Monday, December 7, 2009

The Insider Interview - Dan Wildfong

With 22 games behind him, the Texas Brahmas head coach talks about the 2009-10 season thus far

22 games into the 2009-10 season and the Texas Brahmas are tied for fourth place in the Southern Conference. That probably doesn't sound as good as you'd like but consider the fact that if the league still had divisions, the Brahmas would be tied for second place in the Southeast Division. Regardless, at 10-9-3, the boys from North Richland Hills have had their most difficult start since the team re-joined the league in 2007.

I spoke to Dan Wildfong recently about his thoughts on how the season has progressed for the Brahmas. Here is our conversation.

Q: We’re a third of the way through the season now. There have been a lot of changes to the Brahmas roster and a lot has happened so far this campaign. Do you think the boys are coming together to where they need to be at this point?

A: We’ve still got work to do – we’ve got a lot of work, but I see us working hard and competing the way I want us to. That’s over half the battle. If you don’t compete and don’t battle, you’re not going to be here long. These guys are working their balls off now and we’re winning battles and we’re starting to win some games because of it. We didn’t do that at the beginning of the season.

Q: Goaltending had a rough start, compared to previous years. Both Jaeger and Palmer seem to be working well together – it’s a great tandem. What’s your feeling on the goaltending right now?

A: Ronnie’s consistently working with them and they’ve got to consistently push each other. We’re going to need to see them step up – both of them, and see some consistency. I think they’re starting to come around; they’re starting to make some big saves for us but we need to see it on a regular basis and I think they can say the same thing about themselves. They work hard in practice and they keep battling through it and they’ll overcome it.

Q: What’s your opinion on your defense?

A: We’re not 100% all on the same page right now, probably because we’ve been bringing in a lot of guys. We’ve got to get that solidified before we can start making a big run here. We’ve got to make sure we have our defense first…you know, its tough breaking some guys’ habits when they were never taught defense. It’s going to take some time but we’re going to work on it; we’re going to get better at it and our power play – we’ve been working on it. We seem to be getting pucks to the net and getting chances and it’s not going in right now, but if you pout about it or look at your numbers, that’s when you start going down. We’ve got to continue to work and no one’s feeling sorry for us – we’ve just got to battle.

Q: Have you ever played on a team that had a power play situation like this before?

A: Yeah, in Shreveport we had it at the beginning of the year; I think we were one of the bottom teams in the league and we just said Ok, here, we’re just going to start from scratch. I think that’s our next step here is to start from scratch and say OK, it doesn’t matter what our numbers are now, it’s in the past, it’s going to start from tonight on. With our talent out there, we should be putting some of those in. We get chances, we’re just not going for it…but we have to get that going for us to be successful this year.

Q: How frustrating is that for you, with all the work that you’ve put into it, to not see results out on the ice?

A: That’s one thing I’ve got to watch. I can’t get frustrated. If we’re working hard, I see the progression of it getting better. It’s not where it needs to be by any means. But what I’m saying is, it’s gradually getting better. We’ve got to just keep on working on it. Hopefully a couple of these (holding a puck) will start going in. We can’t work that hard and it not happen.

Q: You’ve got a couple of seasons as a head coach behind you, and a championship, and now you’re facing your biggest challenge so far this season. Tell me about Dan Wildfong as a coach, right now, where you’re at?

A: Right now, I basically…it is a challenge when you take on younger guys. We have a lot of the older guys – they know all the systems and stuff, but the younger guys, they’re learning as they go. So, when we’re losing those 2-1 games, its because sometimes they’re learning and it is an adjustment and it is, where in college hockey, you’re just wide open and you hit everything and you really don’t have to play a position as much as you do here. Here, if we’re out of position, it’s losing the back of the net and a good scoring opportunity.

You know, it’s a process and it doesn’t happen overnight. A lot of our players thought at the beginning that we’d come in here and we’d be the same team. We’ve made some moves and we’ve made some changes. You have to work hard first, number one. Once we got our older guys buying in again and working hard, the first – I’m going to say eight games – they weren’t doing that. Not all of them, but some of them weren’t. Now they’re doing it. Now they’re starting to lead the young guys. Now I can pay attention more to the younger guys and bring them along, where I was hoping to work with the younger guys right off the bat.

It just takes time sometimes. It’s not going to happen overnight. Our fans have to understand that we’re constantly working – we’re not sitting around on our rear ends. These guys are battling hard for whatever we can get.

Q: I wanted to ask you about stats. For example, going into the last game with the Ice Rays. Brett Hughes hasn’t coached a team past your boys since the last game of the 2007-08 season with the Austin Ice Bats. Then the Ice Rays haven’t beaten a Brahmas team since 2006. I look at things like that and think, OK the Brahmas have a better chance of winning than not. Do you ever look at stats like that?

A: Not a chance. I don’t even come close to looking at things like that. We knew they have a skilled team…we knew we had to keep it simple against them. I feel like we could’ve buried a few more chances; we had tons of opportunities and we’ve got to start scoring on those opportunities. I’m constantly adjusting lines; hopefully we get some lines set. But if you’re not working hard, I can’t teach work ethic or I can’t teach systems.

Photo Credit: Robert Keith

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