Team Story - Part VII, The rise of the Vermilion Black Devils
This is the seventh 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 seventh 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 Sixth Circle
SEASON 6: GHL, 45-5-4-26 , 4th place
The summer flies by in a drunken haze as Vermilion does its best to match the Washington Stanley Cup party of 2018. An erstwhile forgotten town of 2000 people is approaching life as a 200,000 mini-metropolis - exponential, necessary growth to support the Black Devils machine. The town has spread far and wide, has its own airport, a substantial hockey-centric infrastructure supporting its arena, and continuous influx of sponsor funds and new businesses has made both the city and its hockey club comfortable financially. The Devils squad, and Rasputin himself, have become legends in the community. They spend the summer visiting schools, community centres, bars, birthday parties, business events, anywhere they are welcome - which is everywhere. A massive mural with a squad image and scenes from their SHL run decorates the wall of the Vermilion Town Hall. The past and future of this city is now inextricably tied to the hockey club.
At yet another massive banger honouring the Black Devils, Rasputin breaks away from the wall of jumping players and walks over onto the balcony, tossing back his vodka. He leans over the railing, thoughtful. At this moment, his celebration is finished. Alexander wants more, and knows the real story has only just begun. Vermilion are newcomers in the GHL, having earned no victories and no respect. Being an average GHL team is not in Rasputin’s plans, and so work, risk, moves - all must start right now.
Next week, as 5 years ago, Rasputin stands in front of a crowd in the Vermilion city square. This time, his appearance is met by earsplitting whistles, a massive cheer that doesn’t stop, and a 5 minute chant of “Devils, Devils, hail!”.
Finally, he raises his arms to quiet the crowd - the high priest of this particular ongoing ritual.
“5 years ago, we made a pact,” he begins. “And this pact was delivered by both sides. I promised you victory and a place in the GHL,” Alexander points to the demon statue with five flames lit. “And it is done. You promised me and my players your unconditional support, and we have had it, gratefully. Both of us have had a brilliant, historic journey to get here. Are you satisfied?!”
The crowd bellows. Alexander grins and nods.
“But another journey is about to begin. Another pact, another Five-Year Plan. In 5 seasons, I intend to have championship banners fill the rafters in there.” He points to the massive bulk of The Chasm behind the crowd. “But before this happens, there will be turmoil. There will be victories, to be sure - but also losses. Sobering moments. Decisions you do not understand. Here and now, once again, I promise you victory in return for your unconditional support.” Rasputin leans forward. “Do I have it?”
Another massive roar of “YESSS” emanates from the crowd, almost a demonic howl that can be heard far and wide.
Alexander nods, as does the horned priest behind him. The pact is made.
But first, the draft. Vermilion narrowly misses on a top 4 pick due to their 3rd place finish, and so does not have a shot at the two generational talents on show - Ulric Patternaude and Pavlo Savaryn. But Rasputin already has chosen his player. Austrian playmaker Sandro Koch, on Rasputin’s radar since his brilliant showing up of the Devils squad at scrimmage, is selected 5th overall, and is overjoyed to join the team. Koch will be a cornerstone of the new Black Devils offence and a fixture in the team top 6 for years to come. “His vision is f brilliant”, enthuses Alexander. “And the way he motivated those other teenagers - there’s massive leadership potential there. Sandro has all the building blocks of a future superstar - elite speed, hands, and defensive awareness. I can put him on the top line right now at 17, and have no doubts he will succeed at the GHL level.” Koch’s only weakness is physicality, but the Vermilion scouting team is not concerned. “Larionov-lite” grumbles Bure, but he’s a fan too.
The team’s next move is to secure goaltending. GHL-quality players in this position are at a premium, so Rasputin targets a trade before the season even begins - and he knows who he wants. After protracted negotiations, a mega-deal with SHL team Fighting Bobcats is struck for star G and Russian wildman Juris Alenin, Vermilion shipping out Moller (who prefers to remain an SHL starter), and star playmaker Bruun. “This was tough to make,” comments Alexander. “Moller pulled us into the GHL after the team pulled him through his own dark time. But he thought he needed another year in the SHL to get his confidence back - and we understood that. I want to thank Paul and Ejnar for their brilliant service to the team - they will be forever part of our history.”
