Did Jackalopes Coach Nearly Walk Away?

The Dakota Jackalopes have had a tough season in every respect.  An early injury to star winger “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston undermined any hope that the Jackalopes had of producing a respectable season; at the same time, the flailing performance of the Kansas City Smoke kept Dakota from earning the top draft pick.  The team continued to bleed payroll and talent, trading their two top defensemen and even dealing their recently-acquired free agent goalie just weeks after signing him.  In the wake of the latter deal, starting netminder Christien Andersson slammed the organization as “cheap.”

This week, a surprising and discouraging rumor made the rounds: after only two seasons on the job, head coach Flim Dahlgren allegedly had to be talked out of resigning.  According to the rumor, Dahlgren was deeply concerned that the team’s alleged rebuilding effort had no end in sight, further fueling speculation that the team is in serious financial trouble.

Flim Dahlgren

With Dakota, Dahlgren has compiled a record of __-__-__.  Coaching the Jackalopes, a young team whose roster has been in constant flux the last several seasons, is no easy task.  However, Dahlgren has generally earned positive reviews during his tenure.  He is regarded as a good teacher for young players, and has maintained a generally positive clubhouse atmosphere despite the losing records and salary-saving trades.

“If Flim can’t make things work over there, I don’t know who can,” said one SHL coach.

Given that, it would be a deeply distressing sign if Dahlgren were to walk away, especially without another job in mind.  (He is not reported to be in the running for the Boston Badgers’ newly vacant coaching position.)  Team sources say that the coach only agreed to stay after several lengthy conversations with GM Paul Mindegaard, during which they talked about the team’s payroll, its commitment to re-signing its own young players, and whether Dakota plans to trade away more high-salary players (of whom there is really only one left: Airston).

Dahlgren has often been eloquent in his postgame interviews – at the end of last season, he turned a state-of-the-team press conference into a philosophical musing on winning and losing – and he spoke thoughtfully in response to questions about his rumored resignation.

Asked whether he had planned to resign, the coach replied, “I can tell you that I intend to honor my contract [which runs through next season], and that I plan to return next season.”  Responding to a question about the Jackalopes’ finances, Dahlgren said, “There’s a lot of talk about that, and a lot of foolish rumors.  Certainly, I’ve gotten all my paychecks on time, and so have our players.  This is a small market, so we cannot expect to run New York-size payrolls.  But that does not mean we’re out panhandling for bus fare.”

He went on to discuss the team’s future.  “When I signed up for this job, I was aware the team was moving into a rebuilding phase and that there might not be a lot of wins in the near future,” Dahlgren said.  “There is a difference between rebuilding and perpetual destruction, to be sure.  The last couple of years have been challenging for the fans and the players both, but it’s a worthwhile pain as long as we are building to something.  I have spoken with Paul and the front office about their vision for the future, and I am confident that we have a core from which we can build.”

Mindegaard, who also declined to confirm or deny the rumors, praised Dahlgren to reporters.  “Speaking on behalf of the organization, we’ve been more than satisfied with Flim’s performance,” the GM said.  “I’ve talked with him, and we’re on the same page about where we’re headed.  I’m grateful for what he’s done the last couple of seasons, and I think the future will be even better.”

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Badgers Fire Coach Prince After 2 Seasons

In a move that was widely anticipated around the league, the Boston Badgers fired coach Cam Prince after two seasons on the job.  After the Badgers spent a significant amount of money adding big-name free agents this season, the front office was apparently disappointed by the extremely modest improvement in the team’s fortunes this season.  Perhaps worse, the locker room broke down into feuding cliques, and Prince showed few signs of effectiveness as either a uniter or a disciplinarian.

“Cam will always have an important role in the story of this organization, as the first coach we ever had,” said GM Jody Melchiorre.  “But we’ve been having some tough discussions here over the last couple of weeks, and we’ve made the difficult decision to go in another direction.”

