Interview of the Week: Jefferson McNeely

This week’s interview is with Washington Galaxy RW Jefferson McNeely.

SHL Digest: This week, we’re here with the star of the Washington Galaxy, Jefferson McNeely.  Jefferson, thanks for talking with us.

Jefferson McNeely

Jefferson McNeely: I never pass up an opportunity to talk!  Let’s do it.

SHLD: The last time we interviewed you was four years ago, when you and the Galaxy were on the verge of clinching your second straight division title.  Needless to say, it’s a different situation now.

JM: You mean that we’ve gone down the toilet?

SHLD: That’s not how we were going to put it.

JM: It’s okay, it’s true.  The only thing we’re competing for now is the #1 draft pick.

SHLD: You’re a competitive guy, by all accounts.  How does it feel to be on a team that’s struggling?

JM: I’m not gonna lie, it’s tough.  Being in a playoff race, playing for those stakes, it gives you that extra juice.  When you don’t have that, the grind starts to wear you down.  It’s a long season, man.

SHLD: You’ve been in Washington since the beginning.  One of your longtime teammates and friends was Casey Thurman, who was dealt to Boston earlier this year after expressing criticism of the crowd and the team’s direction.  How did you feel about the trade?

JM: It was a bummer to see Thurm go, obviously, but I definitely wasn’t surprised.  There’s no point keeping a Ferrari in the garage if all you’re going to do is driving it to the store.  I don’t know if Boston has the horses to compete this year, but they’re moving in the right direction and getting Thurm is a huge plus for them.

SHLD: Did you have any qualms with the things he said?

JM: Absolutely not.  Listen, if anyone around here has the standing to criticize how things are going, it’s him.  He’s in the prime of his career, and he doesn’t have a ring.  He shouldn’t have to spend the rest of his prime on a last-place team.  He did what was right for him, and I have nothing but respect.

SHLD: A lot of the things you just said about your former teammate also apply to you.  You’re a couple years older than him.  Are you trying to hint that you’d wish you’d been moved at the deadline?

JM: No, not me.  You forget, I was a free agent before the season and I chose to stay in DC.  If I wanted out, I’d have gone somewhere else then.

SHLD: So what’s the difference between you and Thurman?  How is it that you’re happy to stick around, while he had to go chase a title?

JM: I’m accustomed to DC.  I like the city, and I like the fans.  And, honestly, I’m used to being the star, and I like that too.  Thurm is the kind of guy who would go be a bottom-line grinder somewhere if he could help that team win a title.  I like to win, but I’m not a bottom-six guy, either.  Different personalities.

SHLD: So if you get to the point where your skills start to slide and you’re not getting top-line minutes anymore, would you retire?

JM: Yeah, probably.  Of course, easy for me to say that now.  Let’s see what happens.  I’ll probably be 39, 40 and still trying to hang on by my fingernails.

SHLD: So, what is it like working with a young Galaxy roster?  Are you trying to serve as a mentor to the younger forwards?

JM: Yeah, absolutely.  I think we’ve got a lot of good talent, and I’m trying to make sure they develop their skills and stay out of trouble.  The coaches are focused on their on-ice skills, and I’m trying to work with them on the off-ice stuff.  Where to go after the game, how to keep from going crazy on the road, the types of people to stay away from, things like that.

SHLD: Do you think you might be a coach someday?

JM: Might be.  Who knows?  Right now, I’m focused on playing, and I think I’ve got a few years left at least.

SHLD: Fair enough!  That does it for this week’s interview.  Thanks again, Jefferson, and good luck the rest of the season!

JM: Hopefully the next time I talk to you, it’s because we’re going to the Finals again.

Interview of the Week: Ivan Trujwirnek

This week’s interview is with New York Night RW Ivan Trujwirnek.

SHL Digest: We’re here this week talking to Ivan Trujwirnek, hard-working winger for the New York Night. Ivan, thanks for speaking with us.

Ivan Trujwirnek

Ivan Trujwirnek: Yes, thank you very much.

SHLD: You’re not one of the league’s stars, but you’ve become a favorite of the New York fans.  What is it about you that they love?

IT: I think it is because I am more like a normal guy.  I am not tall and handsome, but I work very hard and I run into people a lot, so this makes people like me.

