Offseason Update: Bliss Bond At Chocolate-Making Class

It’s no surprise that the Hershey Bliss have always been fascinated with chocolate.  They play in America’s chocolate-making capital, in an arena called the Chocolate Center.  Their coach is famously obsessed with the stuff and frequently works chocolate-related metaphors into his interview.  Their top line has even had their likenesses rendered in chocolate.

So when the Bliss decided to participate in a chocolate-making workshop as a team bonding experience, it was very much on-brand.  But the team found it a surprisingly meaningful experience, and they believe it taught them valuable lessons that will help them next season.

Chip Barber

The idea of attending the workshop came from coach Chip Barber.  After the team lost in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year, Barber wanted his players to have a positive experience that they could remember fondly during the offseason.  “Things kind of ended on a sour note for us,” said the coach.  “And I figured, the best way to get the sour taste out of our mouths was with something sweet.  And then it hit me: let’s make chocolate!”

Barber contacted the Hershey Story Museum, which invited the team to a special combination of their usual chocolate-making class and the truffle-making workshop they typically offer around Valentine’s Day.  The evening began with a tasting of a variety of single-source warm drinking chocolates from around the world.  The players were encouraged to make notes about the tastes they encountered and to discuss them with each other.  “That part was a lot of fun,” said C Justin Valentine.  “I was expecting them all to taste like, you know, regular hot chocolate.  But they didn’t; they were complex and really interesting.  Some of them weren’t sweet at all; they were fruity or spicy or bitter.  Sometimes all of them at once.  Definitely a cool thing to try!”

After they finished the tasting, the players were escorted into the Chocolate Lab.  D Reese Milton was slightly disappointed; “I was expected all my Willy Wonka dreams come true,” he said, “but it was more like a science classroom full of chocolate.  No Oompa Loompas, thank God; I always thought they were creepy.”

Inside the lab, the players learned about how chocolate goes from the bean to the finished product.  They then got to try making their own candy bar creations using both white and milk chocolate, along with some additional items for decoration.  LW Lance Sweet tried to make a bar that resembles Hershey’s jerseys.  “It didn’t totally come out,” he said, “but I had fun trying it.”

After that, the players learned about truffle making and tried their hand at it.  Some were surprised to learn that the chocolate treats don’t actually contain truffles, but were so named for their resemblance to the prized fungi.  “I always thought it was weird that they had pigs digging chocolates out of the ground,” said Milton.  “This makes much more sense.”

The players then learned how to hand-roll truffles, using both dark chocolate and ruby chocolate ganache.  The latter, a naturally pink chocolate that has the flavor of berries, was a novelty for most players.  “I’d never seen this crazy pink chocolate before,” said LW Russ Nahorniak.  “At first I thought it was a prank or something.  But it tasted pretty good, and different than any other chocolate I’d had before.  Kind of like raspberries.  The hand-rolling process was slow and messy, but fun.

After they finally finished rolling the ganache, they dipped their truffles in white or milk chocolate and finished them with a variety of toppings, from cocoa powder to crushed nuts to coconut.

The players raved about the experience afterward.  “I definitely feel like I understand chocolate on a whole new level now,” said Milton.

They also said that they’d learned valuable experiences that would benefit them on the ice.

“I learned that in order to temper chocolate, you have to be patient and keep it within a close band of temperature in order for it to work right,” said C Spencer Kirkpatrick.  “The same thing is true in hockey: to be successful, you have to be patient during the season, and not get too high or too low.”

Valentine, meanwhile, volunteered that “they taught us that truffles don’t have to be perfect circles to be right.  In fact, they look better if they’re a little off.  I’m going to remember that next season; instead of always looking for the perfect pass or the perfect shot, I’ll go ahead even if it’s a little off.  It’ll probably still work out.”

Offseason Update: Hamilton Shares Vandy With Fans

The Hamilton Pistols won their second straight Vandy this season.  And the team had a very clear idea how they wanted to celebrate: “We want to share this trophy with our fans,” said RW Claude Lafayette.  “And we want to drink as much as we can while doing it.”

So far, the Pistols are living up to Lafayette’s goals.  There’s hardly a bar, nightclub, public park, or civic event this summer that the Pistols haven’t brought the Vandy to.  They’ve drank, danced, sung, and partied their way around the Greater Toronto Area, and the players and fans are thoroughly enjoying themselves so far.

“It’s been one crazy never-ending party so far,” said C Calvin Frye.  “I was worried about some of our guys at first.  But we’re staying hydrated and pacing ourselves just enough so that we can keep it going.  So far, so good!”

The Pistols said their victory party was inspired the NHL’s Washington Capitals, who became famous for their highly public and booze-fueled celebration of their first-ever Stanley Cup in 2018.  “They really redefined the standard for the party game,” said Lafayette of the Caps.  “They were definitely an inspiration to us.  Last year, when we won, we were too tired to really let it loose.  But this time, we knew we wanted to take it to the next level.”

