Interview of the Week: Vladimir Beruschko

This week’s interview is with Michigan Gray Wolves LW Vladimir Beruschko.

SHL Digest: We’re here with one of the SHL’s most veteran players, Vladimir Beruscko.  Thanks for speaking with us, Vladimir!

Vladimir Beruschko

Vladimir Beruschko: It is my pleasure.

SHLD: So, your team is off to another strong start, with the league’s best record.  Do you consider yourselves the favorite to repeat as champions?

VB: (laughs) No, no.  Coach [Ron] Wright would kill me if I said such a thing.

SHLD: He doesn’t want you to consider yourselves the favorite?

VB: He says that to be the favorite is a curse.  You get soft and lose your edge.  To be hungry, to hustle, this makes a champion.  This is why Coach Wright does not like to be the favorite.

SHLD: But you’re a very talented team.  You have the best goal differential in the league.  Arguably, you have the best goalie in the league.

VB: No, no argument!  The Bear [Dirk Lundquist] is the best.

SHLD: Well, if you aren’t the favorite, who is?

VB: Anchorage is a very good team.  Dakota is very good, score a lot of goals.  Washington and Hershey, both good.  We take nothing for granted.

SHLD: Fair enough!  So, you’re one of the older players in the league.

VB: Yes, I am old man.  More grey hairs every day.

SHLD: Your production has dipped the last couple of seasons, and some have suggested that you might be nearing the end of the road.  Are you thinking about retirement at all?

VB: Absolutely not!  I feel young, still, even though I am old.  I am good with the passes and good with the defense.  I think maybe I will play until I am 50.

SHLD: We hope you do!  One more question: One of the things you’re best known for in the league is your feud with Petey the Polar Bear.  That’s been quiet lately.  Any chance it might heat up again, especially if you and Anchorage are battling for the division again?

VB: No, no. no.  Petey and me good now.  Petey my friend.  When I see Petey, I blow him kisses.  Happy times.

SHLD: Glad to hear it!  Well, thanks for the chat, and good luck the rest of the season!

VB: Thanks, I will try for that.

SHL Player of the Week – Week 1

Dirk Lundquist

Michigan SmallThe SHL selected Michigan Gray Wolves G Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist as its Player of the Week.  Lundquist started off the 2017 season strong, posting a 3-1-0 record with a 0.74 GAA and a .978 save percentage.  Lundquist’s dominant performance has helped the defending champion Wolves pick up where they left off last season, going 4-1-0 to tie with Hershey for the best record in the league.

On Opening Night, Lundquist stopped 40 shots to shut down Dakota in a 3-1 win.  On Wednesday, in the Wolves’ home opener, he turned aside 26 and posted a shutout of Seattle.  Then on Saturday, he made 37 saves to freeze the Igloos 3-0.

“The Bear is an inspiration to the whole team,” said Michigan coach Ron Wright.  “He’s already the unquestioned best goalie in the SHL.  But does he rest on his laurels?  No way.  He’s out there working harder than anyone, looking for ways to get even better.  He’s chasing perfection, and he’s not going to stop chasing it.  If we’re going to defend our title, it’s going to Dirk’s work ethic leading the way.”

SHL 2017 Season Preview – West

Michigan Gray Wolves

The defending SHL champions return largely intact for the 2017 season.  They lost only one significant contributor in D Patrick Banks, who went to Washington in free agency (rookie Brooks Zabielski takes over Banks’ spot in the third pairing).  But the loss of Banks should be offset by the arrival of LW Todd Douglas, bumping struggling Travis Gauss to the bench.  While their offense – particularly LW Vladimir Beruschko – showed some signs of age last season, the Wolves’ dominant defense and the peerless goaltending of Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist remain as strong as ever.  And it seems unlikely that coach Ron Wright will let the team rest on its laurels.  So what could slow them down?  The West is a tough division; Anchorage and Dakota should put up strong challenges.  But the biggest risk this team faces is injury, particularly to Lundquist.  If their star netminder goes down for any extended period, is rookie Brooks Copeland up to the job?  The Wolves hope they won’t have to find out.