SHLD: And they do!  There’s a whole group of Night fans who call themselves the “Wrecking Crew,” who wear your jersey and cheer whenever you touch the puck or deliver a hard check.  You’re the only New York player with a personal fan club – not Brock Manning, not Rick Nelson, not Chase Winchester.  Does that surprise you?

IT: Yes, it is very much a surprise to me.  The first time when I get the puck and I hear people cheer in the upper deck, I was confused.  I thought maybe they were making fun of me.  But then I learn it is for real!

SHLD: Have you met any of them?

IT: Yes. They come down next to the glass during warmup.  I sign their jerseys and give them pucks.  They are very nice people.

SHLD: How did you get your nickname “Trainwreck”?

IT: The first time I play in America, my coach cannot say “Trujwirnek.”  I say it to him many times, but still he does not have it.  Finally he says, “Oh, I give up.  The hell with it.  From now, I call you Trainwreck.”  And soon my teammates also call me this.  So okay, I go along.

SHLD: Does the nickname bother you at all?

IT: No.  I think it is a good nickname, since I crash into other players a lot.  I am a trainwreck, it is true.

SHLD: A lot of the Night’s players are finesse types, who like to shoot and prefer offense to defense.  You, on the other hand, play a harder-hitting, old-fashioned game.  Do you find it hard to mesh your style with your teammates?

IT: No.  I think it is a good balance.  They like to skate fast and take shots, and I stay back and play hard along the walls and in the neutral zone.  We work together.

SHLD: Your team is struggling to stay in the playoff race.  What do you need to do to get up to the top?

IT: I will of course play hard.  I think maybe we need to not always be quite so fast, not to allow breakaways all the time.  If we can have the good luck also, that will be good.

SHLD: Sounds like a good combination!  Well, thank you for your time, Ivan, and good luck the rest of the season!

IT: Thank you.  Hello to the Wrecking Crew!

Interview of the Week: Roger Stackledge

This week’s interview is with Michigan Gray Wolves interim head coach Roger Stackledge.

SHL Digest: We’re here this week with Roger Stackledge, who was named head coach in Michigan after Ron Wright‘s abrupt and shocking resignation in midseason.  Roger, thanks for talking with us.

Roger Stackledge

Roger Stackledge: Hey, sure. Glad to be here.

SHLD: So, we have to ask: was Coach Wright’s resignation as big a shock to you as it was to us?

RS: Oh, yeah, you bet.  I’d talked to him and I knew he wasn’t happy, but I never would have seen that coming.

SHLD: So you didn’t know ahead of time that this was coming?

RS: No, no way.  He called me after, and he said, “So I just quit.  I told them that they should hire you.”  And I paused for a minute and said, “Well, that’s something.  Thanks, I guess.”

SHLD: So how did you deal with that unexpected news?

RS: Well, for one thing, I was glad I had the All-Star break to prepare.  I took a couple days to call all the guys and say, “Okay, this isn’t what we thought was going to happen, but we’re going to move forward, and I’m going to need your help.” I’ve been the assistant here for a couple seasons, so I wasn’t coming in cold.

SHLD: And how are the players taking it?

RS: They’ve been great.  They were shocked, obviously, but they know we’ve got a job to do.  And that’s what I’m focused on: getting us to the playoffs.

SHLD: So you still like your playoff chances?

RS: Hey, why not?  We’ve got a strong veteran core, and we’re not just going to mail it in the rest of the year.  We’re going to stay in the battle.

SHLD: What do you think you need to do to catch up in the race?

RS: Obviously, our offense is the big issue.  When I took over, I made a couple changes in try to get a spark.  But really, the key is to be smart, be agressive, and look for our shot.

SHLD: Tell us a little bit about your career.

RS: Well, I was a stay-home defenseman in my playing days.  Big surprise, right?  I’m built like a fire hydrant, and I was when I played too.  I’ve been coaching for about 20 years now, mostly as an assistant.  I’ve been a head coach a couple times in the minors.

SHLD: Ron Wright was famously intense, a disciplinarian.  How would you describe your coaching style?

RS: I’m not as intense as Ron is.  I don’t think many people are.  The way I figure, this is mostly a veteran group here, and they ought to be treated like professionals.  Not that I’m trying to be their best buddy or anything, but I think a little lighter touch isn’t a bad thing.

