Saturday, May 30, 2009

A few minutes with...Greg McConnell

The Texas Brahmas agitator speaks with the Insider about his role on the team, winning the Cup and his plans for the future

If you played against the Texas Brahmas during the 2008-09 campaign, chances are that Greg McConnell pestered the hell out of you. The 6', 1" 220-pound forward played the role of agitator well, hounding the crease and doing everything he could to annoy, anger, or distract opponents in order to get them off of their game or cause them to take a penalty. He got into more scrapes and served more time in the penalty box than most of his teammates.

During the regular season, McConnell, in his second season pro out of Bowdoin University, contributed 16 points (8 G, 8 A, +5, 88 PIM) in 60 games played. He played in 15 of 16 games during the playoffs and tallied five points (2 G, 3 A, +3, 27 PIM) including the game-winner in Game 4 against the Colorado Eagles.

McConnell took apart Odessa's Jean Bourbeau in Game One of the Southern Conference Championship

McConnell wasn't the flashiest player or the highest scorer on a squad deep in forwards, but there's no doubt that a player who brings grit, distraction (to foes), a good work ethic and the occasional goal to the table can be a very valuable commodity.

Playing with a sore shoulder, aggravated back in January, McConnell was a hard-worker who showed a lot of fortitude in his play and certainly was an invaluable member of the 2008-09 Texas Brahmas.

I spoke with Greg this morning at the players' apartment complex in North Richland Hills. Here is our conversation.

Q: I think I labeled you as the Brahmas' agitator early on in the season. There were times where I was so amused at an opposing player who got sent to the penalty box for retaliating after a check you had finished.

A: Well, I just try and go out there and stir the pot; try to get the other teams' mind off the game and onto me. I just did whatever I could. Try to be a little rowdy out there...

Q: So were you intentionally trying to be an instigator?

A: Yeah, I didn't want them to like me. It was fun out there. I know my role was to go out there and stir the pot and do that sort of stuff.

Q: Let's talk about Game Five. Going into the game, as an individual, did you have a pretty good idea that you guys were going to wrap it up at NYTEX?

A: Well, you know we hoped. We were all pretty confident in the locker room. We didn't come out as strong as we would have liked to in the first period...

Q: Yeah, the Eagles scored pretty quickly...

A: Yeah, but we had a great group of leaders on the team who kept us all together. We didn't panic. Just going out there and feeling confident was huge for us.

Q: It was pretty obvious, half-way through the game that it was pretty much a done deal. Just a matter of getting through the rest of the game. What were you thinking, knowing that you pretty much had it won and just had to hold on for the rest of the game?

A: There was some excitement but, you know, we didn't want to get too far ahead of ourselves. They had a great team and they could score a few goals quickly, so we just tried to keep our emotions in check and to finish out the game. The last few seconds, we got pretty excited. We knew that it had all come to was a pretty great feeling.

Q: So the final buzzer goes off and there are hats and gloves flying and the team merges on the ice to celebrate. From an emotional standpoint, where were you at right there?

A: I can't even describe it. It was so great. All the guys' hard work...from Fonger and Ronnie, throughout all the Summer last year. Guys training and just everything coming together to that moment was, it was something special.

Q: I took a great picture of you kissing the Cup. At that moment when it was passed to you and you've got it in your hands...what was that feeling like? You had really worked hard towards it, you had bought in to everything Fonger had said and you did what you had to do, like you said, play your role and then you get to that moment where the Cup is in your hands. What was that feeling like?

A: It was pretty surreal. It didn't really sink in until a few days after...what we had done and what we had accomplished. Just skating around that ice with all the fans that you know, support us over the last two years, there waiting and sticking around, it was a great feeling.

Q: Yeah, it was quite a night - once in a lifetime; but maybe not. You know, next season will be here before you know it. Are you planning on sticking around? Have you made any decision about playing with the Brahmas next season?

A: Well, you know I'm going to go home and get my shoulder better and relax for a bit, get away from hockey for a couple of weeks and hopefully come back and work something out. This is definitely a place I'd want to be. I made a lot of great friends throughout the fan club and the community, so I definitely love this area and this team and this organization.

Photo Credits: Robert Keith

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Jason Deitsch waves to the crowd after being announced as playoff MVP

Brahmas re-sign playoff MVP Jason Deitsch

First player signed from championship team

He's a four-time champion, having contributed to the 2001 Robertson Cup Champion Texas Tornado (NAHL), the 2006 Colonial Cup Champion Kalamazoo K-Wings (UHL), 2008 Kelly Cup Champion Cincinnati Cyclones and now the 2009 Ray Miron President's Cup Champion Texas Brahmas.

The most valuable player of the 2009 Central Hockey League Playoffs is also the first member of the championship team to be signed to the 2009-10 roster.

"Deitsch was a key element in winning the Cup last season, and with his return, it will put us back on track for another great year. He has proven to be a franchise player and we look forward to what he can bring next season," said head coach Dan Wildfong.

Deitsch split the regular season playing with the Brahmas and the Houston Aeros (AHL), posting 44 points (20 G, 24 A) in 36 games for Texas and 15 points (4 G, 11 A) in 28 games with the Aeros. In the postseason, he scored an amazing 26 points (11 G, 15 A) in 16 games, including a hat trick in Game Five against the Colorado Eagles, rightly earning the title of playoff MVP.

The 29-year-old center joined the Brahmas last September for his fifth professional season after splitting time during the 2007-08 season with the Cincinnati Cyclones and Munich EHC in Germany. In 69 regular season games played between Europe and the ECHL, he put up 64 points (27 G, 37 A) and 175 penalty minutes. He played in 22 playoff games with the Cyclones, tallying 18 points (5 G, 13 A) and 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 with 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).

