Interview of the Week: Ron Wright

This week’s interview is with Michigan Gray Wolves coach Ron Wright.

SHL Digest: We’re here this week with Ron Wright, the bench boss for the SHL’s best team, the Michigan Gray Wolves.  Coach Wright, thanks for speaking with us.

Ron Wright

Ron Wright: Don’t mention it.  Speaking to the press is part of my job.

SHLD: I’d ask you about the playoff race, but for your team, there really isn’t one.  You’ve been out front of your division since the start of the season, and now you lead the West by over 20 points.  Are you surprised at how easy it’s been?

RW: Let’s be clear; nothing about a professional hockey season is easy.  Whatever we’ve achieved, we’ve paid for in blood, sweat, and hard work.  That said, we were definitely not expecting to have a lead this large at this point in the season.

SHLD: Having a lead like that must make it tempting to take your foot off the gas and cruise.  How have you kept your team focused and productive?

RW: I’ve always told my guys that we don’t measure ourselves by the competition.  We measure against ourselves.  And they know that I’m not going to ease up in practice or slow down just because we’ve running away with the division.  Dedication and intensity is what wins championships.

SHLD: Speaking of championships, the East is looking stronger this year.  The Hamilton Pistols look like a serious contender, and they’ve played the Wolves tough all season, including a 1-1 tie this week.  What do you think of them?

RW: They’ve come a long way in a short time.  [Keith] Shields has done a hell of a job with them.  They’ve got a powerful offense, and they’ve really integrated their young guys into the program.  Their style is an interesting match for ours; they play faster and more offense-oriented.  And that’s definitely a matchup that could go either way.  We couldn’t take that for granted.

SHLD: The Quebec Tigres are another Eastern team doing well, although their style is more similar to yours.

RW: Yeah, they’re also focused on defense and shot suppression, slowing the pace down.  That’s the matchup that the league is dreading, because it would be so boring.  But that would be a real chess match.

SHLD: The trading deadline just passed, and almost all of the contenders made moves to improve.  The Wolves, on the other hand, stood pat.  Did you consider making trades?

RW: I’m sure [GM Tim] Carrier kicked the tires on a couple things, but no, we weren’t looking to upgrade.  My team is on the ice.  Trying to integrate a new player in midseason is always a challenge; if you’re going to do that, you’d better be confident that it’s a risk worth taking. I’m satisfied with all of my guys.

SHLD: Some thought that you might make a move after [center] Wesley Knight was hit with a 15-game suspension for PED usage.  How have you dealt with that?

RW: Let me say first, that was a real shock and a disappointment when I learned about that.  He’s too good a player to reach for a crutch like that.  But we’ve got Phoenix Cage, who’s stepped in and done a good job in that spot.  He’ll be able to hold the fort until Knight is back.

SHLD: Well, thanks for a wide-ranging and interesting conversation.  Good luck the rest of the season!

RW: Thank you.  I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish.


Interview of the Week: Nile Bernard

This week’s interview is with Anchorage Igloos C Nile Bernard.

SHL Digest: We’re here in the SHL’s northernmost outpost, talking to one of the Igloos’ key contributors, Nile Bernard.  Nile, thanks for speaking with us.

Nile Bernard

Nile Bernard: Sure thing.

SHLD: You’re not one of the famous names in the league, and a lot of fans might not recognize you, but your teammates say that you’re the glue that holds the team together.  How do you do that?

NB: I think that’s really more about the culture we have here.  On a lot of teams, the stars set the tone.  They decide whether the locker room is playful or serious, what kind of music we play after the games, and so on.  But here, it’s not like that.  Here, we all treat each other equally, from Frosty [Jake Frost] to last guy off the bench.  We’re like the Three Musketeers: all for one and one for all.

SHLD: Ah, but it’s more than that.  Your teammates say that you’re sort of the dad of the group.  For instance, when you’re on the road, you’re the one who scouts out new restaurants and makes reservations for the team.

NB: Yeah, I do that.  That’s mainly because I like food, and I like to explore different cities.  Most guys, they’re happy to go out when the game is over, but they just want to go have a good time.  I want to make sure we’re going to places worth going to.

SHLD: You’re also the player that new guys on the team go to for advice or to get situated.  You’ve even had several of the young players stay at your house.

NB: Yeah, that’s true.  I remember how it was when I was a rookie, how difficult it was to adjust to life in the pros.  Especially in a city like Anchorage.  It’s a great city, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a big change if you’re not used to it.  I try to make sure guys feel welcome, help them get their footing, get them pointed in the right direction.  When you’re with the Igloos, you’re part of our family.

