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!”
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!”
Marcelo Manzias is a Dakota Jackalopes fan. That might not seem too strange, even though the Jackalopes’ fanbase is a little on the small side these days. However, Marcelo isn’t just an ordinary fan. The 14-year-old lives in Monterrey, Mexico. Until this week, he’d never visited the Dakotas; in fact, he’d only been to the United States a couple of times before, to visit relatives in Texas. Until this week, Marcelo had never seen a hockey game before, either. He’d never even been inside an ice rink.
In short, Marcelo isn’t just an ordinary fan. The story of how he managed to learn about – and fall in love with – a team from thousands of miles away playing an unfamiliar sport is remarkable. And when the Dakota organization learned about it, they decided to give their most distant fan an experience he’ll never forget.
Like most kids in Monterrey, Marcelo grew up playing soccer and baseball. He’d never even heard of hockey until three years ago, when he and his dad built a transistor radio from a kit. When Marcelo began tuning his radio dial at night, he discovered that he could pull in signals from radio stations in faraway cities in the US and Mexico. One night, he came across station KRJC out of Rapid City, which carried broadcasts of Jackalopes game. Immediately, young Marcelo was entranced by the voice of play-by-play announcer Wayne Ballister.
“I did not know what was happening, but he made it sound very exciting and fun,” said Marcelo, describing Ballister’s broadcasts. “I knew I must learn more.”
Marcelo went to the local library and checked out the one or two hockey books they had available. Once he’d finished those, he used the library’s computers to learn what he could about the sport and the Jackalopes. He continued to tune in the broadcasts at night; as he grew to understand the sport, he began keeping box scores by hand in his notebook.
“It all sounded so wonderful,” said Marcelo. “The ice, the graceful skating, the exciting goals, the hard hits. I dreamed about it all.”
After years of following the games, Marcelo finally wrote a letter to the Jackalopes, telling them who he was and how he came to root for the team from so far away. He politely asked if they could send an autographed picture of his favorite player, LW “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston.
“I love him because he is small and fast, like me,” Marcelo explained.
When Jackalopes GM Paul Mindegaard read Marcelo’s letter, he was surprised and delighted. “Most of us came to love hockey by playing it as kids, on the frozen ponds in the winter or whatever,” said Mindegaard. “But here was a kid who’d never even seen a sheet of ice, and he’d fallen in love with the sport and with our team without ever seeing or playing it. It was such a great story.”
Mindegaard decided that he wanted to give Marcelo more than just a signed picture. He got in touch with Marcelo’s father, who confirmed that his son had somehow become a hockey nut from so far away. And so the Jackalopes organization paid to fly Marcelo and his family up to Rapid City, put them up in a hotel, and gave them tickets to Thursday night’s game against the Michigan Gray Wolves.
When Marcelo arrived, Mindegaard gave him a personal tour of Black Hills Arena, taking him everywhere from the playing surface to the benches to the locker rooms to the team offices. “The kid’s eyes were as big as saucers the whole time,” said the GM. “It was like he couldn’t believe he was really here.”
Marcelo and his family had seats at center ice, where they could see the action up close. Used to following along on the radio, Marcelo admitted it was a bit challenging to take it all in up close. “When the players slammed into the boards, it was loud and a little scary,” he said. “But I loved it.”
During the second period, Marcelo went up to the radio booth to meet Ballister, the man whose broadcasts had caused Marcelo to fall for the Jackalopes. Ballister interviewed Marcelo on the air, and he gave a shout-out to his family and friends at home in Monterrey. “I know some of them were listening, so that was cool,” Marcelo said.
Between the second and third periods, Marcelo got to ride on the Zamboni. The PA announcer explained that he’d come all the way from Mexico for the game, and the fans cheered as he grinned and waved. “I can’t believe I got to be on the ice, especially because I can’t skate,” Marcelo said.
Possibly inspired by the presence of their long-distance fan, the Jackalopes played one of their best games of the season. Goalie Christien Adamsson made 37 saves, and Marcelo’s favorite Airston scored the game-winning goal in overtime to stun mighty Michigan by a 2-1 score.
After the game was over, Mindegaard took Marcelo down to the home clubhouse, where he got to meet his hero. “At first, he was so shocked and nervous that he wouldn’t even go over,” Mindegaard said. “But I said I’d told Ryan about him, and that Ryan wanted to meet him. Eventually, he went over. Airston greeted him in Spanish (“I learned it in high school a little,” Airston said), then talked to him a while in English.