Cam Prince

Prince’s sophomore season got off to an awkward start, as Prince (who used to be an assistant for the New York Night) was quoted mocking several of the Night’s star players, as well as the high expectations of the ownership and front office.  Prince’s quotes (which he later claimed were meant to be off the record) earned the Badgers a 7-3 drubbing the next time the teams faced off, and earned the coach himself a season’s worth of mockery from New York fans.

That controversy aside, the first month of Boston’s season went better than expected, as the team remained within shouting distance of the .500 mark.  After that, though, the Badgers collapsed, quickly falling out of contention and into the division basement, where they have remained ever since.  And as the team floundered, a gulf opened up between the team’s veterans and its younger players.  The veterans felt that the young players were lazy and more interested in partying than playing hard; the youngsters felt that the veterans were bitter and jealous, and lacked the speed to keep up in the modern sport.

LW Cary Estabrook, the first player ever signed by the Badgers, was symbolic of the divisions within the team.  The organization hoped the Rhode Island native could become a hometown hero; instead, his career dissolved in a haze of booze and parties.  After clashing repeatedly with Prince and team veterans, Estabrook was shipped away to Hamilton in midseason.

Prince’s inability to rein in Estabrook and some of the team’s other party animals soured his standing with the veterans.  “Prince always seemed overwhelmed by the job,” said one anonymous veteran player.  “He’d stand there on the bench, looking like a kid dressed in his dad’s suit, but when it came time to discipline guys or bring the team in line, he couldn’t do it.  And after a while, it seemed like he stopped trying.”

Last week’s locker-room brawl between defensemen Bjorn Tollefson and Graham Bellinger dramatized just how bad team morale and chemistry had gotten.  “Obviously, Bjorn shouldn’t have punched a teammate,” said the same anonymous player, “but he came from Michigan, where the locker room is a tight ship.  When he saw guys running wild and not focusing on the game, in his mind, he felt like he had to do something.  And he felt like Price wasn’t doing anything, so he had to take matters into his own hands.”

Prince was not present at the press conference announcing his firing, and reporters have been unable to reach him for comment.  Sources close to Prince say that he was stunned and devastated by the firing, and that he assumed he would have at least one more season to turn things around.

It’s not clear who Prince’s replacement will be.  Melchiorre said that assistant coach Mel Lonigan would be considered for the job, although team sources consider it unlikely that he would be hired.  Longtime Washington coach Rodney Reagle is available, and it’s expected that he will be interviewed.  Other possible candidates include Quebec assistant Sylvain Berard, Hamilton assistant Jack Thornberry and minor-league coach Butch Slazenger.

Engellund Praises Mango After Sailors Clinch Playoff

It’s a bright new day for the Seattle Sailors.  For the second year in a row, the Sailors began the year loudly insisting that they were going to be the team to beat in the West this year.  Last year, they were not able to back up their boasts with results.  This year, though, the Sailors were good to their word, getting off to a hot start and never looking back.  On Sunday, they beat the Dakota Jackalopes 5-0 to officially clinch their first-ever trip to the playoffs.

Harold Engellund

In the midst of a raucous locker-room celebration, coach Harold Engellund took a moment to lavish praise on his player, and particularly star Vince Mango.

According to team sources, Engellund and the coaching staff met privately with Mango before the season to challenge the star to up his game, noting that other players on the team look to him as an example.  Mango has long been criticized for his disinterest in defense and passing, but responded to the coach’s challenge to become a more well-rounded player.  He set a career high in assists with __, and he recorded a positive plus-minus rating for the first time this season.

After the team punched its playoff ticket, the coach went public with his admiration for Mango – a rare move for Engellund, who supports his players in front of reporters but tends to be fairly reserved emotionally.

