Galaxy Turn to Shuster As GM

It’s been a swift decline for the Washington Galaxy.  After going to back-to-back SHL Finals and narrowly missing a third straight trip, the Galaxy have fallen apart over the last couple of seasons.  In 2018, Washington lost 19 of their final 27 games to finish below the .500 mark for the first time; that collapse cost coach Rodney Reagle his job.  Last season, under new bench boss Peter James, the bottom fell out and the Galaxy finished only four points out of last in the East.  That fiasco led to the firing of GM Ace Adams at season’s end.

Now, the Galaxy are facing an overhaul of their aging roster and, likely, a multi-season rebuilding effort.  To oversee the rebuild, the franchise is turning to Wilson Shuster, the assistant GM of the Michigan Gray Wolves.

Wilson Shuster

“This is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for,” said Shuster.  “I can’t wait to get started.”

The Galaxy’s new GM has experience building a winning organization.  Working alongside GM Tim Carrier, Shuster helped shape the Wolves squad that won the Vandy in 2016.  He specialized on the draft and the minor-league roster.  Shuster’s resume is similar to that of Taylor Teichman, who assembled the core of the Hamilton Pistols team that won last year’s championship before becoming GM of the Seattle Sailors, who made the playoffs for the first time last season.

Unlike Teichman, who took over a team that seemed poised to vault into contention, Shuster is facing the difficult task of disassembling a once-strong team.  One of his first decisions will be whether or not to attempt re-signing franchise cornerstone RW Jefferson McNeely, who is a free agent.  Shuster will likely seek to trade several veteran hold-overs, such as Ds Kevin Buchanan and Leonard Wright and LW Charlie Brooks, and perhaps C Harvey Bellmore or even LW Casey Thurman.

Shuster declined to discuss the future of specific players, but seemed to indicate that a full-scale rebuild was in the works.  “One of the things [owner Perry] Dodge made clear to me when I was hired is that he wants a championship,” Shuster told reporters.  “This is the District of Champions now, after all.  The Caps did it, the Nats did it, and the Mystics did it.  We should too.  So I have to ask myself: which players are going to be on our championship roster?  Those are the guys I’m building around.  We’ll go from there.”

The famously reclusive Dodge, who issued a release rather than holding a press conference when he fired Adams, appeared at this announcement and introduced Shuster to the media.  True to form, though, he refused to answer questions.

Michigan has a reputation around the SHL as a hard-hitting defense-oriented club.  Shuster himself was known as a pugnacious, bulldog defenseman during his playing days in college and the minor leagues.  Will he attempt to build the Galaxy in the Wolves’ – and his – image?  “Ideally, I’d like to find players who are much more talented than I was,” the GM quipped.  “I do think that defense is the bread and butter of championship hockey, and I’ll build with that in mind.  In Michigan, though, we had The Bear [G Dirk Lundquist], and it’s a lot easier to try to win every game 1-0 when you’ve got a guy like him in net.  This team will have its own identity.”

Galaxy Fire Longtime GM Adams

Yesterday, the Washington Galaxy became the second team to dismiss its general manager since the end of the season.  The team issued a statement announcing that it had terminated its GM, Ace Adams, who had been with the team since the beginning of the SHL.

Ace Adams

“The Galaxy organization thanks Ace Adams for his five years of dedicated service,” the press release read.  “We have made the difficult decision to go in a different direction, as we start planning the course that will lead our organization to its first SHL championship.”

In the SHL’s early years, Adams was applauded, as the Galaxy made it to back-to-back SHL Finals in 2015 and 2016.  As the team’s core began to age and the East’s other teams improved, however, Washington seemed unable to keep up.  Initially, coach Rodney Reagle took the brunt of the criticism for the team’s decline, and he was fired at the end of the 2018 season when the Galaxy collapsed down the stretch and finished below the .500 mark for the first time.  But the team dropped even further under new coach Peter James, ultimately staggering to a fifth-place finish.

As the Galaxy’s season wore on, Adams came under increasing criticism for being overly loyal to the team’s declining veterans, rather than seeking to rebuild.  Adams did deal away a pair of veterans, C Eddie Costello and RW Nori Takoyaki, at this year’s trade deadline – but according to team sources, he did so reluctantly.  With the team looking at a potential rebuild and facing offseason questions about whether to re-sign some key contributors – including star winger Jefferson McNeely – owner Perry Dodge reportedly wanted a new hand on the wheel.

