Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Aaron Davis signing announced by the Texas Brahmas

Former Fort Worth Brahma signs on for the 2008-09 championship run

The Texas Brahmas have added another high caliber center to the squad with the signing of Aaron Davis. Davis, 29, has averaged nearly 44 points in each of his five seasons in the Central Hockey League.

"Davis is a strong competitor and leader. We expect great things for him this season in a Brahmas uniform." Brahmas Head Coach Dan Wildfong said.

Last season, the Dearborn Heights, Michigan native tallied 45 points (21 G, 24 A) with 30 penalty minutes in 48 games. Seven of his goals came on the power play. During the post-season, Davis added two assists in the three-game series against the Brahmas.

The 45 points by Davis last year were the second-most number of points he has put up in one CHL season, exceeded only by a 55-point campaign with the Austin Ice Bats in 2005-06.

Over the past five seasons, Davis played with four different CHL teams and notched 218 points (77 G, 141 A) He’s also added 146 penalty minutes, 20 power play goals, five shorthanded tallies and had 14 game-winning goals in that time.

Davis was with the Fort Worth Brahmas for 97 games during the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons scoring 63 points (26 G, 37 A) with 29 penalty minutes.

Previously, Davis played two seasons in the ECHL and two seasons in the NAHL. He also played for four years of NCAA hockey at Lake Superior State University.

I spoke with Aaron last week and will be posting his interview soon.

Photo Credit: Robert Keith
Australian hockey star Matt Ezzy makes the cut

International champion goaltender earns a training contract with the Texas Brahmas

24-year-old goaltender Matt Ezzy is one of three prospects signed by the Texas Brahmas at the conclusion of the second annual "Making the Cut" tryout camp.

Ezzy grew up in Lismore, in the northern part of New South Wales. The town had no hockey arena but it did have a roller rink. He began playing roller hockey and became a goalie for the Australian under-16 roller hockey team.

Ezzy later entered men's AAA ice hockey with the Gold Coast Grizzlys, playing in a five-team league. He gained international experience, playing for the Australian youth team in South Korea at the Asia-Pacific championships, where he was voted best goalie.

Ezzy attended a goalie school in Ottawa. From there, he won a spot on the Tier 2 junior A Smiths Falls team in Eastern Ontario. He next played for the London (Ontario) Nationals with whom he went to the Western Junior B Hockey League championship round in 2003.

Ezzy played the last five seasons with the Newcastle North Stars in the Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL) and has won the Australian Championship Goodall Cup three times. First awarded in 1910, the Goodall Cup is hockey's third-oldest prize still in existence. Only the NHL's Stanley Cup (1893) and Canada's Allan Cup (1909) are older.

In 2005 the North Stars defeated the Adelaide Avalanche 3-1 in the AIHL Final played at their home rink in Warners Bay, winning their second Goodall Cup since entering the league in 2002. Then in 2006, they defeated the Avalanche 3-0 to win their third Goodall Cup. Ezzy stopped 23 of 23 shots in that game. After losing in the final in the 2007 season, Ezzy and the North Stars defeated the Western Sydney Ice Dogs 4-1 to win another Goodall Cup, the teams' fourth in six years.

Ezzy was voted "Sportsperson of the Year" by the Lake Macquarie City Council for his 2005 season in February 2006, and was a finalist for the same award in 2007.

The six-foot-three, 210-pound Ezzy backstopped the Australian Mens Ice Hockey Team, the Mighty Roos, who went undefeated in the 2008 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Division II Championships held in Newcastle, New South Wales. He was awarded ‘Best Goalie of Tournament’ for his feat in winning all four games played and allowing only four goals by him throughout the event.

I spoke to Matt at the NYTEX Sports Centre right after he was told by coaches Wildfong and Vogel that he had earned a CHL training contract with the Texas Brahmas.

Q: How did you learn about Making the Cut 2008?

A: Just online really. I was doing a lot of research, trying to find somewhere to play over here. I saw the opportunity to come to this free-agent camp and it was the only thing that could really fit in with the schedule of the Australian Hockey League.

Q: Is ice hockey very popular in Australia?

A: No, it's not. We have an 8-team semi-pro league. But hockey in Australia has been around for a hundred years. We actually have the third oldest hockey trophy in the world, The Goodall Cup.

Q: Where are you from in Australia?

A: I'm from Lismore but I live in Newcastle now. It's just two hours north of Sydney.

Q: What did you think about the camp; was it everything you thought it would be?

A: It was. I'm really looking forward to the challenge of the main camp and seeing what I can do against the real deal guys, so to speak.

Q: How did you feel when you were told that you had made it?

A: Ecstatic actually. I didn't know how to feel. It was a little daunting. But I'm really looking forward to it and really happy that it came through because I put a lot on the line for this. I sold my car and did everything to pay for my ticket over here, so yeah, it's fantastic.

Update: The Far North Coaster, an Australian online magazine used this story/interview on their website. You can read it here

Photo Credit: Newcastle North Stars

Monday, September 29, 2008

Texas Brahmas lure Grant Jacobsen back to North Richland Hills

High-scoring center to return for the 2008-09 season

In a move that is sure to thrill Texas Brahmas fans, Head Coach Dan Wildfong and the Brahmas organization have managed to bring Grant Jacobsen back for the 2008-09 campaign.

"We're really excited to have Grant back," said Wildfong. "He was a huge part of our success last year...down low with the puck, there's no one better in this league. He's so big and strong. He killed a lot of penalties for us this year and logged a lot of ice time. Anytime you can get a guy that did that, we're pretty happy and excited."

Jacobsen, 25, was instrumental in the Brahmas' success last season, scoring 53 points (15 G, 38 A) with 59 penalty minutes served. In the playoffs, he skated in all 14 contests and delivered 8 points (4 G, 4 A).

At 6' 3" and 210 pounds, Jacobsen establishes a fast, physical presence on the ice considering himself more of a set-up guy than a prolific goalscorer and preferring to work down low, in the corners and looking to make plays for his teammates to finish. His strong performance in the face-off circle, his penalty-killing prowess and his solid work ethic make him a well-rounded and highly effective team player.

Jacobsen was the 7th pick (9th round, 270th pick) by the St. Louis Blues in the NHL Entry Draft in 2001.

The Souris, Manitoba native played for six seasons in the Western Hockey League (WHL) for the Regina Pats and the Kamloops Blazers. In 314 games he notched 213 points (77 G, 136 A) and 270 penalty minutes. As a member of the Blazers, Jacobsen served as team captain and led the team in scoring with 52 points (18 G, 34 A) in the 2003-04 season.

During the 2004-05 season, Jacobsen played for the University of Manitoba. As a Bison, Jacobsen played 31 games and tallied 29 points (14 G, 15 A) and 45 penalty minutes.

Jacobsen's next stop was in the ECHL where he split time with the Reading Royals and the Columbia Inferno for the 2005-06 season and then played with the Johnstown Chiefs, where he recorded 22 points (9 goals, 13 assists) in 67 games.

After his season with the Brahmas, Jacobsen had intended to re-sign, but an opportunity came up for him to play in England's Elite Hockey League for the Manchester Phoenix, joining fellow CHL players Josh Garbutt (Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees), Alex Dunn and Nathan Ward (Odessa Jackalopes), Kyle Bruce (Wichita Thunder) and David Beauregard (Tulsa Oilers).

He had played in seven games, scoring four points on two goals and two assists when the offer to return came in from the Brahmas. Jacobsen advised club officials on Saturday that he had been approached by his former club about a return to the Central Hockey League and that he was considering it.

"I was really enjoying it here, however, the offer from Texas came and I had to move quickly or lose the chance."

Phoenix Head Coach Tony Hand expressed his displeasure in a statement posted on the team website.

“I am very, very disappointed at this turn of events...the speed at which things have moved is bewildering and leaves us needing to find a replacement at very short notice or go into next weekend’s games lighter than we’d choose to be. The squad has made an excellent start and Grant had been very much an integral part of it."

England's loss is definitely a welcome gain for Brahmas fans whose delight can be summed up by a recent post on the Brahmas.net forum - "Coach I have to hand it to you...this is an excellent move....The FANS Thank You!!!!

