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  1. PART II Embracing risk yet again despite the stable performance of the team, Rasputin makes two massive trades, giving away both his picks and some players. D’Onofrio and a 1st are shipped out for veteran offensive C Loukas Gadsby, an elite point producer with an unparalleled finesse game who excels in every area, including faceoffs - a weakness down the middle for the team that Alexander has long been trying to address. Gadsby is, at the time, the GHL’s point leader, and the trade, despite being beneficial for a rebuilding Falconridge team, is widely panned by the rest of the league, still rankling from Vermilion’s brashness and outsider status. In his first interview, the normally soft-spoken Gadsby has this to say: “It’s normal. I hated them too when they entered the league. It’s an old boys club here, has been for a while. Not a lot of waves in this pond. I think there’s going be a lot of s*** hitting the fan soon, a lot of tears. Let me tell you a secret - the culture here [at Vermilion] is built on the tears of opponents. The more you cry, the better they play.” The last sentence makes it to hundreds of fan-printed shirts the next day, and instantly makes Gadsby a fan favourite. His performance on the ice solidifies this view, as he finishes the season with 40 points in 50 games and a +30 in the gold and black jersey. But Gadsby is head-hunted for his comments, and it is the Devils’ second arrival, rookie defenceman, 1st round pick, and himself a known headhunter Akseli Kokko, who drops the gloves time and time again, with Oshawa, then Harrow, then Highland, to defend his fellow newcomer from hits. The bond between two only grows, as the two are core PK pieces for the team, Gadsby’s speed and finesse complimented perfectly by Kokko’s physical presence and defensive acumen. The Devils, angry, begin to hit back, Stuk making it his mission to lay out thunderous hits game after game. Within weeks, a banner saying “STUK STUK, MOTHER******” will be ever-present behind the home team’s net at The Chasm, the words chanted by rabid fans after Stuk’s every hit. With the lines clicking like never before, Vermilion closes the season strong. Neck in neck with reigning East champion Copper Mountain, a mere 3 points separating the two teams, the Devils find another gear in home games, cheered by an insanely loud crowd, playing to prove they belong, playing to silence the boos and chants in away arenas. Alexander starts every home game with a montage of dirty plays, hits, crowd reactions, to motivate the team, elevate its underdog status. They, to a man, SHL players, GHL outcasts, young rookies, veteran GHL stars, all have something to prove. And they do. The Vermilion machine goes 16-3 to end the season, pulling away from Copper Mountain and, in their second GHL season, shockingly and brazenly winning the Eastern Conference with 157 points. They roll through the first playoff round, taking out legendary Lumsden Lions in 4 games, outscoring them 16-9 in a series showcasing the deadly Vermilion PP, and backed by stellar performances of Juris Alenin, fast becoming a Vermilion playoff hero. But the young team comes against another defensive juggernaut in rival Harrow Hawks, and the fired-up, adrenaline fueled streak turns against them. The Hawks coolly hold their head against a dominant Vermilion offence, strike on their own stellar powerplay, and get their revenge for previous season's sweep, eliminating the Devils in a series of close 1-goal games. Rasputin isn’t disheartened. “I only have one thing to say to you all” - he points at the reporters, “And to the other teams in this league. We’re coming for you.”
