SHL Player of the Week – Week 5

Christien Adamsson

The SHL selected Hershey Bliss G Christien Adamsson as its Player of the Week.  Despite playing the entire week on the road, the Bliss went 3-0-1 to seize first place in the East, and Adamsson’s brilliant performance was a key contributor to Hershey’s sweet success.  Adamsson went 2-0-1 with a 1.30 GAA and a .961 save percentage.

Adamsson faced a couple tough tests this week against Western contenders, and he passed both with flying colors.  On Tuesday in Saskatchewan, he turned aside 42 shots as Hershey grounded the Shockers 4-1.  Two nights later in Portland, he made 34 stops as the Bliss dueled the Bluebacks to a 1-1 tie.

For the season, Adamsson is 8-5-2 with a 2.55 GAA and a .916 save percentage.  “Christien is the answer we’ve been looking for in the crease,” said Hershey coach Chip Barber.  “A good goalie is like a good coating chocolate: the best ones stay in temper.  He doesn’t get rattled, and he’s the steady hand that we need between the pipes.”

No Early Favorites in East

At the quarter pole of the 2020 SHL season, the Western Division is starting to shake itself out as expected.  The Portland Bluebacks are off to a hot start, eager to prove that their 2019 division crown was no fluke.  The Anchorage Igloos have resuscitated from their dreadful opening weeks and are back in the thick of the race, with the Saskatchewan Shockers and Michigan Gray Wolves also in the mix.

The East, meanwhile, is a totally different story.  There are only six points separating the first- and last-place teams.  No one is running away with the division, and no one is entirely out of it (at least not yet).  Each of the contenders has a key flaw that may derail its postseason aspirations.  Here’s a look at the state of play:

The Hamilton Pistols are the defending SHL champions, and they’re determined to become the league’s first back-to-back title-winners.  And offensively, they’re poised to do so: they lead the league in goals (71) and shots per game (39).  And it’s not just the usual suspects who are producing.  The second line of LW Magnus Gunnarson (7 goals, 15 assists), C Marco Venezio (6 goals, 5 assists), and RW Ben Summers (8 goals, 8 assists) has clicked brilliantly, and blueliners such as Clayton Risch (6 goals, 8 assists) and Hercules Mulligan (5 goals, 8 assists) have been activated on offense as well.

So why aren’t the Pistols dominating?  For one thing, they’ve had issues with injuries.  C Calvin Frye recently missed three games, all of which Hamilton lost.  No sooner did he return than LW Steven Alexander went down; he will likely miss several games as well.

The Pistols are struggling in net as well.  #1 starter Lasse Koskinen has rebounded from a poor start, but his numbers (3.39 GAA, .902 save percentage) are not up to his career norms.  And backup Ron Mason (0-3-1, 5.14 GAA, .851 save %) has been atrocious; it’s possible the 36-year-old is washed up.  The goaltending struggles aren’t helped by Hamilton’s awful penalty kill; their 73.7% kill rate is second-worst in the SHL.  If Koskinen continues to improve and the stars stay on the ice, they should be fine, but neither of those things are guaranteed.

The Hershey Bliss are currently tied with Hamilton for first place.  They’re probably the most balanced team in the East.  They’re tied for third in goals (59), and they’re in third in shots allowed per game (31.5).  The “Love Line” (LW Lance Sweet, C Justin Valentine, RW Christopher Hart) is clicking along as always.

So why isn’t Hershey much above .500?  They primary culprits appear to be special teams and goaltending.  Their power play, usually a strength, has been merely average so far (20% conversion rate, sixth in the league).  And their penalty kill has struggled; they’re only snuffing 80.4% of power-play chances, ahead of just three other teams.  Neither number is atrocious, but they aren’t helping.

