Banks Out for Year With Injury

Patrick Banks

Back in 2016, defenseman Patrick Banks was riding high.  He’d just won the Vandy with the Michigan Gray Wolves, and he headed into free agency with the chance to land a lucrative multi-year deal; he ultimately signed with the Washington Galaxy, where he was expected to be a rising two-way star on the blueline.

Since then, though, things have gone downhill.  He had a dismal year in Washington, putting up only 2 goals and 15 assists and finding himself a frequent target of boos at the Constellation Center.  The Galaxy were sufficiently discouraged by his poor performance and sizable price tag that they left him unprotected in the expansion draft, where he was claimed by the Boston Badgers.  And now, in the middle of a decent but unspectacular season, Banks has suffered a major leg injury that will sideline him for the rest of the year.

“This is just heartbreaking,” said Badgers coach Cam Prince.  “All of us feel awful for Banksy.”

Banks’ injury occurred in the third period of Sunday’s 3-0 win over the Saskatchewan Shockers.  Banks was skating through center ice as he brought the puck up.  He was looking to connect with LW Lix Darnholm and start and odd-man rush, but he didn’t see Shockers LW Tadeusz Adamczyk drawing a bead on him.  Adamczyk seemed to duck a bit as he collided with Banks, and the Boston blueliner wound up cartwheeling in the air and landing in a heap near the red line.

“We knew there was an issue when he didn’t pop right back up,” said Badgers C Jens Bunyakin.  “Banksy’s a tough customer; it seems like you could hit him with a freight train and he’d walk away without a scratch.  But he stayed down.”

Trainer Jordan Klifford rushed out to tend to Banks, who was writhing in obvious pain.  Klifford and Bunyakin had to help Banks off the ice; the blueliner wasn’t putting weight on his right leg.  The crowd at Shawmut Arena fell dead silent, sensing that something was terribly wrong.

As it turned out, the fans were right to be concerned.  Examination revealed that Banks had suffered a fractured tibia and a torn ACL.  He will undergo surgery and will not play again in 2018.  Prince said that the team is “cautiously optimistic” that he will be back in time for the beginning of the 2019 season, but that it’s too soon to be sure.

“This sucks,” said Banks about his injury.  “There’s no better way to say it; it just sucks.  I thought things were looking up for me, and now this happens.  I’m just frustrated and pissed.”

The injury also ended any hope Banks might have had for getting traded to a contender.  Though the Badgers were reportedly not shopping him, sources close to the defenseman say that he was hopeful that a deal might be worked out.  Now he’ll stay in Boston, and try to get his once-promising career back on track next season… whenever he’s healthy enough to play.


Estabrook’s Troubles Come to A Head

Cary Estabrook

It’s been a difficult season for Boston Badgers RW Cary Estabrook.  The 23-year-old winger signed with Boston last year – the first player ever signed by the Badgers – while he was rehabbing from a major knee injury.  He made the team out of training camp, but he has struggled badly this season.  Estabrook’s injury seems to have robbed him of some explosiveness, and he has struggled to adjust to the speed of the professional game.  He has yet to record a point this season.

An already difficult season got worse for Estabrook this week, as a couple of incidents got him in hot water with Badgers coach Cam Prince.

Prince has been trying to impose some discipline on his young and struggling team, holding additional practices and meetings.  The coach called a team meeting on Monday morning to discuss the team’s work ethic, which he felt has been lacking.  Estabrook overslept and missed the meeting, and didn’t show up until halfway through that day’s practice.

“I just forgot to set my alarm, I guess,” Estabrook told reporters.  “I knew we had a meeting, and I was planning to go, but then I woke up and looked at the clock like, ‘Oh [expletive], I’m late.’”

Prince responded by fining Estabrook $500 and benching him for the next day’s game against the Hershey Bliss.  “We’re all professionals here, and part of that is taking responsibility and getting where you need to be on time.  If Cary had bothered to show up for the meeting, he would have heard me talk about that.”

Estabrook was back in the lineup for Wednesday’s game against the Michigan Gray Wolves, although he saw his minutes significantly limited.  In the middle of the third period, the puck was flipped out of play and into the Badgers’ bench, where Estabrook was sitting.  The winger decided to flip the puck over the glass to a fan sitting behind him.  Unfortunately, the puck didn’t get the height that Estabrook intended, and it wound up failing to clear the glass… and striking his coach straight in the forehead.