“I think it’s cool that our sport and our team reaches all the way to Mexico,” said Airston. “Marcelo’s story is really amazing, and it just goes to show what a great sport hockey is.”
He gave Marcelo his game-worn jersey, which he signed, as well as a puck from the game and a stick signed by the whole team. Mindegaard also gave Marcelo pictures of all the players.
“I never dreamed I would be able to see a game for myself in person,” Marcelo said. “All of this… it was more than my dreams.”
Marcelo’s father, Gustavo, expressed his gratitude to the team. “I still cannot believe this,” Gustavo said. “If they had sent my son the picture, it would have been enough. For them to care so much, to do this for a kid who lives so far away, who discovered hockey for himself… they are a wonderful team, wonderful.”
In a tough year for the Jackalopes, Marcelo and his story have been a much-needed ray of sunshine. “For once, it’s great to talk about something other than payroll and who we’re trading next,” Mindegaard said. “This is why I love my job, because I get to do something like this.”
The Michigan Gray Wolves have a very distinct identity: they suffocate opponents with a fierce, trapping defense and elite goaltending from Dirk Lundquist, then they manage just enough offense to win. It’s a frustrating style for opponents, and not always the most fun to watch, but it’s been extremely effective over the years.
This season, however, the Wolves face more challenges than ever before. Not only are their traditional rivals, the Anchorage Igloos, experiencing their usual second-half surge, but the Seattle Sailors and Saskatchewan Shockers are turning in their best-ever seasons. Michigan is no longer guaranteed a postseason berth, and their old winning formula is showing signs of cracking as their offense has stagnated recently. All of this led coach Ron Wright to take the rare step of sounding off publicly after yet another low-scoring loss.
Wright’s postgame comments came during a particularly troubling stretch for the Wolves. They’d lost 8 of their last 11 games, falling out of first place and into third. Although their defense had its stumbles during this stretch – most notably an 8-2 blowout loss to Hamilton that started the slump – the offense was the primary culprit. The Wolves have scored more than two goals only once during the skid, and they’ve been shut out twice.
Tuesday’s game in Hershey was emblematic of Michigan’s recent struggles. The Wolves’ defense was successfully stifling the Bliss attack, but the offense generated little sustained pressure, a problem that was exacerbated by the parade of Wolves going to the penalty box, usually for avoidable minors. The game remained scoreless until the third, when the teams traded goals within an 11-second span. Bliss RW Remi Montrechere finally won it for the home team in overtime.
After the game, Wright was blunt in critiquing his team. “We’re not playing championship-caliber hockey right now,” the Michigan coach told reporters. “If we don’t rediscover our hunger and intensity over these last couple of weeks, we’re going to be watching the postseason from home. And we’re going to deserve it.”
Wright centered his heaviest fire on the offense, or lack thereof. “Our scoring attack isn’t really an attack at all,” Wright said. “When you’ve got a world-class goalie like the Bear, it’s easy to get complacent and count on him to do the heavy lifting. But he can’t put up a shutout every night, and we’re asking him to way too much.”
The coach didn’t spare himself from criticism, either. “I think some of our sets on offense and our approach has gotten stale,” Wright noted. “That’s on me and the coaching staff. We’ve got to freshen things up a bit. But we’ve also got to start playing like the Vandy depends on it. Because it does.”
The players acknowledged that Wright’s concerns were accurate. “We’ve been playing tired hockey lately,” said C Hunter Bailes. “We’ve got to step it up and play the way we know we can, and we’re running out of time to do it. And the leaders on the team, guys like me, it starts with us. We’ve got to find that extra push to get us going.”
Wright’s words appeared to fire up the Wolves in their next game against lowly Dakota, as Michigan’s offense came to life and launched 38 shots. Unfortunately, they ran into an unusually brilliant performance from Jackalopes netminder Christien Adamsson, who made 37 saves, giving his team time to claim another 2-1 overtime victory on a slapshot by Ryan Airston. They snapped their skid in the next game, however, bursting out for six goals against Kansas City.
Wright noted that the team’s current struggles might have a bright side. “Having to fight and claw our way into the postseason might actually be a good thing,” the coach said. “Last season, we were so far ahead all that we started cruising after the All-Star break. Then we got to postseason and we couldn’t flip the switch. This year, we’ll already be in playoff mode. So we should be a more dangerous team… as long as we actually get to the playoffs.”
