Badgers’ Thanksgiving Dinner Ends in Free-for-All Food Fight

Like the SHL’s other 11 teams, the Boston Badgers opened training camp this week.  Thursday was Thanksgiving Day in America, and many of the players were spending the day apart from their families.  In order to ease the sting for them, the Badgers held a team-wide dinner for the players and staff at Shawmut Arena.

“We thought it was a nice way to show our appreciation for how hard they work, and to get ready for the season ahead,” said GM Jody Melchiorre.

Little did Melchiorre know that the dinner would ultimately degenerate into a food fight, as the players blew off steam by flinging Thanksgiving staples at one another.

The team began the morning with a scrimmage, their first time on the ice at Shawmut since the end of last season.  The scrimmage was intended to be no-contact, but the players ignored those instructions, gleefully throwing checks and body-slamming each other to the ice.  Ds Jurgen Braun and Brody McCallan even traded punches briefly.

“The practices the last couple of days have been pretty rough, so I think there was some pent-up energy there,” said McCallan.

After the players showered and dressed, they gathered in the arena’s club level for a sumptuous Thanksgiving feast prepared by the team’s catering staff.  The spread included turkey, ham, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, and much more.

At first, the players and staff tucked into their plates with vigor.  But then the players began chirping at each other about the scrimmage, and voices eventually grew louder.  (It should be noted that beer was one of the beverage options.)  Eventually, the disagreements turned physical.

According to sources, RW Rory Socarra was the first one to send the food flying, flinging a spoonful of mashed potatoes in the face of RW Jorma Seppa.  Socarra denied that he started things, claiming that Seppa had chucked a roll at him.  Regardless, it served as the starting gun for what one player described as “a scene straight out of Animal House,” as food and liquid quickly filled the air.

By the time the dust and gravy had settled, the players and the suite were caked in food.  Team sources say that it took two days so completely clean the walls and tables of food.

The story probably would have remained inside the locker room, were it not for the fact that several players videotaped the melee and posted it on social media.

“Obviously, this isn’t what I had in mind when we decided to do this,” said Melchiorre.  “But I probably shouldn’t have been surprised.  This is a fun-loving and pugnacious bunch, which is usually a good thing.  But I’d prefer if we directed that aggression at our opponents instead.”

New coach Kyle Barrow, meanwhile, enjoyed himself thoroughly.  “Best Thanksgiving ever!” he quipped.  “That first week back at practice is always tough for guys, and this was a good way to let those feelings out.  Nobody got hurt and everybody had fun, so that’s a win in my book.”

Barrow had only one regret about the incident.  “I got hit with cranberry sauce on my new blazer, and I don’t think that’s going to come out,” he said.  “Next time we have a team dinner, I’m bringing a poncho.”

For his part, LW Lix Darnholm didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.  “I’m from Sweden, and we don’t have Thanksgiving,” Darnholm explained.  “I thought maybe this is how you celebrate in America.  Everyone get together to throw food at your family.”

Badgers Hire Igloos Assistant Barrow as Coach

The Boston Badgers have never finished out of the Eastern Division cellar, but they have grand ambitions for the 2020 season.  After spending a lot of money on free agents – led by G Roger Orion and LW Pascal Royal – last season and planning to pursue the market’s top names again this year, the Badgers intend to contend for the playoffs.  With that goal in mind, Boston hired the most sought-after assistant, the Anchorage IgloosKyle Barrow, to be their new head coach.

“We looked hard to find the right guy,” said Badgers GM Jody Melchiorre.  “And the more we talked to Kyle, the more we knew he was the right guy.”

Kyle Barrow

The 42-year-old Barrow definitely has the championship experience that the Badgers want.  Working alongside Sam Castor on the Igloos bench, Barrow has been to four SHL Finals and won two.  Although Anchorage is best known for its high-powered and fast-paced offense, he traditionally focused on the team’s defense, which has traditionally been very good.  During his introductory press conference, the coach expressed his desire to make Boston strong on both ends of the ice, using the Igloos as an example.

“What’s made the Igloos such a strong team over the years is that we can play any style of hockey, so there’s no one way to beat us,” Barrow told reporters.  “This team has been built around defense and a grinding mentality, but there’s plenty of offensive talent here – Lix [Darnholm], Alain [Beauchesne], Pascal – and there’s no reason we can’t become a two-way threat.”

Barrow has long been talked about as a head-coaching candidate, but until this point, he had a reputation for turning down opportunities.  He had withdrawn himself from consideration in previous coaching searches in Dakota, Washington, and Saskatchewan.  This led to speculation that he was being groomed as Castor’s successor in Anchorage.

