Smoke Announce First Coach, Sign First Player

The Kansas City Smoke, one of the SHL expansion teams set to debut in 2018, held a press conference today at Heartland Telecom Center to introduce their coaching staff and their first-ever player.

“We know the fans are getting excited to see the team take the ice next season,” said Smoke GM Garth Melvin.  “So we’re excited to introduce them to some of the faces they’re going to see when they come to the arena.”

Randy Bergner

Kansas City’s new head coach will be a familiar face for fans of the SHL’s minor league.  Randy Bergner was the coach of the Omaha Ashcats, former affiliate of the Seattle Sailors.  Under Bergner’s leadership, the Ashcats finished with a 38-21-1 record, best in the league.  They were stunned in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual champion Utah Owls.  Omaha will be Kansas City’s affiliate this coming season, and Bergner is excited to remain in the area and receive a promotion.

“When Garth called me and asked me to come in for an interview, I thought they were maybe looking at me to coach Omaha,” said Bergner.  “That sounded pretty great to me, because I’d enjoyed my time there and I wanted to stay.  But after we’d talked for a bit, I realized he was looking at me for the top job.  Even better!”

Bergner hopes to instill in the Smoke the same team-first spirit he oversaw with the Ashcats.  “We didn’t have a big star to build around in Omaha, so we focused on building a tight, cohesive unit,” Bergner told reporters.  “And that’s what I expect to do here.  That Three Musketeers all-for-one-and-one-for-all attitude, that’s what we’re shooting for.”  The coach credited his assist, Rex Claymore, with helping to create that spirit in Omaha; Claymore will join Bergner in KC.

Joining Bergner and Claymore at the press conference was the Smoke’s first official player: defenseman Jon Rogers.  The 22-year-old graduated from Minnesota State-Bemidji and went to training camp with Seattle on a professional tryout agreement, but failed to make the team.  He spent the season in the KHL instead, putting up 3 goals and 6 assists, but the British Columbia native was eager for an opportunity to return to North America.  Rogers is considered a stay-home blueliner who’s not afraid to scrap.

“I saw Jon in camp last season and I was impressed,” said Bergner.  “It was a numbers game when he got cut, but I definitely took his name down.  I felt he was a guy who could play at this level if he got a chance.  So when I got hired here, he was my first call.  After my wife, I mean.”

“I’m really grateful I made that much of an impression,” said Rogers.  “I’m honored to be the first official player for this franchise.  This is a terrific opportunity, and I hope I can make my career here.”

Melvin said that the coaches and player will spend the offseason visiting schools, shopping centers, and bars in the Kansas City area, meeting the locals and educating them about the Smoke and the SHL.  “We know the fans here might not be totally tuned in to hockey yet,” said Melvin.  “So we want to get out into the community, let ’em know we’re here, and get’ em fired up for the season to come.”

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Jackalopes Sack Engellund

In a move that is both surprising and seemingly inevitable, the Dakota Jackalopes announced that they would not renew the contract of coach Harold Engellund.  Over three seasons with Dakota, Engellund compiled a respectable 84-85-11 record, but his teams failed to live up to lofty expectations and the coach never seemed to earn the trust of the front office.

“We’ve really wanted to bring the Vandy home for the fans here,” said Jackalopes GM Paul Mindegaard.  “We haven’t been able to accomplish that, and we’ve decided that it was the right time to make a change.”

Harold Engellund

Engellund’s job with Dakota was in jeopardy last season, when the team got off to a sub-.500 start and the coach was rumored to be clashing with the front office over whether Jesse Clarkson or Christien Adamsson should get the bulk of the playing time in net.  The players rallied to Engellund’s defense and the team went on a winning streak to save the coach’s job, but the team dealt Clarkson at the deadline.  They wound up finishing with a 32-22-6 record, well behind both Michigan and Anchorage.

This season, the small-market Jackalopes spent a considerable amount of money upgrading their roster with the goal of being a true contender.  However, the results haven’t been there.  When Dakota struggled out of the gate again, Engellund was once again rumored to be on the edge of dismissal.  They were never able to climb into contention, and they wound up finishing 22-35-3, tied with Saskatchewan for third place in the West.  Given the gap between expectations and reality, Engellund wound up paying the price with his job.