Adams defended his record when contacted by reporters.  “I’ll stand by my decisions,” he said.  “I thought a couple of division titles and a consistent record of contention would buy me some more slack.  Yeah, the bottom kind of fell out the last season and a half, but I think our core was solid.  I thought it was time for a retool, but [Dodge] apparently thought it was bigger than that.  In the end, he’s the one signing the checks, so his way goes.  But I gotta say, I wasn’t expecting this now.”

The team’s decision to announce the firing via press release, rather than in a press conference where reporters could ask questions, raised eyebrows around the league.  According to team sources, the publicity-shy Dodge – who has never met publicly with reporters during his ownership of the team – declined to appear in front of the cameras.

Adams said that Dodge telephoned him to deliver the news.  “I asked him for a reason,” the former GM said, “and he wouldn’t say anything besides the fact that they’re going in a different direction.  I thought after five seasons, I deserved more of an answer than that.”

The press release contained no news on a successor for Adams, and team sources said no interviews had been scheduled.  Former New York Night GM Royce McCormick, who was let go last month, is available.  However, it seems unlikely that Dodge would go in that direction.  It seems more likely that the team will tab an up-and-coming assistant who’s shown a good eye with the draft and with young players – someone more like Taylor Teichman, who was hired as GM of the Seattle Sailors last season and guided the team to its first-ever playoff berth.

Galaxy Parts Ways with Reagle

In a move that surprised many around the league, the Washington Galaxy this week announced that they had fired coach Rodney Reagle.  In making the move, the Galaxy part ways with the league’s most colorful coach and a man who led the team to a 129-105-10 record and two Finals appearances – but also a coach whose comic act was reportedly wearing thin with an aging roster that seemed to be heading in the wrong direction.

Rodney Reagle

There was a good deal of discontent in the capital city after the Galaxy finished with their first-ever sub-.500 record, going 31-32-1.  Washington was widely expected to take a step back this season after losing several key players in free agency, including LW Walt Camernitz, RW Sindri Pentti, and backup netminder Ron Mason.  Throughout the first half of the season, the Galaxy surprised with a strong performance, contending for a playoff spot for much of the season.  However, the team struggled to get production beyond their top line and collapsed after the trade deadline, going 7-19-1 over the last six weeks of the season – a stretch that sealed Reagle’s fate.

“Rodney Reagle is a good man and a good coach, and a guy I’m proud to call my friend,” said Galaxy GM Ace Adams.  “We’ve achieved a lot together, and I thank him for all the good times.  But we’ve made the difficult decision to go in a new direction.”

Reagle had a well-earned reputation as the clown prince of the SHL; he was famous around the league for dressing up in costumes on the bench and for giving post-game interviews laced with movie quotes and strange accents.  The coach’s public goofiness made him a controversial figure around the league, and even reportedly within the Galaxy front office.  As long as the team was winning, Reagle was generally viewed as charmingly eccentric.  Once the team started to slide, however, it was easy to paint the coach as insufficiently serious.

“I’ve always known that my sense of humor was a high-wire act,” said Reagle.  “As long as you win, you can be totally coo-coo bananas and everything thinks it’s a sign of a quirky genius.  When you stop winning, suddenly you’re not funny anymore.  I thought two trips to the Finals would have bought me a little more rope, but turns out there was just enough to hang me with.”

There are conflicting reports about whether the coach had lost the clubhouse.  Some sources said that many players found Reagle’s antics silly and embarrassing.  Others claimed that the players were actually quite loyal to Reagle, and that the decision was driven by owner Perry Dodge, who reportedly felt the coach was too loose with the team.

Several players spoke out in support of Reagle after word of the firing broke.  “Coach Reagle is a great guy to play for,” said C Eddie Costello.  “He treats you like a grown man and he keeps things light and fun.  I feel bad that we let him down.”

Adams declined to comment on who Reagle’s replacement might be, other than to confirm that assistant coach Herman Chambers would be “strongly considered.”  According to team sources, other possible candidates include Michigan assistant Morris Thompson, Anchorage assistant Kyle Barrow, and minor-league coach Peter James.