He played for four seasons in the NAHL, including two seasons playing under coach Tony Curtale with the Texas Tornado. During his time playing Junior A, he tallied 173 points (73 G, 100 A) and 403 penalty minutes.

When I first spoke to Jason last year, he talked about his reasons for signing on with the Brahmas.

"I think Dan wants to win just as much or more than any coach I’ve ever talked to," he said. 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....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."

You can bet with Jason Deitsch back on the squad, we're in for another exciting year.

You can read my in-depth interview with Deitsch from last September here

Photo Credit: Robert Keith

Monday, May 25, 2009

Texas Brahmas are busy planning for a repeat

Recruiting book online

No doubt coaches Dan Wildfong and Ron Vogel are busy working the phones, e-mail and texts as they are well under way in putting together another championship caliber team for the upcoming 2009-10 season. As usual, I won't be posting what I know until Fonger wants it public, although some information is already out there.

In the meantime, take a look at the the recruiting booklet that Meagan McClurkan has put together and posted on the Brahmas' website. Fantastic job Meagan!

You can view the book here

Image Credit: Texas Brahmas
Vacation's over

Year two of the Insider begins

OK, I think I've had enough rest.

A year ago, May 22nd to be exact, I began this blog. A blog, because it seemed the hip thing at the time and also because it is free (for now) and easy to update. The Texas Brahmas Insider (name inspired by the Mudbugs Insider), the suggestion of fellow season ticket holder Gina B., was meant to be a third source for information on the fans of the boys from North Richland Hills. Meagan McClurkan was doing a great job with the team website. John Blanding had the forum humming along. But something was missing. Besides press releases and opinion and debate, I wanted more content. Interviews, detailed player bios, game previews, game reports, photos; all things I couldn't get anywhere else. I figured the fans might like that as well.

If I was going to do a blog, I wanted it to be on the Brahmas, and for the most part, nothing else. If there wasn't any news or information to write about, I would go and find it. I didn't want to be one of those out there like Rajan, who does a good job (paid to do so) of covering his team but is also a cut and paste, click here clearinghouse of all things CHL and hockey in general. This is about the Brahmas and I think I've created something that doesn't exist elsewhere (yet) in the CHL.

After publishing the first draft of the Insider, I heard from Mike Barack soon enough. I actually meant to contact him before publishing, but I got excited. Mike was very gracious and gave me permission to use Brahmas logos and graphics, etc. and we began what has been a very good relationship. I met with Dan Wildfong in June and did the first interview of many to come. It wasn't long before things took off and soon the Insider was getting some readers. In addition, I've heard from friends and families of the players. I heard from a U.S. Congressman. I've heard from other bloggers and news organizations in other countries. I've gotten a lot of encouragement from all of these, but none more than I've gotten from the fans. That makes it all worth while.

In the course of the past year, I've met a lot of people, made a lot of friends and had a lot of great experiences (many of them in the once in a lifetime variety). Of course, I owe a lot to the entire Brahmas organization (too many to name individually and no one more important than the other) who not only accepted what I was doing from the beginning, but also supported it and helped it grow. Truly an amazing and gracious group of people.

I'd also be remiss, if I didn't mention the support of my wife, who wasn't a fan of ice hockey but grew to become a fan of the Brahmas over the last year. After the birth of our second daughter last January, she decided to have a defect in her heart corrected by surgery, which was done in June. In October, she completed her first Olympic triathlon and has since finished two more (including one today in Austin) in addition to numerous 5K and 10K runs. Truly a superstar in my eyes. I wouldn't be able to do any of this without the support she provides and the sacrifices she endures.

Well, after a year of blogging and over 12,000 photos published (here) and with a championship won, it's time to start again. Time to cover the road to the repeat. That's right, I said it. Seriously, and I'll use a phrase I've said to myself all during the past season - who can beat these Brahmas? Does anyone think that won't see a Brahmas/Eagles rematch next May? OK, maybe it will be the Brahmas and the RiverKings. Or how about the Mudbugs? Yeah, I'd like to see that more than anything.

So what's new in the world of the Insider? stay tuned...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Brahmas add two

Acquire forward, defenseman to complete trades

The Brahmas announced today that they have acquired right wing Chris Shaffer from Corpus Christi and defenseman Jamie McKinven from Amarillo to complete trade commitments from
the past season.

Chris Shaffer

Shaffer, 29, a 5’ 11", 195 pound winger from Dryden, Ontario, is approaching his fifth as a professional. He played three seasons of Junior A hockey with the Thunder Bay Flyers (USHL), tallying 84 points (37 G, 47 A) and 375 penalty minutes in 161 games played.

He attended Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario and played three seasons with the Thunderwolves (OUA). During his time at Lakehead, he amassed 94 points (42 G, 52 A) and 171 penalty minutes in 77 games played.

Shaffer went pro in 2005-06, signing with the Youngstown Steelhounds. He scored 22 points (10 G, 12 A), leading the 'hounds in rookie scoring in 42 games played. The following season, he played in all but two regular season games and tallied 28 points (12 G, 16 A). 12 games into the 2007-08 season, he was acquired by the Corpus Christi Rayz as part of the deal that sent Jason Baird to Youngstown. He scored five points (3 G, 2 A) with the Steelhounds and then played in 51 games with the Rayz, contributing 16 points (8 G, 8 A). He had six points (3 G, 3 A) in 42 games played with Corpus Christi last season.

This transaction completes the three-way trade between the Brahmas, Wichita Thunder and Corpus Christi dated back from February 4, which included sending Marc Belanger to Wichita.

