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From Hell: The rise of the Vermilion Black Devils

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The next day, the hockey world wakes up to a shocking piece of news. TSN Hockey Insider breaks it, as usual, Bob McKenzie tweeting: “Am told the Hauk story has wings. Mega-deal involving both Vermilion picks, and two critical assets. 1st time in GHL history 1st overall pick moves same season.

“It’s true. Dieter Hauk is coming to Vermilion.” - announces Rasputin later in the day at a press conference. The Black Devils will indeed be giving up both their 1st and 2nd round picks, recently acquired ex-3rd overall pick LW Matis Howell, and two-way C Eliott Sureault - both bonafide top 6 players. Coming back the other way with Hauk is B-level prospect Morgan Skytte, a piece Rasputin thinks will be useful for the Devils bottom 6. It’s a steep price to pay, and comments across the league label it as a massive gamble despite Hauk’s clear superstar potential. 

But gambles are Rasputin’s bread and salt. “He [Hauk] is not a typical German. Fiery. Plays on the edge, isn’t constrained by rules, isn’t “clean”. He knows how good he is, but isn’t afraid to put himself to the test - otherwise he wouldn’t be here. I’ve met Dieter’s family. They serve bratwurst and borsch at the table - it’s that Russian heritage showing through.” 

“He’s got an attitude about him,” continues Alexander. “When he came out of the taxi, he shook Bure’s hand and said, in Russian, “I’m going to play like you.” That’s ballsy. I like that. He’s going to fit in well here.”

The rest of the players agree. The profile of signings made by Vermilion continues to rise, and despite giving up a lot of depth for Hauk, this can only be good for the team. A massive crowd of 15,000 is present in the arena during Hauk’s unveiling and the Devils’ first practice with their new star, and Black Devils jerseys with his chosen #10 are sold out within days. Hauk practices on a line with Sandro Koch and Matej Stuk, immediately dubbed the “[expletive] line” by the fans. Koch loves it. “I played against Dieter in the World Jrs, and he is tough as nails, and angry as a hungry bear. I put him on his backside a couple of times, he did the same to me. I think he has Youtube videos. Really don’t like to play against this guy, very difficult player. But now, on the same team - now it’s going to be fun!”

Hauk is instantly a social media star, with Youtube compilations of his practice and game moves clocking up hundreds of thousands of views. Charismatic and confident, he raises the Vermilion brand to another level, Instagramming team practices and afterparties, mobbed by fans outside of the arena. Flashy yet powerful on the ice, he has an incredibly quick initial few strides, and a Nathan MacKinnon-esque presence, moving and stickhandling faster than everyone else, constantly taking players on 1 on 1 - something which does show a selfish streak. From the outset, it’s clear that Rasputin and Bure intend to use Dieter in the sniper role as opposed to the playmaker he was in Medicine Hat. “With the playmakers we have in Koch, Sylvain, Gadsby, I think we can get Dieter the opportunity to try to score more goals than me” - winks Bure. And Hauk does.

Opening up with a double against Highland, Hauk goes on to score 7 goals in his next 8 games. Despite Vermilion undergoing a slump in mid-season, the “[expletive] line” shines, with a 57% CF and clear chemistry between Hauk and Koch, the Devils’ young stars. With the lineup set, and no further roster shakeups coming this season, Rasputin focuses on the title again, and the team responds with an 8-game winning streak mid-season followed by winning 9 of 10 on the run-in to finish 1st with 48 wins and 154 points on the season, 9 ahead of 2nd place Pinehurst Razorbacks. Hauk finishes the season with 25 goals in 55 games with Vermillion, 58 points in total winning him the Calder trophy. His old team, Medicine Hat, bolstered by the pieces obtained from the Black Devils, wins the Western Conference. The Devils’ dominance shows on the stat line, as Gadsby leads the way with a team-record 87 points, with his linemate and team captain Monciau-Desormeaux pacing the team with 38 goals and 85 points - both performances etching them in Black Devils lore and elevating their veteran status to new heights. 

In the playoffs, however, it is the same concerning story. Vermilion handles underdog Batchawana Tornadoes, 3-2 with a complete lack of dominance, then falls to Eastern rival Wintersville Lancers 3-1, taken down by a defensive clinic and a brilliant performance by veteran star G Tobias Torres. Though winning a cup so quickly was not part of Rasputin’s plan, questions begin to be asked about the team’s inability to put together a long playoff run despite consistent domination in the regular season. Especially concerning is the performance of the team’s top line, with Gadsby, Monciau-Desormeaux, and Fogelberg a combined -16 in the 9 games. The 2nd line, led by Hauk’s 10 points, is the lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal performance.

Despite scoring a lot of points, Rasputin’s run and gun all-out-offence routinely falls prey to disciplined and organized defensive teams playing “playoff hockey”. In the post-season debrief, Alexander acknowledges the concerns and reaffirms that, with two 1st place finishes under their belt, the Black Devils’ focus now shifts to the Golden Cup. 

Dieter Hauk (1).png

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Season 9: GHL

1st place: 51-4-4-21

3rd Conference Title in 3 seasons.



