Interview of the Week: Ward Jones

This week’s interview is with Quebec Tigres D Ward Jones.

SHL Digest: This week, we’re talking to one of the SHL’s toughest and most interesting players, Ward Jones.  Ward, thanks for speaking with us.

Ward Jones

WJ: I’m glad for the opportunity.

SHLD: You shocked everyone around the league this week when you announced that you intend to retire.  The announcement seemed to come from out of the blue.  You’re only 29, in the prime of your career.  You’re in good shape, and you’re putting up solid numbers.  How did you make the decision to walk away?

WJ: I started thinking about it just before the All-Star break, when I got injured.  I wound up being out for over a month, which is longer than I’ve ever been sidelined since I started in the game.  Then I thought about it some more after I got hurt again in the last couple weeks.  It got me thinking about what’s next, what I want to do with the next chapter of my life.  And I came up with an idea, and the more people I talked to and the longer I thought about it, I realized I didn’t want to wait to get started.

SHLD: What’s the idea?

WJ: I want to develop a foundation that will provide and support youth hockey programs for kids in the inner cities.  Basically, I want to help build a pipeline for getting black and minority kids involved in the game.

SHLD: You grew up on the South Side of Chicago.  Did this idea come from your own experience?

WJ: Yeah.  I mean, hockey is a great sport, but if you’re a poor kid in the inner city, it’s really hard to get involved.  If there hadn’t been a hockey program at the community center in my neighborhood growing up, I might never have found the sport.  And if there hadn’t been coaches to encourage me and help me develop, and if there hadn’t been money available to provide me with skates and equipment, I never could have stuck with it.  Basically, a lot of lucky things had to go right for me to even have a shot at playing pro hockey.  So I want to give back, and give other kids like me a chance to do what I did.

SHLD: That’s a noble vision!  What made you decide you wanted to start your own foundation, instead of partnering with an existing group?

WJ: Well, in the past I’ve worked with The Sports Shed, which provides gear for youth teams that can’t afford it.  It’s a great program, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle.  If you’re going to really support youth hockey in the inner cities, you need to build or keep up rinks.  You need to find coaches.  You need to pay for uniforms and equipment.  You need to pay for travel.  There are great programs in a few cities, but they’re all working on their own, and they’re all desperate for cash.  That’s where I can help.

SHLD: But you could start building your foundation while you’re continuing to play.  And you could keep playing for several more seasons.  Why leave now?

WJ: A couple of reasons.  For one thing, the league is getting younger and faster.  I’m a lot of things, but “fast” ain’t one of ‘em.  I’m the kind of guy who wants to play every day, and who knows how long I’m able to do that?  I barely got to play more than half the season this year [Jones appeared in 37 games].  But more importantly, I’m the kind of guy that when I’m doing something, I put my whole heart and soul into it.  A project like this, if I’m going to do it, I’ve got to do it all the way.  And I don’t want to wait.  It’s too important.

SHLD: You’ve had to deal with racism throughout your career, whether it’s getting taunted by fans in Hershey or getting jokingly called a gangster by a radio announcer.  Did that factor into your decision at all?

WJ: I definitely thought about that.  If I quit now, am I letting the racists win?  But then I thought of it a different way.  I’m not going to make the Hall of Fame, and no one’s retiring my number.  Five years after I leave, no one’s going to remember me.  But if I can get this foundation going, and down the road five or ten or a hundred black kids wind up playing in the league thanks to my foundation?  That’s the legacy I want more than anything.

SHLD: You’ve been a strong voice for diversity and inclusion throughout your career.  Will you remain involved in those efforts within the SHL now that you’re no longer active?

WJ: You better believe it.  When I made my announcement, the Commissioner’s office called and offered me a job with the league to work on improving diversity.  I had to turn it down, because I’m focused on the foundation, but I’m still going to speak out.  Y’all ain’t getting rid of me that easy.

SHLD: Glad to hear it!  Well, thank you, Ward, for a very thoughtful interview.  And here’s hoping that your foundation is a success.

WJ: Thanks a lot.  I’ll keep everybody posted.