Jamie McKinven

McKinven, at 6’1" and 194 pounds could bring some size to the Brahmas' blueline. The 27-year-old native of Kingston, Ontario, played Junior A with the Kingston Voyageurs (OPJHL) during the 2000-01 season, scoring 26 points (5 G, 21 A). He attended Clarkson University (NCAA) in New York, playing three seasons with the Golden Nights. During his time there, McInven scored 11 points (2 G, 9 A) in 56 games played.

He went pro during the 2007-08 season, playing in 13 games with the Augusta Lynx (ECHL). He had one assist and 19 penalty minutes during the regular season. In the post-season, he had a goal and 8 penalty minutes in five games played.

McKinven began last season with the Lynx, playing in seven games before signing with the Amarillo Gorillas. He registered 16 points (6 G, 10 A) in 54 games played. His six goals ranked second on the Gorillas roster among all defenseman.

This transaction completes the Alex Greig and Ryan Waldner trade from October and November.

This ties up the loose ends of last season for the Brahmas regarding trades. Will either of these players make the 2009-10 roster? Sure, they have an opportunity. They also provide Dan Wildfong with two players to expose for the upcoming expansion draft. We'll know more in time.

Photo Credits: Corpus Christi IceRays, Amarillo Gorillas.

Brahmas to appear at Fort Worth Cats home opener

The Brahmas continue their celebration of their CHL Championship tomorrow night as they will be honored by the Fort Worth Cats at LaGrave Field in their home opener.

Several players and Brahmas coaches Dan Wildfong and Ron Vogel will be on hand with the Ray Miron President’s Cup. Country Western legend Charlie Pride will also be on hand to sing the Star Spangled Banner. There will be fireworks and the first 2,500 fans will receive magnetic schedules.

The game begins at 7:05 PM. If you haven't experienced a Cats game before, try to make it out there tomorrow. I guarantee you'll have a blast!

For more information on Fort Worth Cats baseball, visit their website here

Texas Brahmas honored at North Richland Hills City Council Meeting

Last year, Texas Brahmas players, coaches, owners and fans joined together at the chambers of the North Richland Hills City Council to be honored for their first season successes. The scene was repeated on Monday night but this time, it was to celebrate the 2009 Central Hockey League Champions.

With the Ray Miron President's Cup on display, city councilman and Brahmas season ticket holder Tim Welch read a proclamation from the City as Mayor Trevino and the other council members donned their Texas Brahmas 2009 Championship hats.

You can view the video from the event here

Photo Credit: John Blanding

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Team Captain Craig Minard displays the President's Cup at Saturday's parade in North Richland Hills
(Photo by Jenifer Coker Harrell)

Brahmas, fans celebrate championship win

Jersey auction, parade and fan club lunch among highlights

Still basking in the afterglow of their 1st Central Hockey League championship, the Brahmas players enjoyed celebrating with fans and supporters before going their separate ways to enjoy the off-season.

On Friday night, fans packed Zuroma's Sicilian Kitchen at NYTEX and got another look at the Ray Miron President's Cup and welcomed the Brahmas players who took part in a game-worn sweater auction.

Jordan Cameron and Tyler Skworchinski arrive at Zuroma's to celebrate with the fans
(Photo by John Blanding)

Scott Sheppard poses with the proud new owners of one of his playoff sweaters
(Photo by Marcie Lynn McCarthy)

On Saturday morning, the city of North Richland Hills hosted a parade in honor of the Brahmas accomplishment. An early morning rain ceased in time for the event. The parade route began at the NYTEX Sports Centre and headed north on Hawk before going westbound on Mid-Cities Boulevard toward the Hometown neighborhood. The final destination was back at ZuRoma's.

Fans lined up early to support their champions
(Photo by Russell Farris)

Cars lined up along the Birdville High School parking lot on Hawk Avenue and fans lined the streets with signs aloft and cowbells ringing as they cheered on their champions. Finals MVP Jason Deitsch wore a fireman’s hat as he rode in the back seat of fire truck No. 223, which led the way along with two police motorcycles. Brahmas players rode in the back of trucks as the procession made its way along the parade route. Team captain Craig Minard was the last player to pass, as he sat in the back of a blue Corvette with the Ray Miron President's Cup.

Beaming with pride, North Richland Hills mayor Oscar Trevino spoke to the crowd wearing a Brahmas jersey bearing his name and the No. 1.

"We can’t say how happy we are that the Texas Brahmas have done what they’ve done," he said. "What you all did with this facility is a testament to what your team can do. We wish you the best for the future, and you’ve started something. So next year guess what we’re expecting?"

The North Richland Hills Police and Fire Departments led the parade
(Photo by Marcie Lynn McCarthy)

Brahmas players heading towards the parade route
(Photo by Marcie Lynn McCarthy)

The players then traveled to Texas Land and Cattle in Bedford for a fan club luncheon. Awards were handed out by the fan club and a great time was had by all before the players departed for
their off-season destinations.

Texas Brahmas Fan Club President Mary Bradford gives an award to assistant coach Ron Vogel
(Photo by John Blanding)

Metro Sports on Time Warner Cable will keep the celebration going as they will honor the 2009 CHL Champs by showing Brahmas playoff games all day on Saturday, May 16.

The channel will showcase all the playoff games the station covered, including Game Five, the Championship game against the Colorado Eagles. The games will be televised from 8 AM until 11 PM. Metro Sports can be found on channel 185 on Time Warner Cable.

The Brahmas organization is also busy preparing a DVD of the Championship that will be available for sale soon.