Prince clutched his forehead and doubled over as the trainer and assistant coaches rushed to his aid.  As Estabrook turned around and realized what he had done, his heart sank.  “God, that’s the last thing I needed,” the winger said.  “That’s how bad my year is going: I try to give a fan a souvenir and I wind up beaning my coach in the head.  I just can’t keep the ball out of the gutter.”

Although the puck opened up a cut on Prince’s forehead that bled profusely, he was able to get things under control and did not require stitches.  He was initially upset about the incident, but he softened after Estabrook apologized and explained what happened.

“There’s always a risk of flying pucks when you’re on the bench, but you don’t usually expect friendly fire,” Prince told reporters after the game.  “I know Cary and I have been butting heads lately, but I believe he wasn’t out to get me.  It’s just one of those unfortunate things that can happen to anybody.”

Estabrook now faces the tougher challenge of getting his lost season back on track.  Rumors around the team suggest that the winger, a Rhode Island native whom the Badgers hoped would become a face of the franchise, is struggling with the weight of expectations and has been drinking and partying to excess to relieve some of the stress.  According to those rumors, his “oversleeping” on Monday was actually the result of a hangover.

Estabrook denied that specific charge, although he was vague on the subject of his late-night habits.  “It’s been a hard time for me all around,” he admitted.  “I’m not going to respond to rumors or anonymous quotes.  The bottom line is, I’ve got to buckle down and get myself straightened out.  That’s all there is to it.”

Hamilton Faces Tough Calls As Deadline Approaches

As the SHL season winds toward next week’s trading deadline, the Hamilton Pistols find themselves in an admirable position.  They’ve been on top of the Eastern Division all season, and they’re virtually certain to make the playoffs.  They’ve even got a decent chance to go all the way and win the Vandy.

That all sounds pretty good.  So why is Pistols GM Marcel LaClaire saying that his team is in a “painful position”?  When LaClaire says that “we have some difficult decisions to make over the next week,” what does he mean?

The awkward truth is that Hamilton arrived to contention ahead of schedule.  Coming off a 29-30-1 finish in 2017, the Pistols organization looked at this as a building season: get over .500 for the first time, possibly contend for a playoff spot, and give their young core a chance to get its feet wet in meaningful games.  But after the Hershey Bliss bellyflopped out of the gate, there was an unexpected vacancy at the top of the stands, and the Pistols have filled it.

But Hamilton’s unexpected ascendance has scrambled the calculus of their deadline decisions.  If they were a fringe contender, the Pistols might make a minor deal for a veteran or two to provide experience and depth, but they’d leave their store of prospects largely untouched.  But now that they have a realistic shot to go all the way, should they consider dealing some of those prospects and going all in this year?

That’s the quandary that’s keeping LaClaire up at night.  “I realize that this is a very lucky problem to have,” said the Pistols GM.  “How do spend your lottery winnings?  But this choice could affect our course for years to come.”

The case for going all in this year is simple: The league may never be this wide open again.  With Hershey effectively out of the picture, the East is Hamilton’s for the taking.  Both the Quebec Tigres and Washington Galaxy are having solid seasons, but both have obvious weaknesses: Quebec is limited by a so-so offense, while Washington’s success is heavily dependent on its top line.

Out West, the defending division champion Anchorage Igloos have been stuck around the .500 mark and don’t look likely to repeat.  The Michigan Gray Wolves are the consensus Vandy favorite, but even they have chinks in their armor; goalie Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist hasn’t been his typical dominant self, and top D “Mad Max” Madison has battled injuries.

And if the Pistols are inclined to load up for a deep run, there’s no shortage of targets available.  The Dakota Jackalopes are shopping Cs Lars Karlsson and Harvey Bellmore, and may be willing to deal D Matt Cherner.  The expansion Boston Badgers and Kansas City Smoke are both entertaining offers on their veterans.  And other struggling teams like the Bliss, New York Night, and Saskatchewan Shockers may be willing to deal as well.

“Flags fly forever,” said Pistols LW Steven Alexander.  “We’ve got a real shot to win this thing, and I’m all for anything that helps us get there.”

On the other hand, the Pistols have made no secret of their desire to build a dynasty.  “We don’t think that we only have this one shot,” LaClaire said.  “We believe we have the talent to be a top team for many years.”  Their minor-league affiliate in Oshawa is currently leading its division, and they’ve got a number of highly-touted prospects.  If the Pistols were to trade those players away for veterans on short-term deals, they might maximize their chance to win this season but cost themselves a shot at building an affordable contender down the road.

“It is not an easy thing,” said LaClaire.  “I want us to be good for the next ten years.  But if this is our best chance for a title… I want the title.”

