Pistols Make Big Splash in Landing Costello from DC

Last season, the Hamilton Pistols were headed for their first-ever playoff appearance, and they faced a choice: dip into their store of top prospects and make a big win-now deal, or make a smaller depth deal and hold on to their young talent.  They chose the latter path, and wound up being bounced in the first round by Quebec.

This year, in the midst of an intense race in the East, the Pistols decided to go for a big-splash deal.  They acquired C Eddie Costello from the Washington Galaxy in exchange for C Pat Collistone, D Buster Kratz, and their first-round pick.

“To be honest, I’m surprised to be here announcing this deal,” said Pistols GM Marcel LaClaire.  “When we began to discuss it, it was almost as a joke.  But the longer we talked, the more serious it became.  Finally I said, ‘Let’s take the dare and do it.’”

The trade is a big swing designed to address Hamilton’s biggest weakness, which is scoring beyond their top line.  The 28-year-old Costello led the Galaxy in points with 45 and in assists with 33.  He will slot into the second-line center position in Hamilton, between LW Magnus Gunnarson and RW Kenny Patterson.  In order to fit under Hamilton’s salary cap, the Galaxy will retain $1 million of Costello’s salary.

“Eddie is a dynamite player, and he gives us an immediate boost on offense,” said Pistols coach Keith Shields.  “I’ve watched him beat us enough times over the years; I know what he can offer us.”

For Washington, the trade brings an end of the tenure of one of their most popular players.  Costello was a key contributor to the Galaxy teams that made back-to-back SHL finals appearances, and was also a colorful character on the ice and in the locker room.  Many young Galaxy fans copied his signature fauxhawk haircut.

“It’s pretty tough for me to leave DC, since I’ve had so many good times here,” Costello said.  “But I’m excited to join the playoff hunt again, and I’ll keep in touch with all my boys back here.”

The rental of Costello (who will be a free agent at the end of the season) didn’t come cheaply.  Collistone has been a longtime favorite in the Pistols organization.  The 23-year-old known affectionately as “Stoner” was strongly considered for the third-line center role in Hamilton this season; the Pistols wound up signing veteran J.C. Marais instead.  He was a 2018 CHL All-Star, and though his numbers are down a bit this season (13 goals, 17 assists with Oshawa), he remains a well-regarded prospect.

The 21-year-old Kratz is another homegrown Hamilton prospect.  He’s been a depth defenseman for the Pistols this season, appearing in only 12 games and failing to record a point.

“I never thought [LaClaire] would make Stoner available,” said Galaxy GM Ace Adams.  “He and Kratz both help us restock our prospect pool, which is great as we look to the next chapter for our team.  We wish Eddie all the best.  I hope he brings home the Vandy.”

CHL Update: Garcia’s Time in Oshawa Comes to Ugly End

Diego Garcia has a well-earned reputation as a malcontent.  The 26-year-old has played in several SHL organizations since the league’s inception, but he’s never seemed happy with his role wherever he’s been.

Diego Garcia

He started on the third line in Dakota, but quickly lost his starting spot, and complained about it until he was traded to Hamilton.  With the Pistols, his lackadaisical work habits and indifferent focus wore out the patience of coaches, and they dealt him to New York the following season.

He played regularly in New York for the rest of the 2016 season, but then Night coach Preston Rivers was fired, and new head man Nick Foster benched Garcia due to his poor defensive work.  Garcia griped to the press about the benching, implying that racial discrimination was a factor in the decision.  Shortly thereafter, the Night demoted him to their farm team in Utah.

Garcia played well in Utah over the next season and a half, but failed to earn a call-up.  This led him to once again demand a trade.  The Night accommodated him at last year’s deadline, shipping him up to Boston.  He played in the bigs for the final 20-odd games of the season, but the Badgers weren’t impressed enough to re-sign him this season.