Months later, when recounting the events of the statistically greatest and yet the most fundamentally disappointing season in the team’s history, Rasputin and Bure would share a look of disgust. “It was the bird”, firmly says Bure. “It was the goddamn bird.” Rasputin nods, still visibly angry. 

With the fourth season of the Five-Year Plan approaching, the rivalry with fellow East superpower Harrow Hawks is in full swing. Both teams realize that their path to the Cup is likely to run through each other, and so their regular-season meetings take the form of heavyweight bouts of two boxers feinting, testing each other out for the final battle to come. The teams are also competing in the FA. With a wave of high-profile forwards retiring and high-end attackers at a premium, Devils and Hawks target the same two young free agent forwards, Karacan and Willis. With 6 teams bidding and Vermilion low on cap space, ultimately Harrow gets both and beats Devils in the window. 
The teams are clearly operating with a similar squad building approach, targeting young, fast, physical players. Top among these is last year’s 2nd overall pick El Madkouri, who has publicly expressed his discontent on the bottom of the table Foxes and a desire to move to a contender. El Madkouri flirts with the Devils, calling out Rasputin’s project as emblematic of the kind of organization he wants to join. Rasputin, never one to turn down players that fit the Vermilion philosophy, responds in kind. Hawks, always quick to follow Vermilion’s lead, also enter the race, throwing offers at the Foxes.

At first glance, El Madkouri is exactly what Vermilion needs. A young, hungry, extremely skilled powerforward with elite size and power, with a fair amount of speed and good hands, he is also a YouTube/Instagram sensation due to his flair and ability to engage his fans. Off the ice, there is a friendly rivalry between him and Hauk, already a social media darling. Tongue in cheek, El Madkouri challenges Hauk to a set of shooting and puckhandling drills, promising to join the team if Hauk beats his time. Hauk, confident as ever, stakes his Vermilion mansion on his victory. Rasputin only smirks. He welcomes the media attention.

The planned event, billed as the Battle for the Frozen Throne, is a massive social media hit, with more than 200,000 viewers tuning into Twitch to watch it live. Foxes management does not object to the deal, especially after Rasputin promises to divert all the funds from the event as compensation for the breaches in league policy that are bound to occur. Black Devils staff build out a massive and imposing throne of ice at The Chasm. Sponsorships from Red Bull, Nike, and other media companies roll in. The attendee list at the live event grows. And, in front of a full house and hundreds of thousands of virtual viewers, Dieter Hauk overcomes El Madkouri by 3/4s of a second to claim the Frozen Throne. 
A deal is quick to be achieved, Vermilion shipping out a slew of picks and promising dman Eaglesham to the Foxes in return for their star. Welcomed quickly, shirts with El Madkouri’s name are a hit and crowds gather to watch his first skate with the Devils. After the first few practices, Rasputin announced that the young star will indeed play with Hauk and Monciau-Desormeaux on the Black Devils first line. To the surprise of many, though, Alexander plans to utilize El Madkouri as a playmaker.

And the young star repays his confidence, operating with an unheard of CF% of 70, miles ahead of anyone else in the league. Using his physique and puckhandling to the greatest advantage, El Madkouri makes winning the puck along the boards, and cutting toward the net in a power move his trademark, equally comfortable finishing and setting up his linemates for tap-ins. With nearly a point per game pace on the Black Devils, El Madkouri will easily take the Rookie of the Year title at the end of the season. 
In the meantime, tensions are high between Vermilion and Harrow after their continuous playoff and top of the table clashes. Vermilion takes the first meeting of the season 4-3, and takes a comfortable 8-point lead at the top of the conference after 15 games, but the Hawks keep coming. They take both of the teams’ next two meetings, fiery, violent affairs. After a 3-6 home loss in which two Vermilion players exit with injuries after borderline hits, the Hawks’ bus is attacked by unruly Devils fans on its way out of the city. The Hawks retaliate the next game, clearing the benches, Kokko and Monciau-Desormeaux ejected after taking on Harrow players and knocking them to the ice in another comprehensive 4-1 away loss. Despite the absence of top playmaker Sandro Koch and top defenceman Davin Coronado, Vermilion keeps its hold on 1st place in the conference through the rollercoaster last quarter of the season. With 6 lead changes between Harrow and Vermilion at the top of the East, far and away beyond the competition with 20 point leads, this is the hottest title race the GHL has seen for some time. On the other side, the West-leading Highland Blazers see their previously unassailable 30 point lead over Vermilion midway into the season decrease to just 6 with a few games to go. 
With 7 games remaining and the Black Devils top again after a 20-3-4 run, it is clear that the East title will be decided in Game 75 at The Chasm. With Hawks one point behind, a win here for the Black Devils would put them a step ahead of their pursuers, leaving some margin for error in the run-up. A heavy-hitting, but surprisingly low-scoring title bout is decided by Peloso and who else but Monciau-Desormeaux scoring the Vermilion goals in a dominant home performance - the captains leading by example to give the Black Devils their 3rd straight GHL East title and first seed for the playoffs.

This is a breakout season for Vermilion star C Hauk as well, leading the team with 33 goals and 76 points, and crediting his success to his new, flashy linemate, himself not far behind with 73.

