If there’s one thing that everyone can agree on in these divided times, it’s that the Washington Galaxy are the worst team in the SHL. It’s not hard to find evidence to support this conclusion: the Galaxy have the league’s worst record, and the statistics suggest that their record is entirely deserved. Washington is second-to-last in goals scored, and dead last in goals against average. Their -24 plus/minus rating is the league’s worst by miles. The only category in which they lead the league is penalty minutes. Advanced statistics paint an equally grim picture: the Galaxy bring up the rear in both Corsi-for % (44.7) and Fenwick-for % (40.9).
In short, there’s not a lot for anyone associated with the Galaxy to be happy about these days. But at least one member of the organization sees reason for optimism: Nick Foster, who is in his first season as Washington’s head coach.
According to Foster, all the gloom and doom about his team ignores a critical factor. “These guys lead the league in pluck,” the coach told reporters on Saturday. “That’s our secret weapon.”
Foster freely acknowledges the talent chasm that separates the Galaxy from the rest of the league. “I mean, sure, you look at our roster on paper against everybody else, and we don’t measure up,” he said. “But it’s not like we’re out there getting our doors blown off every night. Our guys are putting up a hell of a fight, and we’re staying in a lot of these games. We keep this up, and we’re going to steal a few of these along the way, mark my words.”
The coach particularly praised his team’s effort this week, in the midst of a lengthy road trip through the West. “Every one of these games we’ve played, the other team comes in thinking it’s a guaranteed win,” Foster said. “But we’re battling every night, and making them earn it.”
On Sunday, the Galaxy were outshot 38-28 by the Michigan Gray Wolves, but clawed their way to a 4-4 tie. “Potting four against The Bear, that’s impressive,” said Foster, referring to Michigan goalie Dirk Lundquist. “He might be having a down year, but he’s still the greatest goalie in this league.”
After a 3-1 loss in Milwaukee on Tuesday, the Galaxy headed to Canada for a matchup against the first-place Saskatchewan Shockers. Washington hung tough against the red-hot Shockers. When C Tucker Barnhill scored the tying goal with 2 minutes left, the visiting bench leapt to their feet and wrapped him in a group hug. After forcing overtime, the Galaxy came within 20 seconds of securing another point, but Saskatchewan RW Colton Jabril tipped one home for a 4-3 victory.
“That was a real character test for us, and we passed with flying colors,” crowed Foster. “We went toe-to-toe with the league’s top team! They won it in the end, but we scratched and clawed all the way.”
After that, the Galaxy walked into Willamette River Arena to face off against the Portland Bluebacks. The visitors were outshot 28-14 through the first two periods, but thanks to a pair of late second-period goals by D Robby Rohrman and LW Alan Youngman just 45 seconds apart, Washington held a 2-1 lead. Bluebacks RW Vince Mango scored the equalizer 28 seconds into the third period, but the Galaxy kept Portland off the scoreboard the rest of the period, setting up another extra session. This time, it was Washington that snatched the OT win, with C Harvey Bellmore scoring the game-winner 24 seconds into bonus time.
“Not bad for a team everyone thinks is roadkill,” concluded Foster. “We may be at the bottom of the standings, but we’re up top in heart.”
For fans who got used to hearing Foster sling insults and jabs in his previous job as coach of the New York Night, his new positive outlook may seem strange. But to the coach, it’s all about motivation.
“In New York, everyone hated us because we were the big-market team, so I leaned into that and put on the black hat,” Foster said. “Here, nobody thinks we’re the villain; they mostly feel sorry for us. But we thrive on being the scrappy underdog. The rest of the league can go ahead and underestimate us. We’ll show them.”