The scouting report on 26 year old Alenin paints him as Hasek 2.0 - incredibly athletic despite his lack of height, unpredictable and ballsy. His heroics are made possible by extremely good goaltending fundamentals and a killer breakout pass, putting up an absolutely phenomenal 15 assists in the SHL this past season. “I like Juris, I like his attitude, I like his uniqueness among goaltenders. He was my #1 choice, there was no #2. Negotiations took a while, but this is a coup, a truly world-class goaltender is a massive step in the direction of victory.”
Rasputin adds, “You all know how we play. We need an animal in the net to motivate the team, and we will put Juris in a position where those breakout passes are going to get us goals.”
Rasputin knows that the only way to compete is to make a huge splash in free agency. The competition is strong, but the Devils have been smart and have more than a few team-friendly contracts, leaving a lot of money on the table for potential free agent signings. The shortlist is relatively small, but the Black Devils need improvement in every area but goal, so it will be crucial to succeed with signings.
Going against his instincts, and at the urging of Stezhensky, Alexander extends the strongest offers to defencemen. He has four primary targets: veteran defensive defenceman Tor Magnusson, a legend in the GHL; Cup winner and offensive powerhouse Jerry Drougge, and two-way d-man Kenwyne Letson, known for his skating and one of the league leaders in takeaways. The final, crucial piece, is 21 year old promising and well-rounded blueliner Bruno Lanz, a possible foundational player for the Vermilion defence. Alexander decides he will be happy if he lands 3/4, as bids from other, more established GHL teams come in.
The Black Devils extend another large offer to powerforward Wiktor Fogelberg, who has elite skating and puckhandling, and has been criminally underutilized on a mediocre Spartans team for the last few seasons before being released in FA. Rasputin sees a perennial top-liner in Fogelberg, still young at 26, and knows the player can be a 30-goal, 60-point performer.
With the remaining salary space, the Devils send offers to veteran C Noa D’Onofrio, a small but silky-smooth and defensively-sound playmaker, and a variety of fast and physical forwards to flesh out the bottom six.
The Free Agent targets are ambitious for a team that has just promoted. Rasputin is aware that he may need to bid for a second round of less suitable players if his initial bids fall through. But he discounts that possibility, instead choosing to make serious bids for the few players he actually wants, realizing that overpaying is a small price for GHL performance. But he takes the time to visit each of the potential signings, and pitches the Black Devils vision to them directly.
As the Vermilion fans anxiously await news from free agency, Rasputin sends out a crack scouting team of Russian hacker-looking types to infiltrate existing GHL teams and create an insider shortlist of future targets. He is not only looking for performance, but also character. The "scouts" will find these players in bars in clubs, in gyms and at grocery stores. They will observe and record, see the intangibles in action. The approach is scientific but also based on gut instinct - these players need to be mentally sound and committed - proven winners. Alexander intends to trade and trade big - and they will play a key role as he rebuilds his team in the next two seasons.
The goal this first GHL season is to make the playoffs and test the Black Devils mettle against the strongest GHL has to offer. Next season, the title challenge is on.
As free agent responses come in, Rasputin is surprised and elated to find out that ALL of his primary FA targets chose to sign with the Black Devils - a shocking and welcome development. Magnusson, Drougge, Letson, Lanz on defence, and Fogelberg and D’Onofrio on offence will join Vermilion for the upcoming season and beyond. This is a huge step toward true competitiveness. As the press release goes out, Black Devils fans are dancing on the streets.
"This is bullshit," - comments an anonymous GM to the media. "They must have paid someone off or...got the mafia to threaten them or something. Who do they think they are? There's a way we do things in this league, and signing all the top free agents is NOT that way." Others welcome the added competition. "This was coming for a while," adds another GM. "The top teams in this league have gotten too fat and content to be truly competitive. Only a matter of time before someone delivers a strong kick in the ass, and I think that time has come, not only with the Devils, but with the Fighters in the West, and some of the other promoted teams, who are hungry and talented."