“I can’t say I’m surprised by this,” said Engellund.  “I’ve spent the last year and a half answering questions about when I’m going to get fired.  This organization’s made it clear that they expect to win a championship.  When that’s where the bar is and you don’t even break 50 points, it’s hard to argue that you deserve to stick around.   It’s a shame, but it is what it is.  That’s show business.”

Engellund remained popular with the players all the way to the end, and the clubhouse was reportedly very unhappy when they heard the news.  “I don’t think there’s a single guy in here who thought that Coach Engellund deserved to be let go,” said LW “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston.  “If you can’t play for him, you can’t play for anybody.  I feel responsible for what happened.  I feel like I let him down.  I feel like we all did.”

Although Engellund was dismissed for failing to contend for a championship, it remains to see whether the Jackalopes will be contending anytime soon.  Rumors are flying that Dakota won’t be able to maintain their payroll next season and will be forced to tear the team down and rebuild.  They dealt fan favorite Vonnie McLearen at the deadline, reportedly because they couldn’t afford to sign him to an extension.  Mindegaard declined to comment on the team’s personnel plan for the offseason, but if a rebuilding effort is planned, it would make sense to bring in a new face to oversee it.

Mindegaard said that assistant coach Manfred Obronski remained under contract and would be considered to replace Engellund; if Obronski is not chosen, the new coach will decide whether or not to retain him.

Corrigan Fired As Coach of Sailors

After two seasons full of memorable outbursts and eruptions, the Seattle Sailors have fired coach Stewart “Popeye” Corrigan.  The move brings the tenure of the SHL’s most volatile, explosive bench boss to an end.

Stewart Corrigan

In two seasons with Seattle, Corrigan compiled a record of 30-84-6.  But it wasn’t the Sailors’ on-ice performance that triggered Corrigan’s dismissal; rather, it was the coach’s track record of over-the-top meltdowns when things didn’t go Seattle’s way.  Reportedly, the team felt that the coach’s lack of self-control was embarrassing and unprofessional.

“We didn’t have any complaints with the job Stewart was doing, to be honest,” said Sailors GM Jay McKay.  “He’s a perfectly fine coach.  But we’ve thought a lot about the sort of person we want representing the public face of the Sailors.  And as much as I like Stewart, we made the call that he wasn’t the right guy for us going forward.”

Corrigan’s list of temper-fueled incidents is legendary around the league.  He threw a roll of athletic tape and shouted an ethnic slur at a referee.  He threw punches at an opposing player who had been attacking his team.  He threw his bench on the ice to protest a call.  He attempted to assault Wolves D Vladimir Beruschko after the player crushed Sailors RW Vince Mango to protest his celebratory on-ice selfie.  He swung a hockey stick at Michigan coach Ron Wright during an argument.

“I understand that I did this to myself,” said Corrigan.  “I’m a passionate guy, sometimes too much.  I’ve always had a temper, and I’ve let it get the better of me on a number of occasions.  I can’t say that I agree with this decision, but I do understand it.  I wish this team the best of luck. Whoever winds up coaching this team next is going to be a lucky guy.  This is going to be a great team.”

McKay said that he intends to “cast a wide net” in searching for Corrigan’s successor.  He indicated that both assistant coach Mark Morganhurst and minor-league coach Randy Bergner would be on the list of candidates.

Bliss Clinch First-Ever Finals Trip

This week was the culmination of a three-year jersey for the Hershey Bliss.  Along the way, they have endured injury, heartbreak, self-doubt, frustration, and accusations that they couldn’t win the big one.  “Yeah, we’ve got a couple monkeys on our back,” said Bliss coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber.  “Heck, we’ve probably got the whole zoo back there at this point.”

The monkeys finally dropped off this week, as the Bliss outlasted the Washington Galaxy to claim their first-ever Eastern Division title and trip to the SHL Finals.

