Galaxy Parts Ways with Reagle

In a move that surprised many around the league, the Washington Galaxy this week announced that they had fired coach Rodney Reagle.  In making the move, the Galaxy part ways with the league’s most colorful coach and a man who led the team to a 129-105-10 record and two Finals appearances – but also a coach whose comic act was reportedly wearing thin with an aging roster that seemed to be heading in the wrong direction.

Rodney Reagle

There was a good deal of discontent in the capital city after the Galaxy finished with their first-ever sub-.500 record, going 31-32-1.  Washington was widely expected to take a step back this season after losing several key players in free agency, including LW Walt Camernitz, RW Sindri Pentti, and backup netminder Ron Mason.  Throughout the first half of the season, the Galaxy surprised with a strong performance, contending for a playoff spot for much of the season.  However, the team struggled to get production beyond their top line and collapsed after the trade deadline, going 7-19-1 over the last six weeks of the season – a stretch that sealed Reagle’s fate.

“Rodney Reagle is a good man and a good coach, and a guy I’m proud to call my friend,” said Galaxy GM Ace Adams.  “We’ve achieved a lot together, and I thank him for all the good times.  But we’ve made the difficult decision to go in a new direction.”

Reagle had a well-earned reputation as the clown prince of the SHL; he was famous around the league for dressing up in costumes on the bench and for giving post-game interviews laced with movie quotes and strange accents.  The coach’s public goofiness made him a controversial figure around the league, and even reportedly within the Galaxy front office.  As long as the team was winning, Reagle was generally viewed as charmingly eccentric.  Once the team started to slide, however, it was easy to paint the coach as insufficiently serious.

“I’ve always known that my sense of humor was a high-wire act,” said Reagle.  “As long as you win, you can be totally coo-coo bananas and everything thinks it’s a sign of a quirky genius.  When you stop winning, suddenly you’re not funny anymore.  I thought two trips to the Finals would have bought me a little more rope, but turns out there was just enough to hang me with.”

There are conflicting reports about whether the coach had lost the clubhouse.  Some sources said that many players found Reagle’s antics silly and embarrassing.  Others claimed that the players were actually quite loyal to Reagle, and that the decision was driven by owner Perry Dodge, who reportedly felt the coach was too loose with the team.

Several players spoke out in support of Reagle after word of the firing broke.  “Coach Reagle is a great guy to play for,” said C Eddie Costello.  “He treats you like a grown man and he keeps things light and fun.  I feel bad that we let him down.”

Adams declined to comment on who Reagle’s replacement might be, other than to confirm that assistant coach Herman Chambers would be “strongly considered.”  According to team sources, other possible candidates include Michigan assistant Morris Thompson, Anchorage assistant Kyle Barrow, and minor-league coach Peter James.

Advertisements

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.”

Change of the Guard Seems Imminent in SHL’s Last Week

Going into the final week of the 2017 SHL season, neither division race is terribly close, unlike the last couple of seasons.  Barring a seismic shift in the coming week, we aren’t going to see anything as dramatic as the 2016’s Hershey-Washington last-game showdown for the division.  Nonetheless, even if things unfold as expected, the results will still have their share of surprises.  As it stands, neither of last year’s Finals opponents will make a return trip this season.

In the West, the Michigan Gray Wolves head into the season’s final week trailing the Anchorage Igloos by 6 points.  The Wolves and Igloos have been the division powers since the league’s inception, so it’s no surprise that they will finish one-two yet again.  But the Wolves have been unable to make up the ground they lost when top scorers Hunter Bailes and Warren Marlow went down with injuries in midseason.  “We’ve fought hard all year, and I know we’re going to keep battling to the end,” said Wolves RW Gordon Lunsford.  “But we’re in a difficult spot right now.”

Michigan’s best chance to narrow the gap came on Wednesday, when they faced the Igloos at Arctic Circle Arena.  The game was a true heavyweight clash, as the Wolves stifled Anchorage’s league-best offense, with the Igloos responding in kind.  After two scoreless periods, Michigan actually drew first blood seven minutes into the third, when Lunsford dented the twine on a hard slapshot between Anchorage goalie Ty Worthington‘s legs.  “That got us fired up,” said Lunsford.  “We thought this was the goal that was going to set us on a run to take the division.”

