Jackalopes Give Faraway Fan A Special Welcome

Marcelo Manzias is a Dakota Jackalopes fan.  That might not seem too strange, even though the Jackalopes’ fanbase is a little on the small side these days.  However, Marcelo isn’t just an ordinary fan.  The 14-year-old lives in Monterrey, Mexico.  Until this week, he’d never visited the Dakotas; in fact, he’d only been to the United States a couple of times before, to visit relatives in Texas.  Until this week, Marcelo had never seen a hockey game before, either.  He’d never even been inside an ice rink.

In short, Marcelo isn’t just an ordinary fan.  The story of how he managed to learn about – and fall in love with – a team from thousands of miles away playing an unfamiliar sport is remarkable.  And when the Dakota organization learned about it, they decided to give their most distant fan an experience he’ll never forget.

Like most kids in Monterrey, Marcelo grew up playing soccer and baseball.  He’d never even heard of hockey until three years ago, when he and his dad built a transistor radio from a kit.  When Marcelo began tuning his radio dial at night, he discovered that he could pull in signals from radio stations in faraway cities in the US and Mexico.  One night, he came across station KRJC out of Rapid City, which carried broadcasts of Jackalopes game.  Immediately, young Marcelo was entranced by the voice of play-by-play announcer Wayne Ballister.

“I did not know what was happening, but he made it sound very exciting and fun,” said Marcelo, describing Ballister’s broadcasts.  “I knew I must learn more.”

Marcelo went to the local library and checked out the one or two hockey books they had available.  Once he’d finished those, he used the library’s computers to learn what he could about the sport and the Jackalopes.  He continued to tune in the broadcasts at night; as he grew to understand the sport, he began keeping box scores by hand in his notebook.

“It all sounded so wonderful,” said Marcelo.  “The ice, the graceful skating, the exciting goals, the hard hits.  I dreamed about it all.”

Ryan Airston

After years of following the games, Marcelo finally wrote a letter to the Jackalopes, telling them who he was and how he came to root for the team from so far away.  He politely asked if they could send an autographed picture of his favorite player, LW “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston.

“I love him because he is small and fast, like me,” Marcelo explained.

When Jackalopes GM Paul Mindegaard read Marcelo’s letter, he was surprised and delighted.  “Most of us came to love hockey by playing it as kids, on the frozen ponds in the winter or whatever,” said Mindegaard.  “But here was a kid who’d never even seen a sheet of ice, and he’d fallen in love with the sport and with our team without ever seeing or playing it.  It was such a great story.”

Mindegaard decided that he wanted to give Marcelo more than just a signed picture.  He got in touch with Marcelo’s father, who confirmed that his son had somehow become a hockey nut from so far away.  And so the Jackalopes organization paid to fly Marcelo and his family up to Rapid City, put them up in a hotel, and gave them tickets to Thursday night’s game against the Michigan Gray Wolves.

When Marcelo arrived, Mindegaard gave him a personal tour of Black Hills Arena, taking him everywhere from the playing surface to the benches to the locker rooms to the team offices.  “The kid’s eyes were as big as saucers the whole time,” said the GM.  “It was like he couldn’t believe he was really here.”

Marcelo and his family had seats at center ice, where they could see the action up close.  Used to following along on the radio, Marcelo admitted it was a bit challenging to take it all in up close.  “When the players slammed into the boards, it was loud and a little scary,” he said.  “But I loved it.”

During the second period, Marcelo went up to the radio booth to meet Ballister, the man whose broadcasts had caused Marcelo to fall for the Jackalopes.  Ballister interviewed Marcelo on the air, and he gave a shout-out to his family and friends at home in Monterrey.  “I know some of them were listening, so that was cool,” Marcelo said.

Between the second and third periods, Marcelo got to ride on the Zamboni.  The PA announcer explained that he’d come all the way from Mexico for the game, and the fans cheered as he grinned and waved.  “I can’t believe I got to be on the ice, especially because I can’t skate,” Marcelo said.

Possibly inspired by the presence of their long-distance fan, the Jackalopes played one of their best games of the season.  Goalie Christien Adamsson made 37 saves, and Marcelo’s favorite Airston scored the game-winning goal in overtime to stun mighty Michigan by a 2-1 score.

After the game was over, Mindegaard took Marcelo down to the home clubhouse, where he got to meet his hero.  “At first, he was so shocked and nervous that he wouldn’t even go over,” Mindegaard said.  “But I said I’d told Ryan about him, and that Ryan wanted to meet him.  Eventually, he went over.  Airston greeted him in Spanish (“I learned it in high school a little,” Airston said), then talked to him a while in English.

