The Washington Galaxy thought they had things well in hand. After a blip early in the season when a couple unlikely contenders got off to hot starts, the Galaxy quickly established order. Just like last season, Washington maintained a steady lead in the mid-to-high single digits as none of the other teams seemed poised to contend. But the defending champs have hit a skid at the worst possible time, and with two weeks left now find themselves looking up at the Hershey Bliss.
“I don’t think any of expected to wind up here,” said Galaxy LW Casey Thurman. “It’s crunch time for us now.”
Washington’s perplexing swan dive started at the trade deadline. The Galaxy raised some eyebrows by deciding to stand pat at the deadline despite obvious weaknesses on the third line, where LW Henry Van Alpin has struggled to stay in the lineup and C Barry Sullivan has underperformed. GM Garnet “Ace” Adams defended his team’s inaction, claiming that the asking price for upgrades was too high. “We’re not going to mortgage our future just to get a bit better,” said Adams. “Besides, we got this far with the team we’ve got. I trust our guys.”
Since then, though, Adams’ guys have lost 8 of 11 games. Washington’s formerly high-flying offense, which had averaged 3.6 goals a game, has produced only 2.5 goals on average during the skid. “It hasn’t been clicking for us lately for whatever reason,” said Thurman. “Our passes seem sloppier, our shots are pushing a little wide, whatever the reason.”
Meanwhile, the then-second-place Bliss made a big move at the deadline, landing an experienced veteran goaltender in Jesse Clarkson from Dakota, shoring up their biggest weakness. Clarkson didn’t come cheap – the Bliss had to surrender prospect Buzz Carson and their first-round pick – but Hershey GM Scott Lawrence didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger. “We’re in it to win it,” Lawrence said. “Getting the Vandy is what we’re about.”
The Bliss finally took advantage of the move this week, beginning with a Saturday tussle with the Galaxy in DC. In that game, Washington blew a 3-1 lead and suffered a surprising 5-3 defeat. Hershey’s Love Line swamped Galaxy goalie Roger Orion, with LW Lance Sweet potting a pair of goals and C Justin Valentine adding another. That win kicked off a 5-0-0 week for the Bliss, while the Galaxy stumbled to a 1-4-0 mark. Washington officially slid into second place on Friday, after dropping a 5-4 decision in New York while Hershey rallied for a 3-2 win over Hamilton.
“It’s really kind of a kick in the gut,” said Thurman. “We’ve done so well all year, and now the finish line is in sight and we’re staggering.”
Adams continues to stand by his deadline decision. “I’m confident in the team we have,” said the Galaxy GM. “We’re in a rough patch right now, but I’m confident we’ll get right and finish strong the last couple of weeks.”
Meanwhile, in Hershey, the Bliss are feeling optimistic about their chances. “We’re peaking at the right time,” said Valentine. “We’re playing strong on both ends of the ice, and we’re not scared of [the Galaxy] now. If they want to repeat, they’re going to have to take it away from us.”