For his part, Hamilton coach Keith Shields retains his trademark optimistic outlook.  “As far as I’m concerned, we’ve got a championship-caliber team in our locker room right now,” the coach said on Friday.  “We don’t need to make a single deal and we’re awesome.  If Marcel decides to go and get me a player who makes us even better, I love it!  I’m happy either way.”

Easy for him to say.  But for LaClaire – the man who has to find a way to balance the present and the future – the decisions are anything but easy.  “I’ll be happy when [the deadline] is over,” he said.  “After that, we just have to go settle it on the ice.”


Galaxy Wear Unique Unis for Ladies Night

On Wednesday, the Washington Galaxy held a “Ladies Night” promotion, something that’s fairly common around the league.  The Galaxy put a little different spin on it, however, as they wore specially colored uniforms designed by their coach.

Rodney Reagle

Originally, the plan was for the Galaxy to wear pink jerseys during the game, as other teams have done for similar promotions.  But when coach Rodney Reagle heard about that, he called GM Garnet “Ace” Adams and proposed a different idea.

“I really didn’t like the idea of pink jerseys,” said Reagle.  “They’re so stereotypical.  I’ve got a wife and three daughters, and none of them likes the color pink.  Why is it that whenever we want to show we care about women, we slather everything with pink?  It’s a cheap, transparent stunt.  If you’re going to do something, why not do something unique?”

The coach offered to design the uniforms himself, and Adams agreed.  With the help of his wife Debbie, an interior designer, Reagle drew up a prototype in a light-blue-and-coral color scheme.  Adams approved, as did owner Perry Dodge, and they went ahead and ordered uniforms based on the design.

“Naturally, when we heard that Coach was designing our uniforms, we all got a little nervous, because his fashion sense is a little out there,” said Washington C Eddie Costello.  “But when they actually showed up and we had a chance to see ’em, we thought they looked pretty sharp.  And it was kind of cool to think that we’re doing something special that most other teams wouldn’t do.”

Ladies Night Uniforms

The uniforms were also a hit with the fans, who gave the Galaxy a raucous ovation when they hit the ice in their special threads.  “I liked that they were like our normal uniforms, but different,” said fan Sherri Hilson of Landover.  “It’s a really nice look.”

During the game, the team held a silent auction for the jerseys, with the proceeds going to the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade.  The team wound up raising over $15,000.  The winning fans got to come down to the ice after the game and take the jerseys right off of the players’ backs.  Hilson wound up bidding for and winning the jersey of her favorite player, D Kevin Buchanan.

The uniforms weren’t the only thing that made Ladies Night special in DC.  The female fans in attendance received a Galaxy logo tote bag, and the team played only songs by female artists and groups throughout the game.  Between the first and second period, the team did its usual “Tykes on Skates” promotion between two teams of girls.  And between the second and third period, fan Jessica Stevenson of Ashburn got to take the “Tater Tot Shot,” sliding a puck into the net from center ice and winning free tater tots for a month from Ted’s Bulletin.

Reagle was very pleased with the outcome of the promotion.  “I’m glad we were able to put a special stamp on this.  It wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill event to pretend we care about our female fans.  We pulled out all the stops.  Well, almost all of them.  I offered to have my wife come coach for the night instead of me, but the front office didn’t go for it.  Probably a good thing, too; she might have done it better and I’d be out of a job.”


Wolves’ Knight Suspended for PED Usage

Halfway through the season, the Michigan Gray Wolves seem to be cruising toward a playoff spot and a strong shot at capturing their second Vandy.  Their otherwise marvelous season hit a speed bump today, however, as C Wesley Knight was hit with a 15-game suspension after failing a test for performance-enhancing drugs.

Wesley Knight

The 28-year-old Knight tested positive for an anabolic steroid called Tetrahydrogestrinone, or THG.  THG is a well-known drug, allegedly used by high-profile athletes from Barry Bonds to Marion Jones.  The steroid’s primary purpose is to assist with the building of muscle mass, which allows athletes to participate in more rigorous workouts and recover more quickly from injuries or intensive training.

“We have a no-tolerance policy for drug abuse in this league,” said SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell in the press conference announcing the suspension.  “No matter who you are or how good your team is, if you’re using PEDs, you’re going to be caught and you’re going to be punished.

Knight is in his fourth season as Michigan’s third-line center.  He has been struggling this season – generating only 1 goal and 7 assists so far this season – and has seen his ice time steadily decrease as the season has gone on.  He acknowledged that he started taking PEDs this season in hopes of getting back to his usual production.