Last season, the Washington Galaxy had a disappointing season on and off the ice. On ice, the Galaxy finished below .500 for the first time. In the stands, attendance dwindled as DC hockey fans overwhelmingly opted to watch the NHL’s Capitals make a run to the Stanley Cup instead of the Galaxy’s second-half swan dive.
The team took aggressive steps on both fronts during the offseason. In hopes of improving their on-ice fortunes, they hired a new coach and shook up the roster. To address their off-ice woes, GM Ace Adams hired veteran sports marketing executive David Maltby as “Chief Experience Officer.” According to Adams, Maltby was charged with “making sure that Galaxy games are a great, fun, and family-friendly experience for our fans.”
The on-ice improvements haven’t materialized, as the Galaxy’s record has only gotten worse. However, in their first season, Maltby and his staff have one success under their belt, thanks to an ‘80s pop song and its over-the-top music video.
One of Maltby’s first projects was to survey Galaxy fans on their opinions of the in-game entertainment. One key finding: the music played in the arena was a bit stale. So the team shook up the mix with some more modern, up-tempo tunes.
In addition, Maltby wanted the team to have a signature song, something the fans could adopt as an anthem. “Fans love to sing along,” said Maltby. “Like ‘Sweet Caroline’ for the Red Sox or ‘I Love LA’ for the Lakers. A song like that can really bond a fanbase together.”
Maltby was looking for a track that connected to the city or team. “There aren’t a lot of songs about DC, though,” he said. “My first thought was ‘Bustin’ Loose,’ but the Nationals have that one pretty well locked down.”
Maltby’s staff went searching on Spotify and YouTube for possible candidates. Their search hit pay dirt when they encountered the 1989 B-52s hit “Cosmic Thing.” In particular, they found the official music video for the song, recorded live at a 1990 concert and featuring the band gyrating in eye-catching gold and silver costumes.
“It checked all my boxes,” said Maltby. “The song was fun, up-tempo, singable and danceable. It’s got terrific energy. The late ‘80s are in the nostalgic sweet spot for a lot of our fans. It’s a little kitschy, but cool. It had the ‘Cosmic’-Galaxy tie-in. It was the song for us!”
During the third period of Washington’s home opener, they played the video during a stoppage in play. Maltby watched to see how the fans would react… and it was better than he’d dreamed.”
As soon as the video came on screen, the fans began cheering and boogying. “It was almost everyone in the arena levitated at once,” Maltby explained. “Folks were up out of their seat, laughing and dancing and cheering. The energy level was through the roof for the rest of the game. It was perfect!”
After experimenting with using “Cosmic Thing” as a victory song, the Galaxy quickly settled on playing it at the start of the third period to get the crowd going. The fans love to chant key lyrics, like “Cosmic, wooooooo!”, “Shake your… honeybuns!”, and “Rock the house!” The view on the Jumbotron switches between the video and shots of fans dancing and singing in the stands. Some fans have even taken to dressing in costumes like the ones the B-52s wear in the video.
“It’s become an anthem, just like I hoped,” said Maltby.
The video received a new level of attention when New York Night coach Nick Foster took a shot at it after his team’s visit earlier this season. “Apparently the hot new thing in DC is for the fans to dress up like disco balls and sing about shaking their [butts],” Foster quipped to reporters. “I don’t know if they’re handing out free cocaine before games or what. But I guess when your team sucks, you find your entertainment where you can.”
“That only made our fans love the song more,” said Adams. “So thanks for the help, Nick!”
As a follow-up to this smash success, Maltby said he hopes to get the B-52s to the Constellation Center to perform the song live. “If we can do that, people will lose their minds,” he said with a smile. “Stay tuned.”
The playoff battle in the east is still a four-team race, but the Quebec Tigres have fallen behind the pack in recent weeks. The defending division champs struggled with injuries throughout the season. They made a bold move to acquire D Matt Cherner from Dakota at the deadline; he has produced, but has not single-handedly lifted Quebec back to contention.
On Sunday, the Tigres got a much-needed decisive win, pounding the Saskatchewan Shockers by a 6-0 score. The win completed a sweep of a home-and-home series with the Shockers, and helped Quebec keep pace with the Hershey Bliss and Hamilton Pistols, both of whom also won that night.