“I love Vince Mango,” the coach began, clutching a bottle of champagne.  “He really rose to the challenge this season, and he’s the main reason we’re here now.  Before the season, we talked to him about playing hard on both ends of the ice.  Scoring is where the glory and the glamor is, but that’s not how you win hockey games.  And Vince took those words to heart, boy howdy.  He’s less focused on glory and glamor this season, and more on hard work and consistent effort, and it’s paid off big time.  And the rest of the team fell in line right behind him, like I knew they would.  Vince has shown that you can be a hockey star and a TV star at the same time.  I love the guy!”

The “TV star” remark referenced the fact that Mango began producing a reality show called “Meet the Mangos” with his girlfriend last season.  The bulk of the show’s filming took place during the offseason, and Mango has been careful to schedule his promotional appearances to avoid missing practices and team events.  While Engellund wasn’t wild about the show to begin with, his attitude has thawed since Mango has shown that he can thrive on the ice while meeting his commitments to the show.

Vince Mango

For his part, Mango expressed similarly warm feelings toward his coach.  “Coach Engellund is an old-school guy, but he’s been patient with the TV stuff, and he’s really taught me a lot about how to up my game to the next level,” said Mango.  “He’s been like a father to me this season.  I’ve found a way to build my brand while performing at a high level on the ice.  But at the end of the day, I’ve got my eyes on the Vandy.  That’s what I want more than anything, and we wouldn’t have a shot at it without Coach Engellund leading the way.”  Mango then poured champagne over his coach’s head.

Mango’s teammates agreed that the friction that once existed between the coach and the star virtually evaporated this season, and credited that to the team’s winning ways.  “Yeah, things were a little rough last year,” said Sailors LW Rod “Money” Argent.  “But that’s normal.  The way last season unfolded, we should have been mad.  Now we’re in the playoffs, and we’re all best friends again.  The best thing for chemistry is winning.”

Now that the wins are coming, Engellund and Mango seem to be the best of friends.  But will that warmth be enough to get Seattle past the mighty Anchorage Igloos in the division playoff?  Only time will tell.

Both Divisions Decided on Final Day

The SHL has had its share of close division races over the years.  Some of them have even gone all the way to final day of the regular season, such as 2016’s epic Washington-Hershey contest or last season’s showdown between Hamilton and Quebec.  But never before has the identity of both division winners been decided during the regular-season finale.  This season, however, the battles in both the East and West went the distance, setting up an epic slate of games on Saturday.

Out West, the defending champion Anchorage Igloos entered the last day one point ahead of the upstart Seattle Sailors.  The Sailors finished their season on the road against the Saskatchewan Shockers, while the Igloos hosted the Kansas City Smoke for their finale.  The Sailors, who had already clinched their first-ever playoff berth, expressed confidence heading into the game.  “We know what we need to do,” said RW Vince Mango, “now we just need to go out and do it.”

The Sailors got off to a fast start.  Shockers D Rusty Anderson went to penalty box just seven seconds into the game, and Sailors LW Rod “Money” Argent cashed in on the ensuing power play to give Seattle the early lead.  Later in the period, D Bud Gatecliff banged home a short from the point to make it 2-0.  The score remained that way throughout the rest of that period and the next, and it appeared the Sailors were set to get the victory they needed.

In the third period, however, Saskatchewan got their game in gear.  In the opening minutes of the period, LW Troy Chamberlain emerged from a scrum in front of the net and tucked a shot under the crossbar to put Saskatchewan on the board.  Just 24 seconds after that, C Cyril Perignon deflected a slapper past the glove of Seattle goalie “Jersey Mike” Ross to tie the score.  A half-minute later, the Sailors reclaimed the lead on a short-side blast by D Hans Mortensen.  But Saskatchewan wasn’t finished; less than three minutes after Mortensen’s tally, Anderson tied things back up with a blast from the slot that got between Ross’s pads.  Both teams kept the pressure on, combining for 26 shots in the period, but the tie persisted through the end of regulation.