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Little House in Texas (NYTEX)

A Little House in Texas
By Russell Farris

A little house in Texas
That once was dark and dreary
Broken windows, dried up ice
Once held a bankers misery

While raging in a nearby town
A fight for life and home
Turned out into the darkness
No place to call their own

Heart and hope were kept alive
By the true and the faithful
Not knowing at the time
A destiny only known in fables

Those once cast into the darkness
Found light in that little house
Old friends and new, they came together
The crowds grew by word of mouth

New battles raged within its walls
Cowbells heard for miles around
Stomping feet, and calls for chicken meat
Couldn't raze that house to ground

Clashing sticks, blood and ice
Two years that war was fought
Bringing tears and screams of joy
For the one goal that they had sought

Tonight we gather hand in hand
Our friends and warriors we lift up
And that little house, once dark and dreary
Is now home to a shiny cup

Thursday, May 7, 2009

2009 Central Hockey League Champions!

Texas Brahmas win Ray Miron President's Cup, Jason Deitch is MVP

After 11 seasons of hockey in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, the Texas Brahmas have won the 2009 Ray Miron President's Cup Championship with a 4-to-1 series win over the Colorado Eagles. Forward Jason Deitsch scored the hat trick in the 6-2 win and was selected as the 2009 Playoff MVP.

"There are no words to explain this," Deitsch told the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram "It’s an unbelievable feeling. This is a group of guys we will never forget for the rest of our lives."

The Eagles came out strong in the first period, outshooting Texas 15-9 and opening the scoring for the second game in a row.

Brahmas defenseman Justin Kinnunen was sent to the penalty box for tripping at the 2:46 mark, setting up the Eagles' first power play of the evening. After receiving Aaron Schneekloth's pass from the left point, Ed McGrane, who was wide open in the right circle, sent his shot in past Brett Jaeger to take the 1-0 lead at the 3:22 mark. Ryan Tobler was also in on the assist.

But Texas matched the Eagles' power-play goal with one of their own at the 10:39 mark, when Jordan Cameron sent a shot in from the high slot. Andrew Penner made the save but Jason Deitsch was there to get the rebound at the right side of the crease and sent the puck in to take make it a 1-1 game. Tyler Skworchinski also assisted.

The period ended for the second night in a row with an even score. The second frame would also be a replay of Tuesday's game as the Brahmas put up four goals in the first 7:25 of the period (matching a franchise record for goals against in a playoff period), three of them on the power play.

It only took 30 seconds for the onslaught to begin. Brandon Benedict, assisted by Deitsch and Scott Sheppard, beat Penner to take the 2-1 lead.

Colorado's collapse soon afterwards when defenseman Erik Adams was called for hooking. 15 seconds into the man-advantage, Deitsch scored his second consecutive power play goal off a rebound after Scott Sheppard sent his shot in from between the circles. Brandon Benedict was credited with the assist.

After Eagles forward Brett Hammond was called for tripping, Jordan Cameron scored an unassisted power play goal to make it 4-1 after skating into the offensive zone and stick handling through the slot before back handing the puck over Penner's shoulder.

Colorado managed to cut the score in half with a 4-on-4 goal at the 9:51 mark when Aaron Schneekloth took Riley Nelson's pass from below the goal line and sent in a backhander of his own to make it a 4-2 game.

Unable to build any momentum, the Eagles penalty killers would give up another power play goal at the 18:40 mark when Grant Jacobsen sent in a wrister from the left circle to make it a 5-2 contest. It was the third consecutive game in which Penner would give up five goals to the Brahmas and the fourth time in the series. Colorado narrowly outshot the Brahmas 12-11 in the middle frame.

For the second game in a row, Morgan Cey started the third period in net for Colorado. He was solid, stopping all six shots faced but the Brahmas, who had gone into defensive mode, eventually scored the final tally with an empty-net goal by Deitsch at the 17:30 mark. Brandon Benedict and Nathan Saunders were credited with the assist.

The Eagles outshot the Brahmas for the third consecutive period with a 13-7 advantage and ended the game with a 40-27 shot lead. After a tremendous season and the Governor's Cup on the shelf, Colorado was sent home for the second consecutive year without the league championship.

Brett Jaeger stopped 22 of 25 shots for his 12th playoff win. Andrew Penner took his sixth post-season loss, stopping 21 of 26 shots.

Once again, the Eagles lost the special teams battle as the Brahmas went 4-for-7 on the power play and shut down the Eagles on five of their six chances. Colorado was assessed 16 minutes on eight infractions. Texas was given 14 minutes on seven infractions.

The 3rd star went to Jordan Cameron, who had a goal and two assists on the night. The 2nd star went to Brett Jaeger for his outstanding performance in net and the 1st star went to Jason Deitsch with three goals and an assist.

Deitsch was named the CHL's 2009 Playoff MVP with 26 points (11 G, 15 A, +9) in the post-season, including five power play goals, eight power play assists, a short-handed goal and two game-winners. This is the high-scoring forwards' fourth championship win. Last season, he was a member of the Cincinnati Cyclones (ECHL) Kelly Cup Championship team. In 2006, he won a Colonial Cup Championship with the Kalamazoo K-Wings (UHL) and in 2001, he won a Robertson Cup with the Junior A Texas Tornado (NAHL).

You can view the box score here

You can view my photos of the game here

You can view my photos of the cup presentation/on-ice celebration here

You can view my photos of the locker room celebration here

You can view my photos of the after party here

Photo Credit: Robert Keith

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A few minutes with...Duane Lewis

The commissioner of the Central Hockey League talks about the Brahmas, the Eagles, the Mudbugs and league expansion

I spoke with CHL Commissioner Duane Lewis just before the start of Game Five after photographing the Ray Miron’s President’s Cup, which had just been unpacked and polished in the referee’s room at the NYTEX Sports Centre.

As you may or may not know, Lewis played three years of junior hockey with the Georgetown Raiders (OPJHL) prior to attending Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario where he earned an Honors Degree in Economics and a minor in Sports Administration. The right wing played four years with the Voyageurs, scoring 54 points (31 G, 23 A) in 94 games.