“I think it’s cool that our sport and our team reaches all the way to Mexico,” said Airston.  “Marcelo’s story is really amazing, and it just goes to show what a great sport hockey is.”

He gave Marcelo his game-worn jersey, which he signed, as well as a puck from the game and a stick signed by the whole team.  Mindegaard also gave Marcelo pictures of all the players.

“I never dreamed I would be able to see a game for myself in person,” Marcelo said.  “All of this… it was more than my dreams.”

Marcelo’s father, Gustavo, expressed his gratitude to the team.  “I still cannot believe this,” Gustavo said.  “If they had sent my son the picture, it would have been enough.  For them to care so much, to do this for a kid who lives so far away, who discovered hockey for himself… they are a wonderful team, wonderful.”

In a tough year for the Jackalopes, Marcelo and his story have been a much-needed ray of sunshine.  “For once, it’s great to talk about something other than payroll and who we’re trading next,” Mindegaard said.  “This is why I love my job, because I get to do something like this.”

Continue reading “Jackalopes Give Faraway Fan A Special Welcome”

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2019 SHL Western All-Star Roster

The roster for the Western Division in the 2019 SHL All-Star Game, as announced by coach Sam Castor, was as follows:

First Line

LW: Jerry Koons, AnchorageKoons receives his third All-Star selection, and was voted into the starting lineup for the second time, winning by about 10,000 votes over Seattle’s Rod Argent.  Last season, Koons won All-Star MVP honors after scoring a pair of goals in the West’s 9-2 rout.  The Igloos have been red-hot lately, and Koons has been a key driver of their surge.  He’s in the league’s top 10 in points (38) and assists (24).

D: Fritz Kronstein, Michigan.  There are apparently three certainties in life: death, taxes, and the election of the Wolves’ top defensive pairing to the All-Star Game.  Kronstein and teammate Max Madison will the West’s starting defensive pair for the third straight season.  For the second straight year, Kronstein received the most votes of any defenseman in the West.  The 26-year-old continues to be among the SHL’s best two-way blueliners; he’s among the league’s top 10 in assists with 26, and has a solid +11 rating to boot.  In addition, he retains his reputation as a heavy hitter and ferocious fighter when challenged.

C: Jake Frost, Anchorage.  Like Kronstein and Madison, Frost has been a fixture in the starting lineup at every All-Star Game.  He cruised to victory once again this year, getting over 25,000 more votes than his nearest competitor.  As the Igloos have gotten stronger over the last month or so, Frost has as well.  The tall, cool center has always been among the league’s top scorers, and his 21 goals this season place him fourth in the league.  “I thought Frosty might be getting a little tired of never getting the All-Star break off,” quipped Castor, “but he seems to like it just fine.”

D: “Mad Max” Madison, Michigan.  Last season, Madison nearly missed the All-Star Game with a lower-back injury, but recovered just in time to play in the game in front of his home crowd.  This season, Madison is in excellent health (although he missed a week early in the season with a nagging lower-body issue) and is ready to make his third straight All-Star start.  The son of an amateur boxer, Madison is renowned as one of the league’s meanest and most dangerous fighters.  But he’s not just a goon; he also handles the puck responsibly.  He’s recorded 16 points (4 goals, 12 assists) so far in the 2019 season.

RW: Nicklas Ericsson, Anchorage.  For the first time, all three members of the Igloos’ top line will be skating together in the All-Star Game.  The sweet-skating Swede makes his third All-Star appearance, and makes it to the starting lineup for the second time, beating Seattle’s Vince Mango by less than 800 votes.  Ericsson’s claim to fame is his ability to pass and set up scores by his linemates, and this season is no exception; his 36 assists make him #2 in the SHL in that category.  “I’m looking forward to these guys working their All-Star magic together,” said Castor.

 

Second Line

LW: Les Collins, Anchorage.  In a move that raised a few eyebrows around the league, Castor chose his own second-line player, Collins, instead of other top left wingers like Argent or Saskatchewan’s Troy Chamberlain.  It’s the first All-Star bid for Collins, and Castor pointed out that he is having a terrific contract year, putting up 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists) and a +14 rating (among the SHL’s top ten).  He even spent some time on Anchorage’s top line, skating beside Frost and Ericsson.  “I think Les would a top-line guy for a lot of teams,” said Castor.  “He’s done it for us.  I’d put him against the best wingers out there.”