“Chocolate Chip” Barber

“I couldn’t be more excited about this,” said Barber.  “We’ve worked so hard and come so far.  For three years, we’ve had our faces pressed against the window of the candy store, but we haven’t been able to get in.  Now, we’ve finally unlocked the door, and now we can dig in and enjoy all the sweet, glorious chocolate bars we can eat.”

Hershey came into the season’s final week all but assured of clinching the division, leading second-place Washington by eight points with five games remaining.  After pounding New York 7-3 on Saturday, the Bliss moved to the brink, needing only one more point to clinch.  On Sunday, facing a Michigan team desperate to remain alive in its own division race, the Bliss nearly put up a shutout.  But Wolves LW Jorma Seppa tied the game with 1:17 left, and then D Max Madison potted the game-winner with 47 seconds left in overtime to hand Hershey a 2-1 loss.  Meanwhile, the Galaxy bulldozed New York 6-1 to avoid elimination.

On paper, nothing had changed: the Bliss were still one point away from nirvana.  But suddenly, it was all too easy to picture a nightmare scenario.  If the Bliss dropped their next two games and the Galaxy won both of theirs, that would set up a showdown between the teams on Friday for all the marbles.  And that would bring back memories of last season, when Hershey gave up four goals in the third period and cost themselves the division.

Justin Valentine

“We didn’t think history would repeat itself, but it was definitely on our minds,” admitted C Justin Valentine.

The easiest way to keep the nightmare at bay was to beat Quebec on Tuesday at Chocolate Center.  Though Quebec has struggled this season, it was no sure win: netminder Riki Tiktuunen is capable of putting up a shutout at any time.  But the Bliss came in determined, and it was they who earned the shutout, beating the Tigres 4-0.  D Reese Milton scored a pair of goals, and Valentine and C Spencer Kilpatrick each added one.  Meanwhile, their defense limited Quebec to only 14 shots.

The Bliss celebrated their win by soaking each other with Hershey’s Syrup.  “I think I’m going to need someone to soak me with champagne or beer just to get this out of my hair,” said LW Lance Sweet.  In the middle of the celebration, Barber made a brief but emotional speech to his team.  “Everybody doubted us,” said Barber.  “They called us chokers, called us weak, said we couldn’t win the big one.  Well, we just won it!   Everyone in here is a winner!”

Now Hershey prepares to head to the Finals, where they will be a significant underdog against the Anchorage Igloos.  “None of that scares us,” said Valentine.  “We’re used to being doubted and underestimated.  But they were wrong about us before, and they’ll be wrong about us again.  We’ve got the Love Line, and a great defense, and we’ve got two great goalies.  Bring it on, Anchorage!”

Igloos Win West In Blowout

The Anchorage Igloos were the first team to win the Vandenberg Trophy back in 2015.  They’ll now have a chance to win it for the second time in three seasons after outlasting the Michigan Gray Wolves to claim the SHL’s Western Division title.

“Going up against a team like Michigan, that’s really getting forged in the fire,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor.  “You have to be a special and very strong team to survive that kind of test.  We not only survived, we passed with flying colors.  Our guys really earned their stripes.”

Sam Castor

Anchorage came into the final week of the season with a six-point lead over Michigan.  “Just take care of your own business,” Castor told his players, “and we’ll get this done.  We don’t have to worry about what they do.”

Following the plan, the Igloos swept their way through the weekend, knocking off Quebec 4-2 on Saturday and downing Seattle 3-1 on Sunday. The Wolves matched the Igloos stride-for-stride, winning both of their weekend contests.  Anchorage came into Tuesday’s game against Saskatchewan needing only a win or a Michigan loss to clinch the title.

Jake Frost

The Igloos took care of business in decisive fashion, drubbing the Shockers 9-1 to finish their quest with a bang.  The impressive victory was even more so given the performance of their top line.  C Jake Frost scored four goals and added four assists, while LW Jerry Koons put up a hat trick to go with three assists.  RW Nicklas Ericsson contributed five assists along with a goal of his own.

“We were just out there fast and loose and having a great time, just like playing shinny on the pond back home,” said Frost.  “The fans were rocking the house, and we were right there with there, riding that wave of pure joy.”