In the net, free-agent signee Christien Adamsson (6-5-1, 2.87, .904) and rookie Nash Gould (2-1-1, 3.18, .906) are putting up quite similar numbers.  Coach Chip Barber has maintained that Adamsson is still the starter, but he may have to explore a more even distribution of minutes if this continues.  And surely, they can’t help noticing that last year’s starter, Brandon Colt (2-0-2, 2.40, .916), is outplaying them both in Michigan.

The Quebec Tigres are two points behind Hamilton and Hershey.  They’re practicing their usual rugged, hard-nosed defense (allowing a league-low 29.1 shots per game and blocking a league-high 16 shots per game), and they’re performing well on special teams.

Part of Quebec’s struggles are typical – their offense is limited, both in quantity (31.3 shots per game, tenth in the league) and quality (8.8% shooting percentage).  But the more surprising issue is the struggles of goalie Riki Tiktuunen (5-5-1, 3.18, .897).  If Tiktuunen cannot resume his usual elite level of play, it’s unlikely that the Tigres will reach the postseason.

The New York Night looked to be out of it last week; there were even rumors that coach Nick Foster was about to be fired.  But they’ve bounced back to the .500 mark, tied with Quebec.  In many ways, they’re the inverse of the Tigres.  They’ve scored 67 goals, second only to the Pistols, powered by a leg-eleading 11.4% shooting percentage.  They are one of two SHL teams with a pair of double-digit goal scorers already in Cs Brock Manning and Rod Remington.

On the defensive end, however, New York is a disaster.  They’re allowing a league-worst 4.08 goals-against average, fueled by a poor defense that yields an eye-popping 41 points per game.  Projected starting netminder Sherman Carter (4-2-1, 5.44, .863) appears to have lost his job to veteran “Jersey Mike” Ross (3-5-1, 3.18, .923), but no goaltender can be expected to stop the barrage of shots that the Night allow.

The Boston Badgers trail Quebec and New York by two points.  Like the Tigres, they’re built around a stout team defense and slow pace (yielding only 29.6 shots per game).  Also like the Tigres, they’re being undermined by a weak offense (having scored a mere 42 on a league-worst 27 shots per game) and a big-name goalie who’s struggling (Roger Orion: 5-6-1, 2.96, .897).  Unlike the Tigres, they are struggling mightily on the penalty kill, with a last-place 70.4% kill rate.

The Washington Galaxy are the one team that seems certain not to contend, although given the traffic jam at the top, they’re still technically within striking distance.  Unlike the other Eastern clubs, however, they’re not strong in any area of the game.  They’re in the bottom third of the league in goals (44), shots per game (32), shots allowed per game (38.8) and GAA (3.67).  They may have an impact on the playoff chase, however, if they decide to move some of their stars, such as LW Casey Thurman.

There’s plenty of time for the division to sort itself out, and for a couple of strong contenders to emerge.  For the time being, however, it looks like it’s (almost) anybody’s game.

Adamsson Slams Jackalopes as “Cheap”

It’s no surprise to anyone in SHL circles that the Dakota Jackalopes are a team with a tight budget.  They play in the smallest market in the league, and after loading up in an unsuccessful attempt to challenge the power teams in the West, they’ve been cutting payroll the last couple of seasons.

If the Jackalopes players were upset about the cost-cutting, they’ve been quiet about it… until now.  G Christien Adamsson touched off a firestorm this week with a series of jokes accusing the organization of being cheap.

Christien Adamsson

Adamsson was interviewed after Sunday’s 5-3 loss to Saskatchewan, and he seemed visibly perturbed before the questions even started.  When a reporter asked the netminder if he was learning to coordinate with the team’s young defense, Adamsson snapped.

“Don’t say ‘young,’ say ‘cheap,’” the goalie said.  “Call it what it is.  This so-called ‘youth movement’ isn’t about building for the future, it’s about getting rid of the guys who make money.  You think they traded Wamp [G Dennis Wampler] to build for the future?”