D: Wyatt Barnes, SaskatchewanBarnes has become an All-Star regular; this is his third appearance.  The Shockers are in the thick of the playoff chase this season, and Barnes and teammate Chris Oflyng have combined to form perhaps the SHL’s most dynamic defensive pairing.  Barnes is tied for the team lead in assists with 20, and has added six goals into the bargain.  While Oflyng is an even more potent offensive force, Barnes is a lockdown defender, frustrating opponents’ zone entries and blocking shooting lanes again and again.  It’s no surprise that Barnes and Oflyng are tied for the team lead in plus-minus at +8.

C: Napoleon Beasley, SeattleEarlier in his career, Beasley was trapped on a weak Saskatchewan club, and constantly faced whispers that he only played because of his father Myron, who coached the team.  After signing with the Sailors in the offseason, Beasley is demonstrating that he is a thoroughly deserving star in his own right.  It’s a breakout season for Seattle, which would qualify for its first-ever playoff berth if the season ended today, and also for Beasley, who has put up 13 goals and 19 assists on the season so far.  It all adds up to Beasley’s first trip to the All-Star Game.

D: Sebastian Pomfret, Anchorage.  Castor certainly wasn’t shy about selecting his own players to the team; he selected three Igloos to go along with the three already in the starting lineup.  “Hey, we are the defending division champs,” he noted.  The 24-year-old Pomfret signed a 4-year, $3.6 million extension in the offseason, and he’s living up to it so far.  He’s second among Anchorage blueliners with 20 points (8 goals, 12 assists), and his +13 rating is tied for the best among Igloos defensemen.

RW: Vince Mango, Seattle.  The high-scoring winger and reality television star makes his second All-Star appearance after winning a starting spot in 2018.  Mango has long been knocked for his poor defense and his love of flashy on-ice celebrations, but with the Sailors having their best year ever, their star is finally earning the grudging respect of old-time fans.  He still contributes primarily with his offense, as he’s in the SHL’s top ten for points (37) and goals (19).  But his assist total is up, and he’s more dialed in on defense than in years past.  He remains as colorful as ever, though; he promised that he’s working on a “special one-of-a-kind goal celebration” for the All-Star contest.

 

Third Line

LW: “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston, DakotaAirston gets an All-Star nod for the second time; he was in the West’s starting lineup in 2017.  This year, he is the sole Jackalopes player to receive the honor, which is fitting given the dismal season they’ve had so far.  In spite of missing nearly three weeks with an upper-body injury, Airston has still managed to out up 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists), which places him one off the team lead.  As Dakota looks to cut payroll amid rumors of serious financial trouble, Airston is practically the only team star who’s not being shopped.

D: Bastien Chouinard, Kansas CityThe 20-year-old rookie blueliner made the cut as one of the Smoke’s two All-Star representatives.  Although Boston’s Alain Beauchesne is the consensus Rookie of the Year favorite, Chouinard may give him a run for his money.  The young Quebecois D-man is putting up surprising offensive numbers (5 goals, 19 assists) to back up a give-no-quarter defensive style that has him tied for second in the NHL in penalty minutes, with 60.  “Defensemen are a pretty rough bunch, but that guy’s legitimately scary,” said Smoke coach Randy Bergner of Chouinard.  “If I had to go down a dark alley at midnight, I’d want him next to me.”

C: Elliott Rafferty, Saskatchewan.  Many league insiders thought Rafferty’s teammate Lars Karlsson would get this spot, but Castor instead tapped Rafferty to make his All-Star debut.  Karlsson has the big contract and the superior pedigree, but Rafferty’s got the better numbers this season.  He leads the Shockers with 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists), and he’s one of only three forwards on Saskatchewan with a positive plus-minus (+3).  Rafferty’s breakout performance earned him Player of the Week honors a couple weeks before the break; that might have influenced Castor’s thinking.

D: Woody Fairwood, Seattle.  Amid a crowded field of strong two-way defensemen, Castor made a somewhat unexpected pick in tapping the 23-year-old Fairwood as another first-time All-Star.  Prior to this season, Fairwood was perhaps best known around the league for the time he sat on the opposing goalie and flung the puck into the net by hand.  But this year, he’s earning notice for his high caliber of play.  In the first half, he produced 26 points (8 goals, 18 assists).  Even more impressive, his +19 rating is second-best in the league.  “Good things happen when Woody’s on the ice,” said Sailors coach Harold Engellund.  “That’s all there is to it.”