Interview of the Week: Brock Manning

This week’s interview is with New York Night C Brock Manning.

SHL Digest: We’re here this week with one of the SHL’s all-time leading scorers, Brock Manning of New York.  Brock, thanks for speaking with us.

Brock Manning

Brock Manning: I’m always happy to get the word out to the fans.

SHLD: It’s been an exciting season for the Night, as it looked for much of the season as though your team might make the postseason for the first time.  In the end, however, [it looks like] you came up a bit short.  How would you assess your season?

BM: Obviously, our goal is to win the Vandy, and we didn’t [probably won’t] even make the playoffs, so we can’t call that a success.  But we’ve reached the point where the other teams have to take us seriously as contenders, and where we take ourselves seriously too.  And that’s a big step.

SHLD: You mention taking yourselves seriously as contenders.  What do you think has been the key to that?

BM: Coach [Nick] Foster deserves a lot of the credit for that.  I know a lot of people think all he does is fire insults at other teams, but within the locker room, he’s really challenged us to get serious about playing as a team and doing what it takes to win.  And some of the more senior guys like myself, he’s challenged us to step up and be leaders, hold each other accountable.

SHLD: And the team has met that challenge?

BM: Yeah, I’d say we have.  Guys used to be focused on themselves and their own stats first, and now we’re thinking more about how we can help the team succeed.  We want the whole to be greater than the sum of our parts.  Before, we were just parts, and we weren’t even trying to fit together.

SHLD: Obviously, Coach Foster has gotten a lot of flak for his comments about other teams, especially Hamilton.  Is that the way he is in the locker room too, or is that just a public show?

BM: A little of both, really.  He takes rivalries seriously, and he encourages us to play with a chip on our shoulder.  We know that because we’re from New York and we’ve got a lot of star players, it’s easy for fans in other cities to hate on us.  We don’t back away from that; we let it fuel us.

SHLD: Especially with your black uniforms, you’ve got a little of that old Oakland Raiders mentality.

BM: That’s the kind of thing we go for, yeah.  But at the same time, some of the crazier stuff [Foster] says?  That’s for the media, mostly.  He likes to call it “laying down cover fire.”  He takes the heat and stirs the pot, and it gives us some space to just play our game.

SHLD: You’re one of the top offensive talents in the SHL, and you have been throughout the history of the league.  However, you’ve always had a reputation as a one-way player, and critics say that New York will never win because your team doesn’t care about defense.  How would you respond to those critics?

BM: I’d say two things.  First, winning hockey games is all about possessing the puck and outscoring your opponent.  There are lots of ways to do that; winning 5-4 counts just the same as winning 1-0.  We play a high-octane style, but as long as we’re keeping the puck in the offensive zone, the other team isn’t scoring.  The second thing is that there are a lot of so-called “hockey purists” who think that winning with defense is the only “real” way to win.  You have to have a team full of battering rams like Michigan or Quebec, clog up the neutral zone, and choke the game to death.  But where’s the fun in that?  Fans have a lot more fun watching our games than a Quebec or Michigan game.

SHLD: One more question: You’re often acclaimed for having the best flow in the league.  Do you have any hair care secrets to share?

BM: (laughs) Thanks!  I guess if I have any secrets, it’s to take care of your hair and it will take care of you.  I use a dry shampoo that my girlfriend turned me onto, and I always condition.  Helmets are tough on hair, obviously, but I do what I can.

SHLD: On that note, we’ll wrap it up for the week.  Thanks for the time, Brock, and good luck the rest of the season!

BM: Just know that we’ll be back next season, and we’ll be dangerous.

Interview of the Week: Matt Cherner

This week’s interview is with Quebec Tigres D Matt Cherner.

SHL Digest: We’re here this week with perhaps the biggest name to be dealt at this year’s trading deadline, Matt Cherner.  Matt, thanks for speaking with us.

Matt Cherner
Matt Cherner

Matt Cherner: Hello there.  We meet again!

SHLD: Yes, indeed!  We spoke to you last year, when you were a member of the Dakota Jackalopes.  At the time, you expressed a clear desire to stay and sign an extension.  A year later, you find yourself playing for another team and heading into free agency after the season.  What are your thoughts on that?