Jacobsen is expected to return to Texas this week and will be ready to attend the teams' training camp, scheduled to begin on October 6th.

Photo Credit: Manchester Phoenix

Defenseman Ross Rouleau makes the cut

Joins Andrew Scampoli and Matt Ezzy on Texas Brahmas training camp roster

Ross Rouleau came into camp with one thing in mind - to earn a spot on the Texas Brahmas roster and help the team to win a championship. He is one step closer, having earned a CHL training camp contract after competing in the Brahmas 2nd annual Making the Cut prospect camp.

At 20, the 6-foot-one, 180 pound defenseman came to NYTEX two weeks early, skating and working out daily to be ready physically. Rouleau brought a level of skill, maturity and a work ethic that impressed coaches Dan Wildfong and Ron Vogel. When he learned he had made the cut, Rouleau said he couldn't believe it. "I was pumped...but it only gets harder from here," he said.

Last season, Rouleau played for Finlandia University, a member of NCAA Division III and the Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association (MCHA). He notched 25 points (7 G, 18 A) in 26 games played. He played for the Marquette Rangers (NAHL) before attending Finlandia University.

Rouleau is the brother of Pete Rouleau, a forward who signed with the Brahmas in August. Pete encouraged Ross to try out for the Brahmas and was in the stands daily to provide support. Both played for Hancock High School and at Finlandia University but due to a five year age difference, the prospect of the two brothers playing on the same team was never a possibility, until now.

Rouleau is looking forward to the challenge of the training camp.

"It’s going to be tough. I’m glad I went through "Making the Cut" to get in better shape. If you didn’t come in shape, there was no chance you had to make the cut," Rouleau told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Photo Credit: Robert Keith

Photos from Making the Cut 2008

Photos from Making the Cut 2008 have been posted and are available for viewing here. 175 shots were taken at all three afternoon on-ice sessions including Sunday's scrimmage.

Photo Credits: Robert Keith

Friday, September 26, 2008

Making the Cut 2008

The Texas Brahmas' three-day prospect camp has begun

Making the Cut 2008 opened on Thursday evening with 22 players showing up to compete for two positions on the Texas Brahmas official training camp roster.

Brahmas Head Coach Dan Wildfong and Assistant Coach Ron Vogel were on hand to advise the athletes as to what the Brahmas' expectations are for the 2008-09 season and what to expect at the camp.

Attendees came from as far away as Vancouver, Prince Edward Island and even Australia. Four attendees were at last years camp.

"It's a good opportunity for these guys and this is their shot," Coach Dan Wildfong said. "I think it's unbelievable, the heart that these guys have and their dedication to the game to come down and take a shot at the Brahmas...I'm excited for these guys."

Assisting coaches Dan Wildfong and Ron Vogel will be former Texas Tornado and current Texas Renegades Assistant Coach Chris Nichols, former Fort Worth Brahma captain Wes Mason and current Texas Brahmas Jason Deitsch, Craig Minard and Lance Galbraith. Aaron Davis, Scott Alexander, John Michael Thomas and Bill Ivey will also be assisting.

The Making the Cut practices will begin Friday morning at 8:30 at the NYTEX Sports Centre. Camp will conclude Sunday with the announcement of the two players selected for the official CHL training camp contracts.

Fans are invited to attend all on-ice sessions. The schedule can be viewed here.

Image Credit: Texas Brahmas

Inside Making the Cut 2008

A look at the Texas Brahmas prospect camp with defenseman Ross Rouleau

Ross Rouleau wants to play professional hockey. Last season, the six-foot-one, 175 pound defenseman wore the number four for Finlandia University, a member of NCAA Division III and the Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association (MCHA). He notched 25 points (7 G, 18 A) in 26 games played. After an intense defensive battle, Finlandia was defeated by the Adrian University Bulldogs in a 1-0 in a heartbreaking overtime loss at the MCHA Championship game in March.

At 20 years of age, the Hancock, Michigan native has been skating since he could walk. He played high school hockey for the Hancock Bulldogs. In their 2002-03 season, Hancock had a 22-3-0 record, marking the most victories in school history. They also had 14 consecutive wins, another school record, and took their fourth consecutive Lake Superior Hockey Conference Title.
They were also the #1 Ranked D3 Team in the State of Michigan. Rouleau played for the Marquette Rangers (NAHL) before attending Finlandia University.

Ross' older brother Pete Rouleau signed with the Brahmas in August. Pete encouraged Ross to try out for the Brahmas and will be at the camp to provide support, advice and encouragement.

"I'm just hoping to make the team," said Rouleau. "I've been skating for a couple of hours every morning and then working out and riding the bike...if you don't give 110%, you're not making it."

Photo Credit: Ross Rouleau

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Insider Interview - Ron Vogel

The Texas Brahmas' new assistant coach talks about hanging up his skates and working with Dan Wildfong to build a championship team

The Texas Brahmas recently announced the addition of Ron Vogel as their new assistant coach. Vogel, 29, has spent eight years playing professional hockey in various leagues including the NAHL, ECHL, CHL, UHL, EIHL and IHL. The former goaltender played for one season with the Corpus Christi Rayz in 2006-07. He played last season with the IHL's Port Huron Icehawks and Kalamazoo Wings.

A native of London, Ontario, Vogel and his family moved to Texas this spring. He assisted Brahmas Head Coach Dan Wildfong at Wildfong's annual hockey camp in July and has been a regular at the NYTEX Sports Centre throughout the Summer.

I spoke with Ron at the opening of the Making the Cut 2008 tryout camp.

Q: Were you at a point in your career where you were ready to hang up your skates and take on a position like this?

A: It was a tough decision to make, to call it a career. You know, I thought for my family it was the best move to make and it was a great opportunity to work alongside Dan and for a great organization. You don't get an opportunity like that every day and it was a tough one to pass up. I had a good career at this level and I felt that this was as far as I could go with that. I felt it was time to start helping younger players get that chance to move up.

Q: How long have you know Dan?

A: We've known each other for about 12 years. We worked hockey schools together when we were younger. I actually know him through some good friends and now Dan and and I are closer than some of our other friends. We've always kept in close contact. We ran a hockey camp here last summer and it's been great.

Q: Once it became known that Forbes MacPherson was leaving, how long did it take before you were contacted about the position?

A: I think once Dan found out, I was in town and I wasn't sure if I was going to play again or not. I didn't know if it was going to be here or somewhere else depending on what happened with their goaltending situation. When this came up, he contacted me right away. You've got to say yes to that, to work alongside Dan. He's a great coach. He had a great year last year. I knew how we'd get along. Our personalities are a little different but it's a good thing. It'll balance each other out. It's a great organization here. The Brahmas are coming back as a strong organization which is great for this community.

Q: The re-signing of Brett Jaeger and David Cacciola seem to give the Brahmas one of the best, if not the best goaltending tandem in the league. How do you feel about these guys?

A: It's going to be great. We've got two solid goaltenders. They both have experience and they're both great under pressure. It's going to be a great year. They're going to push each other to get better and you couldn't ask for a better situation.

Q: As a former goaltender, are you going to place a special emphasis on working with these two?

A: Yeah, there will be. Being a goaltender myself, I'll understand in different situations, what they're going to be feeling and how to handle them. That's definitely going to help out, especially with the rotation of two starting goalies. That experience will come in handy for me. I'll offer advice when it's needed. They're professional goaltenders, they know when they mess up and that kind of stuff but when we need to go over some things that we need to go over, it'll be helpful that I was a goaltender and that I know what they're going through.

Q: Dan is putting together another outstanding team for this season. He has a winning attitude and his goal is not to win a championship in a few years but to win a championship this year. Do you share that kind of drive?

A: Definitely. Why are we here, right? Ultimately you want to be a winner. You want to be known as a character guy and a winner. There's plenty of pieces of a puzzle that go together to build a championship team and we've got it started already. I definitely am competitive. My drive is there now as a coach. I want to win and I want to be successful and I want my players to be successful. It rubs off on everybody and it just helps everybody around you.

Q: The Brahmas fans will get to know you this year and of course you'll get to know them. What do you have to say to the fans about the upcoming season?

