Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Insider Interview - Anders Strome

The prodigal Texas Brahma speaks about his season in Europe, his return to North Richland Hills and his new role as a player assistant

I spoke to Anders Strome by phone early last week about his return to the Texas Brahmas. The interview was held until the anouncement of his signing was made by the team today, as is customary for The Insider.

Strome played for the Odense Bulldogs in the top Danish ice hockey league last season. He tallied 40 points (25 G, 15 A) and 101 penalty minutes in 36 games played during their regular season. The Bulldogs lost in the semi-finals of the AL-Bank Ligaen Playoffs.

As you probably know, Strome was granted some time off after last season began in order to return to Canada to get married. Strome told me that he and wife Meagan are expecting a child. They have decided not to learn the sex of the baby ahead of time.

Here is our conversation.

Q: For those who may not be familiar, can you describe how the season works out in Denmark?

A: Well, we had a 36 game schedule there. We had two cups; the first is the Pokal Cup and that’s the cup that we won, that was played off as sort of a side tournament. It meant something to them; it was a big deal over there, but to us North American guys, we were more concerned with the year-end trophy, sort of like what we have back here. So that was a separate cup. You play a best of seven playoff, just like we would back here. We lost in the semi-finals.

Q: The Pokal Cup that you won; what’s the significance of that cup?

A: It’s just a tradition. Kind of like, in soccer they do things like that. Soccer’s huge over there, so a lot of the hockey is modeled after their soccer or football as they call it. So it’s just for pride amongst the cities competing in the league.

Q: How were the fans over there?

A: The fans were good (laughing). They get very much soccer, or football influenced. They constantly chant and sing; they have drums at the games so it’s quite loud. Not necessarily huge crowds but you definitely knew they were there.

Q: The home arena that you played at, was it similar in size to NYTEX?

A: Yeah, a similar size. It might have held a few more. But yeah, it had a similar feel and the rinks vary in size quite a bit over there. We had the bigger ice; all the rinks were Olympic sized sheets so it was a little different in that regard.

Q: You got married at the beginning of the season and brought your bride back with you. How was it, being newlyweds in Denmark?

A: It was good. It was sort of a whirlwind. We got married in August, it was August 6th and I had already been over there for a couple of weeks. I flew back for the wedding and then we went back there after that. We had a chance to do a little traveling while we were there because we had breaks. Over in Europe we had these national team breaks so sometimes we’d have 8-10 days without playing a game so it was different. Often we’d get two or there days off so we could do some traveling. My wife and I went to Italy one time and we went to Germany a couple of times; we drove down there. So it was a good experience.

Q: You had a couple of Canadians playing out there with you, Tyler Redenbach and Brad Rooney as well as a couple of American guys – John Laliberte and Peter Metcalf. Outside of the Danish players, did you spend a lot of time with those guys?

A: Yeah, definitely. We all had a lot in common and for a lot of us, it was our first time over in Europe. It was great to have those guys as well as the wives and girlfriends that were all in the same boat. Then again, the Danish people were very friendly and they speak a lot of English there which was really helpful. The language barrier wasn’t a huge issue because of that. I’ve heard it’s a lot worse in other countries.

Q: I know that you had originally talked to Dan about maybe getting back here in time to qualify to play in the playoffs after your season there was finished…

A: It was always a possibility. Dan and I kept in contact but just the way it worked out with our playoffs, the timing didn’t work out for that. We knew as long as we made it to a certain point it would no longer be an option. We won our first round of the playoffs and we went to the semi-finals. At that point, it was too late.

Q: Did you get a chance to see any of the Brahmas games during the playoffs and the finals on the Internet?

A: I watched a little bit of a couple of the games on the CHL-TV, which was nice to have. A couple were from the NYTEX Centre so it was nice that they had that up and running…so I watched the games; I definitely followed and it was great to see the guys. I was really pulling for them in the Finals against Colorado because I still had a bit of a sour taste in my mouth from losing to those guys the year before in the semi-finals.

Q: Did you think it was pretty cool that they ended up facing the Eagles in the Finals and then beat them considering the experience of the previous season?

A: For sure, yeah. It was awesome to see. They had a great run. They’re obviously a great bunch of guys. There were a lot of guys that I played with and some new faces of course, but it sounds like they had quite the team and I was just happy to see them make the run.

Q: It appears that a lot of the same guys will be back again for the coming season and a number of the guys that you played with in 2007-08 will be back. You’ll be back as a player/assistant. What’s your excitement level in regards to being back in North Richland Hills and back to playing with the Brahmas?

A: Oh, it’s great. I’m really excited. I’m happy that Dan brought me on board. We’re working on putting together another great team. Like you mentioned, a lot of the core guys are going to be back and always it’s tough to keep everybody, every year, especially coming off a championship year but we’re going to do our best to get as many guys back as possible and then fit in the missing pieces and we’re in the process of doing that now.

Photo Credit: Odense Bulldogs

Texas Brahmas announce return of Anders Strome

Dynamic forward adds another offensive punch to 2009-10 roster

#10 is back! The Texas Brahmas have announced that Anders Strome has been re-signed as a player/assistant for the upcoming season. At 6', 3" and 210 pounds, the 27-year-old forward from Winnipeg, Manitoba is a tremendous addition to what promises to be the team that repeats in 2009-10.

Brahmas head coach Dan Wildfong commented on the addition of Strome to the team.

"This is a big re-signing for us as an organization as we look to repeat for another title," Wildfong said. "Anders played a pivotal role for us when he played here in 2007-08, and we look forward to seeing him step up once again in a Brahmas jersey."

Last season, Strome played for the Odense Bulldogs in the top Danish ice hockey league. He tallied 40 points (25 G, 15 A) and 101 penalty minutes in 36 games played during their regular season. The Bulldogs lost in the semi-finals of the AL-Bank Ligaen Playoffs.

Anders Strome by all measures had a fantastic season with the Texas Brahmas during the 2007-08 campaign. The popular forward brought a strong offensive game to the ice, registering 60 points (34 G, 26 A, +2) and 88 penalty minutes in 64 games played. Strome played all 14 playoff games tallying 14 points (9 G, 5 A) with 10 penalty minutes.

Strome played three seasons with the University of Massachusetts-Lowell before turning professional. He scored 35 points (20 G, 15 A) in 91 games played with the River Hawks.

Strome spent much of his CHL career with the Lubbock Cotton Kings. During the 2004-05 season, he led the team in scoring with 57 points (35 G, 22 A) in 60 games played.Due to his offensive flair, Strome participated in the 2004-05 CHL All Star game and led the Cotton Kings to the postseason. At season's end, the Cotton Kings named Strome their “Offensive Player of the Year”.

During the 2005-06 season, Strome played in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) with three teams (Long Beach Ice Dogs, Florida Everblades and South Carolina Stingrays). In 54 games, he recorded 35 points (14 G, 21 A) and 26 penalty minutes.

In 188 games in the CHL over four seasons, Strome posted 227 points (126 G, 101 A) and 261 penalty minutes.

Photo Credit: Robert Keith

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Insider Interview - AJ Gale

The Brahmas' newest recruit talks about signing with the team, how he stays in shape and his thoughts on playing hockey

How are you staying in shape this Summer? AJ Gale is splitting firewood 10 hours a day. Yeah, with an axe. I found this out and more when I spoke to AJ last evening by phone. Here is our conversation.

Q: How were you recruited by the Brahmas?

A: I think it had a little to do with St. Norbert. Coach Coghlin spoke highly of me to coach Wildfong there. Also, Marc Belanger who's from my hometown also played there and Jason Deitsch who is a very good player, played at St. Norbert as well. I've heard nothing but great things about the organization and everything about the location, so I was really enticed by that.

Q: You played previously with Bill Vandemeer and some others who are now in the CHL. Have you talked to any of them about the league and what to expect?

A: I talked to another buddy, Brennen Francon, who played with Oklahoma and he said the league was great and he really enjoyed it.

Q: So what's your excitement level in regards to going pro and coming down to Texas to make a contribution current league champions?

A: Oh, I’m very, very excited about it. I’m looking forward to jumping to the next level. I’ll have a good hard-working summer and come into camp in great shape. I’m also looking to, hopefully continue my education along the way with online classes and stuff like that. I’ll do whatever it takes; I have about a year and a half left of schooling.

Q: When you’re not playing, what are you doing to keep in shape?

