Galaxy Parts Ways with Reagle

In a move that surprised many around the league, the Washington Galaxy this week announced that they had fired coach Rodney Reagle.  In making the move, the Galaxy part ways with the league’s most colorful coach and a man who led the team to a 129-105-10 record and two Finals appearances – but also a coach whose comic act was reportedly wearing thin with an aging roster that seemed to be heading in the wrong direction.

Rodney Reagle

There was a good deal of discontent in the capital city after the Galaxy finished with their first-ever sub-.500 record, going 31-32-1.  Washington was widely expected to take a step back this season after losing several key players in free agency, including LW Walt Camernitz, RW Sindri Pentti, and backup netminder Ron Mason.  Throughout the first half of the season, the Galaxy surprised with a strong performance, contending for a playoff spot for much of the season.  However, the team struggled to get production beyond their top line and collapsed after the trade deadline, going 7-19-1 over the last six weeks of the season – a stretch that sealed Reagle’s fate.

“Rodney Reagle is a good man and a good coach, and a guy I’m proud to call my friend,” said Galaxy GM Ace Adams.  “We’ve achieved a lot together, and I thank him for all the good times.  But we’ve made the difficult decision to go in a new direction.”

Reagle had a well-earned reputation as the clown prince of the SHL; he was famous around the league for dressing up in costumes on the bench and for giving post-game interviews laced with movie quotes and strange accents.  The coach’s public goofiness made him a controversial figure around the league, and even reportedly within the Galaxy front office.  As long as the team was winning, Reagle was generally viewed as charmingly eccentric.  Once the team started to slide, however, it was easy to paint the coach as insufficiently serious.

“I’ve always known that my sense of humor was a high-wire act,” said Reagle.  “As long as you win, you can be totally coo-coo bananas and everything thinks it’s a sign of a quirky genius.  When you stop winning, suddenly you’re not funny anymore.  I thought two trips to the Finals would have bought me a little more rope, but turns out there was just enough to hang me with.”

There are conflicting reports about whether the coach had lost the clubhouse.  Some sources said that many players found Reagle’s antics silly and embarrassing.  Others claimed that the players were actually quite loyal to Reagle, and that the decision was driven by owner Perry Dodge, who reportedly felt the coach was too loose with the team.

Several players spoke out in support of Reagle after word of the firing broke.  “Coach Reagle is a great guy to play for,” said C Eddie Costello.  “He treats you like a grown man and he keeps things light and fun.  I feel bad that we let him down.”

Adams declined to comment on who Reagle’s replacement might be, other than to confirm that assistant coach Herman Chambers would be “strongly considered.”  According to team sources, other possible candidates include Michigan assistant Morris Thompson, Anchorage assistant Kyle Barrow, and minor-league coach Peter James.

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Bliss Run Wild At Sheetz as Season Ends

The Hershey Bliss saw their disappointing season wind to an end this week.  The players have long since resigned themselves to the fact that they won’t have a chance to defend their title.  As a result, they weren’t consumed by sadness or anger as the regular season drew to a close; rather, they were possessed by a feeling that C Justin Valentine described as “a really deep, deep weirdness.”  That weirdness boiled over on Saturday in a most unusual rest stop.

All of Hershey’s games this week were on the road, so the team spent the week flying from one Eastern city to another, including two separate trips across the border and back.  “We were all pretty punchy this week,” admitted Bliss C Spencer Kirkpatrick.  On Thursday night, they flew back in from Quebec.  Rather than heading to Washington, site of Saturday’s finale, the Bliss went home to Hershey to participate in an autograph session scheduled at a local mall on Friday.

Then on Saturday morning, the team boarded a bus down to DC.  “Somehow, it felt like our season in a nutshell,” said Valentine.  “Instead of getting ready for the playoffs, here we are rolling through the countryside in a bus, on our way to a meaningless game against our supposed rivals, who aren’t making the playoffs either.  I think something kind of snapped for us on that ride.”

When the bus got to Thurmont, Maryland, the team insisted on stopping.  The bus pulled into the Sheetz just off of US Route 15, and the team descended on the convenience store.  “We get a lot of buses through here,” said Sheetz clerk Alvin Clark, “but something about the way these guys came in told me they were going to be trouble.”

