Igloos Co-Owner Buys Jackalopes, Moving Them to Milwaukee in ’21

Coming into the 2020 offseason, the SHL had one item atop their to-do list: find a buyer for the Dakota Jackalopes.  The league assumed control of the Jackalopes from then-owner Roger Scott at the trading deadline, as the team encountered severe financial distress.  They had no interest in continuing to operate the team next season, so they were eager to find a new owner as soon as possible.  They understood that the new owner was likely to relocate the team.  They didn’t expect, however, that the new owner would already be a member of the SHL family.

Colin Mills, co-owner of the Anchorage Igloos, officially agreed this weekend to purchase the Jackalopes franchise.  Mills had reportedly been in talks with the league for several weeks, and the other owners unanimously approved the sale on Sunday.  Upon taking ownership of the team, Mills announced that he would be moving it to Milwaukee.

“I am pleased to announce that this saga has finally reached its conclusion,” said SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell.  “We have tried for multiple years to seek an outcome that would allow the Jackalopes to remain in the Dakotas, but it has become painfully clear that the market was not viable.  Now, the franchise has a new lease on life, with an owner who has the means and the track record of success, and in a city that can support it.  I’m excited for great days ahead!”

For Mills, the choice of city was a no-brainer.  “I love Milwaukee,” he said.  “It’s a lively, fun city and a great place for a hockey team.  Honestly, I can’t understand why there hasn’t been a team there from the start.  I can’t wait to bring the Vandy to the shores of Lake Michigan!”

The new owner said that his first priority would be to hire a general manager, and then work with the new GM to hire a coach.  The Jackalopes did not renew the contracts of GM Paul Mindegaard or coach Flim Dahlgren at the end of the season.  Mills said that the new GM would have free rein in shaping the roster – and a healthy budget with which to do so.  Dakota finished the season with the league’s smallest payroll.

“As an owner, I want to find the smartest GM I can, and then trust him to evaluate the talent and build a winning team,” Mills said.  “One thing’s for sure, though: the days of salary dumps and avoiding high-dollar players are over.  I want our team to have a competitive payroll, and we certainly have plenty of room under the cap to go stock up.”

The Jackalopes players reacted positively to news of their new owner.  “I’m going to miss our fans in Dakota,” said LW Ryan Airston.  “They were the best.  But playing in front of bigger crowds, and knowing that we’ll be able to re-sign guys and go after big-name free agents, that’s really exciting!  It’s such a change from the last few years that I’m still a little bit in shock.”

“I’m looking forward to having some stability, finally,” said LW Joe Freelander, who earlier this year called for the Jackalopes to move.  “There’s been so much churn in the locker room, so many questions about what was going to happen.  Now we have some answers and a stable future, and that will allow us to just focus on hockey.”

Mills said that he plans to hold a rally in Milwaukee soon, at which he will unveil the team’s new name and logo.

And what happens to the Igloos?  Mills sold his share of the team to his co-owner, Leslie Mills.  She seems to be looking forward to sole ownership.  “Finally, I have total control!” Leslie Mills said.  “It’s all mine!  Hahahahaha!”

Jackalopes Dismiss GM Mindegaard, Coach Dahlgren

The Dakota Jackalopes are likely in for an offseason of change.  After the league assumed control of the team in midseason, they will have a new owner next year.  They will almost certainly be playing in a new city under a new name.  Many of the team’s players might be headed elsewhere.  It’s hard to know exactly what the Jackalopes look like when they take the ice in 2021.  But on Saturday, the organization took their first steps toward a fresh start, parting ways with GM Paul Mindegaard and coach Flim Dahlgren.  Both GM and coach were at the end of their contracts, and the organization put out a press release calling the departures a “mutual decison.”

Mindegaard, a South Dakota native, has been in charge of the Dakota franchise since the SHL’s beginning.  He won some plaudits in the early years for constructing a competitive team that, while not quite as strong as the reigning powers in Anchorage and Michigan, played entertaining hockey.  According to team sources, however, those years were marred by a power struggle between Mindegaard and then-coach Harold Engellund.  Mindegaard prevailed when Engellund was fired after the 2017 season.  In the long run, however, the winner may have been Engellund; the coach was hired by the Seattle Sailors (now the Portland Bluebacks), and is about to make his second straight postseason trip.

The Jackalopes, meanwhile, slowly disintegrated as then-owner Roger Scott grew tired of the team’s mounting losses and directed a reduction in payroll.  Mindegaard wound up presiding over a series of trades that sent virtually all of the team’s high-salaried players packing, and Dakota sank from a promising would-be contender to a rebuilding basket case.  According to team sources, the primary reasons that Mindegaard kept his job were his close relationship with Scott and his willingness to avoid speaking publicly about the team’s financial issues.

“It’s been an honor to be GM here for as long as I have,” Mindegaard said.  “I’m sorry that we were never able to bring a Vandy here, but this has been a great experience.”

