Galaxy Trade for Sailors D Gallagher

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.

Stan Gallagher

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.

Woody Fairwood

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.”

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VP Draws Protests, Boos at Galaxy Game

The worlds of politics and hockey had another awkward intersection this week, courtesy of Donald Trump.  In 2015, back when Trump was still considered a fringe candidate, the Washington Galaxy mocked him by having fans shoot pucks at a caricature of his face, a stunt for which the team later apologized.  Now that Trump has stunned the world by becoming president, the Galaxy invited him to drop the puck for their Opening Day game against the Hamilton Pistols.

Trump declined the invitation, but the Vice President agreed to do the honors in his place.  But a seemingly harmless ceremonial ritual turned into the latest example of the partisan divide in America, as his appearance was met with protests and boos.

Prior to the game, a group of approximately 50 anti-Trump protesters demonstrated outside of Constellation Center, leading chants and holding signs with slogans like “Dump Trump,” “Impeach Trump,” and “Hail to the Thief.”  Many fans walking into the arena flashed thumbs-up and expressed agreement with the protesters, although a couple of them stopped to argue.  The arguments grew heated at times, but did not turn physical.

When it was time for the puck drop, the VP emerged onto the ice wearing a Galaxy jersey and waving to the crowd.  As soon as his name was announced, the boos began to swell, drowning out the handful of cheers.  By the time he arrived at center ice along with Galaxy C J.C. Marais and Pistols D Russ Klemmer, the booing was so loud as to be nearly deafening.  Public address announcer Rob Crane urged the fans to show respect, which only made them boo louder.   The VP dropped the puck, then briefly waved again and hurried off the ice as quickly as he could.

He also visited both locker rooms before the game.  “We had a chance to talk a little bit,” said Galaxy D Bill Corbett.  “He’s a really nice guy and a real sports fan.”  Asked about the booing, Corbett said, “I mean, they’ve got the First Amendment rights, so they can do it.  But it’s a real shame, because he doesn’t deserve it.”

Rodney Reagle

Washington coach Rodney Reagle declined to discuss the incident, joking that “they’ve got 100,000 volts of electricity wired right through this chair, and if I say anything political, they’re gonna turn on the juice and I’m a goner.  So I’m just gonna keep my mouth shut.”

Sources close to the Galaxy say that star winger Jefferson McNeely was supposed to take the opening puck drop, but that he declined to do so either out of a personal antipathy to the administration or out of fear that he would be shot.  McNeely refused to confirm or deny the rumor, but said that “I’m glad to see our fans express themselves.”

For his part, the VP professed not to be upset about the booing.  “I love freedom, and this is what freedom is about,” he said.  “I don’t object to our citizens expressing their views.  I very much appreciated the fans who had the courage to show their support.”

Washington, Hershey Title Fight Goes Down to Last Day

Washington SmallHershey SmallGoing into the last week of the season, the East’s defending champion, the Washington Galaxy, trailed the Hershey Bliss by two points.  But with the two teams scheduled to meet on the last day of the season, Galaxy coach Rodney Reagle made a prediction.  “Just you watch,” Reagle said to reporters during Saturday’s game.  “It’s all going to come down to that game, and we’re both going to be tied.  One game for all the marbles.  Because that’s exactly the sick sense of humor the hockey gods have.”

As it turns out, Reagle’s prediction was exactly right.  When the Bliss and Galaxy faced off at Constellation Center on Friday, they had identical 33-23-3 records. Just as Reagle had foreseen, the winner of the game would win the division.

As it turned out, Washington defended its division crown with a dramatic come-from-behind 5-3 win that left the home crowd ecstatic and the visiting Bliss heartbroken.

“Couldn’t have asked for a more thrilling finish, eh?” said Reagle with a grin.

The Galaxy came into the season finale riding a six-game winning streak.  The Bliss were nearly as hot, having won six of their last seven, the only loss a 3-1 decision to eventual Western champ Michigan on Tuesday.

Both teams were confident heading into the deciding game.  “We feel like we’ve got the edge,” said Bliss C Justin Valentine, anchor of the team’s high-powered Love Line.  “Our offense is clicking, and Jesse [Clarkson] has really sealed up the net for us.  We’re ready to take this.”

Countered Galaxy RW Jefferson McNeely, “This game is ours.  We’re peaking at the right time, and we’re playing at home in front of our awesome fans.  We always come up big in big moments, and this is about as big as they get.”

