Friday, July 30, 2010

Matt Boyle returns to PEI

Defenseman will play for the University of Prince Edward Island Panthers

Former Texas Brahmas assistant coach Forbes MacPherson will have a new defenseman with a taste of pro experience on his team this season. Matt Boyle, 21, has committed to the University of Prince Edward Island (AUS) where MacPherson serves as head coach. Boyle plans to study for a degree in accounting while he plays college hockey.

Boyle played two seasons with the Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL) and suited up with the LewistonMAINEiacs (QMJHL) last season, recording 17 points (4 G, 13 A) and 55 PIM in 62 games played.

The 6', 190 pound native of West Royalty, PRI, signed an amateur tryout contract and joined the Brahmas' battered blue line for the six-game series against the Odessa Jackalopes in late March/early April.

MacPherson,37, a native of Charlottetown, PEI, was confirmed as the head coach of the Panthers in March. He had served as interim head coach since November 2009. Under his leadership, the Panthers flourished, winning 10 of 14 games, finishing with a 15-11-2 record. They were eliminated in the Atlantic University Sport quarterfinals in February.

“I starting talking with Forbie in the winter about coming to play at UPEI and I thought it would be a good move because I wanted to play in front of family on a regular basis,” Boyle said. “The hockey program at UPEI has made a big jump recently and has become a contender in the AUS, and it looks like it will be a strong contender this year. That made my choice to play at home easier.”

MacPherson said Boyle epitomizes exactly what he coaching staff is looking for in any potential UPEI player.

“Matt is dedicated, hard working and intense. He is a complete defenseman who will be very tough to play against. Matt has some offensive upside, but will be relied on to be a shutdown guy and compete against other teams’ top lines.”

Photo Credits: Top/Robert Keith; Bottom: University of PEI
Pierce is back!

Brahmas re-sign steady forward

The Texas Brahmas announced the re-signing of forward Matt Pierce for the 2010-11 campaign on Friday afternoon.

Pierce, 25, was an impact player for the Brahmas last season, finishing with 17 points (10 G, 7 A, +1) in 19 regular season games with Texas. His best game came against the Laredo Bucks on March 5th, when he recorded four points (3 G, 1 A) and his first career hat trick in the 5-2 win at the NYTEX Sports Centre.

His contribution during the post-season came in the form of two goals and two assists in six games.

Pierce scored 21 points (7 G, 14 A, +2) in 39 games with the Mississippi RiverKings before he was dealt to the Brahmas in exchange for Elias Godoy trade deadline on February 8th. Pierce tallied 36 points (15 G, 21 A) for Mississippi and finished with a +14 in 62 games for the RiverKings in 2008-09.

"Matt is a skilled two way player who had remarkable contributions at the end of last year. We look forward to what he can bring to the Brahmas for this season," Brahmas Head Coach Dan Wildfong said.

Prior to playing in the CHL, he played a pivotal role with the Knoxville Ice Bears’ (SPHL) championship win in 2008. Pierce tallied 22 goals with the Ice Bears, second most on the team roster and collected a pair of goals and an assist during the post-season.

Photo Credit: Robert Keith

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Palmer signs with Rockford

Former Brahmas goalie remains in Chicago Blackhawks system

The Rockford IceHogs announced on Monday that Joe Palmer has been signed to two-way AHL/ECHL contract.

Palmer, 22, competed in his first season of pro hockey with the Brahmas in 2009-10. The Yorkville, New York native appeared in 32 contests, finishing the season 13-10-4 with 2.75 goals against average and a .914 save percentage.

“We are thrilled to have Joe back for a second season as we felt he made great progress last year,” Chicago Blackhawks General Manager of Minor League Affiliations Mark Bernard said. “We are very excited to follow his development during this season.”

The goalie played three seasons of NCAA hockey at Ohio State University (NCAA), where he appeared in 71 games and compiled a career record of 25-36-9 to go along with 3.04 goals against average and a .889 save percentage. Palmer also represented the USA in the 2008 IIHF World Championship.