Drougge comments in his signing interview: “After winning the Golden Cup a couple of seasons back, I’ve been considering new challenges. My mentality has always been that of an offensive d-man, and when I spoke with Alex, he was confident he could offer me the offensive pivot role on both even-strength and the PP. Plus, with the amount of high-quality finishers on this team, I think I’ll enjoy lighting them up with breakaway passes. Fogelberg is also joining? I hate defending against that guy, will be good to have him on my side for once.”
“Alexander specifically wanted me because of my experience in the league, at a very high level,” says Magnusson. “It’s good, I want to be a mentor at this point in my career. I’ve had some great seasons, and it’s time to pass some of that to the younger guys. Doesn’t hurt that I’ll be playing a key defensive role on the team. The Black Devils have a great story, and a lot of young players - but the GHL is a different animal, you know? And I’m happy to help out.”
Fogelberg agrees. “The story, man - it’s all about the story behind this team. Everyone knows of them. There are some GMs and players in this league that are dreading, just DREADING the arrival of the Black Devils, because you know this team will have success, and quickly.” He laughs. “I had to get on that train, no question. Plus I could have sworn I saw Alex at some of my games this past season, scouting me - and he told me I was his top offensive target so…of COURSE I said yes immediately.”
Lanz, Letson, and D’Onofrio echo these sentiments in the press. They can’t wait to get started. Rasputin now has a fully staffed defensive corps, and goaltending is set. The build-out from the back is a smashing success, and even a casual observer will see that Vermilion is a GHL-caliber defensive team with the pairings tentatively slotted as Drougge - Letson, Magnusson - Lanz, Stezhensky is joined on the 3rd pairing by young two-way d-man Elmeri Laaksonen - a highly skilled problem child that couldn't find a home on other GHL teams.
It is rather more complicated on the forward front, however. Aside from D’Onofrio and Fogelberg, the Black Devils land highly skilled veteran Alharbi Gorius, an impulse signing by Alexander in a rapidly thinning FA market. These three will make up the Vermilion top line. Team mainstays such as Peloso, Weichert, Danielsson, and new arrival playmaker Abbas Hodgkinson will compose the rest of the Devils forwards. But this is not a GHL-calibre level offence - not yet.
Rasputin aims to turn his scouting into trades soon into the season, and is already getting in touch with other GMs about their players, letting them know that many assets, including Vermilion’s GHL 1st, are on the table. Some preliminary offers are sent out. Rasputin knows that many will be flat out rejections, but exploring all, even the most unlikely options, is part of his plan. Being gentle about it - is not. Predictably, this rubs some of the already uneasy established GHL teams the wrong way, and complaints about Vermilion’s aggressive trade market behaviour begin to fly.
This will become a popular issue in the media and among GHL GMs in the coming seasons.
Yet again, Rasputin stubbornly does not change his tactics to adapt to the stronger league, despite the now comparatively weaker squad he has available to him. “Offensive play is in our blood - we strike quickly and often. I am not interested in changing the team’s DNA. In our case, Muhammad will not come to the mountain - the mountain will come to Muhammad.” The meaning behind this phrase is clear - Vermilion wants to bend the GHL to its will and playstyle. These are loud words, and the public reaction is mixed. Comments of disrespect and arrogance populate the back pages of rival newspapers, and some teams are certainly now more invested into bringing the brash new GHL arrival down to earth.