  2. SEASON 7: GHL (49-4-2-25 - 1st place) Part I Little Timmy is eating his morning toast, the birds are chirping. The TV is on, the sun is shining - and a massive “OH SH**!” is heard from his dad’s office, as Timmy Sr. runs out staring at his cellphone in disbelief. That is the sound of Vermilion’s first off-season deal this year, where the Devils ship out stalwart D Letson and a 1st rounder prior to the draft for superstar Davin Coronado, a 28-year old two-way defenceman widely considered to be a top 10 player in the GHL. The team is pushing forward at a mouthwatering pace and the city is once again, rocking in black and gold. The journey is not without sadness. Long-time captain and ironman Stezhensky leaves the team to play for CSKA back in Russia, Letson and Gorius are lost through trades. The team holds a ceremony retiring Stezhensky’s #48, then throws a massive, traditional Russian bender that includes the whole city. Kvass, vodka, pickle juice flow like rivers. The streets are carpeted with perogies and olivye. The team drunkenly sings “Katyusha”, Lyube, and Stezhensky’s favourite Russian songs until the day dawns and his limo pulls up to take him to Moscow. But the squad chemistry takes a hit yet again. Danielsson, a fan favourite and BHL hero, demands to leave after languishing on the 3rd line, and is promptly moved without reservation. In another masterstroke, Rasputin ships him out with 3 other players to relegating Natashquan for powerforward Matej Stuk, a Czech hitting machine with a venomous shot and a bit of an attitude problem. “You guys were asking us to hit more, right?”, quips Rasputin to assembled reporters. “Here you go.” Reporters look around before realizing “Stuk” means “hit” or “knock” in Russian. They’re not sure whether Alexander is joking or not, but Stuk himself takes this to heart. A huge movie and tv enthusiast, he walks around getting into players’ and staff faces screaming “I AM THE ONE WHO KNOCKS” in broken English. It is every bit as terrifying as it seems; but Alexander finds it hilarious and fully counts on using that fear on the ice. Going from brute strength to more brute strength, the Devils pick up Belarussian defenceman Nikita Drozd on waivers from Copper Mountain. Drozd has three main qualities that far outshine anything else he brings to the table - speed, physicality, and determination. Carrying a PhD in planetary physics obtained while sitting on the bench in Copper Mountain, and the go-to team expert on geopolitics, “Rocket Man” will be the ultimate role-player on defence, slotting in where necessary, and will rediscover his best form at 30 after joining this young Black Devils team. This season continues the Devils’ rebuild into a powerhouse. Despite adding chemistry to a new lineup and facing an always-improving set of rivals, the team's play is holding its own. The top line of Monciau-Desormeaux, Stuk, and Mackreth are on fire, posting a CF% of over 60 for the first third of the season, and keeping Vermilion in the top 3 in the conference. Coronado and Drougge find success as a purely offensive 1st D pair - something that even Bure considers risky, but Rasputin pushes forward with until an eventual implosion. It will come from the bottom half of the team, hardly GHL-calibre; their mediocre performances masked by the success of the top 6. Fresh off a victory against reigning cup champion Outlaws, the team proceeds to drop 4 out of 5 against mid-table opponents, their bottom 6 shelled. Changes must be made.
  3. Part IV 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.”
  4. Part III 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 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.
  5. Part II 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.
  6. “Sweat of Stalin”, “tears of the proletariat”, “revolution juice” - it’s poetry! A Netflix-style raw behind the scenes documentary is something I can get behind 100%. I can get you some funding from the Russian department of foreign affairs .
  7. SEASON 6: GHL - the Sixth Circle (45-5-4-26 - 4th place) Part I 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.”
  8. PART VII “Coming in there is like going through the arse-end of Satan” quips an unnamed SHL GM. “And they always pulled some stunt to make you feel on edge, like you didn’t belong. Like you had walked into a cult gathering or an orgy or something. It definitely affected gameplay.” Vermilion Park, colloquially, and after this season - officially, known as The Chasm, is indeed a unique hockey arena. To enter, crowds are led through a fractured valley of a long hall, decorated with various occult scenes and eye-bending architecture. Sound booms, then disappears in a myriad of strange reflections. Lighting is equally eccentric, red and uneven, and fog is occasionally launched at visitors like at some kind of carnival fair. Some - many, criticize this as tacky and playing for shock value, but the atmosphere undoubtedly makes itself known. “I think it’s cool as hell - literally”, says Rogath the Sad, a local Black Devils fan and black metal musician. “When I slither into The Chasm, I feel like I am entering an eldritch world of dark wonder and occult truths. It really helps distance myself from reality. I’ve even written a song about it, want to hear?” This uniqueness is even more apparent during these playoffs. A formal complaint is lodged by the Welsford Riders to the league. The visitor entrance is long and twisting, and Welsford must walk the gauntlet of what