Flim Dahlgren

Dahlgren became coach of the Jackalopes in 2018, succeeding Engellund.  In three seasons with the team, he compiled an 63-110-19 record.  In spite of Dakota’s undistinguished performance, Dahlgren earned praise for mentoring his young players, insulating the team from the off-ice distractions regarding financial woes, and for his philosophical musings in post-game press conferences.  He managed to keep the team competitive even after the craziness around this year’s trading deadline, when the Jackalopes attempted to trade stars Ryan Airston and Arkady Golynin and saw the league veto the deals.

At the end of last season, there was a wave of rumors that Dahlgren was considering resignation due to the team’s seemingly endless salary-slashing trades.  But both team and coach vehemently denied those rumors, and he stayed with the team.

“With all the craziness going on around the team and all the changes on the roster, things could have really gone south in the locker room,” said Airston.  “But that didn’t happen, and Coach Dahlgren really deserves the credit for that.”

It is considered likely that Dahlgren will be considered for most or all of the coaching openings this offseason.  Other teams that will be seeking new bench bosses include the Michigan Gray Wolves (after Ron Wright resigned in the middle of the season) and the New York Night (who fired Nick Foster last month).  The Washington Galaxy are reportedly considering whether to dismiss Peter James; for now, the team says that it is “in the evaluation process.”

At this time, the Jackalopes are the only team with an opening in the GM’s office.

2020 SHL Week 15 Transactions

  • On Wednesday, the Dakota Jackalopes called up D Jon Rogers and sent LW Rick Crisak back to their CHL affiliate in Idaho.  The Jackalopes called up Crisak a couple weeks ago, and he appeared in 3 games for Dakota without recording a point.  Rogers makes his first appearance with the Jackalopes this season.
  • On Saturday, the Hamilton Pistols placed LW Magnus Gunnarson on the injured list.  Gunnarson exited late in the second period of Saturday’s 6-3 loss to Hershey with an upper-body injury and did not return.  He is expected to be miss the rest of the regular season and at least the first round of the playoffs.  The team did not announce a corresponding move at this time.

Interview of the Week: Ryan Airston

This week’s interview is with Dakota Jackalopes LW “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston.

SHL Digest: This week, we’re talking with a longtime SHL star who’s had a long and twisting journey this season, Ryan Airston.  Ryan, thanks for speaking with us.

Ryan Airston

Ryan Airston: Hi, everybody!  “Long and twisting journey” is probably an understatement, to be honest.

SHLD: You said it!  Let’s talk a little bit about the year you’ve had.  In the offseason, you signed a contract extension, seemingly putting to rest the rumors that the team couldn’t afford you.  But then, a couple weeks after the season started, one of your teammates got those rumors going again by saying the team should move because attendance was too low.  The team denied the rumors, but then a couple months later, they tried to trade you and Arkady Golynin, only to have the league veto those trades and ultimately assume control of the franchise.  Now you’re closing in on the end of the season, and everything’s up in the air: no one knows where the team will be next year, or whether the GM and coaches will be back, or any of the players either.

RA: Man, it kind of makes me dizzy just hearing all that.

SHLD: With good reason.  So, first of all: how do you feel about everything that’s happened?

RA: Mostly, I feel bad for our fans.  Maybe there haven’t been enough of them to save the team, but they’ve been loyal.  They’ve kept showing up regardless of all the headlines and crazy stories.  And their reward for all that loyalty is they’re probably going to lose their team.  That just sucks.

SHLD: And what about you? How did you feel about almost being traded?

RA: I wasn’t happy to get traded.  Obviously, when I signed the extension here, that showed how much I wanted to stay with this team and these fans.  I hoped that by staying, it was a sign that the payroll cuts were over, and that the team was going to start building again.  I never imagined that less than a year later, I’d find myself on the way out of town, or almost.  I didn’t want to leave my teammates and the organization.  It felt like getting on a lifeboat from a sinking ship, only I was put on the lifeboat against my will.

SHLD: So were you happy when the trade was vetoed?

RA: It was complicated.  I was glad to be back, yeah.  But the whole mess showed just how badly off the team was financially, and with the league taking ownership, we’re all kind of stuck in limbo waiting to see what happens next.

SHLD: If the team does wind up in a new city, will you still want to stay?

RA: I think so, yeah.  I expect that in a new city, we’ll be able to start building again, and that’s exciting.  It’s a lot more fun when you know you’re playing for something.

SHLD: One last question: we’ve gotten a ton of question from people who want to know how your fluffy bunny ranch is doing. Can you provide us with an update?

RA: Doing very well, thanks.  This year’s bunnies are the fluffiest ones yet.  We’re up around 300 bunnies at this point.  If you know someone who wants a fluffy bunny for a pet, tell them to give me a call; I’ll hook them up!

SHLD: Sounds good!  Thanks for another fun interview, Ryan.  Good luck the rest of the season!

RA: It’s next season that I’m focused on at this point, but thanks!