 

Anchorage Igloos

The Igloos have made no secret of their desire to get back to the form that won them the 2015 SHL title.  Have they made the progress they needed?  It’s possible.  The biggest new addition is LW Ben Summers, a 10-goal scorer with New York last season.  He replaced Misha Petronov, whom the Igloos let go after a disappointing season.  But Anchorage’s fortunes are likely to hinge on the performance of their youngsters and their stars.  The Igloos are moving LW Les Collins, who had a breakout 35-point season in 2016, up the second line; they’re depending on him continuing to blossom as a scorer.  Their third defensive pairing is also new, combining rookie Tony Citrone with Sebastian Pomfret, who looked solid in limited action last year.  If those three have strong seasons, Anchorage should do well.  But their title chances likely rest on the shoulder of sniper Jake Frost.  Last season, Frost put up 45 goals, which would be a fine year for most players but an off year by Frost’s standards.  Since he is the key to Anchorage’s offense, a return to his typical output would make the Igloos dangerous.  If he has another off season, they’re likely to come up short again.

 

Dakota Jackalopes

For 2017, the Jackalopes have a new name (they changed from the Rapids) and a number of new faces.  After a couple disappointing seasons falling well short of contention, Dakota’s hoping that combination will be enough to help them catch up with the Western powers.  They did more to improve themselves than any other contender, adding C Mike Rivera via trade and D Rusty Anderson in free agency.  They also acquired D Scott Hexton from Hershey to make their defense that much stouter.  While the Jackalopes will always be an offense-first club, they’re arguably stronger on both sides of the puck than they’ve ever been.  If they were in the weaker East, Dakota would be at least a co-favorite to win the division.  This is the West, though.  If there’s an area where the Jackalopes may come up short, it’s between the pipes.  They’re relying on a pair of young goalies, Buzz Carson and Christien Adamsson.  Carson, the likely starter, had an impressive rookie season in 2016, and clearly improved as the season went on.  But nobody considers Carson to be in the same class as Michigan’s Lundquist or Anchorage’s Ty Worthington.  If Dakota finishes out of the money yet again, they may wind up ruing the day the front office ran Jesse Clarkson out of town.  But if Carson can take another step forward, the Jackalopes’ high-octane offense would make them a dangerous team.

 

Saskatchewan Shockers

Last season was a tale of two halves for the Shockers.  In the first 30 games, the fine goaltending of Zeke Zagurski and the scoring punch of rookie winger Troy Chamberlain had Saskatchewan hovering around the .500 mark and attracting notice as a young team on the rise.  The second half saw a dramatic fall from grace, as the Shockers lost 11 of their final 13 games and 23 of their last 30, and the team suffered a string of embarrassing personnel incidents that suggested a franchise coming apart at the seams.  The team improved in the offseason, drafting C Elliott Rafferty and trading for veteran G Oliver Richardson to back up Zagurski.  But the Shockers clearly lag far behind the contenders, with a subpar offense and a mediocre defense.  As a result, there are far more questions than answers headed into 2017.  Is coach Myron Beasley’s job in jeopardy if the Shockers stumble out of the gate, or fade in the second half again?  Can the front office get its act together and run the team in a more professional manner?  Can the team’s slow but steady building plan ever lift Saskatchewan into contention?  Should they consider dealing Zagurski and other veterans and go for a hard rebuild?  Can the team last in Saskatoon, or will owner Heinz Doofenshmirtz be forced to relocate?  Will the team ever abandon its bizarre yellow-and-seafoam color scheme?  Can this team ever be a real contender, or will they forever be a poorly-run, mistake-prone joke?  It’s hard to know what the future holds for this truly strange team, but it’s safe to expect that there won’t be a ton of wins this season.

 

Seattle Sailors

The Sailors had a rough inaugural season, looking weak on both ends of the ice.  Their star rookie, RW Vince Mango, turning in a disappointing campaign, scoring only 33 goals and lacking the explosive shot that made him such a highly-regarded prospect.  The Sailors are likely to finish last again, so the 2017 season is all about showing signs of growth.  The team defied expectations to draft LW Rod “Money” Argent with the top pick in the draft; Seattle hopes that he’ll add some scoring punch to the top line and force opposing defenses to stop overloading on Mango.  The Sailors will be eager to see progress from Mango, Argent, and D Benny Lambert.  In a surprising signing, they added D Timothy “Cyclone” Winston to bolster their leaky blueline corps; the defense is still nowhere near Michigan’s level, but it should be better.  Last season, goalie Rocky Goldmire struggled and looked shell-shocked at times; a stronger defense should help him get more comfortable in the crease.  If Seattle’s going to become a contender down the road, they’ll need to see their young core come together and take a step forward.  They’ll also need to decide if volatile coach Stewart “Popeye” Corrigan has the temperament to be a leader of men.  Sailors fans should try not to fixate on the win-loss record this season; instead they should watch to see if they have a solid foundation for the future.

