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?”


West Wide Open

Looking at the Western Division standings about one-third of the way through the 2018 SHL season, one thing is clear: the Michigan Gray Wolves are the overwhelming favorites to win the division title.  They’re already 12 points clear of their nearest competitor and are outscoring their opponents by nearly a 2-to-1 ratio.  Goaltender Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist and the defense remain as stingy as ever; even a serious injury to top blueline “Mad Max” Madison has barely slowed the Wolves down.  Michigan seems well on its way to nailing down that top spot.

But there are two playoff spots in each division this season.  And if first place appears all but sewn up, second place is up for grabs.  No team is out of the running, and no team seems to have much of an edge at this stage.

“It’s just a wide-open brawl, is what it is,” said Saskatchewan Shockers D Wyatt Barnes.  “A total pig pile.  No one knows what’s going to happen.”

At the start of the season, the Anchorage Igloos were heavily favored to make it to the playoffs.  Indeed, they’ve held down second place for much of the year.  But the defending division champs haven’t been playing up to their usual standards; in fact, they’ve struggled to get much above the .500 mark, and they haven’t won more than two in a row since the first week of the season.  “We’ve really struggled to find our rhythm,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor.  “We show flashes of our true form, especially against tough opponents, but then we sleepwalk against lesser teams.  We’re going to get more consistent if we’re going to make the playoffs.”

This week’s games demonstrated Castor’s point.  Anchorage put up a huge statement win on Sunday, stomping mighty Michigan 5-0.  But they followed up that effort with a pair of embarrassing losses, falling 3-1 to Dakota and 7-5 to Kansas City.  “I know the feeling in the clubhouse is that we’re the superior team,” said the Anchorage coach, “but we’ve got to prove that on the ice.”

Two points behind Anchorage are the Saskatchewan Shockers, who look ready to shake their hapless reputation.  They had a shot to take over sole possession of second place on Friday, but dropped a 5-2 decision to the Igloos.  The key to the Shockers’ success this season has been their defense.  Coach Myron Beasley has made a point of tightening up his team’s play in its own end, and his efforts are paying dividends.  Saskatchewan is limiting opponents to 29.3 shots per game, the fourth-best total in the league.  The improved defense has been a blessing for goalie Zeke Zagurski, who has historically faced a barrage of enemy shots on a nightly basis.  This season, he’s lowered his GAA to 2.52 while stopping shots at a .919 clip.  Backup Shawn Stickel has been even better in limited action, compiling a stingy 1.33 GAA and .929 save percentage.

Unfortunately, the Shockers’ defensive efforts seem to be taking a toll on their offense.  Saskatchewan has averaged 32.8 shots per game, solidly in the middle of the pack, but they’ve only scored 53 goals, third-worst total in the league.  “We’re not putting ourselves in position to get top-quality shots,” said LW Troy Chamberlain.  “We’re not getting the net-front presence we need to create chaos.  We need some more of those greasy goals that a team like Michigan is so good at.”

Saskatchewan is one point up on the Seattle Sailors, who are the Shockers’ mirror image.  The Sailors have a potent attack, having scored 75 goals already this season, led by RWs Elliott Pepper (13 goals) and Vince Mango (11).  However, their fast tempo and aggressive approach has led to a vulnerability on defense.  Seattle has given up 82 goals, the highest total in the league.  Part of the issue is their tendency to allow odd-man rushes (they’re allowing 37 shots per game).  They’re not getting much help between the pipes, either.  The Sailors have rotated between Rocky Goldmire (6-7-0, 4.12 GAA, .893 save percentage) and “Jersey Mike” Ross (3-3-1, 4.00, .883); neither has done enough to nail down the starting job.

“We need to spend a little less time on the fun stuff and a little more on the lunch-pail, building-block stuff,” said Sailors coach Harold Engellund.

One point back of the Sailors are the Dakota Jackalopes, having a bit of a surprising season under new coach Flim Dahlgren.  The Jackalopes had a good deal of success during the inter-divison round last week, winning five in a row against the East.  They’ve come back to earth this week, dropping three of their last four.  But for a team that’s widely assumed to be in a rebuilding mode, Dakota has been surprisingly competitive.  They’re getting a boost from two of the only remaining veterans on the team: C Lars Karlsson (tied for the team lead with 11 goals) and D Matt Cherner (whose 19 assists).  Karlsson and Cherner are widely assumed to be top targets at the trading deadline; if the Jackalopes remain in contention, GM Paul Mindegaard may have some difficult decisions to make.