A: I split firewood for a job in the summer so that keeps me in pretty good shape. I do that about 10 hours a day. I usually go for a run a couple of times a week. I hit the gym and lift some weights a few times a week as well and then try to get on the ice as much as I can with high quality players from the area. I just try and keep in shape that way and keep my game sharp.

Q: Where do you think you have room for improvement and what do you think your strong points are?

A: I definitely think my skating can improve. I don’t think I’m a bad skater but I think that my biggest strength would probably be my shot and maybe my quickness around the net; getting the puck up in a hurry or just trying to make the odd pass here and there to set up a guy as well as my one-timer.

Q: The CHL is a very physical league. Have you had a good amount of experience with physical play and do you feel physically that you’ll be prepared for it?

A: Yeah, I feel that I’m physically capable to take a hit here and there. I’m definitely not going to shy away from it if it means getting the puck out to make a play. If I take a hit, that’s what I’m willing to do. I think that’s what it takes to be a champion – you have to do all the little things, so if it involves blocking a shot or taking a hit or delivering a hit, I think that’s a part of my game where I also strive in order to give the team some momentum.

Q: What do you have to say to the fans of the Brahmas?

A: I’m looking forward to getting to that nice weather, meet some people and get out into the community to do some work out in the community as well as on the ice. Just get to know the fans on a first name basis and hopefully build some good friendships along the way.

Photo Credit: Jamie Penner Photography
Brandon Benedict signs with the Belfast Giants

Hard working forward will play in Northern Ireland in 2009-10

The Coors Belfast Giants have announced the signing of former Texas Brahmas forward Brandon Benedict for the 2009-10 season. Benedict will join his former Totempo HVIK and Texas Wildcatter teammate Tim Cook in Belfast where the two will compete in the Elite Ice Hockey League and play in the 7,100 seat Odyssey Arena.

Benedict, 27, signed with the Brahmas on February 7th and scored 16 points (5 G, 11 A, +5) in 16 games played. He put up 18 points (7 G, 11 A, +11) in the playoffs, where he had a role in all 16 games leading up the President’s Cup victory.

Last season, the Giants were the EIHL Challenge Cup Champions and the EIHL Knock Out Cup Champions. Head coach Steve Thornton commented on the signing of Benedict.

“Benny is a legit first liner who has some big skates to fill in that of the departing Denny (leading scorer Paul Deniset). He plays with grit, skates very well and is very creative. He was a high end offensive player in Denmark putting up a point a game…he scored 77 points in 64 games in the ECHL and was a star over there. He won a championship last season in Texas and is hungry for more. He will be an impact player for us and will play big minutes in all situations. I may have spoken to ten different people in North America and Europe looking for references on Benny and they all came back glowing in regards to him as a player and a person.”

Benedict, speaking from his home in Nova Scotia, Canada spoke about the signing.

“I’m really excited for the opportunity of playing for the Giants,” Benedict said. “I heard great things about the organization and am just looking forward to the start of the season. I know the Giants had a ton of success last year and we will be looking to build on that this year.”

Photo Credit: Robert Keith

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Gale (#27) attempts a shot on UW-Superior goaltender Chad Beiswenger

Brahmas add rookie forward to roster

The Texas Brahmas have announced the signing of A. J. Gale to the 2009-10 roster.

The 5’ 11”, 185 pound rookie forward from Lantzville, British Columbia played for the St. Norbert College Green Knights last season. He led the team in scoring with 30 points (19 G, 11 A) in 19 games played. On March 20th, Gale was named an NCAA Division III All-American by the American Hockey Coaches Association. The Green Knights made it to the NCHA Semifinals before falling to the UW-Superior Yellowjackets.

CHL Playoff MVP Jason Deitsch and former Texas Brahma Marc Belanger are also St. Norbert alumni.

Photo Credit: Jamie Penner

Gale, 22, played four seasons with the Nanaimo Clippers (BCHL). He joined the team late in the 2003-2004 campaign and helped Nanaimo win its first BCHL title in 26 seasons. During his time there, he tallied 151 points (77 G, 74 A) and 170 penalty minutes in 162 games played.

His teammates in Nanaimo included the Oklahoma City Blazers' Bill Vandermeer and Texas Brahma Jared Seminoff.

Gale played 18 games for St. Cloud State (NCAA) during the 2006-07 season but saw limited ice time in his freshman season, tallying just two points (1 G, 1 A). After two games with the Huskies in 2007-08, he made the decision to return to the Clippers who had won the 2007 BCHL Championship.

Gale had his best statistical season in 2007-08, notching 53 points (27 G, 26 A) and 46 penalty minutes in just 38 games played. The Clippers were the Coastal Conference regular season champions and were also the BCHL regular season winners with the best record at 88 points. The Clippers advanced to the Fred Page Cup Finals, only to lose to the Penticton Vees, 4-0. Gale was the leading scorer during the playoffs, tallying 26 points (8 G, 18 A) and 13 penalty minutes in 14 games played.

Gale has been called a smart and crafty player, who makes good touch passes and possesses good speed and mobility. He also has been credited with a strong work ethic.

"We are very excited to add a player like Gale for next season,” said coach Dan Wildfong. He has received a lot of attention around the league, so we are glad to announce he will be a member of the Brahmas program."

More to come...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Insider Interview - Kevin McClelland

The head coach of the Colorado Eagles talks about the playoffs, losing to the Brahmas in the Finals and the road ahead

The scene at the McClelland household on Friday night was much the same as it was for hockey fans all over the country. Kevin and sons Jack, 12 and twins Matt and Max, 11, watched what would be the last professional hockey game of the 2008-09 season. Fans of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the boys were no doubt thrilled to watch their team defeat the Detroit Red Wings to win their first Stanley Cup.

McClelland, 46, who won four Stanley Cups in the 1980’s with the Edmonton Oilers knows what the Penguins players felt on the ice as they celebrated the victory. He also knows what the Red Wings players were feeling, having also lost in the Finals.

For the Colorado Eagles, that scene played out on the road in Texas just over a month ago when they lost in a five-game Finals series to the Texas Brahmas. For McClelland, who had completed his first year as head coach of the Eagles, losing is never easy…but he also knows that there’s another season just around the corner.

With his boys attending the Colorado Eagles hockey camp, McClelland is now busy on the phones, recruiting and planning for the upcoming season.

I spoke with coach McClelland by phone at his office in Windsor, Colorado about the playoffs, changes in the league and the coming season. Here is our conversation.

Q: The Eagles defeated your former team, the Mississippi RiverKings 4-2 in the Northern Conference Finals. What was it like after three years as the RiverKings head coach to come back and have your new team play them for the opportunity to advance to the Finals?

A: Well, it was great, you know, I have a lot of great memories down in Mississippi. We were treated really well there and it was real good for us. And you want to see them do well, so I was happy that both teams got a chance to meet in the semi-finals. They played a heck of a hockey series and they beat us up pretty bad there – we lost a couple of guys in that series and that hurt us in the finals.

Q: You came in to Colorado and inherited a great team that’s part of a solid organization. In your first season as head coach, you won the Governor’s Cup and had an outstanding season overall. Despite the outcome of the finals, do you come away with enough of a sense of satisfaction of the team’s accomplishments?

A: Yeah, I mean, we did a lot of special things. We had the all-star game up here and the guys did well; we won that. We took that Governor’s Cup, we fought for it right from game one and won it, which is a tough thing to do. Guys worked hard and there were a couple of teams chasing us towards the end but we held on and we sewed that thing up. You know, ultimately you want to win the championship but all things have to be in the right place at the right time to win a championship. I don’t make excuses but we lost a bit of our physical presence with Filipic and Tobler out and then we lost Polaski after Game 3, so when you take key people out of the lineup, it makes it pretty difficult…

Q: How critical was the loss in Game One at the BEC…you know, the Brahmas came out and got those two goals in 12 seconds...did you believe that taking both games there was essential given the 2-3-2 format?

A: Well, that’s what you work for – starting with winning the Governor’s Cup – we worked hard to get that home ice advantage in the Finals and it was more or less taken away in 12 seconds. You know, teams do that. In my first Stanley Cup, we stole one off the Islanders in a real close game and then lost the second game and then swept the next three, so I’ve been in that situation before. You know, they came up with the idea that they wanted to get one. They got that first one and then they were looking for two and we had to get that one in overtime.

