Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Look who's back!

Nathan Saunders returns to the Brahmas blue line

The Texas Brahmas announced today that fan favorite Nathan Saunders has signed on for the 2010-11 campaign. The 6'3", 228 pound defenseman from Charlottetown, PEI will join rookie Jim Burichin on the blue line for his sixth pro season.

Brahmas Head Coach Dan Wildfong is thrilled to have Saunders back on the roster.

“Bringing in a player like Nathan fills in the void we had last season with grit and heart. Those are characteristics that cannot be taught, so we are happy to get him back for next season,” Wildfong said.

Saunders returns to the Texas Brahmas following a stint with Riviere-du-Loup CIMT (LNAH) where he tallied 12 points (7 G, 5 A) and 97 penalty minutes in 36 games played last season. He joined the Clarenville Caribous, a senior AAA ice hockey team based in Clarenville, Newfoundland and Labrador (West Coast Senior Hockey League). After winning the 2010 WCSHL Championship, the Caribous took home their second straight Herder Memorial Trophy.

During the Brahmas' President’s Cup Championship season, Saunders tallied a (pro) career-high 15 points (4 G, 11 A) and 159 penalty minutes. He ended the season with a +15 rating. Playing in all 16 post-season contests, he added three assists and 44 penalty minutes.

Outside of his other defensive skills, Saunders served as the de facto enforcer, a role that served notice to other teams - Don't Mess With Texas!

"I like being known as a guy who is always going to be there to stick up for his teammates and don’t get me wrong, I have no problem fighting," Saunders said in a March, 2009 interview with The Insider. "I enjoy it sometimes. It’s not something I want to do day in and day out, but I’m always going to stick up for my teammates. I don’t mind being labeled as that because I can always say no or yes to guys. You get chased around a little more being called a fighter, but I’ve got no problem saying no to guys if I don’t feel like fighting. So, it works out well for me."

The 25-year-old began his hockey career with the Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL). In four seasons (2001-02 to 2004-05), Saunders tallied 87 points (14 G, 73 A) and 794 penalty minutes in 261 games played. He was named to Team QMJHL for the RE/MAX Canada/Russia Challenge in 2003. He was team captain for the 2004-05 season.

Saunders played in 20 games with the Portland Pirates (AHL) in the 2005-06 season. He missed a significant amount of time out with a shoulder injury but returned to play nine games in the post-season.The following year was split between the Pirates and the Augusta Lynx (ECHL). He also split the 2007-08 season between the Providence Bruins (AHL) and the Johnstown Chiefs (ECHL).

He began the 2008-09 campaign in the ECHL, playing four games with the Stockton Thunder and six games with the Charlotte Checkers before joining the Brahmas on December 22nd.

There's no doubt, the addition of Saunders to the 2010-11 roster will create a huge buzz among Brahmas fans. The signing is also the first of several "sizable" additions to the team for the coming season. I'll have more on this when I publish interviews with Fonger and Ronnie Vogel, but for those who wanted some bigger players - you're going to get them this year.

Photo Credit: Robert Keith

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Jaeger signs with EIHL Champions

Brahmas mainstay will play in the UK next season

A huge loss for the Texas Brahmas is a tremendous gain for the Coventry Blaze. Head Coach Paul Thompson confirmed today that he has completed the signing of Brett Jaeger to fill the void created by (Blaze goalie) Peter Hirsch’s decision not to return to the team. Hirsch, who led the team to the 2009-10 Elite League Championship decided not to return and will instead take up a post with the Danish national ice hockey federation.

The decision by Jaeger was no doubt a difficult one, but ultimately what he thought was best for his future. Although the British pound hasn't done so well against the dollar lately, the Elite League pays better than the Central Hockey League and also offers the possibility to move up to higher levels of play.

"I’m very excited about the opportunity to play hockey overseas and with the chance for that to be representing the Coventry Blaze in the United Kingdom,” Jaeger said. “I’ve heard nothing but great things about both the team and the organization."

“This will be my first experience in the UK and I’m looking forward to helping the Blaze continue with its strong hockey tradition in the Elite League. I’m thrilled that I’m going to be playing in front of the enthusiastic and great fans the team has in Coventry and I’m expecting nothing less than our team having great success.”

Thompson declared himself equally pleased that Jaeger will be joining up with the Blaze.

“We’ve been very fortunate in Coventry to have had three outstanding championship winning goalies in Lehman, Koenig and Hirsch and I really believe that Brett has all the skills and ability to join that Elite group."

“Whether he’s been playing junior, in the East Coast League or with Texas in the CHL, his stats have been outstanding and he’s been a key player for every team he’s played for. He’s an athletic goalie and handles the puck exceptionally well but most importantly, he knows how to win.

“It takes a special kind of goalie to handle the pressure of looking to win every night and chasing championships so having signed a goalie who not only handles it, but thrives on it, is great news for our organization.”

After joining the Brahmas for the 2007-08 season, Jaeger made 104 regular season starts for the team, posting an impressive save percentage of 91.9% and goals against average of 2.52 per game over three seasons. In playoff action, his stats improved further to a 92.6% save percentage and 2.45 goals against average in 32 post season games. During his time with the Brahmas he also collected a string of CHL Goalie of the Week and Month honors.

The highlight of Jaeger’s professional career came in the 2008-09 season when his outstanding net minding led the Brahmas to the CHL title – with Jaeger posting career best figures of 2.2 goals against and a 93% save percentage in 16 play off games.

Photo Credit: Robert Keith

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Back in (purple and) Black

Off-season, what off-season?

