Galaxy Fire Coach James

Two years ago, the Washington Galaxy shocked the SHL world by firing coach Rodney Reagle and hiring Peter James to replace him.  Although Reagle had lead the Galaxy to two SHL Finals, the team’s record had slipped, and the team ownership reportedly felt that the coach’s goofy, lighthearted, sometimes outrageous approach was no longer working.  By picking the low-key and serious-minded James, Washington hoped to change the team’s culture and return to contention.

Peter James

Instead, the ensuing seasons have turned into a disaster.  James failed to connect with his players and failed to charm either the media or the fanbase.  The team ‘s record plummeted from mediocrity to abject disaster.  The team’s attendance drooped along with their on-ice performance.  GM Ace Adams lost his job due to the team’s struggles.  Most of the team’s stars have left, either in trade or via free agency.  And after two years and a 37-78-13 record, the Galaxy have apparently seen enough; this week, they announced that James was being let go.

“We thank Peter James for his service to the club,” said GM Wilson Shuster.  “No one doubts his hard work and dedication.  Unfortunately, it’s become clear that this wasn’t the right fit, for Peter or for the team.  It’s time to begin a new chapter for this team.”

According to team sources, James’ attempts to crack down and impose greater discipline on the team met resistance from Galaxy veterans, most of whom liked Reagle and were displeased about his firing.  Their defiance undermined the coach’s authority, and James in turn urged the front office to get rid of them and turn to younger players from the minors.  But the minor leaguers proved overmatched, and they found James remote and difficult to talk to.

Things went from bad to worse this season, as Washington finished with the league’s worst record.  The team’s best player in 2020 was arguably C Harvey Bellmore, who signed a four-year free agent deal with the club before the 2019 season.  But Bellmore is a well-known partier and practical joker, and he and James grew to detest one another.  Team sources say that Bellmore’s strong year was fueled by the hope that a contending team would want to acquire him.  But he stayed put, and his defiance of James only grew.  He mocked the coach behind his back, mimicking James’ rigid posture and awkward speaking style in fake pep talks during practices and on team flights.  The coach in turn hit Bellmore with multiple fines and complained repeatedly to the front office, to no avail.

Meanwhile, James struggled to escape the shadow of his larger-than-life predecessor.  Ironically, Reagle’s penchant for wacky costumes and colorful quote might have been a welcome distraction during the last couple of down years.  Instead, reporters largely tuned out James’ colorless press conferences and gave the team less coverage.  And fans started to stay away altogether.  There was a group of diehards who sat behind the home bench at Constellation Center and called themselves “Reagle’s Eagles,” wearing curly wigs and fake wings to every game.  They loved to interact with the coach, who would frequently toss them pucks and autographed T-shirts.  When James arrived in town, the diehards swapped their wings for six-shooters, renamed themselves “The James Gang,” and tried to connect with the new bench boss.  But James didn’t engage with them, and they eventually stopped coming to games.

The Galaxy tried a number of gimmicks to goose attendance, using the B-52s’ “Cosmic Thing” as a rally song and turning the team Twitter account over to star RW Jefferson McNeely‘s wife to post memes of the couple’s daughter during a game.  But as the losses piled up and the stars kept leaving town, Reagle’s Eagles weren’t the only fans who weren’t turning out anymore.  This combination of trouble factors caused the front office’s faith in James to evaporate quickly, leading to this week’s dismissal.

Reached for comment, James thanked the Galaxy for the opportunity and said, “I wish it had turned out differently.” He declined further comment.

Washington is one of several teams that will be seeking a new coach this offseason; the Michigan Gray Wolves, New York Night, and Milwaukee (formerly the Dakota Jackalopes) also have openings.  It’s believed that former New York coach Nick Foster and former Dakota coach Flim Dahlgren will be on the Galaxy’s shortlist, along with Hamilton Pistols assistant Jack Thornberry and minor-league coach Mel Longian.

Galaxy Pick James as New Coach

The Washington Galaxy surprised a number of observers around the league when they fired coach Rodney Reagle, who had guided the team to a pair of Finals appearances in four seasons.  After the surprising dismissal of Reagle, the team made an unsurprising choice for his replacement, tapping Oshawa Drive coach Peter James to take over the bench next season.

Peter James

“When we looked for our next coach, we had several criteria in mind,” said Galaxy GM Ace Adams.  “We wanted a coach who was professional and dedicated.  We wanted someone who was firm but not overbearing, someone who was serious but not too straitlaced, someone who could help mentor younger players while also relating well to veterans.  We wanted someone who was comfortable with the demands of a bigger market, but wouldn’t be looking to grab headlines.  Peter met all of our criteria.”

Several of those criteria could be interpreted as a veiled shot at Reagle, who had a well-earned reputation as the SHL’s clown prince.  He was well known for wearing costumes on the bench and frequently dropping movie quotes and offbeat accents into his press conferences.  These antics made Reagle a colorful and popular character, but team sources say the front office and some players found his behavior childish and that owner Perry Dodge felt the coach was too easy with the players.

James represents a virtual 180-degree change in personality from Reagle.  The 55-year-old Kitchener native has a reputation as for being serious and mild-mannered; one Oshawa player described James as having “milk running through his veins.”