But with just over a minute left in the game, the Igloos tied the game on a fluky goal by D Sebastian Pomfret, who flicked a rebound that bounced off the back of Michigan netminder Dirk Lundquist back and into the goal.  That sent the game to overtime, where Wolves C Wesley Knight committed a tough holding-the-stick penalty.  15 seconds into the power play, Igloos LW Les Collins beat Lundquist stick-side to seal a 2-1 win.

“That was a back-breaker,” admitted Lunsford.  “To go from thinking you’re on the road to the division to feeling like you’re on the brink of elimination… it’s a kick in the gut, no question.”

As surprising as the West race has been, things have been even more shocking in the East.  The Washington Galaxy have won the division in each of the last two seasons and established themselves as the class of the division.  When they caught fire out of the All-Star Break, winning 10 in a row and snatching first place away from the Hershey Bliss, it looked like they were set up to run to yet another title.  It hasn’t unfolded that way, though, as the Bliss have grabbed the lead right back over the last couple of weeks.

And while Hershey has played well, the race in the East has been a story of Washington collapse.  The Galaxy have dropped 11 of 15 over the last three weeks, and they head into the final week of the season 8 points back of the Bliss.  For a team with a reputation for stepping it up in the second half, their dismal performance has been completely unexpected.  “We can’t figure it out,” said LW Casey Thurman.  “We know we can do better than this, but it’s kind of like we’re stepping on the gas and there’s nothing there.”

Certainly, the Galaxy’s using scoring punch has been absent during their recent skid.  They’ve fallen from sixth in the league in goals scored to second-to-last, ahead of only Quebec.  Several of their stars, including Thurman (2 goals in the last 15 games), C Eddie Costello (3 goals), RW Jefferson McNeely (3 goals), and C J.C. Marais (2 goals), have been in slumps.  But the offense hasn’t been the only culprit.  The normally stout defense, which allowed fewer than two and a half goals per game over the first two-thirds of the season, has allowed over three per game during their slide.  Backup goalie Ron Mason has lost his last five starts.  Their special units have flatlined over the last three weeks, with their power play dropping from a league-leading 24.1% success rate to a middle-of-the-pack 19.6%, and their penalty kill going from 82.9% efficiency to 78.8%.  “It’s like it’s all falling apart at once,” said Costello.

For the Bliss, who have heard over and over that they’re too soft, too sloppy, or too star-dependent to beat the Galaxy, the turnabout has been pretty sweet.  “We’ve taken a lot of crap over the years about how we can never win the big one, or how Washington’s got our number,” said Bliss C Justin Valentine.  “We’ve never bought into that story, but we knew we were were going to keep hearing it until we proved it.”  On Saturday, Hershey came into Constellation Center and walloped Washington 5-1.  “That one definitely felt good,” said Valentine.  “To be able to go into their building and shut them down like that… it gave us confidence that this isn’t going to be like the other years.  It’s a new era for us.”

Galaxy Absorb A Tough Loss, Look to Next Year

Washington SmallYou can’t blame the Washington Galaxy if they’re feeling a sense of déjà vu.  They end the SHL’s second season in a very similar position to the way they ended the first.  Just like last season, the Galaxy won the Eastern division.  Just like last season, they headed into the Finals as a heavy underdog against a powerful Western champion.  Just like last season, they played a strong series and made things much closer than anyone expected.  But just like last season, they came up on the short end of a close series.

“I used to like the movie Groundhog Day, before I started living it,” said C Eddie Costello.

This year, a last-minute goal in Game 6 propelled the Michigan Gray Wolves to the championship and sent Washington packing.  Galaxy coach Rodney Reagle praised his team for their valiant fight, especially given the rough beginning to the series.

“A lot of teams would have rolled over and given up after those games,” said Reagle, referring to Games 1 and 2, which Washington lost by a combined 6-0 score.  “It would be easy to say, ‘Well, it’s not our year, they’re way better than us.’  But our guys didn’t do that.  They gave it their all, and it was nothing but one-goal games after that.  That was the most inspirational thing I’ve seen since the end of the Muppet Movie.”

But after a second straight narrow loss, the Galaxy find themselves facing key questions headed into the offseason.  Do their two division titles and competitive showings in the Finals indicate a team that is good enough as is, and should return intact?  Or do those two straight Finals losses indicate a team that needs to get better if they’re going to have a shot at beating out the Western heavyweights?

“I wouldn’t go crazy talking about changes,” said Reagle.  “I mean, you flip a coin twice and it comes up tails both times, do you go get a new coin, or do you keep flipping?  This is a strong team, and I wouldn’t expect us to blow anything up.”