MC: Well, obviously, things didn’t work out like I thought.  I’d played my whole professional career with Dakota, and I wanted to stick around, even though it’s obvious that it’s going to be a rebuild there.  I felt a connection to the city and the fans.

SHLD: Your love for the team and the city was obvious.  When the trade went down, you broke down while you were talking to reporters about it.

MC: Yeah, that was huge for me, since I’m not a real emotional-type guy.  But it hit me like I was leaving home, because that’s what Dakota was to me.

SHLD: Did you have any conversations with the team about an extension before you were dealt?

MC: Yeah.  We tried to, at least.  Going into [last] offseason, my agent and I thought it would be great to go ahead and get the contract done, so that we wouldn’t have it hanging over us all season.  But [the Jackalopes] didn’t really engage.  They’d say things like, “We really appreciate you, and we want to get something done when the time is right,” but when it came time to talk numbers and term, they wouldn’t commit.

SHLD: That must have been tough for you, given your commitment to the team.

MC: Definitely.  We made it clear that I’d consider a bit of a hometown discount, but it didn’t help.  We threw some numbers at them to try to get things moving, and they’d say, “We don’t know if we can do that.”  We’d ask for a counter, and they wouldn’t.  So that was frustrating, but at least it let me know that the writing was on the wall.

SHLD: There have been a lot of rumors that the Jackalopes are in financial trouble.  Based on your negotiations, or lack thereof, do you think that’s true?

MC: I’m not going to speculate about that, because I don’t really know.  They never opened their books to show me or anything.  Besides, I’m focused on the future and looking forward, not back at the past.

SHLD: Fair enough!  Let’s talk about your new team, then.  How has your transition to the Tigres gone so far?

MC: It’s been really great.  All the guys have welcomed me, and the minute I set foot in the clubhouse, it was like I’d been there for years.  This is a team with a strong camaraderie and a good sense of their identity, and I feel like I’ve fit in great.

SHLD: And how has it been adjusting to life in Quebec?

MC: I like it!  Obviously, the vibe there is different than it is in Rapid City, but they both have that kind of small-town feel that I like.  If I’d been moving to, say, New York, it would have been a different thing.  And the fans in Quebec are really passionate, at least as much as the Dakota fans.  I couldn’t have asked for a much better environment for going somewhere new.

SHLD: The Tigres are hanging around the periphery of the Eastern playoff race, but they haven’t been able to break through so far.  What do you think the team needs to do in order to get back to the playoffs?

MC: We’ve just got to keep playing the disciplined, heavy hockey that we’re known for.  On offense, we’re doing a good job looking for quality shots.  Maybe if we can open it up a bit and activate the D a little more on offense, that would be good.  Mostly, I think we keep playing our game and good things will happen, especially once we get Zarko [C Drustan Zarkovich] and Fisk [LW Stellan Fisker] back.

SHLD: One last question: As we mentioned at the top of the interview, you’ll be a free agent at the end of the season.  Based on what you’ve seen with the Tigres so far, could you see yourself re-signing here?

MC: Hey, who knows where life takes me, right?  At the end of the season, I’ll be looking at my options and see whether they’re interested in me.  But I can definitely tell you that nothing I’ve seen so far would make me not want to stay here long-term.

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

MC: Appreciate it.  The stretch run’s going to be crazy!

Interview of the Week: Jerry Koons

This week’s interview is with Anchorage Igloos LW Jerry Koons.

SHL Digest: We’re here this week with one of the most productive players in SHL history, Anchorage’s Jerry Koons.  Jerry, thanks for talking with us.

Jerry Koons

Jerry Koons: Hi, how are you?

SHLD: Doing well, thanks.  Obviously, the story of the season right now is the playoff races in both divisions, but especially the West, where you’ve got four team with a real chance at winning.  How does this race feel from the inside?

