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.”
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.