When the Saskatchewan Shockers first took the ice, they were the joke of the SHL. They finished with the league’s worst record by far in their first season, and were best known for a promotional stunt in which they started a sumo wrestler in goal. Their record improved in subsequent seasons, but their reputation was still marred by player hijinks and promotions gone wrong.
This season, the organization has made significant strides to become more professional. They revamped their color scheme, dumping seafoam in favor of electric blue on their uniforms. They signed a big-name free agent, LW Vonnie McLearen. And they declared their intention to compete for a playoff spot. “It’s time for us to turn the corner and become a contender,” said GM Cooper Matthews before the season. “No more excuses.”
This week, Matthews backed up his words with action. With the Shockers mired in mediocrity at the midpoint of the season and on track for virtually the same record as last season, the Shockers announced on Wednesday that they’d parted ways with Myron Beasley, the only coach the team has ever had.
The Shockers got off to a solid start early, posting an above-.500 record and remaining in the playoff mix in a wide-open Western division. But the team hit the skids shortly thereafter, going 4-10-1 over its next 15 games. Reportedly, it was Saskatchewan’s winless week before the All-Star break, which included a scoreless tie against expansion Kansas City, that convinced the front office to dismiss Beasley.
“As an organization, we’ve been clear that we expect to take the next step forward,” said Matthews. “That hasn’t happened, so it’s time to make a change.”
The Shockers have been hampered by a sputtering offense. The team was averaging a mere 2.27 goals per game at the time of Beasley’s firing; only the expansion Boston Badgers had scored fewer.
Beasley leaves Saskatchewan with a record of 67-138-5 over three and a half seasons. The coach’s supporters note that he was a key force of stability during the franchise’s chaotic early days, and that most bosses would not have had the patience and tolerance to deal with some of the team’s more outlandish antics over the years. “A lot of coaches would have quit if they’d had to go through what Myron went through,” said one source close to the coach. “But he felt like he’d made a commitment, and he wanted to see it through.”
Beasley’s critics, on the other hand, argued that he lacks the discipline and vigor to lead a contending club. After the Shockers’ dismal 11-48-1 showing in 2015, they improved by 10 wins the following season. Since then, though, the team’s progress has stalled. With owner Heinz Doofenshmirtz eager to put a Vandy in his trophy case, Saskatchewan’s lack of improvement was no longer acceptable.
“This was a tough decision for all of us,” said Matthews. “Coach Beasley is a wonderful person, and we’ve always considered him a member of the Shockers family. But we felt like we needed a new voice and a new face in charge in order to help us reach our goals as an organization.”
Matthews indicated that assistant coach Caleb Ponder would take over the head up on an interim basis. Ponder has been Beasley’s assistant since the team’s beginning. Team sources indicated that barring a surprise development, Ponder would remain in charge of the team for the rest of the season, and the team will perform a full search for a replacement during the offseason.
For his part, Beasley says that he has no hard feelings about the decision. “I’ve enjoyed my time here, but in the end it’s all about results,” he told reporters. “That’s how the business goes. Whoever takes over next, they’re getting a team with a heck of a lot of talent. And no matter what, we’ll always have Dr. Coconut.”
Adding a layer of awkwardness to the situation, Beasley’s son Napoleon remains the Shockers’ top line center. The younger Beasley declined to comment on his father’s firing. Matthews said that the team had no plans to get rid of Napoleon: “He remains a key piece of our roster going forward.”