A: Well, our goal is to build a championship team with great players and all that, with character guys and a strong team unity. The fans are our backbone you know, they're our support and they keep the guys going. After the year they had last year, they had great support and I'm looking forward to that again. I'm really excited to meet a lot of fans face-to-face.

Photo Credit: Robert Keith

Monday, September 22, 2008

"Making the Cut" 2008 schedule released

The Texas Brahmas' 2nd annual prospect camp set to begin

The Texas Brahmas will kick off their "Making the Cut" 2008 Prospect Camp on Thursday evening. Many prospects will attend the camp in the hope of earning an invitation and contract to the Texas Brahmas training camp in October. Head Coach Dan Wildfong and Assistant Coach Ron Vogel will award two training camp contracts at the end of the event on Sunday.

Fans are invited to attend the on-ice sessions which will be held at the main rink.

Here is the full schedule:

Thursday, September 25

Evening Session

7:00-8:00 Mandatory Meeting

Friday, September 26

Morning Session

8:30-9:00 Warm-up/Stretch

9:00-10:00 Locker Room

10:00-11:45 On-ice

Afternoon Session

12:45-1:15 Warm-up/Stretch

1:15-2:00 Locker Room

2:00-3:30 On-ice

3:40-4:25 Weight Room (Testing- Max. Bench, Squats, Pull-ups)

Saturday, September 27

Morning Session

7:15-7:45 Warm-up/Stretch

7:45-8:45 Locker Room

8:45-10:15 On-ice

10:25-11:10 Weight Room

Afternoon Session

3:30-4:00 Warm-up/Stretch

4:00-5:00 Locker Room

5:00-6:00 On-ice (Goalie Session with all players)

Sunday, September 28

Morning Session

7:15-7:45 Warm-up/Stretch

7:45-8:45 Locker Room

8:45-10:15 On-ice

10:25-11:10 Weight Room

Afternoon Session

2:45-3:15 Warm-up/Stretch

3:15-4:15 Locker Room

4:15-5:45 On-ice

* Meeting following camp

Image Credit: Texas Brahmas

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Insider Interview – David Cacciola

The Texas Brahmas goaltender returns for his fourth professional season

The Texas Brahmas have announced that goaltender David Cacciola has re-signed with the team and will join Brett Jaeger in the organizations’ quest for a CHL championship. Last season, the duo put up a 39-21-2 combined record in the regular season and marched the Brahmas to the Northern Conference Finals.

Brahmas Head Coach Dan Wildfong expressed his confidence in Cacciola's ability to make an impact this season.

"It's great to have Cacciola return in goal for us this season. He did some unbelievable things for us last year in the regular season and the playoffs. We're looking forward to what he will bring to us this year," said Wildfong.

The Burlington, Massachusetts native was a star goaltender at the St. Sebastian School in nearby Needham and backstopped St. Sebastian to the 2000-01 New England Prep School Division I Championship. He appeared in 27 games in his senior year with a 25-1-1 record, 1.25 GAA, and a .931 save percentage. He was named MVP of the New England Prep School Ice Hockey Association (NEPSIHA) and was named to the First Team All-NEPSIHA and First Team All-ISL (Independent School League).

Cacciola went on to play for Providence College but was limited to six appearances as a freshman while paired up with Bobby Goepfert. After not playing at all as a sophomore, Cacciola made 11 appearances as a junior, posting a 1-5-4 record, a 2.06 GAA and a .933 save percentage. During his senior year, he played in 20 contests with a 5-13-2 record, a .906 save percentage and a 2.89 GAA. His season included a career-high 60 saves against Boston College, marking the fourth highest total saves in Friars history.

Cacciola signed with the Bakersfield Condors (ECHL) but was released before he had a chance to play. He then signed with the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs and was called up to play for the Albany River Rats (AHL) while Marty Brodeur was hurt. He returned to the Mudbugs once Brodeur came back. Cacciola appeared in 28 regular season games with the Mudbugs, posting an 18-5-4 record. He was fifth among goalies with a 2.54 GAA and third in the CHL with a .926 save percentage. He shined in the playoffs, leading the Mudbugs to the President’s Cup Finals. In 11 playoff games, Cacciola was 8-3-1 with a league best 1.76 GAA and a .951 save percentage. The Mudbugs fought hard but came up short in the championship series with the Laredo Bucks.

Cacciola next signed with the Reading Royals (ECHL), the Binghampton Senators (AHL) and the Charlotte Checkers (ECHL) but was released by all three teams before he was given an opportunity to shine. The Mudbugs traded his rights to the New Mexico Scorpions where he finished the season, playing in 29 games with a 21-5-3 record, a 2.54 GAA and a .917 save percentage.

A free agent, Cacciola signed on with the Texas Brahmas for the 2007-08 season and went 26-15-1 with a 2.94 GAA and a .909 save percentage. He played in seven post-season games highlighted with a strong performance in the Brahmas’ four-game sweep of the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs.

With his 26 wins last season, Cacciola ranked second in the league, only one victory short of finishing first overall. In his CHL career, Cacciola has a remarkable 65-20-8 record.

I spoke to David by phone last week prior to the announcement of his re-signing.

Q: After graduating from Providence College, how were you recruited in to the CHL?

A: At Providence, I didn’t have the best college experience there, hockey-wise. I was stuck near an all-American, so hockey didn’t go according to plan. But I did play a bit in my senior year. I had some offers. Shreveport approached me, so I started there and then I was called to Albany (AHL), which was pretty cool for like three weeks and then I was sent back down to Shreveport and I finished the year there.

Q: After your time at Shreveport, where did you go?

A: I went to the East Coast League just to get a little more exposure and try to get to the next level. In Reading, in the East Coast League, it didn’t work out; I was there for like 24 hours and got put on waivers because there were too many goalies under contract from the Kings. I was between a rock and a hard place.

Maybe a few weeks dragged out and all of a sudden in Shreveport, DeCaro was a rookie there; he kind of took my spot and started doing well. I didn’t particularly want to split time with Kenny Carroll. So, I was looking to be the number one guy somewhere. They traded me to New Mexico, which worked out. I think we had a solid year there; Shreveport’s a great place to play and I’ll never talk bad about it but New Mexico is too.

Q: Did you also sign with the Binghampton Senators?

A: When things didn’t work out in the East Coast League, I signed a PTO (Professional Tryout) with them and I was up there for like two weeks, maybe like five games, and then was sent down to Charlotte, back in the East Coast League. That’s when Shreveport traded my rights to New Mexico and I was off to New Mexico for the rest of the year.

Q: Who recruited you to come on board with Texas?

A: It was mostly Fonger, because of the season we had in my rookie year. Fonger and I played together in Shreveport and we lost in the finals. All of a sudden Fonger got the coaching job and he said Cash, we need a goalie and I was a free agent out of New Mexico so I took a recruiting trip down there. It was a great place to play. A good location and the people around there were awesome so it was like a no-brainer almost.

Q: Towards the end of the year the Brahmas put Jim Healy on waivers and brought Brett Jaeger in. How was it, splitting that second half of the season with Brett?

A: Well, a number one goalie really doesn’t like to split games but there are times in the season when it’s so hard to carry the load. There’s only a few goalies in the world that can play all of the games. At the beginning of the year I did, but you hit a wall and sometimes you need a guy that can step in there and for some reason Healy didn’t. When we got Jaeger, we both picked each other up and fed off of each other. He played well and that only motivated me to play well. So I mean we both probably wanted to play more than 50/50, but as a team aspect it paid off because we started winning and we both played well. It wasn’t a bad thing at all. We got along really well and it carried over to having a ton of team successes and winning games which is what this whole thing’s about.

Q: Did you ever think that the team would go as far as they did last season?

A: I didn’t how far we were going to go but I had a feeling; I chose the Brahmas for a reason and that was to make the playoffs and make a run at winning the cup. I put a lot of confidence in Fonger to recruit the guys needed to do that and he did an excellent job. He put together exactly pretty much what I thought. We came up short but if we scored a goal, we were probably inches or seconds away from going to the finals and I think if we made it to the finals we were going to win it.

Q: You’ve probably heard that Forbes MacPherson has left the team to take on a new opportunity. How did you get along with Forbes?