SHLD: When you aren’t coaching, what do you do for hobbies?

RS: I love to fish!  I catch walleye, pike, and cod in the lake behind my house.  Also, I love to ride my motorcycle.  This summer, I’m thinking of riding across Canada.

SHLD: Sounds like fun!  Thanks for an interesting interview, and good luck the rest of the season!

RS: Thanks!  Should be an interesting ride, no matter what happens.

Interview of the Week: Eddie Costello

This week’s interview is with Portland Bluebacks C Eddie Costello.

SHLD Digest: We’re talking this week to one of the SHL’s top centers, Eddie Costello.  Eddie, thanks for speaking with us.

Eddie Costello

Eddie Costello: Long time no see!  I haven’t talked to you guys in a while.

SHLD: Yes, it’s been almost four years since the last time we interviewed you.

EC: Well, hey, glad to be back!

SHLD: The last time we talked, you were with Washington, and it looked like you might be there for your whole career.  But then last year, you were traded to Hamilton just in time to win the Vandy.

EC: Man, what a thrill!  We never quite got over that hump in DC, and it felt awesome to get to the mountaintop.

SHLD: Then, in the offseason, you left the Pistols and signed with Portland.  How did you choose to sign there?

EC: Well, it was clear that Hamilton didn’t have the cap room to keep me.  My agent explored the possibilities with them, but there just wasn’t a fit.  So I went to free agency, and Portland went after me very aggressively.  I really liked the construction of the roster, the organization as a whole, and I went for it.

SHLD: And now the Bluebacks have the league’s best record, just ahead of your former team.

EC: Yeah, wouldn’t that be wild?  Like being at a party with your new girlfriend and running into your ex.  Hopefully not as awkward.

SHLD: Any surprises with the Bluebacks so far?

EC: I’d say that the biggest surprise for me has to be Vince [Mango].  He has this reputation as a one-dimensional, selfish glory hog.  But he’s not like that at all.  He’s really sacrificing his chances to help the team succeed.  He doesn’t feel the need to be the focal point of the offense; he does whatever it takes to help us win.

SHLD: What do you think you need to do in the second half to stay on top?

EC: Just keep playing our game.  We know we’re in a tough division, so we can’t put it on cruise control.  We’ll keep the offense clicking, play smart in our own end, and keep the wins coming.

SHLD: Sounds pretty confident!

EC: Why not be confident?  I’ve got confidence in the guys in our locker room, the coaching staff, and everybody.

SHLD: We’ve heard reports of the sellout crowds there in Portland.  Do you find the crowds help you?

EC: Oh, no question about it.  We had some great crowds in DC, and in Hamilton too.  But the noise here is on another level.  It can be deafening.  And it gives you the boost, especially in the third period when your energy starts to sag.

SHLD: One final question, one we’ve wanted to ask for years: What’s with your hair?

EC: What, you don’t like the fork-in-an-electric-socket look?  I think it looks cool.  I kind of wish I’d come up in the era when hockey players didn’t wear helmets, because I hate the way it gets matted down when I play.

SHLD: Okay, fair enough!  Thanks for your time, and good luck the rest of the season!

EC: I’m gonna tell the guys you don’t like my hair.

SHLD: We never said that.

Interview of the Week: Justin Valentine

This week’s interview is with Hershey Bliss C Justin Valentine.

SHL Digest: We’re here this week with one of the SHL’s longtime stars, Justin Valentine of the Hershey Bliss. Justin, thanks for speaking with us.

Justin Valentine

JV: Man, about time you talked to me!  You’ve done interviews with Sweets [LW Lance Sweet] and Kirks [C Spencer Kirkpatrick] and Reeser [D Reese Milton], even our coach [Chip Barber].  I’m excited that I finally rated an interview.

SHLD: We’ve wanted to talk to you for a while!  You’re a busy man.

JV: It’s tough being a celebrity!  Everyone wants a piece of the action. (laughs)  No, seriously, let’s talk.

SHLD: Great!  You’ve been in the league for a long time.  When you started out, you were the anchor of the wildly popular “Love Line,” which was described as a “boy band on skates.”  Now you’re married, you’re solidly in the middle of your career, and you’ve won a Vandy.  How have you and the Bliss grown and changed over the years?