The playoffs beckon.


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The now-experienced Devils squad shapes up for another lengthy playoff run. After the difficult run-in at the end of the season, and yet another 1st place finish in a tough, and getting tougher, Eastern conference, the team feels battle-tested, calm, and ready. There is a feeling of inevitability around the squad, and confidence is sky-high. A big part of this elation is the consistency once again found by starting goaltender Nikita Mineyev, with 43 wins. The team captains and Rasputin himself know that the Vermilion attack can only be “freed” if there is confidence in the man protecting the team’s goal. 

The opponent in the first round is a familiar one - Batchawana Tornadoes, a tough, defensively organized conference opponent. Almost immediately, the Tornadoes demonstrate what they can do, as they grind out a 2-1 win at the Chasm, stopping the overexcited Vermilion attack time and time again. In the locker room, frustration does not set in. “We can’t always play at 11,” explains Drougge, standing in front of the squad. “Play at 10, and know when to turn it up.” 
Calmed, Vermilion delivers, taking the next game 5-0 behind a superb performance by Mineyev, and winning two more easily, advancing to the next round. Waiting for them is another familiar foe, Bellmore Golden Flyers, managed by Zac Zinn. The two managers and their teams enjoy good camaraderie, and always play tough but fair and good-spirited matches. The Golden Flyers’ offensive style and plethora of scoring options has the potential to pose a threat to the Black Devils - but the aura of inevitability is only strengthened as Vermilion steamrolls the series in three games by a combined score of 15-4. Emerging as a leader from the first two rounds is playmaker Sandro Koch, taking centre stage and leading the team in points. In the West, the perennial favourite Warman Fighters loom, easily making their way into the semi-finals - and much of the press is openly beginning to salivate for a finals showdown between the two best teams in the league. But before any of this, through fate or design, the Black Devils must once again go through their arch-rival. The Harrow Hawks, 2nd in the East and seething from the end of the season takedown by Vermilion, are ready to face the Black Devils once again.
This post-season, among netminders, Mineyev is unquestionably the star of the show. With a 1.68 GAA and a 0.960 SV%, he is looking like the first superstar goaltender in Black Devils postseason history, the one goaltender Rasputin always knew they needed to go all the way. Now, he faces his first serious test. The Hawks, despite having plenty of offensive weaponry, play a heavy, defence-first style, wearing down the opposition and relying on their top-tier defensive corps to both shut down and give momentum to counterattacks. Playmaking defenceman Nickolas McCullough and Russian dynamo Alexander Huber have been absolutely dominant in both the regular season and the playoffs, operating with a nearly 60% CF and devouring offences. Strong Russian goaltender Mikhail Yermushin guards their net.

In every way that matters, the two teams are polar opposites of one another. Pure offence vs pure defence, a lightning-fast vertical vs a possession-based horizontal playstyle, an incredible surge to the top rather than a slow boil in the GHL, a reliance on blockbuster trades vs free agents and draft picks - this is as much a battle of ideologies as between hockey squads. In the regular season, Vermilion has been king, but the Black Devils had seen two playoff runs ended by the Hawks already, and so a measure of wariness is certainly visible within the squad. 
Mineyev is his usual impeccable self the first three games. Vermilion easily takes the two home games 4-1 and 3-1, showing no signs of weakness or frustration, the Russian goaltender 1st star in both wins, and Koch pacing the Devils with 4 points. The Hawks rebound at home, winning a tight shootout game, scoring in the 7th round after weathering a Vermilion assault in the 3rd. Going back to Harrow, Devils can close out the series. The Hawks are a strong opponent, but they seem to be easily handled by a dominant, calm Devils team, who have controlled the play the vast majority of the first three games. A path to the final seems clear. 

But a collapse so total, so unthinkable awaits the Devils, that their identity will change forever. During warmups in Game 4, in Harrow, the Hawks fans release a trained falcon to lap the arena for good luck, just as fireworks go off, spooking the bird, which breaks free of its tether and refuses to land. After a fruitless 10 minutes attempting to corral the falcon, the animal circles around the Vermilion net. Mineyev, a known animal lover, calls the bird over. After a few moments, the falcon lands on the Russian goaltender’s outstretched arm - and gives it a gentle peck. 
Disaster strikes quickly. Within the first few minutes, it is clear that Mineyev is not himself. He concedes a Barcham floater from the opening faceoff. With barely any time to regroup, another harmless looking shot from the point generates a massive rebound, which the Hawks again put away just 30 seconds later. Gritting their teeth, Vermilion attacks again, outshooting their opponents 5-2 in the next minute 5 minutes of play. But, on a 2 on 2 rush, on their very next shot, the Hawks score their third. It is 3-0 Harrow with 3 minutes gone. Mineyev simply cannot make a save. Rasputin motions to Yohan Isabelle for his first playoff appearance and motions to Bure. “Test that fucking bird for everything, every disease known to man. I want to know what the hell happened.” Mineyev makes way and, despite a late push, the Devils lose 5-2, their biggest loss of the playoffs. The tests come back negative. The falcon, by all accounts, is just a bird.
“I just didn’t feel good out there,” says Nikita. “One thing led to another, bad luck, loss of concentration. I cannot explain it.” The series, tied 2-2, will go to a decisive Game 5, back at the Chasm, where the Devils have dominated the Hawks this season. Showing faith in his star goaltender, and mindful of the example of Moller a few seasons back, Rasputin is adamant that Mineyev will start again. 
Raucously cheered on by the Golden Horde of Vermilion fans inside a packed arena, the Black Devils line up to take a chokehold on their destiny. The game is rough, and both teams show no affection for one another. After two minutes, with a Hawks player in the box for roughing, Matej Stuk deflects a Hauk pointshot into the net. “STUK STUK!” roars the crowd. The Devils continue to push, with the Hawks sitting back, and minutes later, the 4th line delivers, with legend Hasan Peloso powering the puck, and his checker, into the net. The Devils relax their frenetic pace with a 2-0 lead - the right move strategically, but a mistake that would cost them. The Hawks star pair of McCullough and Huber combine to create 2 goals for the away team within 2 minutes, capitalizing on misplays, and the 1st period ends in a stalemate. 