But the team starts strong. In the first game of the season, they take out Oshawa, the reigning GHL champion, 2-1, in a strong defensive performance. Then they win three more in a row, turning heads around the league. But fortune is fickle and the room for error is nonexistent. A shred of overconfidence brings a 4-game losing streak, and a team meeting where Rasputin calmly walks around the room verbally slapping every player to show them they are not stars in this league. Humbled, the team responds by winning 12 out of the next 14 and vaulting to the top of the Eastern conference. Fogelberg and D’Onofrio develop great chemistry, and Drougge lives up to his star status by leading the league in D scoring. Koch is trusted by Rasputin to rotate in on the 1st line, demonstrating maturity and formidable talent for an 18 year old rookie. Vermilion plays the same high-octane, formidable offensive style as before, but with an added physical element on defence - and even more speed leading to a stronger North-South game.
Conscious that 5 seasons is a short time, and surprised and pleased by the quick start, Rasputin nevertheless continues to rebuild the team’s roster. Two massive trades (for players with chin straps) are made that will define the Black Devils for seasons to come. A prolonged negotiation with Outlaws finally results in Black Devils acquiring veteran superstar winger Sylvain Monciau-Desormeaux - a previous playoff MVP, leader, and proven GHL scorer.
“I remember looking at him for a few seasons now, looking at his play, looking at his interviews, and thinking - damn, this guy is cool under pressure,” says Alexander. “An absolute professional. An iceman. One of those guys where the house would be burning, and he would calmly gather everyone and their things, take them outside, put out the fire, and put on tea for the firefighters as they arrive. But, of course, his level of skill is immense and he leads by example as well. I turned to Pavel and said - this is who we want as a captain. Let’s get him on the team.”
Sylvain arrives with fanfare, takes the atmosphere on with class and humility, and proceeds to score 20 goals in 40 games with Vermilion following the trade, playing an expansive power game and acting as a second hammer of the team, along with fellow powerforward Peloso. The addition of such star power shows the league that the Devils mean serious business. Monciau-Desormeaux never takes a shift off, leads calmly but persistently, and quickly becomes a fan favourite, his iconic #11 jersey selling out in every retailer.
Vermilion’s second major acquisition comes via a trade with Welsboro Settlers. Playmaking C and recent 6th overall pick Izac Mackreth joins the team as the heir apparent for a 1st line playmaker role. Mackreth is a faceoff specialist - something the team currently lacks, and has top-tier offensive skills despite not being a top physical specimen. A consistent drop in performance the last three seasons is something Alexander thinks is more due to deployment than talent or work rate, and he is confident Mackreth will become a valuable long-term member of the Black Devils squad.
The season flies by, the squad taking shape and battling through tough stretches, while building chemistry. Rasputin and Bure shuffle lines, eye potential partnerships, and plan for next year. It is well understood by the club and fanbase that this first season will be needed to get the team to where it can challenge for titles. Despite some difficult losses, the Devils keep their standings place high, and ultimately finish 4th, shockingly only 5 points from 1st place. Fogelberg lives up to expectations, breaking the 30-goal, 60-point plateau, and Monciau-Desormeaux finishes third in goalscoring in the GHL. The Black Devils do not have a minus player in the entire squad, with Letson leading the team and league at a massive +44.
In the playoffs, buoyed by the regular seasons success, and motivated by veteran leadership, Vermilion makes short work of perennial GHL contender Harrow Hawks, sweeping an ill-tempered, physical, and close series that will set the stage for a bloody rivalry. In the next round, the team goes blow for blow with East champion Bandits, ultimately falling in Game 5, overcome by a more experienced team - which does absolutely nothing to dampen the club’s and Rasputin’s spirit.
“Goddamn brilliant season” enunciates Alexander, standing in front of throngs of fans and media near The Chasm. “Next year, the East is ours.”
That was the seventh part of 'The rise of the Vermilion Black Devils' by Alexender Rasputin. The story continues next week so stay tuned!
- Team Story - The rise of the Vermilion Black Devils, Part I
- Team Story - The rise of the Vermilion Black Devils, Part II
- Team Story - The rise of the Vermilion Black Devils, Part III
- Team Story - The rise of the Vermilion Black Devils, Part IV
- Team Story - The rise of the Vermilion Black Devils, Part V
- Team Story - The rise of the Vermilion Black Devils, Part VI
- Team Story - The rise of the Vermilion Black Devils, Part VII