Q: There was what some would consider an inordinate number of penalties called on the Eagles; some deserved; some borderline. Do you feel that in the first two games that the number of calls demoralized the players, especially given the effectiveness of the Brahmas power play?

A: Yeah, I mean, you look after Game 4 and we had the better percentage power play and the better percentage penalty kill... but we were in the penalty box quite a bit and a lot of that was guys getting frustrated and a little bit of discipline but you know, those things are going to happen and you have to come through a lot of adversity in a hockey season and we just didn’t get it done.

Q: There was a conference call at one point to discuss public health concerns related to the Swine Flu in Texas. The suggestion was made that maybe the remainder of the series should be played at the Budweiser Events Center. Do you think if the decision was made to do that, there might have been a difference for the Eagles, given that they would be playing at home vs. on the road and being in front of the home crowd?

A: No, I mean it wasn’t even addressed with our team. It was something that, if the Swine Flu had gotten out of control, we didn’t want to put anybody, including Texas fans or the Brahmas or our team in harms way. I don’t even think it was you know, a real issue, but if everything got shut down in Texas where a lot of it was going on, we just wanted to make sure that there would have been an alternate plan. I don’t even think that got very far.

Q: Regarding the NYTEX Sports Centre, I remember listening to the local coach’s show broadcast on the local radio station there in Colorado before the finals began. You had some negative things to say about the Brahmas facility. Flash forward to just before Game 5, I remember you saying to me as you were looking out onto the ice that you came up playing at rinks like NYTEX…

A: Oh yeah, that was stuff that was just; I thought that was for fans at the radio show, you know what I mean, a little bit of fun. I think that got blown a little out of proportion. That was more or less just having fun. I have a lot of respect for the Texas organization. Obviously, they’ve got great fans down there. We had a lot of fun with the fans down there. They’re a bunch of great people. That wasn’t meant to disrespect anyone down there or the rink and you know, that’s how I made my living, playing in arenas like that, a real small atmosphere and they’ve done a great job with it down there.

Q: Yeah, it’s not like the BOK Center or the Ford Center; some of the places that are almost NHL arenas; NYTEX is a different type of venue altogether. Do you have a particular respect for this type of arena and the fan support teams like the Brahmas receive?

A: I really do. I mean, one of the best rinks that was ever up in the NHL was the Boston Gardens and those fans were right on top of you. I used to love going and playing in there, you know what I mean? You know, the Brahmas’ rink is not that big but it’s the same type of atmosphere there and they’ve got great fans. They take good advantage of their home ice. It’s not because of the rink; it’s obviously because of the coach and what Dan Wildfong does down there, and your fans.

Q: What can you say about the job Dan’s done with the Brahmas organization and specifically the job that he and Ronny Vogel did coaching the Finals?

A: Well, they did great and that’s what Danny brings; he wears it on his sleeve, that’s for sure. We are good friends and we just spent some real quality time down there in Arizona. It’s always good to have friends in hockey but what he did there was unbelievable. They’ve got a great hockey club and you have to be happy for the guy.

Q: Andrew Penner, who’s a terrific kid and an outstanding goalie, told Adam Dunivan after Game 5, and I’m quoting, “I broke my own heart. You can say it’s no secret I didn’t bring my best game to the Finals. I feel I let the guys down.” That’s hard; you know Penner definitely has nothing to be down on himself for, considering his performance throughout the year. You come up against a team that solves you; that’s going to happen. What can you do about that? I wanted to ask you, do you think in hindsight that Morgan Cey should have gotten an opportunity to start in Game 4 of Game 5?

A: No, I mean, we got there with Andrew and he won us a lot of big games in the playoffs and stood on his head. He deserved a right to go back in there and right the ship, that’s for sure. You know, if it wasn’t for Andrew Penner, we wouldn’t have even been in that situation. Nothing against Morgan Cey, he had a great season for us too but you know, we were riding the big dog there.

Q: I remember when the Eagles were out to play the single regular season game against the Brahmas; I made the comment then that a lot of people expected the Brahmas and the Eagles to meet in the Finals. I asked you about that and you said you didn’t really like to talk about future possibilities but you did say, “It would be nice because that would mean we made the finals.” I have a similar question. I think a lot of people can see a realistic chance that the Brahmas and the Eagle swill meet again in the Finals next year. Would you like to have a re-match? Do you think that it would be great fun, even for the fans to see the two teams in next year’s finals?

A: I tell you, if that was the scenario again, I’d be happy, that’s for sure. Definitely. I’d like to get another crack at Danny. We’re good friends, you know what I mean, but that competitive edge comes in there. That would be awesome, man. I’d love to go down there and play in Texas; it’s a great spot down there. We enjoyed it. We came out on the short end of the stick this year, but now we’ve got all these months to fill in and make sure we get back there. Getting to the finals, there’s so many things; you’ve got to have good goaltending, you know, you can’t have a lot of injuries, a lot of think have got to happen. If we can get there again, that’d be great.

Q: Moving forward, like last year, it’s a fair bet you’ll have a number of Eagles players returning for the 2009-10 campaign. Now there’s been a lot of discussion about a change in the vet rule which currently allows four vets with the goalie exempt and a 281 game threshold. The Eagles have a situation where you have 8 players who are at, or will be vets soon. Currently, you have Pankiewicz, Tobler, Nelson, Schneekloth are vets regardless of any changes in the rule. Erik Adams and Ed McGrane turned vet during last season. You’ve got Jason Beatty and Kevin Ulanski about to hit that threshold. Do you think that there should be a rule change, either allowing an additional vet or increasing the threshold?

A: I would like to see maybe one more vet added. It’s always tough saying goodbye to someone in your room but you know, I think that’s up to the Governors. I mean, they’ll make the call and whatever comes in with the collective bargaining agreement. As coaches, we’ve just have to play by the rules and if it stays at four vets and 281 games, you’ve just got to make decisions, but it’s always tough. I know I’m not in this business to get rid of guys in my dressing room and I feel bad in that situation but it is what it is.

Q: Changes in the league make up include two new franchises – one in Independence, Missouri and one in Allen, Texas. Now at the same time, there’s the possibility, and we should know more soon, about the Rage and the Scorpions maybe going dark. What are your thoughts on the addition and the possible losses of teams in the upcoming season?

A: You know, the possibility of teams leaving, that’s always tough because I think the CHL has a great track record and I know it’s a tough racket out there in every aspect but you hate to see teams go dark or fold, but that happens. We don’t know where it is right now. But we’ve got two new teams coming in and I think that’s great. It just shows that a lot of people want to be involved in the CHL.

Q: In preparations for the upcoming season, is there any particular focus for you with the Eagles, anything in particular you’re looking to make changes on?

A: We just want to make sure that we put the best team on the ice up here for our fans. You know, we’ve just have unbelievable fans and the community up here is so great to the Eagles players and to the organization. You want to make sure that you come out and play well for them. We’re looking to fill some holes in our line up; guys that have moved on or maybe we were lacking last year. We’ll go out and get things ready for October and hopefully get farther than we did this year.

Photo Credit: Robert Keith

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Insider Interview - Dan Wildfong

The Texas Brahmas' head coach talks about the playoffs, winning the championship and a lot of other things you were curious about

It was just about a year ago that I sat down with Dan Wildfong to talk about his first season as head coach and the Northern Conference Finals series against the Colorado Eagles. A lot has transpired since then and I've talked with Fonger many times since. But now, for the first time, I've sat down to speak with the head coach of the Central Hockey League Champion Texas Brahmas. Yeah, I never get tired of saying that.

Here is our conversation.

Q: Was it important was it to have the bye in the first round of the playoffs? Or would you have rather had the boys playing?

A: I think it was real important to have it. It gave us a little rest when we were banged up. We definitely, at that point of the season, needed a rest. I don’t think we played playoff hockey in our first couple of games in the playoffs, but we had a good team that got the job done. Sometimes it’s tough when a team is playing playoff hockey and you’re not, to play against them. We seemed to, like I said, get the job done.

Q: The Odessa Jackalopes were a very tough opponent last season and really put their all into that conference final series. What are your thoughts on the Jacks?

A: I thought they were a great team that was well coached. I thought they brought it every night against us. The important thing about Odessa is that they were right there too, through the whole year, and they had nothing but a great season. We’re not lucky, but we were happy to get by them because they gave us a heck of a run, a heck of a test, not just in the regular season but obviously in the playoffs; it was a battle.

