Badgers Pull Off Blockbuster, Acquire Thurman from DC

When LW Casey Thurman publicly lamented the direction of the Washington Galaxy franchise in a postgame interview a couple weeks back, it seemed like the star winger’s days with the only SHL team he’d ever played for were numbered.  Thurman’s time in the nation’s capital came to an end on Friday, as the Boston Badgers – desperate to spark their flailing offense and climb into contention in the East – acquired him in exchange for a pair of prospects and their first-round pick in the draft.

“I don’t really have words for it, to be honest,” said Thurman.  “And you know how much I love talking, so that’s saying something.  I thought I was going to be here for my whole career.  But I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”

Once word got out about Thurman’s dissatisfaction with the Galaxy, GM Wilson Shuster found himself flooded with offers from other teams.  But Boston was one of the only teams that could fit Thurman’s $4 million salary under the cap without sending salary in return, which reportedly appealed to Galaxy owner Perry Dodge.

Casey Thurman

In Thurman, the Badgers acquire one of the league’s biggest stars and biggest characters.  The 31-year-old went to the SHL Finals twice with Washington, in 2015 and 2016.  He’s often among the league’s top scorers, and he holds his own on the defensive end as well.  Although he was not producing at his usual offensive pace this season, Thurman was second on the Galaxy in points with 21 (7 goals, 14 assists) at the time of the trade.

“It’s rare to find a player of Casey’s caliber available in midseason,” said Badgers GM Jody Melchiorre.  “And when he became available, we went after him aggressively, because he fits the perfect mold of the player we look for.  He’s a star who can generate a ton of offense, but he thinks like a grinder.  He plays hard the whole 200 feet, and he’s going to be a great leader and mentor for our younger guys.”

Marty Pescatelli

To acquire Thurman, the Badgers had to let go of a pair of prized young players.  One of them, LW Marty “Fish” Pescatelli, returns to the team that first drafted him.  Pescatelli was an 18-year-old rookie when the Galaxy shipped him up to Boston in a deal for LW Charlie Brooks and D Scott Hexton.  He blossomed in the Badgers’ system, and was named to the CHL All-Star Game last season.  The 20-year-old has struggled to stay healthy this season, but he’s produced when he’s played, with 10 points (5 goals, 5 assists) in 13 games.

“We’re really excited to get Fish back in our organization,” said Shuster.  “He’s quick-wristed with a cannon for a shot, and we think that he can grow into the kind of brilliant two-way scorer that Thurm has been for us.”

Kermit Kaufman

In addition to Pescatelli, the Galaxy also acquired 22-year-old defenseman Kermit Kaufman.  Kaufman is a rugged stay-home defenseman who knows how to sacrifice his body to disrupt opponents’ offensive flow.  In 23 games with Boston this season, he recorded no goals and 2 assists, but he had 38 blocks, the third-highest total on the team.

“Kermit has really grown into an elite defenseman,” said Shuster.  “He’s got a body like a battering ram; some of our guys have found that out the hard way, when he’s thrown some rough checks at us.  We’re building a hard-hitting young defensive corps, and Kermit’s going to fit right in there.”

There’s no question that adding Thurman will boost Boston’s lackluster attack.  But will that be enough?  At the time of the deal, Boston was tied with Washington for the league’s worst record at 7-14-2, and they were last in the league in goals scored with 54.  If Thurman can recover his traditional scoring touch in Badgers green, he should provide a boost.  But other players will need to step up as well, most notably goalie Roger Orion and the team’s league-worst penalty-killing unit.

Of course, Melchiorre might not be done dealing.  “We’ve still got plenty of cap room to play with, and if we see a chance to improve, I’m not going to hesitate,” the Badgers GM said.  “We’re not waiting around.”

Badgers’ Thanksgiving Dinner Ends in Free-for-All Food Fight

Like the SHL’s other 11 teams, the Boston Badgers opened training camp this week.  Thursday was Thanksgiving Day in America, and many of the players were spending the day apart from their families.  In order to ease the sting for them, the Badgers held a team-wide dinner for the players and staff at Shawmut Arena.

“We thought it was a nice way to show our appreciation for how hard they work, and to get ready for the season ahead,” said GM Jody Melchiorre.

Little did Melchiorre know that the dinner would ultimately degenerate into a food fight, as the players blew off steam by flinging Thanksgiving staples at one another.

The team began the morning with a scrimmage, their first time on the ice at Shawmut since the end of last season.  The scrimmage was intended to be no-contact, but the players ignored those instructions, gleefully throwing checks and body-slamming each other to the ice.  Ds Jurgen Braun and Brody McCallan even traded punches briefly.