So why did he choose to pursue this job?  “There’s so much to learn from Sam; he’s one of the best in the business,” said Barrow.  “I wanted to soak up as much wisdom as I could.  But after this past season, we talked about my future, and he agreed that I was ready, and it was time for me to take the leap.”

Barrow replaces Cam Prince, the Badgers’ inaugural coach, who was fired after two seasons at the helm.  In addition to the Badgers’ poor results on the ice, Prince seemed overwhelmed as he oversaw a locker-room culture that deteriorated badly over the course of last season, culminating in a fight between two of the team’s defensemen.

Barrow believes that winning is the best cure for the team’s chemistry problems, but he also stressed the need to instill a culture of professionalism. “When you’re on my team, your first focus needs to be on winning and improving your game,” he said.  “We’re all adults here, but first and foremost, if you’re not here to play hard and win, you’re out.  It’s not about being a taskmaster or running day-long practices, it’s about making the basic commitment to win.  I’m confident that our guys will get on board.”

Can Barrow’s winning experience be the missing ingredient for a team that finished 33 games out of a playoff spot last season?  That remains to be seen, but Melchiorre remains confident.  “I think we’re going to shock a lot of people out there,” the GM said.  “mark my words: this team is getting ready to take off.”

Badgers Fire Coach Prince After 2 Seasons

In a move that was widely anticipated around the league, the Boston Badgers fired coach Cam Prince after two seasons on the job.  After the Badgers spent a significant amount of money adding big-name free agents this season, the front office was apparently disappointed by the extremely modest improvement in the team’s fortunes this season.  Perhaps worse, the locker room broke down into feuding cliques, and Prince showed few signs of effectiveness as either a uniter or a disciplinarian.

“Cam will always have an important role in the story of this organization, as the first coach we ever had,” said GM Jody Melchiorre.  “But we’ve been having some tough discussions here over the last couple of weeks, and we’ve made the difficult decision to go in another direction.”

Cam Prince

Prince’s sophomore season got off to an awkward start, as Prince (who used to be an assistant for the New York Night) was quoted mocking several of the Night’s star players, as well as the high expectations of the ownership and front office.  Prince’s quotes (which he later claimed were meant to be off the record) earned the Badgers a 7-3 drubbing the next time the teams faced off, and earned the coach himself a season’s worth of mockery from New York fans.

That controversy aside, the first month of Boston’s season went better than expected, as the team remained within shouting distance of the .500 mark.  After that, though, the Badgers collapsed, quickly falling out of contention and into the division basement, where they have remained ever since.  And as the team floundered, a gulf opened up between the team’s veterans and its younger players.  The veterans felt that the young players were lazy and more interested in partying than playing hard; the youngsters felt that the veterans were bitter and jealous, and lacked the speed to keep up in the modern sport.

LW Cary Estabrook, the first player ever signed by the Badgers, was symbolic of the divisions within the team.  The organization hoped the Rhode Island native could become a hometown hero; instead, his career dissolved in a haze of booze and parties.  After clashing repeatedly with Prince and team veterans, Estabrook was shipped away to Hamilton in midseason.

Prince’s inability to rein in Estabrook and some of the team’s other party animals soured his standing with the veterans.  “Prince always seemed overwhelmed by the job,” said one anonymous veteran player.  “He’d stand there on the bench, looking like a kid dressed in his dad’s suit, but when it came time to discipline guys or bring the team in line, he couldn’t do it.  And after a while, it seemed like he stopped trying.”

Last week’s locker-room brawl between defensemen Bjorn Tollefson and Graham Bellinger dramatized just how bad team morale and chemistry had gotten.  “Obviously, Bjorn shouldn’t have punched a teammate,” said the same anonymous player, “but he came from Michigan, where the locker room is a tight ship.  When he saw guys running wild and not focusing on the game, in his mind, he felt like he had to do something.  And he felt like Price wasn’t doing anything, so he had to take matters into his own hands.”

Prince was not present at the press conference announcing his firing, and reporters have been unable to reach him for comment.  Sources close to Prince say that he was stunned and devastated by the firing, and that he assumed he would have at least one more season to turn things around.

It’s not clear who Prince’s replacement will be.  Melchiorre said that assistant coach Mel Lonigan would be considered for the job, although team sources consider it unlikely that he would be hired.  Longtime Washington coach Rodney Reagle is available, and it’s expected that he will be interviewed.  Other possible candidates include Quebec assistant Sylvain Berard, Hamilton assistant Jack Thornberry and minor-league coach Butch Slazenger.

Badgers’ Tollefson, Bellinger Square Off in Locker Room Bout

For the Boston Badgers, it’s been a frustrating season.  The Badgers spent a considerable amount of money in free agency, acquiring a passel of veterans in an effort to jump-start their growth from last year’s expansion beginnings.  In the first quarter of the season, it appeared that their investments had paid off, as the team got off to a respectable start close to the .500 mark.  After that point, though, Boston’s inexperience and lack of offensive firepower caught up with it.  The team sank to the basement and stayed there; they’re on track to finish with a record only slightly better than last year.