Going into overtime, Seattle had a choice: play defensively to preserve the tie, or go for the win?  For the Sailors, it was no choice at all: “We wanted the W,” said Mango.  In the first minute of the extra session, Mango nearly won as he ripped slapshot that dribbled through the legs of Shockers goalie Shawn Stickel, but the puck stopped on the goal line and Stickel fell on it before anyone could jam it home.  Finally, just over two minutes in, Chamberlain got loose on a breakaway and went top shelf to beat Ross and win the game.

“Missed it by that much,” said Mango, holding his thumb and forefinger just slightly apart.

With nothing to play for, the Igloos lost 3-2 to Kansas City, but still won the division.  The celebration was fairly subdued, as Anchorage is focused on winning its second straight Vandy.  “Everyone in this room isn’t going to be satisfied unless we go all the way,” said Igloos C Jake Frost.  “Winning the division is nice, but it’s not enough.”

Meanwhile, in the East, the Hershey Bliss entered the finale a point up on the red-hot Hamilton Pistols.  The Bliss expected to have the division clinched already, as they’d entered the final week with a five-point lead.  But they proceeded to drop two of their three games on the week, while the Pistols won all three of theirs.  Still, all Hershey needed to do to ensure that the division would be theirs was to win or tie against the last-place Boston Badgers.

Unfortunately for the Bliss, even though they outshot the Badgers 40-26, they were unable to take the victory.  Hershey was stymied by a brilliant goaltending performance from Boston backup Carson Wagner.  Then, with just over five minutes left in a tie game, Bliss RW Noah Daniels was called for a controversial interference penalty on Boston’s Pascal Royal, one that left coach Chip Barber and the Bliss bench hollering in frustration; they contended that Royal should have been penalized for embellishment instead.  Their anger only grew more acute when Badgers LW Lix Darnholm scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal.

“I only hope that the division doesn’t wind up turning on that call,” said Barber after the game.  “You’d hate to see that.  It would be like biting into a Hershey’s Kiss and finding out someone hid a Lemonhead in the middle: a sour ending to what should be sweet.”

Hershey’s loss opened the door for the Pistols.  Standing in their way were their bitter rivals, the New York NightNick Foster‘s club was officially eliminated from contention earlier in the week, but they relished the opportunity to deny the Pistols the title.

“If you can’t make it to the promised land, the next best thing is stopping your enemy from getting there,” Foster said.  “That’s the hockey version of the Golden Rule.”

The game unfolded at a furious pace: both teams combined for an astounding 43 shots in the first period alone, with Hamilton taking 26 of them.  But New York goalie Sherman Carter was in top form, turning aside all those shots except one, a slapper from Pistols C Henry Constantine that hit the crossbar and went in.  Night C Tom Hoffman answered with a bouncing shot that hopped over Hamilton netminder Ron Mason‘s pad, creating a 1-1 tie that would last the rest of the period.

LW Misha Petronov gave New York its first lead just five seconds into the second period, bringing the crowd at Neon Sky Center to its feet, razzing Mason with sing-song chants.  Those chants didn’t last long, however, as Pistols D Albie Glasco tied it up a mere 16 seconds later with a shot from just inside the blueline that got past a screened Carter.  Just under two minutes after that, LW Steven Alexander fired home a slapper from his favorite spot between the faceoff circles to put Hamilton back on top.

In the third period, it took Night C Rod Remington just 30 seconds to rip a shot just above Mason’s blocker to tie things up again.  The New York fans resumed their sing-song taunts of Mason, later adding Alexander to their chants as he shanked shots or fired them just wide. The Pistols thought they had taken the lead when C Calvin Frye scored on a power play at the midpoint of the period, but Foster challenged and sit turned out that Hamilton had entered the offensive zone offside.  When the tally came off the board, the fans roared with delight. Hamilton had a few grade-A chances later in the period, but Carter kept stonewalling them, and the score remained deadlocked at the end of regulation.

In the overtime period, the Night focused on grinding the clock as much as possible, and the game ended in a 3-3 tie.  Hamilton and Hershey wound up with the same number of points, but Hershey had more total wins, so they won the title.  (The same thing happened to the Pistols last season, as they ended up in a tie with Quebec on points, but the Tigres had more victories.)

