Interview of the Week: Ward Jones

This week’s interview is with Quebec Tigres D Ward Jones.

SHL Digest: This week, we’re talking to one of the SHL’s toughest and most interesting players, Ward Jones.  Ward, thanks for speaking with us.

Ward Jones

WJ: I’m glad for the opportunity.

SHLD: You shocked everyone around the league this week when you announced that you intend to retire.  The announcement seemed to come from out of the blue.  You’re only 29, in the prime of your career.  You’re in good shape, and you’re putting up solid numbers.  How did you make the decision to walk away?

WJ: I started thinking about it just before the All-Star break, when I got injured.  I wound up being out for over a month, which is longer than I’ve ever been sidelined since I started in the game.  Then I thought about it some more after I got hurt again in the last couple weeks.  It got me thinking about what’s next, what I want to do with the next chapter of my life.  And I came up with an idea, and the more people I talked to and the longer I thought about it, I realized I didn’t want to wait to get started.

SHLD: What’s the idea?

WJ: I want to develop a foundation that will provide and support youth hockey programs for kids in the inner cities.  Basically, I want to help build a pipeline for getting black and minority kids involved in the game.

SHLD: You grew up on the South Side of Chicago.  Did this idea come from your own experience?

WJ: Yeah.  I mean, hockey is a great sport, but if you’re a poor kid in the inner city, it’s really hard to get involved.  If there hadn’t been a hockey program at the community center in my neighborhood growing up, I might never have found the sport.  And if there hadn’t been coaches to encourage me and help me develop, and if there hadn’t been money available to provide me with skates and equipment, I never could have stuck with it.  Basically, a lot of lucky things had to go right for me to even have a shot at playing pro hockey.  So I want to give back, and give other kids like me a chance to do what I did.

SHLD: That’s a noble vision!  What made you decide you wanted to start your own foundation, instead of partnering with an existing group?

WJ: Well, in the past I’ve worked with The Sports Shed, which provides gear for youth teams that can’t afford it.  It’s a great program, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle.  If you’re going to really support youth hockey in the inner cities, you need to build or keep up rinks.  You need to find coaches.  You need to pay for uniforms and equipment.  You need to pay for travel.  There are great programs in a few cities, but they’re all working on their own, and they’re all desperate for cash.  That’s where I can help.

SHLD: But you could start building your foundation while you’re continuing to play.  And you could keep playing for several more seasons.  Why leave now?

WJ: A couple of reasons.  For one thing, the league is getting younger and faster.  I’m a lot of things, but “fast” ain’t one of ‘em.  I’m the kind of guy who wants to play every day, and who knows how long I’m able to do that?  I barely got to play more than half the season this year [Jones appeared in 37 games].  But more importantly, I’m the kind of guy that when I’m doing something, I put my whole heart and soul into it.  A project like this, if I’m going to do it, I’ve got to do it all the way.  And I don’t want to wait.  It’s too important.

SHLD: You’ve had to deal with racism throughout your career, whether it’s getting taunted by fans in Hershey or getting jokingly called a gangster by a radio announcer.  Did that factor into your decision at all?

WJ: I definitely thought about that.  If I quit now, am I letting the racists win?  But then I thought of it a different way.  I’m not going to make the Hall of Fame, and no one’s retiring my number.  Five years after I leave, no one’s going to remember me.  But if I can get this foundation going, and down the road five or ten or a hundred black kids wind up playing in the league thanks to my foundation?  That’s the legacy I want more than anything.

SHLD: You’ve been a strong voice for diversity and inclusion throughout your career.  Will you remain involved in those efforts within the SHL now that you’re no longer active?

WJ: You better believe it.  When I made my announcement, the Commissioner’s office called and offered me a job with the league to work on improving diversity.  I had to turn it down, because I’m focused on the foundation, but I’m still going to speak out.  Y’all ain’t getting rid of me that easy.

SHLD: Glad to hear it!  Well, thank you, Ward, for a very thoughtful interview.  And here’s hoping that your foundation is a success.

WJ: Thanks a lot.  I’ll keep everybody posted.

