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.

Sailors Surrender Six in Third, Miss Sole Division Lead

The Seattle Sailors had a golden opportunity to seize the lead in the tumultuous Western division on Saturday.  With the Michigan Gray Wolves and Anchorage Igloos both suffering losses, the Sailors only needed a win over the struggling Washington Galaxy to claim sole possession of first place.

Through the game’s first two periods, Seattle appeared to be on a glide path to victory, claiming a 6-1 lead.  But then came a nightmarish third period in which the Sailors collapsed, lost their lead, and had to settle for a tie and a share of the lead with Michigan.  It felt like a golden opportunity wasted for the team in green.

“A game like this, it’s just a total shot in the gut,” said Sailors LW Rod Argent.  “It’s just devastating.”

When the puck dropped for the start of the third period, the Sailors were appropriately confident.  They’d rocked Galaxy netminder Darrell Bondurant for a half-dozen goals already.  The primary question seemed to be whether they’d keep pushing to run up a signature win, or if they’d ease up and focus on grinding the clock.

Just 30 seconds into the period, Seattle RW Elliott Pepper was sent to the penalty box for elbowing.  Eight seconds into the ensuing power play, Galaxy winger Jefferson McNeely fired home a slapper on the short side.  No big deal; it was still a 6-2 game.

Three minutes later, though, Galaxy LW Casey Thurman scored on an odd-man rush to make it 6-3.  A bit of a nervous rumble passed through the crowd; was Washington going to make this a game?  Sailors star Vince Mango quickly calmed the fans’ nerves, marching down the ice from the following faceoff and beat Bondurant top shelf to make it 7-3.  Back to cruising time again.

But the plucky Galaxy refused to give up, and they slowly chipped away at Seattle’s lead.  At just past the seven-minute mark, C Harvey Bellmore deflected a shot over the blocker of Sailors goalie “Jersey Mike” Ross to cut the deficit back to three.  Then just before the mid-point of the period, Sailors D Woody Fairwood coughed up the puck in the neutral zone.  Washington stormed down the ice, and C Tucker Barnhill – centering a line of SHL rookies – tucked it home between Ross’s legs.  Suddenly it was a 7-5 game, and the crowd became deeply uneasy.  So did the Sailors bench.

“We’d already taken the W in our heads, and suddenly it was a game again,” said Sailors C Napoleon Beasley.  “We knew we had to respond.”

Sailors coach Harold Engellund called time out to calm his anxious team, but he appeared not to make any major strategic changes.  He did not remove Ross from the game, and he largely appeared to settle on playing defensive hockey and grinding the clock.

However, defensive hockey has never been Seattle’s strong suit.  And a couple minutes later, a failed clear by Mango turned into another Washington opportunity, and McNeely snuck one just inside the right post to make it a 7-6 contest.

The Sailors then made a belated bid to turn it back on and add to their lead, but couldn’t find the switch.  And with three minutes left in the game, the Galaxy’s rookie third line struck again.  Newly acquired RW Mickey Simpson went bar-down to tie it up and sink Century 21 Arena into a shell-shocked funk.

After the game, Engellund took a somewhat philosophical tack.  “Is this an embarrassing one?  Heck yes,” the coach said in his postgame press conference.  “If we miss the playoffs by a point, are we going to look back and regret this?  You bet.  But we can’t let ourselves dwell on this.  We’ve got to keep moving forward and play like we know how.”

Mango, meanwhile, seemed to shrug it off.  “This was one of those crazy fluke games, you know?” the Sailors star said.  “Like an asteroid strike.  It’s one in a million.  But it doesn’t wipe out all the great wins we’ve had this year.  Just forget it and go to the next one.”

Can the Sailors forget this loss, or will the memory haunt them?  Whether they can make their first-ever playoff trip in their last season in Seattle may depend on the answer.

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