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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Jackalopes Coach Ponders Winning and Losing at Season’s End

Flim Dahlgren

On Saturday, the Dakota Jackalopes defeated Saskatchewan 4-2 to finish out their season.  That evening, coach Flim Dahlgren held a state-of-the-season press conference, at which he got a bit philosophical about the nature of winning and losing, particularly in the case of a rebuilding club like his.

Dahlgren’s musings began when a reporter asked him, “How would you rate your team’s success this season?”

The coach paused and reflected on the question before responding.  “That’s a very interesting question, isn’t it?” Dahlgren began.  “The point of this game is to win, and we didn’t win that many times, so perhaps the season wasn’t too successful.  On the other hand, we’re supposed to be rebuilding, and the more we lose, the better our draft pick.  So perhaps then we were successful.”

Dahlgren cocked his head and continued.  “My players tried very hard all season to win.  Perhaps I should have been telling them to lose instead?  But still, we finished with the third-worst record, which is bad, but also good. It’s quite curious.

“Winning is better than losing, unless you lose too much, and then it’s better to lose.  But you’re not supposed to say that, are you?  They set up a system that rewards losing, at least if you’re already losing.  But then you’re still supposed to try to win, or at least you’re supposed to act like you’re trying to win.  If I say it’s a good season because we lost enough to get a good draft pick, am I violating the code?”

Dahlgren then paused and smiled at the reporter who asked the question.  “I imagine you’re sorry you asked that now, aren’t you?  You were just looking for a simple answer to put in your story.  Instead, you got a philosophical treatise on the meaning of winning.  I’m sorry, the season has put me through the looking glass.  Remind me again what your question was.”

The reporter repeated his question, and Dahlgren replied, “I’d rate the season a 5.  On a scale of what to what, I’m not sure.”

After the room filled with laughter, Dahlgren smiled and said, “I don’t really think in terms of a rating.  This season was all about discovery.  I took the job knowing that the team was rebuilding, and that my best players might be traded away at any moment.  My job was to identify and grow young players who might help us compete later on, and I think I’ve done that.”

Dahlgren cited RW Arkady Golynin, LW “Jumbo Joe” Freelander, RW Asher Ravenbloom, and Ds Sergei Trefilov and Alex Angelos as examples of such promising young players.  “So we have a core that we can build around,” the coach concluded.  “And we have a number of draft picks and some promising players in the minors, so there is hope.  That is success to me, for this season.  I don’t know how to put a rating on it, but that’s my answer.”

He then paused and smiled before adding, “Okay, philosophy class is dismissed.”

Foster Pokes Fun at Dakota, Corn Palace

Continuing their annual tradition, the Dakota Jackalopes hosted a game at Mitchell’s famous Corn Palace.  For this season’s “Corn Classic” on Tuesday, the Jackalopes faced off against the New York Night.  New York coach Nick Foster made waves by turning his pre-game press conference into a roast of Mitchell, the Corn Palace, and the Midwest generally.

Nick Foster

Foster made his speech in response to a reporter who asked him how he liked it in the Dakotas.  “I always enjoy our trips to flyover country,” the coach replied.  “It’s always nice to see how the other half lives.”

Foster then poked fun at the town of Mitchell, calling it “the actual middle of nowhere.  I mean, I thought that our usual games here [in Rapid City] were the middle of nowhere.  But this time, we flew in, then got on a bus for two hours just to get here.  It’s a nice clean little place, though.  I took a walk around downtown today.  Took me five minutes, but it was nice.”

Corn Palace

The coach then poked fun at the Corn Palace.  “I figured in a place this small, we’d be playing on a rink in someone’s backyard,” Foster said.  “But instead, we came here.  Somebody took a barn and slapped a bunch of corn on the outside and called it a ‘palace.’  Wow!  I guess it gives you guys something to do out here.  And I have to admit, it’s the nicest corn-based art I’ve ever seen.”

Predictably, Foster’s jibes inspired outrage among the Jackalopes and the Dakota fans.  “I’m sorry if our town and our arena aren’t fancy enough for him,” said Dakota LW “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston.  “But some of us like the life out here.  It might not be as glamorous as New York, where everyone lives on top of each other and the air smells like hot dogs and bus exhaust and the rats are as big as dogs.  But we love it.  We love our state, and our city, and our Corn Palace.”

Jackalopes coach Flim Dahlgren added, “I don’t want to get into this, because I know it’s all part of Nick’s act.  He likes to pretend he’s a wrestling heel, and he’s always trying to stir the pot.  But if you come here and make fun of the Corn Palace, we can’t let that stand.  We have to defend the corn.  Let’s go out there and win big!”