Rasputin, tongue-in-cheek, calls the Halls of Reflection. A long domed corridor with walls and ceilings entirely covered by LCD screens, it can be used to advertise, display various information, or even project calming images of night skies and nature for a 360 degree experience. For the past two days, though, prior to the decisive Game 5, it rolls Vermilion’s every goal against the Riders, every Welsford mistake, on a continuous loop. For the entirety of this long walk, the opposing team must endure a morale-sapping assault on their spirit, set to demonic laughter. The league rejects the complaint as trivial, warns Rasputin about unsportsmanlike behaviour, and Alexander gives a rare interview praising the opponent before the game. “They have the makeup of champions. They battered us all season. Welsford is our first true rival, and no matter what happens here today, that is forever part of our lore. Hats off to (Welsford GM) Nicolas Wiggins - if he keeps this up, they will have a bright future.” “But we are going to win this game”, he adds emphatically. It is a cold autumn night in Vermilion. 13,000 people in the arena, as many in the streets, are holding their breath as the Canadian national anthem is performed and the puck drops for the final, nationally televised, game of the SHL playoffs. After an initial cautious 5 minutes, the game opens up with a monstrous hit by Stezhensky on a Riders forward entering the zone. The crowd salutes the Vermilion captain but the referees fairly sit him in the box for charging. As they have done throughout the series, the Riders capitalize on the ensuing powerplay. 1-0. But the hit has energized Vermilion, and they are laying opposing players out all over the ice. One more such hit, by Waldenstrom this time, frees a Welsford defenceman of the puck and Bruun picks it up, breaking away toward the goaltender. He fakes left, then right, running out of space, but the goaltender reads it well and gives him nothing. In a stroke of brilliance, Bruun accelerates past him and wraps the puck around from the other side, the surprised goalie failing to recover in time. The crowd roars and the Devils keep coming. Another massive hit by Hellstrom takes two Welsford players into the boards, Weichert recovers the puck and sends a blind backhand pass into the slot, where Danielsson is waiting with a simple tap-in. It is 2-1 Vermilion. But to the credit of the Riders, they are prepared to go blow for blow with the Black Devils machine. A takeaway in the neutral zone, and three crisp passes later, a one-timer sits inside the Vermilion net. Then, after a period of sustained Devils pressure, the Riders quiet the home support when a casual dump-in handcuffs Moller, and the Welsford forechecker places the puck into the empty net. The score after 40 minutes is 3-2 Welsford. Rasputin quickly gathers his team as they file off the ice. His message is simple. There is nothing he can say that the players don’t already know. He has faith in them, and he trusts them to motivate themselves. Alexander and Bure stay on the bench as the Vermilion players go into the locker room. The situation worsens in the third. Just 3 minutes in, another powerplay for Welsford. The Vermilion Achilles heel this season has been their PK, and it is no different this time, as a collapse of bodies near the net results in a heavy deflection of a Riders point-shot, and, as before, Moller is picking the puck out of his net. 4-2 Riders. Rasputin is grim, but he and Bure walk around the bench calmly, telling the players they have confidence in them. Stezhensky and Peloso do the same, as captains, and it is the former who channels it into reality, as, with 7 minutes left and Vermilion outshooting Welsford 40-33, he snipes a bullet through a defenceman’s legs and past the Riders goaltender. 4-3. The Riders attempt to ice the game with another goal, but whatever happened in the Vermilion locker room in the 2nd intermission has calmed the team. They are playing surgical, precise hockey, defensively sound, all risk calculated - different from the passionate but disorganized start to this game. Again and again, the Devils intercept the puck in the middle of the ice, where the Riders have had success due to the lax Vermilion zone coverage. Retaining possession, Vermilion d-men patiently recycle the puck and wait for an opportunity, as the crowd performs the thunderclap chant, and frustration clearly begins to affect the Riders, alone in a hostile building. The moment comes with less than 3 minutes remaining in the 3rd. Hellstrom and Miville-Deschenes exchange cross-ice passes, after which the Swedish defenceman hits a streaking Weichert, who spins around a Riders player and sends the puck to the point, where the veteran Waldenstrom hammers it in off the crossbar. 