In the 2nd, it becomes evident that the reserves of energy are far from empty for Vermilion. The team steps up to the physical playstyle of the Hawks, outhitting and outshooting the Harrow team, when, at the 10-minute mark, in a stunning display of poor judgement first, and poor luck second, Vermilion defenceman Akseli Kokko takes two straight slashing penalties, the second one on his way out of the box. The Hawks, with special teams the only area of dominance they have enjoyed, capitalize on both, Huber and Tino Willis hammering in point shots to give the visiting arch-nemesis a 4-2 lead. Despite Kokko’s clear fault, the shots are eminently stoppable, both clean and going high glove. Mineyev is too slow on one, inaccurate on the other - completely unlike himself. Once again, needing to take drastic action to fire up his team, Rasputin benches Kokko, pulls Mineyev from the game and brings in Isabelle. Outshooting the Hawks 14-9 and backed by an immeasurably loud crowd, Fogelberg scores on the powerplay at the end of the period to bring Vermilion within one.
Hauk and Monciau-Desormeaux take the players into a closed-door break between periods. Rasputin and Bure stay on the bench. They know whatever happens in there will decide their season. As the grim and determined players file back onto the ice, the sullen figure of Mineyev, head down, is visible in the locker room. 

Rasputin switches lines. The Devils’ young stars of Hauk, Koch, and El Madkouri will play on line 1, and be trusted in this key moment to bring Vermilion back into the game. As the clock ticks, it becomes increasingly obvious that, although this was the right choice, the Devils are having trouble finishing. Hauk, spinning away from a Harrow defenceman, threads a pass to a streaking Koch, who, all alone, attempts to undress the goaltender - and is pokechecked. Seconds later, in a 3 on 2 rush, Koch carries the puck in again behind the net, and drops a shadow pass to the near post. El Madkouri leans into a point-blank slapshot - only to have it rebound from the bar, throwing the puck metres into the air. After some rudimentary saves by Isabelle, the goaltender throws the puck on the boards, where it is picked up by Drougge, who enters the zone, fakes a slapshot, and delivers a cross-crease pass to Hauk at the left point onto his favoured right side. The German center’s wrister is true, but a diving, flying Huber manages to direct the puck just wide of the goal. The Viking thunderclap rebounds through the stadium, as Rasputin screams at his players, motivating them to give everything. And in the end, the atmosphere clearly affects the bewildered Hawks, who overcommit and get caught up ice on a 3-on-1 rush. Coronado sends away Hauk for the hundredth time. The lightning-fast German centre attacks and undresses the Harrow defender, cuts in on the goalie, looks him in the eye, and slides the puck through his legs to an onrushing El Madkouri, who deposits it into the net with a Datsyukian deke. 

In the erupting chaos inside the stadium, the one thing the Vermilion players and fans do not see is the same grim determination in the faces of the Harrow Hawks. As the puck drops, and the Devils, now playing looser and supported by the cheering home crowd, begin to make inroads toward the last goal, disaster strikes. In a shocking display of bad luck and lack of focus, under the effective Harrow forecheck, first defenceman Bruno Lanz and, 30 seconds later, star C Loukas Gadsby, put the puck over the boards for identical delay-of-game penalties. Furious, Rasputin kicks bottles and spits out black dozens of Russian expletives in the direction of the penalty box as the Hawks set up a 5-on-3.

There is quiet inside the Chasm. There is quiet as the Devils win the faceoff and ice the puck for the first time, then a second. The game is balanced on a knife edge, and the Hawks, 3 for 5 on the powerplay in this game already, are growing in confidence. Rasputin and Bure can only watch as Harrow sets up blast after blast from the point. Isabelle stands tall, but he is no Mineyev and is limited in what he can do. There is quiet in the stadium as, with 2 minutes remaining in the game, Huber loads up another shell from the left point. And there is quiet in the stadium as it is tipped in front by Karacan, camped in the crease, and the puck slowly revolves in the blue paint, where a charging Barcham buries it into the net from a metre out. 
Despite a scrum following the goal, and two more shots by the Devils, there is no running from the final horn. Harrow, resilient as always, eliminates Vermilion once again, and advances to the GHL Cup final against the underdog Culdesac Danger. The other favourite, Wick Schozen’s Fighters, likewise drop at the semifinal hurdle.

