A young Vanguard team struggles under the shadow of Wayne
Ever since the retirement of Bruce Wayne, once a player for the Gotham City Vanguard and later a celebrated coach, the popularity of hockey in Gotham City has diminished. For a city in which hockey was once the most-watched sport, even over baseball and football, this is a remarkable occurrence. It was Wayne who almost single-handedly popularized hockey in modern Gotham, where interest had waned after years of mediocre-to-awful teams. When the Vanguard traded for him in a move that cost them almost all of the forwards on their roster, he became the undisputed best player the franchise had ever had. Fans were drawn in by his precise, consistent, excellent play. He studied his game with the calculation of a scientist and the passion of an artist.
Last year was the Vanguard’s first without Wayne since he signed with them, and the loss weighed heavily on the young team he left behind. No one on the team is older than thirty, and even their new head coach, Barbara Gordon, is young enough to be playing the game herself. The Vanguard exhibited all the traditional strengths and weaknesses of a young team: although they were faster skaters than many opponents, and could take longer shifts, their skills were less well-polished than those of an experienced team, and they were exciteable. They were drawn into penalties that could have been avoided by a more seasoned group; they had consistent difficulties coming back from a rough start; they overpassed to center rather than pulling the trigger on a shot from the wing. Coach Gordon has spoken about last year being a “building year” for her team. However, if her players can’t start getting some concrete results—particularly games in the W column—she may have to build herself some more drastic changes to the team.
Coach Gordon’s top line forwards, center Richard Grayson and wingers Tim Drake and Jason Todd, have been heaped with media criticism for leaving their professionalism behind when they come off the ice. Last year midseason, a flood of unflattering photographs revealed the linemates making an inebriated spectacle of themselves in a succession of hometown bars. The Vanguard organization, as well as Grayson and Drake, have avowed that this incident was a one-time indiscretion. Todd, however—already in his second year in the IGHL gaining a reputation for being perhaps overly candid with the press—intimated that this might not be the case.
“Oh yeah, we go out all the time,” Todd laughed. “Everybody thinks Captain Dick is so perfect, youngest captain ever blah blah, and with Timmy it’s like he’s the second coming of Wayne or whatever,” he scoffed. “We’re three guys who play a game for a living. So we drink sometimes, we like to have fun. You wanna make something of it?”
One wonders what Wayne himself thinks when he reads quotations like this in his local newspaper. Since he has declined to take any interviews since the press conference at which he announced his retirement, we must continue to wonder.
Of all active players on the team, goaltender Kate Kane is the only one who has neither played with Wayne or been coached by him. “I don’t know Wayne personally, the way some people on the team do,” Kane said. “But growing up, it was him that made me want to keep playing. I didn’t grow up in Gotham, but I went to high school in the ‘Haven, and I used to come to games whenever I could. He meant a lot to the city. I’m really honored to play for his team.”
That's the way it still is in Gotham: the city is Wayne's city, and the Vanguard is his team.
If last year was a building season for the Vanguard, then this year it’s time for the heirs to Wayne’s legacy to show Gotham City what they can do with the bounty they’ve inherited.
The Vanguard will open their season on Wednesday, when they will host the Oceanside Devil Dogs. Pregame coverage starts at 1900 local standard time.