As the Badgers’ record has sagged, so has locker-room morale.  Sources close to the team describe a tense situation riven with factions, particularly between the older and younger players on the team.  Coach Cam Prince has reportedly struggled to patch the divides on the team.  And this week, the tension boiled over into a locker-room fracas that reportedly included actual fisticuffs.

Graham Bellinger

The alleged donnybrook took place after Sunday’s 6-1 loss to the Hamilton Pistols.  While the loss couldn’t be pinned on any one person, D Graham Bellinger had a particularly rough game, committing a couple of costly defensive-zone turnovers that led almost directly to Hamilton goals.  In the quiet postgame locker-room, Bellinger was getting dressed and talking with a couple teammates about what nightclub to go later in the evening.

Bellinger’s breezy talk irritated D Bjorn Tollefson, once of the free-agent veteran that Boston signed in the offseason.  Tollefson is a veteran of Ron Wright’s Michigan teams, and is known for his stern and businesslike demeanor.  Tollefson walked over to Bellinger and barked, “Maybe instead of going to the club, you should go to the rink and practice the outlet pass.”

Bellinger’s head snapped up, and he replied, “What the [heck] are you talking about?”

Bjorn Tollefson

Tollefson said, “You should get your head out of your [butt].  You party all the time, you cannot play defense, and you are a killer to the team.”

Bellinger stood up and snapped back, “Maybe you should quit riding my [butt] and mind your own business for a change.  You’re a washed-up old [expletive].  All you do is complain, and I’m sick of your [crap].”

Tollefson shouted, “[Screw] you.  Must I make you listen with my fists?”

Bellinger replied, “Go on, skin that smokewagon and see what happens, you fat [expletive]!”

Tollefson then lunged at Bellinger, and the two grappled and traded punches.  After a minute or so, their teammates were able to separate them.  Prince came out of his office, saw what was going on, then went back in his office and shut the door.  The locker room remained closed to reporters for a half-hour after the scuffle, and neither Tollefson nor Bellinger was around by the time the press entered.

Both players, and Bellinger in particular, looked a bit banged up during the next day’s morning skate.  Bellinger played in the next game.  Tollefson sat out, in what was believed to be a team suspension.

The Badgers were tight-lipped about the incident.  “What happens in the locker room, I don’t talk about that,” said Tollefson.  “It is only inside the family.”

“It’s a long season, and stuff happens sometimes,” Bellinger said.  “It’s over.”

Cam Prince

“A lot of people think they know what happened in our room, but they don’t,” said Prince.  “There’s a lot of bogus stories I’m hearing about this so-called ‘brawl.’  It’s ridiculous, is what it is.  These are professional athletes.  Tempers run high sometimes, but that’s it.  Sorry, folks, nothing to see here.”

Boston’s season is almost over, so it seems likely that there will be few long-term ramifications from this incident.  If anyone does pay for this, however, it’s likely to be Prince.  If the Badgers front office decide that the coach is unable to improve the team’s problematic chemistry, they might decide a new bunch boss in order.

Unsurprisingly, Prince declined to discuss whether he expects to be fired.  “I’m not even going to dignify that with a response,” the coach said in response to a question about his job status.  “Shame on you for asking.”