JV: Starting with a hard one!  Well, I’ve definitely changed a lot.  I’ve gotten a lot more mature.  I’ve gone from being a young, single guy on the loose to being a married man with a kid on the way.

SHLD: You’re expecting a child?  Congratulations!

JV: Yeah, it’s a boy!  He’s due in June.

SHLD: Very cool.

JV: So my life has changed a lot off the ice.  But it’s changed on the ice too.  We’ve had some glorious times – we even reached the mountaintop a couple years back – and we’ve had plenty of heartbreak too.  But that’s just made us tougher and stronger.  The Love Line is still going strong, but now our fans love us for our play, not just because we’re cute.

SHLD: Last season was definitely full of ups and downs for you.  You made it back to the postseason, which had to feel good after the stumble you guys had in 2018.  But then you got bounced in the first round by Hamilton, who went on to win the Vandy.  How did you feel about the way last season turned out?

JV: For me, it was more of a positive thing than a negative.  We showed that it wasn’t an accident that we won [in 2017], and that felt good.  Obviously, the ending stung; we felt like we could have taken it.  But that gives us more fuel for this season!

SHLD: What do you think you’ll need to do to get back on top this season?

JV: It’s not going to be easy.  The East is getting better every year.  Hamilton’s been just as tough again, and so are Quebec and New York.  Boston’s coming up too.  I think the key is for us to play within ourselves, play smart hockey, and keep the pressure up in the offensive end.  When we get our shots, we win.

SHLD: One last question.  Out of the original Love Line trio, Christopher Hart is the only one of you who’s still single.  Do you ever envy him for still having that freedom?

JV: (laughs) What are you trying to do, get me killed?  My wife is going to read this!

SHLD: Sorry.  You don’t have to answer the question.

JV: No, I’ll answer it.  Chris is obviously having a good time playing the field, but I’m happy to be married and I’m going to be thrilled to be a dad.  This is the next chapter of my life, and I’m ready.

SHLD: Sounds good!  Thanks for your time, Justin, and good luck the rest of the season!

JV:  Thanks. It should be a crazy ride!

Interview of the Week: Flim Dahlgren

This week’s interview is with Dakota Jackalopes coach Flim Dahlgren.

SHL Digest: We’re here today with Flim Dahlgren, who is in his third season as coach of the Dakota Jackalopes.  Coach Dahlgren, thanks for speaking with us.

Flim Dahlgren

Flim Dahlgren: It feels at times as though interviews are my primary job duty.  But I’m pleased to speak with you.

SHLD: You’ve earned a reputation as a coach with a philosophical streak, the kind of person who can turn a routine season-in-review question into a musing on the meaning of winning and losing.  Do you think that reputation helps you in working with a young team?

FD: I find this reputation somewhat hilarious, since it is largely based on an interview in which I was in a rather odd mood.

SHLD: Fair enough.  But your postgame press conferences are generally considered more eloquent and interesting than most.

FD: I also find it hilarious that any player or coach whose comments deviate from Standard Athlete Cliches #1 through 100 is promptly termed a “deep thinker.”  I don’t consider myself a particularly deep thinker, but I do find the Standard Athlete Cliches fairly tiresome.  If I repeated them after every game, I would bore myself to sleep.

SHLD: Let’s talk about the Jackalopes, and the ever-present rumors of financial trouble.

FD: A subject I find even more tiresome than Standard Athlete Cliches.  But I suppose there is no avoiding it.

SHLD: The Jackalopes have the smallest payroll and the worst attendance in the SHL. In spite of that, the team has been competitive.  What’s been the secret to your success?

FD: “Success” seems a bit generous, but thank you.  I’ve found that being the underdog is a powerful motivating factor.  If there is a secret, I suppose that it has been in getting the players to tune out the off-ice distractions, and focus on the game.

SHLD: But that’s no small task.  Every week, it seems there are new whispers that the team may not make payroll or will have to move.  Do those rumors make your job more challenging?

FD: Certainly they do; this is not something other SHL coaches have to deal with.  Our players read the same news stories you do, and they can look up in the stands and see the empty seats.  If every day, someone was telling you that the Digest was about to fold, would you be able to pay attention to this interview?

SHLD: Probably not.

FD: Exactly.  I don’t attempt to pretend the stories don’t exist; that would be ridiculous.  But I’ve also told them these facts: None of my paychecks have bounced.  Neither have theirs.  The hot rumor from last year was that the team couldn’t afford to re-sign Ryan Airston; they did.

