Jackalopes Coach Ponders Winning and Losing at Season’s End

Flim Dahlgren

On Saturday, the Dakota Jackalopes defeated Saskatchewan 4-2 to finish out their season.  That evening, coach Flim Dahlgren held a state-of-the-season press conference, at which he got a bit philosophical about the nature of winning and losing, particularly in the case of a rebuilding club like his.

Dahlgren’s musings began when a reporter asked him, “How would you rate your team’s success this season?”

The coach paused and reflected on the question before responding.  “That’s a very interesting question, isn’t it?” Dahlgren began.  “The point of this game is to win, and we didn’t win that many times, so perhaps the season wasn’t too successful.  On the other hand, we’re supposed to be rebuilding, and the more we lose, the better our draft pick.  So perhaps then we were successful.”

Dahlgren cocked his head and continued.  “My players tried very hard all season to win.  Perhaps I should have been telling them to lose instead?  But still, we finished with the third-worst record, which is bad, but also good. It’s quite curious.

“Winning is better than losing, unless you lose too much, and then it’s better to lose.  But you’re not supposed to say that, are you?  They set up a system that rewards losing, at least if you’re already losing.  But then you’re still supposed to try to win, or at least you’re supposed to act like you’re trying to win.  If I say it’s a good season because we lost enough to get a good draft pick, am I violating the code?”

Dahlgren then paused and smiled at the reporter who asked the question.  “I imagine you’re sorry you asked that now, aren’t you?  You were just looking for a simple answer to put in your story.  Instead, you got a philosophical treatise on the meaning of winning.  I’m sorry, the season has put me through the looking glass.  Remind me again what your question was.”

The reporter repeated his question, and Dahlgren replied, “I’d rate the season a 5.  On a scale of what to what, I’m not sure.”

After the room filled with laughter, Dahlgren smiled and said, “I don’t really think in terms of a rating.  This season was all about discovery.  I took the job knowing that the team was rebuilding, and that my best players might be traded away at any moment.  My job was to identify and grow young players who might help us compete later on, and I think I’ve done that.”

Dahlgren cited RW Arkady Golynin, LW “Jumbo Joe” Freelander, RW Asher Ravenbloom, and Ds Sergei Trefilov and Alex Angelos as examples of such promising young players.  “So we have a core that we can build around,” the coach concluded.  “And we have a number of draft picks and some promising players in the minors, so there is hope.  That is success to me, for this season.  I don’t know how to put a rating on it, but that’s my answer.”

He then paused and smiled before adding, “Okay, philosophy class is dismissed.”

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SHL Player of the Week – Week 12

Ryan Airston

The SHL selected Dakota Jackalopes LW “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston as its Player of the Week.  The Jackalopes have dealt away most of their top-shelf talent, but Airston remains with the team and put up a strong week, with 8 points (3 goals and 5 assists) in Dakota’s four games this week.  Airston has 27 goals on the season, which puts him in the SHL’s top 10.

The winger was at his best against the East’s top teams in interdivision play this week.  On Sunday, Airston scored the game-winning goal in overtime as the Jackalopes stunned Hamilton 2-1.  Then on Saturday, he had a pair of goals and a pair of assists in Dakota’s 6-0 shutout of Quebec.

“It’s a long season, and when you’re not contending it can be easy to check out a little bit,” said Jackalopes coach Flim Dahlgren.  “But Ryan’s still giving it 100%, and that’s a great example to our younger players.  He’s a terrific leader for us.”

Foster Pokes Fun at Dakota, Corn Palace

Continuing their annual tradition, the Dakota Jackalopes hosted a game at Mitchell’s famous Corn Palace.  For this season’s “Corn Classic” on Tuesday, the Jackalopes faced off against the New York Night.  New York coach Nick Foster made waves by turning his pre-game press conference into a roast of Mitchell, the Corn Palace, and the Midwest generally.