He played professionally with the WPHL’s New Mexico Scorpions and Amarillo Rattlers during the 1996-97 season, tallying 31 points (13 G, 18 A) in 50 games.

Lewis, 36, gained experience in the administrative side of professional hockey, working in the National Hockey League’s Officiating, Central Scouting and Public Relations departments during his four years of University. Lewis' father Bryan (a referee for 19 years in the NHL) was the league’s director of officiating from 1989-2000.Duane Lewis became Manager of Hockey Operations for the Western Professional Hockey League in May of 1997, Director of Hockey Operations in June of 2000, and was named Senior Vice President, Operations in September of 2002.

Almost a year ago, on June 17th, he was named Commissioner of the Central Hockey League, becoming just the second person to have that title after Brad Treliving departed to become the Assistant General Manager of the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes.

Here is our conversation.

Q: Let's talk for a minute about these Texas Brahmas, a team that returned from a one-year hiatus in 2006-07 to a berth in the Finals just two seasons later.

A: It’s nice to see. Obviously, they put a lot of effort in. The ownership’s been with them the entire time and they’ve gone through a lot and for them to go through the situation of not playing for a year and now coming back, it’s a great story. It’s a credit to the ownership, a credit to the management and credit to Dan Wildfong for the job they’ve done this year. It’s a good story for them to come here in the finals and obviously being one win away. Regardless of how it turns out, that’s a successful season in anybody’s book.

Q: 60 minutes is a lot of hockey to play and there’s nothing guaranteed; we may just be going back to Colorado. A number of people at the beginning of the season saw Texas-Colorado as a potential match-up for the Finals, and it came to pass. Colorado is a fantastic team; great coach, great organization altogether. Tell me your thoughts on the Eagles’ efforts this year.

A: Well obviously, they won the Governor’s Cup and they’re in the Finals now, four of six years. There are on-ice and off-ice, a strong franchise in the CHL and no question again this year, 3-1 is maybe not indicative of a series. Obviously, I think they’re a very strong team. Well coached, well managed, etc. as well as the Brahmas and I think it’s going to be a great match up. For them to go through it again, four out of six years and make it here again is a testament to their organization.

Q: The news this week was unexpected about Bossier-Shreveport, but I believe a lot of people feel that the organization will have a team on ice next season. What are your comments on the situation?

A: Yeah, it’s unfortunate and John Madden decided that it wasn’t for him to go forward with the organization and that’s an owners right to do that. We feel confident that we can get another ownership group in place this year. It’s too good of a market in hockey, let alone the CHL, to lose. We’ve been there for a long time and we fully anticipate being there, playing again this season. We just have a short time frame to do it in and hopefully someone steps to the table. There are some irons in the fire right now, so hopefully those can come to fruition or one of those can very soon.

Q: It’s pretty exciting this season with two new teams entering the league. Independence, with the great management of Brad Lund and the organization seems to be doing a great job altogether already. Allen, of course is going to bring more minor professional hockey to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. I assume the league is over the moon about having these two new franchises on board.

A: Yeah, this is great for us to expand. Sometimes there is contraction and unfortunately that is the name of the game but for us to expand in these markets and get two brand new facilities and create some more jobs for people and grow the sport of hockey in some areas is very, very exciting to us. We’re happy to have both of these markets in place. Both ownership groups and management teams are going to be first class. A little bit later start than we would have hoped in both of them, but that’s par for the course it seems in this economy. They have great people in place and have already started off very, very well and I think they’re set up for success long into the future.

Q: As with other leagues, there are teams within the CHL that are having a hard time but at the same time it is a strong league. After this many years, especially after the merger between the CHL and the WPHL, the league still seems like it’s in good shape. Going forward are you looking at further expansion and increasing the number of teams in the league?

A: Somebody asked me that question before and there really is no set limit or set number that we want to get to. There are times when you are going to lose teams. It’s as inevitable as the history sport, no matter what you’re talking about and we’re not immune to that. We do have a strong business model here and we think that the teams work very closely together, which I think is a nice thing and they help each other out and say “this works well here; we’re in competition on the ice but off the ice, we’re working together.” There are some potential markets for expansion we’re looking at right now to build arenas and help open up some markets that other people might not be open to. We do see some room for expansion and as I said. There’s no set number, but I think in the next few years we’ll have some opportunities to grow this league in our geographical footprint; to expand and make sure there are some more teams for fans to enjoy and players to play in. That’s what we look forward to.

Photo Credit: Robert Keith

Monday, May 4, 2009

Brahmas control their own destiny!

One win away from President's Cup after tonight's 6-3 victory

The Texas Brahmas are just one victory away from winning their first Ray Miron President's Cup after defeating the Colorado 6-3 on Tuesday night at the NYTEX Sports Center. The Brahmas lead the series 3-1 and have an opportunity to win it all tomorrow night on home ice.
Brahmas head coach Dan Wildfong commented on his team's effort.

"I think to a guy, we knew we weren't playing our best game at the beginning," said Wildfong. "But we've got great leadership and we talked it over. I think we turned it around in the second and third...we ended up starting to draw some penalties and once we did that, it changed the momentum of the game."

Both teams played a fairly even first period with the Brahmas out-shooting the Eagles 11-10. The penalty problem for Colorado reared its ugly head almost immediately as Greg Pankewicz was called for hooking at the :45 mark. But an interference call on the Brahmas' Jason Deitsch led to the first goal of the game.

On their first power play of the evening, Konrad Reeder was able to beat goaltender Brett Jaeger, sending the puck in from the side of the crease for the 1-0 lead at the 5:40 mark. Aaron Schneekloth and Greg Pankewicz were in on the assist.