Star RW Jefferson McNeely said that the experience of losing in the Finals will only make Washington better.  “When you lose like this, it stings,” said McNeely.  “But it’s the kind of pain that inspires you to work harder, so you won’t have to feel it again next time.  And playing against teams like Michigan and Anchorage, it gives you a real measuring stick about where you are as a team.  I think that will help us next season.”

But it’s not just the Western powers that the Galaxy have to worry about.  They barely beat the Hershey Bliss to win the East this season, and the Bliss are likely to look aggressively at upgrades for next year.  The New York Night fired coach Preston Rivers and are eagerly planning to be more competitive next season.  Even youth-oriented Hamilton and Quebec are likely to come back stronger next season.

“We can’t take it for granted that we’re going back to the Finals next year,” said Costello.  “It’ll be a dogfight even within the division.  But that should help make us stronger.”

Overall, it sounds like the Galaxy are largely content to let it ride for next season.  But Reagle raised an important caveat.  “Now, it’s not like [GM] Ace [Adams] is going to be hibernating until next season,” said the coach.  “And if he sees a way to make us better, he’s not going to be dumb enough to say no.  So could there be a change, even a big one?  Like Paul Harvey says, you’ll have to come back next year to get the rest of the story.”

2016 SHL Finals – Game 5

Washington SmallMichigan SmallWASHINGTON GALAXY 3, MICHIGAN GRAY WOLVES 2

The Washington Galaxy aren’t going quietly.  Facing elimination in the SHL Finals, the Galaxy withstood an onslaught of shots from the Michigan Gray Wolves and struck in the final minute to steal a 3-2 win, living to fight another game.

“Not dead yet, boys!” crowed Washington coach Rodney Reagle after the game.  “Just like the Bee Gees, we’re stayin’ alive!”  The coach then proceeded to demonstrate his best disco moves.

The Wolves did their best to send the Galaxy packing.  They came out firing from the start of the game, and wound up outshooting Washington 33-22.  But Galaxy netminder Roger Orion stood tall amid the barrage, turning aside 31 shots and outdueling Michigan’s Dirk Lundquist.

“All series, we’ve been hearing about how, oh,Lundquist is so great, Lundquist is God,” said Washington RW Jefferson McNeely.  “But you know what?  Roger’s a damn good goalie too.  He doesn’t get the headlines Lundquist does, but he can be just as clutch.”

Michigan actually drew first blood in this game, with RW Oskar Denison drilling one home just inside the left pipe late in the first period.  “I was not expecting it to go in,” admitted Denison.  “I was hoping to have a big rebound that someone could put in.  I got lucky.”

Washington was able to get even early in the second.  After Wolves D Bjorn Tollefson was penalized for high-sticking, Galaxy RW Sindri Pentti cashed in on the power play, going five-hole on Lundquist.  Washington went into the locker room after two periods tied at 1, despite getting outshot 23-14.  “We were pretty anxious between periods there,” said McNeely.  “Yeah, it was tied, but [the Wolves] were really in the driver’s seat as far as puck control and zone time.  We knew we needed to slow them down and break their rhythm.”

The Galaxy succeeded in disrupting Michigan’s offensive flow, narrowing the shot gap to 10-8 in the third period.  A little more than five minutes into the third, Washington C Eddie Costello and LW Casey Thurman broke away on a two-on-one, with Thurman going top shelf to give the Galaxy their first lead of the game.  The lead was fairly short-lived, as Wolves C Hunter Bailes deflected a shot past Orion a little more than four minutes later.

The latter half of the third period was frustrating for both teams, as neither side was able to generate much offensive action.  “It kind of felt like we were both playing not to lose,” admitted Tollefson.

But with less than a minute left in the game, Thurman shoveled a sharp-angle shot past Lundquist, and the sellout crowd at Constellation Center exploded as Thurman did a celebratory belly-flop on the ice and his teammates banged their sticks against the boards.

“It was a tight game, and you knew the game-winner wouldn’t come easy,” said Thurman.  “But I think the fact that it was do-or-die, that gave us that little extra edge we needed to get over the top.”