To add insult to injury, and despite the valiant effort of the Danger, Harrow sweeps the series 3-0 and takes home the Golden Cup. 

Edited by AlexanderRasputin

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Season 10: GHL

1st place: 47-5-7-21

4th Conference Title in 4 seasons.



Virtually the following day, the inquisition is on. Reporters queue up as Mineyev is asked point blank: “What happened?”. “Did you lose your focus?” “Were you injured?” “Were you cursed?” “Is this the team’s fault?” “Is this Alexander’s fault?” 
He doesn’t answer. No one, not even Rasputin, not even with threats and throwing chairs, is able to identify the reason for the astonishing collapse of the Russian star goaltender. “I will do better. I have to. There is no path except toward redemption.” Mineyev repeats this in interviews like a mantra. And indeed, he has to. He owes it to this team and this city. 
“He fucking owes it to ME,” says Rasputin. “I won’t lie, I had the paperwork to transfer list him filled out, brought to my office, ready to sign. Bullshit of this magnitude, no explanation, I was this close to cutting him out of our project.” He sighs. “But Pavel told me he goes if Nikita goes. And he was right. Nik has given us a lot, and despite the question about why exactly he bombed, we don’t shut the door on our brothers here. Nik is sincere about winning my trust back. I will give him that chance.”
The morale around the normally stone-cold Black Devils staff and squad has never been lower. The morale among the fanbase, used to success at any cost, is abysmal. Whispers begin to roil insidiously that Alexander and his project may not be right for Vermilion. Laughable, given that he is the only reason Vermilion is even on the hockey map - but abject, sudden failure often turns people into beasts and buries logic in a lightless oubliette six feet underground. There are reports of violent confrontations with fans by unnamed Vermilion players, but these are quickly handled by the team’s media and Alexander himself. Two players are fined and one unnamed player is reported to have been locked in a closet for 24 hours by Alexander to “gain some humility as he shits in a corner”. 
Through a huge effort of will, clearly still enormously angry, Rasputin stands in front of the media and deflects blame onto himself. “Ultimately, this is my project, and this loss is my responsibility. No one gets to enjoy the wins but step away when the losses inevitably follow. The boys out there did what I asked and followed my plan. Mineyev followed my plan. Hockey is a fickle game. A brutal game. It is a game that grinds up teams used to winning, and pits them in a battle against themselves. This is the new low for us, together. This is part of the experience of being a winner. You’re going to hate me. That’s fine. Enjoy the ride, enjoy the emotion. This is why we’re here, to make you feel human.” He starts to walk away from the stadium, then stops and returns. 
“One of the greatest players to ever play this sport said once ‘We will not be suck this year’.” There are laughs in the audience. Rasputin holds his hand up. “You and I made a pact. We have one more season to deliver it. I fully fucking intend to fulfill that obligation. All of us do.” He points at the audience, sweeps his arm. “So you decide. Will you be suck? Or will you not be suck?” More laughs. Rasputin grins. 
“Are you part of this ride - or are you standing on the sidelines?” 
 The offseason finds Vermilion a team struggling to contain the fallout of the tumultuous playoff exit in a contract year. Davin Coronado, the team’s star defenceman, is demanding a massive raise, citing a promise to win the Cup when he signed. Unfazed at being called a mercenary, Coronado stands his ground, up until free agency. Knowing that the team can’t afford to lose its top defensive asset during THE key year, Rasputin agrees to the terms. The contract is 10.8M, at the time the highest in the league. The negotiation leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouths.  
Shockingly, it is team captain Sylvain Monciau-Desormeaux’s contract negotiation that poses the most serious issue. For one of its best and most influential players, the team has a financially rewarding contract on the table, but Sylvain sees the need for a rebuild and does not want to burden the team with his contract, at the age of 36. Negotiations stall. With Fogelberg, Berch, and Koch, there are plenty of candidates for Sylvain’s top line role, but Rasputin clearly wants his leader back for this one last run. Ultimately, shockingly, the two parties cannot agree, and Sylvain writes a passionate parting letter to the club, taking the blame for not leading them to a cup and professing his love for the team. He will go to free agency and ultimately sign with promoted upstart Frost Giants. 
Rasputin now has a very difficult choice on his hands - to rebuild the forward corps while remaining one of the favourites for the league and Cup. The hard hitting, heavy approach did not stand the playoff test, and he chooses to shed some weight in favour of speed and finesse. In yet another high risk, high reward move, Vermilion ships fan favourite Matej Stuk, on an expiring contract and demanding 7+M next season, plus other assets, for veteran superstar Matei Mitchel, a GHL legend and Cup winner with dynastic, but now relegating Nighthawks. Mitchel, a 40-goal, 80 point scorer with no weak spots and ability to play every forward role, is a direct replacement for Sylvain on the ice.
“An opportunistic move” says Rasputin. “When you have the chance to get a top-10 player like this, you go for it. We have a plan, and while no one can replace Sylvain directly, Mitchel is a hell of a choice. He will mentor Hauk and I expect they will make beautiful music together. It’s a shame to lose Matej (Stuk), as he was in many ways the perfect Devils player and a fan favourite. But salary considerations and his deserved request for a 1st line role played into this. That bastard is tough as nails and he will be the star on another team this season, you watch.”