SHLD: That’s a good attitude.  Do you think that’s helped the Igloos be one of the SHL’s most successful teams?

NB: Absolutely.  Don’t get me wrong, Coach [Sam] Castor has played a big role, and we’ve got a lot of talented guys.  But that family feeling definitely plays a role.  We trust every last guy on the roster.

SHLD: This year, you guys haven’t been as dominant as usual.  What do you think the issues have been?

NB: I don’t think it’s any one thing.  I think losing the Vandy last year was a blow, and it took us a while to shake it off.  I think our passing has been a little sloppier, our shots not quite on target.  But I think we’re starting to get sharper, and I expect a big second half from us.

SHLD: The trading deadline is coming up.  Do you expect any big moves for the Igloos?

NB: I don’t think so.  We might look for some additional depth, but we’ve all got confidence in the team we have.  Michigan’s going to be a tough battle [in the playoffs], but we’ve got the talent to take them down.

SHLD: Sounds good!  We appreciate the interview, as always.  Good luck in the second half!

NB: Thanks.  Look forward to talking to you again when we win the Vandy!

Interview of the Week: Stephane Mirac

This week’s interview is with Quebec Tigres RW Stephane Mirac.

SHL Digest: We’re here with the leading goal scorer for one of the East’s top teams, Stephane Mirac of the Quebec Tigres.  Stephane, glad to speak with you.

Stephane Mirac

Stephane Mirac: It is a good time to be speaking!

SHLD: A good time indeed!  Last season, the Tigres finished in fourth place with only 20 wins.  This season, you’re won 20 already, and the season isn’t even halfway complete!  You’re right in the thick of the playoff race.  What do you think has been the key to your success?

SM: We are better in every way.  Last season, our offense was a disaster: slow, predictable.  Now we are much livelier and more dangerous.  Our defense was pretty good last year, but this season we are elite.  Riki [Tiktuunen] has been again excellent, and he has also stayed healthy.  All this makes us a contending team now.

SHLD: You mentioned the offense’s improvement, which it definitely has.  You’ve played a large role in that yourself.  In 2017, you were in something of a sophomore slump, dropping from 28 goals to 18.  You grew up in nearby Laval, and you are considered a hometown hero; they nicknamed you “Stephane Miracle.”  Did the pressure of that affect you?

SM: I wish I could say it did not, but it did.  Quebec is a hockey-mad city in a hockey-mad country.  To be in that spotlight, to have a city’s hopes and dreams rest on you, it can be suffocating.  I felt the pressure very much.  When I did not score, I could not sleep.  Soon, a bad game became a bad week, and then a bad season.

SHLD: It got bad enough that you got into a public argument with your coach [Martin Delorme] when he jokingly called you a “missing person.”  Have you two resolved your differences?

SM: Oh yes, of course.  That was a minor thing.  I was frustrated and he was frustrated, and it turned into a fire.  But we spoke to each other like men, and quickly put it to rest.

SHLD: This season, you’ve nearly reached last year’s goal total already, and you’re back on track for a 30-goal pace.  How have you stepped up your game?

SM: Ah, but that is the secret!  It is not so much me; it is my teammates.  We have many more arrows in our quiver this time, so the load does not always fall on me.  Last year, every team knew that to beat Quebec, you needed to stop Mirac.  Now, even if a team stops me, there are many other players who can beat you.

SHLD: One of the major new contributors this year, is Walt Camernitz, who the Tigres signed away from Washington to a five-year deal.  He’s been on the top line with you this season.  How has it been to play with him?

SM: Cam is terrific, a very hard-working and gritty player.  He is not afraid to get in along the walls or in the crease, doing the dirty work.  He is a perfect fit for the kind of hockey we play.

SHLD: If the season ended today, you would be in position for a playoff spot.  You’re only six points behind Hamilton for the division lead.  Do you think you can do even better in the second half of the season?

SM: This is our goal, to be sure.  We wish to be even better with our defense, without giving up our power on offense.  If we can maintain our intensity and focus, I believe we can accomplish anything.

SHLD: Sounds like a man with his eyes on the prize.

SM: Oh yes. I have both eyes on that beautiful trophy. (laughs)

SHLD: Well, thank you for your time, Stephane, and good luck in the second half!

SM: If we win, it will not be luck, it will be hard work and skill.  But merci!


Interview of the Week: Vince Mango

This week’s interview is with Seattle Sailors RW Vince Mango.

SHL Digest: We’re here today with one of the SHL’s top scorers, Vince Mango.  Vince, thanks for speaking with us.