True to form, the Night celebrated as though they’d won the division.  As the game ended, the New York players dogpiled at center ice.  In the locker room, they sprayed each other with champagne and blasted victory music.  “It’s a thing of beauty, it really is,” said Foster, wiping the bubbly out of his eyes.  “For us to prevent the Nutcracker and his gang of clowns from winning the division, it warms my heart.  It really does.  If they wind up having to play Game 7 on enemy ice and they wind up losing to those Hershey softies, I hope they’ll think of me.”

The Pistols, naturally, didn’t appreciate New York’s attitude.  “I thought the way they played in overtime and then their little post-game party was totally lacking in class and sportsmanship,” said coach Keith Shields.  “But then, that’s typically of the way they operate.  Fortunately, we’ve got enough talent that we can win in the playoffs with or without home-ice advantage.  And since [the Night] will be watching the playoffs on TV once again, they might see if they can learn something.”

Alexander was more blunt than his coach.  “I believe in karma,” he told reporters, “and that’s why I’m confident that Foster and his boys will never win anything.  They’ve got a loser’s mentality; any team that celebrates like that for a game they didn’t even win, for a playoff spot that they didn’t get, is just pathetic.  Enjoy the golf course, you [jerks].”

Badgers’ Tollefson, Bellinger Square Off in Locker Room Bout

For the Boston Badgers, it’s been a frustrating season.  The Badgers spent a considerable amount of money in free agency, acquiring a passel of veterans in an effort to jump-start their growth from last year’s expansion beginnings.  In the first quarter of the season, it appeared that their investments had paid off, as the team got off to a respectable start close to the .500 mark.  After that point, though, Boston’s inexperience and lack of offensive firepower caught up with it.  The team sank to the basement and stayed there; they’re on track to finish with a record only slightly better than last year.

As the Badgers’ record has sagged, so has locker-room morale.  Sources close to the team describe a tense situation riven with factions, particularly between the older and younger players on the team.  Coach Cam Prince has reportedly struggled to patch the divides on the team.  And this week, the tension boiled over into a locker-room fracas that reportedly included actual fisticuffs.

Graham Bellinger

The alleged donnybrook took place after Sunday’s 6-1 loss to the Hamilton Pistols.  While the loss couldn’t be pinned on any one person, D Graham Bellinger had a particularly rough game, committing a couple of costly defensive-zone turnovers that led almost directly to Hamilton goals.  In the quiet postgame locker-room, Bellinger was getting dressed and talking with a couple teammates about what nightclub to go later in the evening.

Bellinger’s breezy talk irritated D Bjorn Tollefson, once of the free-agent veteran that Boston signed in the offseason.  Tollefson is a veteran of Ron Wright’s Michigan teams, and is known for his stern and businesslike demeanor.  Tollefson walked over to Bellinger and barked, “Maybe instead of going to the club, you should go to the rink and practice the outlet pass.”

Bellinger’s head snapped up, and he replied, “What the [heck] are you talking about?”

Bjorn Tollefson

Tollefson said, “You should get your head out of your [butt].  You party all the time, you cannot play defense, and you are a killer to the team.”

Bellinger stood up and snapped back, “Maybe you should quit riding my [butt] and mind your own business for a change.  You’re a washed-up old [expletive].  All you do is complain, and I’m sick of your [crap].”

Tollefson shouted, “[Screw] you.  Must I make you listen with my fists?”

Bellinger replied, “Go on, skin that smokewagon and see what happens, you fat [expletive]!”

Tollefson then lunged at Bellinger, and the two grappled and traded punches.  After a minute or so, their teammates were able to separate them.  Prince came out of his office, saw what was going on, then went back in his office and shut the door.  The locker room remained closed to reporters for a half-hour after the scuffle, and neither Tollefson nor Bellinger was around by the time the press entered.