“The practices the last couple of days have been pretty rough, so I think there was some pent-up energy there,” said McCallan.

After the players showered and dressed, they gathered in the arena’s club level for a sumptuous Thanksgiving feast prepared by the team’s catering staff.  The spread included turkey, ham, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, and much more.

At first, the players and staff tucked into their plates with vigor.  But then the players began chirping at each other about the scrimmage, and voices eventually grew louder.  (It should be noted that beer was one of the beverage options.)  Eventually, the disagreements turned physical.

According to sources, RW Rory Socarra was the first one to send the food flying, flinging a spoonful of mashed potatoes in the face of RW Jorma Seppa.  Socarra denied that he started things, claiming that Seppa had chucked a roll at him.  Regardless, it served as the starting gun for what one player described as “a scene straight out of Animal House,” as food and liquid quickly filled the air.

By the time the dust and gravy had settled, the players and the suite were caked in food.  Team sources say that it took two days so completely clean the walls and tables of food.

The story probably would have remained inside the locker room, were it not for the fact that several players videotaped the melee and posted it on social media.

“Obviously, this isn’t what I had in mind when we decided to do this,” said Melchiorre.  “But I probably shouldn’t have been surprised.  This is a fun-loving and pugnacious bunch, which is usually a good thing.  But I’d prefer if we directed that aggression at our opponents instead.”

New coach Kyle Barrow, meanwhile, enjoyed himself thoroughly.  “Best Thanksgiving ever!” he quipped.  “That first week back at practice is always tough for guys, and this was a good way to let those feelings out.  Nobody got hurt and everybody had fun, so that’s a win in my book.”

Barrow had only one regret about the incident.  “I got hit with cranberry sauce on my new blazer, and I don’t think that’s going to come out,” he said.  “Next time we have a team dinner, I’m bringing a poncho.”

For his part, LW Lix Darnholm didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.  “I’m from Sweden, and we don’t have Thanksgiving,” Darnholm explained.  “I thought maybe this is how you celebrate in America.  Everyone get together to throw food at your family.”

Badgers Hire Igloos Assistant Barrow as Coach

The Boston Badgers have never finished out of the Eastern Division cellar, but they have grand ambitions for the 2020 season.  After spending a lot of money on free agents – led by G Roger Orion and LW Pascal Royal – last season and planning to pursue the market’s top names again this year, the Badgers intend to contend for the playoffs.  With that goal in mind, Boston hired the most sought-after assistant, the Anchorage IgloosKyle Barrow, to be their new head coach.

“We looked hard to find the right guy,” said Badgers GM Jody Melchiorre.  “And the more we talked to Kyle, the more we knew he was the right guy.”

Kyle Barrow

The 42-year-old Barrow definitely has the championship experience that the Badgers want.  Working alongside Sam Castor on the Igloos bench, Barrow has been to four SHL Finals and won two.  Although Anchorage is best known for its high-powered and fast-paced offense, he traditionally focused on the team’s defense, which has traditionally been very good.  During his introductory press conference, the coach expressed his desire to make Boston strong on both ends of the ice, using the Igloos as an example.

“What’s made the Igloos such a strong team over the years is that we can play any style of hockey, so there’s no one way to beat us,” Barrow told reporters.  “This team has been built around defense and a grinding mentality, but there’s plenty of offensive talent here – Lix [Darnholm], Alain [Beauchesne], Pascal – and there’s no reason we can’t become a two-way threat.”

Barrow has long been talked about as a head-coaching candidate, but until this point, he had a reputation for turning down opportunities.  He had withdrawn himself from consideration in previous coaching searches in Dakota, Washington, and Saskatchewan.  This led to speculation that he was being groomed as Castor’s successor in Anchorage.

So why did he choose to pursue this job?  “There’s so much to learn from Sam; he’s one of the best in the business,” said Barrow.  “I wanted to soak up as much wisdom as I could.  But after this past season, we talked about my future, and he agreed that I was ready, and it was time for me to take the leap.”

Barrow replaces Cam Prince, the Badgers’ inaugural coach, who was fired after two seasons at the helm.  In addition to the Badgers’ poor results on the ice, Prince seemed overwhelmed as he oversaw a locker-room culture that deteriorated badly over the course of last season, culminating in a fight between two of the team’s defensemen.

Barrow believes that winning is the best cure for the team’s chemistry problems, but he also stressed the need to instill a culture of professionalism. “When you’re on my team, your first focus needs to be on winning and improving your game,” he said.  “We’re all adults here, but first and foremost, if you’re not here to play hard and win, you’re out.  It’s not about being a taskmaster or running day-long practices, it’s about making the basic commitment to win.  I’m confident that our guys will get on board.”