4-4 with 1:57 remaining. The decibel level from the crowd is ludicrous as the Black Devils calmly skate to center ice, barely celebrating. They know their work is not yet done. The last two minutes fail to result in a goal, and this game is going to overtime. Just as unnervingly, the Vermilion squad stays on the ice during the entire break, barely exchanging words, simply waiting for their opponents to get into position. Rasputin and Bure are likewise stone-faced, watching. The crowd also goes quiet, and the atmosphere is eerie. As the puck is dropped, the Riders throw everything they have at the Vermilion defence, trying to put away the game. And they almost do. A drop pass finds the Devils defenceman out of position, and the resulting rising slapshot just catches the edge of Moller’s blocker, deflecting off the outside of the bar and out. An audible sigh escapes 13,000 lips as the puck is recovered by Yakovlev behind the net 2:35 into the overtime period. Circling slowly, he leaves it for a streaking Weichert as the announcer leads the crowd into yet another thunderclap. Weichert, as he has done all season, picks up speed around the outside as Welsford changes lines. Nothing is heard in the arena except the powerful rhythmic claps, like the sound of one massive heartbeat of a giant living organism. A Riders forward forechecks, and Weichert drops the puck to a gaining Peloso, then moves into the slot as the Canadian forward powers behind the Welsford net, pushing aside his man. “HUU” echoes in the stadium. Peloso weaves into the corner, leaving the puck for Yakovlev, who has joined the play, evading a check from a Riders defenceman. The thunderclaps grow in intensity and speed. Yakovlev twists away from his checker, fakes a pass to the point to commit the oncoming defenceman, looks up, and throws the puck cross-ice to Weichert at the right circle. The rubber disc moves slowly, as if underwater. Receiving the puck in space, already moving, Weichert takes two strides forward, eye to eye with the readying goaltender, half a step ahead of the flailing stick of a Riders defenceman. The thunderclap is deafening. The German centre winds up, freezing the goaltender, maintaining eye contact - and sends a no-look cross-crease pass to the left. Throwing bodies aside, an off-the-rails freight train coming from the left point, Peloso reaches the puck and connects. For a second, all is quiet - until a cinematic roar shakes the stadium and doesn’t stop, making even the goal siren inaudible. Releasing all the emotion they’ve held in check, the Vermilion players throw off their gear and pile on to one another, Rasputin shaking the hand of the Riders GM, and diving in on top of the gold and black pile. The Russian manager roars at the crowd and they respond, ecstatic. Stoic Stezhensky sheds tears, Weichert and Peloso are hitting each other on the back like they are choking, demonic laughter echoes in the stadium, and in the middle of the celebration, Bure and a few players disengage to console the dejected Riders. In overtime, after a blow-for-blow, evenly matched battle, the Black Devils exorcise their own demons and beat the Welsford Riders to win their SHL playoff series, 3 games to 2. Rasputin's impossible Five-Year Plan is a reality - 5 seasons, 5 promotions - and the Vermilion Black Devils, against all odds, are going to the GHL.
  9. 18 year olds as rookies will also be significantly easier to track. When I pulled the stats last few seasons, you just go by the previous year's draft - usually there are only 5-6 rookies who would be in that conversation, so that's quite easy to track that way.
  10. Part VI The first game of the second round is at home, at The Chasm. The mood is tinged with apprehension, but the success of the previous round, and the desire for revenge against the Riders overrides all fears and anxieties. The Vermilion players are fired up. Practices are testosterone-fueled, and the compete level is through the roof. Rasputin gathers the team near a makeshift altar within one of the nets, offerings to the Slavic god of war Veles strewn around redly on the white sheet of ice. The players know that this is the final battle of the war. Old injuries, mental strength, physical ability - all are about to be tested to the limit. He looks carefully around the squad of men assembled before him, searching for any signs of faltering, for any signs of crumbling under the pressure. He knows that, no matter their strength of spirit, players are human, and some need different approaches than others. What he sees looking back at him are stoic, focused faces of men ready to go to war. Rasputin focuses a little more on the Vermilion goaltender Moller. After sitting for the end of the season and the first round of the playoffs, he is eager for his chance. And Alexander, trusting his work for most of the season, trusting his ability to recover from his earlier breakdown, will give it to him. Moller will be the starting goaltender for the series against Welsford. “Devil” blares from the arena speakers, an avalanche of gold and black covering the inside of the arena. The Vermillion player gather together for a Slavic war chant, the Russian version of the Icelandic thunderclap, implemented by Rasputin, a huge football fan, earlier in the season. Adrenaline pumping, the players line up as Moller slams his stick to the ice. The first minutes of the game are frenetic. Waldenstrom opens the scoring off the rush, finishing a lethal Vermilion attack. Peloso slams home another after 13 minutes, taking the puck and a Riders defenceman into the net. But, as before, the Riders answer quickly. Two goals are scored on a 5-on-3 powerplay, as the fired-up Vermilion players get into penalty trouble. A third comes soon after, as Hellstrom gets caught up ice on a Vermilion rush. The puck deflects off the crossbar off of a Vermilion shot, and Riders are 3 on 1 on the resulting rush. The trio makes no mistake, and Moller is picking the puck out of his net. In the third, despite Vermilion pressure, it is the same old story. The team can’t finish their chances. With the goaltender pulled, the Riders once again break out 3 on 1, and ice the game with a 4th goal. Vermilion keeps pushing