A: I got along with him really well. He’s a really personable guy. As a coach, you could relate to him because he’s on most players page. He was an easy guy to talk to and if you ever had an issue you could go to him. I liked him a lot. He’s very intelligent too as far as knowing the game.

Q: Ron Vogel has signed on to be the assistant coach. Do you know Ron at all?

A: I don’t know him personally. I just know of him from playing against him my rookie year, I think. If he can help Jaegs and I out, I’ll take his advice…

Q: It looks like Coach Wildfong is putting a first class team together again. What are your feelings about the upcoming season?

A: I’m thrilled. I actually feel better about this season than last season and I feel there’s no pressure to carry the load and make a statement in North Richland Hills about how the Brahmas are going to be. I’m just going to play my game and get back to basics. Like I said, I feel better than I did last year which makes me more excited about getting down there.

Q: How did you feel about the fan support that the team received?

A: It was excellent. I mean, we don’t have the number of fans as Shreveport and some of the other teams but that’s just something that will take time I think. After the season we had last year, I think the fans realize that we’re in it to have a successful team. I mean, when you win, it draws a bigger crowd. It’s a real tight-knit group, which is awesome. You can relate to all of them. They did a great job taking care of us and making us feel comfortable, especially being away from home.

Q: How did you like NYTEX and how do you feel as a player, playing in a smaller venue like that?

A: When you’re on the ice, it’s OK. I like personally playing in larger arenas with a big crowd in front of me but when we pack NYTEX, it feels just like that.

Q: What have you been doing during the off-season to keep in shape?

A: I haven’t skated a ton but I will go down to Providence for two weeks before I come down to camp. I just been training, doing a college workout that I picked up and it’s not too bad, probably four or five days in the gym and starting next week I’ll be on the ice a few times a week and I should be ready to go by camp.

Q: Is there anything you want to say to the fans about the upcoming season?

A: I’m looking forward to seeing all of the friends and fans that we made last year and I’m definitely excited about getting down there in four weeks.

Photo Credit: Robert Keith

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Brahmas Notes
  • Brahmas Head Coach Dan Wildfong and wife Kelly are expecting a baby boy! The due date is October 21st.
  • The player bus has had its mechanical overhaul completed and is in the process of being "wrapped" in a Brahmas logo. New carpeting has been installed and interior improvements are also being made.
  • The Brahmas bull has been added as a mural in the weight room and another huge mural is in the process of being painted on the wall behind sections V and W.
  • The Brahmas second annual "Making the Cut" tryout camp is rapidly approaching on September 26-28. Come and watch as prospects compete for two training camp contracts to be awarded at the conclusion of the camp.
  • There's still time to register for the annual Brahmas Kickoff Classic golf event on Saturday, October 4 and the Miniature Golf Tournament for kids aged 4-17 on October 5th. Sign up now!
The Insider Interview - Craig Minard

The veteran defenseman talks about his career, his season with the Brahmas and his thoughts on the upcoming season.

The Texas Brahmas have announced the re-signing of veteran defenseman Craig Minard for the 2008-09 season. I spoke with Craig recently about his experiences in professional hockey, how he came to join the resurgent Texas Brahmas and his thoughts on building upon the success of last season.

Q: Coming out of the University of New Brunswick, you signed with the Greenville Grrrowl (ECHL) and played there for a couple of seasons. You’ve been in the Central Hockey League for a long time. What do you feel are the differences between the two leagues?

A: It’s been a few years since I’ve played in the East Coast League but when I did make the transition, It was a mid-season transition, so I definitely saw the comparisons. I think maybe the East Coast is a younger league; you get a lot of the young guys coming right out of college to play there. Typically you get an older base (of players) in teams in the Central League. Skill-wise and speed-wise, the East Coast League might be a little better, but as far as a team game, I think the Central League is better. I definitely think that the top teams in both leagues are comparable. If they were to have a series between the two top teams, it would be a six or seven-gamer. I don’t think the differences are that great. I think now in the CHL, the parity in the league is unbelievable. It just shows you when Arizona comes in and wins last year, that anyone can really win in our league and every team’s in it right until the end. We had a bunch of real good playoff runs. I think in the East Coast League you have so many teams and sometimes the top teams run away with it.

Q: In the mid-season, 2001-02, you hooked up with the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs, where you spent most of your career in the CHL. How did that come about?

A: Well, actually Scott Muscutt and I were college roommates. My first year at UNB was his last. He was obviously the Mudbugs coach. I didn’t have the opportunity to come down right after college. I really wanted to. I had a buddy playing in Greenville and that door sort of opened up for me. When I was traded from Greenville the second year, it was pretty much a no-brainer. I called Musky right away and said, listen, I’ve been traded, but I’d rather just come to Shreveport. I just knew that was a place I could go and spend a few years. I wasn’t a young guy coming into pro. I was 25. I didn’t want to be traded. Obviously every guy wants to go to the next level but I knew in my head that Shreveport was likely somewhere I could go and play for a few years and I wasn’t willing to pack up and move every couple of months which often happens in the East Coast League. So I called Musky and we worked things out right away and I got there as soon as I could and spent the better part of five years there.

Q: You played 10 games with the Hull Stingrays in England during the 2004-05 season. What was your experience like playing there?

A: I can’t really say anything bad about it. For me, it didn’t work. I was very angry and frustrated at the end of the season before that when we lost that controversial game to Laredo in game seven, and I frankly just said to myself I didn’t want to play in the CHL anymore after all that went down. Playing for the Stingrays, it was an option that I had. It came on the table kind of out of the blue. I had family in England; my Mom’s whole family was from there. It seemed appealing at the time. It just wasn’t, like I’m a pretty competitive guy and I just didn’t feel like I was playing for something. You know, I was playing more for a paycheck and it just didn’t fit for me. I had a good time there; I wasn’t there very long (laughing) you know, and I really felt bad leaving – that’s not the type of person that I am, to go somewhere and quit. My girlfriend at the time, who’s now my wife, and her son were back in Shreveport. You know, the more I thought about it, I was sort of shooting myself in the foot. I wanted to go back and I really still wanted to win that championship that was stolen from me and the guys that I played with. I kind of turned it into something that was a positive for me and it still is. It drives me to this day to win that championship that they stole from me. It was a really tough decision. Like I said, I don’t like leaving a place and the coach there was unbelievable to me and that was the one big regret I had, that I left him.

Q: Was it pretty easy to make the decision to go back to Bossier?

A: Yeah, I called Musky. We kept in pretty good contact. You know, he wasn’t very happy that I left. Obviously, he wanted me back, but totally understood where my heart was and why I was so upset. The biggest thing for me in that whole thing was, I had a couple of really good buddies, that still to this day are probably my best friends in the world, on that team, and that was their last shot. And just to get robbed like that, I was furious. I mean I think I just took it out on the wrong people. My girlfriend suffered, I suffered. I felt like I should be back in Shreveport, so it was definitely a no-brainer.

Q: You had a great season in Bossier, in 2005-06 and then went on to play in Lubbock. The Cotton Kings, after the 2006-07 season, basically had the same situation that occurred with the Fort Worth Brahmas in the sense that they were having lease issues with the City Bank Coliseum and eventually made the decision to suspend operations. Unfortunately, they didn’t come back and the Brahmas did. How did it come about, joining with the Brahmas?

A: Well, I actually played as a kid with Dan Wildfong, and then obviously we played for five years together in Shreveport. I’ve known him since we were 10 or 11 playing together. As soon as there was talk that our team was folding, it was right around the same time that it was announced that he had gotten the job. I knew I was going to be a free agent so I called him to touch base. It was going to be Shreveport or the Brahmas. It was the two places that I wanted to be. I talked to Fonger a lot. I felt like I could come and be a part of building something. I just knew that it was going to succeed as soon as they hired me. I just knew it. The guy works so hard. He’s so passionate about everything that he does. Obviously, it made him a hated person in the league, but as a teammate, you couldn’t ask for a better person, a better guy and a better player. When I knew he was coming and Forbie was coming, I was thinking this was such a great opportunity to be a big part of something and help build something. I can remember playing in Shreveport coming over and thinking, man, what a place this would be to play in. What a great city. It’s too bad that they don’t do better, because it’s such a great place to be, you know.

