Interview of the Week: Jay McKay

This week’s interview is with Jay McKay, who was fired as GM of the Seattle Sailors this week.

SHL Digest: In our final regular-season interview of 2018, we’re here with Jay McKay, who was recently relieved of his duties as the Seattle Sailors GM.  Jay, thanks for speaking with us.

Jay McKay

Jay McKay: Well, hey, I’ve got plenty of time on my hands now.  So I’m happy to do it.

SHLD: In some ways, your dismissal was a surprise.  The Sailors have made significant improvements year-over-year in your tenure, thanks in no small part to the bold moves you’ve made to acquire talent.  But for better or worse, your season has been judged on your decision to go all in at the trading deadline, giving up several top prospects to acquire C Lars Karlsson and D Hans Mortensen, a decision that didn’t work out.  Do you think that’s a fair way to judge your tenure?

JM: Yeah, I think it’s fair.  I mean, it was my call to go for those deals.  I pushed for them, I made them happen.  And I said at the time that I thought I might get canned if the trades didn’t work, which they didn’t.  I’m a big boy; I’ve been fired before.

SHLD: At the time you made the deal, most observers felt that the Sailors were a long shot to catch Anchorage.  What led to the decision to make those trades?

JM: Exactly what you said.  We were a longshot to catch Anchorage, and I knew that we weren’t going to get there with the horses we had on hand.  I’m a gambling man and a big-time poker player, and I know that the way to win is to either go in hard or fold.  I didn’t feel like folding, so I went in hard.

SHLD: Do you think other GMs in your position would have made the same trades?

JM: Definitely not.  Most GMs are super-conservative; they don’t want to make a move that they’ll get blamed for if it goes wrong.  I figure most GMs in my position would have made a minor trade or two so they look like they’re trying, or maybe they’d have stood pat and waited for some of the young guys to develop.

SHLD: But that’s not your style.

JM: No, it isn’t.  I believe that if you’ve got a shot to win, you’ve got to take it.  You only get so many bites at the apple in life; why waste one because you’re scared?

SHLD: Looking back and knowing what you know now, would you still make those trades if you had to do it over?

JM: Hell yes.  Making those trades got everybody fired up: the players, the fans, everybody.  It’s me saying ‘I believe in you.’  Turns out that the Igloos got things figured out and shut us out of a playoff spot, but we went down swinging.  I feel good about that.

SHLD: So, what do you think of the team you’re leaving behind?

JM: I think it’s a helluva squad.  Getting past Michigan and Anchorage is going to be a heavy lift, don’t get me wrong.  But this is a talented, hard-working young bunch.  We shed some prospects at the deadline, but the cupboard isn’t bare there either.  Whoever the next GM is, if he plays his cards right, he’s going to look like a genius.

SHLD: Sounds good!  Thanks for an open and honest interview, Jay.  Good luck landing your next job!

JM: Thanks.  That’s the great thing about jobs: there’s always another one just around the corner.  I’ll be fine.

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Interview of the Week: Jake Frost

This week’s interview is with Anchorage Igloos C Jake Frost.

SHL Digest: This week, we’re talking to one of the SHL’s top scorers and best-known players, Jake Frost of the Anchorage Igloos.  Jake, thanks for speaking with us.

Jake Frost

Jake Frost: Hi, how you doin’?

SHLD: This week, your team clinched a trip to the postseason for the third time in four seasons.  How does that feel?

JF: Honestly, not that great.  We certainly feel like we could have done better this season, and just making the playoffs is definitely not our goal.  We want another Vandy, and if we’re really going to celebrate something, we’ll do it then.

SHLD: So would you consider the regular season a disappointment?

JF: It’s definitely below what we know we can accomplish.  One thing that I am proud of, though, is the way we played down the stretch, especially after the [trading] deadline.  Seattle loaded up and told the world they were coming for us, and we knew we had to strap in and really get the job done.  And we did.  We’ve won maybe 15 of our last 20 [actually, they’ve gone 16-3-1].  That’s the kind of play we expect of ourselves.