Failing to land any major-level offers, Garcia signed with the Oshawa Drive.  But his usual issues – lack of hustle and his penchant for bellyaching – landed him in hot water with coach Harvey Williams.  The simmering tension between the two boiled over this week, when Williams benched the winger and Garcia responded by leaving the team.

According to team sources, Garcia’s latest frustrations began when he was passed over for the CHL All-Star Game.  He made the team last season, and felt that he deserved a return trip.  He became even more upset when the Pistols, Oshawa’s parent club, traded for F Cary Estabrook from Boston.  In Garcia’s opinion, he is a superior player to Estabrook, and deserved to be called up instead.

“I knew [Estabrook] from Boston,” Garcia fumed to reporters.  “They say I don’t hustle?  He hustles way less than I do.  They say I’m bad at defense?  He’s worse.  They say I don’t show up for practice?  He cares more about what time the bar closes than what time practice is.  But he’s the golden boy, the great white hope, so he gets a second chance.  And the lazy brown guy rots in the minors.  I wish I was surprised.”

Harvey Williams

Garcia’s rant rubbed Williams the wrong way.  The coach told reporters that Garcia “has been a pain in my [butt] all season.  He’s always in my office whining about how he ‘deserves’ to be in the majors.  And I always tell him the same thing: If you want to make it to the next level, go out there and show me something special.  Make it so they can’t deny you a shot.  And he doesn’t want to do it.  He’s been fine, but nothing special.  He’s had five years to make it in the majors, and he hasn’t stuck.  He’s got talent, but he doesn’t want to put in the work.  So I don’t want to hear about it.”

When informed of his coach’s comments, Garcia shot back: “Oh, so now I’m lazy and uppity, huh?  I wonder why I haven’t gotten a fair shake in this organization.  All my life, I’ve had to work twice as hard to get half as far.  It’s the same old crap.”  He then said that – yet again – he wants to be traded.

Williams reacted to the trade demand with derision.  “Oh, here we go again: ‘Trade me, trade me.’  Every time someone calls him out on his [crap], he demands a trade.  Anything to avoid taking a hard look in the mirror.  Well fine, then.  I’ll do it for him.”

The coach announced that he would bench Garcia indefinitely.  “Everywhere else, people got sick of him and they punted so they don’t have to deal with him.  Well, I’m gonna deal with him.”  Williams said he would play Garcia again “when he finally owns up that he has no one to blame but himself.  Given his track record, he might be sitting awhile.”

Garcia responded by leaving the team and returning to his offseason home in Vancouver.  He said he would not return to the ice until the Drive traded him.  “Obviously, I’m never going to get a fair shot with this organization, so let’s move on.”

Three days later, the Drive terminated his contract.  “If Diego is not going to provide his services to our team, then he is in breach of contract,” said Pistols GM Marcel LaClaire.  “He said that he wants a fresh start; he is now free to pursue that with any team he wishes.”

This may be the end of the line for Garcia in the SHL; he has worn out his welcome with multiple organizations, and he does not put up the kind of numbers that would compel a team to sign him in spite of the headaches.

“If some desperate team takes a chance on him, I wish ‘em the best of luck,” said Williams.  “He’s a legend in his own mind, and guys like that – there’s just no reasoning with ‘em.”

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.”

Hamilton’s Dramatic New Look Highlights 2019 Uni Changes

As the SHL prepares to take the ice for its 2019 season, several teams are announcing updates to their uniforms.  The list of changes isn’t as extensive as last season, when there were two new teams and four other clubs with new or modified looks.  This time around, however, there is one team – the Hamilton Pistols – that has completely overhauled its look, with a new logo, color scheme, and uniforms.

“Last year, our team showed that it was ready to be a rising power in this league,” said Pistols owner Cory Blackwood, Jr.  “Now we’ve got a fresh, up-to-date look that matches our fresh young roster.”