Q: You ended up playing with a lot of your old teammates including Anders Strome from Lubbock and Dan, Forbie, Blair Manning, Scott Sheppard, Cacciola…was it kind of a Mudbugs reunion for you, coming in with the new Brahmas?

A: Yeah, and I think that was something that Dan had in his mind. There’s no question that Scott Muscutt is an unbelievable coach. He kind of sets the foundation not only for that season but he puts things in your head in order to make you a better player and a better person. I think just knowing that you can get players that are already in that mindset is a bonus. There were so many unknowns for Fonger coming in as a first-year coach, into a new city and if you have some familiar faces and you knew what you were getting out of them every night, that was a bonus for all of us and we loved playing together obviously. We had a good run there that last year in ‘05-06 and lost in the finals but had a great team, a good group of guys so the fact that we could get a couple of guys to come over was a big bonus for all of us.

Q: Dan has said that Musky was probably his biggest influence in his development as a coach. Did you see similarities in Dan as a coach versus a player in the way that Musky coached?

A: Oh definitely. Yeah, their personalities are very similar. First and foremost, they’re workers. When they played, and I played with both of them, they worked their tails off and they do the same thing as coaches. They’re both very passionate and intense. Everything you want in a coach. Sometimes, too intense, both of them, but I’d take that over not intense enough any day. They put it all on the line and expect that from their players. Some people can do it and some people can’t. I’m sure some of it was learned from Musky but I think definitely a lot of it is just that their personalities are similar. They’re very similar people.

Q: Coming in as a veteran defenseman, did you feel a sense of responsibility to help pull the D corps together last season?

A: Well, we had Vellinga who’s played for more years than I had, Chris Mann had played three or four years, Kinnunen had played four years pro. Laurila came in, just under a vet. Kevin (McLeod) was our only young defenseman in the sense that he hadn’t played any games pro. I knew the systems Fonger was going to want to use and a lot of that would be new to guys, so I felt as a player, I could maybe help out and try and understand how the system that he wanted to play was going to work and basically tell them that it would work. I don’t think I ever put any pressure on myself to try and pick up the slack or anything but I think that being an older guy, I love it. I love watching the young guys develop…I loved watching McLeod grow last year. What a player he turned out to be.

Q: How did you feel about the “slump” the Brahmas experienced around the New Year and what do you think contributed to everyone coming together and playing strong for the rest of the season?

A: I think there are a few factors. Every year, you’re going to go through your slumps and sometimes you need them. We started out really good, kind of riding high. I wouldn’t say we got cocky, but like I said before, there’s so much parity in the league and you have to be ready to play every night or you’ll lose. Flat out, you will not win because any team can beat you. I don’t think we thought that way, early on. There were certain games we thought, oh, you know, we should be able to slip through here with one. And then you get into December and some guys get thinking about Christmas and family stuff and distractions here and there. We had a few injuries, you know. Shep got hurt and that didn’t help us and we lost Thompson for a little while. I think there were a number of things that caused it. I don’t think we ever lost confidence in what we could do.

In January, we got on a roll and then we’d go on a road trip and we’d be looking to win two of three and we’d get all three. OK, that’s good, let’s go to the next week and we were, realistically, in a playoff battle from January on. If we had gone into another slump, we wouldn’t have made the playoffs.

At that time, Shreveport was kind of running away from everyone. Rocky Mountain was still gone as far as we were concerned. We had to catch Mississippi. Our leaders stepped up and were like, boys, if you haven’t been in this league, you’re going to find out and you better find out now, we could be out of the playoffs by February. That was sort of the thing that pushed us. Then we had guys healthy and guys started buying into the system and we saw that it was working. We just kept working hard and that was a big thing that Fonger always stressed, just keep working, keep working. We’ll lose some nights even when we’re working hard but let’s not throw any away. If a team’s going to beat us, they’re going to have to outwork us. That became sort of our war cry. It just turned out that more often than not that in the second half, if we outworked teams, we were winning. It was just a process from the first day. We said we were going to work hard. That was the biggest thing. We were going to work hard. We had our slump and we learned from it. You can go one way or the other and we learned from it and we got back on track and the timing was perfect for us.

Q: The rivalry between the Mudbugs and the Brahmas has been a big one over the years and it was good set of games during the regular season. After defeating Mississippi, I don’t think anyone was really sure what was going to happen in the series between the Bugs and the Brahmas. Certainly, no one expected that the Brahmas would sweep the Mudbugs. How sweet was that victory?

A: I just thought it was an amazing accomplishment for our team and our whole organization. I don’t think if you look at the series, it wasn’t like we swept them. I mean it wasn’t even close. Every game. Cameron scored that huge goal in game two with point three seconds or whatever it was, to basically steal that one from them. I think that was perhaps the turning point of the series. They knew they had to come to our rink for the next two, down 2-0. I still think that we went into a really great situation. We were definitely the underdogs. They were the Governor’s Cup Champions. They were expected to beat us. I think that they had a lot of pressure on them. It was probably one of the best accomplishments I’ve ever had as far as hockey goes, being able to beat them because they had a great team. Their goaltending was probably the best the league has ever seen as a one-two punch. Like I said before, we got it in our minds that if we outworked a team, we could beat them. We had a great team. We had big forwards. We had a mobile D that could move the puck. Both of our goalies were playing well. At that time, I don’t think it really mattered who we played. We were playing so well and we were confident in what we were doing. Fonger was confident and he was doing his homework, you know obviously we played them a lot during the season and had done well against them so I think we were just ready for them.

Q: The Brahmas pushed all the way to a game seven showdown with the Colorado Eagles. Although the outcome was not what you would have preferred, did you feel a sense of accomplishment as a player having done so well during the season and in the playoffs?

A: Yeah, maybe more so now. When it was over, I was disappointed. I still, to this day, think we had a better hockey team. The first game, I don’t think we were totally focused on what we needed to do after the series before that. We weren’t even there. It wasn’t us and we kind of handed them one. And then game two, I thought we outplayed them and just came up on the short end of it. It’s unfortunate – that’s the way things go. But like we said all year, you work to maybe win one the next night. Maybe you don’t deserve it until the next night. And we didn’t really deserve, you know the way we played in game one, we didn’t deserve to win game two. I look back at that as one of those that we let slip away. Game seven, I think if it was two minutes longer, I think we score and it goes into overtime for sure. That’s how much we were all over them. But it certainly was an accomplishment. They had a great team and I definitely think that we wore on them and that hurt them in the final. That’s why they were swept. I think we took a lot out of them. It’s still disappointing. I look back at it as one of those missed opportunities. We had two when I was in Shreveport. I thought both years we lost to Laredo, we could’ve beat them. I still feel the same way about that series against Colorado. We could’ve beat them…I don’t think we lost the series in the seventh game, I think we lost it in the first two.

Q: With the divisional realignment, besides Shreveport, a new rivalry for the Brahmas will be with the Laredo Bucks. What’s your feeling playing against the Bucks?

A: We played them twice last year. Both were really good games. They obviously are going to have a good team. They do every year. Ruskowski is one of the best coaches in the league. I love playing that team. Terry’s always got them ready to go every night. You’re not going to catch them on a bad night because they just don’t have them. You just got to be ready every time you play them.

I think that rivalries add to every game. The fans get into it and the players are up for them a little bit more. I think it’s going to be a great rivalry. I don’t think the one with Bossier is going to go away at all. I just think we’ve gained a new rival and it’s in our conference. Because points are so important in this league no matter what division it is, we play Shreveport 10 times and those points are going to be as important as those 7 games that we play against Laredo. So I think to have those two teams as our rivals – they’re two of the premier teams in the league – you get a chance to see how you stack up against the best teams in both conferences. I think it’s great.

Q: Dan’s put a fantastic team together again this year. There are still a few players that have signed that have not been announced by the Brahmas yet. But adding players like Jason Deitsch, Andrew Leach and Lance Galbraith and some of the others, what is your confidence level going into the season with this new team?