The sellout crowd of 3,200 greeted Foster with boos and signs bearing slogan like “Yankee Go Home” and “Shuck You, Foster.”  As the New York coach came down the tunnel to the bench, one irate fan dumped a can of creamed corn on his head.  Foster responded by tasting the corn and flashing a thumbs-up in response.

The Jackalopes delivered their best revenge to Foster on the ice, edging the Night 3-2 as D Matt Cherner scored a pair of goals.  “We may have a small crowd here, but it feels like they’re right on top of you,” said Cherner after the game.  “I think we have the best home-ice advantage in the league here.  And with [Foster’s] comments, that gave the whole thing a little extra juice.”

Dakota now joins the growing list of places where Foster has made himself persona non grata; earlier in the season, he infuriated the fans in Hamilton by calling their arena a “dump” and accusing Pistols star Steven Alexander of cheating.

“At this rate, I’ll have every other city in the league hating my guts by 2020,” Foster said.  “Dare to dream!”

Continue reading “Foster Pokes Fun at Dakota, Corn Palace”

West Wide Open

Looking at the Western Division standings about one-third of the way through the 2018 SHL season, one thing is clear: the Michigan Gray Wolves are the overwhelming favorites to win the division title.  They’re already 12 points clear of their nearest competitor and are outscoring their opponents by nearly a 2-to-1 ratio.  Goaltender Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist and the defense remain as stingy as ever; even a serious injury to top blueline “Mad Max” Madison has barely slowed the Wolves down.  Michigan seems well on its way to nailing down that top spot.

But there are two playoff spots in each division this season.  And if first place appears all but sewn up, second place is up for grabs.  No team is out of the running, and no team seems to have much of an edge at this stage.

“It’s just a wide-open brawl, is what it is,” said Saskatchewan Shockers D Wyatt Barnes.  “A total pig pile.  No one knows what’s going to happen.”

At the start of the season, the Anchorage Igloos were heavily favored to make it to the playoffs.  Indeed, they’ve held down second place for much of the year.  But the defending division champs haven’t been playing up to their usual standards; in fact, they’ve struggled to get much above the .500 mark, and they haven’t won more than two in a row since the first week of the season.  “We’ve really struggled to find our rhythm,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor.  “We show flashes of our true form, especially against tough opponents, but then we sleepwalk against lesser teams.  We’re going to get more consistent if we’re going to make the playoffs.”

This week’s games demonstrated Castor’s point.  Anchorage put up a huge statement win on Sunday, stomping mighty Michigan 5-0.  But they followed up that effort with a pair of embarrassing losses, falling 3-1 to Dakota and 7-5 to Kansas City.  “I know the feeling in the clubhouse is that we’re the superior team,” said the Anchorage coach, “but we’ve got to prove that on the ice.”

Two points behind Anchorage are the Saskatchewan Shockers, who look ready to shake their hapless reputation.  They had a shot to take over sole possession of second place on Friday, but dropped a 5-2 decision to the Igloos.  The key to the Shockers’ success this season has been their defense.  Coach Myron Beasley has made a point of tightening up his team’s play in its own end, and his efforts are paying dividends.  Saskatchewan is limiting opponents to 29.3 shots per game, the fourth-best total in the league.  The improved defense has been a blessing for goalie Zeke Zagurski, who has historically faced a barrage of enemy shots on a nightly basis.  This season, he’s lowered his GAA to 2.52 while stopping shots at a .919 clip.  Backup Shawn Stickel has been even better in limited action, compiling a stingy 1.33 GAA and .929 save percentage.

Unfortunately, the Shockers’ defensive efforts seem to be taking a toll on their offense.  Saskatchewan has averaged 32.8 shots per game, solidly in the middle of the pack, but they’ve only scored 53 goals, third-worst total in the league.  “We’re not putting ourselves in position to get top-quality shots,” said LW Troy Chamberlain.  “We’re not getting the net-front presence we need to create chaos.  We need some more of those greasy goals that a team like Michigan is so good at.”

Saskatchewan is one point up on the Seattle Sailors, who are the Shockers’ mirror image.  The Sailors have a potent attack, having scored 75 goals already this season, led by RWs Elliott Pepper (13 goals) and Vince Mango (11).  However, their fast tempo and aggressive approach has led to a vulnerability on defense.  Seattle has given up 82 goals, the highest total in the league.  Part of the issue is their tendency to allow odd-man rushes (they’re allowing 37 shots per game).  They’re not getting much help between the pipes, either.  The Sailors have rotated between Rocky Goldmire (6-7-0, 4.12 GAA, .893 save percentage) and “Jersey Mike” Ross (3-3-1, 4.00, .883); neither has done enough to nail down the starting job.