Nick Foster

Foster made his speech in response to a reporter who asked him how he liked it in the Dakotas.  “I always enjoy our trips to flyover country,” the coach replied.  “It’s always nice to see how the other half lives.”

Foster then poked fun at the town of Mitchell, calling it “the actual middle of nowhere.  I mean, I thought that our usual games here [in Rapid City] were the middle of nowhere.  But this time, we flew in, then got on a bus for two hours just to get here.  It’s a nice clean little place, though.  I took a walk around downtown today.  Took me five minutes, but it was nice.”

Corn Palace

The coach then poked fun at the Corn Palace.  “I figured in a place this small, we’d be playing on a rink in someone’s backyard,” Foster said.  “But instead, we came here.  Somebody took a barn and slapped a bunch of corn on the outside and called it a ‘palace.’  Wow!  I guess it gives you guys something to do out here.  And I have to admit, it’s the nicest corn-based art I’ve ever seen.”

Predictably, Foster’s jibes inspired outrage among the Jackalopes and the Dakota fans.  “I’m sorry if our town and our arena aren’t fancy enough for him,” said Dakota LW “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston.  “But some of us like the life out here.  It might not be as glamorous as New York, where everyone lives on top of each other and the air smells like hot dogs and bus exhaust and the rats are as big as dogs.  But we love it.  We love our state, and our city, and our Corn Palace.”

Jackalopes coach Flim Dahlgren added, “I don’t want to get into this, because I know it’s all part of Nick’s act.  He likes to pretend he’s a wrestling heel, and he’s always trying to stir the pot.  But if you come here and make fun of the Corn Palace, we can’t let that stand.  We have to defend the corn.  Let’s go out there and win big!”

The sellout crowd of 3,200 greeted Foster with boos and signs bearing slogan like “Yankee Go Home” and “Shuck You, Foster.”  As the New York coach came down the tunnel to the bench, one irate fan dumped a can of creamed corn on his head.  Foster responded by tasting the corn and flashing a thumbs-up in response.

The Jackalopes delivered their best revenge to Foster on the ice, edging the Night 3-2 as D Matt Cherner scored a pair of goals.  “We may have a small crowd here, but it feels like they’re right on top of you,” said Cherner after the game.  “I think we have the best home-ice advantage in the league here.  And with [Foster’s] comments, that gave the whole thing a little extra juice.”

Dakota now joins the growing list of places where Foster has made himself persona non grata; earlier in the season, he infuriated the fans in Hamilton by calling their arena a “dump” and accusing Pistols star Steven Alexander of cheating.

“At this rate, I’ll have every other city in the league hating my guts by 2020,” Foster said.  “Dare to dream!”

Continue reading “Foster Pokes Fun at Dakota, Corn Palace”

Interview of the Week: Matt Cherner

This week’s interview is with Dakota Jackalopes D Matt Cherner.

SHL Digest: We’re here this week with Matt Cherner, top defenseman for the Dakota Jackalopes.  Matt, thanks for speaking with us.

Matt Cherner

Matt Cherner: Sure thing, it’s my pleasure.

SHLD: At last week’s trading deadline, your name was one that came up often as a possible trade candidate.  But the deadline came and went, and you remained with Dakota, even as teammates like Lars Karlsson and Harvey Bellmore were traded.  Are you happy to still be with the Jackalopes?

MC: Absolutely, I am.  The trading deadline can be tough on a guy, especially if he has a family like I do.  I’m very happy to still be here in Dakota.  My family is here, and my teammates and friends are here.  This is where I want to be.

SHLD: Even though it’s a rebuilding team that’s not going to the playoffs?

MC: Yes.

SHLD: You wouldn’t rather be on a contending team?

MC: I think it would be great if we were contending.  But leaving Dakota to go to another team… I’m happy here.

SHLD: What is it about Dakota that you like so much?

MC: Well, for one thing, it’s a small town, and I’m a small-town guy.  This reminds me a lot of my home back in Red Deer.  I feel at home here more than I would in New York or Seattle or Washington.  And there’s a real family feeling here.  The fans, the players, the coaches… we’re all part of one big family.  I love that.

