Tigres, Galaxy Make Dueling Deals

The race for the SHL’s Eastern Division remains in flux.  While the Hamilton Pistols remain the favorite to win the division, they haven’t put it away.  Meanwhile, the Quebec Tigres and Washington Galaxy have been jostling for position all season long, knowing that there is likely only room for one of them in the postseason.

The Pistols made their move at the beginning of the week, shoring up their depth amid a run of injuries.  Meanwhile, the Tigres and Galaxy waited until the final minutes before Thursday’s deadline, but each made a move designed to address shore up key areas and position themselves to punch their ticket to playoffs.

“We knew they were going to make a move,” said Galaxy GM Ace Adams of his Quebec rivals.  “And if they were going to get better, we knew we needed to keep up, and hopefully get a step ahead.”

For the Tigres, the target areas for a trade were obvious.  They wanted a better third-line center; Florian Theroux remains a fan favorite, but his stats were lackluster.  And for a team that is built on defense, Quebec was relying heavily on a trio of rookies: Laurie Workman, Richard McKinley, and Geoff Moultrie.

Doug Wesson

They addressed both needs in one deal, acquiring C Phil Miller and D Doug Wesson from the Kansas City Smoke in exchange for Moultrie and minor-league winger Aaron Knorr.

“This was the perfect deal for us,” said Tigres GM Pete Gondret.  “Kansas City had what we wanted, and the price was right.”

Wesson certainly add toughness for the Tigres; he is regularly one of the SHL leaders in penalty minutes and has been involved in several heavyweight bouts.  He is an excellent fit with Quebec and coach Martin Delorme’s scrappy, hard-checking style.  With the Smoke, he contributed 1 goal and 15 assists, in addition to 63 penalty minutes.

“I’m a two-fisted blue-collar guy, and Quebec is a two-fisted blue-collar team,” said Wesson.  “Let’s go!”

Phil Miller

With the deal, Miller continues his tour around the SHL.  The Tigres are Miller’s fifth club in four seasons; he’d ben with Saskatchewan, Dakota, and New York before being claimed by the Smoke in the expansion draft.  He rotated between the second and third lines for Kansas City, compiling 7 goals and 6 assists.

“Story of my life,” said Miller.  “Good enough that teams want me, but not good enough to keep around.”

Moultrie was the least productive of Quebec’s trio of blueline rookies, putting up 6 points in 40 games.  But at age 21, he presents considerable upside for a KC team that’s building for the future.  Knorr was the leading scorer for the Tigres’ minor-league affiliate in Maine, with 19 goals, and he scored four goals in a game last season; however, he lacked the passing and defensive skills to make him a fit with Quebec.

Charlie Brooks

The Galaxy, meanwhile, have struggled to get production from their bottom two lines, and their third defensive pairing has been a revolving door.  To address those issues, Washington picked up RW Charlie Brooks and D Scott Hexton from the Boston Badgers in exchange for D Graham Bellinger and minor-league RW Marty “Fish” Pescatelli.

“I think we got underrated value here,” said Adams.  “Charlie Brooks and Scott Hexton aren’t household names, but they’re both guys who can come in right away and help us get to the playoffs.  We’re thrilled with this pickup.”

Brooks was one of the few offensive bright spots for Boston, producing 17 goals and 19 assists on the top line across from rookie Lix Darnholm.  He’s known by the nickname “Sunny” for his cheerful disposition, which has made him a popular teammate throughout his career.

“Washington did well to land Sunny,” said Gondret; Brooks played for Quebec the last two seasons.  “He’s a great guy to have around.”

Scott Hexton

Hexton, meanwhile, is known as a solid defender who isn’t as active on offense; he posted 9 points this season with the Badgers.  It’s not clear whether he’ll replace Burt Hampton or Bruce Hogaboom on the bottom pairing, or whether the three will rotate.  Coach Rodney Reagle said that “we’ll figure that out as we go, but it’s nice to have a lot of good choices to pick from.”

Bellinger was a highly-regarded prospect when Washington drafted him last year, but he struggled to get established and fell out of favor with Reagle.  Twice in a row, he started the year with the Galaxy, only to be demoted to the minors in midseason.  The Smoke hope that more consistent playing time and a longer leash will allow him to live up to the hype.  Pescatelli is only 18 and showed some promise in the minors, scoring 5 goals and 18 assists in 41 games.

