Galaxy Fire Coach James

Two years ago, the Washington Galaxy shocked the SHL world by firing coach Rodney Reagle and hiring Peter James to replace him.  Although Reagle had lead the Galaxy to two SHL Finals, the team’s record had slipped, and the team ownership reportedly felt that the coach’s goofy, lighthearted, sometimes outrageous approach was no longer working.  By picking the low-key and serious-minded James, Washington hoped to change the team’s culture and return to contention.

Peter James

Instead, the ensuing seasons have turned into a disaster.  James failed to connect with his players and failed to charm either the media or the fanbase.  The team ‘s record plummeted from mediocrity to abject disaster.  The team’s attendance drooped along with their on-ice performance.  GM Ace Adams lost his job due to the team’s struggles.  Most of the team’s stars have left, either in trade or via free agency.  And after two years and a 37-78-13 record, the Galaxy have apparently seen enough; this week, they announced that James was being let go.

“We thank Peter James for his service to the club,” said GM Wilson Shuster.  “No one doubts his hard work and dedication.  Unfortunately, it’s become clear that this wasn’t the right fit, for Peter or for the team.  It’s time to begin a new chapter for this team.”

According to team sources, James’ attempts to crack down and impose greater discipline on the team met resistance from Galaxy veterans, most of whom liked Reagle and were displeased about his firing.  Their defiance undermined the coach’s authority, and James in turn urged the front office to get rid of them and turn to younger players from the minors.  But the minor leaguers proved overmatched, and they found James remote and difficult to talk to.

Things went from bad to worse this season, as Washington finished with the league’s worst record.  The team’s best player in 2020 was arguably C Harvey Bellmore, who signed a four-year free agent deal with the club before the 2019 season.  But Bellmore is a well-known partier and practical joker, and he and James grew to detest one another.  Team sources say that Bellmore’s strong year was fueled by the hope that a contending team would want to acquire him.  But he stayed put, and his defiance of James only grew.  He mocked the coach behind his back, mimicking James’ rigid posture and awkward speaking style in fake pep talks during practices and on team flights.  The coach in turn hit Bellmore with multiple fines and complained repeatedly to the front office, to no avail.

Meanwhile, James struggled to escape the shadow of his larger-than-life predecessor.  Ironically, Reagle’s penchant for wacky costumes and colorful quote might have been a welcome distraction during the last couple of down years.  Instead, reporters largely tuned out James’ colorless press conferences and gave the team less coverage.  And fans started to stay away altogether.  There was a group of diehards who sat behind the home bench at Constellation Center and called themselves “Reagle’s Eagles,” wearing curly wigs and fake wings to every game.  They loved to interact with the coach, who would frequently toss them pucks and autographed T-shirts.  When James arrived in town, the diehards swapped their wings for six-shooters, renamed themselves “The James Gang,” and tried to connect with the new bench boss.  But James didn’t engage with them, and they eventually stopped coming to games.

The Galaxy tried a number of gimmicks to goose attendance, using the B-52s’ “Cosmic Thing” as a rally song and turning the team Twitter account over to star RW Jefferson McNeely‘s wife to post memes of the couple’s daughter during a game.  But as the losses piled up and the stars kept leaving town, Reagle’s Eagles weren’t the only fans who weren’t turning out anymore.  This combination of trouble factors caused the front office’s faith in James to evaporate quickly, leading to this week’s dismissal.

Reached for comment, James thanked the Galaxy for the opportunity and said, “I wish it had turned out differently.” He declined further comment.

Washington is one of several teams that will be seeking a new coach this offseason; the Michigan Gray Wolves, New York Night, and Milwaukee (formerly the Dakota Jackalopes) also have openings.  It’s believed that former New York coach Nick Foster and former Dakota coach Flim Dahlgren will be on the Galaxy’s shortlist, along with Hamilton Pistols assistant Jack Thornberry and minor-league coach Mel Longian.