Can Barrow’s winning experience be the missing ingredient for a team that finished 33 games out of a playoff spot last season?  That remains to be seen, but Melchiorre remains confident.  “I think we’re going to shock a lot of people out there,” the GM said.  “mark my words: this team is getting ready to take off.”

Badgers Fire Coach Prince After 2 Seasons

In a move that was widely anticipated around the league, the Boston Badgers fired coach Cam Prince after two seasons on the job.  After the Badgers spent a significant amount of money adding big-name free agents this season, the front office was apparently disappointed by the extremely modest improvement in the team’s fortunes this season.  Perhaps worse, the locker room broke down into feuding cliques, and Prince showed few signs of effectiveness as either a uniter or a disciplinarian.

“Cam will always have an important role in the story of this organization, as the first coach we ever had,” said GM Jody Melchiorre.  “But we’ve been having some tough discussions here over the last couple of weeks, and we’ve made the difficult decision to go in another direction.”

Cam Prince

Prince’s sophomore season got off to an awkward start, as Prince (who used to be an assistant for the New York Night) was quoted mocking several of the Night’s star players, as well as the high expectations of the ownership and front office.  Prince’s quotes (which he later claimed were meant to be off the record) earned the Badgers a 7-3 drubbing the next time the teams faced off, and earned the coach himself a season’s worth of mockery from New York fans.

That controversy aside, the first month of Boston’s season went better than expected, as the team remained within shouting distance of the .500 mark.  After that, though, the Badgers collapsed, quickly falling out of contention and into the division basement, where they have remained ever since.  And as the team floundered, a gulf opened up between the team’s veterans and its younger players.  The veterans felt that the young players were lazy and more interested in partying than playing hard; the youngsters felt that the veterans were bitter and jealous, and lacked the speed to keep up in the modern sport.

LW Cary Estabrook, the first player ever signed by the Badgers, was symbolic of the divisions within the team.  The organization hoped the Rhode Island native could become a hometown hero; instead, his career dissolved in a haze of booze and parties.  After clashing repeatedly with Prince and team veterans, Estabrook was shipped away to Hamilton in midseason.

Prince’s inability to rein in Estabrook and some of the team’s other party animals soured his standing with the veterans.  “Prince always seemed overwhelmed by the job,” said one anonymous veteran player.  “He’d stand there on the bench, looking like a kid dressed in his dad’s suit, but when it came time to discipline guys or bring the team in line, he couldn’t do it.  And after a while, it seemed like he stopped trying.”

Last week’s locker-room brawl between defensemen Bjorn Tollefson and Graham Bellinger dramatized just how bad team morale and chemistry had gotten.  “Obviously, Bjorn shouldn’t have punched a teammate,” said the same anonymous player, “but he came from Michigan, where the locker room is a tight ship.  When he saw guys running wild and not focusing on the game, in his mind, he felt like he had to do something.  And he felt like Price wasn’t doing anything, so he had to take matters into his own hands.”

Prince was not present at the press conference announcing his firing, and reporters have been unable to reach him for comment.  Sources close to Prince say that he was stunned and devastated by the firing, and that he assumed he would have at least one more season to turn things around.

It’s not clear who Prince’s replacement will be.  Melchiorre said that assistant coach Mel Lonigan would be considered for the job, although team sources consider it unlikely that he would be hired.  Longtime Washington coach Rodney Reagle is available, and it’s expected that he will be interviewed.  Other possible candidates include Quebec assistant Sylvain Berard, Hamilton assistant Jack Thornberry and minor-league coach Butch Slazenger.

Badgers Deal First Player Estabrook to Hamilton

When the Boston Badgers made LW Cary Estabrook their first-ever player signing, it seemed like a movie script come to life.  Estabrook was a native of Rhode Island and played college hockey at the University of Massachusetts.  In college, he caught the eye of Jody Melchiorre, then a scout for the Anchorage Igloos.  Estabrook suffered a major knee injury as a senior and the Igloos passed on him.  But Melchiorre never forgot what he saw, and when he signed on as GM of the expansion Badgers, his first move was to sign Estabrook to a contract.  The young winger dreamed of starring in the same area where he’d grown up.

Reality, though, doesn’t always unfold like a movie.  Estabrook’s tenure in Boston was a miserable experience for both him and the team.  He struggled with his conditioning and off-ice habits, clashed with coach Cam Prince, and failed to produce.  Finally, after a season and a half, the Badgers finally pulled the plug, trading the 24-year-old to the Hamilton Pistols in exchange for F Norris “Beaver” Young.