The 6-foot, 1-inch, 205 pound net minder was selected 96th overall (Round 4) by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. He participated in his second Blackhawks prospect camp earlier this month

Palmer may see time this season with the Toledo Walleyes, the IceHogs' ECHL affiliate.

Photo Credit: Robert Keith

Friday, July 23, 2010

2010-11 CHL Schedule released

Brahmas open with two-game series at Allen

The 2010-11 CHL schedule was released today and for the Texas Brahmas, it looks pretty sweet. The 66 games played include 28 home weekend dates (11 Friday, 13 Saturday and 4 Sunday games). In fact, it may be one of the best schedules the club has ever had (including Fort Worth days).

The Brahmas will open their thirteenth season with a road trip, facing their cross town rivals, the Allen Americans for back-to-back games, Friday, October 15 and Saturday, October 16. The Brahmas open their season at home Friday, October 22 against the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees.

The Brahmas’ longest home stand is a five-game span from November 24th thru December 4th (Bossier-Shreveport, Laredo, Bossier-Shreveport, Missouri, and Colorado). The longest road trip will be a four-game span from December 7-17th (Laredo, Tulsa, Allen and Bossier-Shreveport).

"This is one of the best schedules in the history of the team in terms of facing our geographical rivals, especially Allen and Bossier,” Brahmas GM Mike Barack said. “I believe our home schedule is extremely favorable to all Brahmas fans and we anticipate a great season."

The longest distance the boys will have to travel (1,031 miles) will be for two games against the Arizona Sundogs on October 29-30th.

The Brahmas will play just nine games against five Northern Conference teams including Colorado (2), Wichita (3), Fort Wayne (1), Missouri (1) and Bloomington (2). Only two of those games (against Wichita) will be played on the road. There are no games scheduled against the Dayton Gems, Evansville Icemen, Quad City Mallards or Rapid City Rush.

The bulk of the schedule will be played within the Southern Conference. The historic rivalry against the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs will continue will 11 games set (5 at CenturyTel, 6 at NYTEX). The new rivalry against the Allen Americans will continue, also with 11 games scheduled (6 at Allen Event Center, 5 at NYTEX).

The Brahmas will meet the Odessa Jackalopes nine times (4 at Ector County Coliseum, 5 at NYTEX), the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees eight times (4 at State Farm Arena, 4 at NYTEX), the Laredo Bucks seven times (4 at Laredo Energy Arena, 3 at NYTEX), the Tulsa Oilers six times (4 at BOK Center, 2 at NYTEX), Arizona Sundogs three times (2 at Tim’s Toyota Center and 1 at NYTEX) and the Mississippi RiverKings twice (at the DeSoto Civic Center).

The Brahmas end 2010 with a bang as they host the Mudbugs for a 6:00 PM New Year’s Eve game.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Chorneyko signs with Bakersfield

Rookie forward will begin pro career in the ECHL

The Bakersfield Condors have announced that Adam Chorneyko has signed with the club for the 2010-11 season.

Chorneyko, 21, is entering his first full season in the pro ranks. He played five seasons in the junior ranks in the Western Hockey League, and then one season with the University of Lethbridge, posting 35 points (16 G, 19 A) in 26 games.

He appeared in the final four regular season games with the Brahmas, scoring two goals and adding an assist. He also skated in seven playoff games, recording two points.

"Adam is a dynamic power forward, he'll be a physical force and score some goals," Condors coach Marty Raymond said. "It's a great combination."

The Condors, who have yet to announce an affiliation with a National Hockey League team, will open the ECHL season on Oct. 16.

Photo Credit: Robert Keith

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A few minutes with...Ryan McLeod

The former Colorado Eagle talks about joining the Brahmas, changes in the league and playing at NYTEX

The Texas Brahmas made a splash with the signing of Ryan McLeod to the 2010-11 roster on July 9th. The speedy forward is busy preparing for his fifth pro season and is sure to make a big impact with the purple and black. I recently had an opportunity to speak with Ryan, who is spending the off-season at home in British Columbia. Here is our conversation.