The Pistols’ logo has evolved over their tenure in the SHL.  The original logo prominently featured the silhouette of a handgun, a controversial choice that drew protests from gun-control groups.  Possibly as a result, the team began de-emphasizing the gun as a design element, increasingly featuring a secondary logo consisting of the letter “H” superimposed over a red maple leaf.  The team claimed that this logo was designed to highlight the team’s Canadian identity.  However, that logo earned the ire of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, who threatened the Pistols with trademark action.

Now, the Pistols have scrapped both their original gun-based logo and the secondary maple-leaf logo in favor of a striking new “Pistols” wordmark that includes a gun sight in place of the “O.”  

“We wanted something simple, clean, and modern-looking,” said Pistols GM Marcel LaClaire.  “Our old logo had kind of a ’70s Starsky-and-Hutch type of appearance, especially with that mustard yellow.  It was a little dated, and not suitable for today.  We found ourselves asking, ‘When our team wins the Vandy, do we want to be in these uniforms?’  We quickly realized that we did not.”

New home uniforms

The Pistols’ new uniforms pay homage to their previous look, while still providing a major departure.  Red is still Hamilton’s dominant color, but the secondary color has gone from mustard yellow to black.  The uniforms still have a contrasting color band along the shoulders and down the sleeves, but it narrows below the numbers.  The stripe at the bottom of the jersey kicks up at the end, as the silver trim has been modified to look like a hockey stick.

“We’re going to look a lot cooler on the ice now,” said Pistols star Steven Alexander.  “Our new threads are cutting-edge, cool, and a little dangerous.  No one’s going to want to mess with us.”

New alternate jersey

In lieu of their previous maple-leaf jersey, the Pistols unveiled a new third jersey that’s primarily black. In place of the “Pistols” wordmark that appears on the home and road jerseys, the jersey includes the team’s secondary logo – a gunsight with a capital “H” in the crosshairs.

“I really like the alts,” said D Raymond Smyth.  “They make us look like assassins, ready to take out the competition.”

Blackwood said that the team’s new look symbolized a new era of championship competition.  “We want our fans to know, and the world to know, that we’re going all in,” the owner said.  “We’re expecting big things from the team in the next few seasons.  We’re breaking out in a big way, and we want everyone to know about it.”

While the Pistols’ image overhaul is the biggest sartorial news of the offseason, a couple of other SHL teams also announced smaller refreshes:

  • The Seattle Sailors are brightening their accent color, going from spring green to a neon green.  “Between the Seahawks and the Eclipse,” said owner Gary Blum, referencing Seattle’s NFL and UBA teams, “neon green is a popular color around here, and we thought it would work for us too.”  In addition, the team is adding more black to their alternate uniforms, and are dropping the numbers on their sleeves.
  • The Michigan Gray Wolves are switching their home and alternate jerseys.  Now, their jersey with the wolf-and-moon logo is their primary home uniform, while the one with the “Gray Wolves” wordmark has been relegated to alternate status.  “Just looking at our merchandise sales, it’s clear that our fans love the moon logo,” said GM Tim Carrier.  “So we figured it was time for us to catch up.”  The “Gray Wolves” wordmark remains on the team’s road jerseys, however.  Also, the numbers on the back of the home and alternate jerseys have changed from white to red.

Hamilton Faces Tough Calls As Deadline Approaches

As the SHL season winds toward next week’s trading deadline, the Hamilton Pistols find themselves in an admirable position.  They’ve been on top of the Eastern Division all season, and they’re virtually certain to make the playoffs.  They’ve even got a decent chance to go all the way and win the Vandy.

That all sounds pretty good.  So why is Pistols GM Marcel LaClaire saying that his team is in a “painful position”?  When LaClaire says that “we have some difficult decisions to make over the next week,” what does he mean?

The awkward truth is that Hamilton arrived to contention ahead of schedule.  Coming off a 29-30-1 finish in 2017, the Pistols organization looked at this as a building season: get over .500 for the first time, possibly contend for a playoff spot, and give their young core a chance to get its feet wet in meaningful games.  But after the Hershey Bliss bellyflopped out of the gate, there was an unexpected vacancy at the top of the stands, and the Pistols have filled it.