As the Bliss wandered the aisles, they began behaving (in Valentine’s words) like “a bunch of four-year-olds on a sugar high.”  Valentine and his fellow “Love Line” mates Lance Sweet and Christopher Hart grabbed sodas out of the case, snuck up on their teammates, and poured the sodas over their heads.  The team’s defensemen grabbed a 24-pack of beer and engaged in a drinking contest.  Kirkpatrick and RW Noah Daniels monopolized the Made-to-Order food screens, trying to top each other with increasingly elaborate custom orders.

LW Trevor Green cleaned out the store’s entire supply of jerky, reasoning that “maybe we’ll get in a crash, and this will buy us a day or two before we have to resort to cannibalism.”  Meanwhile, RW Sven Danielsen (known as the team’s “den mother”) bought one of every medicine on the shelf, saying that “you can’t be too careful on the road.”

Goalie Brandon Colt took things to another level when he grabbed a couple of donuts out of the pastry case and used them to play Frisbee with his backup, Milo Stafford.  The pair knocked over display racks left and right as they dove for donuts.

Chip Barber

After about 15 minutes of this madness, coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber (wondering where his team had gone) came into the store.  As he took in the chaos around him, the coach’s eyes bulged and the veins on his forehead throbbed.  “What the hell is going on here?!” Barber shouted, as his players froze.  After a couple of them mumbled attempts at an explanation, the coach held help his hand.  “Never mind, I don’t want to know.  You’ve got two minutes to clean this up and get out of here.”

The players sighed and obeyed the coach’s orders.  Just as the bus was about to pull away, however, Stafford came running out of the store, hollering after his colleagues.  As he got on the bus, Stafford explained that he’d found something he had to buy.  He reached into his pocket and pulled out an inflatable water toy in the shape of a rubber duck.  “I love rubber ducks!” Stafford said by way of explanation.

“I don’t know if I’m a coach or a zookeeper,” sighed Barber.  “Those guys were basically looting that poor store.  And they didn’t even grab any chocolate bars!”

Somehow, in spite of all the craziness of the morning, Hershey managed to win the game that night, defeating rival Washington 4-3 in overtime.  For the Bliss, it was a day to remember at the end of a season to forget.  “It was a cathartic experience, and I’m glad we did it,” said Sweet.  “Even though they’ll probably never let us in that Sheetz again.”

Jackalopes Coach Ponders Winning and Losing at Season’s End

Flim Dahlgren

On Saturday, the Dakota Jackalopes defeated Saskatchewan 4-2 to finish out their season.  That evening, coach Flim Dahlgren held a state-of-the-season press conference, at which he got a bit philosophical about the nature of winning and losing, particularly in the case of a rebuilding club like his.

Dahlgren’s musings began when a reporter asked him, “How would you rate your team’s success this season?”

The coach paused and reflected on the question before responding.  “That’s a very interesting question, isn’t it?” Dahlgren began.  “The point of this game is to win, and we didn’t win that many times, so perhaps the season wasn’t too successful.  On the other hand, we’re supposed to be rebuilding, and the more we lose, the better our draft pick.  So perhaps then we were successful.”

Dahlgren cocked his head and continued.  “My players tried very hard all season to win.  Perhaps I should have been telling them to lose instead?  But still, we finished with the third-worst record, which is bad, but also good. It’s quite curious.

“Winning is better than losing, unless you lose too much, and then it’s better to lose.  But you’re not supposed to say that, are you?  They set up a system that rewards losing, at least if you’re already losing.  But then you’re still supposed to try to win, or at least you’re supposed to act like you’re trying to win.  If I say it’s a good season because we lost enough to get a good draft pick, am I violating the code?”

Dahlgren then paused and smiled at the reporter who asked the question.  “I imagine you’re sorry you asked that now, aren’t you?  You were just looking for a simple answer to put in your story.  Instead, you got a philosophical treatise on the meaning of winning.  I’m sorry, the season has put me through the looking glass.  Remind me again what your question was.”

The reporter repeated his question, and Dahlgren replied, “I’d rate the season a 5.  On a scale of what to what, I’m not sure.”

After the room filled with laughter, Dahlgren smiled and said, “I don’t really think in terms of a rating.  This season was all about discovery.  I took the job knowing that the team was rebuilding, and that my best players might be traded away at any moment.  My job was to identify and grow young players who might help us compete later on, and I think I’ve done that.”

