“Let’s just say it’s good that sticks are cheap. Otherwise I’d have to start docking his paycheck.”
- New York Night GM Royce McCormick, after C Brock Manning snapped a half-dozen sticks in the Night’s 4-3 win over Saskatchewan on Saturday
“Let’s just say it’s good that sticks are cheap. Otherwise I’d have to start docking his paycheck.”
The SHL’s 2018 season will see the addition of two new teams, the Boston Badgers and Kansas City Smoke. But Boston’s and Kansas City’s uniforms aren’t the only new threads that fans will see on the ice this year. Almost half of the league’s existing teams are making changes to their looks, with two teams – the Quebec Tigres and Saskatchewan Shockers – making major overhauls.
According to Quebec GM Pete Gondret, the Tigres’ revamp was the brainchild of owner Marc Delattre, who felt that the team’s old uniforms – which famously featured striped sleeves and socks – were too busy. “Mr. Delattre was not a fan of our old costumes,” said Gondret. “When he watched our games, he said ‘We look like a junior team, not professional.'” Delattre wound up hiring fashion designer Rene Saramond to develop something cleaner.
Saramond’s design, which was reportedly inspired by vintage hockey sweater designs of the 1920s, preserved the stripes, but compressed them into a narrower band across the chest, sleeves, and socks. Each band contains seven stripes, which symbolize the seven gates in the ramparts that surrounded the old city of Quebec.
“These uniforms are a perfect blend of old and new,” said Gondret. “They speak to the history and tradition of both hockey and of Quebec, but at the same time they are fresh and sleek and modern.”
The Tigres unveiled their new jerseys at a season-ticket holder event in late November. Captain Stephane Mirac, who modeled the home jersey, said that he is a fan of the new look. “The old uniforms, they were a bit too garish,” Mirac told reporters. “Now, we have a better look, and as we start winning more games, we can be proud of how we look and how we play.”
Meanwhile, the Shockers’ uniforms are largely similar in design to last year’s, but they’ve made a significant change to their color scheme. Previously, the Shockers were notorious around the league for sporting the eye-searing combination of yellow and seafoam green Reportedly, this unusual look was chosen by owner Heinz Doofenshmirtz, as those are his favorite colors.
The fact that the colors clashed with one another apparently did not trouble the owner, although it did trouble Shockers fans and players. Former Saskatchewan RW Daniel Bellanger, who played for the Shockers for half a season in 2015, likened the color combo to “a wound that is infected and filled with pus.”
After years of lobbying by the players, coaches, and front office, Doofenshmirtz finally relented this season, dropping seafoam and replacing it with electric blue. GM Cooper Matthews hailed the new look, calling it “striking and eye-catching, but more pleasant to look at.”
Upon receiving news of the new colors, Saskatchewan players erupted in celebration. C Napoleon Beasley declared the new combination “really cool! We’ve got a new look we can be proud of. The old look kind of made guys a little sick just looking at it, to tell the truth. And we definitely came in for a lot of heckling about it from fans in other arenas. But that’s over now! Now they can just heckle us for our play instead, and that’s way better.”
A couple of other teams are making smaller but still noticeable changes to their uniforms for the new season:
Suffice it to say, it’s been a tough year for the New York Night and their fans. The team is languishing in the basement of the East, attendance has generally been lackluster, their star player got suspended after getting beat up in a bar fight, and their most notable promotion turned into a fiasco when a disgruntled employee stole the team’s shipment of fidget spinners. “I knew it was going to a rocky year,” said Night coach Nick Foster, “but I didn’t think it was going to be this rocky.”
In the season’s penultimate week, though, the Night pulled off a successful and distinctive promotion: Top Hat Night. That’s right, during Saturday night’s game against Quebec at Neon Sky Center, the Night gave away top hats to their fans.
According to GM Royce McCormick, he got the inspiration for the promotion after seeing a wave of fedora giveaways, especially among baseball teams. “So my first thought was to do a fedora night, maybe tie it in with a Sinatra theme or do a Rat Pack thing,” said McCormick. “But the more I thought about it, I realized that the fedora thing’s been done. Why copy what everyone else is doing if you can be original?”