But Hamilton’s unexpected ascendance has scrambled the calculus of their deadline decisions.  If they were a fringe contender, the Pistols might make a minor deal for a veteran or two to provide experience and depth, but they’d leave their store of prospects largely untouched.  But now that they have a realistic shot to go all the way, should they consider dealing some of those prospects and going all in this year?

That’s the quandary that’s keeping LaClaire up at night.  “I realize that this is a very lucky problem to have,” said the Pistols GM.  “How do spend your lottery winnings?  But this choice could affect our course for years to come.”

The case for going all in this year is simple: The league may never be this wide open again.  With Hershey effectively out of the picture, the East is Hamilton’s for the taking.  Both the Quebec Tigres and Washington Galaxy are having solid seasons, but both have obvious weaknesses: Quebec is limited by a so-so offense, while Washington’s success is heavily dependent on its top line.

Out West, the defending division champion Anchorage Igloos have been stuck around the .500 mark and don’t look likely to repeat.  The Michigan Gray Wolves are the consensus Vandy favorite, but even they have chinks in their armor; goalie Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist hasn’t been his typical dominant self, and top D “Mad Max” Madison has battled injuries.

And if the Pistols are inclined to load up for a deep run, there’s no shortage of targets available.  The Dakota Jackalopes are shopping Cs Lars Karlsson and Harvey Bellmore, and may be willing to deal D Matt Cherner.  The expansion Boston Badgers and Kansas City Smoke are both entertaining offers on their veterans.  And other struggling teams like the Bliss, New York Night, and Saskatchewan Shockers may be willing to deal as well.

“Flags fly forever,” said Pistols LW Steven Alexander.  “We’ve got a real shot to win this thing, and I’m all for anything that helps us get there.”

On the other hand, the Pistols have made no secret of their desire to build a dynasty.  “We don’t think that we only have this one shot,” LaClaire said.  “We believe we have the talent to be a top team for many years.”  Their minor-league affiliate in Oshawa is currently leading its division, and they’ve got a number of highly-touted prospects.  If the Pistols were to trade those players away for veterans on short-term deals, they might maximize their chance to win this season but cost themselves a shot at building an affordable contender down the road.

“It is not an easy thing,” said LaClaire.  “I want us to be good for the next ten years.  But if this is our best chance for a title… I want the title.”

For his part, Hamilton coach Keith Shields retains his trademark optimistic outlook.  “As far as I’m concerned, we’ve got a championship-caliber team in our locker room right now,” the coach said on Friday.  “We don’t need to make a single deal and we’re awesome.  If Marcel decides to go and get me a player who makes us even better, I love it!  I’m happy either way.”

Easy for him to say.  But for LaClaire – the man who has to find a way to balance the present and the future – the decisions are anything but easy.  “I’ll be happy when [the deadline] is over,” he said.  “After that, we just have to go settle it on the ice.”

Hamilton Goes Canadian with New Uniforms

The Hamilton Pistols quietly debuted a revamped uniform set this week.  The changes are designed, in the words of GM Marcel LaClaire, to “emphasize our Canadian pride and our Hamilton pride.”  The changes also de-emphasize the firearms imagery, which may be a subtle first step toward changing the team’s name.

New Hamilton third jersey

The biggest change is the introduction of a new secondary logo (pictured above), replacing the previous secondary logo, which featured a silhouette of a handgun over a red oval.  The new maple leaf logo appears on the sleeves of the team’s home and road jerseys, and is the primary crest on the team’s new red-and-white third jersey.

The maple leaf-ization of the uniforms didn’t stop with the new logo, either.  All three uniforms now have small maple leaves superimposed on the rear hem of the jersey and the socks.  In addition, the road jersey now say “Hamilton” on the front, rather than “Pistols.”

According to LaClaire, these changes are designed to highlight the team’s Canadian identity.  “Hockey is a proud Canadian sport and we are a proud Canadian city,” said the Pistols GM.  “We love our country and our city, and we want to make that clear in our uniforms.”