As the final, extremely positive piece to a complicated off-season, Rasputin acquires the rights to prospect winger and 1st round pick Dmitry Mandrykin from New Haven Ramblers in a deal worked out before the draft. Mandrykin, shortlisted by Alexander since age 15, is one of the fastest players on the ice, agile and tireless - a fighter with a beautiful shot. Impressing in his junior seasons and setting RUJHL records in consecutive years, ambitious and hard-working, Dmitry will be the injection of new blood into the Devils lineup and will keep the top 6 forwards fighting for their places in the lineup. “He is a perfect fit, a perfect fit,” says Alexander. “We don’t draft unless we really love a player, and we loved Dmitry. He will be a success here. What a player.”

The Black Devils lines to start the season are as follows:

El Madkouri - Hauk - Mitchel
Fogelberg - Gadsby - Koch
Mandrykin - Mackreth - Berch
Peloso - Mackreth - Dugdale

Coronado - Drougge
Kokko - Lanz
Drozd - Kyer

With the Vermilion lineup set, next up is the final, crucial Season 10.



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Season 10: GHL

1st place: 47-5-7-21 

5th Consecutive GHL East Title 



The massive, suffocating pressure with a golden tint hangs heavy over the Black Devils from the first minute on the ice. The players are seasoned, mentally strong, so outwardly there is little to no impact - but even to an untrained eye, it is visible that the skating is just a bit slower, the decisions less instinctive. Sticks are gripped harder, mouthguards chewed with less intensity. Less “you know”s pepper the interviews of Vermilion’s Canadian players. And it also shows in the standings. With 18 games played, the Devils are already at 6 losses - and trailing the conference leaders by 3 points. Among the highlights are a narrow 2-1 away loss to the archrival Hawks, the Vermilion top 6 coming out bland and frustrated in a tight defensive game. A willful 6-5 shootout victory over the Western rival Fighters, Hauk taking over the game and winning it in the shootout, puts some needed spice back into the current run, but it is clear - the pressure to win is doing the squad no favours, and not everyone on the team is handling it well. 

Hit hardest is Calder-winning sophomore El Madkouri. After a few pointless games, he is demoted to the bottom 6 to try to find his game, Rasputin unhappy with his lack of offensive zone effort. Unhappy, El Madkouri pushes his luck, with an open practice confrontation with Rasputin. This proves to be the wrong decision. 
“I don’t give a damn what you do OFF the ice as long as what you do ON the ice is at the standard I expect from this goddamn team!” bellows Rasputin as El Madkouri tries to insinuate his off-ice behaviour is the reason behind less ice-time. “Get out there and do some fucking WORK.”
But El Madkouri’s attitude will not allow him to put his head down and work. Fan opinion is divided - a mercurial talent isn’t going to be a smooth ride. But with his outbursts, El Madkouri is taking the already hard-pressed team off-course, and taking the spotlight away from Hauk. With Sylvain gone, there is a leadership void in the squad that Hauk must fill quickly. After weeks of conversations with El Madkouri, then several closed-door conversations with Rasputin and Drougge, Hauk gives his verdict. 
Rumours already swirl around interest from Blazers, Tigers, bottom of the table Indians - and Hazzard Blizzard, a top western rival containing two incredibly attractive assets in superstar defenceman Sven Keller and veteran sniper, Russian legend Yegor Siyankov. Blizzard scouts are seen at Devils games, and hot takes on a potential massive trade begin to fill the news. Rasputin refuses to be drawn into commentary. “El Mad is our player, a Devil, and the chance of him leaving is about as small as whatever you’re packing in those trousers.” He winks at the asking reporter, who also cracks a smile. 
El Madkouri skates with the team, on the 2nd line, performance not improving, as shouts of a mega-deal with Tigers involving multiple players and a 1st began to get louder and louder. But when Rasputin inevitably stands before the press, the announcement surprises many. “The trade is one for one,” solemnly states Alexander. “El Madkouri to Indians for Yury Nizamutdinov.”
Nizamutdinov was the #2 pick after Hauk two years ago, a now 20 year old superstar defenceman with elite skating and an aggressive physical presence. Nevertheless, he has a preference to play a Lidstrom-style finesse defensive game - and is extremely good at it, maintaining a positive Corsi on a consistently underperforming Indians team. Rasputin sees him as a foundational piece for the Russian core of the Devils dynasty. This addition makes the Vermilion defence elite, contending for the best rearguard in the league with Harrow and Warman. And they are not yet done.