RW: Zachary Merula, Kansas City.  Yet another All-Star newcomer, the 23-year-old Merula joins teammate Chouinard on the bottom line.  Merula had an impressive rookie season, and he looks to be on track to eclipse that performance in his sophomore year.  He is KC’s second highest point-scorer with 28 (13 goals, 15 assists).  And he doesn’t shy away from rough play, either, as his 45 penalty minutes will attest.

 

Goalies

Dirk “The Bear” Lindquist, Michigan.  Who else?  The lusciously-bearded Lundquist regularly tops the list of SHL goaltenders, both in terms of statistics and fan support.  Even though Michigan has slipped a bit after a dominant start, Lundquist remains the king of the Western crease, having almost twice as many votes as his nearest competitor.  As usual, he leads the league in wins (with 16) and in save percentage (.942).  His 1.64 goals-against average is second only to his rarely-used backup, Art Cowan.

Ty Worthington, Anchorage.  In each of the past two years, Worthington has been Lundquist’s backup on the Western squad.  Castor decided to keep the tradition going for 2019, despite considerable support for Seattle’s Rocky Goldmire, who is having a career season.  Unlike many of his Igloos teammates, who started slow and then get hot, Worthington has been strong throughout the first half.  He is tied with Hershey’s Brandon Colt for second-most goaltender wins, with 14.  His 2.38 GAA placed his among the league’s top five.

2019 SHL Week 5 Transactions

  • On Monday, the Quebec Tigres returned RW Luc LePettier to their minor-league affiliate in Maine.  The Tigres called up LePettier two weeks ago, at a time when LW Stellan Fisker was injured and Quebec needed forward depth.  Fisker returned shortly after, and LePettier appeared in only one game with Quebec, failing to record a point.  After suffering a couple injuries of their own, Maine is now in need of some forward help; additionally, Quebec wanted to avoid stunting LePettier’s development due to a lack of playing time.  The Tigres are currently one shy of the roster limit due to D Richard McKinley‘s injury; for now, they will leave the slot unfilled.
  • On Wednesday, the Dakota Jackalopes traded G Dennis Wampler and D Terry “T-Rex” Hendricks to the Kansas City Smoke in exchange for G Brooks Copeland and D Geoff Moultrie.  Read more about the trade here.  In order to make room for Wampler and Hendricks on their roster, the Smoke demoted G Bill Bates and D Lowell Sharkey to their CHL farm club in Omaha.  The 20-year-old Bates went 1-1-0 with a 3.50 GAA and an .872 save percentage with Kansas City.  The 19-year-old Sharkey, who was called up last week, appeared in only 2 games without recording a point.
  • On Friday, the Jackalopes reinstated LW “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston from the injured list.  Airston missed nearly three weeks with an upper-body injury.  Airston’s return can’t come soon enough for the struggling Jackalopes; they have lost every game they played without him, and averaged a pitiful 1.8 goals per game in his absence.  To make room for Airston on the roster, Dakota reassigned LW Van Dyke Browning to their affiliate in Idaho.  Browning appeared in 3 games with the Jackalopes, recording an assist and a -1 rating.
  • On Saturday, the Michigan Gray Wolves placed C Hunter Bailes on the 10-game DL.  Bailes suffered a lower-body injury blocking a shot in the third period of the Wolves’ 1-1 tie against Quebec.  It’s the second injury of the year for the fragile center, who missed 3 games last week with an upper-body ailment.  To replace Bailes on the roster, Michigan called up C Phoenix Cage from their farm team in Cleveland.  Cage has 2 goals and 11 assists in the CHL this season.