The first period was a raucous, high-tempo affair, with the crowd at full volume.  Both teams came out of the period with some good news.  The Galaxy were able to contain the Love Line, denying the high-scoring trio any good looks at the net.  On the other hand, Hershey got offense from an unexpected source, as third-line C Henry Constantine slipped a pair of power-play goals past Washington netminder Roger Orion, quieting the crowd and giving the visitors a 2-0 edge after the first period.

In the second period, the pace slowed a bit as the nervous energy of the first frame ebbed.  Washington got on the board as D Rusty Anderson banged in a slapper from the blue line a little more than 6 minutes in, but that was the only tally of the period, and the Galaxy found themselves trailing 2-1 with only one period left to save their season.

Before the third, Reagle tried an unorthodox approach to motivate his men.  The coach is well-known for his penchant for dressing in costume and making screwball jokes, but he played it straight.  “You know who you are and you know what you need to do,” Reagle told his players.  “Stop, take a breath, and remember: you got this.”

Unfortunately for the home team, Hershey struck again five minutes into the third period, as LW Russ Nahorniak tipped one in from the goal mouth to make it 3-1.  “That was the real gut check for us,” said Galaxy C Eddie Costello.  “We looked up and down the bench and said, ‘All right, are we gonna roll over and give up, or are we going to get back in this?'”

Washington got their second wind and came out determined to catch up.  Less than two minutes after Nahorniak’s goal, Galaxy LW Walt Camernitz struck back on a three-on-two breakaway on a power play, going top shelf to make it 3-2.  But it was the latter half of the third period that really turned into a nightmare for Hershey.

With seven and a half minutes left in the game, Galaxy D Bill Corbett fired a low liner from the blue line.  The puck took a couple of strange bounces and eluded Clarkson for a curious tying goal.  Four minutes later, the Bliss surrendered another odd-man rush, with C J.C. Marais deking past a helpless Clarkson and putting the home team ahead for the first time.  The arena seemed to shake to its foundations as the crowd roared while a stunned Hershey squad tried to get itself back together.  But with a minute and a half left, the Galaxy got some much-needed insurance, with D Kevin Buchanan banking one home off the left post to make it 5-3, which was the ultimate final score.

After the game, the Bliss were left shell-shocked, having surrendered four unanswered goals to blow a seemingly solid lead.  There was a lot about this game that was tough for Hershey to swallow.  The Love Line was held without a single point in the game.  Bliss coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber suggested that the trio was exhausted by a long season.  “They’ve carried so much of the load for us for so long,” mused Barber.  “I just think there wasn’t enough left in the tank.”  And Clarkson, Hershey’s big deadline pickup, wilted in the clutch when his team needed him most.  Clarkson was not available for comment after the game.

Barber summed things up for his team by saying, “To come this far this year and then have a game like this, it’s like biting into a nice Fifth Avenue bar and finding a big rock in the middle.”

In the Washington locker room, the mood was entirely different.  Reagle blasted “Joy to the World” from his office as the players danced and sprayed each other with beer.  “Man, what a crazy ending!” shouted Costello.  “Last year was easier, but this was way more fun.”

The Galaxy also extended praise to their defeated foe.  “Big tip of the lid to Hershey,” said McNeely.  “They gave us a real run, and with a couple of bounces, this could easily have gone their way.  They’re a hell of a team, and I expect them to come back strong next year.”

As for the Finals matchup with Western champion Michigan?  “Bring it on,” said McNeely.  “We can handle anything they want to throw at us.  We’re ready.”

East Up for Grabs

Who’s going to win the SHL’s Eastern division?  Who knows?  If the first three weeks of the season have proven anything, it’s that there’s no clear favorite.

“Maybe, instead of beat each other up for 60 games, we should just pick the winner’s name out of a hat,” said Washington Galaxy coach Rodney Reagle.  “That would probably be just as fair.”

Washington SmallReagle’s Galaxy were the division favorites coming into this season after essentially going wire-to-wire last season and pushing the champion Anchorage Igloos to seven games in the SHL Finals.  But much like the Igloos, Washington has struggled to stay above the .500 mark.  Unlike the Igloos, however, the Galaxy haven’t had to deal with any major injuries.

So what’s plaguing Washington?  Offensive malaise.  While RW Jefferson McNeely has bounced back from a disappointing season to be an elite scoring force, LW Casey Thurman has gotten off to a slow start (5 goals, 11 points).

The primary culprit, though, has been the Galaxy’s third line.  Last year, the line was a secret weapon for the Galaxy, providing a consistent offensive presence.  This year has been a different story.  Washington lost LW Todd Douglas and C Drustan Zarkovich in the expansion draft; their replacements, rookies Henry Van Alpin and Barry Sullivan, have struggled badly.  Van Alpin failed to record a point in 10 games, and has been a healthy scratch in three straight games.  Sullivan, expected to be a strong two-way force, has posted only 1 goal and 2 assists so far.  The current points leader on the third line: stay-home D Bill Corbett.