SHLD: The lesson being: don’t believe everything you read.

FD: Precisely. I’ve urged my players to focus on what they can control, which is our play on the ice.  But I’ve also told them to come talk to me if they do read something that concerns them, and I’ve promised them honesty if I hear any news they should know.

SHLD: Speaking of rumors, there’s one we should address: the claims that you were contemplating resignation at the end of last season.  Care to comment on those?

FD: How much value is there in reliving the past?  Obviously, I remain the coach.  I made a commitment to this team and these players, and I intend to honor it.  This is a unique job with a unique set of challenges, but I embrace that in full.

SHLD: If the team does wind up moving, would you remain the coach then?

FD: That is tomorrow’s question.  My focus remains on today.

SHLD: Understand.  Well, thank you for your time and a very interesting interview.

FD: Certainly.  I hope this interview hasn’t ruined my deep-thinker reputation.

Interview of the Week: Walt Camernitz

This week’s interview is with Quebec Tigres LW Walt Camernitz.

SHL Digest: This week, we’re talking with one of the league’s strongest two-way wingers, Walt Camernitz.  Walt, thanks for speaking with us.

Walt Camernitz: Glad to do it.

Walt Camernitz

SHLD: You’re sort of an unsung hero in the SHL.  Your name isn’t typically mentioned among the league’s big stars, but you’re a consistent 20-to-30-goal scorer and you’ve been to three SHL Finals.  Why do you think you get overlooked?

WC: Well, I’m not a flashy personality.  I’m definitely more of a lunch-pail guy.  I get my share of goals, sure, but I focus on the unglamorous parts of the game, like wall work and getting into the dirty areas.  I don’t have a big hard slapshot or a fancy goal celly.  So it makes sense that people don’t think of me next to those big names.  It doesn’t bother me.

SHLD: On the other hand, you are highly appreciated by your teammates.  Everyone we’ve talked to in Washington and Quebec says you’re the perfect teammate.  Why do you think they appreciate you so much?

WC: I think of myself as a glue guy.  Some players focus on themselves first, and others focus on team first.  I’ve always had that team-first mindset, and I think other players appreciate that.  Especially here in Quebec, where it’s a team-first clubhouse.

SHLD: You’re now in the third year of your five-year contract with the Tigres.  Before that, you’d been with the Galaxy, and you were an integral part of the team there.  Was it tough for you when Washington let you go in free agency?

WC: I understood the situation.  Thurm [LW Casey Thurman] and I both came up for contracts the same year, and [then-GM] Ace Adams made it clear that there was only room in the budget for one of us.  They picked Thurm, and I get it.  He’s a great player, and he’s got that star personality more than I do.  You sell more tickets with Thurm.

SHLD: And Quebec certainly made you a generous offer.

WC: That’s the way I prefer to think about it.  Instead of thinking about whether DC wanted me or not, I thought about how much Quebec wanted me.  The first thing Coach [Martin] Delorme said to me when we met was, “You are the player we are missing.”  Obviously, it’s flattering as hell to hear that.  And they backed it up with a lot of cash.  They made my decision easy.

SHLD: And you proved your worth in your first season there, leading the Tigres to their first-ever Finals appearance and winning MVP honors.

WC: I honestly didn’t think I deserved the MVP, but it was nice of them to pick me anyway.  Going to the Finals was the best part.  I really want to see us get back there.

SHLD: The East looks highly competitive this season.  You’re right there in the mix with Hamilton and Hershey, and Boston and New York are hovering around the periphery.  What do you think you’ll need to do, individually and as a team, to get back to the postseason?

WC: On a personal level, I’m not lighting the lamp the way I should be.  So I need to be crashing the net a bit more, generating some opportunities.  As a team, we’re playing good lock-down D, our special teams are solid, but we need to generate a little more heat on offense.  I think that’s our key.

SHLD: Do you think you’ve got a good shot at the Vandy?

WC: If we play up to our best, absolutely.  There aren’t any pushovers in this division, but we’ve got what it takes to get there.

SHLD: All right!  Well, thanks for the time and an interesting interview.

WC: Thanks!  Hopefully, I’m holding the Vandy the next time I talk to you.