A: I’m confident that we’re going to work hard. Really, until we get on the ice and get going, I keep my mind pretty open. I’m more confident in Dan’s ability to recruit and to go get players that he wants to get. If he’s getting the players that he wants, I’m confident that we’re going to be competitive in the league for sure because he wouldn’t have them around if they couldn’t play his style. So, I’m excited, really excited because some of these guys I haven’t seen before. I‘ve never seen Deitsch play. I played against Galbraith when I was in Greenville, but it was a long time ago. I love the way he plays and the way he competes. So I‘m really excited. But like I said, until we get going on the ice and see how everyone fits together, there’s just so many unknowns. We need to come together as a team, that’s the biggest thing. We can have all the talent in the world but if guys are going in different directions, it’s just not going to work.

Q: In closing, the fan support was great for the first year of the new Texas Brahmas. How did you feel about the fans and the type of support that they gave to the players during the season?

A: Oh, it was incredible. I thought they were unbelievable. It didn’t matter if it was a Tuesday in November or in March on a Saturday night. We had our core group and they were passionate and you know, they just love their team unconditionally almost. Sometimes you wanted them to tell us we didn’t play well and they didn’t. They love being part of it. I honestly think that at the end of the year, our fans in our building won us some hockey games. It was an intimidating place to come in and play. We’re going to need it again this year. That’s something that as a player, you can’t say enough how important it is to have those people in the seats and cheering for you and making you feel like you’re doing a good job. I’ve played in front of 12,000 in Shreveport and I honestly think that there were nights at NYTEX that were louder with 2,000. I loved it. I love playing there.
Photo Credit: Chip Crail

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Insider Interview – Forbes MacPherson

The Texas Brahmas' former assistant coach talks about his year with the team and his decision to leave

Texas Brahmas fans were surprised recently to hear that Assistant Coach Forbes MacPherson has left the team. MacPherson, 36, has decided to leave hockey for a new opportunity and will be returning home to Prince Edward Island.

MacPherson joined friend and former teammate Dan Wildfong last season as they fulfilled a long-time dream of coaching their own team, their own way. In their championship quest, the Brahmas finished the regular season with a 40-22-2 record and reached the CHL playoffs for the first time since the 2000-01 season. They defeated the Mississippi RiverKings in the Semi-Finals and swept the Governor’s Cup champions, the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs in the Quarterfinals. In the Northern Conference Finals, they forced the defending President Cup Champion Colorado Eagles to the final minute of the 7th game before the season concluded, just one goal short of the finals.

Over his 10-year professional career, MacPherson recorded 642 points (225 G, 417 A) in 621 regular season games and 79 points (25 G, 54 A) in 94 post-season contests. He spent his last six seasons with the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs where he was selected as CHL All-Star in 2002 and was a member of their championship squads in both the 1998-99 and 2000-01 seasons.

I spoke with Forbie recently about his year with the Brahmas and his decision to leave hockey.

Q: After 10 seasons as a professional, the opportunity came up to be an assistant coach for the Texas Brahmas. How did this come about?

A: I was in the process of moving back to Prince Edward Island and Fonger had called me a couple of times on the phone during my travels. I never got to any of his phone calls so we didn’t even have a chance to talk. My wife and I were fully set on going back to Shreveport to play for another year. Then, when I got home, we were unpacking and my Mother said that Dan had called a couple of times. So then I thought, well maybe something’s up because he called me a bunch of times. So he called one more time and Mom said you’ve go to take this; it’s Dan and there might be something wrong. So then I kind of got a little worried and wondering what was going on. Anyway, he presented me with this opportunity. He said that he was going to be moving on and he was given the opportunity to be the head coach of the Brahmas and asked me if I’d join him and come along. That’s basically how it went down.

Q: So prior to that, you were under the impression that the two of you would be playing together again in Shreveport?

A: Yeah, I mean, I had no idea at all that he was going through the process of interviewing for the coaching position. As you know, Dan and I are best friends and we were roommates on the road in Shreveport for a long time. During those road trips we often talked a lot about how, if we had our own program, what we would take, the ideas that exist in Shreveport and the things that we would tinker with and change and add to our own program. At one time, it was our dream to have our own program. It was kind of crazy when it came into fruition. We were lucky enough to get the opportunity, so we took advantage of it.

Q: After such a long rivalry between the two teams, did you find it odd that you would be coaching with the Brahmas?

A: It’s funny because when they used to play downtown, the visiting team hotel was downtown so we used to walk back and forth to the rink after a pre-game skate or before the game or when we were in town practicing. We had a vision and we always used to say, Man, this would be a great program to get a hold of. We always just thought that this place would be an unbelievable program to be a part of. We thought if we ever got our hands on this, it would be almost like a dream situation.

Q: You had a short amount of time after accepting your positions as coach and assistant coach to put your vision and your team together. What was it like trying to get everything in place last summer in time for the 2007-08 season?

A: It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure. Both Dan and I believe that in order to win, you have to have the horses, as we say. Right away, I think, the most important part was getting our goaltender. David Cacciola was the first person signed and goaltending is the most critical position, so getting that sewed up right away, it really hid a lot of rookie coaching errors that we might have made. When you have a goalie back there and he’s making all the saves, it really makes our job easier. We were lucky when a couple of older guys jumped on board, guys who had been in the pros and had played many years like Blair Manning and Craig Minard. Our team started coming together and we started putting pieces of the puzzle together. We finished up with 19 guys on the roster and that’s what we started the season with but I can tell you we talked to hundreds of players last summer. Our roster changed numerous times. It’s not easy to get players to commit when you’re trying to sell them your program because every coach has the same pitch and they’re all trying to sell their program, so in the end, our roster changed quite a bit over the summer and we were fortunate to put together a real good team.

Q: The season started out pretty well but getting into mid-December thru the first week or so of January, the team kind of hit a slump. Some changes were made and Brett Jaeger was brought in and did really well splitting time with Cacciola. Then in mid-January, it seems like everyone came together and things began to steamroll. What do you think changed the direction for the team?

A: I think you touched on a couple of reasons. I don’t think it was one specific reason. We made a couple of changes in the lineup, Scott (Sheppard) was injured and he got back into our lineup. We added Brett Jaeger, which solidified our goaltending and gave Cash the opportunity to rest a little bit more. It also provided somebody to push Cash a little bit harder. Then just along with being a new team and gelling together and guys stepping up, we had maybe one or two guys that didn’t show up quite in the best shape. By that time, they started to get their legs underneath them. It was just a bunch of things that really came together. But that’s really what makes a season and makes a team. A lot of times you can go through those rough times and the season just kind of fizzles away after that. You’ve got to give credit to everybody associated with the hockey operations from the coaches, the players, the staff, everybody. We stuck our noses to the grindstone and together we really changed everything and turned the season around.

Q: Were you surprised that things overall went so well last season?

A: To be honest, No. I think that is the reason that Dan ended up getting the job because he believed that he could put together a winning team. From what I heard, some of the other more experienced coaches that were interviewing for the position thought it would be a two or three year process. Maybe Dan was naive, maybe he was inexperienced or maybe he was just confident. I don’t know what it was but right from day one he was preaching that this team was going to be successful and our goal was to win this year. We were used to winning in Shreveport. We believed we knew how to make that happen here. When I came on board, I bought in real quick. I believed that we could win right away also. From there it just went through each player. It’s not fair to yourself or the program if you sell yourself short. In order to be fair to the players and in order to recruit, players want to win and you’ve got to sell them that, listen, we can win this year, and you get those players that want to win.

Q: The playoff series with Shreveport was fantastic. Of course, they had a lot of injuries in their defense, so it wasn’t like playing them at the beginning at the season. Was it a pretty satisfying victory against your old coach and your old team?

A: First of all, we dealt with injuries during the year too. I mean when they beat us a couple of times, we were missing Scott Sheppard and we didn’t have Cacciola playing at his best. We had other guys that had the flu and were sick. That’s part of hockey. It happens every season. It’s just how you deal with it. You have to be able to deal with those things otherwise you just won’t win in the end. The second part of the question, it felt no better to beat Musky than any other team. There’s no bitterness there and no rivalry or hatred. I take that back, there’s definitely a rivalry. I wanted to win because basically, he stood in the way of what we wanted. We wanted to win the cup. To be honest with you, the second the game was over, game four, and we won the series, it was almost a little bittersweet. I still had a lot of good friends on that team and there’s guys that I played with that haven’t won a championship but have been real close on a number of occasions. They believed last year was their year. When they lost, I felt for them a little bit. Obviously we were ecstatic to be moving on. I didn’t feel any more special beating them than I did anybody else. I felt the same way when we beat Memphis. We just wanted to keep winning. We didn’t care who it was.

