Interview of the Week: Spencer Kirkpatrick

This week’s interview is with Hershey Bliss C Spencer Kirkpatrick.

SHL Digest: We’re here this week with one of the key contributors on the East’s co-leading teams, Spencer Kirkpatrick.  Spencer, thanks for speaking with us!

Spender Kirkpatrick

Spencer Kirkpatrick: Glad to do it.  It’s definitely an exciting race!

SHLD: That it is!  Your team in Hershey started the week in first.  But now after an 0-4-0 week, you’re in a first place tie with New York, with Hamilton and Quebec nipping at your heels.  The top four teams are separated by only three points!

SK: Yeah, it’s a real bumper-car derby at the top.  This week was a real disappointment for us; we can’t afford to lose any ground.

SHLD: You guys obviously came out of the break flat.  Do you think the week off disrupted your momentum?

SK: No question that it did.  Hockey players are creatures of habit; we like playing a regular schedule, and a week off throws off our rhythms.  But everyone else had the same break, so that’s not an excuse for us.

SHLD: Why do you think the division is so competitive this year?

SK: Good question!  I think the East has been getting better every year I’ve been in the league, but it’s taken time to recognize that.  Hamilton and Quebec made the playoffs last year, so it’s no surprise that they’re in the mix again.  We won the Vandy in 2017, so it’s no surprise that we’re in the mix.  We’ve proven that last year was just a weird fluke.  And New York… I mean, I think you have to give [Nick] Foster some credit.  He runs his mouth a lot, but he’s gotten his team playing the right way.

SHLD: Speaking of Foster, he made some headlines earlier this year calling the Bliss “soft.”  How did your team react to that?

SK: We’ve heard that kind of crap before, so we just shrug it off.  And we know that Foster is just trying to play to the fans and stir things up with the press, so we don’t pay attention to it.

SHLD: But doesn’t it make you mad, at least a little bit?

SK: I mean, sure.  I think it’s ridiculous.  Our guys are as tough as anyone else in the league.  But we’re used to this kind of talk.  It used to be that everyone called us chokers, but then we won the Vandy.  So the best way to stop the talk is to win.  Always.

SHLD: So looking ahead to the second half, what do you need to do to hold off the competition and make the postseason?

SK: I think we need to play hard-nosed hockey, avoid dumb turnovers, and make sure we’re getting quality looks on offense.  On defense, we need to make sure we protect home plate.  It’s not going to be easy, but we just have to play our game.

SHLD: Of the three other teams in the mix, which one do you fear the most?

SK: Hey, they’re all tough!  But if you’re asking which is the toughest to play against, I’d say Quebec.  The way they play, the way they trap and bang you into the boards, they’re just miserable to play against.  Playing Hamilton, it’s skill against skill, it’s good.  And New York, that’s just a track meet, flying up and down the ice.  Quebec leaves me with the most bumps and bruises after, by far.

SHLD: The West is quite competitive, too.  Is there an opponent out there who you’d prefer to face if you make the Finals?

SK: (laughs) No way!  You’re not getting me to bite on that one.  We’ve got to focus on getting to the playoffs first!

SHLD: Fair enough.  We’ve spent this whole interview talking about your team, and not about you.  What’s one thing about you that fans don’t know?

SK: Hmm… well, I’m the reigning Madden champion on the team.  When we’re on the road, in a hotel, Madden is what we play.  And I’ve won two seasons in a row now!

SHLD: Oh yeah?  Which team do you play as?

SK: The Broncos.  I’m Canadian, so I didn’t watch a lot of football growing up.  But I’m from Calgary, and that’s big horse country.  So the Broncos remind me of home.

SHLD: Pretty cool!  Well, Spencer, thanks for taking the time to speak with us.  Good luck in the second half!

SK: Thanks!  I’ll take all the luck I can get.

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Interview of the Week: Roger Orion

This week’s interview is with Boston Badgers G Roger Orion.

SHL Digest: We’re here with someone who’s very familiar to longtime SHL fans, Roger Orion.  Roger, thanks for speaking with us.

Roger Orion

Roger Orion: Well, I’ve got plenty of time right now, since I’m on the DL.

SHLD: Yes, that’s sadly true.  But let’s talk about how you made your way to Boston.  You made two trips to the Finals with the Galaxy.  A lot of fans assumed you’d be there for your whole career.