Q: I talked with you right after you spoke with the team after Game 6 of the conference finals in Odessa. That was the second 2-0 loss in a row for the Brahmas at the Ector County Coliseum. Did you have a real concern about going into another forced Game 7, even at NYTEX, with the real chance of losing the opportunity to advance on home ice?

A: Yeah, I was. I’m just being honest here; I was very disappointed in our effort in Game 6. I thought we would’ve come out a lot stronger and we wouldn’t have a forced Game 7. You know, we worked hard all year long in order to put ourselves in a position to play in front of our fans with the home ice advantage. That’s why those Tuesday night games were as tough and we were grinding it out – we don’t take the nights off for that reason. If it is a Game 7, you have your fans that are behind you and your familiar building. We never want to go to a Game 7, because it is a little bit of a coin toss. We’ve had a lot of success here at our building, so I was pretty confident that our guys would be coming out ready.

Q: How big was the win in Game 1 in Colorado?

A: I think it was huge for us. That building is not an easy building to win in. When you’re on the road and you can get a win, especially when it really puts the ball in your court, it’s huge. We took advantage of it obviously by coming back here. We almost won that second one too. But I think getting that first one gave us a little momentum in the series.

Q: I think the penalties were a factor for Colorado. They lost some discipline and they paid for it. Fortunately the Brahmas power play was doing really well…

A: When you have two talented teams, you can’t give talented players who work hard the opportunity to have that extra man. Especially when, I felt like some of their penalties weren’t great penalties. I’m sure if you ask them, they’d say the same thing. That was probably one of the main reasons why we were successful all year was we were a very disciplined team. We didn’t take a lot of stupid penalties. If we did get a penalty, it was probably a good one. When you take good penalties, you end up killing them and when you take those bad ones and you get scored against, first off, your teammates know it was a bad penalty so they’re mad and the next thing is, when you get scored on – you go from being mad at the other team, to being mad at your team and you’re mad at that guy who took the bad penalty. It affects the morale of the team and your focus is not in the right direction. That’s what it’s like when you take a bad penalty and when you take a good penalty. A good penalty, everyone knows the difference and they’re all on the same page; "let’s get this job done, let’s get the kill." But if you take that bad one, the focus is “why’d you take this, it’s selfish”. It’s a whole different direction that your focus is on.

Q: One of the things about the Brahmas last season was that even a man down, you’re still an offensive threat with all of the shorthanded goals that you were able to put up…

A: Yeah, we weren’t very happy with our penalty kill in the regular season. We were at home, but on the road, we couldn’t really understand why, because our systems were the same. But I guess that little extra time and space might have made the difference. But we did create a lot of chances for ourselves and we did bury a lot of penalty kill opportunities – we scored on them, so I was pretty happy with that considering other years, I can’t really remember the numbers, but we’d have four or five or six and this year we had 19. That’s a big difference. Definitely a momentum-changer in a game too, scoring a goal short-handed.

Q: Were you surprised that all that McClelland didn’t start Morgan Cey in Games 4 or especially 5?

A: I’ve been asked that a lot. You know – he has a better feel on his team. When you’re coaching a team and you have the pulse, you have your hands right in the mix of everything and you know what’s going on. If he didn’t put Penner in and we won by three or four goals, he would look like the idiot. It doesn’t matter which way you go as a coach, it’s your gut feeling at the time. Penner got them there throughout the playoffs, so you know, it was a choice he made and you’ve got to stick with it. You can’t look back. You can’t second guess yourself. It’s a confidence thing too, when you put your goalie back in there and give him that little lift, maybe he was hoping for that. You know “I still believe in you, I know you can get the job done.”

Q: Brett Jaeger was outstanding all year and certainly didn’t disappoint in the Finals. Will Brett be back in a Brahmas sweater next season?

A: We hope so. He was a key factor and the first guy we were going hard after that was on the team last season. We’re still in the process of negotiation.

Q: You know, a lot of people are wondering what’s Cash’s story?

A: You know, Cash did a heck of a job. He was the first guy I signed when I took the job of coach here. He trusted in me and I told him we’d win a championship together. We were hoping to do it last year and we ended up doing it this year. He’s a true professional. Cash knows it’s not about how much friends we are, it’s about winning. He knew Jaeger was playing well and he was on top of his game so he kind of, you know, took a step back for the team. There’s guys out there that would be pouting about not playing – “Hey, I’m a number one, why am I not getting my shot?” And then it hurts the team. There’s a fine line there because you still have to push Jaeger to be his best or vice versa; Jaeger has to push Cash to be his best. I think Cash did a great job for us. If we needed him, I knew he would’ve been there. Fortunately for us, we didn’t need him in the playoffs. He ended up getting a little time (in the regular season) and he played well. He is a great goaltender. He probably still, to this day, could be one of the top two, three goalies in the league. His back and the injury this year set him back a little but he’ll be OK. I don’t know what his future holds here. I don’t think he knows what his future holds in hockey. So, we’re just staying in contact and hopefully we can work something out. You know, and if not, I can’t thank that guy enough for trusting in us because he was one of the huge building blocks to this championship.

Q: The Brahmas outscored the Eagles 27-15 in the Finals with 14 goals scored on the power play. Were you happy with the special teams play against Colorado?

A: Very happy. Like I said, you give that group of guys enough opportunities, they’re going to score goals. And then our penalty kill stepped it up in the playoffs. I think that’s where we wanted to see ourselves all year. We have an inside joke – “The Tony’s”, the PK guys. They really stepped it up. There’s a story about them…I brought the guys in when our power play was struggling. There was a guy at Colgate (Dan’s alma mater) – he only got to play the penalty kill. He’d go out and he would dive in front of shots, he’d block shots, he’s do whatever it took to get that penalty kill. He was just so excited to get out there. He didn’t ever get a regular shift and every time he iced the puck or blocked a shot the whole team would step up and go “Tony!” And it’s still kind of a tradition at Colgate to this day. You know, they call it the “Tony PK.” It’s just about taking pride and excitement in your job when you’re out there. You don’t get in the newspaper for blocking shots. You don’t get in the paper for working hard in the penalty kill. It’s just work that, you don’t get as many pats on the back but, you know, this guy really went above and beyond taking pride in his job and we kind of took a little bit of that tradition and brought it here. It’s about taking pride in your penalty kill and being proud about your numbers on the penalty kill, feeling proud about making that penalty kill. I think Quinner and Cameron went out and had hats made up that said “Tony PK” (laughing).

Q: You had four of the top five scorers (including the top three) in the playoffs, including Deitsch (11 G, 15 A = 26, +9), Sheppard (10 G, 11 A = 21, +8), Skworchinski (13 G, 7 A,+20, +9) and Benedict (7 G, 11 A = 18, +11) and the number two scoring defenseman in Kevin McLeod (4 G, 8 A = 12, +2). What can you say about the offensive production of the Brahmas when it really counted?

A: You know, I can’t thank these guys enough. They are such a great team to coach. They worked hard and they gave me everything they had, almost every night and it was fun, a lot of fun. I saw us go to a different level some nights. If we really needed a goal or we really needed to bear down, we’d pick it up two notches and you could see it out there. The guys really dug deep. When I was on championship teams in Shreveport, we had the same kind of thing. Even if we were down goals here, we knew we could come back and get the big goal in overtime or win it in regulation. I thought we had that kind of team going into the playoffs and I was excited about it.

Q: You came to Texas with the goal of winning the Cup, first season. You came very close to getting the opportunity. You did it in the second season. When the cup was brought out to the ice and it was handed to you and you had it up over your head, what was going through your mind, right then?

A: It was an amazing feeling.

Q: Now this was as a coach; obviously you’ve done that as a player…

A: I don’t know if anyone heard the interviews after it was over. But I got interviewed in the room and my biggest thing is when I lifted that cup, I felt all those guys, from Forbes MacPherson and you know, Frank to Cody, Mark Cody; all of those guys that bought in, Mark Carragher, you know, that trusted in us our first year and Tim Laurila. Those guys that really bought in to come in to play for two coaches that really didn’t have a lot of experience and an organization that didn’t have a lot of experience. For them to buy in to help us in a stepping stone process to get to the semi-finals last year and the finals this year and winning it all…when I held that up, I was holding up for them too. They couldn’t be there but they were definitely there in my mind. I’m missing probably around 15 names there as well. It’s like starting a business, you know. When you start it and it blossoms into something, it’s unreal. Kind of a surreal feeling and that’s kind of how I felt as well. It’s surreal – like, we really did it! Like all that hard work, putting in that many calls, Forbie putting in calls, Ron putting in calls, you know, Mike banging on doors, going and getting sponsorships. Our office staff, getting season tickets sold; Frank getting this building up in time…It’s kind of a magical story really, if you look back at it. It was very rewarding. You know, I couldn’t have done it without my family either. They’ve been great to me.