“Obviously, we’ve had some growing pains with the third line,” said Reagle.  “If we can get them producing the way we expect, I think we can start to pull away.”  So far, though, they haven’t.  Their 8-6-1 start has them on top of the division by a single point.

Hershey SmallIf any team in the East was expected to challenge Washington, it was the Hershey Bliss.  They stumbled to a disappointing third-place finish last year after a major injury to star LW Lance Sweet sank their season.  This year, though, Sweet was back to 100%, and the team seemingly strengthened itself on both ends in the offseason.

The result?  So far, not much.  Hershey’s 6-7-2 record puts them fourth in the division, three points back.  The “Love Line” – the famous first line that won the fan’s hearts last season – is off to a so-so start after providing the bulk of the Bliss offense last year.  Neither Sweet, C Justin Valentine, nor RW Christopher Hart leads the team in goals this year; all three trail rookie C Spencer Kirkpatrick, who has 7.

At the other end of the ice, the leaky goaltending that bedeviled the Bliss last year remains a problem.  Hershey dealt last year’s starting netminder, Riley Lattimore, to Anchorage and handed the crease to 21-year-old prospect Buzz Carson.  It hasn’t worked out so far, as Carson has posted a 1-5-1 record and a 3.67 GAA.  Like Lattimore before him, Carson is in danger of losing the starting job to veteran backup Milo Stafford.

“Obviously, we’re not happy with what we’ve seen in net so far,” said Bliss coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber.  “It’s like biting into a nice tasty chocolate bar and getting a big squirt of lemon juice.  A burst of sour in the middle of the sweet.  We’ve got to get better.”

With neither Washington nor Hershey taking control, the door is open for some surprise contenders.

New York smallLast season, the New York Night finished in second place more or less by default with a 28-29-3 record.  Their high-caliber offense was undermined by a near-total indifference to defense and spotty goaltending.  This season is largely the same story – the Night are first in offense and last in defense once again – but despite being outscored on the season, their 7-6-2 record has them only a point behind Washington.

Hamilton SmallTied with New York is the Hamilton Pistols.  The Pistols were widely perceived to be writing off the season as part of a rebuilding effort, but had a surprisingly strong first week and remain in the hunt.  Powered by a brilliant performance from their potent first line and a comeback showing from goalie Brandon Colt, the Pistols remain stubbornly above the .500 mark.

Quebec SmallEven the expansion Quebec Tigres, whose offense has cratered after an injury to Zarkovich and who have slid into the cellar, are only six points behind the first-place Galaxy.

Will Washington and Hershey right the ship and take control of the division?  Will Hamilton and New York be able to spring a major upset?  Will Quebec be able to keep up?  Anything seems possible in this wide-open division.

The ever-optimistic Reagle sees a bright side.  “Look at the NFL,” the Washington coach said.  “For years, they’ve managed to sell widespread mediocrity as thrilling and competitive.  We can do the same!  Tune in next week for As The East Turns.”

2015 SHL Finals – Game 4

Washington SmallAnchorage SmallWASHINGTON GALAXY 4, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 2

Do you believe in momentum?  The Washington Galaxy certainly do.  After rallying back from a 3-0 deficit against the Anchorage Igloos in Game 3 to tie it up before falling 4-3, the Galaxy looked strong today and roared to a 4-2 win that knotted the series at 2 games apiece.

“Are you believing in us yet?” said Galaxy LW Casey Thurman.  “Believe it.  Everything’s moving in our direction.  If Anchorage isn’t scared yet, they should be.”

Both teams came out somewhat sluggish in this game, as the Igloos seemed a bit back on their heels after the Galaxy’s stirring comeback in Game 3, while Washington seemed weary from a physical game.  “I think the jet lag from the trip from Alaska really hit us,” said Igloos C Jake Frost.  “I felt like I could have fallen asleep on my skates.”

Both teams struggled to fight through the fog for most of the first period, before Galaxy C J.C. Marais went 5-hole on Igloos netminder Ty Worthington in the waning minutes of the period to give Washington a 1-0 edge.

Just over a minute into the second period, RW Nori Takoyaki took advantage of a crisp pass from Marais and doubled the Galaxy’s advantage with a sharp-angle shot that fooled Worthington. “I don’t even know if he saw me over there,” said Takoyaki.  “To be honest, he seemed to be reacting a little slowly out there.”