Both players, and Bellinger in particular, looked a bit banged up during the next day’s morning skate.  Bellinger played in the next game.  Tollefson sat out, in what was believed to be a team suspension.

The Badgers were tight-lipped about the incident.  “What happens in the locker room, I don’t talk about that,” said Tollefson.  “It is only inside the family.”

“It’s a long season, and stuff happens sometimes,” Bellinger said.  “It’s over.”

Cam Prince

“A lot of people think they know what happened in our room, but they don’t,” said Prince.  “There’s a lot of bogus stories I’m hearing about this so-called ‘brawl.’  It’s ridiculous, is what it is.  These are professional athletes.  Tempers run high sometimes, but that’s it.  Sorry, folks, nothing to see here.”

Boston’s season is almost over, so it seems likely that there will be few long-term ramifications from this incident.  If anyone does pay for this, however, it’s likely to be Prince.  If the Badgers front office decide that the coach is unable to improve the team’s problematic chemistry, they might decide a new bunch boss in order.

Unsurprisingly, Prince declined to discuss whether he expects to be fired.  “I’m not even going to dignify that with a response,” the coach said in response to a question about his job status.  “Shame on you for asking.”

Sailors Outlast Smoke in Crazy 8-7 Win

As the regular season winds to a close, it’s looking increasingly likely that the Seattle Sailors will make the postseason for the first time in their existence (and, ironically, in their last season in Seattle).  It also looks increasingly likely that the Kansas City Smoke will finish with the league’s worst record, which means that they’ll get the top pick in the draft.

On paper, Sunday’s game was a mismatch.  But anything can happen in a single game, and the contest turned out to be a wild see-saw affair, culminating in a frenzied third period in which the teams combined to score seven goals.  In the end, Seattle emerged with a razor-thin 8-7 victory that allowed them to hold onto first place in the West for another day.

“This was like playing shinny as a kid,” said Sailors LW Rod “Money” Argent.  “Just firewagon action back and forth, all offense.  It was crazy.”

The game started with a bang, as Argent fired a shot that beat Kansas City netminder Gus Parrish just 26 seconds into the contest.  Smoke RW Tyler Cloude answered a couple minutes with a low shot that went five-hole on Sailors goalie Rocky Goldmire.  Just over five minutes after that, Seattle RW Vince Mango tucked a slapper just under the crossbar to give his team a 2-1 edge, which it maintained for the rest of the period.

In the first minute of the second period, C Darien Picard got Kansas City back even by beating Goldmire on a breakaway.  After that, though, Seattle went on a run, aided by some bad Smoke penalties.  First, C Mike Rivera went to the box for elbowing.  Kansas City killed off the penalty, but couldn’t get the puck out of their own end, allowing RW Rodney McElvern to tip a shot home and put the Sailors back in front.  A minute after McElvern’s goal, D T.K. O’Neill hit Argent in the mouth with his stick, drawing blood and earning a double minor.  Mango made the Smoke pay, hitting pay dirt on a shot from the right faceoff circle.  A couple minutes later, RW Zachary Merula took a cheap slashing penalty in the offensive zone.  This time, it took only 36 seconds for Mango to overwhelm the exhausted KC penalty kill, scoring again to complete his hat trick.  It was now a 5-2 Seattle lead, and it seemed like the rout was on.

The plucky Smoke refused to give up, however.  With 49 seconds left in the second stanza, LW Veikko Sikanen gathered up a rebound and stuffed it home, closing the gap to two.  Then in the first couple of minutes of the third, Rivera and Merula made up for their penalties by scoring just 14 seconds apart, tying the game and stunning the crowd at Century 21 Arena.

“We couldn’t believe that it was a game again,” said Mango.  “We were sure we’d put them away, but they came back on us.”

Seattle answered back just 24 seconds after Merula’s score, as C Napoleon Beasley beat Parrish on the short side to give the Sailors the lead again.  But KC wasn’t ready to give up.  LW Tadeusz Adamczyk scored to tie it yet again, and exactly a minute later, Cloude found the back of the net to give Kansas City its first lead of the game.