The good news for the Wolves is that they still have a 3-2 series lead, and the action shifts back to Cadillac Place, where they drubbed Washington twice by a combined 6-0 margin.  But there’s also cause for Michigan to be anxious, as they’re missing a pair of key forwards, Vladimir Beruscko and Warren Marlow.  In this game, the Wolves were forced to give ice time to Kimmo Eliasson, a street free agent who signed an emergency contract with the team at the start of the Finals.

Wolves coach Ron Wright said it’s no time to panic.  “We’ve got to remember what got us here,” Wright told reporters.  “We’re not a team that relies on any one star to succeed.  We rise and fall as a team, and that’s how we’re going to win this.”

Continue reading “2016 SHL Finals – Game 5”

2016 SHL Finals – Game 4

Michigan SmallWashington SmallMICHIGAN GRAY WOLVES 3, WASHINGTON GALAXY 2 (OT)

Whatever else you might say Game 4 of the SHL Finals, it finished off with a bang.  The first three games of the series have followed a familiar pattern: two periods of tense, grinding, defense-first play, followed by a third period of wide-open firewagon hockey.  In Game 4, the high-flying action was compressed into the final 5 minutes, as a slow-paced game turned frenetic at the end.  It took more than the allotted 60 minutes, but ultimately the Michigan Gray Wolves, thanks to a little-used reserve, pulled out a 3-2 overtime victory over the Washington Galaxy.  Michigan moved within a single win of the Vandy, but it came at a steep cost, as the Wolves lost a key offensive playmaker in C Warren Marlow.

“We got the W, and that’s what counts the most,” said Michigan coach Ron Wright.  “But losing Warren… that’s a real blow.”

The Wolves notched their win thanks to a little-used reserve.  Under ordinary circumstances, F Isaac Preston wouldn’t be expected to play at all in the Finals.  He played in only 17 games this season, recording 3 assists and no goals.  But when LW Vladimir Beruschko suffered an injury in the last week of the season, Preston was thrust into a starting spot.

“My first priority was, don’t embarrass myself or the team,” said Preston.

The reserve forward made very little impact through the first three games.  But in this game, Preston came through when it counted.  About a minute into overtime, Michigan D Bjorn Tollefson faked a slapshot from the left faceoff circle.  He got Galaxy G Roger Orion to commit, then slid a pass over to Preston.  With a wide-open net, Preston buried the game-winning shot under the crossbar.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been that open, not even in practice,” said Preston.  “If I’d missed it, I’m pretty sure my teammates would have beaten me to death.

Preston’s winner capped a flurry in the final five minutes of frenzied action, which stood in stark contrast to most of the play up to that point.  Michigan struggled all game to enter the zone and get shots on net, much as Washington had done in the first two games.  Michigan got off only 20 shots in the entire game, including a season-low four in a brutal second period.  “It’s like they watched our game film from the first two and turned our own game plan against us,” said Wolves C Hunter Bailes.

The Galaxy, meanwhile, were able to generate more offense, but had a devil of a time getting pucks past Wolves goalie Dirk Lundquist.  “You can’t fake him out, you can’t sneak one under him, you can’t fool him, nothing,” said Galaxy LW Casey Thurman.  “I think he must be able to read minds or something.”

Late in the first period, Washington C Eddie Costello beat Lundquist on a breakaway to give the Galaxy the lead.  Early in the third, Bailes struck on the power play to tie it up.  But that was it for offense… at least until the final five minutes.

With three and a half minutes left in regulation, Galaxy LW Walt Camernitz accidentally caught Marlow under the eye with a high stick.  On the resulting power play, Wolves C Wesley Knight deflected a slapshot past Orion to put Michigan ahead 2-1.

“That’s on me,” said Camernitz.  “In that situation, late in a close game, I can’t take a penalty like that.  Got to maintain better control of my stick.”

A disconsolate silence fell over Constellation Center, as the Galaxy seemed doomed to a heartbreaking defeat.  But in the waning seconds of the game, Washington launched a final desperate rush.  A Thurman slapshot got lost in a scrum in front of the net.  The puck bounced between bodies as Lundquist tried to get a glove on it.  Finally, with four seconds left, the puck squirted behind Lundquist and over the goal line.  Wright challenged the goal, claiming that a Galaxy player had kicked it in.  After several minutes of review, the referees upheld the goal, as the crowd exploded with delight. Costello got credit for the tally.

Fortunately for the Wolves, they prevailed in overtime, although with a cost.  Marlow made the initial pass that led to Michigan’s winning goal, but he paid for it when Galaxy D Rusty Anderson laid a devastating hit on him and Marlow’s head hit the ice.  After the game, he entered the league’s concussion protocol.  Wright sounded doubtful that his second-line center would be able to return in the series.