2019 SHL Week 3 Transactions

  • On Monday, the Dakota Jackalopes placed star LW “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston on the 10-game DL.  Airston was knocked out with an upper-body injury on Sunday against Saskatchewan.  Airston’s injury was a major blow to Dakota’s feeble offense, as he is one of their leading scorers.  To take his place, the Jackalopes promoted LW Van Dyke Browning from their minor-league affiliate in Idaho.  Browning, 20, was off to a strong start in Idaho (2 goals and 4 assists in 9 games); he made his SHL debut on Thursday against Kansas City
  • On Friday, the Boston Badgers placed D Patrick Banks on the 10-game DL.  Banks suffered an upper-body injury during Thursday’s game against Quebec.  It’s the second injury-marred season in a row for Banks, who missed most of 2018’s second half after suffering a broken leg and torn ACL.  To fill Banks’ roster spot, Boston called up D Kermit Kaufman from their minor-league affiliate in Hartford.  The 21-year-old Kaufman, who appeared in 21 games for the Badgers last season, recorded 3 assists in 11 games with Hartford.
  • Also on Friday, the Quebec Tigres placed D Richard McKinley on the DL.  McKinley left Thursday’s contest against Boston with an upper-body injury; he is expected to be out of action for up to 4 weeks.  McKinley was one of Quebec’s top blueliners, posting 8 points (4 goals, 4 assists) and a +7 rating.  The Tigres promoted RW Luc LePettier from their CHL affiliate in Maine to fill the open roster slot.  LePettier had recorded 4 goals and 5 assists on the season with the Moose.
  • On the good-news front for Quebec, they activated LW Stellan Fisker on Saturday.  Fisker went on the DL with a lower-body injury during the season’s opening week.  Fisker was an essential piece of last year’s Eastern Division-winning Tigres squad, as he scored 23 goals and anchored the second line.
  • On Saturday, the Kansas City Smoke demoted G Brooks Copeland to their affiliate in Omaha, and called up G Bill Bates from Omaha.  The Smoke’s 4.30 GAA and .875 save percentage are worst in the league, both by significant margins.  Copeland is off to a dismal start between the pipes, going 0-5-0 with a 5.00 GAA and an .843 save percentage.  He lost the starting netminder job this to rookie Jim Fleetwood.  With Omaha this season, Bates recorded a 4-2-1 record with a 2.51 GAA and a .907 save percentage.

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”

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.”

Jackalopes Sack Engellund

In a move that is both surprising and seemingly inevitable, the Dakota Jackalopes announced that they would not renew the contract of coach Harold Engellund.  Over three seasons with Dakota, Engellund compiled a respectable 84-85-11 record, but his teams failed to live up to lofty expectations and the coach never seemed to earn the trust of the front office.

“We’ve really wanted to bring the Vandy home for the fans here,” said Jackalopes GM Paul Mindegaard.  “We haven’t been able to accomplish that, and we’ve decided that it was the right time to make a change.”

Harold Engellund

Engellund’s job with Dakota was in jeopardy last season, when the team got off to a sub-.500 start and the coach was rumored to be clashing with the front office over whether Jesse Clarkson or Christien Adamsson should get the bulk of the playing time in net.  The players rallied to Engellund’s defense and the team went on a winning streak to save the coach’s job, but the team dealt Clarkson at the deadline.  They wound up finishing with a 32-22-6 record, well behind both Michigan and Anchorage.

This season, the small-market Jackalopes spent a considerable amount of money upgrading their roster with the goal of being a true contender.  However, the results haven’t been there.  When Dakota struggled out of the gate again, Engellund was once again rumored to be on the edge of dismissal.  They were never able to climb into contention, and they wound up finishing 22-35-3, tied with Saskatchewan for third place in the West.  Given the gap between expectations and reality, Engellund wound up paying the price with his job.

“I can’t say I’m surprised by this,” said Engellund.  “I’ve spent the last year and a half answering questions about when I’m going to get fired.  This organization’s made it clear that they expect to win a championship.  When that’s where the bar is and you don’t even break 50 points, it’s hard to argue that you deserve to stick around.   It’s a shame, but it is what it is.  That’s show business.”

Engellund remained popular with the players all the way to the end, and the clubhouse was reportedly very unhappy when they heard the news.  “I don’t think there’s a single guy in here who thought that Coach Engellund deserved to be let go,” said LW “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston.  “If you can’t play for him, you can’t play for anybody.  I feel responsible for what happened.  I feel like I let him down.  I feel like we all did.”

Although Engellund was dismissed for failing to contend for a championship, it remains to see whether the Jackalopes will be contending anytime soon.  Rumors are flying that Dakota won’t be able to maintain their payroll next season and will be forced to tear the team down and rebuild.  They dealt fan favorite Vonnie McLearen at the deadline, reportedly because they couldn’t afford to sign him to an extension.  Mindegaard declined to comment on the team’s personnel plan for the offseason, but if a rebuilding effort is planned, it would make sense to bring in a new face to oversee it.

Mindegaard said that assistant coach Manfred Obronski remained under contract and would be considered to replace Engellund; if Obronski is not chosen, the new coach will decide whether or not to retain him.