Team Story - Part IV, The rise of the Vermilion Black Devils
This is the fourth part of the guest blog series and team story by Alexander Rasputin. The story is fictional but based on the real in game events with his Vermilion Black Devils in Game World Buzzer where he took his team from LIHL to GHL in just 5 seasons. So please enjoy the fourth part of 'The rise of the Vermilion Black Devils'!
Haven't read the first parts yet? Team Story - The rise of the Vermilion Black Devils, Part I
The Third Circle
SEASON 3: CHL, 56-6-3-15, 1st place
After two seasons of blistering success, albeit in the lower leagues, the Black Devils are beginning to be noticed by other clubs and the North American hockey scene. The vision of an enigmatic Russian bringing the club to an historic, meteoric rise is ⅖ complete. Vermilion as a town has grown dramatically over the past two years, with businesses finding a home in the shadow of Vermilion Park, and ticket sales surging. The stadium is still half-empty, but if the team keeps winning as is, filling it is a realistic proposition at the SHL level. And the Devils are not just winning, they are winning in style. Maxim Bogolyubov, in particular, has become a massive fan favourite, showing off all the predicted Russian silkiness and patterning his style of play after that of his coach, Bure. The “BOH” line (a play on the Russian word “bog” meaning “god”) of Bogolyubov, Ostrout, and Hachey has been remarkable so far, and the three players are indeed enjoying demigod status in Vermilion.
As is Rasputin. He, however, knows what is coming. CHL is no longer a sandbox league. There is some real structure and financial muscle behind the clubs here, and the Black Devil squad has to be rebuilt again, because the objective is nothing but victory. Nothing but 1st place. Rasputin dips once more into the Russian lower leagues to bring out veteran offensive defenceman Sergei Zhurov, shutdown defenceman Semyon Lobkov, and powerforward Anton Kopeykin, famous in Russian junior YouTube compilations for breaking stadium glass with his hits almost at will. In a long season against stronger teams, depth will be crucial. He also signs legendary CHL goalie Zach Callan, hoping the added veteran leadership in net will play a part.
The solid beginning of the off-season is marred by conflict with IHL top defenceman and team captain Ove Ellingsen, who demands nearly double his salary in a contract extension and refuses to report to training until this is done. He makes disparaging comments to the media about his star status deserving compensation. Alexander and Pavel call a press conference. The message is clear.
“This ship is moving,” says Rasputin coldly. “You get on board, or we leave you behind. Victory is bigger than all of us.”
The next day, Ellingsen is shipped off to North Haven for a depth player and a prospect. Ellingsen is a popular figure and some players are clearly unsettled by the manner of his exit. There are rumours of a shouting match between Rasputin and Ellingsen’s defensive partner Sampo Venalainen. “I don’t like f!#king losing!” is heard through the office walls. Alexander pounds his fists on the table. “Do you?”
The team uses the extra salary to add Canadian offensive defenceman Dereck Semple and signs their 1st round draft pick, two-way Slovakian forward Andrej Sloboda to play in the bottom six. Training has increased in intensity, and American football-style dummies on sledges with Ellingsen's jersey are hit hard every practice. It's a crude tactic, but reinforces the message - you are either with us, or against us. Rasputin knows that to succeed yet again, this is the only way forward.
The siege of CHL is under way.
The season begins slow.
Almost immediately, disaster strikes. In game 2, star forward Bogolyubov breaks in one on one against an opposing defenceman, pulls the puck through his legs and aggressively drives the net, colliding heavily with the post while attempting to stuff the puck behind the goaltender, who rushes out to meet him. The impact is heard around the arena. Bogolyubov skates back to the faceoff circle and attempts to continue play, but his leg buckles under. He goes straight to the locker room.
“He come at me a little bit with stick, hit against skate, get me off balance. Is not illegal, of course - but he is still son of a b!#ch”, responds Bogolyubov with typical Russian black humour. The news is not good. He is sidelined for most of the year due to a torn ACL, putting into question the team’s ability to complete The Plan.
Bogolyubov’s absence and the lack of Ellingsen’s leadership hits the team hard. They drop 4 out of the next 5 games and drop out of the auto-promotion spots. At a Thursday practice, Rasputin calls it early and brings the team on a trip around Vermilion. “These are the people that have houses, families, lives here because of you,” he says assertively, “...because of what we set out to do. If we fall at this hurdle, all of this goes away.”
Some players are distracted, laughing it off. At the next practice, Rasputin tells them to go on the ice without gear or padding. “Right now, you are faster, lighter than the others, because your duty isn’t weighing you down” he yells as they complete skating drills well ahead of the rest of the team. “You have no duty to this city, to this team, to ME? Then you have no protection!” he bellows, as the players with no equipment are laid out onto the ice again and again by their fully geared teammates in checking and scrimmage drills. “What now?” he yells in their faces.
Before the next game, Rasputin addresses the players again. “Play for victory, play for glory - play with anger, play for yourselves - I don’t care unless you win. But play also for these people who owe their livelihood to you. It’s a big responsibility, an unusual burden. But we are an unusual team.” He grins. “The winds of Veles are with you. Go win some fucking hockey games.”
It works. Vermilion goes 34-3-1-7 the rest of the season. Taking Bogolyubov’s role on the first line is another Russian star prospect, 18 year old Dinijar Moskalev, acquired from division rival Paladins for draft picks and prospects. Moskalev is the fastest player in the league - a physical specimen, but also a student of defensive hockey with a burning passion for the game. Rotating on the 1st line with another new acquisition, Czech sniper Sava Ustak, the duo provide a capable replacement for Bogolyubov.
Ustak paces the Black Devils with 80 points, Ostrout has another strong season with 36 goals, and the Black Devils take a third straight league title with a 56-win season - securing promotion to the BHL and lighting a third flame in front of Vermilion Park.
That was the fourth part of 'The rise of the Vermilion Black Devils' by Alexender Rasputin. The story continues next week so stay tuned!