Q: Jordan Cameron said "What's great is he built the team to be a team…There are just so many great players here, and it's not a team built on one or two guys. We all played a role, we all came together. It's a fun team to be a part of." How satisfying was it to see the “team model” that you put together buy into what you were selling and come through with the ultimate victory?

A: Well, when we first got the job and we first sat down, Forbie and I were like, what do we need to bring a championship here? The first thing that came out of our mouths was character. We had to have character guys. And the thing is, if you have a good core character, it’s going to lead everyone else to buy into that character. We had to get core guys, character guys that really bought in and would do whatever it takes…guys sacrificing. They really wanted it and in turn, if you would do that, the next guy would do that for you. But if you go about your job and just worry about yourself, not about the guy doing it beside you, it’s not fun. It’s not fun to be around. You get pissed off at that guy, like “I’m going to the gym, I’m working out, getting my body ready, doing whatever it takes and he’s not? Why am I just trying to carry the load?" I don’t care if you’re a top-end scorer or a bottom-end guy; everyone has to do their work. I think this team saw that. They saw that we all have to work hard together for a common goal or we’re not going to get there. With Ronnie and I, we stayed on them too. We wouldn’t let them off the hook. We paid attention to detail and that’s part of the detail – going to work every day. And then after that, do what you want, enjoy yourself (smiling).

Q: You played with Craig Minard for five seasons, played against him for one (Lubbock) and coached him for two. He’s done a fantastic job for you as team captain. For him, you know, he lost that opportunity to raise the cup in Shreveport after the Finals against Laredo…how happy were you to see him finally win the cup?

A: In true fashion, you say this and you hear it all the time - it couldn’t happen to a better guy, it really couldn’t. If you look at Minzy’s career, he’s a dedicated guy; he just wants to win so badly. He’s one of those guys that I’m talking about…he is Brahmas hockey. He’s the guy that, if you’re not going out to compete every night, he’s going to go “Why aren’t you?” That accountability that he holds…it holds me accountable, seeing Minzy work that hard. That guy’s 33 years old; still working hard in practice, staying after, busting his butt in the gym. You know, I have to go and get the best players. I have to put in my work here so his work can be successful as well. He’s such an unbelievable family guy, an unbelievable person to be friends with. If you are friends with Minzy, you’re blessed. You’re blessed in so many ways. He’s just a great person. I can’t tell you how well I think he played this year. Compared to – I would say when I played with him in Shreveport – he was a great player; he did a great job. I just saw him elevate his game this past year, more than I ever saw him when I played with him or against him or coached him. It was just a fantastic year for him. He read plays well, moved the puck. He seemed to play with that confidence of “I’m going to win and nobody’s holding me back.” He played all year like that. And when you have your leader doing that, it makes my coaching job a lot easier because everyone just starts following.

Q: He’s a true leader. He’s probably the epitome of the guy you want wearing the “C” on his sweater. You know, its funny…the fans, everybody wants to know – have they signed Dan yet, have they signed Dan yet? I hear Dan’s going to work here or there…people are always asking me what I think and I say, “You know, it’s OK because if Dan ever moves on, we’ve got Ron Vogel and Craig Minard.” And I say that because I see Minzy as a future coach…

A: I agree. I think he would be a fabulous coach. I think a lot of these guys would but Minzy’s got that – he sees things, details, and he really knows his game too. He loves hockey. You have to love it to be a coach. You have to love watching tape; you have to love watching NHL games to learn. It’s a learning process. He’s a committed guy, an honest guy and that’s what it takes to be a coach. He’s going to be a wonderful coach some day. If I can ever help him out in that aspect, I would in a heartbeat. I’d be proud to say I helped him out in some way because I know he would do a fabulous job.

Q: The first thing you did when you entered the locker room was to put the game puck up on the wall. For those who are not familiar, can you describe the significance of those pucks?

A: Well, the way it works is that every win in the playoffs – last year it would have took us 14 wins, so last year we had 14 pegs up there because it would have taken 14 pucks to win the cup. This year, because of the bye, we had 12 pegs up there. Every win in the playoffs, we would have the MVP of the game who puts the puck up. The next game, that guy that was MVP picks the guy that puts the puck up there again. So it’s a little tradition we have. There’s nothing more special than when one of your teammates picks you out. You’re not winning a trophy. You’re not winning more money. You’re not winning an award. But it’s a teammate recognizing another teammate in front of everyone. “You did a hell of a job. You’re the big reason why we won tonight.” It’s just a satisfaction when they get that puck and put it up there. They did a great job and it was a huge win. Not only for our team, but for the franchise. So, we had all those pucks up there all summer long and I kept looking at them and every time I went into the room, I’d go “man, we were that close, we were that close.” You know, this year before we started the season, I was telling Forbie and Ronnie, I was like “I want to put that last puck up there. I want to win this. We can do it.” I felt like the whole year, our team was like that. You know, we talked about winning. We talked about it and it wasn’t a taboo to talk about it. It wasn’t a taboo to have pictures of the cup in here. We wanted to win like no other. I think last year’s experience really helped us, or really helped a lot of guys, show us the direction, how close we were. And how much more it took too, because even though you’re that close, we let two or three games go. We let them slide by against Colorado and we knew we couldn’t do that again. We knew we weren’t going to let ourselves do that again. I was really proud of these guys. The way they played throughout the whole playoffs. Obviously, in the beginning, I think we struggled a little, but we still, we played well. Well enough to win. So, it felt great (laughing).

Q: And then you got dunked with the bucket of ice, not the Gatorade. Were you expecting that?

A: No (laughing). That’s the last thing I think you expect as a coach when you play hockey. I have a lot of respect for every one of those guys. Every one of those players that I loved and could call them my friend too. We had a pretty good relationship with everyone. They knew what my job was, I knew what their job was and after we got out of the rink, if they ever needed me or if they ever needed this door to be open, it was open for them. It still is and they’ll always be a part of this organization, this team. There’s a fine line there of being too hard on the guys and them hating you and there’s a fine line by being too easy and them not respecting you. You’ve got to find that and it’s a tough balance sometimes. I felt like we had a pretty good relationship with every guy on this team.

Q: I want to ask you about Mike Vellinga who has all but announced his retirement after 11 seasons professional. What can you tell me about Mike’s contribution to the success of the Texas Brahmas?

A: Mike has definitely been, you know, a guy where – he didn’t know Forbie or me; you know he came in the first year with a great resume. We had played against him. We knew he was a very steady D; he wasn’t going to put up a ton of points, very steady. You know, to be honest, me and Mike have had our issues about the way he competed sometimes. But, a good story I’d like to share with you is…me and Mike had a meeting about him competing. We didn’t feel he was competing hard enough. He just looked me straight in the eye and he goes “I will be there at the end…you don’t have to worry about me. I’ll be OK, I’ll be there.” If it was a young guy, I would have looked at him and I would have said “That’s bullshit. I want to see it now.” But I knew Mike meant it. Obviously, his health – when you play that many years, you get banged up. He wasn’t playing 100% all the time. He played injured a lot, for which I can’t thank him enough. The fans don’t see that. Sometimes, he would play through it without telling me or the trainers. We sometimes took that as “He’s not giving it everything.” Well, he’s a character guy. I love his family. I love him and I’d do anything for that guy. He was one of the best D men in the playoffs. He gave us everything he had. I think he was a huge piece of the puzzle in the playoffs. I saw his game go from, if we were rating it on a scale of 1 to 10, it went from a 6 to a 10, and that’s a big difference.

Q: Can you describe what it’s been like working with Ron Vogel over the past year?