Will these deals put either team over the top?  Perhaps not; neither acquisition is a blockbuster.  But as Adams put it, “It really feels like we’ve got two teams that are about equal talent-wise.  Any little edge that we can find to come out on top, we’re gonna take it.”


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.”

SHL Player of the Week – Week 5

Casey Thurman

The SHL selected Washington Galaxy LW Casey Thurman as its Player of the Week.  Thurman is the second straight Galaxy player to win Player of the Week honors; linemate Jefferson McNeely nabbed the award last week.  Washington’s top line has fueled their success all season long, and that was especially true this week.  Thurman had a brilliant week, posting 11 points (5 goals, 6 assists).  Thanks to his efforts, the Galaxy put up an undefeated week that allowed them to slip into second place in the East.

On Saturday, Thurman had a hand in every goal, scoring twice and assisting twice more in a 4-1 victory in New York.  The next night, he had a pair of assists to help the Galaxy tip Seattle, 5-4.  Then on Friday, Thurman netted another two goals and added an assist in an 8-1 humiliation of Kansas City.

Thurman and McNeely are now the top two point-scorers in the league; McNeely has a total of 50 points, while Thurman has 46. Thurman is third in the league in goals (with 20, behind McNeely and Steven Alexander of Hamilton) and assists (26, trailing only linemate Eddie Costello and the Pistols’ Claude Lafayette).

“Thurm and Eddie and me, that’s just magic on the ice,” said McNeely.  “Our offense should be a registered weapon, because it’s downright lethal.”


SHL Player of the Week – Week 4

Jefferson McNeely

The SHL selected Washington Galaxy RW Jefferson McNeely as its Player of the Week.  McNeely has been red-hot since the season’s beginning, and he had another tremendous week this time around, putting up 11 points.  McNeely now has 39 points on the season, most in the league.  The 8 goals he scored this week brought him to 21 for the year, eclipsing Hamilton’s Steven Alexander for the lead in that category as well.  With McNeely leading the way, the Galaxy went 4-1-0 for the week to move into a second-place tie in the East.

On Saturday, McNeely scored twice in the first period to lead the Galaxy to a 4-1 win in Anchorage.  On Tuesday, the winger registered a hat trick in a losing effort against Quebec.  The next night, in the second leg of the home-and-home against the Tigres, McNeely scored and had two assists to help the Galaxy get revenge with a 4-0 victory.  Then on Friday, McNeely potted a pair to help down Hershey 5-4.

“I can’t say enough good stuff about Jeff and what he’s done for us,” said Washington coach Rodney Reagle.  “He’s been playing out of his mind this year.  He’s pretty much single-handedly kept us in the race.  He deserves all the glory.”



Reagle’s Surfer Garb Earns League Reprimand

Washington Galaxy coach Rodney Reagle has a long and illustrious history of coaching games in unorthodox outfits, dressing up as a cowboy or a vampire or Mr. T.  The league’s tolerance for Reagle’s eccentric apparel appears to be waning, however, as his latest costume earned him a fine and a stern warning from the commissioner.

Rodney Reagle

DC has been in a cold snap recently; the temperature in the nation’s capital has been unseasonably chilly.  Wednesday night was the second half of a home-and-home against the Quebec Tigres; the Galaxy had dropped the first game 6-3.  Before Wednesday’s game, Reagle made a seemingly off-hand remark, telling reporters that “my mom always told me it’s important to stay on the sunny side, so that’s what we’re going to do.”

When Reagle took the bench that evening, however, it became clear exactly what he meant.  The coach was dressed more for a day at the beach than a hockey game.  He wore a Hawaiian shirt, board shorts, flip-flops, and sunglasses.  He even appeared to have smeared zinc oxide on his nose.

The Galaxy players took the costume in stride, but the visiting Tigres and the officials were taken somewhat aback.  “I didn’t notice anything at first,” said head referee Scott Pritchard.  “But then I hear Reagle calling me over to talk, so I skate over and suddenly I’m staring at Jimmy Buffett.  I’m thinking, ‘What in the world is going on over here?’”