Kevin McLeod scored the equalizer, unassisted at the 16:14 mark with a shot off the goalpost and an extra attacker on the ice for the Brahmas.

On their second power play of the evening, the Eagles regained the league 1:57 into the middle period when Ed McGrane's shot from the point floated past Jaeger to make it 2-1. It was McGrane's fourth goal in the past three games. Ryan Tobler and Kevin Ulanski were credited with the assist.

Nearly eight minutes of hockey was played before the next score, during four-on-four play, when Brahmas defenseman Mike Vellinga tied the game up after his shot clipped the glove of netminder Andrew Penner and rolled across the goal line at the 9:55 mark. He was assisted by Tyler Skworchinski.

The Brahmas would score three more consecutive goals to take a 5-2 lead.

First, Brandon Benedict and Scott Sheppard began a two-on-one rush towards the net. Benedict's first shot was blocked, but he got the rebound and sent a pass from below the goal line to a wide open Jason Deitsch in the slot. Deitsch's shot at the 12:17 mark would beat Penner for the 3-2 lead.

Just over a minute and a half later, Scott Sheppard sent a backdoor pass from high in the right circle to Greg McConnell, who then hit the back of the net to make it 4-2 at the 13:51 mark. Then, with one minute left in the period, Deitsch got his second goal of the night while on the man-advantage to make it 5-2.

The Brahmas outshot the Eagles 20-6 in the second frame.

The third period began with Morgan Cey in net for the Eagles, in relief for the second consecutive game.
It took over nine minutes for the next score. Set up by Jason Beatty and Aaron Grosul, Ed McGrane entered the offensive zone and beat Jaeger with a shot from the left circle to cut the Colorado deficit to two goals.

But the Eagles received subsequent hooking calls and lost any momentum they might have gained after McGrane's score. The Brahmas' Kevin McLeod scored his second goal on the power play, establishing the final score at 6-3.

The Brahmas outshot the Eagles 12-9 in the final frame and finished the game with a 43-25 advantage.

Brett Jaeger earned his 11th win of the post-season, saving 22 of 25 shots. Andrew Penner took the loss, saving 26 of 31 shots. Morgan Cey stopped 11 of 12 in relief.

The Brahmas were assessed 10 minutes on five infractions. The Eagles received 24 minutes on 12 infractions. Texas went two for 11 on the power play. Colorado went two for four.

The 3rd star of the game was Ed McGrane. The 2nd star was given to Jason Deitsch and the 1st star went to Kevin McLeod. Each of the three men had two goals for the night.
You can view the box score here

You can view my photos from the game here

Game Five of the Ray Miron President’s Cup Finals will be played on Wednesday night at the NYTEX Sports Centre with the opening faceoff at 7:05pm CST. This will be the final game at home for the Brahmas in the 2008-09 season and a victory would clinch the President’s Cup trophy and the first championship for Texas in their 11 year history.

Photo Credit: Robert Keith
Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs for sale, may suspend operations or fold

Texas Brahmas' longtime rival shocks the CHL with news today

Originally posted on

After their season ended on April 6th, Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs fans wondered whether or not head coach Scott Muscutt would be back for another season. Less than a month later, Muscutt was re-signed. Now fans will wonder if their team will return to play after a 12-season run in the Central Hockey League.

At a press conference today, it was announced that owner John Madden plans to shut the team down if a buyer is not found by the end of this month. Madden was conspicuously absent, but his general manager, Ray Delia broke the news.

Madden is the second owner of the team, which he purchased in 2002. He has said that franchise has not been making money, estimating losses of at least $1 million over the past seven years. Rising costs and falling attendance have plagued the franchise and without any foreseeable improvement, Madden felt he had to make a move now.

"I respect John's decision," Delia said. "It's his team; it's his money; without having a partner, he owns this team 100 percent and the cross is his to bear."

With the league planning for the upcoming season, there is a limited timeframe available to get a deal done.

"The Central Hockey League requires a commitment this month to begin scheduling for the upcoming 2009-10 season,” Delia said. “I don’t believe Mr. Madden will be willing to make a commitment to 2009-10 unless he is engaged in a legitimate buy-sell conversation with a prospective owner."

Now, the Mudbugs faithful find themselves in an all too familiar situation for CHL fans. Last season the Corpus Christi Rayz and the Austin Ice Bats suspended operations for similar reasons. At the last minute, the Rayz were sold to a local businessman and were able to put a team on the ice this season. The Ice Bats have yet to return.

One of the few successful sports teams to ever grace the Bossier-Shreveport area, the Mudbugs found success early winning the President's Cup Championships three straight years (1999, 2000, 2001) in the Western Professional Hockey League. Since the merger of the WPHL and the Central Hockey League in 2001, the Mudbugs have found their way back to the Ray Miron President's Cup Finals twice (2004, 2006).

This year, the Mudbugs went 39-19-6, earning 84 points during the regular season. Their season ended after being swept by the Colorado Eagles in the Northern Conference Quarter Finals four games to none.

Head Coach Scott Muscutt reflected on the reality of the situation in an interview with the Shreveport Times, Roy Lang III.

“There is not an owner in the Central Hockey League who can’t wait to look at the bottom line tomorrow. It’s a tough row to hoe," Muscutt said. "Owners, just like players and just like coaches, do what they do because they love it – to provide something for their community to take pride in and get involved in. No one is getting rich. The owners in most cases are taking hits.”

Photo Credit: Robert Keith

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Andrew Penner watches helplessly as Tyler Skworchinski's unassisted power play goal floats past him in the first period

Brahmas dominate the Eagles!