Even the expansion Kansas City Smoke are only seven points out of second place.  To be fair, their relative success to this point has been driven largely by an unsustainble shot-conversion percentage (they’re scoring on almost 14% of their shots, by far the highest rate in the league).  That said, they’re seeing strong seasons from LW Pascal Royal (12 goals, 28 points), C Mike Rivera (13 goals), and rookie Zachary Merula (8 goals, 18 points).  “We’re definitely not expecting a playoff spot this year,” said coach Randy Bergner.  “But I’m really liking what I’m seeing out of the boys so far.”

There’s plenty of time left in the season, and things could shake out in the coming weeks.  Anchorage could take control of the race; Dakota and Kansas City could fall off the pace; Saskatchewan or Seattle could get more balanced and go on a run.  But for the time being, the race remains a muddle.  “It’s up for grabs,” said Seattle’s Mango.  “Anybody could swoop in and take this.  This is a chance to show what we’re made of.”


2018 SHL Season Preview – West

Anchorage Igloos

The Igloos are certain to be in the championship mix again this season.  Their high-octane offense – led by C Jake Frost, the SHL’s top scorer – returns largely intact, as does their formidable defense and rock-solid netminder Ty Worthington.  All that top-shelf talent will be enough to make the Igloos dangerous, and their shocking upset loss in last year’s SHL Finals should add some fuel to their competitive fires.  A potential return trip to the Finals, however, hinges on a couple of key factors.  LW Jerry Koons had a breakout season in 2016 with a 44-goal, 90-point effort.  If he can duplicate that performance, it will prevent opposing defenses from overloading on Frost and make the Igloos’ attack nearly unstoppable; if he takes a step back, Frost will need to pick up the slack.  Anchorage lost a chunk of its young depth in the expansion draft, as both RW Tyler Cloude and C Derek Humplik were plucked away.  As a result, they could be vulnerable to injuries.  They’re thinner still in the crease; previous backup Riley Lattimore was a salary-cap casualty, so if Worthington goes down for an extended period, they’ll need to rely on rookie Wendall Cantillon.  Given good health and a strong performance from Koons, there’s no reason not to pick the Igloos to go back to the Finals and win this time.

Michigan Gray Wolves

Well, maybe there’s one reason to pick against the Igloos.  The Wolves have been Anchorage’s fiercest competitor since the SHL began, and with the expanded four-team playoff field, it’s likely they’ll meet in the postseason.  Michigan’s ferocious, take-no-prisoners defense remains its calling card, backstopped by all-world goalie Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist.  There are likely to be a lot of low-scoring games again at Cadillac Place this season.  The Wolves have a weakness, though: age.  A lot of their key players – Cs Hunter Bailes and Warren Marlow, D “Mad Max” Madison, LW Vladimir Beruschko, RW Gordon Lunsford, D Frank Mudrick, LW Todd Douglas, and RW Oskar Denison – are on the wrong side of 30.  Last year, Bailes and Marlow both missed significant time with injury, and Michigan’s offense went down the drain when they were out.  If they or any of the other players on the above list get hurt, the Wolves could find themselves in trouble.  Michigan has a couple of rising young stars, most notably D Fritz Kronstein and RW Benoit Poulin, but their core is aging rapidly and may not have too many more bites at the apple.  And the Wolves are always a Lundquist injury away from slipping back into the pack.  The sun hasn’t set on this bunch yet, though, and Michigan could easily have another Vandy run left in them — if they can stay healthy.

Saskatchewan Shockers

The Shockers continued on their path of slow, steady improvement in 2017; they got a strong performance from rookie C Elliott Rafferty (23 goals, 40 points) to complement LW Troy Chamberlain (27 goals, 59 points) and C Napoleon Beasley (29 goals, 57 points), and they finished in a surprising third-place tie, albeit with an unimpressive 23-35-2 record.  Their moves for 2018 promise more modest improvement; they drafted a quality young center in Riley McCrea, made a surprise free-agent signing in LW Vonnie McLearen, and promoted several promising minor-leaguers (RW Colton Jabril and Ds Robby Rohrman and Valeri Nistrumov).  Perhaps their most impressive move was jettisoning the yellow-and-seafoam color scheme that made them the joke of the league.  With all those steps forward, it’s not hard to imagine Saskatchewan reaching the .500 mark for the first time.  It’s a lot harder, though, to imagine the Shockers challenging either Anchorage or Michigan for a playoff spot.  (They were reportedly in hot pursuit of RW Elliott Pepper from the Jackalopes; if they had acquired him, this team might have been truly dangerous.)  It’s harder still to imagine them holding a promotion that owner Heinz Doofenshmirtz doesn’t screw up somehow.  And it’s still tough to figure out the Shockers’ end game.  Are they trying to become the next Dakota, a team that’s talented enough to post respectable records but not talented enough to go all the way?  Or does Doofenshmirtz think he has the nucleus of a true contender on his hands?  If so, is coach Myron Beasley the man to get them there, or is he merely a quippy nice guy who needs to be replaced with a taskmaster who can make this team elite?  This season should say a lot about the direction of this promising but incomplete young club.