Finals Interview: Dirk Lundquist

Michigan SmallWe caught up with Michigan Gray Wolves G Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist shortly after his team claimed the 2016 SHL championship.

SHL Digest: We’re here with Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist of the newly crowned SHL champion Gray Wolves.  Dirk, how does it feel to win the Vandy?

Dirk Lundquist
Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist

Dirk Lundquist: Whooooeeee!  Let me tell you, it feels really great.  The Vandy’s a shiny, shiny trophy, and getting to hold it, it’s like when I held my daughter for the first time.  So beautiful!

SHLD: If you had to pick one thing that propelled you to the championship, what was it?

DL: Our team spirit.  We’re a tough bunch of guys, no question.  The NHL passed us all over, and that gave us a little extra motivation to show what we can accomplish.  And we’re a blue-collar team.  We’re not in it for glory, we’re in it for hard work and getting the job done.

SHLD: In the first two games of this series, you posted back-to-back shutouts.  That’s the first time any SHL goalie has ever done that, and you did it in the Finals.  Does that show that you’re at your best when the stakes are highest?

DL: It shows that we all are, as a team.  I wouldn’t be nearly so successful as a goalie if I didn’t have a great defense in front of me.  They sacrifice their bodies to block shots, they throw themselves into the wall work, they work hard to deny the other team good looks at the net.  I wouldn’t be here without them.  This is a whole-team effort.

SHLD: We heard that your famous beard might undergo some changes now that you’ve won.  Care to comment?

DL: Well, my daughter Lindsey, she keeps telling me she wants to braid my beard.  So I told her that if we won the championship, I’d let her do it.  Now we’ve won, so I guess I’ve got to do it.  She’s 5, so I don’t know what kind of job she’s going to do.  It should be interesting!

SHLD: Good luck with that!  Now, you mentioned the NHL before, and getting passed over.  After the kind of job you’ve done the last couple seasons, I imagine some NHL teams might come calling.  Is that something you’d consider?

DL: Hell no!  I’m right where I belong.  The only place I want to be next year is back here in Michigan with my friends, defending our title.

SHLD: One last question: Now that you’ve won the title, what are you going to do next?

DL: Well, first I plan to drink all the beer I can find.  Then I’m going to sleep for about a month.

SHLD: Sounds good!  Well, congratulations, Dirk.  Go celebrate with your teammates!

DL: Thanks.  Wolves forever!

Galaxy, Wolves Confident Headed Into Finals

Washington SmallMichigan SmallGoing into the second Vandenberg Cup Finals, the situation seems similar to last season, as the Eastern champion Washington Galaxy head into the series as a significant underdog against a powerful Western foe.  There are a couple of key differences this time, however.  For one thing, instead of the Anchorage Igloos, the Galaxy are facing off against the Michigan Gray Wolves this time.  For another, the Galaxy feel much more confident heading into this series.

The Wolves come in on the heels of an impressive regular season.  They finished with a record of 43-14-3, slightly better than Anchorage’s mark last season.  Under new coach Ron Wright, Michigan displayed the same ferocious, swarming defense that helped them succeed last season, while adding a more potent offense that made them extremely tough to beat.

“This team is all about heart and hustle,” said Wright.  “There’s plenty of talent here, make no mistake, but it’s paired with a grinding, blue-collar work ethic.”

Perhaps the Wolves’ greatest weapon, though, is between the pipes.  G Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist has been the best goalie in the SHL for two seasons running, posting a 39-10-2 record with a 1.57 GAA and a .941 save percentage.  “In the playoffs, every goal is critical,” said Wright.  “And nobody in this league can prevent goals better than The Bear.”

