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!!!!

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.

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!