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.
“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.”