A: Obviously Forbie did an outstanding job. We’ve been friends for a long time. For Ronnie to be able to come in and step into those shoes is a tough task, you know I demand a lot of my assistant coach. I think Ronnie just did an unreal job with the players because there’s times when I was really heavily leaning on guys and being hard on guys and he filled that void better than any coach I’ve ever had in being that in-between guy. Me being the bad guy and he being the good cop, bad cop kind of thing. But not only that, he’s so organized, he’s so positive. He really – when I get all excited and it’s time for him to say “Hey, we’ve got to look at it in a different way’’ - at the prefect opportunity and the perfect times, he says it. There are times where I let my emotions take a big part of me and he steps back and says, sometimes he’s on board and says “Let’s go give it to them” but then there are other times where he says "Listen, let’s just think of this in a different way; let’s go about it in a different direction.” He’s such a good friend to me too. He’s a great family man. If anyone knows Ronnie, they know he has the biggest heart in the world and he’d do anything for anyone. He’s a hard worker and he’s just one of those guys you love to have in your corner. I’m so happy to have him.

Q: It appears that you will have a significant number of returning players, to anyone who has an opinion. Outside of that, versus say the first year or even going into last season, is it any easier recruiting and re-signing this time around with the cup in hand, and I’ll throw this out too, having a little bit nicer bus?

A: Yeah (laughing). It definitely makes things easier to recruit when you win because normally you call a guy say 10-15 times and he might commit at the 15th call. Where now we’re calling guys at the third call and they’re saying “Looks great, I’m in.” And we’re going (laughing) “Well alright!” which is great because if we’re recruiting them, that’s the guys we want. You end up losing guys to other teams so you have to call more guys than you warrant which is great for us. You know the bus really helps as well. The guys that were here, they know what it was like (laughing)…the dog days of that old bus but I guarantee you they’ll always remember the stories, good stories. It’s kind of like the father telling you “I walked up to the hill both ways to go to school.” Well, the boys will be telling the stories of me holding the windshield in (laughing). But, I think in this organization, the boys see improvement every year. When you see our ownership trying to do whatever they can to make these guys happy, it’s the best organization to play in. The boys appreciate that.

Q: There are coaches and others (not players) who bash NYTEX and then there are guys who can appreciate it. What advantage does this building give to the Texas Brahmas?

A: First off, just the atmosphere of it. Its cold, its dark, there’s no spotlights in here. Not too many amenities for the visitors. I just think it’s such a great building for a home team because we know what we expect here. They come in, these young guys and they’re like “where are all the spotlights?” and when you go into Oke City as a young guy, they’re like “I feel like I’m in the NHL!” But when you come here you don’t really feel like you’re in the NHL (smiling), you know but it’s still…what an atmosphere this is. I played in a lot of college rinks that had that kind of atmosphere and they say college rinks have the best atmosphere in hockey. Well, we have it here for the home team. It’s a great place to play. I think all our guys love it here. They love the locker room, they love the way the fans treat them.

Q: The Allen Americans have signed several young players. Have you had a chance to meet and talk with Coach Mullins at the league meetings?

A: Yeah, I had a great talk with him and Macker was there too. They’re a class act and I’ll think they’ll have a lot of success in this league, hopefully not against us (smiling). It’s going to be a great rivalry…they’re putting a great team together. It’s going to be just like Shreveport and we were but its going to be closer and it’s going to be more accessible to fans. 45 minutes away, it’s going to be a lot of fun both ways.

Q: Has there been any talk about having a pre-season match with the Americans at NYTEX?

A: We haven’t talked specifics but yeah, we’re probably going to do something with them. I’ve got to talk to Dwight (Mullins) next week. We’re intermixing the Making the Cut, so our Making the Cut guys will play their Making the Cut guys. Instead of us practicing, we’ll do a little practice and then we’ll play each other in a night game.

Q: There’s been some talk about a change to the vet rule which currently sets the threshold at 281 games, with four vets allowed per team (goalies exempt). There’s talk of re-setting the threshold to 300 games. Do you think there is a need for any change, one way or another?

A: I don’t understand where they come up with 300 because it would make sense to base it on 64 games so that would make it 320. That’s five full seasons and I really think the owners are starting to figure out that the vets are the guys that are really selling the game. If you keep turning over younger guys all the time and you keep turning your veterans, like your Minard’s, like your Deitsch’s, you know you keep turning those guys over, soon you don’t have familiar faces to say “that’s the Brahmas.” Like your Cameron’s and your Kinnunen’s and your Jaegers. Those guys are recognizable names and when you get a lot of fans in this building, now for two years that like them and they end up leaving and you just keep a revolving door with those guys leaving, I think the owners are starting to see that it’s hurting them with the fan support. I think it’s a huge thing to have your veterans stick around for at least for a possible five years, I think that’s important. I think two, three, even four years, that’s not enough time to make a decision, if I have to get rid of this one guy because of the vet rule.

Q: Do you think it’s Ok to stay at four vets or would you like to see it increase to five?

A: Well, it is at five with the goaltender, but I think if you added another vet, it wouldn’t hurt anything. I think if you add the games up it would make it better. Before, veterans were not in shape and they would get injured and they would be out for a lengthy amount of time in the off-season and the owners were like “we don’t need these vets; they’re costing us a lot of money.” Now, veterans are getting in better shape. They’re more conditioned than ever to take on the season and there’s not as many summer IR’s or off-season claims in the summertime. I think now they’re re-evaluating it and saying these guys are important to our communities, they are important to us as owners to have them be franchise players. Obviously some vets are going to move here and there but your main core, if you can keep them together for a long period of time is only going to help sell tickets.

Q: What is your opinion of the format for the 2010 All-star Game?

A: I see the reasoning behind it because it tends to be very hard to sell an all-star game. No one really wants to have it because it costs money. But if you can have three teams that are bringing the majority of their players and its close, you’re going to get those fans over there. I’m not a huge fan of the concept, the way it is. I would like to see them get rid of the all-star game and have it be a young stars game. Bring in scouts and have it to be a developmental game to try and push guys into calling ourselves a developmental league, to get these guys showcased to go to the American League or go to wherever they want to go. I think it would do us a way better job than sending veterans to this game that are just in it to have a couple pops or beers and share some stories. But, it is about showcasing your talent. I think we should focus on showcasing our young talent and making us one of the best leagues to come to so it would be easier to recruit to get guys to the next level…that’s ultimately a AA-level; you want to play at the highest level possible. If we could be that stepping stone, that’s what you want.

Q: There’s a sale pending and now we’re waiting on league approval of the new ownership of the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs. Given your past history with the team, what were your thoughts on the possibility that the Mudbugs might go dark for a season?

A: I think it would be a shame. I think it’s been one of the top franchises in minor pro hockey for a long time. It’s a fabulous place to play. There are a lot of great people there and they love their hockey. I cannot imagine Shreveport without hockey there. It does a lot of great things for the community and for families. I remember one story – a good friend of mine over there in Shreveport told me that he didn’t have a relationship with his daughter, at all. One day he was walking out of the rink and he told me “Thank you” and I said for what? He says “I had no relationship with my daughter. She went shopping, I went hunting; we didn’t do anything together” and he said “Now, we go to games together and we talk about the players, we talk about the game and it really brought us really close together.” That’s what hockey does for families. It would be a shame for some families to be separated because there’s not that bridge of bringing family together; it’s so important. It would hurt the community too. There’s a lot of good things that those guys – Muskie’s done a great job over there, and Trevor. They’ve done a fabulous job of bringing that organization to where it needs to be. You know, they’re in it every year. They’re one of the top teams and it would suck to see them leave.

Q: The Brahmas were represented by you, Ronnie, Mike Barack and Scott Plourde. How were you received at the league meetings this year?

A: Every person, every GM congratulated us. They were all joking around, you know, “You can have it for a little while but we’re coming to get it” (laughing). That really puts a focus on us going forward. We’ve got to get to work so we can win it again. And we have been, just so everyone knows. But I thought we were received really well. The league had a fabulous showcase that they put on out there and we learned a lot. It’s tough not knowing what division you’re in or what kind of format they’re going to do. It’s hard to make trades or do anything like that. But, I thought we kind of gained some respect from them out there.

Photo Credit: Robert Keith

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Brahmas announce the return of Craig Minard

Veteran defenseman re-signs for the 2009-10 campaign

When you look at the make up of the Texas Brahmas, if ever there was a foundation player, it's Craig Minard. There's no question as to why Minzy wears the "C" on his sweater. He's a true leader, not only by example, but by deeds.