“It’s been tough for me this year, so tough,” said Knight.  “I’ve just been looking for any way I can to turn things around.  And I took a stupid shortcut, trying to get better.  I’m so embarrassed and humiliation.  I apologize to my teammates and the fans.  This is completely on me.”

Wolves coach Ron Wright condemned Knight’s PED use.  “There’s no excuse for that kind of thing in this game, none,” Wright told reporters.  “Hockey’s a tough sport, and you’ve got to be in good condition to play.  PEDs are an easy out, for players who don’t want to put in the work.  Wes is a good player and he puts in the work, which makes this so disappointing.  I’d expect a lot better out of him.  I’m just really disappointed, that’s the bottom line.”

At the All-Star Game earlier in the week, rumors were swirling that a Michigan player had failed a drug screening and was about to be suspended.  Many of the whispers centered around LW Vladimir Beruschko, who has had a surprisingly strong season at age 35.  After Knight’s suspension was announced, Beruschko stood up for his teammate.

“All of our team likes Wes,” said Beruschko.  “He made a mistake, but all of us make mistakes sometimes.  He was a man to admit it and take responsibility.  He has to serve the suspension, but when he comes back, we will all welcome him back.  We have a job to do together, to win the championship.”


Shockers Fire Coach Beasley

When the Saskatchewan Shockers first took the ice, they were the joke of the SHL.  They finished with the league’s worst record by far in their first season, and were best known for a promotional stunt in which they started a sumo wrestler in goal.  Their record improved in subsequent seasons, but their reputation was still marred by player hijinks and promotions gone wrong.

This season, the organization has made significant strides to become more professional.  They revamped their color scheme, dumping seafoam in favor of electric blue on their uniforms.  They signed a big-name free agent, LW Vonnie McLearen.  And they declared their intention to compete for a playoff spot.  “It’s time for us to turn the corner and become a contender,” said GM Cooper Matthews before the season.  “No more excuses.”

Myron Beasley

This week, Matthews backed up his words with action.  With the Shockers mired in mediocrity at the midpoint of the season and on track for virtually the same record as last season, the Shockers announced on Wednesday that they’d parted ways with Myron Beasley, the only coach the team has ever had.

The Shockers got off to a solid start early, posting an above-.500 record and remaining in the playoff mix in a wide-open Western division.  But the team hit the skids shortly thereafter, going 4-10-1 over its next 15 games.  Reportedly, it was Saskatchewan’s winless week before the All-Star break, which included a scoreless tie against expansion Kansas City, that convinced the front office to dismiss Beasley.

“As an organization, we’ve been clear that we expect to take the next step forward,” said Matthews.  “That hasn’t happened, so it’s time to make a change.”

The Shockers have been hampered by a sputtering offense.  The team was averaging a mere 2.27 goals per game at the time of Beasley’s firing; only the expansion Boston Badgers had scored fewer.

Beasley leaves Saskatchewan with a record of 67-138-5 over three and a half seasons.  The coach’s supporters note that he was a key force of stability during the franchise’s chaotic early days, and that most bosses would not have had the patience and tolerance to deal with some of the team’s more outlandish antics over the years.  “A lot of coaches would have quit if they’d had to go through what Myron went through,” said one source close to the coach.  “But he felt like he’d made a commitment, and he wanted to see it through.”

Beasley’s critics, on the other hand, argued that he lacks the discipline and vigor to lead a contending club.  After the Shockers’ dismal 11-48-1 showing in 2015, they improved by 10 wins the following season.  Since then, though, the team’s progress has stalled.  With owner Heinz Doofenshmirtz eager to put a Vandy in his trophy case, Saskatchewan’s lack of improvement was no longer acceptable.

“This was a tough decision for all of us,” said Matthews.  “Coach Beasley is a wonderful person, and we’ve always considered him a member of the Shockers family.  But we felt like we needed a new voice and a new face in charge in order to help us reach our goals as an organization.”

Caleb Ponder

Matthews indicated that assistant coach Caleb Ponder would take over the head up on an interim basis.  Ponder has been Beasley’s assistant since the team’s beginning.  Team sources indicated that barring a surprise development, Ponder would remain in charge of the team for the rest of the season, and the team will perform a full search for a replacement during the offseason.

For his part, Beasley says that he has no hard feelings about the decision.  “I’ve enjoyed my time here, but in the end it’s all about results,” he told reporters.  “That’s how the business goes.  Whoever takes over next, they’re getting a team with a heck of a lot of talent.  And no matter what, we’ll always have Dr. Coconut.”