After the victory, the Igloos went up into the stands to celebrate with their fans, sharing hugs and high-fives and giving some rooters the selfie of a lifetime.  “There was one lady who was so excited that she just kept shrieking,” said Koons.  “She just kept screaming in my ear, ‘It’s you!  Oh my God, I’m here with you!’  So I might be half-deaf for a few days, but it was worth it.”  The Igloos signed their jerseys and gave them to the fans, and tossed a few signed pucks into the crowd as well.

In the locker room, the Igloos doused each other with champagne and took a moment to reflect after a hard-fought campaign and prepare themselves for what’s next.  “It feels great tonight,” said Frost.  “But after we clean up and wash the champagne out of our hair, it’ll be time to focus on the Finals.  Hershey’s a tough team, and I know they’ll give us a good fight.”

Ron Wright

Wolves coach Ron Wright tipped his cap to his rivals.  “All credit to the Igloos,” said Wright.  “They’re a really damn good club, and they earned this.  It was a battle well fought.”

Still, Wright couldn’t help pointing out that the trajectory of the race changed when Michigan C Hunter Bailes, one of the team’s top scorers, suffered an upper-body injury that caused him to miss a quarter of the season.  “Would things be different if we hadn’t lost Hunter for as long as we did?” said Wright.  “Hard to say.  But injuries are a part of the game, and that’s how it goes sometimes.  We’ll be ready to come back next year and try to take the title back.”

Next year, the race won’t be quite so pre.  With the league expanding to 12 teams, the SHL will be instituting four-team playoffs next season.  Barring a major change in the balance of power during the offseason, the Igloos and Wolves will be the overwhelming favorites to face each other in the division round next season.  Will that dim the fires of competition between the clubs?  “I don’t think so,” said Frost.  “We’re both hyper-competitive teams, and we don’t like each other that much.  And there’s the blood feud between Petey and Wally.  The war will still be fierce.”

Quebec Coach in Hot Water After Late-Night Escapades

This year has been a struggle for Quebec Tigres coach Martin Delorme.  His team’s ambitions have been undone by goalie Riki Tiktuunen‘s struggles to stay healthy; they’re likely to finish with a record barely better than last year.  In midseason, Delorme engaged in a public spat with star winger Stephane Mirac.  The coach, who was hailed as a savior when he agreed to coach the expansion Tigres last season, is starting to hear jeers from impatient fans.

Martin Delorme

Delorme’s season took a major turn for the worse this week as he was arrested for drunk driving, an embarrassment that only got worse when his arrest led to the revelation of the coach’s messy personal life.

The arrest happened early Monday morning, a few hours after the Tigres’ 1-0 overtime victory over Hershey at Centre Citadelle.  Delorme was pulled over in the village of Saint-Anselme around 4 AM after he was spotted driving erratically.  He failed the field sobriety tests and blew 0.14 on the Breathalyzer.  The coach was also noted to be disheveled, a rarity for him, and was wearing s suit jacket and undershirt, but no shirt.  Delorme was arrested and held overnight before being released.

“It was very poor judgment on my part,” said Delorme.  “I am ashamed of my actions.”

Little did Delorme realize that the arrest would be only the beginning of his problems.  Reporters found the incident odd for a number of reasons.  For one thing, Delorme does not have a reputation as a big drinker.  For another, Saint-Anselme is not located anywhere near the coach’s home or the team’s facilities.  For another, “Martin wouldn’t leave the house unless he was perfectly dressed,” in the words of one reporter.  “Clearly, something weird was going on.”

To get to the bottom of it, reporters began trying to reconstruct Delorme’s activities after the game.  With some investigative work, they were able to piece together a timeline.  After the game and his postgame interviews, Delorme was seen leaving the arena with a woman not his wife.  (The coach’s wife has not been seen at games for most of the season.)  Later, Delorme and the woman were seen together at a bar in Levis, across the river from Quebec.  Later, the pair went back to the woman’s house, where they apparently stayed until the woman’s husband arrived home unexpectedly.  At that point, the coach fled and drove away, until he was pulled over a short distance away.