2019 SHL Week 9 Transactions

  • On the Saturday of the All-Star Break, the Boston Badgers traded LW Cary Estabrook to the Hamilton Pistols for F Norris “Beaver” Young.  Read more about the trade here.
  • Prior to the beginning of play this week, the Dakota Jackalopes demoted D Victor Addison to their CHL affiliate in Idaho and called up D Rodney Black from Idaho to replace him.  Addison was a lightly-used reserve in Dakota this season; he appeared in only 7 games, recording no points and a -4 rating.  Recently, he had been passed on the depth chart by Geoff Moultrie.  Black, meanwhile, was one of the CHL’s top blueliners, putting up 29 points (19 goals, 10 assists) in the first half and earning a berth in the All-Star Game.
  • Also prior to the start of play, the Kansas City Smoke demoted C Edz Zalmanis and RW Andrew “Lucky” Fortuno to their CHL affiliate in Omaha, while calling up C Owen Griffin and RW Adriaen van der Veen from Omaha.  Kansas City’s offense was lackluster in the first half; they averaged only 24.3 shots per game, second-worst in the league, and they are dead last in plus-minus at -30.  The 23-year-old Zalmanis, who signed a 5-year, $3.5 million free agent contract in the offseason, put up only 4 assists and a -9 rating in 23 games.  Fortuno did a bit better, with 7 points (4 goals, 3 assists) and a -6 plus-minus in 24 games.  The 21-year-old van der Veen was a CHL All-Star and one of leading scorers, with 39 points (16 goals, 23 assists).  Griffin, 22, was leading the CHL in plus-minus at +24; he notched 30 points (5 goals, 25 assists) in the first half.
  • On Wednesday, the Jackalopes placed Black on the 10-game disabled list.  Black got off to a strong start with Dakota after being called up, with a goal and an assist in 2 games, but he exited in the third period of Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to Kansas City with an upper-body injury that’s expected to keep him out for 2 to 3 weeks.  Since the Jackalopes had 8 defensemen on their roster already, they chose not to call anyone up at this time.
  • On Friday, the Badgers activated G Roger Orion from the disabled list, after he’d missed three and a half weeks with a lower-body injury.  With Orion activated, Boston returned Jonas Schemko to their minor-league affiliate in Hartford.  Schemko looked good in his brief stint with the Badgers, going 1-1-1 with a 2.27 GAA and a .924 save percentage.
  • On Saturday, the Washington Galaxy placed LW Charlie Brooks on the disabled list.  Brooks suffered a lower-body injury in Saturday’s 6-0 rout of Boston.  To replace Brooks on the roster, the Galaxy promoted LW Alan Youngman from their farm team in Baltimore.  Youngman is one of the CHL’s top scorers, notching 44 points (20 goals, 24 assists) so far on the season.

Badgers Deal First Player Estabrook to Hamilton

When the Boston Badgers made LW Cary Estabrook their first-ever player signing, it seemed like a movie script come to life.  Estabrook was a native of Rhode Island and played college hockey at the University of Massachusetts.  In college, he caught the eye of Jody Melchiorre, then a scout for the Anchorage Igloos.  Estabrook suffered a major knee injury as a senior and the Igloos passed on him.  But Melchiorre never forgot what he saw, and when he signed on as GM of the expansion Badgers, his first move was to sign Estabrook to a contract.  The young winger dreamed of starring in the same area where he’d grown up.

Reality, though, doesn’t always unfold like a movie.  Estabrook’s tenure in Boston was a miserable experience for both him and the team.  He struggled with his conditioning and off-ice habits, clashed with coach Cam Prince, and failed to produce.  Finally, after a season and a half, the Badgers finally pulled the plug, trading the 24-year-old to the Hamilton Pistols in exchange for F Norris “Beaver” Young.

“This one stings for me, because I think Cary’s a special young man,” said Melchiorre.  “But clearly, things haven’t worked out the way either of us would have wanted.  I think a fresh start is the best thing.”

Cary Estabrook

During his rookie season in 2018, Estabrook found that the lingering after-effects of his college injury robbed him of crucial speed, and his performance wasn’t up to par.  He reportedly took to drinking and partying excessively, which further impacted his game.

This caused Estabrook to run afoul of Prince, a battle that came to a head when Estabrook overslept and missed a team meeting.  Shortly thereafter, the Badgers demoted Estabrook to their minor-league affiliate in Hartford.  He’d played 28 games with the Badgers, failing to record a point and putting up a -23 rating.

Prince and the Badgers gave Estabrook another shot this year; he broke camp as the third-line left winger.  But his on-ice and off-ice struggles continued, as he rotated in and out of the lineup.  In 21 games this season, Estabrook had a goal to go with a -12 rating, worst on the team.

“I’m really disappointed with the way everything turned out here,” Estabrook told reporters.  “I feel like I let everyone down.  I know I have no one but myself to blame.  But I have to pick myself up and move on to the next thing,”

The 24-year-old Young was drafted by the Pistols in 2016.  He spent two seasons on their bottom line, totaling 31 points (15 goals, 16 assists).  After spending the 2018 season with their farm club in Oshawa, he returned to the big club this season.  He split time on the third line with RW Michael Jennings.  In 16 games this season, Young had 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists) and a +2 rating.

“Younger was a solid contributor for us, and we will miss him,” said Pistols GM Marcel LaClaire.  “But we are excited about Cary.  We think there’s a lot of untapped potential there, and we think he can be a real asset in the right situation.  We believe that our organization and our coaching staff will help him thrive.”

For Hamilton, which has lagged in the playoff chase in spite of strong underlying numbers, Estabrook represents a low-stakes gamble that could pay dividends down the stretch.  For Estabrook, Hamilton represents a chance to start over.  He may not have lived his dream of starring with the local team, but he’s still young and has a chance at a solid SHL career… if he can avoid repeating the mistakes that doomed him in Boston.

“If I screw this up, I know I might not get another chance,” said Estabrook.  “So I’m going to make sure I don’t screw this up.”