The coach confirmed the accuracy of his reputation at his introductory press conference.  “If you’re expecting a lot of memorable quotes out of me, well, you’ll be disappointed,” said James.  “I’m always willing to talk to the press, but my plan is to keep my head down and do my job.”

Those who might equate James’ politeness and lack of flair with meekness or weakness, however, are mistaken.  He demonstrated this in Oshawa last season when he physically repelled an opposing defender who attempted to climb onto the Drive’s bench and start a fight.  Asked about this incident, James said, “My first instinct to protect my players, always.  I’m not a fighter, but I’m also not a pushover.”

James will face a challenge navigating an aging roster that lost key contributor Walt Camernitz to free agency last season and may see #1 goaltender Roger Orion depart this offseason.  “I would really like to see us re-sign Roger,” James said.  “He’s a really top-notch goalie.”

The new bench boss will also have some work to do in the clubhouse, whose chemistry reportedly went south during the Galaxy’s second-half swan dive, when they went 11-20-1 to finish below .500 for the first time in team history.  “Obviously, losing makes things tough on everybody,” James said.  “But even during tough times, if you put the right foundation in place, the team will hold together.”

The team reportedly didn’t interview many candidates for the vacancy.  The team is known to have also spoken to former assistant coach Herman Chambers and Michigan assistant Morris Thompson.  Sources say that the front office was torn between James and Thompson; the latter’s reputation for building stout defenses was appealing.

It was James’ calm demeanor, Adams said, that put him over the top.  “The longer we talked to Peter, the more I noticed how calm and confident he was, no matter what questions I threw at him,” said the Galaxy GM.  “He was so calm that he made me feel calmer just listening to him.  And I knew this was the guy to guide us through good times and bad.”

As for Washington’s ex-coach, it appears unlikely that Reagle will find himself behind a bench this season.  The only remaining open SHL job is with the Saskatchewan Shockers, who are said to be looking for a disciplinarian.  Reagle said that he was open to a job in broadcasting, but “if I wind up spending the season at home with my wife, sipping lemonade and cashing checks, I’m okay with that too.  I’m not sure if she will be, though.”

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.

Night’s Foster Accuses Officials of Anti-NY Bias

Nick Foster

In a bizarre coda to the New York Night‘s 6-5 victory over the Washington Galaxy on Saturday, Night coach Nick Foster used his postgame press conference to accuse referee Brandon Fosse and his crew of being biased against New York.  Foster went on to argue that the league was “scared of” his team and determined to keep them out of the postseason.

In a lot of ways, the game was a successful one for the Night.  They outshot the rival Galaxy 47-32 and secured a key win that all but guarantees them a third-place finish in the East.  But the third period was a harrowing one for New York, as Washington scored four unanswered goals that nearly erased a 6-1 Night lead.  Many observers thought the late rally was evidence that the Night took their foot off the gas, or that netminder Jesse Clarkson was continuing his recent stretch of shaky play.  But to Foster, the real cause of the Washington rally was a string of penalties called by Fosse and his crew.

“It’s pretty impressive that we pulled that one out, considering that we were playing against 10 guys there in the third,” said the Night coach, referring to the six Washington players and the four officials.  “They really didn’t want us to win this one, but we got the W anyway.”  Asked to elaborate, Foster said, “Come on, you’re all smart guys.  You’ve got eyes.  You think it was a coincidence that all the whistles went against us down the stretch?  I’m not sure what we did to piss [Fosse] off, or if the call came from upstairs, but he had it in for us.”

Foster continued, “I’m going to talk to the league; I don’t want his crew working our games any more.  I don’t think they’ll listen, though.  Now that we’re getting better, they’re scared of us winning.  The last thing they want to see is us in the playoffs.”

On the surface, it seemed Foster’s complaint might have some merit.  The last four penalties of the game, called in the latter half of the third period all went against New York, including two in quick concession that gave the Galaxy a 5-on-3 edge for over a minute and a half.  Foster contended that the fatigue of the extended penalty-kill shifts left his team exhausted and vulnerable to a late rally.

On the other hand, only one of Washington’s third-period goals actually came on the power play.  And Foster’s accusation ignored the fact that over the game as a whole, New York actually had more power plays than Washington.  In fact, the Galaxy didn’t go a man up even once until the third.

Fosse and the other officials join a lengthy list of people and teams with which Foster has feuded this season, including the Hamilton Pistols, their star Steven Alexander, the Dakota Jackalopes, and the Corn Palace.

The league did not make Fosse available for comment after the game, but they did take swift action against Foster, fining the coach $5,000.  “The idea that our referees or our league are biased against any of our teams is ludicrous,” said Commissioner Perry Mitchell.  “I don’t know why Coach Foster would make crazy accusations like that.  It’s disappointing on a personal level; more importantly, it’s inappropriate and unacceptable.”

Galaxy coach Rodney Reagle, on the other hand, reacted to Foster’s accusations with amusement.  “I’ve got to hand it to that guy,” Reagle said.  “Ordinarily, after a game like that, you’d figure he’d be answering questions about why his team can’t close out a game, or why his goalie couldn’t stop a cold.  Instead, he’s got us all talking about whether the refs and the league have a vendetta against his team.  Talk about post-game spin!”