“We’ll have to reevaluate him tomorrow and see where things stand,” said the coach.

The Galaxy suffered a loss as well, with D Leonard Wright being sidelined after taking a rough open-ice hit.  He suffered an upper-body injury, and Washington coach Rodney Reagle confirmed that he is likely to miss the rest of the series.

The Galaxy face an uphill battle, having to win the next three games in a row with half of their top defensive pairing on the shelf.  “I’ve already got Bartlett’s Book of Inspiring Sports Cliches by my bedside,” said Reagle.  “I’ll be working on my big speech tomorrow morning.”

Continue reading “2016 SHL Finals – Game 4”

2016 SHL Finals – Game 1

Michigan SmallWashington SmallMICHIGAN GRAY WOLVES 4, WASHINGTON GALAXY 0

Despite his team coming into the SHL Finals as a strong favorite, Michigan Gray Wolves coach Ron Wright stressed the importance of starting the series strong.  “In a short series, it’s all about momentum,” said Wright.  “Fall into a hole, no matter how strong you are, and it can be impossible to get out.  I want to see us make a statement right away.”

In Game 1, the Wolves did exactly what their coach wanted.  They made about as strong a statement as possible, seizing control of the game in the first period and cruising from there.  Behind the brilliant play of G Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist (31 saves), Michigan put up a 4-0 shutout that left the visiting Washington Galaxy dazed and confused.

“Man, they really came to play,” said Washington LW Casey Thurman.  “We’re really going to have to step it up in the next game, or we’re just going to get run over.”

The Galaxy came into the game determined not to let Michigan push them around.  “We know the Wolves play a physical game,” said Galaxy D Bruce “Boom Boom” Hogaboom.  “We wanted to show them that we’re not scared.”

As a result, Washington started the game in a feisty mood, throwing elbows and hips at the Wolves.  Less than eight minutes into the game, Galaxy LW Walt Camernitz took exception to a hard check into the boards by Wolves D Bjorn Tollefson and came up swinging.  Both players wound up getting majors.

Washington’s aggressive play wound up getting them into trouble later in the period.  Rookie D Grant Warriner was whistled for high-sticking with about six minutes left in the first period.  The Galaxy managed to kill off that penalty, but no sooner had they done so than D Kevin Buchanan was hit with a double minor for spearing Michigan C Hunter Bailes.  The crowd at Cadillac Place booed Buchanan lustily, but the boos turned to cheers a couple minutes later when Michigan D Fritz Kronstein went top-shelf on Washington netminder Roger Orion to put the home team on the board.

“I saw a little daylight and I took advantage,” said Kronstein, who was Michigan’s first-round pick in this year’s draft.

Less than a minute later, the Wolves doubled their advantage as LW Jorma Seppa, filling in on the top line due to Vladimir Beruschko‘s injury, scored on a wraparound.

“That second goal really threw us off,” said Hogaboom.  “We’d been holding our own all period, then boom-boom, we’re in a hole.”

The Galaxy hoped just to survive the rest of the first and head into the locker room down 2-0, but Michigan RW Oskar Denison scored on a slapper in the waning seconds of the period for a three-goal advantage.

“At that point, we knew we were basically done for,” said Camernitz.

The rest of the game was somewhat anticlimactic, highlighted by one more goal (by Wolves C Warren Marlow in the third period) and one more fight (between Hogaboom and Michigan D “Mad Max” Madison).  The real star of the day, though, was Lundquist.  The goalie flashed his athletic prowess making some brilliant saves to keep the shutout intact.  In the second, Lundquist made several brilliant saves to help Michigan kill off back-to-back penalties.  In the third, he made a tremendous glove save to stone Washington C Eddie Costello on a breakaway attempt.

“The Bear’s motor is really incredible,” said Wright.  “Even after the outcome of the game wasn’t in doubt, he was still in top form, still hustling.  If he keeps up this level of play, it’s going to be a real short series.”

After the game, Galaxy coach Rodney Reagle sought to put the game behind him.  “I’m not going to watch the film of this game,” said Reagle.  “I think I’m going to burn the film, in fact.  If I want to watch something, I’ll watch Die Hard instead.  At least that one has a happy ending.”

Continue reading “2016 SHL Finals – Game 1”