After two seasons full of memorable outbursts and eruptions, the Seattle Sailors have fired coach Stewart “Popeye” Corrigan. The move brings the tenure of the SHL’s most volatile, explosive bench boss to an end.
In two seasons with Seattle, Corrigan compiled a record of 30-84-6. But it wasn’t the Sailors’ on-ice performance that triggered Corrigan’s dismissal; rather, it was the coach’s track record of over-the-top meltdowns when things didn’t go Seattle’s way. Reportedly, the team felt that the coach’s lack of self-control was embarrassing and unprofessional.
“We didn’t have any complaints with the job Stewart was doing, to be honest,” said Sailors GM Jay McKay. “He’s a perfectly fine coach. But we’ve thought a lot about the sort of person we want representing the public face of the Sailors. And as much as I like Stewart, we made the call that he wasn’t the right guy for us going forward.”
“I understand that I did this to myself,” said Corrigan. “I’m a passionate guy, sometimes too much. I’ve always had a temper, and I’ve let it get the better of me on a number of occasions. I can’t say that I agree with this decision, but I do understand it. I wish this team the best of luck. Whoever winds up coaching this team next is going to be a lucky guy. This is going to be a great team.”
McKay said that he intends to “cast a wide net” in searching for Corrigan’s successor. He indicated that both assistant coach Mark Morganhurst and minor-league coach Randy Bergner would be on the list of candidates.
Last week, tensions flared between the Seattle Sailors and Michigan Gray Wolves when Sailors RW Vince Mango snapped an on-ice selfie to celebrate a hat trick and was drilled into the boards by Wolves LW Vladimir Beruschko. This week, when the teams met for the first time since the incident, and the bad blood nearly turned into a brawl, with the teams’ coaches nearly coming to blows.
Coming into Wendesday’s game, the Sailors talked openly about avenging Mango, their injured star. “A lot of us weren’t too happy with what [the Wolves] did to Vince,” said LW Rod “Money” Argent. “We’re really fired up to take them on again. We’re not taking this lying down.”
Ordinarily, a matchup between basement-dwelling Seattle and high-flying Michigan, especially with the Sailors’ top scorer sidelined, would likely be a blowout. But the Sailors came in hot and clearly intending to send the Wolves a message. Seattle took an early 2-0 lead, cashing in on a pair of power plays to get ahead. Michigan struck back to tie the game by the end of the period, and took the lead on a second-period goal by C Hunter Bailes.
But Seattle didn’t go down easily, as Argent scored on another power play midway through the third to tie it at 3. When he celebrated his goal using one of Mango’s signature moves, Wolves D “Mad Max” Madison responded by shoving Argent to the ice from behind. Argent popped up and got in Madison’s face, and both teams swarmed in the center of the ice. The teams exchanged some shoves, a couple of face washed, and several dirty looks, but the refs managed to break things up before they came to blows.
Sailors coach Stewart “Popeye” Corrigan took the opportunity to yell at his Michigan counterpart, Ron Wright, between the benches. “Your team is a bunch of [expletive] thugs!” Corrigan shouted. “We’re going to get even with you [expletives]!” Wright largely ignored him.
With three and a half minutes in the game, Bailes scored what proved to be the game-winning goal. As he skated back to the bench, Sailors D Wayne Snelling gave Bailes a shot to the back of the head. The furious Wolves jumped off the bench to go after Snelling. The Sailors raced to their teammate’s assistance.
As the scrum broke out on the ice, Wright and Corrigan popped over their respective partition to yell at one another. Wright accused Snelling of deliberately attempting to injure Bailes, who was sidelined with a concussion earlier in the season. Corrigan shouted back that the Wolves had injured Mango and tried to do the same to Argent. They continued shouting back and forth, until Corrigan reached down onto his bench and grabbed a stick, which he swung at Wright. The Michigan boss shouted “You’re [expletive] crazy!” as he jumped back to avoid the stick.
Corrigan was ejected from the game. Incredibly, no one else on either team was ejected or even penalized.
After the game, both coaches remained irate. “Corrigan is a clown and a psychopath,” said Wright. “I don’t know if he’s putting on a show to try to distract everyone from how lousy his team is, or if he really is that much of a rageaholic. But he’s out of control. The league needs to do something about him. Either they need to send him to therapy or just kick him out of the league. One of these days he’s going to kill somebody.”
In response, Corrigan blasted the Wolves as “a bunch of vicious criminals. Hockey’s a physical game, but what they do isn’t about hockey. It’s legalized assault. Because they won the championship last year, everyone looks the other way. So when they send their goons out and cripple our best player, everyone says, ‘Oh, who cares? It’s just [expletive] Seattle.’ But I’m not taking it, and neither is my team. And you know what? Every other team out there is secretly cheering us on. They won’t admit it, but they’re all sick of the [expletive] Michigan gets away with.”