The party began with the championship parade, which drew tens of thousands to downtown Hamilton to cheer on their heroes.  The Pistols stood atop double-decker buses, waving and throwing tchotchkes to the fans.  The parade route ended at Gunpowder Armory, where the fans packed in to listen to the players make giddy speeches and lead cheers.

Steven Alexander

“Winning our first Vandy was an incredible experience,” said LW Steven Alexander, “but it was damn hard work, and we were pretty tired afterward.  But you guys, with your cheers and your total support, you gave us the energy to go out and win it again.  This title is for you!”

Alexander also took a shot at the Pistols’ rival, the New York Night, and longtime antagonist and now-former coach Nick Foster.  “You guys might remember that clown down south of the border, the one who kept talking crap about me, about us,” Alexander shouted, as boos rained down from the fans.  “He kept saying his team was better than ours, their arena was better than ours, their fans were better than ours.  Well, guess what?  We just went back-to-back, and he just got fired.  Scoreboard, Nick!”

The parade was hardly the end of the celebration, however.  Reports began popping up on social media of various Pistols showing up at local restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, often with the Vandy in tow.  One night, Alexander, Frye, Lafayette, and the trophy showed up unannounced at a bar called Skipper Harry’s on the waterfront.  Alexander jumped up on top of the bar and shouted that he was buying a round for everyone in the house.  He then had the bartender fill the bowl in the center of the trophy with beer, which he chugged. After leading the bar in a round of “We Are the Champions,” Frye and Lafayette carried the Vandy around the beer, giving patrons a chance to snap selfies and, in some cases, replicate Alexander’s beer chug.

A couple days later, Ds Hercules Mulligan and Clayton Risch were spotted carrying the Vandy down Locke Street, pausing frequently for selfies and high-fives with fans.  Mulligan also carried a duffel bag filled with Pistols hats and T-shirts, and he tossed one to every person he spotted wearing Toronto Maple Leafs gear, shouting, “How’d you like to cheer for a winner for a change?” (The Maple Leafs have not won a championship since 1967.)

On another occasion, several players were taking a mini-bus to a nightclub when Alexander spied someone on the street wearing a shirt created by a Pistols fan blog.  The shirt featured the Pistols’ gunsight log, with a silhouette of the Vandy replacing the customary “H”.  Beneath the logo, the shirt read “We’ve Got Another Title In Our Sights.”  Alexander told the driver to stop the bus, then rushed out and greeted the surprised fan.  “That shirt is awesome!  Want to trade with me?”  The fan agreed, whereupon Alexander whipped off his shirt, autographed it, and handed it to the fan.  He then posted for a picture before hopping back on the bus.

The sightings continued on a daily basis over the next two or three weeks, as the Pistols kept appearing, flashing their hardware, drinking and dancing and singing with anyone who wanted to join in.

“They basically took the celebration and turned it into a rolling, never-ending street party,” said coach Keith Shields.  “They know how essential the fans are to our success, and they want to share that joy together.  I think it shows how special the bond is between our team and the city.  We’re all going to have memories to last a lifetime.”

Offseason Update: Badgers Try Hand at Fashion Design

Hockey and high fashion don’t typically mix.  But when your team is owned by a fashion designer, which the Boston BadgersPaul Galette is, such an unusual scenario can become reality.

The Badgers just finished their most successful season ever, posting a .500 record for the first time.  It was a feel-good season for the team, and the players expressed a desire to get back together during the offseason.  Galette accommodated that desire with an unorthodox offer: he invited his players to spend a day at his fashion house, including an opportunity to design their own outfits.

“It’s definitely not a typical hockey-player activity,” said Galette.  “But I knew it would be a fun creative opportunity for them, and something that they don’t get to do every day.  So why not?”

Almost all of the Badgers showed up.  Some of them came because they wanted another chance to hang out with their teammates.  Some were genuinely interested in seeing how fashion houses work.  Others… well, in the words of RW Levi Rudyard: “I figured I’d have a chance to meet some models.”

When the players arrived, Galette took them on a brief tour of the house and introduced them to some of his fellow designers.  “It was pretty cool to meet them, really,” said LW Pascal Royal.  “They are in some ways like us.  Everyone thinks we just get to have fun all the time, but there is a lot of work into it.  Designing is the same.”

After that, the owner brought the players into a “collaboration space,” a room that allows designers to work together and bounce ideas off of one another.  The players gathered around a large table in the center of the room, where they were given paper and a variety of art supplies and invited to design their own outfits.

“I told them they could be as practical or as whimsical as they wanted to be,” Galette said.  “Designers can get their inspiration from anywhere: natural scenes, animals, things they see on the street.  There are no rules and no bad ideas.  Even something completely crazy or unworkable can light a spark that leads to a beautiful design in the end.”