But in keeping with the Tigres’ luck this season, the win came at a price, as C Drustan Zarkovich went down with an injury. Worse yet, his injury didn’t come from a hard check or any part of the game; rather, it stemmed from an overenthusiastic postgame celebration.
Naturally, the mood was jubilant in the Quebec locker room after the game. D Laurie Workman got the party started by blasting Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” on the speaker in his locker. The song is one of Zarkovich’s favorites, and he jumped up and began to dance with the music.
“We win big time and I score a goal, so I feel happy,” said Zarkovich. “And I feel like I want to do my happy dance.”
According to reports from inside the locker room, Zarkovich’s dance wasn’t a model of physical grace, but it was enthusiastic, and his teammates began clapping and cheering along (at least those who weren’t diving for cover). Egged on by the reaction, the center’s dance moves became wilder and he began making wider circles around the room.
In the midst of the jubilation, however, Zarkovich reportedly stepped on a stool and went down in a heap. He was later diagnosed with a sprained ankle.
“I cannot believe it,” said Zarkovich. “I sprain my ankle doing my happy dance? This is the worst luck. The world must hate me.”
When asked about Zarkovich’s injury, Tigres coach Martin Delorme pinched the bridge of his nose and paused for several moments before responding. “This was not what we needed right now,” said Delorme. “Zarko is a very… colorful person. There are other words I am trying not to use. I wish I could say that this could happen to anyone, but really, it could happen only to him.”
The center missed the rest of Quebec’s games this week and will reportedly miss next week’s as well, but the team hopes he will be ready to return to action after that. “Unless he steps in a hole or falls off of his pogo stick or something similar,” Delorme said. “I think perhaps we should cover him in bubble wrap when he is off the ice.”
Seattle Sailors G Rocky Goldmire is having a career year. The Sailors are trying to claim their first-ever playoff spot in their final season in Seattle, and the 26-year-old Goldmire has responded with the best season of his career: 21-11-0 with a 2.74 GAA and a .919 save percentage. Goldmire’s play is a key reason why Seattle is in first place in the fiercely competitive West.
Goldmire, who has two seasons left on his contract, has made it clear he’d like to sign a long-term extension. Given the season he’s having, you might expect the Sailors to jump at the idea. And GM Taylor Teichman sounds enthusiastic about the prospect. “What I’ve seen from Rocky this year has been tremendous,” Teichman told reporters. “I’d love to lock him up long-term.”
So why hasn’t it happened yet? Primarily because the Sailors’ impending move has the organization in a state of flux. Teichman doesn’t know whether he’ll still be in his job next season, and so he’s somewhat hamstrung in negotiating with the pending free agents on his team, much less in discussing extensions.
But Goldmire isn’t just waiting around to see what happens. He’s taken matters into his own hands, posting a series of YouTube videos advertising himself to the front office. As the goalie explained to reporters on Saturday, “Contract negotiating is basically like dating, when you think about about it,” Goldmire explained. “So I wanted to show my date what a great guy I am. Kind of like those videos they have on Match.”
The first video, which went live on Monday, was entitled “Rocky Goldmire Facts.” The video consisted of snippets of the goalie making especially noteworthy saves, interspersed with “facts” like “Rocky Goldmire once made a save by staring at the puck and scaring it away from the net” and “Rocky Goldmire’s GAA is so small that it can’t be seen by the naked eye” and “Rocky Goldmire shot a puck in Reno just to watch it die” and “When Rocky Goldmire walks into a room, all the pucks run and hide out of fear and respect.”
The second video, entitled “Everybody Loves Rocky,” claimed to show how widely beloved Goldmire is. The video included several shots of large crowds chanting “ROC-KY, ROC-KY” (most of which appeared to be from the movie series of the same name). It included a graphic showing attendance at Sailors games before they had Goldmire (which was zero, since the team did not exist) and after. The voiceover helpfully explained: “Studies show that when a team signs Rocky Goldmire, their attendance increases by infinity percent.” Goldmire also claimed that the Sailors wanted to do a “Rocky Goldmire Bobblehead Day,” but held off because “the arena wouldn’t have enough room for everybody who wanted one, and there would be riots in the streets.”
The video also included scenes of Goldmire walking around downtown Seattle, being chased by throngs of adoring fans, begging for autographs and selfies. “The fans just can’t get enough of me!” Goldmire said with a smile. “But they’re not the only ones. Every time I go to the park, I usually find at least two to three lost puppies, because they just want to be with me. And when I wake up in the morning, woodland creatures help me get dressed.” This was illustrated by a scene from the movie “Cinderella” where the heroine wakes up, only with Goldmire’s face superimposed over Cinderella’s.