RO: Hey, I used to think so too!

SHLD: But you went to free agency last offseason, and a number of teams wanted to sign you, including big contenders like Seattle and Hershey.  But you stunned the hockey world by signing with the Badgers.  What led you to make that decision?

RO: Honestly, [GM] Jody [Melchiorre] had a lot to do with it.  He was totally honest with me from the beginning.  He laid out his vision for what he’s building here, and I really liked what he said.

SHLD: When you say he was “honest,” what do you mean?

RO: Well, when I met with him, the first thing he sad was, “I have to ask: are you actually considering signing here, or are you just meeting with us to bid up your contract?  If you’re just here to drive up your price, I respect that, but let’s go grab a beer instead.  If you’re serious, then let’s talk about how you can help us build a great team.”  I told him I don’t meet with teams unless I’m interested.  He saw I was serious, and he respected it.

SHLD: What was the vision he sketched out?

RO: He told me, “If you’re interested in winning the Vandy right away, there are a lot better places to sign.  But if you want to help build an organization that can win lots of Vandys, this is your place.”  He told me about the kind of hard-working, team-focused, defense-oriented team he wanted to build.  He told me that he saw me as a cornerstone of the team, and that he was looking at the money and term to show it.  He moved Boston right up to the top of my list.

SHLD: Hershey and Seattle are both at the top of their divisions here at the All-Star break, and they’ve got a real shot at making the playoffs.  Meanwhile, the Badgers are down in the cellar.  Do you ever have any second thoughts about your decision?

RO: No way.  Why should I?  I signed on for the long haul, and this is what I expected.  I’m not some fading veteran at the end of my career, trying to chase that one last ring.  I consider myself in the middle of my career, and I’m thinking long-term.  I believe in what Jody and the organization are building.

SHLD: As you mentioned at the beginning, you’re on the DL right now.  Is it frustrating not to be out on the ice?

RO: Of course it is!  When you’re a player, you want to play.  But I’m following the medical team’s advice, not trying to rush back and do something that could screw me up longer-term.  Plus, it’s a good chance for Wags [Carson Wagner] and Schemmer [Jonas Schemko] to get some more ice time, and that’s a good thing.

SHLD: Throughout your career, you’ve been very involved with assisting wounded servicemen and -women.  How did you get involved in that?

RO: When I played in DC, we took trips to Walter Reed and met a lot of soldiers who were recuperating from major injuries and trauma.  And it just blew me away.  We hockey players like to think we’re tough.  But we’ve got nothing on these guys, people who are recovering from traumatic brain injuries or missing an arm or a leg.  They’ve got strength and courage like you wouldn’t believe.

SHLD: And you’ve stayed involved in that cause in your new city.

RO: Absolutely.  I have it in my contract that I get tickets to every home game to donate to wounded warriors.  And in March, we’re going to have a special night where we’re going to bring them out on the ice to honor them, and have them come to the clubhouse.  It’s gonna be great.

SHLD: Well, thanks for a thoughtful and interesting interview, Roger.  Best of luck with the rest of the season!

RO: Thanks.  I’m excited for the second half.

Interview of the Week: Mike Rivera

This week’s interview is with Kansas City Smoke C Mike Rivera.

SHL Digest: This week, we’re talking to the captain of the Kansas City Smoke, Mike Rivera.  Mike, thanks for speaking with us.

Mike Rivera

Mike Rivera: It’s cool.  You asked me to do it, so I did.

SHLD: And we appreciate that.  You have a reputation for being a pretty laid-back guy.

MR: That I do.  My nickname’s “River,” and it fits, ‘cause I just go with the flow.

SHLD: And yet you’ve got the captain’s “C” on your sweater.  How did that come about?

MR: [laughs] Well, you know, on an expansion team you got a lotta young guys, and you can’t give them the C.  Originally, they were gonna give it to Hunter [D Tony Hunt], but he didn’t want it.  We’d played together in New York, so he told them to give me the C instead.  It might have been a joke.  No big deal, though.

SHLD: As team captain, you have a leadership role on a team with a lot of young players.  Do you see yourself as a mentor to those youngsters?