Adamsson cited D Matt Cherner, who is in the final year of his contract, as an example of the team’s frugality.  “He loves it here, wants to stay.  He’d sign a lifetime deal here if he could.  But you know he’s going to get traded because they can’t afford him.  Just like Karly [C Lars Karlsson] and Bells [C Harvey Bellmore] last year.  Pretty soon, it’ll just be [LW] Ryan [Airston] and a bunch of 21-year-olds making the league minimum.  Maybe they won’t even keep Ryan.”

Adamsson finished on a light-hearted note: “We’re thinking about getting jobs at the Hardee’s down the street, or maybe starting a lemonade stand, so we can put a few bucks in the piggy bank and they might be able to keep some of our guys.  Every little bit helps, right?”

Adamsson’s jokes further fueled speculation that the Jackalopes were in serious financial trouble.  GM Paul Mindegaard firmly shot down those rumors.  “Everybody is getting their paychecks, and we’re doing fine financially,” Mindegaard told reporters.  “Ask anyone around here.  Any of that kind of talk can just stop.”

The GM defended the Wampler deal and the team’s other recent moves, denying that the team was executing a mere salary dump.  “Before last season, ownership and I made the difficult decision that the team we had was not built to win a title.  Since then, we’ve been looking to move some of our veteran guys, load up on prospects, and give the younger guys a chance to shine.

“Do we have to be careful with our money?  Absolutely.  But are we just dumping salaries to be cheap?  Absolutely not.  Coming from Christien, a guy I consider to be a part of our Dakota family, that’s a disappointing remark.”

Mindegaard denied that the team had decided not to re-sign Cherner, saying “we’re actively engaged with Matt and his agent to see if there’s a fit.  How that will turn out, I don’t know, but we certainly haven’t closed the door.”

For his part, Cherner declined to comment on Adamsson’s assessment of Dakota’s finances.  “I’m letting my agent handle all that; I’m focused on the here and now.  All I can tell you is, nobody’s said no yet.”

Other players, while declining to comment on the record, indicated agreement with Adamsson.  “A lot of guys are wondering about their future,” said one player.  “Once their rookie contracts expire and they start making real money, are they out the door?  A lot of guys are watching to see what happens with Matt.  If he can’t get a big-money deal from this team, no one can.”

Bellmore Causes Ruckus at Dakota Faith Day

This week, the Dakota Jackalopes held a “Faith Day” celebration, which is a fairly common occurrence in the SHL and in other leagues.  This particular celebration, however, was anything but common, thanks to C Harvey Bellmore.  The quirky center, who has a reputation as a jokester, crashed the ceremony and put on a performance that startled and angered the fans and left the team scrambling to apologize and make amends.

Tuesday’s ceremony during the Jackalopes’ game against the Michigan Gray Wolves initially unfolded according to plan.  A local gospel choir sang the national anthem and performed a concert after the game.  The Jackalopes’ team chaplain led several players and the hundreds of fans in attendance in a prayer circle.

The highlight of the event came when several Dakota players stepped up to talk about their belief and how it helps them in their athletic careers.  Ds Rusty Anderson and Terry Hendricks and netminder Christien Adamsson all gave their testimony and talked about how their faith in Jesus Christ strengthened their lives on and off the ice. Their speeches were received warmly by the fans, with frequent applause and several shouted “amens.”

Harvey Bellmore

Once the other players had said their piece, Bellmore stepped forward and asked to speak.  He had not been scheduled to appear, but the emcee, Lutheran pastor Mark Emerlein, invited him to come forward.

Bellmore began by saying, “I’ve never really talked about my faith before, but I felt like this was the right time for me to do it.  My father was a gambler and my mother was a bartender, so it’s fair to say that Satan was my nanny.”  Some fans murmured agreement.  “But that’s all changed.  Now, the source of all my strength, my courage, everything that makes me the man I am today comes from right here.”  At this point, Bellmore reached into his pocket.  The fans assumed he was pulling out a Bible, but what he actually withdrew was a hip flask.  He took a hearty swig as the fans began buzzing with confusion.