Dahlgren cited RW Arkady Golynin, LW “Jumbo Joe” Freelander, RW Asher Ravenbloom, and Ds Sergei Trefilov and Alex Angelos as examples of such promising young players.  “So we have a core that we can build around,” the coach concluded.  “And we have a number of draft picks and some promising players in the minors, so there is hope.  That is success to me, for this season.  I don’t know how to put a rating on it, but that’s my answer.”

He then paused and smiled before adding, “Okay, philosophy class is dismissed.”

Shockers Dismiss Interim Coach Ponder

In a move that was widely anticipated, the Saskatchewan Shockers announced that they would not be bringing back interim coach Caleb Ponder, opening up what could be a wide-ranging search for a new bench boss for a young and rising team.

Caleb Ponder

Ponder took over the Shockers at the All-Star Break when the team fired Myron Beasley, who was the only head coach the team had ever had.  Beasley guided Saskatchewan to a 12-17-1 record before his dismissal.  Ponder, who had been Beasley’s assistant, compiled a similar record to his predecessor, posting a 15-16-3 mark in the second half.

“We appreciate everything that Caleb has done for the Shockers organization in his four years with us, and especially during his half-season as interim head coach,” said Shockers GM Cooper Matthews.  “He’s a good coach and a fine human being.  But we felt like it was time for a fresh start.”

Sources close to the team said that there was no chance that Ponder was going to be considered for the long-term head job, even at the time of his hiring.  “Unless he somehow won the Vandy, Caleb wasn’t coming back,” said one source.  The perception in Saskatchewan’s front office was that Beasley’s cheerful, quippy approach wasn’t working with a young team that both owner Heinz Doofenshmirtz and GM Matthews expect to be a serious contender, and that Ponder wasn’t enough of a change from Beasley.

“Everybody liked Myron,” said one senior front office member, speaking under condition of anonymity.  “He’s a really nice guy, and his press conferences were fun to watch.  But the perception was that he wasn’t driving the team that hard, and we’re at a stage where we need someone with a firmer hand to get to the next level.”

Ponder took the news with grace.  “I’ve really enjoyed my time here,” the coach told reporters.  “I think we have a talented group of guys here, and the sky’s the limit.  I wish them nothing but the best.”

The Shockers are expected to cast a wide net when looking for their next coach.  The names being considered by the team include minor-league coach Jeffrey “Swampy” Marsh, Michigan assistant Morris Thompson, Anchorage assistant Kyle Barrow, and longtime bench boss Harvey Williams.

Saskatchewan’s front office is reportedly looking for a coach who takes a firm hand with discipline and has a track record with building winning teams.  These caveats would seem to rule out Marsh, who is best known for his offbeat sense of humor and has only been a coach for two years.  But multiple sources confirmed that he will be considered, possibly due to his success in molding the Shockers’ minor-league prospects.

Tigres Stun Pistols to Steal East Title

For much of the season, the East’s playoff picture has seemed fairly stable.  The Hamilton Pistols seemed likely to finish atop the division, while the Quebec Tigres and Washington Galaxy would battle it out for second place.  Then the Galaxy collapsed after the All-Star break, and a Pistols-Tigres playoff looked likely, with Hamilton still on track to finish first.  Even when the Tigres went on an 8-1-1 stretch to close within 4 points of the Pistols, that margin persisted for weeks, as both team stumbled down the stretch.

But as the season entered its final week, a strange thing happened: Hamilton continued to struggle, while Quebec starting winning.  That set up a showdown on the last day of the season at Centre Citadelle: If the Pistols won, they’d hold on to the top spot.  If Quebec won, they’d tie Hamilton in the points column but would win the division based on having more total wins.

Steven Alexander

“We’ve come so far this season,” said Pistols LW Steven Alexander.  “Now we’ve got to go out there and finish the job.”

Unfortunately for Alexander’s club, they ran into a stone wall in the form of Quebec goalie Riki Tiktuunen, who stopped all 30 Hamilton shots.  The game remained scoreless until Tigres LW Rupert MacDiarmid went five-hole three and a half minutes into the second period.  Quebec took advantage of a 5-on-3 power play in the third period, scoring twice to secure a 3-0 victory.  The orange-clad throngs roared their approval as the Tigres traded high-fives and waved their sticks in appreciation.