MR: I don’t know, dude.  I mean, if they come and ask me something, like for tips on taking faceoffs or if they want to know the good restaurants in town – I’m happy to talk to ‘em.  But I’m not, you know, their dad, so I let ‘em come to me.  I don’t go to them.  I figure the coaches do the teaching around here.  I don’t want to get in the way of that.

SHLD: How do you feel about the young players on your team?

MR: They’re cool.  And they’re good.  I mean, Ruler [RW Zachary Merula], Cloudy [RW Tyler Cloude], Pic [C Darien Picard]… they’re a damn good bunch of dudes, and they all work way harder than I did at their age.  They’re gonna crush it.  And on the D side, we got Hermie [Gary Hermine] and the Bastard [Bastien Chouinard].  Tough dudes, for sure.  I bet one of them is gonna get the C soon.

SHLD: You grew up in southern California, near Los Angeles.

MR: That’s right.  La-La Land, that’s me!

SHLD: How did a SoCal kid wind up getting into hockey?

MR: Well, my mom’s family is from Canada, believe it or not.  We’d go visit them, and they’d be talking about hockey, and it got me excited.  So one day my dad took me to a Kings game, and it was like whoa!  It was just magic for me.  Gretzky was still with the Kings then, and he was awesome.

SHLD: Must have been hard to find friends to play hockey with in LA.

MR: Yeah, no kidding.  Roller hockey sometimes, maybe.  But ice hockey?  No chance.  Fortunately, there was a league in the area, and my folks made pretty good money, so they signed me up.

SHLD: Returning to the present, you’re having a strong year in Kansas City.  What do you think are the keys to your success?

MR: Mostly, I’ve just been relaxing and doing my thing.  We don’t have a lot of drama in the locker room like there was in New York.  We don’t have a bunch of expectations on us like I had in Dakota.  I can just… be, and do my thing, you know.

SHLD: The trade deadline is coming up next month, and your strong play might earn you the attention of contending clubs.  Would you be excited to go to a contender, or would you prefer to stay put?

MR: Either way’s cool with me.  Not like it’s my decision, though.  It’s not like our GM’s gonna get an offer and go, “Wait, Mike Rivera?  He said he wanted to stay here!  Better not trade that dude.”  In the end, we’re all pieces of meat in the supermarket window.  If I stay, cool.  If I go somewhere else, that’s cool too.  You know, go with the flow.

SHLD: For a guy with such a laid-back attitude, it was a surprise to hear your quote from last week that going winless for a week was “reality… crashing down on us like a ton of cement dropped off the top of the Empire State Building.”

MR: (laughs) Well, come on, dude.  I mean, winning’s better than losing, right?  Losing sucks.  But it comes with the territory so, you know.

SHLD: Well, that about wraps this one up, Mike.  Thanks for an engaging interview!

MR: Sure thing.  Peace out!

Interview of the Week: Hercules Mulligan

This week’s interview is with Hamilton Pistols D Hercules Mulligan.

SHL Digest: We’re here with one of the SHL’s rising young stars on the blueline, Hercules Mulligan.  Hercules, thanks for speaking with us.

Hercules Mulligan

Hercules Mulligan: It’s still a little crazy to think that someone wants to interview me.  I never thought I’d be in this position.

SHLD: Well, let’s start with the obvious question: How did you get a nickname like “Hercules”?

HM: I’ve always been strong for my size, even when I was a little kid.  I used to pick up cinder blocks and drag them around the yard.  And the Disney movie came out when I was little, so I guess it was a natural fit.  The name stuck, and that’s what everyone’s called me ever since.

SHLD: With a nickname like that, you sure had a lot to live up to.

HM: I guess so.  Honestly, though, I never saw myself as a big-time athlete.  My father owned a tailoring shop, and I figured that I’d go to work for him and someday take over the shop.

SHLD: So how did you wind up becoming an athlete?

HM: Well, once I got into middle school, the hockey coaches took one look at me and said, ‘We’ve got to get that boy on the ice.’  I was built like a battering ram, and they saw a natural enforcer.

SHLD: And did you take to it right away?

HM: No way!  Those first couple years were miserable.  I barely knew how to skate, and I was playing against guys who’d been playing pond hockey since they could walk.  I was a terrible puck handler, and I couldn’t shoot at all.  I could fight, sure, but that was it.  It seemed like I ended every practice black and blue.  I was ready to quit.