Yury is a killer. You know the hockey myth of Scott Stevens-type defencemen who intimidate guys so much, they straight up avoid them on the ice? Yeah, Yury is a step above that. Watch.” Rasputin flicks on an LCD on the wall of the press room, and a highlights compilation of Nizamutdinov laying out players in the Russian juniors, then the SHL, then GHL begins to roll. The results are impressive. Massive, otherworldly hits sending players to the Shadow Realm, superb board presence - and a surprisingly even-keeled balance between committing to the hits and choosing defensive stickwork and positioning instead. A veteran mindset that most players don’t learn until their late 20s combined with the intensity and instinctive knowledge of when to change the course of the game with a big hit.
“This is a player that will be a cornerstone of our defence for years to come - our own Konstantinov” finishes Rasputin.

Nizamutdinov makes an immediate impact, leading the team with 17 hits and +8 in the next 8 games. But the Devils now hit their usual “mid-season blackout”, losing 6 out of 7. And Alexander knows that he has to do more now to shake the team out of its lethargy. Days after the Nizamutdinov trade, he has his opportunity. 

On the market is one of the absolute superstars in the league, 26 year old former #1 draft pick D Sven Keller. Long known to be the best all-around defenceman in the GHL, Keller has had some success on the Blizzard, scoring 30 in a recent season, but a coaching change and this season’s midtable obscurity has made up the minds of both team and player. But the Blizzard are asking a franchise-level return for a franchise player - something not many teams in the league can afford. Opportunistic as always, Alexander readies a move. Interest by the Hawks, and a few failed lowball attempts aimed at Keller further increase the Devils’ interest. The Vermilion press is worried. It is clear that to push this deal through, core players on the Devils squad will have to leave, potentially disrupting the team’s chemistry, leadership structure, and on-ice flow. Any big trade at this point in a title challenge is incredibly risky. Equally risky is the proposition of running two elite offensive dmen, with Keller and Drougge comparable in performance, each leading the league in points at times. After passing the Hawks GM in the Hazzard offices after yet another failed Harrow attempt to get Keller at minimum value, Rasputin smirks and walks in. He does not reemerge for a full 24 hours - but when he does, the trade is complete. 

For D Sven Keller, a top 5 player and consensus best dman in the GHL, the Black Devils give up star D Davin Coronado, and two young high-potential players. ex-high 1st round picks, thought to be part of the team’s future core - playmaking winger Andre Dugdale and defensive dman Walid Kyer, recently acquired for a 1st round pick. Aside from Coronado, replaced directly by Keller, no core assets were moved, and despite the steep value involved in mortgaging some of the team’s future to win now, the return is worth it. Rasputin is elated.

“This is a coup. Keller and Nizamutdinov are a match made in hockey heaven. Sven has, now, a team that finally matches his ambition and talents - with no disrespect to Hazzard, who have a fantastic organization. We now have, no question, the league’s top D pairing. For us not to win now would be an affront to the hockey gods. All due respect to the players we shipped out - they are consummate professionals, they’ve moved our team forward, and they will move Blizzard forward.”

“As for us,” he continues, “You all know what we’re aiming for this season.”

With the new defensive arrivals, Rasputin makes adjustments to Vermilion’s offensive play. With so many lethal weapons and elite skaters at his disposal, Alexander and Bure move average starting positions of players further back in the zone, with the aim to have Keller, Hauk, or Koch carry the puck in rather than pick it up up ice from a lead pass. Aside from physical powerhouses Nizamutdinov on the 1at pairing, and mainstay Drozd on the 3rd, the defence is less aggressive and now more reliant on positioning and stick work to regain possession. This gives the team as a whole more agility, structure, and space for quick counterattacks by the offensive players, who have the freedom of the opposition ice to create their sorcery. 

Midway through the season, rebuilding on the fly, the Black Devils sit in the usual 1st place spot, only 2 points up on a surprising new challenger - newly promoted Frost Giants, led by none other than ex-Devils captain, GHL legend Sylvain Monciau-Desormeaux



