Team Story - The rise of the Vermilion Black Devils
This is the first 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 'The rise of the Vermilion Black Devils'!
When a convoy of toned black BMWs rolls into the quiet Alberta town of Vermilion on an early spring morning in 2019, the locals have every right to be surprised. No one recalls an official visit to the town since it was formally inaugurated in 1906, a century ago, let alone a convoy flying the Russian imperial eagle.
As the door of the lead BMW opens and an enigmatic figure in a leather jacket, jeans, and aviators strolls out and walks straight for the town hall, flanked by two prototypical burly ex-prison ZEKs, the locals’ confusion turns to a sense of palpable danger. The town mechanic, who had seen Eastern Promises many times, swears that the Russians have KGB tattoos and someone needs to call Trudeau right away lest the country become overrun by Putin, starting from this sleepy mining town. Of course, no one does anything. But when 15 minutes later the Russian walks out, now flanked by only one of his bodyguards, gets into the driver’s seat of the 7-Series, and drives away without a word or ceremony, the convoy sending rising clouds of red clay dust well into the morning sun — the fear turns to curiosity.
This curiosity turns to bewilderment, when the mayor calls a town hall meeting that very afternoon. Beside her stands 190 cm, 100 kg of Fedor - “just Fedor”, as he says firmly - in a leather jacket, the prototypical Russian mafia thug, and as he stares ahead, stone-faced, the mayor explains that a young Russian by the name of Rasputin, with authorization from the government of Canada, has just bought a $20 million stake in the town. Before the crowd has a chance to process this figure, she adds that Vermilion is now the home of a professional hockey team, the Black Devils, with a new 13,000 seat arena and associated businesses to begin construction imminently.
Autumn 2019, in the hero-city of Volgograd, Russia. It’s cold, unglamorous, and foreboding. Alexander Rasputin stands before a throng of international journalists, his customary aviators down. ITAR-TASS is here, as well as TSN. His goal is simple. “I want to conquer North American hockey. We start from the bottom. We take no prisoners. We give no room for “BUT”. We start from the lowest league, LIHL, we win every year. We move to the top. And then we win there. A war, to prove our strength. A true challenge, like the Summit series. My challenge to North American hockey”, he grins. To get to the GHL is one Five-Year Plan. To win in the GHL is the other.
There are laughs that slowly die down, then shocked silence among the media. No team has ever accomplished the trek from the LIHL to the GHL in 5 seasons. The logistics behind such a feat are...improbable at best, a vodka-fueled daydream. No team in the billion-dollar NA professional sports has ever done this. The skill gap between the levels is massive. The roster turnover will be crippling. The financial weight, more so. The competition from established teams and the brutal 80-game season with a minimum time to build chemistry and team identity, thrice that.
But Alexander comes from Volgograd, where the siege held in 1942, and carries with him the shadowy weight of the Rasputin name. Rumours fly that Alexander has a connection to the same wild sorcery that powered Grigory, the same sorcery that set in motion events that toppled an empire. Certainly, his reputation in the elite circles is not good. He is volatile, uncouth. He listens to Scandinavian metal. He wears jeans, leather jackets, and long hair like he is some kind of Peter Steele wannabe. He drinks too much, even for a Russian, and isn’t respectful of Orthodox beliefs. There are whispers of cults, women, and pagan rituals. Most write him off as one of a thousand spoiled degenerates living out opium dreams on the money of previous generations. But this opinion will change.
A month later, Alexander again stands in front of nearly all of the 4,000 strong population of the town of Vermilion. “We are here to win at all costs” is his clear and slightly ominous message. Like most small Canadian towns, Vermilion is also a hockey town with a solid junior program, but this is on an entirely different level. There are misgivings. Alexander’s involvement is not trusted. Someone demands to know why he chose their community, of all places.
“During the war, my great-grandfather stood shoulder to shoulder with a Canadian soldier,” begins Rasputin. “This man had come to the Eastern Front to deliver supplies, and stayed to deliver the invaders from our land. Him and my great-grandfather survived Stalingrad together.” He pauses for emphasis, looks over the crowd. “And for that I owe him - and your town, his birthplace, much gratitude.” There is silence, then scattered applause which eventually overtakes the entire crowd. For the time being, at least, Alexander is one of them.
On the financial front, the new Russian owner delivers. Vermilion Black Devils are officially inaugurated as a professional hockey club in late 2019. A modern arena is built, the design strangely gothic, what some might claim as occult symbols decorating its hallways and a massive 10-metre basalt and crimson steel statue of a grinning, winged demon decorating its front gates. Colloquially known as “The Chasm”, Vermilion Park quickly fills with the sounds of skates hitting the ice and pucks hitting the net. Gold and black jerseys are paraded on hundreds of citizens, and despite the town’s name, these two colours are dominant on every storefront. Rallies take place on the streets, and a brand-new hockey academy is receiving hundreds of talented young prospects from around the province. The city, at least for now, has bought into Alexander’s vision.
But there is much work to be done. Alexander assumes the GM role, and Fedor the meaningful title of “Personnel Manager”. As a foundation for the team, the Black Devils franchise co-opts a struggling amateur regional hockey club. At practices, they are barely able to elevate the puck, and their skating is abysmal. Alexander spits, slams doors and spends a lot of his time growling at his iPhone, occasionally taking the ice himself. Fedor menacingly points at the underperforming players and cracks his knuckles. The season is a few short weeks away, and the team cannot decide if they are hockey players or sunflower seed farmers. The lone bright spot is the first Vermilion team captain, a Swedish teenager named Fritiof Bergland. His linemate, German prospect Nico Habib, also shows potential.
After the first week of practices yield few results, Alexander flies to Russia, returning in 3 days with a familiar figure at his side, whose presence only seems to reinforce his backdoor connections. NHL legend Pavel Bure steps out of the black 7-Series, his mouth a hard line as he sees the backwater Canadian town with a shiny new arena and so far, nothing to show for it. But he looks at Alexander, who waits expectantly, and nods. That evening, Bure is announced as the club’s head coach and ambassador of its direct, Soviet-school offensive playstyle.
Responding to the local reporters’ questions of whether the team’s goals can be achieved, he says laconically - “We will see.”
That was the first part of 'The rise of the Vermilion Black Devils' by Alexender Rasputin. The story continues next week so stay tuned!