Vince Mango

Vince Mango: Sure thing!

SHLD: A lot of the players we talk to have always dreamed of being hockey players ever since they were little kids.  Was that the case for you?

VM: No, to be honest.  I’m from Florida, and hockey wasn’t a big thing down there.  What I really loved was food.

SHLD: Cooking food, or eating it?

VM: Both!  I had one of those Fisher-Price kitchens when I was little, and I used to pretend I had my own Food Network show.

SHLD: Did you have a favorite Food Network star?

VM: I loved Emeril [Lagasse].  He was a magnetic personality, with all his catchphrases – “Bam!” and “Pork fat rules” and all that – and I loved the way he cooked in front of a lot of a live audience.  My pretend cooking shows were always in front of an audience.  I’d flip a pancake or pull a cake out of the oven, and imagine the crowd going wild.

SHLD: That was good practice for being a pro athlete, in a way.

VM: Yeah, I guess I’ve always been a ham.  I’m addicted to the spotlight.

SHLD: So how did a kid from Florida who loved cooking get into hockey?

VM: Well, my dad was an ad executive, and when I was 9, he got a job in Toronto.  All the kids in my new neighborhood played hockey, so I learned to play too.  And I was good enough that the local coaches started taking notice.  It went from there.

SHLD: All the way to the SHL!  Not bad at all.  You’ve been called one of the best pure goal scorers in the league.  If you hadn’t gotten hurt last season, you might have won the scoring title.

VM: I’m confident I would have.  I was on a roll, and with an extra 10 games, I could have gotten to 50 [goals].

SHLD: On the flip side, you’ve been criticized as a one-dimensional player, someone who is only interested in scoring and doesn’t focus on other aspects of the game.  How do you respond to those critics?

VM: I think I get a bit of a bad rap; a lot of great scorers get tagged as being one-way players.  But I do care more about my scoring; I’m not gonna lie about that.  But think about it: what really gets the fans excited, gets them on their feet?  A goal!  It’s not a big check or a nice play along the boards.  Goals are what makes hockey fun!  And I want to do my part.

SHLD: You also attracted some controversy last season, when you took a selfie on-ice to celebrate a hat trick.  Looking back on that incident, do you think you did the right thing?

VM: I got a flak about that.  It’s almost like it’s a crime in this sport to have a personality.  The old guard scowled and wagged their fingers at me because I was having too much fun.  Now look, I know some of the guys on Michigan thought I was showing them up, and I wasn’t trying to.  But when a young guy tries to bring some life and fun into the game, that’s no reason to stomp it out.

SHLD: Let’s talk about your Sailors.  You and some of the other players talked about being playoff contenders this season, but you’ve struggled to get traction. Do you think you’ll be able to turn things around?

VM: We’re definitely not where we want to be.  We need to do a better job keeping the puck out of our net.  But the good thing is, nobody’s taken charge of that second spot yet.  So if we can tighten that up, we’ll be right there.

SHLD: One final question: Do you still like to cook?

VM: Oh, yeah!  Japanese cuisine is my favorite, but I cook all different kind of things.  And I’m still holding onto my dream of getting on the Food Network!

SHLD: Well, thank you for an interesting interview, Vince.  Good luck the rest of the season!

VM: If anyone out there knows someone who can get me on the Food Network, call me!


Interview of the Week: Pascal Royal

This week’s interview is with Kansas City Smoke LW Pascal Royal.

SHL Digest: We’re here today with another one of the league’s surprising top scorers, Pascal Royal of the expansion Kansas City Smoke.  Pascal, thank you for taking the time to talk with us.

Pascal Royal

Pascal Royal: But of course!  It is my pleasure.

SHLD: Last week, we spoke with Misha Petronov, who is having a mid-career breakout season.  The same thing is happening for you!

PR: Thank you for noticing. I am very happy with my performance so far.

SHLD: You’ve been a consistent 15-goal scorer throughout your career; this year, you’re only 20 games into the season and you’ve already scored a dozen.  The most points you’ve ever scored in an SHL season is 53, back in 2016; you’re already at 28 for this year.  What is the secret to your success?

PR: Just lucky, I guess. (laughs) To be serious, I worked very hard this offseason.  When you are an expansion player, you feel as though you have been left out with the garbage.  I felt I had much to prove.

SHLD: Well, you’re definitely proving yourself.  You’ve already racked up nearly as many points as you did all of last season.  Do you think you can keep this pace up?

PR: Yes, I believe so.  It helps that our offense is going very well.  That was a problem last year.