After the Galaxy’s 4-0 win, Reagle (still in his beach garb) explained the method to his madness.  “It’s just been too darn cold here lately,” the coach said, “so I’m just trying to think sunny!  Change your mind and you can change the world, right?  If I’m dressed for good surfing weather, then good surfing weather will come!  That’s, like, totally how it works.”  Reagle continued the beach theme by dropping phrases such as “cowabunga” and “totally tubular” into his answers.

The league was unamused, fining Reagle $500 for violating the rules against coaches wearing “professional attire” on the bench.  “Coach Reagle is a colorful character, and I appreciate that,” said SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell.  “And we’ve looked the other way at some of his costume choices before.  But at some point, we’ve got to draw the line.  We don’t want to turn the league into a sideshow.”  The commissioner added that the league would consider further action, including possible suspensions, if Reagle continued to flout the dress code.

Washington’s front office and fans both responded with outrage to the decision.  The hashtag “#FreeRodney” began trending on Twitter shortly after the decision was announced, and Galaxy GM Garnet “Ace” Adams stoutly defended his coach.  “Look, we all know that Rodney’s a little kooky,” said Adams.  “Okay, maybe more than a little.  All right, he’s basically a lunatic.  But we love him for that!  And this is a free country!  Who’s the commissioner to say that Rodney can’t wear a Hawaiian shirt on the bench?  He has a right to bare arms!”

For his part, Reagle reacted with bemusement.  “I mean, this is where they draw the line?  Really?” the coach said.  “Dressing up like Mr. T was OK, but wearing a beach outfit is demeaning to the game?  I don’t get it.  It’s not like I was naked out there or anything.”

The coach added that the decision is popular with at least one person.  “My wife is behind the commish 100% on this one,” said Reagle.  “Being married to me is embarrassing enough as it is.  She told me that from now on, I’m not leaving the house until she’s approved my outfit.  That’s probably for the best.”


East Full of Surprises Early

Through roughly one-quarter of the SHL season, the race in the Eastern Division has defied expectations.  As Washington Galaxy RW Jefferson McNeely put it, “If anybody correctly predicted the standings so far, you ought to get to Vegas and start playing the tables, because you must have ESP or something.”

The most shocking storyline by far has been the collapse of the defending champion Hershey Bliss.  Widely favored to capture a second straight division title, the Bliss instead fell toward the division basement and have remained there since.  Their incredibly slow start hasn’t been the result of injuries (they haven’t suffered any) or key departures from last season (their roster returned largely intact).  In fact, the exact cause of their struggles has been a mystery.

After Hershey lost 3-0 in Saskatchewan on Friday to run their losing streak to five, coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber called out his club, saying that the championship had gone to their heads.  “When you win a title, that’s a real sugar high,” Barber said.  “But after the high comes the crash.  We made the mistake of believing our own press.  We’ve gone as soft as a bag of Kisses in a hot car on a summer day.”  C Justin Valentine, on the other hand, thinks the problem is “mostly bad puck luck, honestly.  You look at the underlying numbers, they’re pretty similar to last year.  We’re getting the looks and the shots, doing our work on the defensive end, but we’re not getting the breaks.”

One obvious trouble spot for the Bliss is a perennial problem in Chocolate City: goaltending.  After Brandon Colt came out of nowhere to win the Finals MVP last season, the hockey world was eager to see if he could repeat the feat.  So far, he hasn’t.  Colt’s GAA has ballooned nearly a full goal since last season (from 2.77 to 3.68), while his save percentage has plummeted from .909 to .872.  Meanwhile Milo Stafford, the ageless backup who defied the skeptics by producing strong numbers year after year, suddenly looks as though he might be washed up at age 36.  “It’s a hard time for Milo and me,” said Colt.  “We feel like we’re letting the whole team down.”

With Hershey down and out, a couple of surprising teams have jumped up to grab the spotlight.  The Hamilton Pistols looked to be a young team on the rise, finishing just below the .500 mark last season.  But now it appears they’ve arrived ahead of schedule.  After going 3-1-1 on a tough run through the West this week, culminating in a 3-3 tie with mighty Michigan at Cadillac Place, the Pistols ran their record to 11-3-1 and are five points clear in the division.

