“My off days are sacred to me. I’m supposed to sacrifice that for some charity? My charity is me.”
- New York Night RW Rick “The Stick” Nelson, on his refusal to attend a team event Thursday to raise funds for a local youth hockey team
“My off days are sacred to me. I’m supposed to sacrifice that for some charity? My charity is me.”
Suffice it to say, it’s been a tough year for the New York Night and their fans. The team is languishing in the basement of the East, attendance has generally been lackluster, their star player got suspended after getting beat up in a bar fight, and their most notable promotion turned into a fiasco when a disgruntled employee stole the team’s shipment of fidget spinners. “I knew it was going to a rocky year,” said Night coach Nick Foster, “but I didn’t think it was going to be this rocky.”
In the season’s penultimate week, though, the Night pulled off a successful and distinctive promotion: Top Hat Night. That’s right, during Saturday night’s game against Quebec at Neon Sky Center, the Night gave away top hats to their fans.
According to GM Royce McCormick, he got the inspiration for the promotion after seeing a wave of fedora giveaways, especially among baseball teams. “So my first thought was to do a fedora night, maybe tie it in with a Sinatra theme or do a Rat Pack thing,” said McCormick. “But the more I thought about it, I realized that the fedora thing’s been done. Why copy what everyone else is doing if you can be original?”
So McCormick thought about how he could do a more original giveaway. “That’s when I thought of top hats,” the GM said. “I mean, this is the Big Apple! Why not do something with a little extra class?”
Definitely an unorthodox concept. And unlike with fedoras, most people don’t wear top hats on an everyday basis. But McCormick’s brainstorm proved popular: the game was a sellout, and the fans wore their hats with pride. “When I was a kid, I always wanted a hat like this,” said 43-year-old Douglas Grossi of Queens. “I always wanted to be a magician, and now I can dress like one!”
Ten lucky fans received more than just a hat. Between the second and third periods, the PA announcer asked fans to check the lining of their hats. Some had a false bottom; beneath it was a Night T-shirt and a gift certificate for a free tuxedo rental from Mens Wearhouse. “My original plan was to hide rabbits inside the hats,” said McCormick, “but somebody pointed out that they’d probably die in there with no food or water. Instead, we gave a few lucky fans the chance to complete the look so they can go out on the town in style.”
Foster proved to be a fan of the giveaway; he did his postgame press conference wearing the top hat with a big cigar in his mouth. “It’s not too often in this life that you have the chance to be the Monopoly man,” Foster told reporters. “So when you get that kind of opportunity, you have to grab it.”
Unfortunately, the Night couldn’t deliver a win to go with the hats, falling to the Tigres 5-2. But the fans didn’t seem to care. “I was just glad nobody got a hat trick,” said Grossi. “No way was I tossing this sweet lid on the ice.”
It’s been a rough season for New York Night RW Rick “The Stick” Nelson. Typically one of the league’s top scorer, Nelson’s performance is well off of his usual pace; he has scored only 12 goals on the season. His indifference to defense has caused clashes with coach Nick Foster, who has benched him on more than one occasion. Now Nelson’s season has taken another turn for the worse, as he was involved in an altercation at a New York bar that landed him a three-game suspension.
After Saturday night’s 6-2 loss to Anchorage at Neon Sky Center, Nelson went to a Brooklyn hockey bar called Slapshots. Shortly after arriving, Nelson approached a woman at the bar, asking her if she would “let the best hockey player in the world buy [her] a drink.” The woman responded, “You don’t look like Sidney Crosby.” Nelson said, “No, no, I play in New York.” She asked him if he played for the Rangers. He told her no; she then asked if he played for the Islanders. When he said no again, she asked if he was a Devil.
He said, “No, no, no, I’m Rick the Stick. I play for the Night.” She said that she’d never heard of Nelson or his team. He then offered to leave her a ticket to the next afternoon’s game so she could “watch me score.” He added: “If you play your cards right, you might just get to see me score tonight too.”
At that point, the woman’s boyfriend, 31-year-old Jerry Shipka of Bay Ridge, returned from the bathroom and was less than pleased to encounter Nelson. Shipka asked Nelson, “What the hell’s going on here?” The Night star said, “Take a hike, buddy; the lady’s with me.” Shipka responded, “Wrong, [expletive], she’s with me.” Shipka threatened to beat Nelson up if he didn’t leave his girlfriend alone. Nelson said, “You don’t know who you’re dealing with. You want to step outside and settle this?” Shipka readily agreed, and the two stepped out into the alley. It took about 5 minutes for Shipka, a 6-foot-5 HVAC technician, to beat Nelson senseless.