Martin Delorme

“This is a tribute to this wonderful team,” said Tigres coach Martin Delorme, who joins his team in making his first trip to the postseason.  “They have been doubted and dismissed many times, but they have ignored the critics and worked hard and won.  I am sure the same doubters will believe that they cannot win the Vandy, but we are prepared to keep working hard and win it.”

As for the Pistols, who were on top of the world last week after punching their first-ever playoff ticket, they’re now faced with the cold reality of losing home-ice advantage in the upcoming series after losing 10 of their last 13 games.

“Obviously, we haven’t finished up the regular season the way we wanted to,” said Pistols coach Keith Shields.  “But we’re going to put that behind us.  It’s not like we forgot how to score, or that the talent that got us this far suddenly dried up.  We just have to keep playing our game, keep believing in ourselves, and we’ll get ourselves back on track.”

Continue reading “Tigres Stun Pistols to Steal East Title”

Bliss Reflect on “Nightmare” Season

For the Hershey Bliss, 2018 has been a strange year.  Last year, they won a title nobody expected them to win, upsetting the heavily-favored Anchorage Igloos in 7 games for their first Vandy.  But this season’s results have been even more shocking; they plunged into the basement with a terrible start the first month, and were never able to dig themselves out.  The Bliss appear to be on track for a fifth-place finish as the season winds down, while upstart young squads in Hamilton and Quebec head on to the postseason.

This week, several of Hershey’s top players reflected on a season gone wrong, and what they’ll need to do to turn things around in 2019.

Justin Valentine

C Justin Valentine is Hershey’s captain and anchors the much-beloved “Love Line.”  He likened the first month of the 2018 season to “a fun-house nightmare.  It was like a bad dream that we couldn’t wake up from.  We were playing solid, dictating the pace, making our shots, but somehow at the end of the game we’d lose.”

Valentine cited a couple of games in particular that left the Bliss feeling “like we had a hex on us.”  In the first week of the season, Hershey outshot the Boston Badgers 37-25, but lost 4-3 when Badgers RW Charlie Brooks banked the game-winning shot off the crossbar, then off the back of goalie Brandon Colt.  Two weeks later, they outshot Michigan Gray Wolves 34-22, but managed to lose 3-2 in overtime on another fluky goal by C Hunter Bailes that deflected off a Hershey skate boot.

After games like that, “we’d just sit there and stare at each other and say, ‘How the hell did we lose that one?’” Valentine said.  “We couldn’t figure it out.”

Chip Barber

Four weeks into the season, Hershey was sporting a 3-16-1 record that left them only one point ahead of Boston for the league’s worst record.  At that time, coach Chip Barber sent shockwaves through the clubhouse by offering to resign.

“I was feeling the same shock and frustration as the rest of the team,” said Barber.  “Even thoughwe were playing better than our record, I felt like there was no excuse for us having that poor a record, and I wanted to take responsibility.”

The front office quickly rejected Barber’s offer, and the team seemed to rally around their coach, doubling their season win total the following week.  But then disaster struck the next week, in the form of an upper-body injury to LW Lance Sweet that put him on the shelf two weeks.

“That was just devastating to me,” said Sweet.  “I felt like we were getting ready to turn things around, then I went down.”

It was the second significant injury of Sweet’s career, and it stalled the Bliss’ momentum; they went 5-4-1 in his absence.  Since his return, the Bliss have played respectably, but they never caught fire; they haven’t won more than three games in a row all season.

“I feel like if we’d been able to run off once good long winning streak to get some momentum, we could have climbed back into it,” said Valentine.  “But it never worked out that way.”

Netminder Colt believes that the team’s failure rests in large part on his shoulders.  Last season, Colt went 24-16-4 with a 2.94 GAA and a .909 save percentage, then stood on his head in the Finals to capture MVP honors.  During Hershey’s nightmare month to open the season, Colt’s numbers tumbled, as he went 3-12-1 with a 3.57 GAA and an .879 save percentage.  He’s rebounded since then, but he remains among the worst starters in the league on a statistical basis.

“It’s frustrating, because I feel like I’m dragging the team down,” said Colt.  “Our defense is tight, and our offense is solid.  If I was on top of my game, I feel like we’d be in the playoffs.”

