Badgers’ Tollefson, Bellinger Square Off in Locker Room Bout

For the Boston Badgers, it’s been a frustrating season.  The Badgers spent a considerable amount of money in free agency, acquiring a passel of veterans in an effort to jump-start their growth from last year’s expansion beginnings.  In the first quarter of the season, it appeared that their investments had paid off, as the team got off to a respectable start close to the .500 mark.  After that point, though, Boston’s inexperience and lack of offensive firepower caught up with it.  The team sank to the basement and stayed there; they’re on track to finish with a record only slightly better than last year.

As the Badgers’ record has sagged, so has locker-room morale.  Sources close to the team describe a tense situation riven with factions, particularly between the older and younger players on the team.  Coach Cam Prince has reportedly struggled to patch the divides on the team.  And this week, the tension boiled over into a locker-room fracas that reportedly included actual fisticuffs.

Graham Bellinger

The alleged donnybrook took place after Sunday’s 6-1 loss to the Hamilton Pistols.  While the loss couldn’t be pinned on any one person, D Graham Bellinger had a particularly rough game, committing a couple of costly defensive-zone turnovers that led almost directly to Hamilton goals.  In the quiet postgame locker-room, Bellinger was getting dressed and talking with a couple teammates about what nightclub to go later in the evening.

Bellinger’s breezy talk irritated D Bjorn Tollefson, once of the free-agent veteran that Boston signed in the offseason.  Tollefson is a veteran of Ron Wright’s Michigan teams, and is known for his stern and businesslike demeanor.  Tollefson walked over to Bellinger and barked, “Maybe instead of going to the club, you should go to the rink and practice the outlet pass.”

Bellinger’s head snapped up, and he replied, “What the [heck] are you talking about?”

Bjorn Tollefson

Tollefson said, “You should get your head out of your [butt].  You party all the time, you cannot play defense, and you are a killer to the team.”

Bellinger stood up and snapped back, “Maybe you should quit riding my [butt] and mind your own business for a change.  You’re a washed-up old [expletive].  All you do is complain, and I’m sick of your [crap].”

Tollefson shouted, “[Screw] you.  Must I make you listen with my fists?”

Bellinger replied, “Go on, skin that smokewagon and see what happens, you fat [expletive]!”

Tollefson then lunged at Bellinger, and the two grappled and traded punches.  After a minute or so, their teammates were able to separate them.  Prince came out of his office, saw what was going on, then went back in his office and shut the door.  The locker room remained closed to reporters for a half-hour after the scuffle, and neither Tollefson nor Bellinger was around by the time the press entered.

Both players, and Bellinger in particular, looked a bit banged up during the next day’s morning skate.  Bellinger played in the next game.  Tollefson sat out, in what was believed to be a team suspension.

The Badgers were tight-lipped about the incident.  “What happens in the locker room, I don’t talk about that,” said Tollefson.  “It is only inside the family.”

“It’s a long season, and stuff happens sometimes,” Bellinger said.  “It’s over.”

Cam Prince

“A lot of people think they know what happened in our room, but they don’t,” said Prince.  “There’s a lot of bogus stories I’m hearing about this so-called ‘brawl.’  It’s ridiculous, is what it is.  These are professional athletes.  Tempers run high sometimes, but that’s it.  Sorry, folks, nothing to see here.”

Boston’s season is almost over, so it seems likely that there will be few long-term ramifications from this incident.  If anyone does pay for this, however, it’s likely to be Prince.  If the Badgers front office decide that the coach is unable to improve the team’s problematic chemistry, they might decide a new bunch boss in order.

Unsurprisingly, Prince declined to discuss whether he expects to be fired.  “I’m not even going to dignify that with a response,” the coach said in response to a question about his job status.  “Shame on you for asking.”

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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 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.”