The league fined Corrigan $3,000 and suspended him for a game – the latest in a longline of disciplinary actions that he has faced in his two years as Sailors coach – while also fining Snelling and Madison $1,000 each for their hits. Wright also received a $500 fine for his part in the hostilities. “While we have no problem with spirited rivalries in this league,” said SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell, “we definitely have a problem with deliberately trying to injure opposing players. Both the Wolves and Sailors should be aware that I will have a zero-tolerance policy for any extracurricular activities between them going forward.”
Responded Corrigan: “How much do you want to bet this ‘zero-tolerance policy’ only goes one way? If one of my guys hits a Michigan player, he’s banned for life. If one of their thugs maims my guy, he gets a stern talking-to and that’s it. I know how this league works.”
Seattle Sailors RW Vince Mango has emerged in his sophomore season as one of the SHL’s top scorers and most colorful personalities. His vigorous and theatrical goal celebrations have drawn both admirers and detractors. However, this week Mango’s showmanship crossed the line, as he snapped an on-ice selfie after scoring a hat trick. His act inspired a violent retaliation and sparked a league-wide discussion that led to the creation of a new rule.
When Mango’s Sailors hosted the Michigan Gray Wolves on Tuesday, few expected much in the way of fireworks. Michigan’s smothering defense seemed likely to shut down Seattle’s attack. But the speedy Mango proved adept at skating past the Wolves’ blueliners. Just more than a minute into the game, he banged home a low slapper past Michigan goalie Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist to put the Sailors up 1-0. Mango celebrated by “playing” his stick like a guitar, which drew a sharp rebuke from Wolves LW Vladimir Beruschko.
Less than a minute into the second period, Mango scorched a shot past a screened Lundquist to give Seattle a 3-1 lead. That time, he skated past the Michigan bench, using his stick as an imaginary tommy gun and “shooting” at them. The Wolves responded with curses and upraised middle fingers.
Finally, about four and a half minutes into the third, Sailors D Benny Lambert fed a perfect outlet pass to Mango, who took off on a breakaway. He deked Lundquist, then went top-shelf to complete his hat trick. Mango dropped his stick to the ice, then reached into his sock and pulled out his cell phone. He stuck out his tongue and flashed three fingers, then snapped a selfie with the Wolves goalie sprawled in the background. He then posted the shot to his Instagram account.
Before Mango could celebrate further, he was confronted by an angry Beruschko, who slammed his stick into Mango’s head and freight-trained the Sailors star into the boards. Mango suffered a concussion, a bone bruise on his shoulder, and several loose teeth. He was taken off the ice on a stretcher, and is expected to be out of action for at least the next couple of weeks. Beruschko was ejected from the game, which the Sailors won 4-2.
A furious Sailors coach Stewart “Popeye” Corrigan attempted to jump onto the ice to attack Bersuchko as he headed to the dressing room. Corrigan was restrained by several of his players and was unable to get at the Wolves winger.
After the game, Corrigan called for Beruschko to be suspended. “If he did that outside of the arena, he’d have been arrested for assault,” the Seattle coach fumed. “My guy was just celebrating a job well done, and he gets knocked into next week by this thug. Vince had a shot at the scoring title, but this [injury] might cost him his chance. Berzerko better hope he doesn’t cross my path in the parking lot, or I’ll take care of him.”
In response, Wolves coach Ron Wright blasted Mango’s selfie stunt. “Look, what Vlad did was over the line, I’ll grant that,” Wright said. “But I’m getting sick and tired of Mango’s punk moves on the ice. A lot of teams around the league feel the same way. He should get hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for those idiot celebrations he does. But the league just looks the other way. And now he’s pulling out his goddamn phone on the ice? It’s childish and irresponsible and dangerous. Vlad shouldn’t have hit him as hard as he did, but do I understand why he did? Absolutely. Somebody’s got to draw the line.”
The SHL reviewed the incident and assessed Beruschko a one-game suspension. The league also passed a rule forbidding players from bringing phones onto the ice during a game. “It’s a player-safety issue,” said SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell. “When players are on the ice, they need to be alert, and if they’re on their phones, they’re not paying attention. We also don’t want to see any copycat incidents in the future.”
For his part, Mango said that he has no regrets. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment, and I’m glad I got it,” the Seattle star said. “And thanks to the new rule, no one else will ever get a shot like that, so that’s cool.” Asked if he had a message for Beruschko and the Wolves, Mango said, “They owe me a new phone. Mine got broken when I got hit.”
The Washington Galaxy are in a great position as they look to capture their third straight division title. They’ve gone undefeated since the All-Star break, and they just passed Hershey to take the lead in the East. It would have been easy to imagine them making no moves at the deadline, not wanting to mess with a good thing. Instead, though, the Galaxy made a small but smart move, bolstering their defensive corps by grabbing D Stan “Animal” Gallagher from the Seattle Sailors in exchange for minor-league D Woody Fairwood.