until the end, getting a goal back off of a Yakovlev slapper, but it is, as before, not enough. The game ends 4-3 in favour of Welsford. Vermilion are two losses away from failure. Rasputin says the right things in the postgame interview. “We are still in this. We need to keep pushing. We need to play our game.” But it is his last statement which is key to the players - “I love this team. No matter what happens in this series and with my goals - they have shown themselves to be real men, real professionals, brilliant sportsmen. I came into this with the team as a tool to achieve my goal, but I am coming out of this with true appreciation of this squad. We will go forward, together, no matter how this ends.” The players, for the first time, feel the pressure of the Five Year Plan lift. Rasputin cancels practice and throws the team a massive Russian dinner. Vodka and conversation flows freely, and the players, for the first time in this headlong sprint, feel relaxed. Next game, they respond. Playing away at Welsford, the Devils play a game that is much more loose, relying on chemistry, skill, and controlling, rather than responding to, the flow of the game. The result speaks for itself. Total domination and a responsible defensive effort result in a 3-0 shutout win for Moller, who plays brilliantly, making several incredible saves with his trademark chaotic style. The series goes back to Vermilion tied 1-1. But the relaxed attitude is not without cost. Game 3 is at home, and the Black Devils are sloppy. Despite Stezhensky barking orders all over the ice, the forwards are trying to pull moves that are too fancy, losing the puck in their skates, and the defencemen are lax in backchecking. The physical play has suffered, and the team is overpassing when they should be driving to the net. Bure is incensed, losing his voice screaming, and looking like he is about to suit up and go onto the ice himself. Vermilion quickly falls behind 0-3 to a focused, driven Welsford team, and despite a late-game push, the previous pattern repeats itself. Final score: 6-2 Riders, with Vermilion outshot 42-26 and outhit 18-10. “Sympathy for the Devils” read the Vermilion newspapers. “We must do better. And we will.” Stezhensky speaks for the players. “We will win this series.” Coming back to a hostile arena with Welsford knowing they can close out the series at home is tough, the toughest scenario the Black Devils have faced. The team is quiet on the flight, quiet on the bus ride, quiet in the pre-game skate. Unlikely heroes step up. Ostrout and Yakovlev, young players, come around to every Vermilion teammate, speak with them, motivate them. They lead the team in a pre-game chant, remind them of who they are and what’s at stake. And then they step up on the ice. Ostrout delivers a masterclass with 2 goals, 7 hits, and Yakovlev is a +3 as the Black Devils again defy the odds, rediscover their form led by the bottom half of their lineup, and edge the Riders 3-2 in Welsford. The decisive Game 5 is at home, at the Chasm. The furor has now reached indescribable levels. The city of Vermilion closes for game day. Aside from outdoor viewing parties, the streets are empty. “Give the Devils their due” say massive banners and flags across the city. The players do their best not to crumble under the weight of expectation, knowing that days like this are what define careers, lifetimes. 13,000 people fill the arena, with at least that many more on the streets. The atmosphere is raucous, primal. The media coverage reaches national levels and celebrities and NHL players are taking notice. Ovechkin, always quotable, is a guest analyst for the SHL playoffs. “It is biggest party since we win the Cup. Of course, Washington is best city! But Vermilion is pretty good. Everybody jumping up and down... Lots of vodka, too.” Rasputin calls the team together pre-game. He quotes the great Sir Alex Ferguson: “The experience of defeat, and the manner in which one reacts to it, is an essential part of what makes a winner” he enunciates. “You have drained the life out of your opponents. You have taken them to the edge. Exorcise the demons - become devils yourselves. This is not about skill, not about structure. This is a pure test of wills. Make them blink first.” “I don’t believe in fate” he adds, walking over and shaking the hand of every player, hugging some, exchanging meaningful nods with others. “Except for today.”
  11. Looks like you and I are going to be competing in some of these, Paul. Looking forward to it. Also aiming quite high, but some of these have precedent. I invested heavily in Schuppan and Lux, who are both rookies, and Schuppan my starting G, so very interested to see what happens. Plus, with Putin and Stalin motivating my team to perform like only they can, there is no telling how far I can go. 1) Elouan Scott - (94 F): Ovechkin + Gretzky trophies (Goals, Points*), Most shots* *current holder 2) Simon-Delorme - (92 D): Most Points by a Defenceman, Highest +/- 3) Henry Lux - (86 F (rookie)): Most Rookie Points 4) D Sharshin, D Nazarov, F Patrushev, C Stalin, C Putin 100 combined points by Russian players 4a) At least 1 goal scored + assisted by ONLY Russian players 5) Sagiv Schuppan - (87 G (rookie)): 40 wins 6) Roger Muller - (92 C): FINALLY HIT GODDAMN 50 POINTS Team Objective: Score 300 goals, win 45 games
  12. I will be behind this 100%. Pohl came super close last year - what a story that would be. Might even tell my players to shoot wide when we play each other .