SHLD: Why didn’t you?

HM: That was thanks to Coach Rasmussen.  He saw me struggling, and he took me aside after practice one day.  He said, “Mulligan, I think you can be a player if you want it bad enough.  So let me tell you the secret about hockey: it’s all about pain.  If you can withstand pain, survive and overcome it, you’ll succeed.  Can you overcome the pain?”

SHLD: That’s a pretty rare message to give a kid.

HM: It was the best thing he could possibly have said.  It unlocked everything for me.  I started working harder, staying after practice.  I became a glutton for punishment.  I took everything they could throw at me and asked for more.  And sure enough, over time, I got better.  I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for what Coach Rasmussen taught me.

SHLD: Now that you’ve made it all the way to the pros, do you still believe that hockey is about pain?

HM: More than ever.  You look at the teams that win championships, they’re the teams that are willing to work harder, block the extra shots, finish their checks.  The playoffs are all about overcoming pain.

SHLD: Your Pistols are widely considered to be a championship-caliber team.  Do you think they’ve got what it takes to overcome the pain?

HM: Last season was a good education for us.  We started off so hot so quickly that we didn’t know what happened.  It was a great ride, and we felt like we were unstoppable.  But Quebec, man, they’re a tough team.  They know all about surviving pain, and dishing it out too.  On paper, we were more talented.  But they’re a bunch of grinders, and they wore us down.

SHLD: If you face the Tigres in the playoffs again this year, will you be ready?

HM: I think so.  We know what we need to do.

SHLD: Well, Hercules, thanks for your time and a very interesting interview.

HM: I enjoyed it.

Interview of the Week: Chris Oflyng

This week’s interview is with Saskatchewan Shockers D Chris “Lightning” Oflyng.

SHL Digest: We’re here this week with one of the Shockers’ original players, Chris Oflyng.  Chris, thank you for speaking with us.

Chris “Lightning” Oflyng

Chris Oflyng: Sure!  I’m glad you asked me.

SHLD: You’re one of the very few players who’s been with the Shockers since the very beginning.

CO: Yeah, I think there’s only three of us left.  Me, Zeke [Zagurski], and Clarkie [Mark Clark].

SHLD: Back in 2015, you guys were the butt of jokes around the league.  Now, you’re a serious contender, and it looks like you’ll be a strong team for a while.  How has the atmosphere around the team changed since 2015?

CO: Oh, it’s night and day.  You have no idea.  It was kind of a zoo in here back then.  We were losing all the time, no one was taking anything seriously.  Guys were more interested in where they were going to drink after the game than in playing well.  Now, we’re much more disciplined, and the team is focused on working hard and doing what it takes to win.

SHLD: You have a new coach this year, Morris Thompson, who we interviewed a few weeks ago.  How has it been playing for him so far?

CO: It’s been great, and eye-opening.  Coach [Myron] Beasley was generally pretty lax about practice, but Coach Thompson is totally different.  His practices are intense, man.

SHLD: Pretty brutal, huh?

CO: When we showed up at training camp, the first thing he said was, “I’m going to work you harder than most of you have ever worked in your lives.  You’re all going to hate me now.  But come the spring, when you’re in the playoffs, you’ll all be glad for this.”  The way he explains it is that hockey is a battle of legs and lungs.  The harder you work, the more capacity you build up.  And that keeps you from fading later in the season.

SHLD: I’ll bet those early practices weren’t a lot of fun.

CO: You bet they weren’t!  Guys were cursing, their tongues were hanging out.  I felt like I was going to pass out after the first couple practice sessions.  But I feel like I have more energy now, and we’re definitely sharper about the little things, especially on defense.

SHLD: The last couple of seasons, the Shockers were considered a sleeper contending team, but couldn’t quite live up to the hype.  Is this the year that you get over the hump?

CO: It could be!  We’re definitely playing up to our potential much better this year.  But it’s a tough division.  Michigan and Seattle are really strong, and you can never count Anchorage out.  But I think we can play with those teams.

SHLD: You’re currently the leading goal-scorer on your team.  That’s pretty unusual for a defenseman!  Even though you’ve always been a strong offensive defenseman, you’ve never led your team before.  How have you become so strong on offense?