Given Michigan’s many strength, the Finals will present a tall order for Washington.  But according to Galaxy RW Jefferson McNeely, his team isn’t scared.  “We feel like this series is a total toss-up,” said McNeely.  “If the Wolves want to write us off, they’ll regret it.”

McNeely pointed out that his team has been tested.  Last season, they pushed the heavily-favored Igloos to 7 games in the Finals.  This year, they fought off a fierce challenge from Hershey to claim the division title on the last day of the season.  They closed the season on a seven-game winning streak.  “We’ve been in the trenches,” said McNeely.  “We’re battle-tested, and we know how to win in key situations.  We’ve got this.”

Washington, Hershey Title Fight Goes Down to Last Day

Washington SmallHershey SmallGoing into the last week of the season, the East’s defending champion, the Washington Galaxy, trailed the Hershey Bliss by two points.  But with the two teams scheduled to meet on the last day of the season, Galaxy coach Rodney Reagle made a prediction.  “Just you watch,” Reagle said to reporters during Saturday’s game.  “It’s all going to come down to that game, and we’re both going to be tied.  One game for all the marbles.  Because that’s exactly the sick sense of humor the hockey gods have.”

As it turns out, Reagle’s prediction was exactly right.  When the Bliss and Galaxy faced off at Constellation Center on Friday, they had identical 33-23-3 records. Just as Reagle had foreseen, the winner of the game would win the division.

As it turned out, Washington defended its division crown with a dramatic come-from-behind 5-3 win that left the home crowd ecstatic and the visiting Bliss heartbroken.

“Couldn’t have asked for a more thrilling finish, eh?” said Reagle with a grin.

The Galaxy came into the season finale riding a six-game winning streak.  The Bliss were nearly as hot, having won six of their last seven, the only loss a 3-1 decision to eventual Western champ Michigan on Tuesday.

Both teams were confident heading into the deciding game.  “We feel like we’ve got the edge,” said Bliss C Justin Valentine, anchor of the team’s high-powered Love Line.  “Our offense is clicking, and Jesse [Clarkson] has really sealed up the net for us.  We’re ready to take this.”

Countered Galaxy RW Jefferson McNeely, “This game is ours.  We’re peaking at the right time, and we’re playing at home in front of our awesome fans.  We always come up big in big moments, and this is about as big as they get.”

The first period was a raucous, high-tempo affair, with the crowd at full volume.  Both teams came out of the period with some good news.  The Galaxy were able to contain the Love Line, denying the high-scoring trio any good looks at the net.  On the other hand, Hershey got offense from an unexpected source, as third-line C Henry Constantine slipped a pair of power-play goals past Washington netminder Roger Orion, quieting the crowd and giving the visitors a 2-0 edge after the first period.

In the second period, the pace slowed a bit as the nervous energy of the first frame ebbed.  Washington got on the board as D Rusty Anderson banged in a slapper from the blue line a little more than 6 minutes in, but that was the only tally of the period, and the Galaxy found themselves trailing 2-1 with only one period left to save their season.

Before the third, Reagle tried an unorthodox approach to motivate his men.  The coach is well-known for his penchant for dressing in costume and making screwball jokes, but he played it straight.  “You know who you are and you know what you need to do,” Reagle told his players.  “Stop, take a breath, and remember: you got this.”

Unfortunately for the home team, Hershey struck again five minutes into the third period, as LW Russ Nahorniak tipped one in from the goal mouth to make it 3-1.  “That was the real gut check for us,” said Galaxy C Eddie Costello.  “We looked up and down the bench and said, ‘All right, are we gonna roll over and give up, or are we going to get back in this?'”

Washington got their second wind and came out determined to catch up.  Less than two minutes after Nahorniak’s goal, Galaxy LW Walt Camernitz struck back on a three-on-two breakaway on a power play, going top shelf to make it 3-2.  But it was the latter half of the third period that really turned into a nightmare for Hershey.

With seven and a half minutes left in the game, Galaxy D Bill Corbett fired a low liner from the blue line.  The puck took a couple of strange bounces and eluded Clarkson for a curious tying goal.  Four minutes later, the Bliss surrendered another odd-man rush, with C J.C. Marais deking past a helpless Clarkson and putting the home team ahead for the first time.  The arena seemed to shake to its foundations as the crowd roared while a stunned Hershey squad tried to get itself back together.  But with a minute and a half left, the Galaxy got some much-needed insurance, with D Kevin Buchanan banking one home off the left post to make it 5-3, which was the ultimate final score.