Dakota Jackalopes

Last season, the Jackalopes shot for the moon, loading up on free agents to take a shot at a title.  Instead, they fizzled, finishing tied with Saskatchewan at 22-35-2 and firing coach Harold Engellund at season’s end.  Since then, things have only gotten worse, as Dakota has slashed payroll and shipped out several big names.  They lost C Mike Rivera in the expansion draft, and have traded away RW Elliott Pepper and Ds Doron Lidjya and Craig Werner, all for prospects.  Rumor has it that they’re fielding offers on D Rusty Anderson and Cs Lars Karlsson and Harvey Bellmore as well.  The roster churn leaves new coach Flim Dahlgren in a challenging position, trying to evaluate and develop the team’s young talent while trying to keep up morale among the veterans.  It’s likely to be a long season at Black Hills Arena, as the Jackalopes are unlikely to contend.  But there will be a lot of young players thrown into the fire; if some of them are able to seize the opportunity and show promise, then this rough season may wind up paying long-term dividends.

Seattle Sailors

Seattle is likely the most improved team in the West, as GM Jay McKay made several aggressive moves in hopes of building a contending team.  The Sailors drafted LW Alphonse Gaspard, signed C Foster Culp and G “Jersey Mike” Ross as free agents, and acquired RW Elliott Pepper and D Doron Lidjya in the Dakota fire sale.  Seattle upgraded behind the bench as well, dumping the volatile Stewart Corrigan and hiring ex-Jackalopes boss Engellund.  Clearly, the Sailors will be better this season… but how much better?  Seattle should be able to surpass rebuilding Dakota, and they should be competitive with Saskatchewan.  The Sailors will be superior offensively, while the Shockers have the better defense and goaltending.  But the question that applies to Saskatchewan applies here: is this the nucleus of a true contender?  The Shockers seem like they might be a top-flight scorer away from challenging Anchorage and Michigan.  For the Sailors, the question is whether Vince Mango can be the superstar that the team needs him to be.  The winger is one of the SHL’s leading scorers, but he’s generally regarded as a one-dimensional player, being a mediocre passer and an indifferent defender.  Many around the league also question his maturity and leadership credentials, as he’s better known for his theatrical goal celebrations than for hard work or heads-up play.  If Seattle is going to become an elite club, they’ll need Mango to become proficient in other aspects of the game than shooting.  If Rocky Goldmire can step it up between the pipes, that would help too.

Kansas City Smoke

Like most expansion teams, the Smoke seem destined for a last-place finish.  The team lacks the offensive firepower to compete, and neither Oliver Richardson nor Brooks Copeland has much experience as a starting goalie.  There will likely be two interesting storylines in Kansas City this season.  The first is how coach Randy Bergner, a highly-regarded minor-league bench boss who won a division title in Omaha last season, will handle the trials and tribulations of an expansion squad.  Bergner has expressed a desire to build a cohesive, team-first organizational culture; if he can pull that off with a ragtag squad that’s likely to pile up the losses, he’ll definitely have earned his stripes.  The other thing to watch is what the Smoke does with their flippable assets.  Unlike their counterparts in Boston, who focused on picking as many young players as possible, Kansas City nabbed a number of veterans (Richardson, C Phil Miller, LWs Pascal Royal and Piotr Soforenko, and Ds Doug Wesson, Hans Mortensen, and Vitaly Dyomin) who could turn into attractive trade pieces.  They also signed free-agent D Tony Hunt and LW Louis LaPlante, who could potentially have value if they can bounce back from down seasons.  If KC finishes the season with the same roster that takes the ice on opening night, they’ll have screwed up royally.  All eyes will be on GM Garth Melvin, who will have to make some shrewd moves to turn those journeyman vets into prospects that might help the Smoke down the road.  If you’re going to Kansas City this season, though, expect to find good barbecue and bad hockey.

Projected Finish:

  1. Anchorage
  2. Michigan
  3. Saskatchewan
  4. Seattle
  5. Dakota
  6. Kansas City

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.”


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.