Badgers Find No Escape on Bonding Trip

Cam Prince

As the Boston Badgers have struggled through their inaugural season, coach Cam Prince has looked for ways to encourage bonding among his players.  And with a number of new faces on the team after the recent trading deadline, Prince felt it was especially important to give his players a chance to get to know each other better.

With that in mind, on the Badgers’ trip to New York this week, Prince decided to take his players to an escape room.  In this increasingly popular form of entertainment, a group of players is locked in a room and must solve a series of riddles and puzzles in order to get out.  The Badgers’ trip to the room proved highly entertaining, but there were several surprises along the way that got in the way of the bonding aspect.

Since there are limits on the number of players that can share a single escape room, Prince divided his squad into four groups.  One group consisted of the top two forward lines; C Jens Bunyakin captained that group.  Another group included the third line and reserve forwards; F Randy O’Connor was in charge of that group.  The third group included the top two defensive pairings and starting goalie Dennis Wampler, with D Timothy “Cyclone” Winston as captain.  The final group included the bottom defensive pairing, reserve blueliner Horst Hasenkamp, and backup goalie Carson Wagner as captain.

The squabbles began as soon as the teams were announced.  Ds Jurgen Braun and Moose Baker argued over which of them was a second-pairing defender and thus belonged with Winston’s group; Prince ruled in favor of Braun.  Bunyakin asked to trade RW Gene Kennedy to Winston’s group for Wampler, a known puzzle enthusiast; Prince said that there would be no trades.  Wagner suggested scrapping the groups altogether and letting the captains pick teams; that request was also denied.

“If our guys don’t make it in hockey, they should all become lawyers,” said assistant coach Mark Morganhurst.  “They’re all great at arguing.”

Once the groups were locked away in their respective rooms, further hijinks ensued.  In Bunyakin’s group, RW Jorma Seppa and Kennedy were chained together, and had to find a key to free themselves.  Unfortunately, this confinement brought out a previously unknown claustrophobia in Kennedy, who suffered a panic attack and had to be calmed by Bunyakin until the key could be found.

“Fortunately, I have a 3-year-old at home,” said Bunyakin, “which equipped me perfectly to deal with Gene.”

In Winston’s room, there was a jigsaw puzzle that the team had to assemble in order to find a clue.  Wampler and D Brody “Bruiser” McCallan both wanted to be in charge of assembling the puzzle.  The disagreement became so heated that the two nearly came to blows and had to be separated by their groupmates.

“Wamp’s giving up at least 70 pounds to Bruiser in that fight,” said Winston, “so I knew we had to stop it.  I didn’t want to explain to Coach that we had to put our starting goalie on the DL because Bruiser broke him in the escape room.”

O’Connor’s group managed to figure out all of the clues well within the 60-minute time limit.  But when they tried to leave their room, they found that they couldn’t.  Escape room staff spent an additional half-hour just trying to free the trapped group.  As it turned out, the prank-loving Kennedy had jammed the lock to their room.  When O’Connor finally emerged, he had to be restrained from choking Kennedy.

“I hoped that this evening would bring us closer together,” said Prince.  “I’m not sure if we succeeded in that, or if we brought guys closer to killing each other.”

Wagner’s group wound up getting out first, despite being the smallest group of the four.  “Maybe we’ve just got a head for these things,” said Wagner.  “Or maybe it’s because we just focused on getting out instead of trying to fight each other.”

Prince said that he would continue to seek out bonding opportunities for his team.  He doesn’t plan to try another escape room, though.  “I’m pretty sure that once this story gets out,” said the Boston coach, “we’ll be banned from every escape room on the continent.”

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New York Ships Bellanger to Seattle

New York Night coach Nick Foster has made no secret of his plans to remake his roster in order to build a more balanced and competitive team.  He’s already taken several steps in that direction, shaking up his lines and calling up several players from the minors.  The Night took another step toward rebuilding on Monday, sending RW Daniel Bellanger to the Seattle Sailors in exchange for F Randy O’Connor and a 2nd-round draft pick.

“I’m not afraid of shaking things up for the sake of getting better,” Foster told reporters.  “This deal is an example of that.”

Daniel Bellanger

Bellanger has been in the coach’s crosshairs since the first week of the season.  After New York dropped its first four games of the season, Foster called an unscheduled practice on an off-day.  Bellanger, along with D Teddy Morrison, failed to show for the practice.  The coach responded by benching both players.

Both were ultimately reinstated to the lineup, but as the Night continued to struggle, Foster called for reinforcements from the team’s minor-league affiliate in Utah.  He called up winger Sylvester Catarino, defenseman Rocky Winkle, and goalie Sherman Carter, and started giving them all regular playing time.  Bellanger wound up being a healthy scratch in a number of games, appearing in only 14 games this season with the Night before the trade, recording 4 goals and 2 assists.

Bellanger has a reputation for being talented but temperamental.  He came to New York from Saskatchewan in 2015 after he called his teammates “garbage” and said he was tired of “carrying [the] team.”  Last season, Bellanger left the Night and went home with two games left in the season, an apparent show of displeasure with coach Preston Rivers, who was later fired.

