As the New York Night skid toward a second straight disappointing season, rumors are flying that the situation in the locker room is deteriorating rapidly. “This is Dysfunction Junction, right here,” said one anonymous player.
The situation seems to have come to a head this week. Last week, New York star winger Rick “The Stick” Nelson openly called for the firing of coach Preston Rivers. This week, according to team sources, the two nearly came to blows after a game, after which Nelson mysteriously disappeared from the team, with no explanation given.
When Nelson blasted the Night and Rivers last week, he joined a growing chorus of current and former New York players lamenting the team’s dysfunction. D Tuomas Nurmi and RW Kenny Patterson have expressed similar sentiments in recent weeks. At the time, Rivers seemed to take Nelson’s comments in stride, saying that they reflected understandable frustration with a season gone wrong.
Off camera, though, the coach’s attitude was different. Nelson found his ice time decreasing in the games following his sound-off, similar to Nurmi earlier this year. When arriving at a hotel during a recent road trip, Rivers reportedly said, “I’d better go in last, so Nelson doesn’t have a chance to stab me in the back again.”
The situation boiled over after the Night’s 5-4 loss to Hamilton. According to team sources, Rivers started to address the team, then stopped. “Wait, hold everything,” said the coach. “Since I don’t know [expletive] about hockey, why am I trying to tell you anything? I should let Rick come up here and tell you all that you suck.” He then mockingly gestured for Nelson to take the floor.
In response, Nelson snapped, “Grow the [expletive] up. If you’ve got something to say to me, say it.”
Rivers shot back, “According to you, all I do is talk. How about I let my fists do the talking instead?”
Nelson sneered, “You want a piece of me? Let’s go.”
Rivers took a couple menacing steps toward his star, but the two were quickly separated. Nelson stormed out of the locker room, while Rivers retreated to his office.
After that fracas, Nelson did not appear on the Night’s bench for the next three games. He didn’t show up for morning skates or join the team on the road, either. Initially, teammates were mystified: Had Nelson been suspended, or was he refusing to report?
Rivers didn’t help matters, refusing to discuss Nelson’s absence with reporters or teammates. “It’s an internal matter, and we’re dealing with it internally,” was all the coach would say.
Finally, Nelson’s teammates were able to reach him via text, and he confirmed that he had jumped the team. He added that he had gone to GM Royce McCormick and issued an him-or-me ultimatum. McCormick is reportedly trying to broker a peace between the two, to no effect so far. It’s not clear whether Nelson intends to rejoin the team for the season’s last week, or whether Rivers would let him.
“I don’t see how they both come back next year,” said the anonymous player. “And given the feelings about Rivers in the clubhouse, I bet he’s gonna take the fall. Firing a coach is easy. Trading a star and getting fair value is hard.”
McCormick declined to comment on the fracas, saying only that “We’re going to evaluate the status of everybody after the season. Coaches, players, everybody. We’re obviously not where we expect to be.”