“That’s right, folks, my religion is booze!” Bellmore shouted.  “Whenever I run into a rough patch in my life, or when I need a little something extra to get the winning goal or go after that fine-looking chick in the bar… I reach for the bottle!  That’s all the faith I need!”

The center continued, “Let me tell you what else I believe.”  Bellmore then launched into Crash Davis’ famous (and obscene) speech from the movie Bull Durham.  When he got to the part about “long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days,” Emerlein and Anderson escorted him away as the fans booed.

GM Paul Mindegaard apologized profusely to the fans, many of whom called or emailed the Jackalopes front office to express their displeasure.  “Obviously, the point of Faith Day is to celebrate faith and belief, not to ridicule it,” said Mindegaard.  “On behalf of the organization, I apologize to everyone who was there and all our fans who believe.  Harvey Bellmore likes to make jokes, but this one was over the line, and he knows that.”  In addition, the team suspended him for their next game against the Saskatchewan Shockers.

When asked if he was offended by Bellmore’s antics, Anderson laughed.  “Nah, I get it.  Harvey’s Harvey,” said the Dakota blueliner.  “He’s a total screwball.  Coo-coo bananas, you know?  He didn’t mean anything by it.  But yeah, he really ruffled some feathers out there.  Hoo boy.”

Some speculated that Bellmore’s stunt was an attempt to get the rebuilding Jackalopes to trade him.  Bellmore denied this, and sounded a mildly penitent note after the suspension was announced.  “They told me I was a bad boy, and that I made a lot of people mad,” said the center.  “And I feel bad about that, I really do.  I wasn’t trying to make fun of anyone’s beliefs.”

He then went on to question the focus of the event.  “But I thought that Faith Day was missing some other perspectives.  I mean, all the people who talked were Christians.  They’re not the only ones with faith, right?  I mean, nobody got up and talked about how being Jewish or Muslim or whatever made them better at sports.  So I thought I’d come in with a different opinion.  But I realize now it was dumb. They told me it was dumb, which makes sense, because I’m dumb.  So don’t listen to me, okay?”

Shockers Set SHL Record with 11-Goal Game

There’s no denying that it’s been another long season for the Saskatchewan Shockers.  They fell out of contention from almost the beginning of the season, and they were mathematically eliminated with almost three weeks left.  They unleashed yet another disastrous promotion on their fans, this time a poorly designed kids’ activity book.  Until this week, perhaps the most notable event of Saskatchewan’s season was when one of their players accidentally set fire to the locker room.

That all changed on Friday, as the Shockers finally delivered a season highlight worth celebrating.  They may be having a season to forget, but Friday was a game to remember, as Saskatchewan set a new SHL record for goals in a game in an 11-5 thumping of the Dakota Jackalopes.

“We sure know how to deliver excitement, huh?” said Shockers coach Myron Beasley with a huge grin.  “You saw more goals in this game than you’d see in a week watching Michigan or Anchorage.  You want fun, come see us!”

C Elliott Rafferty pointed out that Saskatchewan had scored 11 despite the fact that no player managed a hat trick.  “That’s a testament to the kind of depth we have here,” the center said.  Rafferty, C Napoleon Beasley, and D Dick Bradshaw each scored two goals, while LW Troy Chamberlain, D Wyatt Barnes, RW Brad Stevens, D Ed Francis, and RW Andrew “Lucky” Fortuno got one apiece.

The game was not a blowout at the beginning; at the end of the first period, the score stood 4-3.  The Shockers peppered Dakota goalie Buzz Carson, but the Jackalopes fired 19 shots at Oliver Richardson and put three behind him.  In the second period, Saskatchewan blew it open, scoring five unanswered goals and sending Carson to the showers.

The Shockers came into the third chasing history, but it seems that no one was aware of it.  The PA announcer made no mention of it, and the fans and benches seemed equally unaware.  Eight and a half minutes into the period, Chamberlain snapped a shot past new Dakota netminder Christen Adamsson for Saskatchewan’s tenth goal, tying the SHL record, first set by Dakota against the Shockers last season.   Five minutes later, Barnes buried a rebound to set a new record.  The crowd roared its approval, but again, no mention was made of the new record.