Q: You’ve played against Texas a few times last season. I wanted to get your thoughts on joining the team.

A: I’m real excited to join the Brahmas. I know that they have a history of winning, so it’s exciting to join the team and I’m looking forward to getting started in October.

Q: You’ve gotten a taste of the Brahmas style of play. Considering that and maybe in your conversations with Fonger, how do you see your role with the team?

A: I’m not sure exactly where I’m going to fit in. I guess that depends on how I come into camp – where he sees me fitting in. I hope to be an offensive player as well as a solid defensive player. I want to play in key situations, so I’m going to work hard this summer and hopefully come in and be one of the top guys, both offensively and defensively.

Q: As a hockey player, what do you think is your biggest strength and what do you believe you still need work on?

A: I definitely think that skating would be my strength. I have pride in that and I try to use it a lot – use speed to accelerate my game. I can definitely work on my shot and you know, just little things…defensive play and positioning is a big key in the Central League, so I’ll work on those things and see where it goes.

Q: During the off-season, what are you doing to stay in playing condition?

A: I pride myself in my off-season work ethic. I usually hit the gym up and train a lot. There are a couple of guys here who play in the NHL, so I train with them a little bit here and there. I just try and work as hard as I can on endurance and strength.

Q: You’ve played with a few teams in the CHL; you’ve also had the opportunity to play in the ECHL and over in Sweden. What’s your feeling on the level of competition in the CHL versus the other league you’ve played in?

A: The Central League’s got a lot of talented players; they always have three deep lines which wasn’t the same over in Europe where we had two top lines and then the third line was a little bit weaker with younger players. The Central League overall is a great league – a lot of talent coming out of here. I think that they’re comparable – just a different style of hockey.

Q: What’s your reaction to the integration of the IHL teams into the CHL?

A: Well it’s nice because there’s a couple of teams that folded this summer so I think with these teams coming in, it’s going to be pretty exciting to have that many teams competing. I know that the IHL is a real tough league. It seems like they’re probably comparable to the Central League so I guess we’ll find out. I think it’s really exciting and I’m looking forward to getting to play against them.

Q: The playoff format for the upcoming season has been released and it’s been ridiculed by a lot of people. Have you had a chance to look at how it’s set up, and have you formed an opinion?

A: I haven’t looked into it too much…I know it’s 16 of the 18 teams make it into the playoffs. I think that’s pretty cool. It’ll be interesting to see what happens. I’m not sure exactly how it’s going to work out. I guess we’ll have to go through one year first and see how it plays out. I think there’ll be good rivalries and a lot of good playoff hockey.

Q: As a player, do you think with all but two teams making it into the post-season, it dilutes the importance of the regular season?

A: A little bit, but I mean…I’m not too sure how this is going to work out. I think if you’re the top seeds going into the playoffs, it’s going to be a little bit different now. But I still think it’s going to be a good playoff format and I think it’s going to be interesting to see how it works out.

Q: You’ve had a chance to travel quite a bit in your career. Do you think that North Texas has a particular appeal to you?

A: Yeah, definitely. We loved coming down there last season. We came down and stayed four or five days. It’s amazing down there. I look forward to coming in there and seeing what it’s all about…just getting to travel around Texas a little bit is going to be neat. It’s nice weather and it just seems like a great spot.

Q: I wanted to ask you about the transition of playing in an arena like the Budweiser Events Center to playing at a more intimate venue like the NYTEX Sports Centre. Do you have any preference in playing in a larger venue versus a smaller one?

A: I find that if you’re an opposition team coming into Colorado, it’s fairly easy to play there because it’s a big rink; its kind of spread out but when we came into the Texas rink – it’s tough to play there. I look forward to being part of that. Teams dread coming in there. It’s a real tough rink to play in. The fans are loud and right in your face – I think it’s going to be neat to be on their side this time.