When the Night star showed up for the next day’s game against Saskatchewan, he was sporting two black eyes as well as numerous bruises and cuts. His hands were too sore to hold a stick, and he was generally too injured to skate. When Foster asked him what had happened, Nelson initially claimed he’d gotten in a motorcycle accident. Foster called him a “damn liar” and asked for the real explanation. Nelson then stated that he’d been assaulted by a street gang. Upon further questioning, Nelson finally broke down and admitted the truth. At that point, the coach suspended his winger for the next three games.
“I can’t have my guys getting involved in scenes like that,” Foster later explained. “We’re supposed to be professionals here, and we’ve got a job to do. If you can’t do your job because you went out and tried to hit on some dude’s girlfriend and he beats the crap out of you, then you’re no good to me or the team. I’m all for players going out and having fun, but I’m not okay with them putting themselves in dangerous situations and getting hurt.” He then paused and added with a wry smile, “I will say that it’s the first time I’ve ever heard of Ricky being involved in a fight that he didn’t run away from. So that’s kind of impressive.”
Nelson apologized to the team and vowed to avoid future scrapes of this nature. “Turns out even I can’t bat a thousand with the ladies,” the winger said. “It’s a fair suspension, and it’s probably going to take me that long to heal anyway.”
The SHL selected New York Night D Tuomas Nurmi as its Player of the Week. The Finnish-born blueliner was on fire this week, putting up 10 points (2 goals, 8 assists) on the week. Nurmi’s big-scoring weeks nearly doubled his season point total (from 12 to 22) and earned him a promotion back to the Night’s top defensive pairing.
Nurmi scored at least a point in every New York game in the week. His most impressive performance came on Wednesday, when he scored a goal and added two assists in the Night’s 6-5 overtime loss to Dakota. On Tuesday, Nurmi had a pair of assists to help New York to a stunning 7-4 thrashing of Michigan.
“Tuomas is an offensive-minded defenseman, but he doesn’t neglect the other end,” said Night coach Nick Foster. “He’s a tough, diligent, capable player and he has a terrific motor. He’s really shown me something.”
New York Night coach Nick Foster has made no secret of his plans to remake his roster in order to build a more balanced and competitive team. He’s already taken several steps in that direction, shaking up his lines and calling up several players from the minors. The Night took another step toward rebuilding on Monday, sending RW Daniel Bellanger to the Seattle Sailors in exchange for F Randy O’Connor and a 2nd-round draft pick.
“I’m not afraid of shaking things up for the sake of getting better,” Foster told reporters. “This deal is an example of that.”
Bellanger has been in the coach’s crosshairs since the first week of the season. After New York dropped its first four games of the season, Foster called an unscheduled practice on an off-day. Bellanger, along with D Teddy Morrison, failed to show for the practice. The coach responded by benching both players.
Both were ultimately reinstated to the lineup, but as the Night continued to struggle, Foster called for reinforcements from the team’s minor-league affiliate in Utah. He called up winger Sylvester Catarino, defenseman Rocky Winkle, and goalie Sherman Carter, and started giving them all regular playing time. Bellanger wound up being a healthy scratch in a number of games, appearing in only 14 games this season with the Night before the trade, recording 4 goals and 2 assists.
Bellanger has a reputation for being talented but temperamental. He came to New York from Saskatchewan in 2015 after he called his teammates “garbage” and said he was tired of “carrying [the] team.” Last season, Bellanger left the Night and went home with two games left in the season, an apparent show of displeasure with coach Preston Rivers, who was later fired.
Foster refrained from attacking Bellanger on his way out the door. “This trade is not a reflection on Daniel as a person or a player,” Foster said. “He’s a talented hockey player and I wish him well. But we’re headed in a different direction as a team.”
Bellanger took the trade rather personally. “I feel that I was never given a chance to succeed,” the winger told reporters. “I hope to play New York many times in the future and beat them.” He has gotten off to a hot start in Seattle, putting up a goal and an assist in 3 games since the trade. Additionally, the Sailors pummeled the Night 9-3 in a game played two days after the trade, although Bellanger scored no points.
The trade reunites O’Connor with his old team. The 25-year-old forward played for the Night in 2015 before being tabbed by Seattle in the expansion draft. He had been playing on the Sailors’ third line, posting 10 points (2 goals and 8 assists) in 24 games.