JK: It feels good!  Every game has meaning, and it keeps you on your toes.  Obviously, it’s a challenge knowing that you can play great and still miss the playoffs, because there are three other great teams battling it out with you.  But going into the playoffs, it’s better to be sharp from playing meaningful hockey, rather than cruising through weeks of meaningless games.  I’d rather stay sharp.

SHLD: You’re the defending champions, and you’ve made three trips to the Finals.  Do you think that gives you an edge?

JK: Yes and no.  I mean, we’re confident in big games, and we’re not going to get rattled when the spotlight is on, because we’ve been there before.  But Michigan’s been there before, too.  And maybe Seattle and Saskatchewan haven’t, but they’ve got terrific underdog energy.  So I think it helps, but it’s not enough on its own.  We’ve got to stay hungry and focused.

SHLD: The Igloos have developed a reputation for starting slow and then getting hot in the second half.  Last season, your coach [Sam Castor] called the team out on it.  This season, you held a players-only meeting about it.  What do you think are the reasons for this pattern?

JK: Well, one obvious thing: Postseason hockey is hard!  It’s intense, it wears you out physically and emotionally.  So even though we get six months off afterward, there is a hangover effort.  Also, I think a lot of our offense is based on timing, precision passes, stuff like that.  And it can take a while to get all that lined up the way it should be.

SHLD: Let’s shift a bit from talking about your team to talking about you.

JK: Oh boy, my favorite subject! (laughs)

SHLD: You’re certainly a well-known player around the league – you won the MVP award and the Commissioner’s Trophy back in 2017 – but you’re not a “name” star in the same sense of, say, your teammate Jake Frost.  Does that bother you a little, or are you okay with flying under the radar?

JK: I’m fine with it.  Among the people who matter, I know I’m respected and appreciated.  My teammates, my family, our fans, they know what I bring to the table.  If I were a “name” star, as you put it, what does that get me?  An endorsement contract?  No thanks.

SHLD: When you’re not on the ice, what do you like to do?

JK: Spend time with my family, whenever I can.  My wife and I have two daughters, Jessica and Maddie, and they’re my life.

SHLD: Do they play hockey like their dad?

JK: Well, Maddie’s less than a year old, so it’s a little early for her yet.  Jessica is five, and she’s started skating.  She wants to be a goalie, though.  Ty [Worthington] is her favorite player.

SHLD: Not her dad?!

JK: I know!  I’m trying not to take it personally.

SHLD: Well, that brings an end to another interesting interview.  Thanks again, Jerry, and good luck the rest of the season!

JK: Look forward to talking with you again after we win the Vandy!

Interview of the Week: Peter James

This week’s interview is with Washington Galaxy coach Peter James.

SHL Digest: We’re here today with the first-year coach of the Galaxy, Peter James.  Coach James, thanks for speaking with us.

Peter James

Peter James: Certainly.  Speaking to the press is part of my job.

SHLD: When the Galaxy fired Rodney Reagle after last season, the Galaxy front office seemed to think a new coach would be able to lift the team back into playoff contention.  Obviously, things haven’t unfolded that way.  Do you consider this season a disappointment?

PJ: Well, there are a lot of assumptions in your question.  Let me state for the record that when I was interviewed for this job, I was never told that I was expected to get this team back to the playoffs.  Obviously, the organization would like to contend, but they understand that it’s a time of transition.  Particularly when [G] Roger [Orion] chose not to resign, the goal has been to manage the transition to a younger roster.

SHLD: Well, how would you say that transition is going?

PJ: We’re still in the early stages, but I have a positive feeling about it.  We’re looking for opportunities to give our young players more exposure.  For instance, when Brooksy [LW Charlie Brooks] went down, we took the chance to promote Alan Youngman and see what he could do at this level.  As we go, we’ll look for more such opportunities.

SHLD: For a locker room that was accustomed to the jokey, free-wheeling attitude of Reagle, it must have been an adjustment for them to have a more straitlaced coach like you.  How has that transition gone?

PJ: Overall, I’ve been pleased.  Obviously, it took some time for both sides to get familiar with each other, for me to understand them and for them to understand me and my expectations.  I tried to ease in a bit, knowing that this is a room full of established professionals.  But I made it clear that certain hijinks that might have been tolerated under the old regime wouldn’t be tolerated under me.