After the game, the Bliss were left shell-shocked, having surrendered four unanswered goals to blow a seemingly solid lead.  There was a lot about this game that was tough for Hershey to swallow.  The Love Line was held without a single point in the game.  Bliss coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber suggested that the trio was exhausted by a long season.  “They’ve carried so much of the load for us for so long,” mused Barber.  “I just think there wasn’t enough left in the tank.”  And Clarkson, Hershey’s big deadline pickup, wilted in the clutch when his team needed him most.  Clarkson was not available for comment after the game.

Barber summed things up for his team by saying, “To come this far this year and then have a game like this, it’s like biting into a nice Fifth Avenue bar and finding a big rock in the middle.”

In the Washington locker room, the mood was entirely different.  Reagle blasted “Joy to the World” from his office as the players danced and sprayed each other with beer.  “Man, what a crazy ending!” shouted Costello.  “Last year was easier, but this was way more fun.”

The Galaxy also extended praise to their defeated foe.  “Big tip of the lid to Hershey,” said McNeely.  “They gave us a real run, and with a couple of bounces, this could easily have gone their way.  They’re a hell of a team, and I expect them to come back strong next year.”

As for the Finals matchup with Western champion Michigan?  “Bring it on,” said McNeely.  “We can handle anything they want to throw at us.  We’re ready.”

Michigan Clinches West, Loses Beruschko

Michigan SmallLast season, the Michigan Gray Wolves had a frustrating season: they finished with the second-most points in the league, but were shut out of the SHL Finals thanks to the Anchorage Igloos.  This year they turned the tables, seizing the Western division lead early and holding off the Igloos on the way to their first Finals berth.  The win came at a cost, however, as the Wolves will enter the Finals missing a key player.

vladimir-beruschko
Vladimir Beruschko

Michigan entered the final week of the season on the brink of clinching, leading Anchorage by eight points with five games remaining.  But they suffered a surprising setback on Saturday, blowing a 2-0 third-period lead and losing to Dakota while Anchorage turned aside Quebec 4-1.  Compounding the problems for the Wolves, LW Vladimir Beruschko crumpled awkwardly after taking a puck to the lower leg and left the game.  The team later confirmed that Beruschko appears to be finished for the season.  The winger was a stalwart on Michigan’s first line this season, providing strong play on both ends; he finished the year with 4 goals and 38 assists.

After the game, Wolves coach Ron Wright called out his team for a lack of effort.  “It seems that some of the guys in our locker room think we’ve already clinched it,” said Wright in his postgame press conference.  “Well, we haven’t won a damn thing yet.  And if we’re going to keep playing like this, Anchorage is going to come right up and take it away from us.  We’re going to have to do this without Vlad, so everybody better be ready to step up.”

The Wolves responded the next night, downing Hershey 3-1 and pushing the Igloos to the verge of elimination.  On Tuesday, Michigan toppled hapless Saskatchewan by the same 3-1 margin to punch their ticket to the Finals.  In an emotional locker-room celebration, Wright fought back tears as he saluted his players.  “When we got together in training camp, I told you that we had the talent here to go all the way, if we were willing to work for it,” Wright said.  “You’ve given it everything I could have asked for, and this is your reward.  Savor it!”

By all accounts, the Wolves followed their coach’s instructions and savored it immensely.  The team reportedly partied hard the rest of the week and staggered through their final two games, particularly their season-ending 5-1 loss to Anchorage.  This time, even the famously hard-driving Wright declined to admonish his team for not working hard.  “They deserve to have a little fun,” the coach said with a wink.  “Just as long as they dial it back up in time for the Finals.”

According to his players, Wright needn’t be worried.  “I guarantee you, nobody in this room thinks we’ve reached our goal yet,” said C Hunter Bailes.  “We won the division, and that’s sweet.  But we all started this season with one goal, and that was to win the Vandy.  If we don’t get there, we’re not going to be satisfied.  We’ve got one more step to go, and we’ll be ready.”