"This is a huge signing for us this summer. Minzy was the backbone of this team for the past two seasons and a vital part of us winning a championship this past season," coach Dan Wildfong said.

This will be his third season with the Brahmas after an eight season professional career that included stops in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL), British National League (BNL), Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League (RMJHL) and the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). He also played five seasons with the University of New Brunswick in the Canadian Inter-university Athletic Union (CIAU).

Minard played for five seasons with Dan Wildfong and the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs.

During the 2007-08 season, Minard tallied 23 points (2 G, 21 A) and 47 penalty minutes in 42 regular season games. He played in all 14 playoff games, adding three assists and six penalty minutes to his numbers for the year.

Last season, Minard played in all 64 regular season games, registering 35 points (5 G, 30 A) and 68 penalty minutes. He had a team-leading +25 rating and notched 26 points (3 PPG, 23 PPA) on the power play. He appeared in all 16 post-season games, adding five assists and 12 penalty minutes on the journey to win the President's Cup.

When I spoke with Fonger recently, here's just a little of what he had to say about his captain:

"If you look at Minzy’s career, he’s a dedicated guy; he just wants to win so badly," said Wildfong. "He’s one of those guys that I’m talking about…he is Brahmas hockey. He’s the guy that, if you’re not going out to compete every night, he’s going to go “Why aren’t you?” That accountability that he holds…it holds me accountable, seeing Minzy work that hard. That guy’s 33 years old; still working hard in practice, staying after, busting his butt in the gym. You know, I have to go and get the best players. I have to put in my work here so his work can be successful as well."

Photo Credit: Robert Keith

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Third annual prospect camp announced

Making the Cut 2009 coming in September

Last year, a young defenseman by the name of Ross Rouleau joined a group of 21 other prospects at the Making the Cut prospect camp. Attendees came from as far away as Vancouver, Prince Edward Island and even Australia.

At 20, the 6-foot-one, 180 pound defenseman came to the NYTEX Sports Centre 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.

Rouleau celebrates with his Brother Pete

But the hard work paid off. On May 6th, Rouleau raised the Ray Miron President's Cup over his head as a member of the Central Hockey League Champion Texas Brahmas.

Once again, prospects will be competing for two official CHL training camp contracts and an opportunity to make the roster of the 2009-10 Texas Brahmas. As usual, fans will be invited to attend all on-ice sessions.

Here's the current schedule:

Thursday, September 24th, 7 PM - Registration and meeting at NYTEX

Friday, September 25th

10:15 - 11:45 am Session I
12:15 - 3:15 pm Session II

Saturday, September 26th

6:45 - 9:45 am Session I
4:30 - 7:00 pm Session II

Sunday, September 27th

7:00 - 10:00 am Session I
3:30 - 6:30 pm Session II

Players who are extended training camp contracts will be notified at the conclusion of camp on Sunday, September 27

Think you've got what it takes? Download the application here

Image Credit: Texas Brahmas Hockey Club

Yours for a day?

Brahmas announce contest to win the cup for a day

OK, so the deal is - you write a one-page essay: "Why I should have the President's Cup for a day..." The essay should explain why you believe you have earned a day with the Ray Miron President's Cup and what you plan to do with it.

There will be two winners for the contest, the first for the most deserving candidate and the second for the most creative.

The deadline is Tuesday, June 30. All essays should be submitted via e-mail to Along with the essay, you must include your contact information (name, phone number, and mailing address). You must be a Texas resident who lives no further than 50 miles outside the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

Photo Credit: Robert Keith

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Texas Brahmas to offer private lessons

Learn from a CHL Champion this summer

Get ready to take advantage of a unique opportunity this summer as the Texas Brahmas are offering private hockey lessons at the NYTEX Sports Centre.

Whether you play in an amateur league or just for fun or you want to sign up one of your future hall of famers, don't miss this opportunity to learn from some of the best players in the Central Hockey League.

Image Credit: Texas Brahmas Hockey Club

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Central Hockey League Summer Conference concludes

Brahmas come away with 0 awards, still possess the Ray Miron's Championship Cup

Well, another CHL summer conference is over and once again, no mention of the Texas Brahmas, who just happen to be the league champions.

Snubbed again at the awards banquet? Maybe so. I expect the league will never give an award to Mike Barack. Probably asks too many questions the league doesn't want to hear. I don't think they like him. One can make the argument that at least the Trazzera's or Fonger deserved an award. But hey, and I love to keep saying this - who has the Cup?

So here's who won the CHLoe (heh heh) Awards:

Ralph Backstrom Soul of Service Award – which went to Cassidy Lange, son of the Corpus Christi IceRays majority owner, Tim Lange. No problem here. Any fan who can get their daddy to buy a team that would otherwise go dark obviously deserves this award. Lange's a good kid though...good for him.

CHL Game Operations Franchise of the Year – which went to Mississippi RiverKings. Don't know who works game operations for the 'Kings or what they do to entertain the fans outside of what they show on Nifty-TV. I'm sure the best team won?

CHL Merchandising Franchise of the Year – which went to the Rapid City Rush. What? Did they sell a lot of those sweaters to new fans? A couple of Rush players sold theirs on eBay after the season ended - did that help?

CHL Community Relations Franchise of the Year – which went Odessa Jackalopes. The Odessa Sheriff's Department will take you down if you cheer too loud or complain about their drunken fans abusing your players. I guess the owners do a lot for the community, though.

CHL Broadcaster of the Year – which went to Jim Byers of the Oklahoma City Blazers. Who? Seriously, who? My vote would have gone to Brian Benway - does a great job for the Bucks. Oh yeah, we don't have a broadcaster. We almost had Cody Eastwood, but he's the new voice of the Amarillo Gorillas. Keep that one on the "to-do" list, Mike!

CHL Communications Executive of the Year – which went to Rich Bocchini of the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees. OK, Rich is a good guy. Besides, we don't have a communications exec.

CHL Corporate Partnership Executive of the Year – which went to Gavin Riches of the Colorado Eagles. Can't argue this one. The Eagles are the corporate partnership kings.

CHL Group Sales Franchise of the Year – which went to the Wichita Thunder. Are they really selling to that many groups in Wichita, Kansas? Emphasis on the word "selling". They were number two in attendance last season.

CHL Ticketing Executive of the Year – Justin Lund, Tulsa Oilers. Well, Jeff Lund got an award last year. The Oilers were third in attendance last season. Good job, Justin.

CHL Ticket Sales Franchise of the Year – which went to Colorado Eagles. Can't argue this. The Eagles are booked solid through the next millennium, aren't they?

CHL Most Improved Franchise which goes to the Odessa Jackalopes. Wow, they must have really sucked last year. I guess going dark for a season and winning the Cup two seasons later doesn't qualify you. Maybe if the Brahmas repeat next season, they'll have to give us this one (don't count on it).

CHL Leadership Award – which goes to Scott Mueller. A Rapid City Rush owner. I guess the Allen Americans and the Independence what's their name's can look forward to some awards after their inaugural season, too.

CHL Executive of the Year – which went to Ray Delia of the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs. Well, he did manage to keep his job when all others around him were shown the door.

CHL Franchise of the Year – which went to the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees. I like the Killer Bees, I really do. Congratulations!

I guess magician and motivational speaker David Hira was unable to make the Brahmas disappear. I wonder if Barack and Fonger wowed the crowd with their rendition of Queen's "We are the Champions" at the Global Idol event? We're not bitter though. We did get the "Black Helicopter Award" from Greg Rajan.

Congratulations to the Texas Brahmas, who come away with nothing more than bragging rights this year. One more time - who has the Cup?

Stay tuned - more transpired at these meetings than the CHLoe awards. Among the topics under discussion were possible realignment of the league’s divisions to accommodate the two new teams coming into the league as well as a potential expansion draft to provide players for the new teams. It doesn't appear that these issues were resolved at the meetings. Then there's the rumor that the vet rule is going to change. We should hear more soon.

There's also word that the New Mexico Scorpions may still go dark next season. According to the Albuquerque Journal's James Yodice, Dave Ellett, the team's co-owner told the journal that the team needs to be sold by June 15th or they may go dormant.

"The league is pressuring me, because the schedule has to be done. And June 15 is the date that has been bantered about."

As of this morning, there's no further word on the Mudbugs or the Rocky Mountain Rage. I expect the next two weeks will be very interesting...