After Takoyaki’s goal, Anchorage coach Sam Castor called timeout and reamed out his team for their uninspired play.  “They were sleepwalking out there, and I told them it had to stop,” said the Igloos boss.  “We can’t give games away in the championship.”

The team responded to Castor’s castigation, and stepped up their intensity.  Before the second period was over, the Igloos had tied the game on a slapshot from LW Les Collins and a power-play tip-in by LW Jerry Koons six minutes later.

Collins has emerged as something of a secret weapon for the Igloos in the Finals.  Although he scored only 9 goals in the regular season, this was his third playoff tally.  “Les is built for the playoffs,” said Frost.  “He’s not afraid to get dirty, dig in the corners or block shots, and he doesn’t shy from the postseason spotlight.”

Just as the Galaxy had done in the previous game, the Igloos were hoping to seize the momentum back with their stirring comeback.  Washington didn’t let the Igloos rally shake them, though.  Three and a half minutes into the third, Galaxy D Teddy Morrison poked a shot underneath Worthington’s right pad to take the lead.  Halfway through the period, C Drustan Zarkovich collected a pass from D Bill Corbett and added some insurance with a blast from the blue line that bounced off Worthington’s glove and into the net.

Galaxy G Roger Orion stoned a flurry of late Anchorage chances – recording 35 saves in all – and the Galaxy secured the win and evened the series.

“So, everybody still think we’re dead meat against these guys?” said Washington C Eddie Costello.  “I’ve had a chance to see [the Igloos] up close for four games now, and they’re not as scary as I thought.  We’re hanging with them, and I think it’s even money right now who wins it.  The next game is key.”

Continue reading “2015 SHL Finals – Game 4”

2015 SHL Finals – Game 1

Washington SmallAnchorage SmallWASHINGTON GALAXY 3, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 2

The Anchorage Igloos came into the SHL Finals as heavy favorites.  If they expected this series to be a cakewalk, though, they’ll need to adjust their expectations.  The Washington Galaxy skated into Arctic Circle Arena and stole Game 1 by a 3-2 margin.

“You guys might want to hold up on the coronation,” Galaxy RW Jefferson McNeely jibed to reporters after the game.  “Looks like we’ve got a real series on our hands, huh?”

The Igloos are famous for their team speed, and early in the first game, they threatened to leave the visiting Galaxy in the dust.  A little more than 6 minutes into the game, Anchorage had already secured a 2-0 lead on goals by LW Les Collins and C Jake Frost.  “That was a real gut check for us,” said Washington D Kevin Buchanan.  “They were turning [the game] into a track meet, and we just weren’t able to keep up.”

But Washington coach Rodney Reagle made some adjustments and encouraged his team to keep their heads up.  “I told ‘em all to take a deep breath and figure out a way to get in Anchorage’s heads,” said Reagle.  “The pressure’s on them; they’re the favorite.  If we can disrupt their flow, we can change the whole series.  That was the message.”

Reagle’s players listened.  Late in the first period, Galaxy D Bill Corbett goaded Collins into a slashing penalty, and Galaxy RW Nori Takoyaki took advantage, banging home a goal from the left faceoff circle to make it 2-1.

In the second period, Washington managed to slow the pace of the game and prevent the Igloos from making their trademark breakaways.  Late in the period, the Galaxy first line struck twice to claim the lead.  First, C Eddie Costello banged home a blue-line shot through traffic to tie the game.  Then, less than a minute later, Igloos RW Sven Danielsen was whistled for tripping.  On the ensuing power play, Costello faked another blue-line slap shot, instead passing to LW Casey Thurman, who was sitting in front of the crease.  Thurman tipped it past Anchorage goalie Ty Worthington for a 3-2 lead.

In the third period, the Igloos peppered the Washington net with shots (a total of 14 in the period), but Galaxy goalie Roger Orion made several brilliant saves, and Washington’s defenders also sacrificed their bodies to block a number of Anchorage attempts, as the Galaxy held on for the victory.  The crowd filed out in stunned silence, perhaps realizing that they were in for more than they’d bargained for.

Buchanan proudly lifted his shirt in the locker room to display the bruises he’d received from blocking shots.  “That’s playoff hockey, baby!” Buchanan shouted.  “Those are badges of honor right there.  We’re not about to let up!”

Castor remained confident despite his team dropping the opener at home.  “We never thought the Galaxy were going to make this easy on us,” said Castor.  “We knew we’d have to earn this.  But we’re going to have to turn the intensity up a notch in the next game.”

Continue reading “2015 SHL Finals – Game 1”