The design session was a bit awkward at first because, as D Matt Cherner noted, “I haven’t done any drawing since I was in grade school.”  But eventually they warmed to the task, and they came up with a number of fascinating designs.  LW Casey Thurman drew an evening gown inspired by a peacock’s feathers.  Cherner designed a suit that resembled the Northern Lights.  G Roger Orion sketched out a tuxedo that featured the Badgers’ colors and logo.  D Brody “Bruiser” McCallan, meanwhile, designed a truly wild outfit which he described as “the world’s only pimp superhero.  Like Superfly, but even flyer.”

Little did the players know it, but Galette had another surprise in store for them.  After treating the team to a lavish lunch at a nearby restaurant, Galette announced that he would have their designs made into actual outfits.  And a couple weeks later, he invited them back to see those outfits on display, as he held a fashion show that the team streamed on YouTube.

“I knew they’d go gaga to see their designs brought to life,” Galette said.  “It’s an awesome feeling for any designer, the first time they see their designs in real life.”

The players reacted with laughter and delight as they saw their designs paraded up and down the runway.  And in additional to actual models, several of the players themselves took a turn on the catwalk.  Orion modeled his Badgers-colored tuxedo, saying “I wish I’d had this for my wedding, although my wife is probably glad I didn’t.”  Thurman modeled Cherner’s Northern Lights suit, and trilled “I Feel Pretty” in falsetto as he walked.  McCallan, meanwhile, not only donned his pimp-superhero costume, he also closed out the show by squeezing into Thurman’s peacock-feather dress.  As the burly blueliner sashayed along, his teammates laughed and catcalled.

“Yeah, they made fun,” said McCallan, “but only because they didn’t want to admit that I totally rocked the dress.”

All in all, it was a fun team-building event, and the players thoroughly enjoyed themselves.  “If you’d told me I was going to love designing fashion outfits, I’d have called you crazy,” said C Alain Beauchesne.  “But these were memories I will keep for all my life.  Except for the Bruiser in that dress… that I hope to forget.”

Offseason Update: A Colorful Offseason for Igloos

At the suggestion of the team owner, the Anchorage Igloos decided to celebrate the rainbow with a special outdoor event. Called “Rainbow Off Ice”, the event centered on celebrating Pride Month and the warmer weather in Anchorage. The players took to the blacktop to play street hockey in front of their fans, surrounded by a world of rainbow. The event was $30 to attend; all profits were donated to the Trevor Project, an organization that specializes in providing support for LGBT+ youth.

Kids from a local elementary school were brought in the day before to decorate the pavement with chalk art that centered around pride. The players were given custom jerseys to rock the rainbow; those were auctioned off at the end of the event, with all money from the auction being donated to GLSEN, an organization that fights to end LGBTQ+ discrimination within school systems.  

The Igloos players loved the event, saying that the change of pace was fun and that they were encouraged to see the organization give back.

Many of the decorations put up for the event were inspired by player suggestions. For example, the “Walk of Pride” was inspired by LW Les Collins, who suggested that the players enter on a multi-colored version of a red carpet. During the entrances, fans could take photos with players in front of a background of pride flags.

After almost a month of searching, GM WIll Thorndike was able to find a rainbow carpet suitable for the occasion. Thorndike reflected on his purchase: “I never thought I would be ordering a custom carpet for the boys, but I was impressed that I was able to fulfill their request.” 

The flags had actually arrived while the season was still ongoing, and needless to say there were a lot of them, According to a team intern, the flags were bulk ordered with over 1,000 of each type. Due to the large size of the shipment, the boxes of pride flags wound up overflowing into the hallway leading to the locker room. The boxes became a running joke among the players, who started a betting pool to guess how many were in each box.

Igloos C Jake Frost said the event was: “the most colorful hockey event to come from the SHL.”

Ty Worthington

Goalie Ty Worthington took the event as a chance to finally show his own pride to his teammates, as he came out as bisexual. His teammates fully accepted him and were happy for him to be able to be his true self.

.“I don’t care what parts Ty is into,” said D Olaf Martinsson. “All that matters to me is his skills in the net and his friendship on and off the ice.”

In a post-event interview, Worthington stated that “I never thought I would be so closely tied to an offseason event. As a member of the [LGBTQ+] community myself, I was able to enjoy the festivities in a much more personal way. I’m glad that I can finally share my true self with everybody.  And I loved wearing my flag as a cape!”

It seems safe to say the event was a roaring success with both the fans and the players. The event was able to raise over $31,000, with about 700 attendees in total. The players’ social media was quite bright with their photos from the festivities and the players were tagged in a plethora of colorful selfies.

“I hope we do this every year,” said Frost.  “It was a great event and I was glad to be part of it.”