So McCormick thought about how he could do a more original giveaway. “That’s when I thought of top hats,” the GM said. “I mean, this is the Big Apple! Why not do something with a little extra class?”
Definitely an unorthodox concept. And unlike with fedoras, most people don’t wear top hats on an everyday basis. But McCormick’s brainstorm proved popular: the game was a sellout, and the fans wore their hats with pride. “When I was a kid, I always wanted a hat like this,” said 43-year-old Douglas Grossi of Queens. “I always wanted to be a magician, and now I can dress like one!”
Ten lucky fans received more than just a hat. Between the second and third periods, the PA announcer asked fans to check the lining of their hats. Some had a false bottom; beneath it was a Night T-shirt and a gift certificate for a free tuxedo rental from Mens Wearhouse. “My original plan was to hide rabbits inside the hats,” said McCormick, “but somebody pointed out that they’d probably die in there with no food or water. Instead, we gave a few lucky fans the chance to complete the look so they can go out on the town in style.”
Foster proved to be a fan of the giveaway; he did his postgame press conference wearing the top hat with a big cigar in his mouth. “It’s not too often in this life that you have the chance to be the Monopoly man,” Foster told reporters. “So when you get that kind of opportunity, you have to grab it.”
Unfortunately, the Night couldn’t deliver a win to go with the hats, falling to the Tigres 5-2. But the fans didn’t seem to care. “I was just glad nobody got a hat trick,” said Grossi. “No way was I tossing this sweet lid on the ice.”
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.”
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.
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.
Finding ways to draw fans is essential for any professional sports team. But the challenge is more acute for some teams than others. For the New York Night, fighting for attention in a market with three NHL teams and without a title (or even a pennant chase) to their name, the fight for fans and attention is a real struggle. As such, the team’s marketing department is always looking for creative promotions that will draw crowds to the Neon Sky Center.
This season, the Night came up with a giveaway sure to be a hit with children and adults alike: fidget spinners. The stress-relieving toy has become a great fad this year; spinners are ubiquitous in schools and an increasingly common desk accessory for bored office workers. The team decided to give away spinners in black and purple (the Night’s colors) with the team logo on the center pad.
Unsurprisingly, the promotion was a smash; tickets for Wednesday’s game against Saskatchewan, when the spinners were to be given away, sold out in a matter of hours. “Given the lead times involved with promotions like this,” said New York GM Royce McCormick, “it’s hard to hit these trends when they’re really hot. But I think we’ve really done it this time.”
There was a bit of grumbling at the door when, rather than handing out the spinners, the team handed out coupons that could be redeemed for the toys on the way out the door. According to the team, this was done for safety reasons: since fidget spinners are relatively small and easily flingable, they could become a hazard if flung onto the ice en masse to protest a bad call or a poor showing by the Night. Most fans accepted the coupons without complaint, but some who were more interested in getting the collectible than watching the game complained vociferously.
Grumbling turned to outright anger at game’s end, when the fans came to redeem their coupons only to be told that the spinners were gone. Apparently, at some point either before or during the 7-4 Night victory, the spinners were stolen from their storage area within the arena. The Night believe that the culprit was a disgruntled, recently terminated employee, working in concert with some friends, possibly including current team employees.
Needless to say, the fans reacted with outrage and disbelief. “This is ridiculous,” said 37-year-old Steve Schneckel of Nyack, surrounded by his three crying children. “I brought these kids all the way into town to watch a bad game, all because they wanted the damn spinners. And the team can’t even manage to keep them from getting stolen during the game? I can’t believe it.” Other fans turned to social media to voice their displeasure, flooding the Night’s Facebook page and Twitter feed with complaints. One fan even posted a review of the team on Yelp just to protest; within 24 hours, over 500 other fans had posted their own negative reviews.