CO: I’ve always taken that part of my game seriously.  I’m not a big-body guy, I don’t throw massive checks, but I’ve always considered myself a two-way player.  As for that whole leading-scorer thing: I’m not thinking about that, and neither are the other guys.

SHLD: Really?

CO: I mean, it’s pretty cool, and I think I’m having a good year.  But that’s not where we’re focused.  We’re not a team that’s built around one or two big stars, like Anchorage or Hamilton.  We spread the scoring around, and we’re proud of that.

SHLD: Do you think that helps you in the long run?

CO: I think so, yeah.  If you’re playing the Igloos and you stop Jake Frost, you’ll probably beat them.  But with us, we’ve got so many ways to beat you, you can’t just stop one guy.

SHLD: Tell us a little about your life off the ice.  What do you do for fun when you’re not at the rink?

CO: My biggest hobby is my bike.  I’ve got a Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic, and during the offseason I like to cruise around and see as much of the country as I can.  When I retire, I’d like to take a trip across Canada on my bike.

SHLD: Pretty cool!  How does the front office feel about your hobby?

CO: (laughs) They’re not too wild about it.  I know they wish I’d find a safer hobby like, I don’t know, gardening or something.  But I wear all the right equipment and I know what I’m doing.  And I don’t do it during the season.  It’s too cold for it anyway.

SHLD: Fair enough.  Well, thanks for your time, Chris, and good luck the rest of the season!

CO: Thanks!

Interview of the Week: Nick Foster

This week’s interview is with New York Night coach Nick Foster.

SHL Digest: We’re here this week with perhaps the league’s most controversial coach, New York’s Nick Foster.

Nick Foster

Nick Foster: That’s right, folks, it’s me!  The bad boy of the SHL.

SHLD: You’ve become known around the league as a smack-talker and a starter of feuds.  You’re perhaps most famous (or infamous) for your fight with Hamilton and their star Steven Alexander, but you’ve also taken swipes at the referees, accusing them of bias against your team.  This season, you’ve taken a jab at Hershey’s famous “Love Line.”  You even slammed the Corn Palace!

NF: I gotta tell you, picking on the Corn Palace was a dangerous move.  I’ve gotten more flak over that than anything else.  People in the Midwest sure love their corn!

SHLD: People might argue with your approach, but there’s no disputing the results.  Last season, the Night posted a winning record for the first time ever.  This season, you’re in playoff position in the East.  What do you think have been the keys to the team’s improvement?

NF: There’s always been a lot of talent here, but there some guys who were all about “me” instead of “we,” if you know what I mean.  It took a while to change the mindset in the locker room, but we did it.

SHLD: What do you think you need to do to take the next step and win the Vandy?

NF: That’s our plan!  The things I’m preaching right now are getting tighter with the puck, doing a better job in our own end, and improving on the basic stuff, checking and blocking shots.  [Goaltenders] Jesse [Clarkson] and Sherm [Carter] have been outstanding, but even with an attack as powerful as ours, you can’t win the Vandy giving up 40 shots a game.  On offense, I’ve talked about looking for the right shot, not just the first shot.  We’re definitely doing better on that.

SHLD: You’ve arguably gotten more attention for your feuds than what your team has accomplished.  Do you ever worry that your jokes and jibes get in the way of your team’s success?

NF: No, but my wife does.  She always tells me my mouth is gonna get me in trouble. (laughs)  I actually think the feuds help us.

SHLD: Really?  How so?

NF: Well, when you play in the Big Apple, you’re always going to have a target on your back.  No one feels sorry for you.  So if everyone thinks you’re the heel, you might as well go for it.  Play with a little swagger, a chip on your shoulder.

SHLD: That makes some sense.

NF: And the fans love it, too.  They want a team with that swagger.  Hockey’s not a sport for nice boys.  You’ve got to be able to take a hit and dish it out too.

SHLD: While your comments have played well with your fanbase, they’ve ruffled feathers around the league.  Does that bother you?

NF: No way.  Why the hell should it?  I’m not here to win a popularity contest; I’m here to win games.  Look at Rodney [Reagle] over in DC.  He was a fun guy, everyone liked him.  But he didn’t win enough, so they fired him.  You don’t get standings points for being a nice guy.  As long as I keep winning, they’ll keep me around, even if Miss Manners doesn’t like me.