“This one stings for me, because I think Cary’s a special young man,” said Melchiorre.  “But clearly, things haven’t worked out the way either of us would have wanted.  I think a fresh start is the best thing.”

Cary Estabrook

During his rookie season in 2018, Estabrook found that the lingering after-effects of his college injury robbed him of crucial speed, and his performance wasn’t up to par.  He reportedly took to drinking and partying excessively, which further impacted his game.

This caused Estabrook to run afoul of Prince, a battle that came to a head when Estabrook overslept and missed a team meeting.  Shortly thereafter, the Badgers demoted Estabrook to their minor-league affiliate in Hartford.  He’d played 28 games with the Badgers, failing to record a point and putting up a -23 rating.

Prince and the Badgers gave Estabrook another shot this year; he broke camp as the third-line left winger.  But his on-ice and off-ice struggles continued, as he rotated in and out of the lineup.  In 21 games this season, Estabrook had a goal to go with a -12 rating, worst on the team.

“I’m really disappointed with the way everything turned out here,” Estabrook told reporters.  “I feel like I let everyone down.  I know I have no one but myself to blame.  But I have to pick myself up and move on to the next thing,”

The 24-year-old Young was drafted by the Pistols in 2016.  He spent two seasons on their bottom line, totaling 31 points (15 goals, 16 assists).  After spending the 2018 season with their farm club in Oshawa, he returned to the big club this season.  He split time on the third line with RW Michael Jennings.  In 16 games this season, Young had 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists) and a +2 rating.

“Younger was a solid contributor for us, and we will miss him,” said Pistols GM Marcel LaClaire.  “But we are excited about Cary.  We think there’s a lot of untapped potential there, and we think he can be a real asset in the right situation.  We believe that our organization and our coaching staff will help him thrive.”

For Hamilton, which has lagged in the playoff chase in spite of strong underlying numbers, Estabrook represents a low-stakes gamble that could pay dividends down the stretch.  For Estabrook, Hamilton represents a chance to start over.  He may not have lived his dream of starring with the local team, but he’s still young and has a chance at a solid SHL career… if he can avoid repeating the mistakes that doomed him in Boston.

“If I screw this up, I know I might not get another chance,” said Estabrook.  “So I’m going to make sure I don’t screw this up.”

Boston Badgers Name First GM

The expansion Boston Badgers won’t take the ice until next season, but this week they hired the man who will serve as primary architect for the franchise.  On Wednesday, Badgers owner Paul Galette held a press conference to announce that he had hired Jody Melchiorre as the team’s first general manager.

Jody Melchiorre

“I’ve talked to a lot of people trying to find the right person to build this team,” said Galette.  “But as soon as I started talking to Jody, I knew I’d found my guy.”

The 44-year-old Melchiorre had been the assistant GM for the Anchorage Igloos.  Galette is close friends with Igloos owners Leslie and Colin Mills, and they reportedly recommended him highly for the position.  Melchiorre’s primary area of responsibility has been the draft; in his tenure with Anchorage, he selected quality players such as C Derek Humplik, D Sebastian Pomfret, and D Tony Citrone.

“Seeing the kinds of talent that Jody was able to find even with the low picks that Anchorage has had,” said Galette, “tells me that we’re dealing with a great judge of young talent.  That’s exactly what we’re going to need.”

Melchiorre is a native of Worcester, and grew up idolizing Boston Bruins defenseman Ray Bourque.  He went on to star in high school and college, where he earned the nickname “Zorro” for his cunning and quick-strike ability, as well as his penchant for dressing in all black.  An injury ended his playing career in the minors.  He wound up coaching at various levels for almost a decade before moving into a front-office role, which he said better suited him.  “I didn’t have any great ideas about strategy or motivating players,” Melchiorre admitted, “but I was real good at figuring out who the real prospects were.  So I figured I’d better try to become a GM.”

Melchiorre said that he plans to build a scrappy, hard-working, hard-hitting team.  “Boston is a blue-collar town at heart, and they like blue-collar teams,” the new GM said.  “We’re going to be looking for the kind of players with that kind of hard-work ethic, the guys who hustle and get the most out of their talent.”  He suggested that he would likely look to build around defense, citing the Michigan Gray Wolves and Quebec Tigres as examples.  However, he noted that his approach might vary based on the available players in the expansion and entry drafts.

The new GM intends to start identifying and interviewing coaching candidates within the next several weeks, and plans to make a hire before the end of the season.  He said that he would like to involve the coach in player personnel deliberations.

The other 2018 expansion team, Kansas City, has yet to announce a GM.  In fact, they have yet to announce a name.  Owner Hal Messinger plans to unveil the team’s name later this month, and rumor has it that he hopes to introduce his general manager at the same time.