The Brampton Beast played their final game of the season on Sunday in front of a strong crowd of 3,550, losing 6-2 to the Adirondack Thunder.
Before the game started, there were a few notable ceremonies. First there was the induction of the Class of 2018 to the Brampton Sports Hall of Fame, which included former Montreal Canadiens defenceman Mike Weaver. Then there was a touching tribute for the victims of the Humboldt Broncos tragedy. Everyone united on the ice for a moment of silence.
The Beast played a dominant first period, but they were unable to capitalize on their abundant shots, scoring just once, before eventually running into penalty problems which turned the tide in Adirondack’s favour. It was an eventual short-handed goal early in the second that knocked the wind out of the Beast’s sails, as the Thunder controlled the second period. The third was more closely matched as Brampton attempted a final push to send the fans home happy, but the playoff-bound Thunder were too strong on this final day.
As was the story almost all year, there was no player from the Montreal Canadiens organization in the Beast lineup.
The president and general manager of the Beast, Cary Kaplan, offered his view on a difficult season for the club, and the lack of players from their parent club in Montreal.
“It’s the nature of hockey sometimes. It was a big part of our pre-season and we expected to have more guys than ever from Montreal, but I think that at all levels the organization got off to a rough start: Montreal, Laval, and Brampton. There was a strong expectation, but it was a tough beginning to the season with some injuries and loss of players. The reality is we still would have liked to have more guys [from Montreal] and for them to sign more players. We didn’t have a position player since October, which was disappointing for sure.”
The Beast will not be headed to the playoffs this season. “I’ve been doing this for five years, and the other four were all explainable. We had two good seasons and we had two bad seasons where our team wasn’t good. This season we had a great core group of players, very well coached, and I think that the two things that were overwhelming for us: one was goaltending — we had nine goalies this year; secondly, not having any players from Montreal. Taking those two things and you look at them, and we had five or six more wins, and we would be looking at a playoff spot.”
A secondary partnership didn’t necessarily provide more stability
With the uncertainty surrounding Montreal’s contribution to the team, the Beast began a secondary partnership with the Senators.
“It was good for us to work with Ottawa,” said Kaplan. “It wasn’t an official affiliation, but a working relationship. We got Chris Driedger, Marcus Hogberg, Vincent Dunn, and much of the year in Cody Donaghey.”
Despite an expectation that the secondary partnership would yield to more stability in net, both Laval and Belleville decided to run three-goalie rotations at the AHL level instead. Obviously this was less than ideal for Brampton.
“Michael McNiven, Zachary Fucale, Driedger, and Hogberg are all very good goalies at this level, but we didn’t have any of them for more than 15 games. It’s too hard to have four guys in and out all year.
“We asked them about [choosing to run three-goalie rotations],” said Kaplan. “Each situation is unique and you would have to ask them exactly why they made that decision. In McNiven, [Montreal] felt a good place for him to develop was in Laval, near the pro team. Fucale had earned his chance to be in the AHL, so I think there was a dilemma there of: what do you do? There were injuries in Montreal too, they went through a few goalies. Belleville was the same thing. Hogberg and Driedger battled for a spot there, and they both played well.
“Our bias is ‘look, it doesn’t matter to us, just leave someone here all year’, he’s going to develop better — we strongly believe that — by playing. We don’t believe in healthy scratches here. It’s better for [a player] to be here playing top-six forward, top-four D, or starting goalie, as opposed to being a healthy scratch for a lot of games in the AHL.”
A lack of consistency
Forty-five players suited up for the Beast this season due to all the various call-ups to the AHL, which was among the most in the ECHL this season.
“When you have that, it’s really hard to find that consistency. It takes players a few games when they get back. Willie Corrin and Matt Petgrave are elite players at this level, but when you’re constantly going there and back you can’t get yourself into the system, you’re not practising with the guys ... it hurts the player. It hurt us. We had lots of guys going up and very few going down. Corrin was up for over a month, Petgrave was gone for half the season, Ciampini was our ECHL player and he virtually spent the entire season up in Belleville.”
Despite the struggles on the ice, the Beast can find some solace in the fact that they maintained their average attendance from last year. Kaplan was glad of the fact that in 20 years of hockey in Brampton (15 years of the OHL’s Batallion, then five years of the Beast), last year and this were the biggest two years in the city’s history, and the only years with over 3,000 fans per game on average.
“We’re there. We would obviously like to have another 1,000 people per game at these games, but it’s good. We know that people enjoy coming out to these games. We’re still only five years old, we’re still learning, we’re still a young franchise.
“We also think that the new team in St. John’s is going to be something exciting for us. We’ve been the only Canadian team in the ECHL thus far, so we look at it as a close division rival. It’s an easy flight to St. John’s. We think that we will make something out of that rivalry.
Looking ahead to next season
“In the end, it’s the nature of the beast. That’s the battle of being in this business. We felt that we were really close. People might be surprised to hear this, but we hope to have most of our core back because we feel we are really close to something exciting. We thought it would hit this year.”
Before the season started, it was announced that the Beast were looking for local investors to become minority shareholders in the team. Kaplan offered an update.
“We haven’t unveiled it, but we have some new [minority] owners that we will be announcing. We figured that we would wait until the season was over. We have some people we will be announcing around April/May.”
As for the affiliation with the Montreal Canadiens, it’s always been renewed on a yearly basis, and this season is no exception. On whether that partnership will be extended, Kaplan offered some insight into a fluid situation given their disappointment with Montreal this season.
“It’s still in the works,” said Kaplan. “Because Montreal and Ottawa both didn’t make the playoffs, it’s now easy to have that conversation going forward, and we talked to a few other teams. Every year it’s a bit of a musical chairs. We are going to have those conversations, first formally with Montreal soon, and then with other teams as well.”
Is there a preference?
“I wouldn’t say so at this point. We’ve been with Montreal for three years. We are really proud to be affiliated with them, but we need players. The thing that was missing this year was having an amount of players that we can count on. We’re going to talk to Montreal about that. It’s important in an affiliation. It has to be a two-way affiliation for us. We’re going to have that conversation, and see what Montreal’s interest is in doing that. In order to be competitive at this level, you need those four to six guys, at least, who are in the lineup on a regular basis.”