Q: The series against Colorado didn’t start out the way you would have liked. Anyone can go back and say what might have been done differently. Outside of the obvious disappointment in losing game 7, did you still feel good about what the team accomplished last season?

A: In the beginning, for the first few days, it was just complete disappointment. But after we got back to North Richland Hills, we started getting tons of feedback from the fans and the community and the ownership and the staff. It wasn’t until then, when it sank in that we did have a very successful year. We didn’t achieve the goal that we set forth to accomplish but in the end only one team does win a championship. When you take all factors into consideration, it was a very successful and very gratifying year.

Q: During the off-season an opportunity came up and gave you an option to move on and do something different. Can you tell a little bit about how that came about?

A: It came up in the middle of May. To be honest with you, at the time, it was actually a Sunday afternoon and it was totally unexpected. It just kind of blind-sided me. I was presented with an opportunity that is not hockey-related. It’s not in the hockey world at all. It was just basically something that I couldn’t turn down. It’s something that my family, my wife and I are really excited about. Obviously, I’m very passionate about hockey – it’s something I’ve done basically my whole life. This is going to be a new experience for me. Hockey puts you in a position as it doesn’t have a lot of security and it’s not a very stable profession. This opportunity is going to be kind of the opposite. It’ll provide me with a lot of security and stability. In the end, that’s basically why I decided to go in a different direction. You never know what the future holds. I could be back in hockey. Maybe the attraction to hockey will be too strong and I could be back maybe in a year or two, but for now this is the direction I’ve decided to go in.

Q: Do you find it hard to walk away from hockey?

A: Because this opportunity is a new challenge, it’s very exciting for me and I’m really ready to jump into this. I’m really comfortable making the transition right now. I’m actually really excited about it. It’s just something that’s different, something that will take a lot of my attention and that’ll help me kind of forget about hockey and will make the transition a little bit easier.

Q: The news of your leaving the team came as a surprise to the fans and some of the players. In closing, do you have anything to say to the players that are coming back and to the fans of the Brahmas?

A: To the players, something that Dan and I expressed to the players before last season’s team is that we obviously appreciate that they took a chance with Dan and I and they bought into what we were selling. A lot of these players have a lot of opportunities to go wherever they want in hockey and they were all willing to jump on board here and make things happen in North Richland Hills. We couldn’t have done it without them. That meant everything to us, that the players were really committed to what we were selling last year. To the fans and the Brahmas organization, my wife and I would like to thank everybody for everything they’ve done. We felt so welcome here and we loved it here so much. We are moving away right now but it’s only for one year. A year from now we will be back in this area and we’re going to make this place our home.

Photo Credit: Robert Keith

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Insider Interview – Jason Deitsch

The Texas Brahmas’ latest addition talks to the Insider about his amazing career and his goal of a championship for the Brahmas

The Texas Brahmas recently announced the signing of offensive powerhouse Jason Deitsch for the 2008-09 season. The 28-year-old center joins the Brahmas for his fifth professional season after splitting time last season in the East Coast Hockey League where he was a member of the 2008 Kelly Cup Champion Cincinnati Cyclones and in Europe.

In 69 regular season games played last season between Europe and the ECHL, He put up 64 points (27 G, 37 A) with 175 penalty minutes. He played in 22 playoff games with the Cyclones, tallying 18 points (5 G, 13 A) with 35 penalty minutes.

In 2006-07, Deitsch also played with Cincinnati and posted more than a point a game with 71 points (26 G, 45 A) in 69 games. His strong play earned him an opportunity to play for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (AHL) where he saw action in six games and netted one goal.

During his rookie season in 2005-06, Deitsch played for the Kalamazoo Wings (UHL), where he was the leading scorer on the team that captured the Colonial Cup. He tallied 87 points (38G, 49 A) in 72 games, the most by any rookie in the league. He was also named to the UHL’s All-Rookie team. He had 25 multi-point games, including six games with three or more and netted 37 points on the power play (18 G, 19 A).

Deitsch is the all-time leading scorer at St. Norbert College with 184 points (64 G, 120 A) in 122 games. St. Norbert posted a record of 101-13-10 during his career. In 2002-03, he gathered 53 points (19 G, 34 A) in 31 games, collecting a league-best 14 multi-point games. In 2003-04, he was the NCHA’s leading scorer, netting 53 points (19 G, 34 A) in 32 games. That season, St. Norbert lost in the NCAA Division III National Championship game, 1-0, in overtime. He had a league-best 19 multi-point games and 10 power play goals. In 2004-05, he was named a Division III All-America player, the first three-time pick in St. Norbert history. He was tied for the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association scoring lead with 47 points (16 G, 31 A).

I spoke to Jason recently about his past, his amazing scoring ability and his hopes for a championship with the Brahmas this season.

Q: Growing up in West Cincinnati, how were you introduced to Hockey?

A: My Dad started playing men’s league. I don’t know how old he was. I know I started when I was three. I have two older brothers and a twin brother. He got us all started. I think my oldest brother started when he was four. Dad got into men’s hockey and he liked it a lot. He was never that good at it. He loved the game. He loved it so much that he got us involved in it. We all just loved it from the start.

Q: Would you say that as a young man your Dad was your biggest influence?

A: Absolutely. I’d say he still is. He’s the hardest worker at everything he does. If I could work as hard as him, in a lot of things, I’ll be a very happy guy.

Q: You started out in the NAHL and did very well. How did you like playing in that league, especially with the Texas Tornado?

A: It was a great experience coming down here. I played in the North American league before I got here. I played in Gaylord, Michigan when I was 17. Being in the league was very good. The opportunity to come to Texas was just kind of a weird actually, to come to Texas to play junior hockey. Tony Curtale got the coaching job and he called me. I knew he had been a good coach and he was going to put together a good team and I thought it would be a great opportunity hockey-wise and just life experience to come down here and see a different part of the country.

Q: How did you end up playing at St. Norbert College (NCHA) in Wisconsin?

A: It was more my (twin) brothers’ decision that anything. He had been talking to the coaches and I talked to the coaches a little bit. We wanted to go to school together and we ended up going to St. Norbert together. Then after the first semester, he left and I stuck it out. I’m actually glad I did. I’m glad I was there for four years. But the ultimate decision to go there was more his than mine.

Q: It’s an understatement to say that you had a great run at St. Norbert. You are their all-time leading scorer, in fact, one of the NCHA’s leading scorers. You were named a Division III All - America player three times. How would you describe your experience there?

A: It was an unbelievable experience. I mean, just being there and being on a team like that. I think we lost 13 games in four years. Obviously, the numbers I put up were great. I would have given up some of those numbers to win a national championship in a heartbeat. But just the experience of being there, playing on a team; I mean, I met so many guys that I still talk to. It’s four years of your life that you can never take back and I don’t regret one bit of it. It’s one of those things that I thought about before – what if I could have gone Division I, where would I be now? But being where I am now, I wouldn’t change anything. I have no regrets for being where I was and I definitely enjoyed the four years that I was there.

Q: How disheartening was it, losing 1-0 in overtime in the NCAA Division III National Championship?

A: It’s unexplainable. Being there and being in that final game. The game was, it was the national championship game. From both ends of the ice, their goalie played well, our goalie played well. We had scoring chances. They had scoring chances. It was just a great game. To lose that game was very frustrating because that’s what you’re there for; I was there for four years of college to try to win at least one championship. That was my junior year. It just didn’t happen. That year the seniors who I’d become really good friends with, I think we only had three seniors, but to see them lose that final game that way when we were so close to winning the championship…it was hard to see those guys leaving the ice for the last time. I had another year to go back and try to win another one, but to see those guys, but to see those guys, who like I said were good friends of mine, to see them leave the ice that way was frustrating. We had the team that could’ve won it and there was just a fluky bounce that ended up in the back of our net in overtime.