2019 SHL Week 15 Transactions

  • On Monday, the Quebec Tigres activated LW Stellan Fisker from the disabled list.  The 32-year-old Fisker missed nearly four weeks after suffering an upper-body injury.  It was the second DL stint of the season for the winger, who suffered a lower-body injury in the first week of the season and has missed a total of 25 games so far on the year.  In order to make room for Fisker’s return, the Tigres returned LW Carl Bleyer to their farm club in Maine.  Bleyer has appeared in 10 games with Quebec, and recorded 1 assist during that time.
  • On Wednesday, the Washington Galaxy placed D Ambroz Melicar on the disabled list.  The Galaxy called up the 23-year-old Melicar a couple of weeks ago after a strong season with their affiliate in Baltimore.  He appeared in 10 games with Washington, recording 2 assists, before suffering an upper-body injury on Tuesday that will end his season.  To replace Melicar, the Galaxy promoted D Buster Kratz from Baltimore.  Kratz, 21, was acquired from Hamilton in the Eddie Costello trade at the deadline.
  • Also on Wednesday, the Tigres placed D Ward Jones on the injured list.  Jones suffered a lower-body injury during the third period of Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to Hamilton, a blow that will likely end Jones’ season.  It’s the second significant injury of the season for the 29-year-old blueliner, who missed over a month with an upper-body injury that happened just before the All-Star break.  It’s rumored that this latest injury has Jones pondering retirement.  To replace Jones, the Tigres called up D Ross Hruschka from Maine.  The 19-year-old Hruschka has had a solid season with Maine, with a goal and 16 assists.

Interview of the Week: Matt Cherner

This week’s interview is with Quebec Tigres D Matt Cherner.

SHL Digest: We’re here this week with perhaps the biggest name to be dealt at this year’s trading deadline, Matt Cherner.  Matt, thanks for speaking with us.

Matt Cherner
Matt Cherner

Matt Cherner: Hello there.  We meet again!

SHLD: Yes, indeed!  We spoke to you last year, when you were a member of the Dakota Jackalopes.  At the time, you expressed a clear desire to stay and sign an extension.  A year later, you find yourself playing for another team and heading into free agency after the season.  What are your thoughts on that?

MC: Well, obviously, things didn’t work out like I thought.  I’d played my whole professional career with Dakota, and I wanted to stick around, even though it’s obvious that it’s going to be a rebuild there.  I felt a connection to the city and the fans.

SHLD: Your love for the team and the city was obvious.  When the trade went down, you broke down while you were talking to reporters about it.

MC: Yeah, that was huge for me, since I’m not a real emotional-type guy.  But it hit me like I was leaving home, because that’s what Dakota was to me.

SHLD: Did you have any conversations with the team about an extension before you were dealt?

MC: Yeah.  We tried to, at least.  Going into [last] offseason, my agent and I thought it would be great to go ahead and get the contract done, so that we wouldn’t have it hanging over us all season.  But [the Jackalopes] didn’t really engage.  They’d say things like, “We really appreciate you, and we want to get something done when the time is right,” but when it came time to talk numbers and term, they wouldn’t commit.

SHLD: That must have been tough for you, given your commitment to the team.

MC: Definitely.  We made it clear that I’d consider a bit of a hometown discount, but it didn’t help.  We threw some numbers at them to try to get things moving, and they’d say, “We don’t know if we can do that.”  We’d ask for a counter, and they wouldn’t.  So that was frustrating, but at least it let me know that the writing was on the wall.

SHLD: There have been a lot of rumors that the Jackalopes are in financial trouble.  Based on your negotiations, or lack thereof, do you think that’s true?

MC: I’m not going to speculate about that, because I don’t really know.  They never opened their books to show me or anything.  Besides, I’m focused on the future and looking forward, not back at the past.

SHLD: Fair enough!  Let’s talk about your new team, then.  How has your transition to the Tigres gone so far?

MC: It’s been really great.  All the guys have welcomed me, and the minute I set foot in the clubhouse, it was like I’d been there for years.  This is a team with a strong camaraderie and a good sense of their identity, and I feel like I’ve fit in great.

SHLD: And how has it been adjusting to life in Quebec?

MC: I like it!  Obviously, the vibe there is different than it is in Rapid City, but they both have that kind of small-town feel that I like.  If I’d been moving to, say, New York, it would have been a different thing.  And the fans in Quebec are really passionate, at least as much as the Dakota fans.  I couldn’t have asked for a much better environment for going somewhere new.

SHLD: The Tigres are hanging around the periphery of the Eastern playoff race, but they haven’t been able to break through so far.  What do you think the team needs to do in order to get back to the playoffs?

MC: We’ve just got to keep playing the disciplined, heavy hockey that we’re known for.  On offense, we’re doing a good job looking for quality shots.  Maybe if we can open it up a bit and activate the D a little more on offense, that would be good.  Mostly, I think we keep playing our game and good things will happen, especially once we get Zarko [C Drustan Zarkovich] and Fisk [LW Stellan Fisker] back.

SHLD: One last question: As we mentioned at the top of the interview, you’ll be a free agent at the end of the season.  Based on what you’ve seen with the Tigres so far, could you see yourself re-signing here?

MC: Hey, who knows where life takes me, right?  At the end of the season, I’ll be looking at my options and see whether they’re interested in me.  But I can definitely tell you that nothing I’ve seen so far would make me not want to stay here long-term.

SHLD: Sounds good!  Thanks again for your time, Matt, and good luck the rest of the season.