SHLD: Speaking of Dakota being a small town: Your stats make a strong case for you as one of the league’s best defensemen.  And yet, when people talk about the best blueliners in the league, your name often gets overlooked.  Do you think that playing for Dakota hurts you in terms of league-wide recognition?

MC: I don’t know, it might.  Maybe if I played for New York or Michigan, more people would know about me.  But who cares?  I’m not doing this for glory.  I’m in this for love of the sport and to try to win games.  That’s what counts.

SHLD: Obviously, the Jackalopes have a lot of new faces this season: a new coach and a lot of new young players.  How do you feel about all the change?

MC: I think it’s great.  Coach [Flim] Dahlgren is a smart, patient guy, and he’s been doing a good job bringing everybody along.  And I like the young guys we’ve got, especially the defensemen.  We used to be an all-offense, super-aggressive kind of club, and we’re becoming more balanced.  I think we’ve got a great up-and-coming group, and I’ve taken it on myself to try to teach them whatever I can.

SHLD: Are there any young blueliners that you think we should really keep an eye on?

MC: Alex Angelos is a really remarkable guy; so fast, a terrific shot, a great head for offense.  You can’t teach natural talent like that.  I’ve been working with him on polishing his defensive skills: backchecking, gapping up, things like that.  And Sergei Trefilov is a great, rugged defender.  He reminds me a lot of myself when I was younger.

SHLD: One more question.  Your contract is up at the end of next season.  Are you looking to sign a long-term extension to keep you in Dakota?

MC: I can’t speak to what the team has in mind, or if I’m in their plans long-term.  But I can say that I’m definitely open to that.  I’m happy here, and I think we’re building in the right direction.  If the team is interested in making that kind of commitment, I’d love to have that conversation.

SHLD: Well, Matt, thanks for your time and good luck the rest of the season!

MC: I appreciate it.

Igloos Land Bellmore at Deadline

It’s been a strange season for the Anchorage Igloos.  The defending division champs have struggled to find all momentum all season; their record has hovered around the .500 mark, and they have won more than three games in a row only once this season.  Coach Sam Castor called out his team last month when they stood at 12-13-0 and were tied with Saskatchewan for second place; they’ve improved a bit since then, going 10-7-0, but not enough to lock down a playoff berth.

Harvey Bellmore

With the Seattle Sailors making major moves to take a run at the spot down the stretch, the Igloos made a significant deal of their own to solidify their position, acquiring C Harvey Bellmore from the Dakota Jackalopes in exchange for F Mason Kilborn and a second-round draft pick.

“We’ve been clear from the start that this is a playoff team,” said Igloos GM Will Thorndike.  “We know we’ve got the personnel here to go all the way, and we didn’t see the need for any major moves that might disrupt our chemistry.  But bringing Harvey on board gives us a little extra firepower on the bottom line, and that kind of depth always helps in the playoffs.”

Bellmore is the second Dakota center to be dealt today; the rebuilding Jackalopes sent Lars Karlsson to Seattle in the biggest deadline move.  Bellmore is in the middle of a strong season, putting up 11 goals and 18 assists, although he is arguably better known in Dakota for his practical jokes than for his on-ice performance.

Like Karlsson, his contract expires at the end of the season.  Unlike Karlsson, he was publicly unhappy with the team’s direction and made it clear that he wanted out.  He created a stir in Dakota earlier this season when he crashed the team’s “Faith Day” celebration and gave a sermon on the virtues of alcohol.  He denied at the time that the stunt was intended to force a trade, but several of his teammates read it that way.

“As a player, it’s always more fun when you’re on a contending team,” said Bellmore after the deal was announced.  “So this is exciting for me.  Let me say to the fans of Dakota: So long, and thanks for all the wheat.  I’m packing up my joy buzzers and my dribble glasses and headed north to Alaska!  Hope I don’t get eaten by a grizzly.”