SHLD: It’s interesting that you mention last year.  You were with the Quebec Tigres, and even though you led the team in points with 34, they still left you unprotected in the expansion draft. Did that surprise you?

PR: No, if I am being honest.  Coach [Martin] Delorme was never happy with my defense.  They only picked me to begin because I am Quebecois, and they thought it would sell tickets.

SHLD: The Tigres are having a good year, and might even make the playoffs.  Are you sorry you’re not still there?

PR: Not really.  I want to be where I am wanted, and in Kansas City I am wanted.  I am looking forward.

SHLD: How do you like Kansas City?

PR: I like it!  It is a very fun place.  I love good music and good food, and there is a lot of both here.  Quebec is a nice town, but it is a little bit sleepier.

SHLD: Of course, when you’re on an expansion team and you do well, there’s always a risk that you might get traded.  How would you feel if you were dealt?

PR: I would be fine with it.  When you are a pro hockey player, you get used to being traded.  And if I am traded, I expect it would be to a contending team.  It would be fun to contend!  I have not in my career.

SHLD: Great attitude!  Well, thank you for an interesting interview, Pascal.  Good luck with the rest of the season!

PR: Thank you.  I am hopeful that the rest of my season will be so good.


Interview of the Week: Misha Petronov

This week’s interview is with New York Night LW Misha Petronov.

SHL Digest: Today we’re talking to a player who’s on his way to a breakout season, Misha Petronov of the New York Night.  Misha, thanks for speaking with us.

Misha Petronov

Misha Petronov: Thank you.  I must be having a good season if you are speaking to me.

SHLD: You certainly are!  You’ve always been a steady and solid performer, but you’ve never scored more than 14 goals in a season.  But here we are, only a quarter of the way into the season, and you’ve already scored 11!  How have you reinvented yourself at age 27?

MP: Reinvented?  That is a big word!  I think is better to say I got better.  I spent the offseason getting my best shape.

SHLD: You worked on getting in shape?

MP: Yes, right.  I felt that if I got in my best shape, I could be a better player.  So that’s what I did.

SHLD: What sort of exercise program did you follow?

MP: This might sound silly.  But in my family, we have many ballet dancers.  So I practiced ballet!

SHLD: Ballet!  That’s a pretty unusual fitness regimen for a hockey player.

MP: When my teammates heard that, they made much fun of me.  But it really makes sense.  To be good at ballet, you must be both strong and flexible.  Both of those things are good for hockey.  So I work like a ballerina!

SHLD: Interesting!  So, other than your ballet training, are there any other factors that have contributed to your success?

MP: I must give thanks to Coach [Nick] Foster also.  He believes that too often, we have waited for our top line to deliver the goals, and he wants the rest of us involved.  So he went to guys like me, Trainwreck [Ivan Trujwirnek], and Cat [Sylvester Catarino], and told us: “I want you to be aggressive.  I want to give you more minutes, but you must earn them with strong and aggressive play.”  And he is good for his word.  As we have played better, he has given us minutes.  It makes us a more balanced and stronger team.

SHLD: When you signed with the Night in free agency before last season [3 years, $2.7 million], a lot of critics said that you weren’t worth that kind of money.  Do you feel pressure to live up to your contract?

MP: Pressure, yes, but good pressure.  It gives me fire, to say, “They are paying me a lot of money, so I must work hard to earn it.”  And I do.

SHLD: If you can keep up this pace, you’ll be a bargain!  Before signing with New York, you spent two seasons with Anchorage, where you won a title in 2015.  How different was it with the Igloos as opposed to with the Night?

MP: Very different!  Anchorage is cold and small and far away, almost felt like I was still in Russia. (laughs)  New York is much bigger, more entertaining, tougher.  All the songs are true.  If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.  I had a good time in Anchorage, and I liked my teammates.  But I also have much fun here.

SHLD: What’s your favorite thing in the Big Apple?

MP: I love the Bronx Zoo!  Other guys like the theater or the clubs or the restaurants, but I am very fond of animals.  Almost any time when I am in New York and not at practice or a game, I go to the zoo.

SHLD: Really?  What’s your favorite animal?

MP: I like the giraffe.  It is such a crazy-looking animal with such a long neck.  If my neck were this long, I would fall over.  But the giraffe is graceful and beautiful.  It is amazing!

SHLD: Well, thank you for a very interesting interview, Misha.  Best of luck the rest of the season!

MP: Thank you.  It is fun to be interviewed!


Interview of the Week: Bruce Hogaboom

This week’s interview is with Washington Galaxy D Bruce “Boom Boom” Hogaboom.