“Back in the Big Apple, baby!” crowed O’Connor. “I love this deal.”
O’Connor is not expected to start with New York; Bellanger’s playing time is expeted to go to Catarino instead. For the Night, the draft pick is the most valuable asset in the deal. In previous seasons, GM Royce McCormick has freely traded away draft picks for established veterans in a futile attempt to become a contender. But Foster has stressed the importance of a winning culture, and he would rather bring in young players that he can select and mold in his image than try to remake the games of the team’s self-centered, shoot-first veterans.
This deal raises an interesting question, however. With the trade deadline still a couple of weeks away, this is almost certainly not the last deal New York will make. Foster’s goal of culture change will require much more than trading away a single disgruntled player. On the other hand, Night owner Marvin Kingman has reportedly been resistant to a wholesale rebuilding of the roster. And New York has been playing better lately, and are creeping onto the fringes of contention in the East.
If the Night start to climb into the race before the deadline, will Kingman be pushing for win-now deals instead of the culture-change deals Foster prefers? Will Foster be willing to sacrifice a shot at winning this season to further his long-term vision? One thing is for certain: the Night will be a team to watch in the weeks ahead.
Finding ways to draw fans is essential for any professional sports team. But the challenge is more acute for some teams than others. For the New York Night, fighting for attention in a market with three NHL teams and without a title (or even a pennant chase) to their name, the fight for fans and attention is a real struggle. As such, the team’s marketing department is always looking for creative promotions that will draw crowds to the Neon Sky Center.
This season, the Night came up with a giveaway sure to be a hit with children and adults alike: fidget spinners. The stress-relieving toy has become a great fad this year; spinners are ubiquitous in schools and an increasingly common desk accessory for bored office workers. The team decided to give away spinners in black and purple (the Night’s colors) with the team logo on the center pad.
Unsurprisingly, the promotion was a smash; tickets for Wednesday’s game against Saskatchewan, when the spinners were to be given away, sold out in a matter of hours. “Given the lead times involved with promotions like this,” said New York GM Royce McCormick, “it’s hard to hit these trends when they’re really hot. But I think we’ve really done it this time.”
There was a bit of grumbling at the door when, rather than handing out the spinners, the team handed out coupons that could be redeemed for the toys on the way out the door. According to the team, this was done for safety reasons: since fidget spinners are relatively small and easily flingable, they could become a hazard if flung onto the ice en masse to protest a bad call or a poor showing by the Night. Most fans accepted the coupons without complaint, but some who were more interested in getting the collectible than watching the game complained vociferously.
Grumbling turned to outright anger at game’s end, when the fans came to redeem their coupons only to be told that the spinners were gone. Apparently, at some point either before or during the 7-4 Night victory, the spinners were stolen from their storage area within the arena. The Night believe that the culprit was a disgruntled, recently terminated employee, working in concert with some friends, possibly including current team employees.
Needless to say, the fans reacted with outrage and disbelief. “This is ridiculous,” said 37-year-old Steve Schneckel of Nyack, surrounded by his three crying children. “I brought these kids all the way into town to watch a bad game, all because they wanted the damn spinners. And the team can’t even manage to keep them from getting stolen during the game? I can’t believe it.” Other fans turned to social media to voice their displeasure, flooding the Night’s Facebook page and Twitter feed with complaints. One fan even posted a review of the team on Yelp just to protest; within 24 hours, over 500 other fans had posted their own negative reviews.
Some fans were suspicious that the whole thing was a stunt, that the team never had the fidget spinners and had fabricated the promotion to draw crowds. “So a ‘professional’ team in an arena full of cameras and security people cant keep 1000s of spinners from getting ‘stolen’…. sounds like a scam to me!!!” said one Yelper.
McCormick was quick to deny rumors that the promotion was a hoax. “We’re really upset about what happened,” the GM said, “and this absolutely was not a hoax or a scam of any kind. Why would we want to cheat our own fans?”
The stolen spinners were still at large as of press time. Team officials are confident that they will be returned promptly. As a backup plan, the Night are working with the manufacturer to make another run of the spinners. The team asked that fans hold on to their coupons and game tickets; once the toys are available, the team will issue the spinners to any fans who present their coupon or ticket at the box office. By way of apology, the team will also provide free tickets to a future Night game.
It’s unknown whether this will placate angry fans. “I had a bad enough time at this game,” said one fan on Twitter. “Why would I want to go back?”
“We are one of the most elite organizations in this league. Unfortunately, most people don’t recognize that because of our record.”