Interview of the Week: Harold Engellund

Dakota SmallThis week’s interview is with Dakota Rapids coach Harold Engellund.

SHL Digest: We’re here today with Coach Harold Engellund.  Coach Engellund, thanks for speaking with us.

Harold Engellund: You betcha!  I’m always glad to talk hockey.

Harold Engellund
Harold Engellund

SHLD: So, it’s fair to say it’s been an eventful year.

HE: (laughs) Yeah, that’s a way to say it, for sure.  Never a dull moment around here.

SHLD: How would you evaluate your season?

HE: Well, we put together a team we thought was going to contend for a title, and we haven’t really done that.  So it’s hard to call our season a rousing success.  But I think we’re gotten better, stronger over the course of the year.  I think some of those storms we had to weather drew us together better as a team.  We’ve got each other’s backs, and team chemistry is real strong.

SHLD: What do you think is the primary reason you haven’t been able to succeed as much as you’d like?

HE: I’m sure some of the stat wizards could slice and dice the numbers and tell you our Corsi is too low or our PK percentage drops on Wednesdays or whatever.  But I’m from the High Plains, and we keep it simple.  And the truth is, there’s two darn good teams in Michigan and Anchorage that we’ve gotta compete with.  They set a real high bar, and we’re not there yet.

SHLD: Your point total would put you in the thick of the race in the East, for sure.

HE: Exactly.  But someone asks you why you didn’t compete, you can’t say “Geography.”  We’ve got to play the teams on our schedule.  And defense is still an area where we struggle.  We’re never going to be a lockdown team like the Wolves, but we’ve at least got to keep the puck out of our end more.

SHLD: It’s sort of ironic that a guy like you would be coaching a team like this.  After all, you were Harry the Hit Man in your playing days!

HE: (laughs) Yep, I sure was.  I was a guy who never hesitated to settle things with my fist.  My minor-league coach told me that they were gonna retire my number and hang it in the penalty box, ‘cause that’s where everyone was used to seeing it.  Me being in charge of a team of little fast guys is kind of like a teetotaler running a saloon.

SHLD: I’ll bet it was hard for you to get used to that.

HE: A little, sure, at first.  But I gotta tell the truth: Players today are faster and more talented than they were in my day.  A guy like me probably couldn’t have made it.  The game has changed, and I understand that.  I’m not gonna claim it was better in the old days when it was line brawls all the time.

SHLD: That’s a pretty enlightened attitude.

HE: Honestly, it’s my guys who helped me see it.  Watching them skate around lickety-split, make real sharp passes, thread the needle with great shots… there weren’t a lot of guys in my day who could play like that.  It’s pretty to watch.

SHLD: Now, you’re a native of North Dakota, right?

HE: Yep, a proud Fargo native.

SHLD: What does it mean to you to coach a team representing the Dakotas?

HE: Real proud, you betcha.  When I was growing up, the rest of the world thought Fargo was the middle of nowhere.  Even later on, most people only think of the movie.  But now, we’ve got a team that’s putting the Dakotas on the map in a good way, and I couldn’t be happier.

SHLD: One more question, at the risk of poking a sensitive area.

HE: Hey, that happened all the time when I was a player. (laughs)

SHLD: Ha!  Anyway, you know about all the rumors of the power struggle between you and the front office over the situation in net.  And after the team dealt Jesse Clarkson at the deadline, the perception was that you’d lost the fight.  Is that an accurate perception, and how are you dealing with it going forward?

HE: That whole story was always overblown.  Yeah, I was a big believer in Jesse, and he’s done a heck of a job with Hershey.  But the organization wants to see Christien [Adamsson] have a chance to grow and blossom, and that’s fair.  We talked it out before they pulled the trigger.  And we agreed that given the reality of where we are, it’s a good time to see what we’ve got in Christien.

SHLD: So you were fine with the deal?

HE: Absolutely.  And I’ve gotta say, Christien’s really stepped up.  He’s shown me a lot since the trade.  He seems like a keeper.

SHLD: Well, thanks for a frank and interesting interview.  Good luck with the rest of the season!

HE: Thanks for the time.

Green’s Violence Comments Spark Controversy

Dakota RapidsDakota Rapids RW Trevor Green stirred up some controversy this week by arguing that hockey should become a less violent sport.  “The Europeans are way ahead of us on this,” said Green in an interview after Dakota’s game against the Michigan Gray Wolves.  “To me, the real beauty of hockey is in great puck-handling, beautiful passes, speed and momentum.  It’s like ballet on ice, really.  Instead, here we have smaller ice and we glorify big hits and fights.  It’s less athletic, frankly.”

Trevor Green
Trevor Green

Green’s comments were criticized on two fronts.  First, many perceived the comments as a shot at the Gray Wolves, who are famous for their physical style.  Predictably, Michigan’s players took offense.

“To me, that sounds like loser whining,” said Gray Wolves RW Gordon Lunsford.  “I’m sure [the Rapids] get frustrated because they can’t beat us.  But the game is the game, and the rules are the rules.  If you don’t want to bang bodies, fine.  But don’t go crying about it when you lose.”

Michigan D Bjorn Tollefson added, “I’m European, and I love big hits.  If [Green] doesn’t, he should go to the European league.”

Other players suggested that Green wanted the game to focus less on hitting because of his short stature (he stands only 5’8”).  Meanwhile, others focused on the ballet reference in his remarks, and made the sadly expected jokes about Green’s masculinity.  When the Rapids faced Michigan against later in the week, the fans at Cadillac Place serenaded Green with chants of “Tinkerbell,” and several fans held up signs depicting Green in a pink tutu or making bad jokes about his sexuality.

These taunts and posters drew the ire of Rapids coach Harold Engellund.  The coach was nicknamed “Harry the Hit Man” during his playing days for his hard-hitting style, but he stood up for his player.

Harold Engellund
Harold Engellund

“Hey, look, I love a good fight as much as the next guy,” Engellund said.  “I believe in good heavy hockey, and I’d like to see more of it out of our guys, to tell you the truth.  But Trevor feels differently, and he’s entitled to his opinion.  Great passing and puck-handling are fun to watch, too, in a different way.  We’ve got more of that now than when I came up, and that’s a good thing.  It’s better than when you had enforcers who could barely skate just looking to start fights.  The game is more skilled now.”

Engellund particularly decried the sexist taunts directed at Green.  “All those fans calling Trevor a fairy and a sissy, that’s gotta stop.  That kind of talk has no place in today’s game.  There are a lot of women hockey fans, and gay fans too.  How do think they feel when you’ve got idiots in the stands screaming at a guy and calling him Tinkerbell?  The next time I hear any of that stuff, whoever says it is getting a punch in the mouth from me.”