MC: Appreciate it.  The stretch run’s going to be crazy!

Zarkovich’s “Happy Dance” Injury Dampens Tigres’ Victory

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.

Drustan Zarkovich

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.”

Continue reading “Zarkovich’s “Happy Dance” Injury Dampens Tigres’ Victory”

2019 SHL Week 11 Transactions

  • On Monday, the Quebec Tigres activated D Ward Jones from the disabled list.  Jones had missed more than a month with an upper-body that he suffered before the All-Star break.  To make room for Jones on the active roster, the Tigres reassigned D Serge Rimbaud to their farm team in Maine.  The 18-year-old Rimbaud appeared in 13 games with Quebec, recording 8 assists and a +1 rating.
  • Also on Monday, the Hamilton Pistols placed goaltender Lasse Koskinen on the disabled list.  Koskinen suffered an upper-body injury during Sunday’s 7-4 win over New York.  He is expected to miss 2 to 3 weeks, a serious blow for a Pistols team that is trying to snatch a playoff spot in the East.  To replace Koskinen, the Pistols called up Hector Orinoco from their affiliate in Oshawa.  The 23-year-old Orinoco has gone 13-11-0 with a 2.69 GAA and a .902 save percentage with Oshawa this season.
  • On Tuesday, the Tigres placed LW Stellan Fisker on the disabled list.  Fisker suffered an upper-body injury during the Tigres’ 3-0 win over Hershey.  He is expected to miss 3 to 4 weeks.  To replace Fisker on the roster, the Tigres called up LW Carl Bleyer from their farm team in Maine.  Bleyer has put up 26 points (8 goals, 18 assists) with the Moose on the year.
  • Wednesday was the trading deadline. The following trades were consummated at the deadline:
    • The New York Night traded RW Mickey Simpson, D Andy Ruger, and a 3rd-round draft pick to the Washington Galaxy for RW Nori Takoyaki.  (More details here.)  After making the trade, the Night promoted D Craig Werner from their farm team in Utah and signed D Sheldon Harville to a minor-league contract.
    • The Galaxy traded Ruger to the Kansas City Smoke in exchange for a 3rd-round pick.
    • The Michigan Gray Wolves traded RW Cleo Rodgers, G Gus Parrish, and a 2nd-round pick to the Smoke in exchange for LW Kevin Starkey and D Scott Hexton.  (More details here.) After the trade, Kansas City called up Parrish and LW Veikko Sikanen from their CHL affiliate in Omaha, and demoted G Jim Fleetwood to Omaha. They also released G Toby Kemper.  Meanwhile, Michigan released D Igor Shovshenkov, demoted F Yann Eberlein to their affiliate in Cleveland, and signed Kemper to a minor-league deal.
    • The Saskatchewan Shockers traded C Tanner Brooks to the Dakota Jackalopes in exchange for D Rusty Anderson. (More details here.) After the trade, the Shockers demoted D Valeri Nistrumov to their farm team in Virginia.  They also released D Knute Skoeglin and signed F Marvin Cascio to a minor-league deal.
    • The Hamilton Pistols traded C Pat Collistone, D Buster Kratz, and a 1st-round pick to the Galaxy in exchange for C Eddie Costello.  (More details here.) After the trade, the Pistols called up D Russ Klemmer from their CHL affiliate in Oshawa, and demoted RW Michael Jennings to Oshawa.  They also signed D Gresham Sourwine to a minor-league contract.  The Galaxy demoted Kratz to their affiliate in Baltimore and promoted C Tucker Barnhill from Baltimore.  They also released D Sheldon Harville.
    • The Quebec Tigres traded D Kirby Hanlon, C Jacob Cunniff, and a 1st-round pick to the Jackalopes in exchange for D Matt Cherner.  (More details here.) After the trade, Dakota released RW Omar Zdurchek; Quebec then signed him to a minor-league deal.
    • Finally, the Seattle Sailors traded D Serkan Mratic to the Galaxy for D Stan Gallagher.  (More details here.)
  • On Saturday, the Jackalopes activated D Rodney Black from the injured list.  Black, who was sidelined in only his second SHL game, missed two and a half weeks with an upper-body injury. Since Dakota was one player short of the roster limit, they did not make a corresponding move.
  • Also on Saturday, the Hershey Bliss placed LW Lance Sweet on long-term injured reserve.  Sweet was carried off the ice on a stretcher after being crunched into the boards late in the second period during Saturday’s 6-3 win over Saskatchewan.  Sweet underwent surgery on his right leg, and is expected to be out for the rest of the season.  To fill Sweet’s roster spot, Hershey called up D Seth Dowd from their CHL affiliate in Milwaukee.  The 33-year-old Dowd, who last played in the SHL in 2016, recorded 27 points with Milwaukee this season.