Bellmore should give Anchorage’s third line a significant offensive boost; he displaces veteran Broni Zhlotkin, who is slow and not a great shot creator.  Bellmore is considered a careless defender, however.  It’s also not clear whether his goofy nature will fit in with the more serious-minded Anchorage clubhouse.

Mason Kilborn

Bellmore was a considerably cheaper rental than Karlsson, who cost Seattle a pair of top prospects in addition to a draft pick.  The 22-year-old Kilborn made his debut this season; he showed promise in limited action, posting a goal and 4 assists in 10 games with the Igloos.

“We’re glad to add a promising youngster like Mason Kilborn to the fold,” said Jackalopes GM Paul Mindegaard.  “He’s an energetic and athletic player who can make an impact on both ends.  We’re excited to get him.”

With Bellmore on board and the playoffs the expectation, the heat may be on Castor if the Igloos wind up missing the postseason.  But the coach says he welcomes the pressure: “This is our chance to show what we can do.  The spotlight’s on me and on all of us.  Let’s get it done.”

Sailors Go All In at Deadline

The Seattle Sailors are in a tenuous position in the Western playoff race.  The Anchorage Igloos, widely expected to be a slam-dunk playoff team, have struggled to get much above the .500 mark.  In theory, the second Western playoff spot should be up for grabs.  However, hampered by a dreadful defense, the Sailors have been unable to take advantage, and have been hovering 5 to 7 points behind Anchorage for the last month.

Jay McKay

Given the situation, Seattle essentially had two options: concede the race, or go all in.  “The race has been static for a while now,” said Sailors GM Jay McKay.  “If we stuck with the roster we had, we were going to die fast and quiet.”

Instead, McKay elected to go all in.  The Sailors made a pair of major deals to acquire a couple of big names, at a significant cost in prospects.   “We’re pushing our chips to the middle of the table,” said McKay.  “We think we’ve got the chance to do something special here.”

Lars Karlsson

Seattle’s largest acquisition was the deadline’s top prize.  C Lars Karlsson was the biggest name rumored to be on the block.  The 30-year-old center is a proven star and is having a fantastic year, having scored 19 goals and 25 assists.  But his previous team, the Dakota Jackalopes, are in the midst of a payroll purge, and Karlsson’s contract is up at the end of the season.

The Sailors had a clear need at the center position, and they targeted Karlsson from the start.  But they’d already dealt their first-round pick to Dakota before the season.  In order to rent Karlsson for the stretch run, Seattle had to part with a pair of top prospects – C Dale Wilcox and D Duncan DeShantz – as well as their second-round pick.

“Lars definitely didn’t come cheap,” said McKay.  “But he’s the kind of talent that can really move the needle.  He plugs right into our top line – which was already doing great – and the effect ripples through our entire offense.  He’s a game-changer.”

Hans Mortensen

Of course, Seattle’s offense hasn’t been the issue; it’s their leaky defense that has doomed them.  To address that, the Sailors picked up veteran D Hans Mortensen, 30, from the Kansas City Smoke.  The defender has provided airtight defense in KC and put up 17 assists in 40 games.  To land him, Seattle surrendered another prospect blueliner, T.K. O’Neill.  The 20-year-old O’Neill struggled in his SHL debut, failing to record a point in 22 games before being sent down, but he is regarded as an elite defensive prospect.

“Hans is one of those lockdown D-men that you love to have,” said McKay. “He’s a solid veteran with championship experience, and he can contribute on both ends.  He’s going to really help our playoff push.”

These two moves make Seattle a more formidable opponent, but will it be enough?  And if the Sailors miss the playoffs and Karlsson walks at the end of the season, will they regret their deadline splurge?

“I won’t regret it a bit,” said McKay.  “If you’re not going for it, really going for it, what’s the point?  Maybe this all blows up in my face and I get fired.  That’s okay.  We’d rather take a chance and miss than muddle along and do nothing.”