OK, vacation's over. Too much going on in Brahma Land and elsewhere.

So Amarillo and Corpus are gone and NAHL teams will "fill the void" in those markets. So be it. How pro hockey lasted for so long in either city is a mystery to me. Still, one hates to see a team (or teams) fold - mainly because of the fans. I mean the small core of true fans. Not the ones who went to a game because they got free tickets at work or the ones who manage to get to a game once or twice a season. I mean the real fans, the season ticket holders. The people who drop $400 on a game-used sweater. The ones who support the team during the good and mostly the bad.

Always wanted to get up to the Panhandle to see a Gorillas game but never made it. Too late now. Amarillo was at its best when the Brahmas (Fort Worth style) were at their worst. Once Wildfong's Brahmas hit the ice, the Gorillas downhill slide began.

I always enjoyed watching the IceRays play. Couldn't help but be happy (sort of) to see them finally solve the Brahmas this past season. I still think they were one of the most underrated teams in the league last season.

One of the biggest casualties of the Corpus thing may be Greg Rajan's blog. I don't know about you but I was on that thing every day. It's like the Drudge Report of the CHL and I hope it remains in some form or another. We've already lost Joy Lindsay's Laredo Bucks blog due to her (escape) leaving the Laredo Morning Times. Sad stuff - she was a fantastic blogger.

The whole Arizona Sundogs thing has been interesting. Not sure what the real story was on the relationship between the CHL and Consolidated Sports Holdings, but I get the feeling that Consolidated was happy to be out of there. They are putting the new NAHL team in Amarillo and recently purchased the league's Texas Tornado.

Looks like a new ownership group will be announced soon. I'm thinking it's going to be the Fain family - commercial real estate developers in Prescott Valley. They own and operate Tim's Toyota Center with Global Entertainment in a joint venture. I could be wrong, but they are the likely candidates.

The biggest story of the last few weeks has obviously been the integration of the IHL into the CHL. So now we have 18 teams - a CHL high if I'm not mistaken. This is going to be really interesting. Lots of rumors going around on this one but no matter what happens in the end, the coming season should be really different and I think, really good. We should have the conference alignment and schedule in the next couple of weeks. Watch for a very interesting schedule.

A side note on this whole affair. If you look at the map, the "new" CHL will have a tremendous footprint in the Central United States. Now overlay a map of ECHL cities on the East and West Coasts and you have the makings of a nationwide AA hockey league. In my opinion, something that needs to be, eventually. Just a thought.

Then there's the Brahmas. First let me say (and I say it all the time) that there's nothing worse than being an insider who can't tell you what he knows (or thinks he knows). But I have an understanding with Fonger and the team and they will announce new players when they deem it to be the right time. I didn't know about Burichin, but he looks like a solid kid.

If the moves I believe Fonger is making come to fruition, we may see a very different team this season - at every position. I'm going to go ahead and let this slip. For those of you who wanted "size" last season, you're going to get it this season.

I knew about Jaeger's departure several days before it was announced. Can't say I'm too happy about how it went down, but there it is. Jaegs gave a lot to the Brahmas organization and he will always be remembered fondly. Now what? With Jaeger and Palmer out, we suddenly have a void to fill in net. Hey - Larry Sterling is available now that Port Huron is gone. How'd you like to see that?

Stay tuned. More player signings will be announced soon.

Side-note: Most of you probably don't know but I've had some health problems that have kept me down for a couple of months but I'm back in (purple and) black and should have some regular posting starting up again very soon.

Photo Credit: Walter Tenery

Monday, June 14, 2010

Brahmas sign rookie defenseman

Niagra University’s Burichin second signing for 2010-11 season

The Texas Brahmas announced the signing of defenseman Jim Burichin to the 2010-11 roster today. Burichin, 24, played NCAA hockey for Niagra University in Lewiston, New York.

"I'm very excited about the opportunity to play for the Brahmas," Burichin said. "Being able to play professional hockey is a dream come true for me. I am very fortunate to have played for Niagara, which helped me build a foundation in order to take my game to the next level."

The Strongsville, Ohio native will join the Brahmas after playing 97 games on the blue line for the Purple Eagles, scoring three goals, 10 assists and 13 points. While he didn't put up big numbers, Burichin's strong work ethic and leadership abilities helped to solidify a blue line which advanced to the College Hockey America Championship game in 2008 and 2010, with the Purple Eagles taking home the 2008 title.

"I pride myself on playing good defense," Burichin said. "I'm the kind of player who is going to grind it out in the corners of the zone, block shots and make big hits. I'm not too worried about getting points. I want to get the puck out to the forwards and let them take care of the scoring."

Burichin led the team in blocked shots (38) during his senior year, a niche he realized in the middle of his junior year. He was rewarded with additional playing time after he stepped in front of opponents’ shots.

“That’s one of the parts of the game that people don’t know about, but those are the kinds of things I make my game around. I’ve got to get in and do the gritty stuff that doesn’t get much glory.”

Brahmas head coach Dan Wildfong is confident Burichin will make an impact with his re-tooled defensive corps.

"We will look to Jim to fill in the role as a steady defenseman. His reputation will keep him held accountable to be able to play at this level in addition to being a physical presence on the blue line," Wildfong said.

Burichin is known as a hard-worker who “punches the clock every day,” according to Niagra
head coach Dave Burkholder.

“I am so pleased for Jim, as he embarks on the next phase in life," Burkholder said. "He had a good career at Niagara and his best season on the ice was this past year. He will be a great addition to the Brahmas on and off the ice."

Photo Credits: Niagra University