Win 6-2 at NYTEX as Colorado completely loses discipline

The Texas Brahmas took a 2-1 lead in the Ray Miron President's Cup Championship series after soundly defeating the visiting Colorado Eagles by a score of 6-2 on Sunday. The Eagles, who had formally petitioned the league, arguing against playing at the NYTEX Sports Centre, completely lost their discipline in a third period that would see Konrad Reeder ejected and Andrew Penner furiously leave the ice after giving up five goals.

The Eagles came out playing hard but were stymied by the Texas defensive corps, who would keep most of the action in the Colorado zone. After a slashing call on Brett Hammond gave the Brahmas their first power play of the evening, it was Tyler Skworchinski who netted the first goal of the evening with an unassisted tally from between the circles that whizzed past Andrew Penner at the 11:33 mark. The goal was Skworchinski’s league-leading 12th goal of the postseason.

The Brahmas outshot the Eagles 12 to 5 in the first frame.

Ed McGrane tied the game at the 8:06 mark of the second period, 45 seconds into an Eagles power play with the set up by Greg Pankewicz and Aaron Schneekloth. Less than two minutes later, the Brahmas would regain the lead after Matt Quinn was able to catch a rebound from a wraparound attempt by Pete Rouleau and swatted the puck inside the left post at the 10:05 mark. Greg McConnell was also credited with the assist.

The Brahmas were unable to capitalize on a 5-on-3 after a pair of calls on the Eagles and with just 12 seconds left on the man-advantage, Colorado's McGrane netted his second goal of the night, short-handed and unassisted at the 16:59 mark to make it a 2-2 game.

It didn't take Texas long to re-take the lead again; 64 seconds to be exact. After a shot by Brandon Benedict from the top of the right circle was stopped by Penner, Travis Banga was able to net the rebound to give the Brahmas the 3-2 lead going into the second intermission.

The Brahmas led the shot count 15-10 in the middle frame.

The Eagles completely lost their discipline in the final period, resulting in three additional goals by the home team, two of them on the power play. Grant Jacobsen scored first, making it a 4-2 game at the 5:28 mark. Tyler Skworchinski and Jordan Cameron set up the play with a little help from Colorado's Aaron Grosul, who inadvertently kicked the puck toward the front of the goal where Jacobsen was waiting to send it in.

At the 8:44 mark, Konrad Reeder was called for a butt-ending major during a face off with Pete Rouleau. He was also given a game misconduct and sent to the the showers early. Eagles head coach Kevin McClelland, frustrated by the call, was given an abuse of officials bench minor as well. As a result of the ensuing 5-on-3, Tyler Skworchinski notched his second power play goal of the game on a cross-crease pass from Banga to make it 5-2. Mike Vellinga was also credited with the assist.

McClelland sent Morgan Cey in to replace Penner, who left the ice frustrated and headed for the locker room. Cey had not played since March 21st at Rapid City and his post-season debut would soon be ruined by the Brahmas' second power-play goal in a row at the 12:50 mark when Pete Rouleau tapped in a rebound off a shot by Matt Quinn from the left point. Mike Vellinga was in on his second consecutive assist.

Fortunately for Colorado, there would be no more scoring in the remaining seven minutes and ten seconds and the game ended with a final score of 6-2. The Eagles narrowly led the shot count in the final frame at 9-8 but the Brahmas had a 35-24 shot advantage in the game.

Brett Jaeger made 22 saves on 24 shots, improving to 10-4 in the playoffs. Andrew Penner stopped 28 of 33 shots, falling to 9-4.

The Eagles finished with 37 penalty minutes on 13 infractions. The Brahmas were assessed 20 minutes on six infractions. They went 3 for 11 on the power play. Colorado went 1 for 4.

The 3rd star went to Tyler Skworchinski who had two goals and an assist on the night. The 2nd star was awarded to Colorado's Ed McGrane who had two goals and the 1st star went to Travis Banga who scored the game-winning goal and also had an assist.

You can view the box score here

You can view my photos from the game here (not edited yet)

Game Four of the CHL Finals between the Brahmas and the Eagles is slated for Tuesday at the NYTEX Sports Centre with the opening faceoff at 7:05pm CST.

Photo Credit: Robert Keith

Friday, May 1, 2009

Kevin Ulanski and Ed McGrane celebrate McGrane's overtime goal at the Budweiser Events Center

Eagles even series with 5-4 overtime win

Brahmas, series return to NYTEX

The Colorado Eagles fended off another third period Brahmas comeback to force Game Two of the Ray Miron Presiden't Cup series into overtime, where they won, 5-4. Ed McGrane fired a one-timer into the back of the net on a 4-on-3 power play to send the series back to Texas tied 1-1.

The Eagles, from the start, came out playing much better than they did in Game One. Needing to make a statement early, they started off the scoring at the 2:03 mark when Riley Nelson took control of a loose puck at the top of the right circle. Nelson one-timed it and his shot buzzed past Brett Jaeger for the 1-0 lead. Jay Birnie and Adam Hogg were credited with the assist.

"I just came off the bench and the puck was turned over. It came out to the high slot so I just tried to get a shot off. I think he (Jaeger) was screened on it, " Nelson told's Terry Sanford. "It was exciting to get up early in a game like that with the emotion running high. You want to keep rolling with it."

The Brahmas remained focused and although they gave up several turnovers, their defense did a great job holding off the Eagle attack.

Having failed to build on the momentum of Nelson's goal, the Eagles began to lose discipline in the final ten minutes of the first frame and found themselves spending too much time in the sin bin. They were called for four undisciplined stick penalties.

Brett Hammond was the first to go with a tripping call at the 10:47 mark. Next was Adam Hogg for high sticking at the 13:49 mark. Greg Pankewicz then drew a double minor for tripping and slashing after hitting Jordan Cameron in the left ear along the end boards. This created a 5-on-3 for 29 seconds and gave the Brahmas a four-minute power play.