Take a look at a couple of videos of Ryan in action with the Eagles here and here

Monday, July 19, 2010

An unofficial history of the Texas Brahmas

Part Six - Blue Line

The Blue Line Ice Complex was an unimposing structure. In fact, unless you knew it was there, you might not know it was there. Set back in the shadow of the Birdville School District’s Athletic and Fine Arts Complex, the 140,000 square foot building housed three ice rinks and was the first facility of its kind in Northeast Tarrant County.

Blue Line was the brain child of Keller entrepreneurs Greg and Valerie Fitzgerald, who recognized that ice sports were becoming more popular locally, especially given the success of the National Hockey League’s Dallas Stars, who were on track to win the Stanley Cup. The Fitzgerald’s believed that an ice-skating facility marketed towards young families, could draw over a million customers annually.

Their plan was to build a premier ice complex, using the best ideas from many rinks that they visited beforehand. This would include a 3,000-square-foot full-service restaurant with a view of the ice, sky box suites, a media room and a coffee shop. Each rink would have four standard locker rooms. In addition, the complex would house one professional-size locker room. Private party rooms and an arcade would complete the family recreation center.

In addition to offering hockey programs for players of all ages, Blue Line would offer skating classes, private skating lessons and figure skating as well.

While looking for locations, the Fitzgerald’s were drawn to North Richland Hill’s 310-acre Home Town Development, a four-phase, master-planned, mixed-use project which would eventually consist of approximately 1,400 homes on 300 acres, with more than 300,000 square feet of office, retail and civic buildings.

Construction began on the building in 1998. The facility, which reportedly cost about $12 million to build, included a special insulating material that was used in the ceiling which allowed Blue Line to use indirect lighting, eliminating hot spots on the ice, as well as shadowing.

The Blue Line Ice Complex opened at the end of October of 1999 and before long, over 700 people were active in the hockey leagues and figure skating programs. The NAHL’s Texas Tornado as well as the University of North Texas Eagles soon called the facility home along with numerous high school and recreational leagues.

Replicating the success of many professional hockey facilities, Blue Line sold a number of advertising spaces on the ice surfaces, as well as on the dasher boards. Even their Zamboni machines were used as advertising vehicles.

Due to cost overruns during its construction, various components were not ready by the time the rink opened for business. The pro shop was run out of a trailer in the parking lot. The restaurant was never completed.

Although the owners had an optimistic vision, overhead costs were high and the facility failed to turn a profit. Ice space went unused and expenses skyrocketed. In addition, three other ice rinks had since opened in Northeast Tarrant County in Euless, Flower Mound and at the Grapevine Mills Mall.

Being crushed by more than $9 million in debt to more than 25 creditors on a property that the county appraised at $14.4 million, Blue Line's owners, Fitzgerald Holdings, LP filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February of 2002 in order to reorganize the debts from construction of the complex. They hoped it would be a quick bankruptcy but that was not to be.

With a construction loan set to go permanent, finances became an issue. The Fitzgerald’s sought permanent refinancing from a secured lender but were unable to get it.

In May 2004, the bankruptcy was converted to Chapter 7 because the owners were unable to bring in enough revenue to meet the projected payments. Blue Line closed its doors in June.

By late August, Blue Line was headed for foreclosure. Although prospective buyers had expressed strong interest in buying the rink, it became clear that nothing would happen until the bank took the property back.

On September 7th, Frost Bank purchased the rink in a foreclosure auction for $3.8 million and held the title while the city of North Richland Hills pushed the bank to sell the property.

Prospective buyers included Charles Key, owner of the Texas Tycoons minor league basketball team. The Tycoons were a part of the American Basketball Association. Key hoped to recast the skating center with as many as 11 basketball courts and an indoor soccer or football field. He Planned to gut the interior and add more than 6,000 seats arranged in a pit style around the courts. He wanted to host ABA teams and amateur teams from North Texas for competitions.

Tom Train Sr. also expressed interest in the property. Train was a former general manager of Blue Line and former operator of Texas Ice in Fort Worth. He wanted to reopen the facility as an ice rink.