SHLD: And if you do make the playoffs and face, say, Hamilton or Hershey, do you think your comments will come back to bite you?

NF: No way!  They’ll be fuel for the fire.  I hope we play Hamilton [in the playoffs].  With all the [expletive] I’ve talked about them?  That series would be epic!  Imagine, us against the Nutcracker and his boys in that sorry dump of a rink.  People would be lining up around the block just to call me names.

SHLD: It would definitely be an emotional series.

NF: They could sell voodoo dolls with my face on them and make a fortune.

SHLD: Would you be okay with that?

NF: Sure, why not?  As long as they give me a cut of the back end, I’m on board.

SHLD: Well, this has certainly been a juicy interview!  Thanks for your time, and good luck this season.

NF: Hey, no one can accuse me of being boring!  This was a gas.  Let’s do it again after we win the Vandy!

Interview of the Week: Max Madison

This week’s interview is with Michigan Gray Wolves D Max Madison.

SHL Digest: We’re here this week with one of the SHL’s most ferocious blueliners, Max Madison.  Max, we appreciate your time.

Max Madison

Max Madison: Yeah, sure, no problem.

SHLD: When people talk about the meanest, toughest guys in the SHL, your name is always near the top of that list.  What do you think of that reputation?

MM: I’m proud of my reputation, because I earned it.  Everyone around the league knows that I stick up for my teammates, that I can hold my own in a fight, and that I’m a guy you don’t want to cross.

SHLD: No question about that.  When we interviewed Bruce Hogaboom last year – and he’s a pretty tough guy himself – he called you the best fighter in the league.

MM: Did he?  Coming from a guy like Boomer, that’s the highest compliment you could ever want.  There’s a handful of guys in this league who can really scrap, and he’s one of them.  So am I.

SHLD: Did you grow up wanting to fight?

MM: I did, but not in the way you might think.  I grew up in Chicago, and he was an amateur boxer.  I worshipped him.  I basically grew up in the Olympus Gym on the South Side.  I wanted to follow in Dad’s footsteps and become a boxer.

SHLD: Wow, you really must have idolized him.

MM: Damn straight.  He taught me a lot about life.  He wasn’t a big guy, but he was quick and strong as an ox.  He knocked out guys who had 50 or 60 pounds on him, easy.  He taught me how to have no fear, how to keep attacking even when you’re getting tagged.  That’s why the guys call me Mad Max, because I’m so driven and relentless.  I got that from him.

SHLD: That’s quite a legacy.

MM: No question about it.  He taught me never to give up or back down.  I would never have made it without him.

SHLD: So how did you wind up picking hockey over boxing?

MM: Well, I liked to ice-skate in the winter and play shinny with some guys in my neighborhood.  I got good enough that the hockey coach at the high school nearby spotted me and encouraged me to try out.  But I still had my heart set on being a boxer, so I asked my dad.  He said, “Trust me, son, there’s no money in boxing unless you’re Mike Tyson.  Go for hockey.”  So I did, and I never looked back.”

SHLD: And you’ve done quite well!  Unlike a lot of enforcer types, you’re also a good stick-handler and scorer.

MM: And I’m proud of that.  Don’t get me wrong; I like to fight, and that’s a key part of my game.  But I never just wanted to be a one-dimensional enforcer.  I wanted to be strong on both ends of the ice.

SHLD: Are there any young players out there that remind you of yourself?

MM: There’s one guy for sure: [Hamilton Pistols D] Hercules Mulligan.  He might be crazier than me.  He’s like a bowling ball, knocking guys down left and right.  And you can tell he loves it.  He’s a glutton for hard work and hard hits.  I love that kind of spirit.

SHLD: One more question.  Last season, your Wolves had a great regular season, only to get swept in the playoffs by the Anchorage Igloos.  You’re off to another hot start; are you looking for revenge this season?

MM: What do you think?  You better believe it.  Coach [Ron] Wright is just as driven as me, and he talked about how he couldn’t sleep for days after that series.  I couldn’t either.  We let ourselves get embarrassed, and we won’t let that happen again.  It’s Vandy or bust for us.  I’d rather eat glass than let those guys sweep us again.

SHLD: Well, thanks for a lively and honest interview, Max.  Good luck the rest of the season!

MM: I appreciate it.