SHLD: Looking ahead to the playoffs, you’ll be facing your longtime rivals. the Michigan Gray Wolves, for a spot in the Finals.  What do you think of your chances in that series?

JF: It’s going to be a real battle, no question.  Michigan is tough, competitive, and they’re playing great hockey.  You know [coach Ron] Wright is going to have his team whipped up into a frenzy.  We couldn’t ask for a tougher matchup.  But I think we can take them.

SHLD: What are the keys to victory for you against the Wolves?

JF: They play a total physical game.  They’ll try to slow us down in the neutral zone, neutralize our speed advantage, deny us clean entries to the zone and clean looks at the net.  We’ll have to avoid letting them trap us, use our speed and skill to stay a step ahead, and take advantage of our opportunities when they come.

SHLD: Sounds like a tall order.

JF: Sure is.  We also know they’ll try to intimidate us, make the games as physical and ugly as possible.  We’ll need to step to them to show we aren’t scared, but don’t let them bait us into a bloodbath.

SHLD: Again, a pretty tough task.

JF: Oh, yeah.  But if you’re going to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.  I’ve got confidence in our guys.

SHLD: Turning away from the playoffs for a minute: Earlier this year, you pledged to donate $100 to the Lupus Foundation of America for every goal you scored, in honor of your teammate Les Collins’ sister Teri.  How’s she doing?

JF: Teri’s doing all right, thanks for asking.  Obviously, Les is a pretty private guy and doesn’t like to talk about it a lot, but we’ve definitely been keeping up with her situation.  She’s on a new course of medication that really seems to be helping.  But there’s still no cure, which is one thing the Lupus Foundation is working on.  And I’m proud to help out.

SHLD: It’s great that you’re doing it.

JF: Now I just need to score a bunch more goals in the final week so I can up the donation even more.  I’m aiming for $5000, which is seven goals away.

SHLD: Not an easy target with only four games left!  But you’ve gone on runs like that before.

JF: I got five this past week.  I can do it.

SHLD: Well, thanks again for your time, Jake, and good luck in the playoffs!

JF: Thanks.  We can use it!

Interview of the Week: Timothy Winston

This week’s interview is with Boston Badgers D Timothy “Cyclone” Winston.

SHL Digest: We’re here this week with one of the Boston Badgers’ top blueliners, Timothy “Cyclone” Winston.  Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Tim.

Timothy “Cyclone” Winston

Timothy Winston: Glad to do it.  When you’re on a last-place team, you don’t usually get a lot of interview requests.

SHLD: That’s the first question we wanted to ask.  You’ve had a strong season on the top pairing for Boston.  Obviously, one upside to playing for an expansion team is that you have the opportunity for a lot of ice time.  The downside, of course, is that you know you’re not going to be in contention.  How do you feel about that tradeoff?

TW: Well, I like to look on the bright side.  And I appreciate being able to skate on the top pairing; that’s a great opportunity.  Would I like to compete for a title?  Sure, but I’m still young and I’ve got plenty of seasons left.  There’s time.

SHLD: At the deadline, the Badgers traded a couple of your fellow defensemen, Shane Gladchuk and Scott Hexton.  Were you glad to be sticking around, or was there a part of you that would have liked to go with them?

TW: I knew I wasn’t going to go.  The week of the deadline, [GM] Jody [Melchiorre] called me into his office and told me they weren’t looking to move me.  He said that unless they got a deal that blew them away, they were looking to keep me and build around me.  I was really excited to hear that.

SHLD: Let’s hear about your nickname.  When did they start calling you “Cyclone”?

TW: When I was about 11 years old.  I had a big growth spurt that year, and I was still getting used to my body.  So a lot of times, I’d start moving up the ice or I’d be skating through behind the net and I’d just spin out of control.  Sometimes I’d take out one or two of my teammates with me.  So the coach started calling me “Cyclone Timmy,” because no one was safe when I was on the ice.

SHLD: Pretty funny!  Obviously, you managed to improve your self-control as you got older.

