You can’t blame the Washington Galaxy if they’re feeling a sense of déjà vu. They end the SHL’s second season in a very similar position to the way they ended the first. Just like last season, the Galaxy won the Eastern division. Just like last season, they headed into the Finals as a heavy underdog against a powerful Western champion. Just like last season, they played a strong series and made things much closer than anyone expected. But just like last season, they came up on the short end of a close series.
“I used to like the movie Groundhog Day, before I started living it,” said C Eddie Costello.
This year, a last-minute goal in Game 6 propelled the Michigan Gray Wolves to the championship and sent Washington packing. Galaxy coach Rodney Reagle praised his team for their valiant fight, especially given the rough beginning to the series.
“A lot of teams would have rolled over and given up after those games,” said Reagle, referring to Games 1 and 2, which Washington lost by a combined 6-0 score. “It would be easy to say, ‘Well, it’s not our year, they’re way better than us.’ But our guys didn’t do that. They gave it their all, and it was nothing but one-goal games after that. That was the most inspirational thing I’ve seen since the end of the Muppet Movie.”
But after a second straight narrow loss, the Galaxy find themselves facing key questions headed into the offseason. Do their two division titles and competitive showings in the Finals indicate a team that is good enough as is, and should return intact? Or do those two straight Finals losses indicate a team that needs to get better if they’re going to have a shot at beating out the Western heavyweights?
“I wouldn’t go crazy talking about changes,” said Reagle. “I mean, you flip a coin twice and it comes up tails both times, do you go get a new coin, or do you keep flipping? This is a strong team, and I wouldn’t expect us to blow anything up.”
Star RW Jefferson McNeely said that the experience of losing in the Finals will only make Washington better. “When you lose like this, it stings,” said McNeely. “But it’s the kind of pain that inspires you to work harder, so you won’t have to feel it again next time. And playing against teams like Michigan and Anchorage, it gives you a real measuring stick about where you are as a team. I think that will help us next season.”
But it’s not just the Western powers that the Galaxy have to worry about. They barely beat the Hershey Bliss to win the East this season, and the Bliss are likely to look aggressively at upgrades for next year. The New York Night fired coach Preston Rivers and are eagerly planning to be more competitive next season. Even youth-oriented Hamilton and Quebec are likely to come back stronger next season.
“We can’t take it for granted that we’re going back to the Finals next year,” said Costello. “It’ll be a dogfight even within the division. But that should help make us stronger.”
Overall, it sounds like the Galaxy are largely content to let it ride for next season. But Reagle raised an important caveat. “Now, it’s not like [GM] Ace [Adams] is going to be hibernating until next season,” said the coach. “And if he sees a way to make us better, he’s not going to be dumb enough to say no. So could there be a change, even a big one? Like Paul Harvey says, you’ll have to come back next year to get the rest of the story.”