Last season, Hamilton’s strong top line was dragged down by a lack of depth and experience.  GM Marcel LaClaire made some modest but shrewd moves this offseason. He acquired a pair of seasoned veteran leaders in C Henry Constantine and D Craig Werner, and called up a bunch of prospects (wingers Jamie Campbell and Michael Jennings and defensemen Albie Glasco and Buster Kratz) to fix their dismal bottom line.  The result has been a high-octane offense that’s scored 62 goals and compiled a +27 rating so far, along with a solid defense in front of Lasse Koskinen, who appears to be the league’s next great netminder.

“Everyone talked about how this wasn’t our year, but we were really going to be something a couple seasons down the road,” said coach Keith Shields.  “I told our guys, why the heck shouldn’t it be our year?  Don’t let anyone tell you you’re too young or too green to compete.  And they sure haven’t!  What we’re doing night in and night out is an inspiration.”

Slotted in behind high-flying Hamilton is the Quebec Tigres.  Ever since the Tigres joined the league in 2016, they’ve been built on a hard-nosed defense and a great goalie in Riki Tiktuunen.  The question was whether they could ever develop a functional offense that would allow them to compete.  In their third season, they’ve finally done it.  Quebec made a splash in free agency, signing ex-Washington winger Walt Camernitz to a 4-year, $20 million deal.  Skeptics wondered whether Camernitz was really worth that much money.  The early returns have been extremely encouraging; not only is Camernitz producing at a point-a-game pace so far (7 goals, 9 assists), he’s also sparked his linemates, C Mikhail Ilyushin (6 goals, 13 assists) and RW Stephane Mirac (6 goals, 7 assists).  They’ve also added a new top pairing of strong two-way defenders, top draft pick Laurie Workman (4 goals, 6 assists) and minor-league callup Richard McKinley (3 goals, 5 assists).  They’ve almost doubled their goal output from the same point last season (from 26 to 44).  Their newfound offensive prowess has allowed them to post a 9-6-0 record despite Tiktuunen looking a notch less dominant than usual.

“Before, everyone said the only way we could win was to make the game a bloodbath and win a 1-0 rock fight,” said coach Martin Delorme.  “But now we show that you can be a tough, hard-working team and also score the goalies.  Perhaps our new uniforms have made us more stylish.”

Lurking close behind Hamilton and Quebec are a pair of familiar foes.  The Washington Galaxy were expected to take a step back this season after losing Camernitz and D Patrick Banks.  But they’ve shown unexpected resilience, surviving an early injury to C J.C. Marais and posting a solid 8-7-0 record.  Their success has been fueled by a resurgence of their top line, led by McNeely.  The D.C. star leads the league in points (28) and is tied for the lead in goals (13) with Hamilton’s Steven Alexander.  “People rushed to bury us, but we’ve got the experience and the bloodline.”

Meanwhile, the New York Night may be best known for coach Nick Foster‘s attempt to start a feud with Hamilton, but they’ve looked decent so far with a 7-7-1 record.  They’ve rediscovered the firepower that went missing last season; after hanging a 10-spot on Seattle Friday, they now lead the league with 63 goals.  While their defense remains a mess, much-maligned goalie Jesse Clarkson has quietly provided a steady performance (5-4-0, 3.11 GAA, .913 sv%) that has kept them in games.

“There’s a lot of hockey still to be played,” said Foster.  “This division’s still wide open.  Stay tuned, ’cause anything can happen.”


Interview of the Week: Bruce Hogaboom

This week’s interview is with Washington Galaxy D Bruce “Boom Boom” Hogaboom.

SHL Digest: We’re here talking to one of the league’s most fearsome fighters, the man they call “Boom Boom,” Bruce Hogaboom.  Bruce, thanks for speaking with us.

Bruce “Boom Boom” Hogaboom

Bruce Hogaboom: No one calls me Bruce except my mom.  Call me Boom Boom or Boomer.