Q: How did you hook up with the Kalamazoo Wings (UHL) after you got out of school?

A: After that year, two guys from St. Norbert went to Kalamazoo and played and the coach was asking if there were any other guys that would come the next year and they both told him about me because I definitely had aspirations to go and play pro after. I took a lot of my classes the first two years of school so I could leave and not really miss anything in my senior year. So, I kept in touch with him that year, throughout the season knowing that I wanted to play and he wanted to bring me down there. So, it was the guys before me that went and kind of kept me in touch with their coach and it worked out well.

Q: You had a tremendous rookie year in 2005-06 with the Wings, culminating with winning the Colonial Cup and your numbers were ridiculous…87 points…how do you describe that year?

A: Being my first full season pro, it was unbelievable. We had a very good team put together there. All championship teams, you have to be good from top to bottom and to be honest, I was a third line player on that team and put up that many points because our third line was so much better than anybody else’s third line. Just the guys I played with, Lucas Drake and Dustin Virag, we stuck together from pretty much January on. We had such chemistry, we played so well together and it just made things a lot easier. Just the experience of lifting that cup was unbelievable.

Q: Coming back to Cincinnati and playing back at home in the ECHL, how was that for you being able to play in front of a home town crowd?

A: It was a great experience. It was a big part of the reason I went back there. When I was in college, I played six hours away. When I was here in Texas, I played 13 hours away. My parents would try to make it as much as possible and in college, if we played at home, they were pretty much there every weekend. So, to go that close to home, my parents live in Indianapolis now, so it was a two hour drive for them, that’s nothing to them any more. But to be in front of my Grandma and Aunts and Uncles, with a lot of people always coming out to the games, it’s just, you know you see a lot of these guys that were from Canada and places that are far away, their parents don’t make it to any games or they make it once of twice a year and it’s just unbelievable to have the family support there almost every night.

Q: You began last season in Munich. How did you come to sign with the German team?

A: I talked with some different guys that had gone over there. A big part of why I went over there was for the money. It was a good experience. It was just kind of a frustrating time over there. The team was struggling. I was talking to Cincinnati and wanting to come back after that and they were in first place at the time and for Chuck to want me to come back, to be on a first place team, that said a lot for me, that he really wanted me there. But the experience in Germany, it was definitely an experience. In the future, I could see myself going back. I don’t know when or where but it was definitely a good experience. I’m glad I did it.

Q: Your numbers are huge. From the beginning, you’ve been a strong scorer. Ho do you explain that?

A: I don’t know. I think the biggest part of my game I think is my vision on the ice. The way I see the game develop. I don’t think I’m a very good skater. I would say I’m more of a playmaker than anything. I think everything that I earn, I just work hard and earn it. A lot of my goals you’ll see are from three feet in front of the net, just working hard in front of the net, tapping in loose pucks. I don’t know. It’s tough to explain. The will and want to get the job done and whatever it takes to help the team I guess.

Q: Did you have anybody in particular throughout your career in the pro leagues that has been an influence, or who you pattern your game after?

A: Not really. I know my strengths and weaknesses and I just try to play to my capability. You don’t want to try to do too much. You don’t want to not do enough. I just try to work hard and do the things that I do well to help each team along the way.

Q: You’ve shown that you’re willing to drop the gloves when necessary and you’re tough. I’ve watched a few of your fights and they’re brutal. Did you fight a lot with your brothers growing up?

A: Yeah, I mean, obviously four boys growing up in one house, we obviously fought a little bit. My oldest brother didn’t really move on in junior hockey. He played midget and kind of ended it and he went to the Army. But my other two brothers, we played juniors together, the one year in Gaylord and those two guys are two of the toughest guys I’ve probably ever played with in my life. They’ll fight anybody, they’ll take a punch, and they’ll throw a punch. You know, I wouldn’t really consider myself a great fighter. I’m willing to fight if it needs to be done, you know, to protect a teammate or something like that. I definitely wouldn’t say that’s part of my game. I just, like I said, you have to do whatever it takes to protect a teammate. In junior, my twin brother and I fought. We were on different teams and he hit my goalie so we fought, so whatever it takes to help your teammate on the ice.

Q: Are those two brothers still playing hockey?

A: No, they’re both done.

Q: You’ve been around NYTEX a lot this summer and you helped Dan Wildfong out with his hockey camp. How did the idea of you coming on board with the Brahmas come together?

A: Actually, when I was coming back from Germany, I had talked to Dan and this was a good fit for me. I had some talks with him. I thought I was maybe going to come here and I started to talk to Cincinnati again and having played for them the year before just felt like a better situation for me this past season. The new assistant coach, Ron Vogel, I played with here in Texas and he’s a really good buddy of mine so was talking to him along the way. He was talking to Dan and talking to me and we were kind of both talking. So it kind of started right away from when I came back from Germany and we stayed in contact a little bit throughout the end of our season and as soon as our season ended, we got in contact again.

Q: What is your familiarity with the Central Hockey League?

A: With the league, I’m not really familiar at all. I really know nothing about the league. I mean, just from what I hear. The first few games are going to be really interesting, to see the league and see what it’s going to be like.

Q: What are your expectations playing with the Brahmas this season?

A: I think Dan wants to win just as much or more than any coach I’ve ever talked to. To see what he did last year as a first year coach to put together a team and then to see the guys that he is signing back this year and the new guys that he’s bringing in. You know, it’s really exciting for me because the ultimate goal every year is to win a championship. For the players, we don’t make a ton of money so the longer you play in the season, the more money you make. The playoff bonuses, I mean you play for all those little things. The ultimate goal is to lift that cup. Having played three years pro and winning two championships, that feeling is the most unexplainable feeling ever, I mean when you lift that cup…we played 22 games with Cincinnati in the playoffs this year and from start to finish it’s a battle. The will and want and the commitment. The whatever it takes to win. I know Dan’s got that here and he’s going to demand that from every player and that’s why I think this is going to be a really exciting year.

Q: Do you have anything in particular to say to the Texas Brahmas fans?

A: It’s exciting to be out here again. I don’t know how many of the same fans will be out here to watch but its very exciting to be back here and play in the same building I played in, I guess, nine years ago now. I look forward to meeting a lot of the fans and to try to help win a lot of games for the fans here.

Photo Credit: Cincyhockey11

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Grant Jacobsen shines with the Manchester Phoenix

Former Texas Brahma speaks to the Insider as his season with England's Elite League begins

After contributing to the Texas Brahmas' success on the ice last season, center Grant Jacobsen took advantage of an opportunity to travel to England to play in the Elite Ice Hockey League, signing with the Manchester Phoenix.

Among his new teammates are former rivals from the 2007-08 season, including Josh Garbutt (Rio Grange Valley Killer Bees), Alex Dunn and Nathan Ward (Odessa Jackalopes), David Beauregard (Tulsa Oilers) and Kyle Bruce (Wichita Thunder).

The Phoenix posted two wins to open their season last weekend with a 4-3 win over the Hull Stingrays and a 5-4 penalty shootout victory against the Newcastle Vipers, including a goal by Jacobsen.

I contacted Grant in England recently and here's our chat.

Q: How did you feel about your performance with the Brahmas and the level of play in the CHL vs. the ECHL?

A: I think I had an OK year; you're always gonna have ups and downs over the course of a season but I think last year went well. I was very surprised by how good the CHL was and how competitive the league was.

Q: Were you surprised the Brahmas did so well last season?

A: I wasn't surprised at all on how good the team was last year. We had a good group of guys, good coaching and things came together at the right time.

Q: Would you have considered another season in the CHL or did you want to do something else?

A: I was planning on going back to Texas for this season and would definitely want to go back there another year.

Q: How did you come to sign with Manchester?

A: I came over here on a word of mouth thing. I didn't really know anyone, it just kinda happened.

Q: How do you like the U.K. so far?

A: It's been good so far. The people, city and team have been great. I just wanted to get out and see more of the world.

Q: Any kind of shout out to the Brahmas and their fans?

A: Ya, I really had a great time last year and would go back in a heart beat. It was the funniest year of hockey I've had so far and really enjoyed myself, thanks again to everyone there.

Photo Credit: Robert Keith