2020 SHL Week 14 Transactions

  • On Monday, the Washington Galaxy‘s CHL affiliate in Baltimore signed D Davis McNeely to a short-term contract.  Baltimore had a hole on its blueline after injuries to Rich Behneke and Shane Gladchuk, and they turned to a familiar face to fill the role.  McNeely is the younger brother of Galaxy star Jefferson McNeely, and he played three seasons in Baltimore.  He appeared in four games for Cleveland earlier this season.
  • On Friday, the New York Night‘s affiliate in Utah placed C Foster Culp on the injured list.  Culp collided with a defender and wound up falling into the bench, fracturing his collarbone.  Culp, who was among the league leaders in goals, is expected to miss the rest of the season.  To replace Culp on the roster, Utah signed F Bobby Warner for the remainder of the season.
  • On Saturday, the Galaxy’s Baltimore affiliate activated Behneke from the injured list.  Behneke missed three weeks with a lingering upper-body injury.  In order to make room for Behneke, the team waived McNeely, who appeared in 3 games with Baltimore and failed to record a point.

Galaxy Wife’s Memes a Hit on Team Twitter

The Washington Galaxy aren’t expecting big things this season.  The odds that they’ll compete for the Vandy, or even for a playoff spot, seem slim at best.  The odds that one or more of the team’s remaining stars will be shipped out seem high.

Fortunately for Galaxy fans, though, the team does seem to have a couple of breakout stars in the making.  Not on the ice, but on social media.  Jillian McNeely, wife of star RW Jefferson McNeely, has attracted attention among fans for her clever Galaxy-related memes, many of which feature the couple’s 7-year-old daughter Michelle.

Jillian’s posts, and their following among fans, attracted the attention of the team’s marketing staff.  They inspired Chief Experience Officer David Maltby to do something unorthodox, at least by SHL standards: offer Jillian control of the Galaxy’s Twitter account for a night.

“It’s obvious that our fans love Jillian and her memes,” said Maltby.  “And for those fans who might not have discovered them yet, this was a great opportunity to showcase her, Michelle, and the whole thing.  It’s a long season, so why not try something a little different?”

Jillian was in charge for Tuesday’s game against the Dakota Jackalopes.  “whats up dc peeps!!!” read her first tweet, posted a few minutes before the opening puck drop.  “it’s ya girl, jillian (mrs. jeff) mcneely, live tweeting the game”.  Shortly thereafter, she added: “they put a girl in charge??? run for your lives!!!”

One fan sarcastically offered Jillian condolences for having to watch the game.  Jillian replied, “don’t worry… mama’s all fueled up,” adding several red wine emojis.

Naturally, fans immediately began clamoring for some memes of Michelle, or “mimi-memes,” as Jillian likes to call them.  “all right… you want em, you got em!” Jillian replied.  She then posted the following meme:

“mimi is ride or die for daddy’s team!!!” Jillian said. In response to a question, she said that the picture came from the team’s end-of-season beach party last year.  She then posted the following meme, featuring Michelle with the children of LWs Casey Thurman and Charlie Brooks:

In the second period, Galaxy goalie Buzz Carson made a tricky save on a shot by Jackalopes LW Ryan Airston that left the netminder in an undignified sprawling position, wrapped around the post.  Jillian then posted this meme:

That one drew a sharp response from Brenda Vale, Carson’s girlfriend, who tweeted: “u making fun of my man???  [knife emoji] better step off…”  Jillian immediately responded, “peace, gurl! nothin but fun… srsly u know i [heart emoji] u and buzz”.

Perhaps as a peace offering, Jillian posted this meme after a particularly nice Carson save on a breakaway by Dakota’s Arkady Golynin late in the second period to keep the game a tie:

“that’s more like it, hun… we can be friends again,” replied Vale.

At the start of the third, the Galaxy played their rally song, “Cosmic Thing,” drawing an enthusiastic response from Jillian.  “I love this song!!! Shake ur hunnybuns, everybody!!!” she tweeted.

The teams traded goals in the third, and the game wound up going to overtime, and that prompted another mimi-meme:

Unfortunately, LW Joe Freelander scored in overtime to give the Jackalopes the win.  Jillian and Michelle were both displeased:

Maltby and the Galaxy, on the other hand, approved of Jillian’s outing.  The team reporting that views and engagement on the Twitter feed were both up over 50% from a typical game.  “Anytime Jillian wants to do this again,” Maltby said, “she’s more than welcome.”

Jillian also seemed positive on the idea of a repeat performance.  “I had fun!” she said.  “It was a little nerve-wracking, ‘cause I had to remember not to curse, but I enjoyed it.  And Mimi loves being a social-media star!  All her school friends asked her about it the next day.”

Jefferson, on the other hand, had more mixed emotions.  “I took some ribbing in the locker room about it,” he told reporters.  “Jillian loved it, and that’s great.  But if Michelle gets any more famous, my agent might drop me and sign her.”

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