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Fogelberg. Hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. Wiktor has been our best player this season and was my first signing, and the Vermilion top career scorer. He is synonymous with our team. He has always given us everything.” 
Alexander is in a black suit and tie, appearing on a popular sports talk show. He’s casual, relaxed, exchanging banter with the host - but with this last question, his manner becomes serious. It has been one week since the Devils completed yet another trade, sending Vermilion’s first-ever GHL FA and team mainstay Wiktor Fogelberg to Admire Syndicate for veteran sniper Yegor Siyankov
Rasputin continues. “But we’ve been talking last season and this season - and we agreed that Wiktor deserves a bigger role. He’s a star in this league, and, in his prime now, he should be the star of a team. We have a lot of competition on RW, and with Mitchel coming in to be the playmaker for Dieter, the maximum we could give Wiktor was 2nd line. It wasn’t fair to him and it wasn’t fair to us to keep a player here against his will. We looked for the right fit, and signing with Admire allows him to take centre stage at an ambitious new team. 
We wish him success, and he will always have a home here at The Chasm. Team legend. And if I hear one fucking “boo” in the crowd when he comes back to visit, I goddamn swear that fan will be getting a home visit from me to personally tear up his season ticket.”
Why Siyankov, the host asks. Alexander nods.
“From a Devils perspective, Siyankov is a player I’ve admired for a long, long time. A true legend in the league, and a fellow SKA St. Petersburg man. He’s the veteran force we need to replace Sylvain’s [Monciau-Desormeaux] leadership, especially for our Russian core. We stumbled a bit without that leadership up front. Model professional, fantastic physical condition, 88 points two seasons ago - he’s still got it at 35. Elite, elite sniper and playmaker with an absolutely insane release. They called him “007” back home in St. Petersburg, you know? Always dressed in suits, and always shooting to kill. He once made a bet with Pavel, an assistant coach then, that he could go 5 straight games 1 shot - 1 goal.
“He went 6,” Rasputin adds, laughing. “In the last one, he got a hat trick.”
With Hauk, Mitchel, and Siyankov, Vermilion might have the best top line in the league right now. The team’s focus this season on adding elite offensive and playmaking skill to the Black Devils is complete. Keller and Siyankov have a lot of pressure on them to fit into the team culture and learn how Vermilion plays with half a season left, but Rasputin is confident they will make the team proud. 
But a mid-season slump, brought on by new arrivals and the residual effect of the long playoff run last season hits the team and hits them hard. Mineyev is tired and the team's performance suffers as a result, as they fall behind the upstart Frost Giants. A reset is needed and Rasputin drives the team bus into the Alberta mountains, down through Banff, and into cabins in the wilderness, where the team throws their phones in a bin, throws on traditional Russian fur coats and hats, and spends a weekend in the snow, sauna, and the cold mountain air. 
After returning from the trip, the Devils coaches make some key adjustments to the team’s play. They dial the offence back slightly, move starting positions of players further back in the zone and have Keller or Hauk carry the puck in rather than pick it up up ice from a lead pass. On the whole, the defence now plays less aggressively and relies on positioning and stick work. The emphasis is made on defencemen not getting caught out of position, and on an accurate first breakout pass. With the league-best forward lineup the Devils now have, Rasputin intends on having the forwards do the offensive work, with the defencemen, barring Keller, relieved of the responsibility of driving play with incursions into the opposition zone. 
This works well. The Devils gain speed, putting the losing streak in the rear view mirror, making up the 9 point difference to leaders Frost Giants, who are having a brilliant season led by none other but Monciau-Desormeaux and veteran Russian Pavel Statnik. Siyankov clicks on the first line, combining well with Gadsby and Mitchel and is lethal on the PP, playing at a point per game pace. Keller provides scoring and possession from the back, and Hauk benefits, hitting 30 goals with his trademark powerful rushes up the ice. Mitchel, in a powerforward role, routinely demolishes opposing players, taking away the puck, feeding and scoring in equal proportion - a juggernaut player with no weak spots, unleashed and free to play on his terms on the Black Devils. Vermilion demolishes arch nemesis Harrow at home 6-1, and now faces Fairford as the conference leader in a crucial match to put more distance between them and the challenger. The Black Devils take the win - and the season turns. Mineyev, always strong in the second half of the season, is delivering on his promise and playing his best hockey in a Devils jersey, taking home 3 shutouts in 4 games. Two short losing streaks follow, but the Black Devils stay the course and lock up their 4th straight East title.
The team are Corsi darlings, one of the few cases where advanced stats are backed by results. Star Dieter Hauk has a breakout season, putting up 40/40 for a point per game performance. Mineyev finishes at the top of the league with 45 wins. Despite not capturing the President’s Trophy, the Devils ride out major personnel and tactic changes with minimum performance loss. But the playoffs are a different beast entirely. And, in the team’s 5th GHL season, despite all the regular season success, they will ultimately have to define Rasputin’s entire career with the club. 
Alexander, yet again, stands in front of throngs of people and reporters on a warm spring morning. Surprisingly, he does not have much to say. 
“We’ve beaten this topic to death, my friends. I will not speak down to you - we all know what’s at stake. This legend we’re building together, this myth of our team - it is facing its crucial plot point right now. My players know it, I know it, you know it.”

“I can’t say I don’t feel the pressure,” he laughs mirthlessly. “But it is my duty to uphold our pact, and I intend to do that until the end. My players, all of us, intend to do that until the end. You have stood behind us all this time, because the Black Devils are more than a club. We are a story, a myth.

And a good myth has no choice but to either die or become a legend. I think I know which one I would prefer.”
A powerful cheer rises up from the crowd. Alexander nods and puts his hand up.
“By the winds of Veles, our battle here has just begun. We need your voices to tear the roof off of this fucking place, to intimidate our opponents, to give our boys strength. Are you with us?!”
An absolutely enormous “YES” roars up out of the crowd, fists in the air, martial and ominous in its power. In a true rock and roll fashion, Alexander cups his ear and bellows “I can’t fucking hear you!” After a heartbeat, a cataclysmic roar explodes out of the throngs of Vermilion supporters, decibels washing over the entire town. Arms out, Alexander closes his eyes and nods. The horned priest shifts imperceptibly behind him.

As they walk off the podium, the sense of latent energy, expectation, in the air lingers, not dissipating. 
Tomorrow, the campaign will begin. 


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