Jackalopes Dismiss GM Mindegaard, Coach Dahlgren

The Dakota Jackalopes are likely in for an offseason of change.  After the league assumed control of the team in midseason, they will have a new owner next year.  They will almost certainly be playing in a new city under a new name.  Many of the team’s players might be headed elsewhere.  It’s hard to know exactly what the Jackalopes look like when they take the ice in 2021.  But on Saturday, the organization took their first steps toward a fresh start, parting ways with GM Paul Mindegaard and coach Flim Dahlgren.  Both GM and coach were at the end of their contracts, and the organization put out a press release calling the departures a “mutual decison.”

Mindegaard, a South Dakota native, has been in charge of the Dakota franchise since the SHL’s beginning.  He won some plaudits in the early years for constructing a competitive team that, while not quite as strong as the reigning powers in Anchorage and Michigan, played entertaining hockey.  According to team sources, however, those years were marred by a power struggle between Mindegaard and then-coach Harold Engellund.  Mindegaard prevailed when Engellund was fired after the 2017 season.  In the long run, however, the winner may have been Engellund; the coach was hired by the Seattle Sailors (now the Portland Bluebacks), and is about to make his second straight postseason trip.

The Jackalopes, meanwhile, slowly disintegrated as then-owner Roger Scott grew tired of the team’s mounting losses and directed a reduction in payroll.  Mindegaard wound up presiding over a series of trades that sent virtually all of the team’s high-salaried players packing, and Dakota sank from a promising would-be contender to a rebuilding basket case.  According to team sources, the primary reasons that Mindegaard kept his job were his close relationship with Scott and his willingness to avoid speaking publicly about the team’s financial issues.

“It’s been an honor to be GM here for as long as I have,” Mindegaard said.  “I’m sorry that we were never able to bring a Vandy here, but this has been a great experience.”

Flim Dahlgren

Dahlgren became coach of the Jackalopes in 2018, succeeding Engellund.  In three seasons with the team, he compiled an 63-110-19 record.  In spite of Dakota’s undistinguished performance, Dahlgren earned praise for mentoring his young players, insulating the team from the off-ice distractions regarding financial woes, and for his philosophical musings in post-game press conferences.  He managed to keep the team competitive even after the craziness around this year’s trading deadline, when the Jackalopes attempted to trade stars Ryan Airston and Arkady Golynin and saw the league veto the deals.

At the end of last season, there was a wave of rumors that Dahlgren was considering resignation due to the team’s seemingly endless salary-slashing trades.  But both team and coach vehemently denied those rumors, and he stayed with the team.

“With all the craziness going on around the team and all the changes on the roster, things could have really gone south in the locker room,” said Airston.  “But that didn’t happen, and Coach Dahlgren really deserves the credit for that.”

It is considered likely that Dahlgren will be considered for most or all of the coaching openings this offseason.  Other teams that will be seeking new bench bosses include the Michigan Gray Wolves (after Ron Wright resigned in the middle of the season) and the New York Night (who fired Nick Foster last month).  The Washington Galaxy are reportedly considering whether to dismiss Peter James; for now, the team says that it is “in the evaluation process.”

At this time, the Jackalopes are the only team with an opening in the GM’s office.

Deadline Chaos: League Takes Control of Jackalopes After Vetoing Trades

Typically, at the trading deadline, the highlight is the big deals that have been made, as teams pick up the missing pieces for a playoff run.  This season in the SHL, however, the story was the deals that weren’t made, as the league took the unprecedented step of vetoing a pair of trades by the Dakota Jackalopes, leading to a chaotic series of events that ended with the league taking control of the franchise.

The Jackalopes’ financial problems have been an open secret around the league for several years.  They play in the smallest market in the league, and their attendance has dwindled considerably as the team’s record has declined; as a result, the team has traded away almost all of its high-salary players.  Rumors have periodically swirled that Dakota cannot make payroll or is on the verge of folding.  Jackalopes officials have consistently denied rumors false.

But at Wednesday’s trading deadline, Dakota struck a pair of deals moving their highest-salary players remaining.  One deal sent LW “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston, the team’s longtime star, to the Kansas City Smoke in exchange for LW Veikko Sikanen and a 1st-round draft pick.  The other sent RW Arkady Golynin to the Hershey Bliss in exchange for C Yegor Nestorov and a 1st-round pick.

Several teams, including the Jackalopes, have made salary-shedding trades in the past.  But this pair of deals raised a red flag with the league office.  Dakota’s total payroll is just $15.3 million – already the league’s lowest – and the combined salaries of Airston and Golynin are nearly half that total.  In addition, both deals reported involved millions in cash being sent to the Jackalopes; this kind of direct cash transfer has never happened before in the SHL.

“As a rule, I’m very reluctant to get involved made between consenting teams,” said SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell.  “But when a team cuts its payroll to the point that it they can’t ice a competitive squad, that’s a problem.  If a team essentially tells its fanbase that it’s not going to even try to compete, that’s a problem.”

The Jackalopes, as well as their trading partners, reacted to the vetoed deals with outrage.

“We don’t think the league has any business getting involved in our deals,” said Jackalopes GM Paul Mindegaard.  “We’ve made no secret of the fact that we’re in a rebuilding phase, and for the league to step in and prevent us from acquiring assets, well, that’s hurting our ability to compete in the long term.”

“From our perspective, [the veto] really wrecked our shot at completing a deadline deal,” said Bliss GM Scott Lawrence. “We had a deal that both sides agreed to, that gave our team the upgrade we needed.  Then suddenly, we find out the deal’s a no-go, and we don’t have time before the deadline to execute a Plan B.  So that really kneecapped us.”

“Acquiring Ryan would have been a game-changer for us,” said Smoke GM Garth Melvin.  “We were excited, our fans were excited, and we felt like we had the firepower to be competitive in the West.  But the league ripped that away from us, and it really feels unfair.”

The players involved weren’t too happy either.  “Honestly, I’ve got whiplash from the whole thing,” said Airston.  “I’ve played my whole career here, and I signed an extension this off-season because I wanted to stay.  Then with no warning, I’m gone.  And then I’m not.  And now I’m here, wondering if the team can afford to pay me for the rest of the season.”

Mindegaard and owner Roger Scott argued that the Jackalopes needed to make the deals for financial reasons.  They argued that without the payroll savings and the cash payments, they would not be able to make payroll at month’s end.  This led the league to take a closer look at the team’s financial situation, and by week’s end, they had taken control of the franchise from Scott.

“Obviously, this is not a situation we wanted to find ourselves in,” said Commissioner Mitchell.  “But it was clear after examining the books that the Dakota franchise was at a very real risk of folding in midseason, so we had to act.”

The commissioner said that the league would plan to sell the team to another owner after the season.  He added that the team would almost certainly be moved to another city, but that they will finish the season in Dakota.

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.”