SHL Digest: We’re here talking to one of the league’s most fearsome fighters, the man they call “Boom Boom,” Bruce Hogaboom.  Bruce, thanks for speaking with us.

Bruce “Boom Boom” Hogaboom

Bruce Hogaboom: No one calls me Bruce except my mom.  Call me Boom Boom or Boomer.

SHLD: Okay, Boomer.  When we talk about the real heavyweights in this league, the guys who really know how to throw down, a handful of names come up.  Max Madison in Michigan, Hercules Mulligan in Hamilton, Dmitri Kalashnikov in Quebec, Ruslan Gromov in Hershey, and you.

BH: “Heavyweight!”  I like the sound of that.  Yeah, the guys you mentioned, we’re the cream of the enforcer crop.

SHLD: Other than yourself, who do you think is the best fighter in the league?

BH: It’s gotta be Mad Max.  He’s wiry, so he’s hard to pin down, and he comes at you from a bunch of different angles.  And that guy has no fear whatsoever.  He’ll drop the gloves any time in any situation.  And he’s a good two-way player too, which is hardly fair.  That’s like a boxer who paints like Picasso.

SHLD: Some enforcers really like to fight, while others think of it as just their job.  Do you like to fight?

BH: Absolutely!  Isn’t it obvious?  I love to fight.  I love to watch fights.  I study the tape all the time.

SHLD: You study tape of… fights?

BH: Sure.  If you’re a big-time scorer, you watch tape of your shots to see if you need to tweak your approach.  If you’re a fighter, you study fights, to watch your technique and how other guys like to fight, so you can get the upper hand. Some people think that fighting isn’t a skill, but if you’re serious about it, it is.

SHLD: Interesting!  A lot of fans might be surprised to hear that.

BH: And honestly, I just love to watch my old fights for the fun of it.  A good fight is like a good steak or a fine wine; one of life’s pleasures.

SHLD: Have you always been a fighter?

BH: Ever since I could skate, pretty much.  I always wanted to play pro hockey, but I couldn’t shoot and I wasn’t a great passer.  I thought about being a goalie, but you have to be nuts to take some of the shots that they take.  But when I started scrapping, I found out I have heavy hands and I could fight well.

SHLD: That’s for sure!

BH: It felt good.  Before I started fighting, I usually got picked last or nearly last, because I wasn’t a great player.  But after, guys started picking me first, because they wanted the protection.  I recognized my skill and developed it.

SHLD: And you kept on developing that as you got older.

BH: Definitely!  When I was thirteen, I gave my fists nicknames, because I thought that sounded cool.  My right was Randy, and my left was Matilda.

SHLD: Randy and Matilda… interesting names!

BH: Yeah.  I’d loosen guys up with Randy, then I’d bring out Matilda and drop them. Word started to spread, and the enforcers in other towns would come around just to fight me.  And I beat them all.  I was the Mike Tyson of central Alberta.

SHLD: Some people say that fighting and enforcers have no place in the modern game, and should be banned.  What would you say to those people?

BH: I’d say that’s a crazy idea.  First of all, plenty of fans love the fights.  Look at all the fight videos on YouTube.  Listen to the crowd whoop it up when guys go at it.  People might not admit it, but they love the violence.  Second, it actually makes the sport safer.  Ask our skill guys, Jeff [McNeely] and Thurm [Casey Thurman] and Eddie [Costello].  If another team wants to take a run at those guys, they think about me coming out to even the score and they lay off.  It helps discourage the really dangerous hits.

SHLD: You’ve been suspended before, when you left the bench to fight with a player.  Did you think that was a fair suspension?

BH: [laughs] That game against Michigan, that was crazy.  The Wolves were out there flying around and railing guys, and the refs didn’t want to do anything about it.  So I put a stop to it.  Did I go too far?  Probably, but I tell you: they dialed it back the next time they played us.  They got the message.

SHLD: This season, you’re skating on the third pairing with a rookie, Bert Hampton, who’s also a tough customer!

BH: Hacksaw!  I love him.  On the team, they call him “Little Boomer,” because he plays the same way I do.  I’ve been teaching him all kinds of pointers: how to tie a guy up so he can’t get his hands free, how to protect against a blindside hit, the way to sneak in an extra shot or two before the refs break it up.

SHLD: You’re sort of his mentor, then.

BH: Definitely.  I don’t have any kids, but he’s like my son now.  I can’t wait to see him develop to his full fighting potential.

SHLD: Well, thanks for a fun and informative interview!  Appreciate the time.

BH: Glad to do it! I’m just out here keeping the spirit of old-time hockey alive.