The Brahmas scored one minute into the power play when Scott Sheppard took a feed from Jason Deitsch and sent his shot from the right face off circle high to the glove side, beating Andrew Penner to tie the game at the 15:30 mark. Kevin McLeod was also credited with the assist.

41 seconds later, Jason Beatty was called for high-sticking Deitsch and the Brahmas found themselves on their second consecutive 5-on-3. The Brahmas would capitalize again when Deitsch sent a pass from the near wall to the far boards where Scott Sheppard was waiting. Sheppard sent his shot in to the top left hand corner to beat Penner again and at the 17:43 mark, the Brahmas took the 2-1 lead.

The Brahmas narrowly led the shot count after 20 minutes, 9-8.

Jordan Cameron had an early scoring opportunity in the second period, coming in alone on Penner after a beautiful feed from Kevin McLeod, but the Eagles goaltender did a good job reading the play and made the stop at the corner of the net.

A few minutes later, a high-sticking call on Jason Deitsch would result in a power play goal for the Eagles. With just four seconds left on the man-advantage, Adam Hogg sent a shot in from the right circle. Brett Jaeger managed to block it, but the puck bounced to a waiting Aaron Schneekloth who kicked it to Konrad Reeder. Reeder was able to tap it in to even the score at the 7:16 mark.

Later in the period, a holding call on Craig Minard led to another goal by the Eagles. Scott Polaski took a cross-ice pass from Adam Hogg and ripped a one-timer from the top of the left face-off circle that deflected off the skate of defenseman Nathan Saunders and into the net for the 3-2 lead at the 14:27 mark. The goal came just as the power play ended. Erik Adams was also credited with the assist.

It was a much better period for the Eagles as they were only called for one penalty. The Brahmas, on the other hand, had two penalties and both led to power play goals for the Eagles. The Eagles also dominated the shots on goal with a 17-9 advantage in the middle frame. It was the second period in a row that the Eagles held the Brahmas to nine shots.

The third period was fast-paced and the Brahmas came out with determined intensity, but it was the Eagles who scored first to take a 4-2 lead at the 3:19 mark. Brett Hammond sent a pass to Adam Hogg, whose shot rang off the post but Jay Birnie was waiting on the doorstep and sent the rebound in past Jaeger for the insurance goal.

After a timeout was taken by Dan Wildfong, the Brahmas came back to the ice and scored almost immediately. Texas won the ensuing faceoff at center ice. Justin Kinnunen managed to keep the puck away from an attacking Kevin Ulanski and jammed the puck behind the net where Scott Sheppard took it and sent the feed to Jason Deitch. Deitsch beat Penner to score his sixth post-season goal and bring the Brahmas to within one at 4-3.

Just over five minutes later, the Brahmas caught a lucky break when Conrad Reeder coughed up the puck in his own zone and Brandon Benedict was there to retrieve it. Benedict skated in unopposed and sent a wrister past Penner. The shorthanded, unassisted goal at the 8:58 mark tied the game up at 4-4.

The second half of the period grew more heated and physical, but neither team was able to break the tie and the overtime period became inevitable.

The Brahmas had not seen overtime thus far in the playoffs. The Eagles had been there four times, twice against Shreveport-Bossier City and once against Mississippi. The Eagles won 3 of 4.

“We knew it was gonna be a long game,” McGrane told the Greeley Tribune, on going into overtime. “But we’ve been in this situation before.”

Things heated up in overtime and after a tussle behind the Brahmas' net, both Greg McConnell and Greg Pankewicz were sent to the penalty box for roughing. 20 seconds later, Justin Kinnunen took a costly penalty for slashing Riley Nelson's stick out of his hands on a partial breakaway.

on the resulting 4-on-3, it was Ed McGrane who would score the game-winning goal 38 seconds later from the far-right blue line.

"Schneeks (Aaron Schneekloth) and Nellie (Riley Nelson) were playing catch with it (the puck) a bit." said McGrane about his game-winning score. "I just tried to find a soft spot on the opposite side there. I made up my mind as soon as it came to me I was firing it so that's what I did and I was fortunate it went in."

Andrew Penner earned the win, stopping 29 of 33 shots. He is 9-3 in the playoffs with a 2.98 GAA and a .883 save percentage.

Brett Jaeger took the loss, stopping 33 of 38 shot. He is 9-4 in the playoffs with a 2.16 GAA and a .932 save percentage.

The Brahmas were assessed 12 minutes on six infractions. The Eagles were assessed 18 minutes on nine infractions. The Brahmas went 2 for 8 on the power play and the Eagles went 2 for 5.

The 3rd star went to Scott Sheppard who had two goals and an assist on the night. The 2nd star went to Colorado's Adam Hogg who had four assists (on each regulation goal) and the 1st star went to Ed McGrane for his game-winning goal in OT, his third in the post-season.

You can view the box score here

The series moves to Texas, where the Brahmas will host the next three games at the NYTEX Sports Centre. Game Three will take place on Sunday afternoon at 3:05pm. Game Four is set for Tuesday at 7:05pm and Game Five will be on Wednesday at 7:05pm.

The Eagles are trying to become the second team in Central Hockey League post-season history to win a best-of-seven series after losing the series opener. The Brahmas and their fans will have much to do to prevent that from happening.

Don’t forget to wear your purple! The Brahmas are having "Purple Out" when they host the CHL Finals series beginning Sunday afternoon. The first 1,000 fans in attendance to the NYTEX Sports Centre will receive a purple CHL Finals t-shirt courtesy of TexComm.

Photo Credit: Eric Bellamy/Greeley Tribune