Colt’s teammates, however, disagree with his harsh self-assessment.  “Everyone’s taken a step back from last year, myself definitely included,” said Valentine.  “Blaming the whole year on Colter is like blaming the Chicago fire on Mrs. O’Leary’s cow.  We all played a part in it.”

Looking toward next season, Sweet is optimistic that the Bliss can return to contention.  “We’ve got the talent and the team to do it,” he said.  “We just need to avoid that brutal start and have some bounces go our way.  After this year, we’re due for some major puck luck.”

But the Bliss have a couple major obstacles to their contention plans: the two teams that will be going to the postseason in their place.  The Pistols and Tigres are both talented teams that are widely considered to be on the rise.  Even the New York Night are showing signs of respectability.  If the Bliss want to go back to the Finals, they’ll have to earn it.  And in order to do that, says their coach, they’ll need to rediscover their hunger for winning.

“Flags fly forever and all that,” said Barber.  “But winning your first title is like taking your first bite of really good Swiss chocolate.  You get that taste, and you can’t stop craving it.  It’s all you want.  We’ve got to bring that hunger with us next year.”

Night’s Foster Accuses Officials of Anti-NY Bias

Nick Foster

In a bizarre coda to the New York Night‘s 6-5 victory over the Washington Galaxy on Saturday, Night coach Nick Foster used his postgame press conference to accuse referee Brandon Fosse and his crew of being biased against New York.  Foster went on to argue that the league was “scared of” his team and determined to keep them out of the postseason.

In a lot of ways, the game was a successful one for the Night.  They outshot the rival Galaxy 47-32 and secured a key win that all but guarantees them a third-place finish in the East.  But the third period was a harrowing one for New York, as Washington scored four unanswered goals that nearly erased a 6-1 Night lead.  Many observers thought the late rally was evidence that the Night took their foot off the gas, or that netminder Jesse Clarkson was continuing his recent stretch of shaky play.  But to Foster, the real cause of the Washington rally was a string of penalties called by Fosse and his crew.

“It’s pretty impressive that we pulled that one out, considering that we were playing against 10 guys there in the third,” said the Night coach, referring to the six Washington players and the four officials.  “They really didn’t want us to win this one, but we got the W anyway.”  Asked to elaborate, Foster said, “Come on, you’re all smart guys.  You’ve got eyes.  You think it was a coincidence that all the whistles went against us down the stretch?  I’m not sure what we did to piss [Fosse] off, or if the call came from upstairs, but he had it in for us.”

Foster continued, “I’m going to talk to the league; I don’t want his crew working our games any more.  I don’t think they’ll listen, though.  Now that we’re getting better, they’re scared of us winning.  The last thing they want to see is us in the playoffs.”

On the surface, it seemed Foster’s complaint might have some merit.  The last four penalties of the game, called in the latter half of the third period all went against New York, including two in quick concession that gave the Galaxy a 5-on-3 edge for over a minute and a half.  Foster contended that the fatigue of the extended penalty-kill shifts left his team exhausted and vulnerable to a late rally.

On the other hand, only one of Washington’s third-period goals actually came on the power play.  And Foster’s accusation ignored the fact that over the game as a whole, New York actually had more power plays than Washington.  In fact, the Galaxy didn’t go a man up even once until the third.

Fosse and the other officials join a lengthy list of people and teams with which Foster has feuded this season, including the Hamilton Pistols, their star Steven Alexander, the Dakota Jackalopes, and the Corn Palace.

The league did not make Fosse available for comment after the game, but they did take swift action against Foster, fining the coach $5,000.  “The idea that our referees or our league are biased against any of our teams is ludicrous,” said Commissioner Perry Mitchell.  “I don’t know why Coach Foster would make crazy accusations like that.  It’s disappointing on a personal level; more importantly, it’s inappropriate and unacceptable.”

Galaxy coach Rodney Reagle, on the other hand, reacted to Foster’s accusations with amusement.  “I’ve got to hand it to that guy,” Reagle said.  “Ordinarily, after a game like that, you’d figure he’d be answering questions about why his team can’t close out a game, or why his goalie couldn’t stop a cold.  Instead, he’s got us all talking about whether the refs and the league have a vendetta against his team.  Talk about post-game spin!”