SHLD: Can you give an example of something that you don’t tolerate that might have been tolerated before?

PJ: One obvious example had to do with behavior on the road.  Without naming names, some guys take that time as a license to run wild, to stay out all night in bars and clubs.  Some of that is fine – again, these are grown men – but if you’re staying out late enough that it’s affecting you the next day, that’s a problem.  I found that some well-timed morning skates helped get that under control, without having to call anyone out.

SHLD: And has the adjustment gone both ways?  Have you learned things from your players?

PJ: Absolutely.  I’ve definitely learned to be a little less strict than I had been in the minors.  At that level, you’re primarily guiding and developing players.  In the pros, you’re helping established players be their best.  It’s a more collaborative relationship.

SHLD: Obviously, you aren’t going to make the postseason this year.  So what are your goals for the rest of this season, and looking ahead to next year?

PJ: Well, for the rest of this season, we’re going to continue to look for chances to spotlight and evaluate our younger players, as I mentioned.  In the offseason, we’ll probably be looking to move some of our veteran guys, to facilitate that transition to young players.  We’re focused more on a reload than a rebuild, with an eye toward contending in the next couple of seasons.

SHLD: One more question.  Last season, you made headlines around the league when you physically broke up a fight by throwing an opposing player off your bench.  Any chance we’ll see a replay of that incident in DC?

PJ: (chuckles) I certainly hope not.  I don’t go Incredible Hulk very often.  But it doesn’t hurt for other people to know that I can do that if I need to.  You won’t like me when I’m angry.

SHLD: Good to know!  Well, that wraps it up for this interview.  Thanks again, and good luck with the rest of the season!

PJ: You bet!  I appreciate it.

Interview of the Week: Taylor Teichman

This week’s interview is with Seattle Sailors GM Taylor Teichman.

SHL Digest: We’re here this week with Taylor Teichman, who just completed his first trading deadline as the GM of the Seattle Sailors.  Taylor, thanks for speaking with us.

Taylor Teichman

Taylor Teichman: Thanks for asking me.

SHLD: Last season, the Sailors made some bold moves at the deadline, acquiring Lars Karlsson and Hans Mortensen.  This season, you were reportedly in on the two big deadline prizes, Matt Cherner and Rusty Anderson, but missed out on both.  How have the fans reacted?

TT: I’ve gotten some angry calls and emails, as you might imagine.  But as general manager, it’s my job to balance the present and the future.  And while we were definitely in conversations on both Cherner and Anderson, in the end the price for both was more than we were comfortable with.  I’m not going to mortgage the future for the sake of this one playoff race.

SHLD: That’s obviously quite a shift from the thinking of your predecessor, Jay McKay.

TT: It is, yes.  And with all due respect to Jay, he wound up paying with his job when that gamble didn’t pay off.  When I was with Hamilton, I saw the advantages of building for the future with careful drafting and a strong farm club.  That’s what I hope to do here.

SHLD: Was it especially painful to see Anderson wind up with Saskatchewan, one of the teams battling you for the playoffs?

TT: Obviously, I’d rather he’d wound up somewhere else.  But I knew that was a possibility all along, and I wasn’t going to make a deal I’d regret later just to keep that from happening.  I’m confident that we have a team that can match up with any of our competitors.

SHLD: Instead of landing Cherner or Anderson, you instead acquired Stan Gallagher [from the Washington Galaxy in exchange for D Serkan Mratic].  Some Sailors fans on social media called Gallagher a “consolation prize.”  How would you respond to that?

TT: Stan was a good value, a guy that can help us now and later.  Unlike Cherner or Anderson, he’s not on an expiring contract.  We’ll have him for two more seasons after this.  And he was available at a price that made sense and didn’t require us to part with draft picks or our top prospects.  It’s a deal that makes sense all the way around.

SHLD: This is the Sailors’ last season in Seattle; they’ll be moving to Portland next year.  Did that factor into your deadline thinking at all.

TT: No, it didn’t.  And I don’t think it should.  The team may be playing in a new city next year, but we’re still building for the future.