“[The Smoke] were like the Black Knight in Monty Python; we cut their limbs off and they just kept coming,” said Mango.  “’It’s just a flesh wound!’”

Fortunately for the Sailors, they had one more good push left, which they deployed in the final five minutes of the game.  C Marco Venezio got behind the defense and scored on a breakway to tie it up one more time.  A mere twelve seconds later, RW Elliott Pepper stormed down the ice on an odd-man rush and scored what provide to be the winning goal.  A pair of late penalties erased whatever chance Kansas City had for a comeback.

Harold Engellund

Sailors coach Harold Engellund praised his team for its resilience.  “One of the things I appreciate about this team is the way they can take a punch and keep going,” said Engellund.  “[The Smoke] didn’t make this one easy on us, but we hung in there and got the W.  That says something about the competitive character around here.”

Critics of the Sailors often argue that their lackluster defense will prevent them from succeeding in the playoffs, and giving up seven goals to the league’s worst team certainly argues in that direction.  Engellund, however, brushed off those concerns: “The bottom line is that we did what it took to win.  Maybe it wasn’t pretty, but so what?  You don’t get points for style, just for winning.”

Bliss Clinch Postseason, Complete Rebound from ’18 Fiasco

It’s been a long, strange trip for the Hershey Bliss over the last couple of seasons.  In 2017, the Bliss won the East for the first time, then stunned the heavily favored Anchorage Igloos in the Finals to win the Vandy.  Then last season, they got off to a mystifyingly awful start and never recovered, ultimately finishing fifth in a “nightmare” campaign that ended with the team starting a near-riot at a Sheetz.

This year, Hershey shook off the heartbreak and embarrassment of last season.  They ran the gantlet of a much more competitive East and survived the loss of LW Lance Sweet to a major lower-body injury.  And on Thursday, they officially completed their winding journey back to the postseason, beating the Hamilton Pistols 3-2 at Chocolate Center.

“It feels good to be back!” said Bliss coach Chip Barber.  “I’m so proud of our players for persevering and climbing all the way back.  We’ve been looking for Mister Goodbar for the last two seasons, and we finally found him!”

Lance Sweet

Sweet, who has been away from the Bliss while rehabilitating from his injury, joined his teammates in the locker room for the postgame celebration.  “I told everybody that we were going to win it all for Sweets, and this is step one on that journey,” said C Justin Valentine.  “Now, let’s not stop until we’ve got another Vandy!”

This season has been a particularly emotional one for goaltender Brandon Colt, on whose slender shoulders Hershey’s fortunes seem to hang.  In 2017, he was recognized as the Finals MVP after a brilliant performance to thwart the mighty Igloos.  Last year, he stumbled through a poor performance that left many around the league wondering if he was washed up.

The Bliss tried hard to find another starting goalie this offseason; when they wound up re-signing Colt to a one-year deal, it was viewed as a last resort.  But the veteran netminder rebounded with a solid performance that showed he’s far from finished, and he managed this in the face of personal tragedy; his parents both died in a house fire in the spring.

“I’ve been doing all right with things so far, but now all I can think about is that I wish I could call Mom and Dad and tell them about this,” said Colt, who choked up as he spoke to reporters.  “But I know they’re up in heaven and they’re watching, and I know they’re proud.”

In order to earn a trip to the Finals, they’ll need to make it through the division round first, and they’ll likely face a tough opponent in the Pistols, who will be eager to erase the memories of last year’s first-round loss to Quebec.  Hamilton will clinch their second straight trip to the playoffs with one more win or a New York loss.

“We have a ton of respect for those guys,” said Barber of the Pistols, “and we know they’re a real talented bunch.  It should be a doozy of a series, but we like our chances.  We’re looking forward to another crack at the big prize.  If we win the Vandy again, maybe we’ll see if we can turn it into a chocolate fountain!”

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