Foster refrained from attacking Bellanger on his way out the door.  “This trade is not a reflection on Daniel as a person or a player,” Foster said.  “He’s a talented hockey player and I wish him well.  But we’re headed in a different direction as a team.”

Bellanger took the trade rather personally.  “I feel that I was never given a chance to succeed,” the winger told reporters.  “I hope to play New York many times in the future and beat them.”  He has gotten off to a hot start in Seattle, putting up a goal and an assist in 3 games since the trade.  Additionally, the Sailors pummeled the Night 9-3 in a game played two days after the trade, although Bellanger scored no points.

Randy O’Connor

The trade reunites O’Connor with his old team.  The 25-year-old forward played for the Night in 2015 before being tabbed by Seattle in the expansion draft.  He had been playing on the Sailors’ third line, posting 10 points (2 goals and 8 assists) in 24 games.

“Back in the Big Apple, baby!” crowed O’Connor.  “I love this deal.”

O’Connor is not expected to start with New York; Bellanger’s playing time is expeted to go to Catarino instead.  For the Night, the draft pick is the most valuable asset in the deal.  In previous seasons, GM Royce McCormick has freely traded away draft picks for established veterans in a futile attempt to become a contender.  But Foster has stressed the importance of a winning culture, and he would rather bring in young players that he can select and mold in his image than try to remake the games of the team’s self-centered, shoot-first veterans.

This deal raises an interesting question, however.  With the trade deadline still a couple of weeks away, this is almost certainly not the last deal New York will make.  Foster’s goal of culture change will require much more than trading away a single disgruntled player.  On the other hand, Night owner Marvin Kingman has reportedly been resistant to a wholesale rebuilding of the roster.  And New York has been playing better lately, and are creeping onto the fringes of contention in the East.

If the Night start to climb into the race before the deadline, will Kingman be pushing for win-now deals instead of the culture-change deals Foster prefers?  Will Foster be willing to sacrifice a shot at winning this season to further his long-term vision?  One thing is for certain: the Night will be a team to watch in the weeks ahead.

Injury-Plagued Sailors Grab Leonard from Hershey

Hershey BlissSeattle SailorsIn their first week on the ice, the Seattle Sailors struck the first deal of the SHL’s second season.  Thanks to an onslaught of early injuries, the Sailors found themselves with a critical lack of defensive depth.  They plugged that hole by picking up D Adam Leonard from the Hershey Bliss in exchange for F Gene Kennedy.

The league has seen a significant number of players hurt over the week, but Seattle has been hit the hardest.   The Sailors lost players to injury in three straight game.  Sunday’s 3-2 win over Saskatchewan was marred by the departure of D Wayne Snelling, who suffered a lower-body injury that is expected to keep him out for a couple weeks.  In Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to Michigan, RW “King George” Lane fell awkwardly against the boards and left with a lower-body injury; the team lists him as day-to-day.  On Wednesday, Seattle lost both another game — 5-3 against Anchorage — and another player, as rookie D Benny Lambert was felled by yet another lower-body injury that could put him out of action for up to a week.

Lambert’s injury sent the Sailors into crisis mode, as they looked to grab the first available blue-liner.  The Bliss, who were looking to enhance their forward corps, were a willing trade partner.

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Adam Leonard

“Obviously, we were hoping not to have to make a move this early in the season,” said Sailors GM Jay McKay.  “But we didn’t let ourselves get held up.  Adam is a promising young player who fills a need for us now, but has a chance to grow with the team later on.”

Hershey selected the 22-year-old Leonard, a recent graduate from Peninsula State, in the fourth round of this year’s entry draft.  He has a reputation as a stay-home defenseman and a good shot-blocker, although he is not an especially heavy hitter.  He had yet to appear in a game for the Bliss at the time of the trade.  He made his debut with Seattle on Friday in the Sailors’ 7-4 loss to Dakota.

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Gene Kennedy

Seattle claimed the 24-year-old Kennedy from Washington in the expansion draft.  Kennedy was a reserve for last year’s division-champ Galaxy squad, putting up 5 points in 23 games.  Though he was only occasionally saw the ice, Kennedy’s fun-loving spirit made him a fan favorite.  The Sailors planned to use him as part of a third-line forward platoon with Yann Eberlein and Randy O’Connor.  He had appeared in one game for Seattle before being dealt.

“This was a great opportunity for us,” said Bliss GM Scott Lawrence.  “I’ve been a Gene Kennedy fan for a while now.  I always liked him when he was with Washington.  When I realized we had a chance to get him, I didn’t hesitate.”

With Leonard on board, the Sailors now find themselves hoping for better health in the upcoming games.  Until Lane is able to return to action, Seattle’s only available reserve player will be their backup goaltender.  As Sailors coach Stewart “Popeye” Corrigan said in his postgame press-conference Wednesday, “I don’t know if I’m running a hockey team or a sick ward.”