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Texas Brahmas make The Hockey News

CHL Champions featured in June 8 issue

You'll want to make your way to your nearest magazine stand to pick up the June 8th issue of the Hockey News as the Texas Brahmas made it into the lastest issue.

Now, I had a hard time finding a copy as most retailers won't be displaying this issue until next week. You can order a digital copy on the magazine's website for $3.99.

Look for the article "Brahmas strike back", written by David Henry on page 45. It's just a one column feature but any fan will want a copy.

Photo Credits: Robert Keith, The Hockey News

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Were the Brahmas left out? I don't think so...

South Texas All-Stars vs. CHL All-Stars January 13, 2010

OK, so why would you think that the Texas Brahmas were left out of the 2010 CHL All-Star Game?

Once again, the host city gets to determine the format. Most of us hated the format last time when it was the Colorado Eagles versus the CHL All-Stars. Apparently, that was a different Colorado team than we saw in the finals. Or was it? How hard is it for one of the best teams in the league with one of the best coaches in the league to win at home? The Eagles played against a group of guys, most who had not played together before, coached by someone who had not coached them before. They had little time to prepare and were a ragtag team at best. Was there an advantage for the home team? Sure. But that was their prerogative and I'm sure the league loved having their darling Eagles in the spotlight.

This year, the Laredo Bucks have decided to join forces with their division rivals, the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees and the Corpus Christi Ice Rays to form the South Texas All-Stars. Are the Brahmas conspicuously absent from the mix? Sure, but are we in South Texas? No.

Why the strange trio of teams? Who knows. Maybe Coach Roscoe didn't think he was going to field a team that could beat the rest of the league's best.

My guess is that the only way they thought they could fill up the Laredo Entertainment Center was to put this trio of teams together, with the hopes that fans from Hidalgo County and Corpus Christi would make the trip to see their respective teams. Will it work? I doubt it. That's still a long haul. Even with the added audience, I doubt they'll "sell" the thing out.

Will the grouping of these three teams provide an advantage against the rest of the league's best? I don't think so. We're more likely to see fights break out between the South Texas All-Stars than with anyone else. Three coaches? A team made up of guys that normally hate each other? My money's on the CHL All-Stars.

Now back to the Brahmas being "excluded".

Brian Sandalow, a pretty good guy who writes for The Monitor (the local paper in McAllen, Texas) makes a good argument in his blog:

"The Bees played the Brahmas all of four times in the regular season, and just once at the Dodge. Laredo played Texas eight times (which is a bit odd, actually) and Corpus played the Brahmas five times. Combined, the Brahmas played 17 divisional games out of 64, which is just three more times than the Bees played the IceRays alone. Seventeen divisional games does not mean the Brahmas are a part of the Southeast rivalry."

That's very true. Besides, the Brahmas were busy most of the season playing better teams in tougher divisions. And with respect to the coaches and players of our Southeast Division rivals, we have a better coach and a better team. (Anybody want to check the record of the Bucks, Killer Bees or IceRays versus the Texas Brahmas over the past two seasons).

We're not being excluded. By the way, our team is the 2009 Central Hockey League Champions and we have a very nice silver loving cup in our barn. Can any of the South Texas All-Stars say that? And maybe we'll be able to send someone along with Justin Kinnunen this time.

I think having the All-Star Game back in Texas is fantastic. Something to look forward to on that weekend. I'm going to go. Why not? I'm sure Laredo in mid-January is beautiful (that's sarcasm folks). Besides, Brian Benway (Voice of the Bucks) and Joy Lindsay (Sports writer for the Laredo Morning Times and my favorite blogger) are two of my favorite people in South Texas. I'll just have to say hello somewhere other than the press area as Greg Rajan's ego will occupy most of the free space.

Besides, the Purple and Black need to have a strong contingent in the stands to cheer on their champions (we'll no doubt be the largest group of Caucasians in the building - no offense to my Hispanic cousins).

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Insider Interview - Casey Russell

The newest member of the Texas Brahmas talks about joining the club, playing with his brother and his thoughts on going pro

I got in touch with Casey Russell shortly after learning that he signed on with the Texas Brahmas, thanks to a press release by his alma mater, Bentley University. I immediately recognized Casey as Matt Burto's brother, having previously read about the two playing against each other at the World Jewish Cup in July of 2007. You can read a great article about the two here

Russell, 24, recently graduated from Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He played in 125 games as a defenseman for head coach Ryan Soderquist and is one of the highest scoring defensemen in the program's history.

He is currently working at a private golf club in Edgewater, Maryland. He is also the head coach of the Maryland All Stars Elite AAA Youth Hockey Program. We spoke by phone yesterday. Here is our conversation.

Q: Tell me about how were you recruited to play with the Texas Brahmas?

A: Well, It began last season. Obviously, as my brother played there, I knew about the team. Towards the end of our college season, Matt called me and said that a couple of their defensemen were hurt and would I be interested in coming down. At the time, I was supposed to go over to Serbia to play in the world championships with the Israeli team and to make a long story short, I was temporarily disqualified because the waiting period for the transfer wasn’t up yet. When I called coach Wildfong back, I guess they already brought in someone.

Q: Speaking of your brother, the two of you played junior hockey together in Des Moines. You played against him at the World Jewish Cup in Metulla, Israel. Now you have the opportunity to play with him again. How do you feel about that?

A: It’s awesome. I mean anytime you can meet up again with close friends or family members, it’s always a good thing. I think if I’m correct, we haven’t played on the same team for six years, since Des Moines. Maybe a little bit longer. It’ll be good to play with him on the team; hopefully we’ll have a real good year for the team.

Q: One of the things that I noticed in looking at the rosters of the teams you’ve played for is that several of the guys that you’ve played with have also graduated up to the CHL. Do you remain in touch with some of those guys and have they told you about what to expect in the league?

A: A little bit, yeah. One of my friends played in, I believe it was New Mexico and another played in Laredo last year. He said it’s a good league. I’m ready for the pros. I think it'll be a good stepping stone to hopefully further my career and have a successful season with the Brahmas. I’m not sure who else from my team last year went up to the CHL, but I’ve heard nothing but good things.

Q: How would you describe your work ethic and what do you think are your strengths and weaknesses as a defenseman?

A: I work as hard as I possibly can in the summer. It’s definitely a little harder being in the real world, trying to have a job and not having the comfort of going back to school, but you’ve got to make time to work hard and stay in the best shape possible. I’ve been to several training centers like Total Athlete Conditioning back in Connecticut and Athlete’s Performance in Arizona, so I work as hard as I can to be able to play the best I can.

I think my strengths - I like to think of myself as a great passer and I can read the ice really well. I’m physical, for the most part. My weaknesses, I mean, I obviously have weaknesses – I’d like to improve on everything, even my strong points. I’m just looking to contribute any way they need me to contribute...whatever that may be.

Q: You had a positive four years at Bentley University. Now you're done with college and approaching your rookie year as a professional – what’s your level of excitement as far as that goes?

A: I’m very excited. I don’t think it will hit me until maybe August when I’m usually heading back to Waltham (Massachusetts). I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s always good to change things up a little bit – four years in one place is a long time. I had a great time when I was at Bentley. I’m going to miss a lot of the guys…the coaching staff was great to me. I’m looking forward to moving forward.

Q: You had mentioned to me once before that your dad had an association with Andy Moog. What was the relationship there?

A: Back in the 80’s, I think it was, my dad, with Reggie Lemelin, started a company called Aeroflex. They were one of the first to use foam in goalie pads. They switched them over from the old, heavy leather. When Andy was in the tandem with Reggie in Boston, I know Reggie wore my dad’s pads and I think Andy wore them for a little bit, my father said. I don’t think he stuck with them. My dad said they know each other but, you know, they’re not best friends or anything like that.

Q: Speaking of your dad, Jeff Russell; with two boys – Matt getting ready to enter his second year pro and you about to enter the pro ranks – what do you think his feelings are about you joining up to play with Matt and the Brahmas?

A: I think he’s very excited. When we were both in college, we were both in Massachusetts but he would still drive to UMASS one night and to Boston the next night so, at least now he only has to buy one plane ticket. I think he’s excited. I think having two family members make it to the next level is also a very exciting thing because there are not a lot of opportunities, you know, to play professional in any sport. I hope he’s proud. He’s done a lot for us so it’s a good way to repay him.

Photo Credit: Casey Russell