Sailors coach Harold Engellund, who used to coach Dakota, agrees with that assessment: “It’s really nice to be with an organization that goes all out to win, that’s not afraid to spend money and take a shot.  I’m not used to it, but I love it.”

Bellmore Causes Ruckus at Dakota Faith Day

This week, the Dakota Jackalopes held a “Faith Day” celebration, which is a fairly common occurrence in the SHL and in other leagues.  This particular celebration, however, was anything but common, thanks to C Harvey Bellmore.  The quirky center, who has a reputation as a jokester, crashed the ceremony and put on a performance that startled and angered the fans and left the team scrambling to apologize and make amends.

Tuesday’s ceremony during the Jackalopes’ game against the Michigan Gray Wolves initially unfolded according to plan.  A local gospel choir sang the national anthem and performed a concert after the game.  The Jackalopes’ team chaplain led several players and the hundreds of fans in attendance in a prayer circle.

The highlight of the event came when several Dakota players stepped up to talk about their belief and how it helps them in their athletic careers.  Ds Rusty Anderson and Terry Hendricks and netminder Christien Adamsson all gave their testimony and talked about how their faith in Jesus Christ strengthened their lives on and off the ice. Their speeches were received warmly by the fans, with frequent applause and several shouted “amens.”

Harvey Bellmore

Once the other players had said their piece, Bellmore stepped forward and asked to speak.  He had not been scheduled to appear, but the emcee, Lutheran pastor Mark Emerlein, invited him to come forward.

Bellmore began by saying, “I’ve never really talked about my faith before, but I felt like this was the right time for me to do it.  My father was a gambler and my mother was a bartender, so it’s fair to say that Satan was my nanny.”  Some fans murmured agreement.  “But that’s all changed.  Now, the source of all my strength, my courage, everything that makes me the man I am today comes from right here.”  At this point, Bellmore reached into his pocket.  The fans assumed he was pulling out a Bible, but what he actually withdrew was a hip flask.  He took a hearty swig as the fans began buzzing with confusion.

“That’s right, folks, my religion is booze!” Bellmore shouted.  “Whenever I run into a rough patch in my life, or when I need a little something extra to get the winning goal or go after that fine-looking chick in the bar… I reach for the bottle!  That’s all the faith I need!”

The center continued, “Let me tell you what else I believe.”  Bellmore then launched into Crash Davis’ famous (and obscene) speech from the movie Bull Durham.  When he got to the part about “long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days,” Emerlein and Anderson escorted him away as the fans booed.

GM Paul Mindegaard apologized profusely to the fans, many of whom called or emailed the Jackalopes front office to express their displeasure.  “Obviously, the point of Faith Day is to celebrate faith and belief, not to ridicule it,” said Mindegaard.  “On behalf of the organization, I apologize to everyone who was there and all our fans who believe.  Harvey Bellmore likes to make jokes, but this one was over the line, and he knows that.”  In addition, the team suspended him for their next game against the Saskatchewan Shockers.

When asked if he was offended by Bellmore’s antics, Anderson laughed.  “Nah, I get it.  Harvey’s Harvey,” said the Dakota blueliner.  “He’s a total screwball.  Coo-coo bananas, you know?  He didn’t mean anything by it.  But yeah, he really ruffled some feathers out there.  Hoo boy.”

Some speculated that Bellmore’s stunt was an attempt to get the rebuilding Jackalopes to trade him.  Bellmore denied this, and sounded a mildly penitent note after the suspension was announced.  “They told me I was a bad boy, and that I made a lot of people mad,” said the center.  “And I feel bad about that, I really do.  I wasn’t trying to make fun of anyone’s beliefs.”

He then went on to question the focus of the event.  “But I thought that Faith Day was missing some other perspectives.  I mean, all the people who talked were Christians.  They’re not the only ones with faith, right?  I mean, nobody got up and talked about how being Jewish or Muslim or whatever made them better at sports.  So I thought I’d come in with a different opinion.  But I realize now it was dumb. They told me it was dumb, which makes sense, because I’m dumb.  So don’t listen to me, okay?”