The pickup of Gallagher should stabilize Washington’s third defensive pairing, which has been a season-long conundrum. The position opposite Bruce “Boom Boom” Hogaboom has a revolving door, as the Galaxy have rotated between veteran Bill Corbett, young banger Jurgen Braun, and rookie Graham Bellinger. All three have done credibly, but none of them has played well enough to seize the job full-time.
The 27-year-old Gallagher should provide Hogaboom with a strong running partner. He scored 16 points (2 goals, 14 assists) with Seattle, playing largely on their top pairing. He earned his “Animal” nickname for the fierce enthusiasm he puts into his skating and checking, which will make him a good fit beside the pugnacious Hogaboom.
“Did we need to make this deal? Probably not,” admitted Galaxy GM Garnet “Ace” Adams. “But does this deal make us a stronger team than we were yesterday? Oh yeah. The Animal’s got a well-earned reputation around this league, and putting him and Boomer on the ice together should unleash some havoc. Graham will have the opportunity to go down to the minors and play every day, which should help him develop. And Corbs and Brauny will get opportunities to contribute off the bench, where we know we can count on them.”
In the run-up to the deadline, it was rumored that Washington was pursuing a bigger deal. The Saskatchewan Shockers were reportedly dangling D Chris “Lightning” Oflyng, and Hershey was said to be in hot pursuit of them. It was speculated that the Galaxy were also after Oflyng, if only to block the Bliss from getting him. But Adams said that Washington wasn’t making a serious attempt to land the Shockers blueliner.
“You never say never in this job,” said Adams. “But we figured Oflyng was going to be too rich for our blood, and frankly, we didn’t need an upgrade like that. We just wanted a solid vet for the third pairing, and we got him.” As it turned out, Hershey wasn’t able to meet Saskatchewan’s demands for Oflyng either; they might have turned to Gallagher as a fallback option, but Washington beat them to it.
For Seattle, the 21-year-old Fairwood may not match Gallagher in the character department, but he should provide similar production. Fairwood had been playing with Washington’s minor-league club in Baltimore, where he notched 50 points (9 goals, 41 assists) and a +7 rating. He was tied for the team lead in both categories
“I knew I was probably going to have a hard time making my way up to DC,” said Fairwood. “It was a good organization and I’ll miss my friends there, but to get a shot at some real minutes at the major-league level, that’s exciting for me.”
This week, the Anchorage Igloos nosed into first place in the West for the first time all season. The previous division leaders, the defending champion Michigan Gray Wolves, have been beset by injuries, and the Igloos have taken advantage. Hoping to make their advantage stick, Anchorage made a trade at the deadline to bolster their depth at forward, picking up LW Waldo Miranda from the Seattle Sailors in exchange for F Rodney McElvern.
“We’re confident that we have a team strong enough to win the championship,” said Igloos GM Will Thorndike. “But when we see a low-cost opportunity to improve, we’re going to pounce on it. We saw an opportunity here, and we took it.”
Miranda was in his second season with Seattle; they originally selected him from Hamilton in the expansion draft. The 25-year-old winger bounced between the second and third line for the Sailors, putting up 11 goals and 8 assists in 38 games this season. With the Igloos, he projects as a reserve, but one who’s ready to step in should an Anchorage winger get injured or need a rest.
“When you’re making a push for the postseason, you need depth,” said Thorndike. “You never know when somebody’s going to go down or go into the slump, or you’re going to need to sub a guy in or out to take advantage of a matchup. Waldo’s a guy who’s perfectly capable of starting, and probably would for most teams in the league. To have someone like that coming off the bench, that’s a real luxury. But it’s the kind of luxury that can make the difference between winning and losing the division, or winning or losing a playoff series.”
The Wolves are currently learning that lesson the hard the way. Earlier this month, they lost top-line C Hunter Bailes to a major upper-body injury; he is due to return next week after missing almost a month. Then on Tuesday they lost another center, Warren Marlow, to a lower-body injury. Although his injury is far less severe than Bailes’, he is expected to be out for a week. In the absence of two of their top scorers, Michigan’s offense has crumbled. The Wolves declined to make any trades to fill the gap, believing that they’ll get back on track when Bailes and Marlow return.
In exchange for Miranda, the Sailors received McElvern, a 22-year-old rookie who was Anchorage’s second-round draft pick out of Lake Ontario State. McElvern was a 20-goal scorer in college; with the Igloos, he appeared in only 3 games, scoring no points and recording a -1 rating.
“We’re really excited to see what Rodney can do for us,” said Sailors GM Jay McKay. “He’ll have plenty of ice time with us to show us what he’s got. We’re not going to make the playoffs, so we’re looking to give our young guys more playing time down the stretch, and Rodney’s definitely going to get a real good look.”
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.