SHLD: Okay, Boomer.  When we talk about the real heavyweights in this league, the guys who really know how to throw down, a handful of names come up.  Max Madison in Michigan, Hercules Mulligan in Hamilton, Dmitri Kalashnikov in Quebec, Ruslan Gromov in Hershey, and you.

BH: “Heavyweight!”  I like the sound of that.  Yeah, the guys you mentioned, we’re the cream of the enforcer crop.

SHLD: Other than yourself, who do you think is the best fighter in the league?

BH: It’s gotta be Mad Max.  He’s wiry, so he’s hard to pin down, and he comes at you from a bunch of different angles.  And that guy has no fear whatsoever.  He’ll drop the gloves any time in any situation.  And he’s a good two-way player too, which is hardly fair.  That’s like a boxer who paints like Picasso.

SHLD: Some enforcers really like to fight, while others think of it as just their job.  Do you like to fight?

BH: Absolutely!  Isn’t it obvious?  I love to fight.  I love to watch fights.  I study the tape all the time.

SHLD: You study tape of… fights?

BH: Sure.  If you’re a big-time scorer, you watch tape of your shots to see if you need to tweak your approach.  If you’re a fighter, you study fights, to watch your technique and how other guys like to fight, so you can get the upper hand. Some people think that fighting isn’t a skill, but if you’re serious about it, it is.

SHLD: Interesting!  A lot of fans might be surprised to hear that.

BH: And honestly, I just love to watch my old fights for the fun of it.  A good fight is like a good steak or a fine wine; one of life’s pleasures.

SHLD: Have you always been a fighter?

BH: Ever since I could skate, pretty much.  I always wanted to play pro hockey, but I couldn’t shoot and I wasn’t a great passer.  I thought about being a goalie, but you have to be nuts to take some of the shots that they take.  But when I started scrapping, I found out I have heavy hands and I could fight well.

SHLD: That’s for sure!

BH: It felt good.  Before I started fighting, I usually got picked last or nearly last, because I wasn’t a great player.  But after, guys started picking me first, because they wanted the protection.  I recognized my skill and developed it.

SHLD: And you kept on developing that as you got older.

BH: Definitely!  When I was thirteen, I gave my fists nicknames, because I thought that sounded cool.  My right was Randy, and my left was Matilda.

SHLD: Randy and Matilda… interesting names!

BH: Yeah.  I’d loosen guys up with Randy, then I’d bring out Matilda and drop them. Word started to spread, and the enforcers in other towns would come around just to fight me.  And I beat them all.  I was the Mike Tyson of central Alberta.

SHLD: Some people say that fighting and enforcers have no place in the modern game, and should be banned.  What would you say to those people?

BH: I’d say that’s a crazy idea.  First of all, plenty of fans love the fights.  Look at all the fight videos on YouTube.  Listen to the crowd whoop it up when guys go at it.  People might not admit it, but they love the violence.  Second, it actually makes the sport safer.  Ask our skill guys, Jeff [McNeely] and Thurm [Casey Thurman] and Eddie [Costello].  If another team wants to take a run at those guys, they think about me coming out to even the score and they lay off.  It helps discourage the really dangerous hits.

SHLD: You’ve been suspended before, when you left the bench to fight with a player.  Did you think that was a fair suspension?

BH: [laughs] That game against Michigan, that was crazy.  The Wolves were out there flying around and railing guys, and the refs didn’t want to do anything about it.  So I put a stop to it.  Did I go too far?  Probably, but I tell you: they dialed it back the next time they played us.  They got the message.

SHLD: This season, you’re skating on the third pairing with a rookie, Bert Hampton, who’s also a tough customer!

BH: Hacksaw!  I love him.  On the team, they call him “Little Boomer,” because he plays the same way I do.  I’ve been teaching him all kinds of pointers: how to tie a guy up so he can’t get his hands free, how to protect against a blindside hit, the way to sneak in an extra shot or two before the refs break it up.

SHLD: You’re sort of his mentor, then.

BH: Definitely.  I don’t have any kids, but he’s like my son now.  I can’t wait to see him develop to his full fighting potential.

SHLD: Well, thanks for a fun and informative interview!  Appreciate the time.

BH: Glad to do it! I’m just out here keeping the spirit of old-time hockey alive.