TW: For the most part, yeah.  Every once in a while, I’ll lose an edge and go down out there, and I’ll hear Coach Williams in my head saying, “Batten down the hatches, Cyclone Timmy’s on the loose again.”

SHLD: Obviously, there are a lot of young players on the Badgers.  Have you been trying to act as a teacher or mentor to them?

TW: Oh, absolutely.  Not so much with on-ice tips — we’ve got coaches for that — but more with handling the off-the-ice game.  How to pass the time on the road, how to spend your money wisely, places to go and places to avoid, stuff like that.  There’s a lot to learn when you’re a young guy on your own for the first time, and I want to help our guys avoid some of the traps that you fall into.

SHLD: Things like women, nightclubs, like that?

TW: Exactly.  Now, guys are going to go out, meet women, have a good time.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  But there’s some places and some situations that you’re just better off steering clear of, you know?  And I want to help these young guys figure that out, rather than them learning the hard way.

SHLD: One more question. Was that escape room adventure last week as crazy as the stories made it sound?

TW: Oh, it was even crazier than it sounded.  Trust me.  I also maintain that my team would definitely have won, if we hadn’t had to keep Bruiser and Wamp from killing each other.

SHLD: Good to know!  Well, thanks for an interesting interview.  Good luck next season!

TW: Thanks!  I’m looking forward to it.

Interview of the Week: Napoleon Beasley

This week’s interview is with Saskatchewan Shockers C Napoleon Beasley.

SHL Digest: We’re here with a young star on a rising contender, Saskatchewan’s Napoleon Beasley.  Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Napoleon.

Napoleon Beasley

Napoleon Beasley: You bet!  Glad to do it.

SHLD: Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first.

NB: Sure!  Always good to get rid of those pesky elephants.

SHLD: Last month, the Shockers fired their coach, who also happened to be your dad.  Was that a tough time for you?

NB: It wasn’t too tough, but it was a little awkward.  My dad’s a professional, and he knows that getting fired comes with the territory.  But I was basically hiding from the press, because I didn’t want to answer questions like ‘Did your dad deserve to get fired?’ or ‘Is the team going to get rid of you now that your dad’s gone?’  As if I was only on the team because my dad was the coach.

SHLD: Obviously not the case.  With production like yours, you could play with any team.

NB: Thanks!  I didn’t have any special insight on the situation just because he’s my dad, so I just didn’t talk about it.

SHLD: How did you find out your dad was fired?

NB: From him, actually.  Right after he got done talking to [GM Cooper] Matthews, he called me and said, “Well, your old dad got the ax.  See you at Easter!”  He took it pretty well, it seemed like.  I think he knew it might be coming.

SHLD: Obviously, one of the reasons your dad was let go was that the Shockers front office expects to contend for the playoffs.  Do you think you’re there yet, as a team?

NB: Obviously we’re not yet, based on the standings.  But I think it’s fair to have those expectations.  When we started out, we were the joke of the league, but we’ve grown and gotten better since that.  I think we should be striving for that next step of becoming contenders.

SHLD: You mention that “we” should be striving to contend.  Your contract is up at the end of the season.  Are you looking to re-sign with the Shockers, or will you plan to test free agency?

NB: Gosh, I don’t know yet.  We haven’t talked with the team about an extension yet, and I don’t even know if they’re interested.  But if they’re interested, I’d definitely want to have that conversation.  We’ve got a good group of young players and I think we’ve got a bright future.

SHLD: One more question: yet another Shockers promotional event went awry last week, with the blimp incident.  Do you think the Shockers will ever be able to have a promotion that doesn’t end in disaster?

NB: (laughs) Well, our promotions are always colorful, I’ll say that.  Doof [Heinz Doofenshmirtz] is a real hands-on owner, and he has a lot of creative ideas.  Some of those ideas might be a little better than others.  But there’s never a dull moment.

SHLD: Well, thanks for another fascinating interview.  Good luck with your next contract!

NB: Thanks!  I hope it’s a good one.

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.

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!