The third video was entitled “Rocky Goldmire Means Business.” This was presented as a testimonial of Goldmire’s value as an endorser. “Obviously, any business would benefit from my endorsement, and many of them have!” This was followed by a scrolling list of the (apparently fake) businesses that Goldmire has supposedly endorsed, from “Pete’s Pierogi Palace” to “The Pacific New-Age Dental Dojo” to “Rent-A-Ferret, Inc.” It included a testimonial from a supposed business owner (who bore a striking resemblance to teammate Rod Argent). “I started my own weasel-cleaning business a couple years ago, but business was slow,” he said. “Then I got Rocky to shoot a commercial for me, and my business boomed overnight! Now, it’s so popular that I have 37 weasel-cleaning stores across the greater Seattle area. Thanks, Rocky!”
The videos earned quite a few laughs, but also raised a couple of eyebrows: was Goldmire trying to market himself for a trade if the Sailors don’t extend him? “No, I was just having fun,” the netminder said. “I’d love to stay around here my whole career. But either way, I want to make sure that everybody gets a good introduction to the man, the myth, the legend.”
Asked about Goldmire’s videos after Saturday’s game, Sailors coach Harold Engellund rolled his eyes. “I got one guy [RW Vince Mango] who wants to be a reality TV star. Now my goalie’s shooting YouTube videos. I remember when just playing hockey was enough for guys. But you know, we’re winning, so it’s okay by me if they want to do that.”
Gene Kennedy has been a fan favorite in most of the cities where he’s played. Even though the 2y-year-old forward has generally been a lightly-used depth guy throughout his career, his quick wit and his penchant for pranks and colorful quotes have won him fans in Washington, Hershey, and Boston.
Like most players, Kennedy wants as much ice time as possible. Unlike most players, when Kennedy doesn’t get the opportunities he wants, he doesn’t hesitate to go public with his protests. It’s a quirk that’s either endearing or infuriating, depending on your perspective.
Back in 2017, Kennedy wasn’t getting into games with the Bliss, so he crashed a between-periods “Pee Wee Playtime” youth hockey scrimmage, claiming that he was “just trying to get my work in.” This season, Kennedy signed with the Anchorage Igloos. As in Hershey, he’s at the bottom of the forward depth chart, and he’s appeared in only a handful of games so far. This week, he once again decided to skate with the kids – but in a slightly different way.
On Sunday afternoon, Kennedy was a healthy scratch as usual. Typically, healthy scratches on the Igloos will spend the first period in the weight room or on an exercise bike, and then will watch the rest of the game from the press box. Kennedy spent the first period riding the bike, but then did not join his fellow healthy scratches in the press box at the start of the second. This led to a brief period of concern, as the Igloos wondered if something bad had happened to him.
The Igloos checked with their clubhouse staff, who said that Kennedy had grabbed his uniform and equipment bag and left the arena. A couple staffers then set out to look for him. Within 45 minutes, they’d located him at an outdoor rink about a mile from Arctic Circle Arena, playing shinny with a group of local teenagers.
“It’s been a while since I got in a game, so I just got the itch,” said Kennedy. “Afternoon bag skates just aren’t the same thing. Sometimes, it take a game to really get the blood pumping. You can’t experience the thrill of competition from up in the press box, you know?”
While the Bliss largely laughed off Kennedy’s 2017 stunt, Igloos coach Sam Castor reacted to this incident with annoyance. “Everyone knows Gene’s a flake, and I think this was mostly Gene being flaky,” Castor told reporters. “But if this stunt was about embarrassing me into giving him more playing time, I’m not impressed.”
“If he’s not happy that he’s not getting a sweater, he should come to my office and we can talk about it like men,” the coach continued. “My door’s always open, and I’d be happy to talk about what he needs to do to earn more ice time. But we’re in a tight playoff race, and you have to earn a sweater. In the meantime, he should pay attention to the guys who do play and try to learn something, instead of playing hooky to play shinny with a bunch of kids. I’d expect a little more professionalism.”
Kennedy apologized and said that he was not trying to embarrass Castor or the organization. “Honestly, I didn’t think anyone was going to miss me or notice I was gone,” Kennedy said. “From now on, I’ll only play shinny on my off days.”