SHLD: Will you be the GM next season in Portland?

TT: I don’t know.  I’ve talked to the new ownership, and I’ve expressed my desire to stay on.  They haven’t decided on their plans yet.  But even if I wasn’t coming back, I wouldn’t approach this job any differently.  It would be like running up a huge credit-card debt that you know someone else has to pay off.  It’s not the way to operate.

SHLD: So now that you know what your roster looks like going forward, what does the organization need to do to make the postseason?

TT: Keep doing what got us here.  We’ve had a really great run this season, and I absolutely think we have what it takes to win the Vandy.  It won’t be easy; we’ve got three other really strong teams, and we’re all fighting for two spots.  But I like our chances.

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

TT: I appreciate it.  We’re going to win this one for Seattle!

Interview of the Week: Zeke Zagurski

This week’s interview is with Saskatchewan Shockers G Zeke Zagurski.

Zeke Zagurski

SHL Digest: We’re here this week with a longtime SHL netminder, Zeke Zagurski of the surprising Shockers. Zeke, thanks for talking with us.

Zeke Zagurski: Thanks for inviting me. We usually don’t get chosen for much, so this is awesome!

SHLD: With the way your team has been playing, it’s well-deserved. How does it feel to be a contender at last?

ZZ: It’s honestly amazing to finally feel like we have a real chance. It’s great to see the guys working together to get the wins.

SHLD: What do you think has been the secret to your success this year?

ZZ: I think we have a strong team that is finally playing at the same pace as each other

SHLD: Do you think your new coach [Morris Thompson] has helped with that?

ZZ: Certainly.  He really prioritizes teamwork and even has us do team bonding exercises pretty often.

SHLD: Oh yeah? Like what?

ZZ: You know that activity where you lean back and the other person is supposed to catch you? Well we tried that… it didn’t go well. We also lifted up Chris [Oflyng] with one finger each, which was super cool.

SHLD: Sounds interesting! I hope no one got hurt doing that.

ZZ: Well no, but my boy Troy [Chamberlain] did end up catching someone who wasn’t his partner. Barnesy [Wyatt Barnes] really wasn’t supportive of those trust exercises.

SHLD: Understood.  Now, you yourself have a reputation for being… a little weird. Do you think that’s fair?

ZZ: Yeah, probably so. But honestly, once you get out here and spend a night with our owner [Heinz Doofenshmirtz], who wouldn’t be?

SHLD: You raised a lot of eyebrows earlier this year when you ate a hot dog on the ice during the middle of a game. What was the story there?

ZZ: Well, I was hungry, I always wanted to try one of the hot dogs they sell in the stands. One thing led to another, and I paid a fan to slip me a hot dog as I came out of the tunnel. I stuck it in my water bottle for safekeeping, and I was good to go.

SHLD: Cleverly done! Coach Thompson probably wasn’t too happy about that, though.

ZZ: Not too much. I was suspended from making contact with fans for a month. The man didn’t even let me finish my hot dog!

SHLD: Not fair!

ZZ: I know, right? I mean, how am I supposed to focus on playing hockey when there’s an unfinished hot dog just sitting there waiting for me?

SHLD: It must have taken real inner strength.

ZZ: You have no idea.

SHLD: That’s not your only quirk. Your teammates say you prepare for games by locking yourself in a toilet stall and screaming the words to “I Feel Pretty.”

ZZ: Why, of course! Julie Andrews always knows how to hype me up.

SHLD: So, back to your team. Next week is the trading deadline. Are you hoping for a big trade, or do you hope the Shockers stand pat?

ZZ: I think we have an awesome team already, but I am always up for getting a fresh face to keep us on our toes.

SHLD: Any preference on what kind of player you get? (Not a goalie, presumably.)

ZZ: I would say it is never a bad thing to get more help with defense. Less work for me is something I am always up for.

SHLD: Makes sense. Well, that will do for this week. Thanks for your time, Zeke, and good luck the rest of the season!

ZZ: Thank you! And to our fans: thanks for sticking with us, and this is our year. V-A-N-D-Y!!!!