Adding a layer of awkwardness to the situation, Beasley’s son Napoleon remains the Shockers’ top line center.  The younger Beasley declined to comment on his father’s firing.  Matthews said that the team had no plans to get rid of Napoleon: “He remains a key piece of our roster going forward.”


“Brothers” Alexander and Lafayette Propel Pistols

If asked to name the SHL’s longest-running friendship, most fans would point to the “Love Line.”  The trio of Hershey Bliss forwards have been friends and teammates since high school, and are well known for their tight partnership both on and off the ice.  But there’s another pair of SHL players who’ve known each other even longer, and are currently fueling the success of 2018’s breakout team, the Hamilton Pistols.

Steven Alexander

LW Steven Alexander is the undisputed star of the Pistols; his blistering shot and goal-scoring prowess makes him a headache for opposing defenses, who try in vain to contain him.  But in Alexander’s words, “I wouldn’t be half the player I am without my right-hand man.”  He’s referring to RW Claude Lafayette, his linemate and best friend.  “We are brothers,” Lafayette says of Alexander, “not by blood, but just that close.”

The two first met when Alexander was 11 years old.  The winger hails from the small Alberta border town of Milk River, but he outgrew the local competition at a young age.  “None of the goalies wanted to face me because my shot was too hard,” Alexander recalls.  “Even playing shinny, no one could give me a game.  Guys would have fistfights over who got me on their team, even though I was the youngest kid on the ice.”

Seeking a higher level of play, Alexander moved in with an uncle in Lethbridge, a much larger town about an hour away.  It was there that he met Lafayette, who was then 15.  “We played in an old, broken-down rink on Whoop-Up Drive,” Alexander recalls.  “When I first showed up, I was so young and scrawny that nobody took me seriously.  But then I started raining shots from all over the ice, and they had to take me seriously.”

Claude Lafayette

Despite his obvious talents, it took Alexander’s new teammates in Lethbridge a while to warm up to him.  They made fun of his ragged clothes and cocky attitude.  Lafayette was an exception.  “A lot of the guys treated Steve like a mangy mutt, always barking,” Lafayette says.  “But I liked that he was so self-confident, especially for a young kid from the sticks.  And he obviously had a ton of talent.”  Soon, Alexander and Lafayette were virtually inseparable, despite their age difference.

At age 17, Lafayette signed on with a junior team in Calgary.  Although he was too young for junior, Alexander moved to Calgary anyway and lived with Lafayette and his family.  They continued to practice and play together when they could.  But then at 20, Lafayette signed to play in the German league, and Alexander couldn’t go with him.  It was the first time they’d been separated since Alexander first arrived in Lethbridge nine years before.

“That first year in Germany, I probably talked to Steve more than my family,” Lafayette said.  “My teammates used to call Steve my girlfriend.”

But over time, their communication became less frequent as Lafayette focused on his career.  Without his best friend, Alexander became moody and difficult.  His own junior hockey career stalled after getting into a few too many scrapes with coaches and teammates without his friend to bail him out.

“Honestly, without Claude around, I was kind of lost,” Alexander admits.  “He was always able to cool me down when I got too angry.  With him gone, I went off the deep end.”

Eventually, Alexander all but gave up on the idea of playing hockey professionally.  Then came the SHL.  Lafayette signed a deal with the Pistols.  He tried to get the organization to offer Alexander a contract, but after they heard about the winger’s struggles in junior, they passed.

But when Hamilton held an open tryout, Lafayette urged his old friend to come out.  “I paid for his plane ticket,” Lafayette explains.  “At first, I said it was to celebrate my new gig.  But when he got here, I told him about the tryout.  He brushed it off at first, but I told him, ‘Come on.  Don’t you want to play together, like we used to?’  That got him on board.”

Alexander came to the tryout and dazzled the coaches with his shooting, they signed him up, and the rest is history.  “I am forever grateful to Claude for bringing Steven Alexander to us,” said Pistols GM Marcel LaClaire.  “Even when I was skeptical, he insisted.  And because of that, we have a great team.”

With Hamilton, the two remain as close as ever.  Alexander has been one of the SHL’s top scorers since the league’s beginning (he’s currently tied for the league lead), and Lafayette is currently the league’s top assist-getter.  They bought houses across the street from each other, and Alexander is the godfather of Lafayette’s young daughter.

“We’ve always got each other’s back,” says Alexander.  “If they ever tried to get rid of one of us, they’d have to get rid of us both.  We’re not letting anybody split us up again.”

It’s too soon to tell whether the old friends will be able to bring the Vandy to Hamilton; life doesn’t always offer such storybook endings.  But either way, this pair of almost-brothers are writing a real success story together.