Stories about Delorme’s wild night broke on Wednesday, shortly before the Tigres’ game against Hamilton.  The coach reacted angrily when questioned about his activities.  “This is none of your concern,” Delorme snapped.  “This is not news; nothing but gossip.  What job is it of yours to examine my bedsheets?  I do not have to respond to this inquisition.”

Quebec players were hesitant to discuss the incident.  “It’s definitely a surprise, that’s for sure,” said LW Stellan Fisker.  “We wer all pretty shocked.  I don’t really know the details, so there’s not a lot I can say.  But it’s a tough break for Coach Delorme.”

Word of the incident traveled fast.  When the Tigres came to Washington on Friday to play the Galaxy, the Jumbotron displayed Delorme behind the bench while “Loverboy” by Billy Ocean blared over the speakers as the fans laughed and cheered.  After the game, a 3-2 Quebec win, Delorme called the stunt “unprofessional,” but had no further comment.

Galaxy coach Rodney Reagle couldn’t resist poking fun at the incident in his postgame press conference.  “Boy, Martin’s got himself in a mess, hasn’t he?”  said Reagle with a giggle.  “I wouldn’t have expected that out of him.  He seems like a careful sort of guy.  But I guess that’s how it goes with French guys, right?  That swingin’ lifestyle… Personally, as a married man, I’m really surprised.  I mean, I can’t even get dressed in the morning without my wife’s help.  If I was going to have an affair, I’d probably have to ask her to help me set it up.”

New York Holds Unique Top Hat Giveaway

Suffice it to say, it’s been a tough year for the New York Night and their fans.  The team is languishing in the basement of the East, attendance has generally been lackluster, their star player got suspended after getting beat up in a bar fight, and their most notable promotion turned into a fiasco when a disgruntled employee stole the team’s shipment of fidget spinners.  “I knew it was going to a rocky year,” said Night coach Nick Foster, “but I didn’t think it was going to be this rocky.”

In the season’s penultimate week, though, the Night pulled off a successful and distinctive promotion: Top Hat Night.  That’s right, during Saturday night’s game against Quebec at Neon Sky Center, the Night gave away top hats to their fans.

According to GM Royce McCormick, he got the inspiration for the promotion after seeing a wave of fedora giveaways, especially among baseball teams.  “So my first thought was to do a fedora night, maybe tie it in with a Sinatra theme or do a Rat Pack thing,” said McCormick.  “But the more I thought about it, I realized that the fedora thing’s been done.  Why copy what everyone else is doing if you can be original?”

So McCormick thought about how he could do a more original giveaway.  “That’s when I thought of top hats,” the GM said.  “I mean, this is the Big Apple!  Why not do something with a little extra class?”

Definitely an unorthodox concept.  And unlike with fedoras, most people don’t wear top hats on an everyday basis.  But McCormick’s brainstorm proved popular: the game was a sellout, and the fans wore their hats with pride.  “When I was a kid, I always wanted a hat like this,” said 43-year-old Douglas Grossi of Queens.  “I always wanted to be a magician, and now I can dress like one!”

Ten lucky fans received more than just a hat.  Between the second and third periods, the PA announcer asked fans to check the lining of their hats.  Some had a false bottom; beneath it was a Night T-shirt and a gift certificate for a free tuxedo rental from Mens Wearhouse.  “My original plan was to hide rabbits inside the hats,” said McCormick, “but somebody pointed out that they’d probably die in there with no food or water.  Instead, we gave a few lucky fans the chance to complete the look so they can go out on the town in style.”

Foster proved to be a fan of the giveaway; he did his postgame press conference wearing the top hat with a big cigar in his mouth.  “It’s not too often in this life that you have the chance to be the Monopoly man,” Foster told reporters.  “So when you get that kind of opportunity, you have to grab it.”

Unfortunately, the Night couldn’t deliver a win to go with the hats, falling to the Tigres 5-2.  But the fans didn’t seem to care.  “I was just glad nobody got a hat trick,” said Grossi.  “No way was I tossing this sweet lid on the ice.”