’t actually exist.  The MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays pioneered the fauxback trend, creating 1979-style uniforms that have proven wildly popular with fans.  The Jackalopes decided to follow in the Rays’ footsteps for their “’70s Night” promotion on ______ against the _______________.

According to Dakota GM Paul Mindegaard, the idea was born when the team changed its name from the Rapids to the Jackalopes during the offseason.  When the team redesigned its uniforms to reflect the new name, they commissioned multiple different design concepts.  Mindegaard said that the runner-up design was frequently referred to as “a ’70s kind of look.”  Although the team ultimately chose a different design, “a lot of people on staff really liked the ’70s-looking one.  So we thought, why not run with it?”

In order to maximize the ’70s-ness of it all, the team traded in their standard red-and-white color scheme for a brown-and-tan look.  When the fauxback uniforms were unveiled to the players before the season, the initial reaction was a little skeptical.  “Brown isn’t a color you usually associate with sports,” said LW “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston.  “We thought it would look like we were driving for UPS.”

But as the throwback day drew closer, the team grew to embrace the new look.  “We actually started thinking it was pretty cool,” said Airston.  “It was something different that other teams don’t do.  And the ’70s were kind of a cool time anyway.”  The team started wearing the fauxbacks in practice, with a soundtrack of ’70s disco and funk to back it up.

Fauxback Logo

For ’70s Night itself, the team went all out to evoke the era.  In addition to the fauxback uniforms, coach Harold Engellund dressed in a glen plaid suit and a suitably wide tie.  “I had to dig pretty far back in my closet,” joked the coach, “but I found it.”  The team replaced the modern logo with the fauxback one throughout the arena, even going so far as to serve sodas and beers in cups with the “old” logo.  The usual modern pop and rock musical selections were replaced with the disco and funk tunes the team had played in its practices.  The Jumbotron even switched to a ’70s-style dot matrix display.

“We really wanted fans to feel like they’d stepped into a time machine,” said Mindegaard.

Between the second and third period, the team held a costume contest for fans dressed in vintage apparel.  The winning fan – who was dressed like a student from “Welcome Back, Kotter” – received tickets to a future Jackalopes game.  At the end of the game, the team raffled off the fauxback jerseys; judging by the number of fans who bought raffle tickets, the promotion was a hit.

Mindegaard said that the team was “really thrilled” with the success of the promotion.  “I’ve been getting flooded with emails and calls asking when we’re going to do it again,” said the Dakota GM.  “We’d only planned on doing it once, but given how popular it was, we might need to make this a recurring thing.  It’s pretty groovy!”

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.

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. “