Some fans were suspicious that the whole thing was a stunt, that the team never had the fidget spinners and had fabricated the promotion to draw crowds. “So a ‘professional’ team in an arena full of cameras and security people cant keep 1000s of spinners from getting ‘stolen’…. sounds like a scam to me!!!” said one Yelper.
McCormick was quick to deny rumors that the promotion was a hoax. “We’re really upset about what happened,” the GM said, “and this absolutely was not a hoax or a scam of any kind. Why would we want to cheat our own fans?”
The stolen spinners were still at large as of press time. Team officials are confident that they will be returned promptly. As a backup plan, the Night are working with the manufacturer to make another run of the spinners. The team asked that fans hold on to their coupons and game tickets; once the toys are available, the team will issue the spinners to any fans who present their coupon or ticket at the box office. By way of apology, the team will also provide free tickets to a future Night game.
It’s unknown whether this will placate angry fans. “I had a bad enough time at this game,” said one fan on Twitter. “Why would I want to go back?”
“We are one of the most elite organizations in this league. Unfortunately, most people don’t recognize that because of our record.”
The New York Night announced this week that they hired Nick Foster as their new coach for the 2017 season. Foster replaces Preston Rivers, who was fired after two seasons of disappointing results on-ice and tremendous dysfunction off of it.
“It’s no secret that we have high aspirations as an organization,” said New York GM Royce McCormick. “We want to be a championship organization, and we think Nick is the guy to get us there. He’s got the qualities that we were looking for: he’s smart, tough, and he knows the game inside out. There’s no limit to how far he can take us.”
Sources close to the organization say that the Night strongly preferred a veteran coach, and Foster definitely fits the bill, with over 15 years of experience coaching at a variety of levels, from college to junior to the minor leagues. “This isn’t my first rodeo,” said Foster. “I know we’ve got some work to do, but that doesn’t scare me.”
Foster has a reputation as a turnaround artist; at several stops, he’s taken poor and struggling teams and turned them into contenders. “He’s a guy who knows how to get results, and quickly,” said McCormick. “That’s exactly what I want to see.”
Foster was coy about setting expectations at the press conference. When asked if he thought the Night would make the Finals this season, the new coach replied with a grin, “I’m not going to make any guarantees. That’s a good way to get run out of town in a hurry. But we’re going to be competitive, and we’re going to win sooner than later. That’s why I love New York; it’s a winner’s town.”
The Night certainly expected to be competitive under Rivers, and the coach never shied away from boasting about his team’s prowess. But New York’s grand ambitions crumbled into a wreck of poor defense, inconsistent effort, and internal dissension. Several players took public shots at their teammates and Rivers, with star RW Rick “The Stick” Nelson even bolting the team in the final week of the season.
Foster acknowledged that repairing the Night’s toxic clubhouse is a priority. “Obviously, things got out of control here last year, and that can’t happen again,” said Foster. “I want to get us focused on winning and working together. I’ve always found that it’s a lot easier to keep everybody happy when you win.”
Asked if he planned to seek trades for any noted troublemakers, Foster said, “Nah. Not right away. As far as I’m concerned, they’ve all got a clean slate with me. Everybody’s got a chance to get on board with what we’re doing.”
Along with Foster, the Night introduced new assistant coach Biff Lombardi, replacing Cam Prince. Lombardi was reportedly a finalist for the head job as well. Lombardi has been an assistant for almost 20 seasons, primarily in the minor leagues. He is known for his defensive instruction, and he hopes to address the team’s defensive issues.
“Look, let’s be honest: this team is never going to be Michigan in terms of defense,” Lombardi said. “That’s not our identity. But if we can make more of an effort, police our own end better, that goes a long way. We don’t have to turn into a bunch of grinders and trappers, but we need to make that effort. I’m OK with winning 5-4, but we can’t give up 5 or 6 goals a game and expect to win.”
New York players responded positively to the hirings of Foster and Lombardi. “Nick Foster seems like a good guy and a serious, professional guy,” said Nelson. “He’s not going to be out glossing himself all the time. He’s into winning, and that’s what we’re into too. Let’s do this.”