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.
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.”
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.”