“We need to spend a little less time on the fun stuff and a little more on the lunch-pail, building-block stuff,” said Sailors coach Harold Engellund.

One point back of the Sailors are the Dakota Jackalopes, having a bit of a surprising season under new coach Flim Dahlgren.  The Jackalopes had a good deal of success during the inter-divison round last week, winning five in a row against the East.  They’ve come back to earth this week, dropping three of their last four.  But for a team that’s widely assumed to be in a rebuilding mode, Dakota has been surprisingly competitive.  They’re getting a boost from two of the only remaining veterans on the team: C Lars Karlsson (tied for the team lead with 11 goals) and D Matt Cherner (whose 19 assists).  Karlsson and Cherner are widely assumed to be top targets at the trading deadline; if the Jackalopes remain in contention, GM Paul Mindegaard may have some difficult decisions to make.

Even the expansion Kansas City Smoke are only seven points out of second place.  To be fair, their relative success to this point has been driven largely by an unsustainble shot-conversion percentage (they’re scoring on almost 14% of their shots, by far the highest rate in the league).  That said, they’re seeing strong seasons from LW Pascal Royal (12 goals, 28 points), C Mike Rivera (13 goals), and rookie Zachary Merula (8 goals, 18 points).  “We’re definitely not expecting a playoff spot this year,” said coach Randy Bergner.  “But I’m really liking what I’m seeing out of the boys so far.”

There’s plenty of time left in the season, and things could shake out in the coming weeks.  Anchorage could take control of the race; Dakota and Kansas City could fall off the pace; Saskatchewan or Seattle could get more balanced and go on a run.  But for the time being, the race remains a muddle.  “It’s up for grabs,” said Seattle’s Mango.  “Anybody could swoop in and take this.  This is a chance to show what we’re made of.”

Jackalopes Pick Dahlgren as Next Coach

The last coaching vacancy for the 2018 SHL season has now been filled.  The Dakota Jackalopes have been searching for a replacement after firing Harold Engellund at the end of the 2017 season.  Now, after a lengthy set of interviews and at least one reported refusal, the Jackalopes have finally chosen Flim Dahlgren as their next bench boss.

Flim Dahlgren

“Obviously, this hasn’t been the quickest process,” said Jackalopes GM Paul Mindegaard.  “But it’s been important for us to take the time and find the right man for this job.  Flim is definitely the right man.”

There’s no doubt that Dakota’s coaching search was deliberate.  It’s not clear, though, whether that was the Jackalopes’ doing.  On the contrary, the league rumor mill suggests that if anything, Mindegaard was struggling to find someone willing to take the job.

Many around the league felt that Dakota had mistreated Engellund, a widely respected coach who had no trouble landing another job with Seattle.  Prior to his dismissal, Engellund had frequently clashed with Mindegaard over roster construction and the direction of the franchise.  Also, Dakota reportedly plans to cut payroll and move several star players this offseason.  Those factors may have combined to make the job less appealing.

The candidates who the Jackalopes interviewed included Engellund’s former assistant Manfred Obronski, minor league coach Ross Roberts, Michigan assistant Morris Thompson, Anchorage assistant Kyle Barrow, and Omaha Ashcats coach Randy Bergner.  Reportedly, after the first round of interviews, Mindegaard offered the job to Bergner.  But Bergner turned the job down, choosing instead to become the first coach of the expansion Kansas City Smoke.  It’s also reported that Barrow was also uninterested, although it’s not known whether he was formally offered the job.

Finally, the Jackalopes settled on Dahlgren, who served last year as assistant coach of the Minnesota Freeze, Anchorage’s minor-league affiliate.  Previously, the 45-year-old has served as a junior coach and as a scout.  This is not the first time that Dahlgren has been considered for a head-coaching job in the SHL.  Last offseason, he was interviewed by the New York Night for their opening; they ultimately went with Nick Foster.

“I am very excited for this opportunity,” said Dahlgren.  “I know the fan base here is very passionate, like a junior team.  I look forward to giving these fans a team they can be passionate about.”

The Jackalopes players, many of whom were loyal to Engellund and are worried about their own futures, greeted the news with mixed emotions.  “I think Coach Engellund left behind some big shoes to fill,” said LW “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston.  “I haven’t met the new guy yet, but I’m sure he wants to succeed, just like we all do.  Hopefully we get that chance.”