It wasn’t until after the game, when a journalist who had looked up the record asked about it, that the Shockers discovered what they had done.  “Hey, we’re famous!” shouted Beasley when informed of the record.  “That’s really cool.  Now we’ll be able to go to the record books and point and say, ‘Hey, I was part of that.'”

“This team is more dangerous than people think,” said Rafferty, who had two assists in the game in addition to his pair of goals.  “We’ve got some real snipers here.  We’re a young team and we’re still learning, but games like this show what we’re capable of.”

Heinz Doofenshmirtz

Owner Heinz Doofenschmirtz, whose passion for his team is well-known around the league, was ecstatic with his team’s performance.  The owner reportedly came into the locker room after the game and gave each player an $1,100 bonus check in recognition of the record-setting performance.  “I believe he’s doing a few laps around the ceiling about now,” said Beasley.

For the Shockers, the game was a welcome bright spot in an unremarkable year.  For the Jackalopes, it was yet another reminder of a season gone wrong.  Small-market Dakota spent heavily in the offseason to build a team that could contend for a title.  Instead, the Jackalopes have turned in another so-so season, and ownership has signaled that they intend to cut payroll next season.

Jackalopes coach Harold Engellund, whose job is reportedly in jeopardy, responded wearily to news of Saskatchewan’s record-setting performance.  “Well, congratulations to them,” said Engellund.  “They’re a team on the rise and they deserve it.  But that’s not a record you really want to be part of, not on the other end.  If this is what we’re remembered for this year, that’s not too good.”

Engellund On Hot Seat Again

Groundhog Day seems to be coming early for the Dakota Jackalopes and coach Harold Engellund this season.  Last year, Dakota came into the season with high expectations.  But when they stumbled out of the gate with a sub-.500 record, Engellund’s job was reported to be in jeopardy.  Shortly thereafter, the team rallied around their coach and went on a winning streak, and Engellund was spared.  This season, the Jackalopes spent heavily on trades and free agents and again came into the season expecting great things.  But they’re off to a sub-.500 start again, and Engellund is reportedly on the hot seat… again.

Harold Engellund

“The sense here is that ownership has spent a lot of money building a contender,” said a team source.  “And we’re still seeing average results.  At some point, you’ve got to start wondering if Harold is the coach that can get us to the next level.”

After the Jackalopes allowed six goals in the third period in a 7-4 loss to Anchorage, Engellund was asked about his job security.  “It’s not like I’m not used to this,” said the coach.  “This is a results-based business, and we’re not having the kind of results that would make me secure.  I know that the only way you stop the rumors is by winning.”

Prior to the season, the Jackalopes made perhaps more moves to improve than any other team in the league.  They bolstered their already-potent offense by trading for C Mike Rivera from New York, and aimed to shore up their defense by signing Rusty Anderson from Washington and acquiring Scott Hexton from Hershey.

The results?  Dakota’s offense has been even better than last year; their 104 goals are the most in the league.  Rivera (7 goals, 20 assists) has fit right in with the Jackalopes’ fast-paced attack.  But the defense, if anything, has taken a step back.  They’ve allowed 94 goals (they allowed 86 through this point last year).  The blueline corps itself has posted similar stats to last season; it’s the goaltending that has slipped a notch.

Last season, one of the points of contention between Engellund and the Dakota front office revolved around the net.  Engellund reportedly preferred veteran Jesse Clarkson, while the front office wanted prospect Christien Adamsson to get more playing time.  The team wound up trading Clarkson at the deadline, clearing the way for Adamsson (in conjunction with another youngster, Buzz Carson, who came over in the Clarkson deal).  The duo has combined to post an .899 save percentage; only cellar-dwelling Seattle is worse.

