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.

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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.”

Interview of the Week: Roger Orion

This week’s interview is with Boston Badgers G Roger Orion.

SHL Digest: We’re here with someone who’s very familiar to longtime SHL fans, Roger Orion.  Roger, thanks for speaking with us.

Roger Orion

Roger Orion: Well, I’ve got plenty of time right now, since I’m on the DL.

SHLD: Yes, that’s sadly true.  But let’s talk about how you made your way to Boston.  You made two trips to the Finals with the Galaxy.  A lot of fans assumed you’d be there for your whole career.

RO: Hey, I used to think so too!

SHLD: But you went to free agency last offseason, and a number of teams wanted to sign you, including big contenders like Seattle and Hershey.  But you stunned the hockey world by signing with the Badgers.  What led you to make that decision?

RO: Honestly, [GM] Jody [Melchiorre] had a lot to do with it.  He was totally honest with me from the beginning.  He laid out his vision for what he’s building here, and I really liked what he said.

SHLD: When you say he was “honest,” what do you mean?

RO: Well, when I met with him, the first thing he sad was, “I have to ask: are you actually considering signing here, or are you just meeting with us to bid up your contract?  If you’re just here to drive up your price, I respect that, but let’s go grab a beer instead.  If you’re serious, then let’s talk about how you can help us build a great team.”  I told him I don’t meet with teams unless I’m interested.  He saw I was serious, and he respected it.

SHLD: What was the vision he sketched out?

RO: He told me, “If you’re interested in winning the Vandy right away, there are a lot better places to sign.  But if you want to help build an organization that can win lots of Vandys, this is your place.”  He told me about the kind of hard-working, team-focused, defense-oriented team he wanted to build.  He told me that he saw me as a cornerstone of the team, and that he was looking at the money and term to show it.  He moved Boston right up to the top of my list.

SHLD: Hershey and Seattle are both at the top of their divisions here at the All-Star break, and they’ve got a real shot at making the playoffs.  Meanwhile, the Badgers are down in the cellar.  Do you ever have any second thoughts about your decision?

RO: No way.  Why should I?  I signed on for the long haul, and this is what I expected.  I’m not some fading veteran at the end of my career, trying to chase that one last ring.  I consider myself in the middle of my career, and I’m thinking long-term.  I believe in what Jody and the organization are building.

SHLD: As you mentioned at the beginning, you’re on the DL right now.  Is it frustrating not to be out on the ice?

RO: Of course it is!  When you’re a player, you want to play.  But I’m following the medical team’s advice, not trying to rush back and do something that could screw me up longer-term.  Plus, it’s a good chance for Wags [Carson Wagner] and Schemmer [Jonas Schemko] to get some more ice time, and that’s a good thing.

SHLD: Throughout your career, you’ve been very involved with assisting wounded servicemen and -women.  How did you get involved in that?

RO: When I played in DC, we took trips to Walter Reed and met a lot of soldiers who were recuperating from major injuries and trauma.  And it just blew me away.  We hockey players like to think we’re tough.  But we’ve got nothing on these guys, people who are recovering from traumatic brain injuries or missing an arm or a leg.  They’ve got strength and courage like you wouldn’t believe.

SHLD: And you’ve stayed involved in that cause in your new city.

RO: Absolutely.  I have it in my contract that I get tickets to every home game to donate to wounded warriors.  And in March, we’re going to have a special night where we’re going to bring them out on the ice to honor them, and have them come to the clubhouse.  It’s gonna be great.

SHLD: Well, thanks for a thoughtful and interesting interview, Roger.  Best of luck with the rest of the season!

RO: Thanks.  I’m excited for the second half.

2019 SHL Week 7 Transactions

  • On Monday, the Boston Badgers placed G Roger Orion on the disabled list.  Orion suffered a lower-body injury during Sunday’s 4-1 win over Washington.  He is expected to be out at least through the All-Star break.  Orion, who signed a five-year free-agent deal with Boston in the offseason, has gone 7-10-2 with a 2.75 GAA and a .916 save percentage for the Badgers.  To replace Orion on the roster, the Badgers called up netminder Jonas Schemko from their minor-league affiliate in Hartford.  In the CHL this season, Schemko has gone 7-9-2 with a 2.43 GAA and a .909 save percentage.
  • On Wednesday, the Quebec Tigres activated D Richard McKinley from the disabled list, and placed D Ward Jones on the DL.  McKinley missed nearly a month with an upper-body injury.  His return is a major boost to the Tigres’ defensive corps; he recorded 8 points (4 goals, 4 assists) in 11 games prior to going on the DL.  Jones has registered a goal and 7 assists in 24 games so far on the season. To take Jones’ spot in the lineup, Quebec called up Serge Rimbaud from their CHL club in Maine. on Saturday The 18-year-old Rimbaud was the Tigres’ first-round draft pick this season, and he makes his SHL debut after recording 11 goals and 6 assists in 27 games with Maine.
  • The Kansas City Smoke continued their season-long blueline shuffle on Saturday, demoting Jon Rogers to their farm team in Omaha and promoting Scott Hexton back up to the big club.  The Smoke called the 23-year-old Rogers up back in Week 2; he appeared in 11 games for Kansas City and recorded a single goal and a -6 rating.  The 28-year-old Hexton was sent to Omaha three weeks ago; he lit up the CHL during his time there, recording 9 point (2 goals, 7 assists) and a +4 rating in 12 games.