Igloos Co-Owner Buys Jackalopes, Moving Them to Milwaukee in ’21

Coming into the 2020 offseason, the SHL had one item atop their to-do list: find a buyer for the Dakota Jackalopes.  The league assumed control of the Jackalopes from then-owner Roger Scott at the trading deadline, as the team encountered severe financial distress.  They had no interest in continuing to operate the team next season, so they were eager to find a new owner as soon as possible.  They understood that the new owner was likely to relocate the team.  They didn’t expect, however, that the new owner would already be a member of the SHL family.

Colin Mills, co-owner of the Anchorage Igloos, officially agreed this weekend to purchase the Jackalopes franchise.  Mills had reportedly been in talks with the league for several weeks, and the other owners unanimously approved the sale on Sunday.  Upon taking ownership of the team, Mills announced that he would be moving it to Milwaukee.

“I am pleased to announce that this saga has finally reached its conclusion,” said SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell.  “We have tried for multiple years to seek an outcome that would allow the Jackalopes to remain in the Dakotas, but it has become painfully clear that the market was not viable.  Now, the franchise has a new lease on life, with an owner who has the means and the track record of success, and in a city that can support it.  I’m excited for great days ahead!”

For Mills, the choice of city was a no-brainer.  “I love Milwaukee,” he said.  “It’s a lively, fun city and a great place for a hockey team.  Honestly, I can’t understand why there hasn’t been a team there from the start.  I can’t wait to bring the Vandy to the shores of Lake Michigan!”

The new owner said that his first priority would be to hire a general manager, and then work with the new GM to hire a coach.  The Jackalopes did not renew the contracts of GM Paul Mindegaard or coach Flim Dahlgren at the end of the season.  Mills said that the new GM would have free rein in shaping the roster – and a healthy budget with which to do so.  Dakota finished the season with the league’s smallest payroll.

“As an owner, I want to find the smartest GM I can, and then trust him to evaluate the talent and build a winning team,” Mills said.  “One thing’s for sure, though: the days of salary dumps and avoiding high-dollar players are over.  I want our team to have a competitive payroll, and we certainly have plenty of room under the cap to go stock up.”

The Jackalopes players reacted positively to news of their new owner.  “I’m going to miss our fans in Dakota,” said LW Ryan Airston.  “They were the best.  But playing in front of bigger crowds, and knowing that we’ll be able to re-sign guys and go after big-name free agents, that’s really exciting!  It’s such a change from the last few years that I’m still a little bit in shock.”

“I’m looking forward to having some stability, finally,” said LW Joe Freelander, who earlier this year called for the Jackalopes to move.  “There’s been so much churn in the locker room, so many questions about what was going to happen.  Now we have some answers and a stable future, and that will allow us to just focus on hockey.”

Mills said that he plans to hold a rally in Milwaukee soon, at which he will unveil the team’s new name and logo.

And what happens to the Igloos?  Mills sold his share of the team to his co-owner, Leslie Mills.  She seems to be looking forward to sole ownership.  “Finally, I have total control!” Leslie Mills said.  “It’s all mine!  Hahahahaha!”

Jackalopes Player Says Team Should Move

The Dakota Jackalopes financial struggles have been an open secret around the SHL for several seasons now.  The team has parted with almost all of its high-salaried players, cutting their payroll to the lowest in the league.  Unsurprisingly, the team’s record has declined along with its payroll, and attendance has drooped as well, a vicious cycle for the league’s smallest market.

By and large, Dakota’s players have been quiet about the team’s off-ice troubles.  Last season, goalie Christien Adamsson attacked the organization as “cheap” in a postgame rant.  (Adamsson wound up signing with Hershey as a free agent in the offseason.) While some of Adamsson’s teammates acknowledged the truth of his gibes off the record, they haven’t publicly expressed any reservations about the team’s situation.

Joe Freelander

That changed this week, when LW “Jumbo Joe” Freelander – frustrated with the lack of progress on his contract negotiations – spoke bluntly about the Jackalopes’ financial limits.  Not only that, he went farther still, calling for the team to be sold and moved.

Freelander spoke to the media after Thursday’s 3-2 loss to Michigan.  The winger’s rookie deal expires at the end of next season, and he said that his agent has been trying to discuss an extension with GM Paul Mindegaard.  “And what he keeps hearing is, ‘Sure, great, we want to get this done, we’ll get back to you with an offer,’ and nothing happens.”  Freelander said that his agent tried proposing a figure to get things moving, only to receive the same polite but noncommittal response from Mindegaard.

“Eventually, I realized that last year they did the same thing to Matt,” said Freelander, referring to ex-teammate Matt Cherner.  The Jackalopes stated, publicly and privately, that they wanted to sign Cherner to an extension.  But they reportedly never put forth a firm offer, and they ultimately traded him to the Quebec Tigres at the deadline.  Cherner signed with the Boston Badgers in the offseason.

“And if that’s the game, they should just say so,” said Freelander.  “If the real story is that they can’t find enough change between the couch cushions to re-sign me and they’re going to let me go, then be honest.  At least then I know where I stand.  But let’s skip the song and dance.”

Freelander went on, “I mean, we all know that this is a tiny market, and the crowds are getting smaller and smaller.  We’ve got eyes.  But if you’re so broke that you can’t keep key players like Matt and me, then shouldn’t they be looking at moving this team somewhere else?  I know nobody wants to say that, and we’re all supposed to pretend it’s going to work out.  But at some point, someone needs to tell the truth.”

Mindegaard claimed that Freelander and his agent his misunderstood the situation.  “It’s true that Joe’s agent has contacted us about an extension, which I appreciate,” the Jackalopes GM said.  “I told him that we were still evaluating our plans, and that we’d get back to him once we had a clearer sense of things.  I’m sure Joe was disappointed by that, but it’s just the business.”

The GM argued, as he has in the past, that claims about the team’s financial straits were overblown.  “Has attendance been where we’d like it to be this year?  No it hasn’t,” said Mindegaard.  “We’re in the middle of a rebuild, and we knew that could happen.  But it’s irresponsible to claim that this market can’t support a team, or that the team needs to move.  I’m fully committed, and ownership is committed, to making it work here in Dakota for the long haul.”

Jackalopes coach Flim Dahlgren, who reportedly considered resigning in the offseason due to concern about the direction of the team’s rebuild, declined to comment on Freelander’s remarks.  “Joe is a grown man and is entitled to his opinion,” Dahlgren said.  “As for my opinion, I don’t have one.  Team finances are not my responsibility, which is fortunate for everyone.  I am focused on my coaching, and that’s how I’ll keep it.”