  13. This is an interesting idea - I may do this with Russia as well. Great work!
  14. Part V The game does not start well. Moller immediately concedes, but reorients himself and makes several key saves to keep a sluggish Vermilion in it. At 2-1, Weichert juggles the puck at the blueline, a hurricane of black and gold, spins around two forecheckers, and snipes the top corner past the shocked Riders goaltender to make it 2-2. The game begins to turn and the Black Devils come in waves at their opponents. Waldenstrom cleans up on the doorstep during a high-pressure powerplay to make it 3-2, then Peloso takes the puck to the net through the Welsford defence - throwing the puck between the defencemen and bursting through with his patented power move. 4-2 Devils, and the Welsford arena is silent. True to their playstyle, Vermilion keeps pushing to close out the game in the 3rd, but, on a harmless board play, a Riders forward is alone in front and buries the rebound to get the Riders back into it. Moller, despite being left out to dry by his defence, looks distraught. In the next 5 minutes, he is beat once again, by another harmless floater from the point. Bure calls a timeout to reorient the team, but despite sustained Vermilion pressure, they cannot break through. Time after time, crisp passing plays break open the Welsford defence, but first Weichert whiffs on a breakaway, then Bruun puts the puck just wide, the goaltender on the ground and out of the play. An ominous chill descends on the arena, an air of inevitability. Moller stands in the way of a Riders shot, misses with his glove, and the puck deflects just wide off his shoulder. He takes another in the mask. With 7 minutes to go, a slapshot from the point by a Riders defenceman is deflected in front, and the puck finds its way behind the stunned Vermilion goaltender. 5-4 Riders. This is how the game ends. A 9 point gap between the Black Devils and Timberwolves with just over 10 games shrinks the chances of another 1st place finish. In the dressing room, the atmosphere is abysmally low. Teammates come by Moller’s bench one by one, showing their support for the beleaguered goaltender. He doesn’t speak. Rasputin comes in, puts his arm around Moller and has a few words. The players know what’s coming. Antonsson will start the next game for Vermillion and becomes the de facto starting goaltender of the team. With the turmoil behind them, the team plays freer, looser. They take 3 of the next 5 games and 12 of the next 17, but it is not enough. To add insult to injury, the team loses yet another game to the Riders late in the season, 2-1. Yet West Chicago is unstoppable, and the 9 lost points mean that, despite their excellent performances, the Black Devils finish 3rd - their first year without a title. A 3rd place finish, however, still means playoff hockey - and it still means promotion to the GHL, as per the Five-Year Plan, is within reach. In the first round, the Devils play Groundbirch Purple Eagles, a mediocre Eastern opponent. The city of Vermilion embraces their first playoffs, with banners and jerseys filling the streets. NHL stars are seen at The Chasm, with Ovechkin and Sergei Fedorov, good friends of Bure and Rasputin, rumoured to be interested in a stake in the team. They draw a massive crowd. “Vermilion will not be suck this year” states Ovechkin to gathered reporters, winking. The arena is upgraded with goal songs for each player, a new lighting package, and the goal horn adjusted to a demonic laughter accompanied by rock music. The fans will hear a lot of this sound in the first round. After winning the first, “what is defending” game by a score of 7-5, backed by duelling hat tricks from Venediktov and Bruun, and some magnificent powerplay magic by Hellstrom, smashing in two bullet slapshots, and assisting 2 more, the Devils score 17 total goals over a 3-game sweep of their opponents. Angry at the end of the season, stinging from a first trophyless year and knowing what’s at stake, the Black Devils don’t ease up through the entire series, burying the Purple Eagles under an avalanche of rubber and grinding their players into the hospital-white boards that soon take up a reddish hue. Forgoing a game of extreme finesse in favour of North/South speed, firepower, and physicality, the team looks unstoppable and Vermilion the city is rocking. But, the second round schedule is revealed - and fittingly, dramatically, Vermillion must now go through Welsford Riders, the nemesis of all nemeses, to achieve Rasputin’s goal of 5 promotions in 5 seasons.
  15. Good win. Unexpected, but that can be the beauty of it. Congrats on the championship!