The move drew criticism from the SHL’s other two Canadian teams, the Saskatchewan Shockers and Quebec Tigres.  The Tigres issued a press release blasting Hamilton’s “land grab” and saying “If the Pistols believe that they can become ‘Canada’s Team’ by festooning their uniforms with maple leaves, they are quite mistaken.  We are quite satisfied with being Quebec’s team.”  Meanwhile, Shockers GM Cooper Matthews jibed, “I don’t know, over-the-top patriotism seems more American to me.  Canadians don’t do this.”

Some critics, though, think the change is less about celebrating Canada and more about downplaying the Pistols name.  The team has been picketed by gun-control groups in the past, and although owner Cory Blackwood, Jr. loves the name, it’s rumored that some senior league officials don’t.  According to this theory, the league has ordered the team to de-emphasize the “Pistols” branding, with the goal of changing to a less controversial name down the line.  The league office declined to comment on this theory, and LaClaire insisted that the uniform changes were solely the team’s idea.

If the league is secretly pushing the Pistols to change their name, team star Steven Alexander insists it will happen over his dead body.  “I think Pistols is a great name for a hockey team,” Alexander told reporters.  “We’re fast and lethal.  It’s a perfect fit.”  Alexander is a fan of the new uniforms, though.  “I think they look sharp,” he said.  “And I like having ‘Hamilton’ on the front of our road unis. It’s good for us to represent.”

Pistols Tab Shields as New Coach

Hamilton PistolsThe SHL’s game of musical coaches appears to have reached its end.  First, Martin Delorme left the Michigan Gray Wolves to become the first coach of the expansion Quebec Tigres.  Next, Michigan hired Ron Wright away from the Hamilton Pistols to replace Delorme.  Now, the Pistols have hired Washington Galaxy assistant coach Keith Shields to serve as their head coach for next season.

“This is a real coup for us,” said Pistols GM Marcel LaClaire.  “We’ve got ourselves the brightest young coaching mind out there.”

Keith Shields
Keith Shields

Shields was highly regarded in SHL circles, having reportedly made the short list in both Quebec’s and Michigan’s coaching searches.  He could hardly be more different than Wright, the man he’s replacing.  Wright has been coaching longer than the 33-year-old Shields has been alive.  Wright is a defense-first coach, while Shields said he likes “a nice high-flying offense.”  Wright is known as a strict disciplinarian, while Shields shares the fun-loving outlook of his former boss, Galaxy head coach Rodney Reagle.

“Obviously, I want everybody working hard when they’re on the ice,” said Shields.  “But the season can be a long grind, and it’s important to relax and have fun sometimes too.  It’s a balance.”

The hiring of Shields is part of a larger rebuild for Hamilton, which finished with the league’s second-worst record last season.  The Pistols appear to be retooling around their high-scoring trio of LW Steven Alexander, C Rod Remington, and RW Claude Lafayette.  They recently shipped second-line C Cliff Derringer and RW “King George” Lane to the expansion Seattle Sailors for a package of draft picks.

“We believe this is the best path to a championship for us,” said LaClaire.  “In Steven, Rod, and Claude, we have the strongest first line in the league.  We intend to surround them with a group of fine young players.  Together with Keith’s leadership, we are confident that we are building a long-term contender.”

Shields expressed excitement at the opportunity to coach the Pistols.  “I really like what we’ve got here,” he told reporters.  “We’ve got a great first line, lots of scoring punch.  And I know we’re going to have a great draft and get a bunch of exciting young players.  I can’t wait to coach ‘em up!”

Reagle believes his protégé is destined for greatness.  “I’m gonna miss Keith, for sure, but I knew some smart team was going to snap him up,” said Reagle.  “He’s young, but he’s got a good head on his shoulders.  It’s going to be fun competing against him.”

The Galaxy announced that second assistant coach Herman Chambers will be promoted to lead assistant to replace Shields.