It all adds up to a so-so team, which is not what small-market Dakota wants to see.  The team is reportedly losing money at a concerning rate, and if the team isn’t going to challenge for the Vandy in its current form, ownership would like to tighten its belt and cut payroll.  Others within the front office, though, think that the Jackalopes can contend with the current roster, and that Engellund isn’t a strong enough leader to get the most out of the team.

Engellund remains popular with the players, a definite point in his favor.  But some in the organization feel that he is too close to the players, and is unwilling to call them out or push them hard.

“I don’t think there’s any magic bullet here,” said the coach.  “It’s a tough division, and Michigan and Anchorage set a high bar.  But that’s the bar we’ve got to clear.”

Asked if he was tired of the constant speculation about his employment status, Engellund said, “Well, yeah, it gets old.  At some point, you want to fish or cut bait.  But that’s how it is in this line of work.  There’s no tenure in coaching, no life appointment.  You do the job or you’re out the door.”

Jackalopes LW “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston strongly defended his coach this week.  “If you ask around the locker room, you’ll find out in a hurry that we’re all behind Coach Engellund 100%,” said Airston.  “Every one of us is happy that he’s in charge.  I’m sick of these rumors coming out of nowhere that Coach Engellund needs to go.  If the front office isn’t happy, they should man up and say it in public.  And don’t point the finger at Coach Engellund.  He’s not the problem.”

But Engellund himself said it best: It’s a results-based business.  As long as ownership expects a championship contender and the Jackalopes don’t deliver, the coach and players alike will be on the hot seat.

Dakota Unveils New Name, Uniforms

When the Dakota Rapids take the ice next season, they’ll be doing so under a different name.  Team owner Roger Scott revealed on Friday that starting in the 2017 season, the Rapids will be known as the Dakota Jackalopes.

“This has always been Dakota’s team,” said Scott.  “We’ve always looked for ways to increase our ties with the local community.  But when I’ve talked to our fans, both in the arena and out on the street, they’ve told me that the name ‘Rapids’ didn’t really resonate with them.  It felt a little too generic.  So I thought: what says Dakota better than a jackalope?”

Although the first jackalopes originated in Wyoming in the 1930s, they quickly spread to South Dakota and have been a mainstay of local folklore ever since.  While the actual creature can be elusive, mounted heads and jackalope-themed merchandise can be found all over the state.  Perhaps the most famous example is the giant jackalope statue located at Wall Drug.

“I expect the new name to be a big hit,” said Scott.  “If you don’t love the jackalope, you have no heart.”

Along with the name, Scott unveiled the team’s new logo – a roundel with a leaping jackalope in the center – as well as new uniforms.  The new unis retain the crimson and cream from their previous color scheme; however, green is no longer present in the team’s uniforms or logo.  The new threads also retain Dakota’s triple-stripe motif.  The leaping jackalope crest is prominent on both home and road uniforms.

New Home Uniforms

“Our old uniforms were too busy and didn’t establish a consistent look,” Scott noted.  “We wanted something clean and fresh, while still being traditional and tied to our old look.”

Star LW “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston, who modeled the new home jersey at the event, is excited about the new name.  “To me, it’s the perfect name,” said Airston.  “Jackalopes are fast but ferocious, just like us.  They look cute from a distance, but you don’t want to mess with them up close.  Plus, you all know how I feel about bunnies, and the jackalope is a close cousin.  I love it!”

G Christien Adamsson, modeling the road jersey, shared Airston’s enthusiasm.  “It’s a name that’s perfectly local,” said the South Dakota native.  “The fans here will go crazy for it.”

The defending SHL champion Michigan Gray Wolves, one of Dakota’s rivals in the West, issued a press release congratulating the Jackalopes on their new name.  “We look forward to doing battle with the Jackalopes next season,” read the release.  “We’re sure there’s no truth to the rumor that Dakota’s odds of winning the Vandy are slimmer than the odds of finding a jackalope in the wild.”