Blaine Stoughton, a retired professional hockey player who had played eight seasons in the NHL was also in on the bidding. Stoughton had announced in September that he had a purchase agreement to buy the rink. He wanted to reopen two of the sheets of ice and possibly use the third for an indoor football or soccer field.

But by early 2005, none of the potential buyers could put together a bid that Frost Bank was willing to accept. All during this time, the building and its contents suffered from vandalism, theft and a general lack of upkeep. Moisture had collected into the compressors that were used to freeze the ice and had started to corrode the equipment.

Other parties expressed interest in the property and some even made offers but two years after Blue Line had closed its doors, the facility remained dormant. That would change a year-and-a-half later, when an investment group led by two brothers with a vision would change the face of indoor sports in Tarrant County.

Next up: Vision

Photo Credit: Cleburne Sheet Metal
A few minutes with…Jeff Hazelwood

The former Las Vegas Wrangler talks about signing with the Brahmas and what he hopes to bring to the ice in 2010-11

Jeff Hazelwood loved living and playing ice hockey in Las Vegas, but now he's looking forward to his second pro season in North Richland Hills. The Texas Brahmas announced his signing last Friday.

Hazelwood, who turns 25 on Saturday, was a standout at Curry College, leading all scorers in his senior year with 25 goals, and 23 assists in 27 games. In 53 games over his junior and senior years, Hazelwood posted 43 goals and 93 points. In 2009, he was named the ECAC Northeast Player of the Year. He was also honored as the school's Male Athlete of the Year as well as the New England Hockey Writers Association ECAC Northeast MVP. Younger brother Alec has followed in his footsteps and will be entering his sophomore year at Curry College where he also plays forward.

Hazelwood signed with the Las Vegas Wranglers (ECHL) for his rookie season and put up 20 points (8 G, 12 A) and 18 penalty minutes in 53 games played. He received a qualifying offer from the team for the upcoming season, making him one of eight protected players, but opted instead to join the Brahmas’ quest for a second CHL championship.

I spoke to Jeff today at his family home in Dublin, California. Here is our conversation.

Q: How did you decide on the Brahmas as the next stop in your pro career?

A: I spoke with my agent and he had a pretty good relationship with the coaching staff there at Texas, so thought that it would be a great place for me to play next season and after talking to the coaching staff, it sounded like it would be a great fit. I’m excited. I’m excited to get the hockey season going.

Q: You had a good reputation as a player both at St. Norbert and at Curry College and then for your rookie season, you get the opportunity to play out in Las Vegas…how cool was that?

A: Playing my first year pro in Vegas – you couldn’t beat it; it was a great time. I’ve always loved the city of Las Vegas. There’s so much there to do; you know, I figured for my hockey career, I had to go somewhere different and Texas seems to be the right place but as far as Vegas, it’s a great place…

Q: You had decent numbers throughout your collegiate career and during your rookie season as well. I know the Brahmas coaches see your potential for a real breakout season…what do you think your biggest asset is to bring to the team?

A: I think the biggest thing I can bring to the team is my speed. I’ve always been known for how good my speed is and I think that can translate into a lot of offensive opportunities for me. I believe this can be a break out year for me. I’ve really trained hard this summer and I have a strong focus on what I need to do there in Texas…my game is all offense and I think I can really bring that this year. I think that’s my big thing; my speed, my play-making abilities and hopefully I be putting the puck in the net.

Q: I wanted to ask you a little about your off-season regimen and your work ethic. What are you doing to keep in shape for the summer?

A: For the off-season, I’m usually on the ice about three to four times a week; I try to get on the ice as much as possible. I usually go to the gym about six days a week for about an hour-and-a-half to two hours. My little Brother is actually a freshman at Curry College and he’s back here for the summer too so he and I actually train together which makes it nice – it’s a lot easier to go with him than someone else. We’ve put together a good workout program and we work out as much as possible. I think that this year coming up is a big year for me. I’ve really been working hard this summer and I’ve been trying to do things differently for training and I think it’ll pay off.

Q: Looking at your game, where would you like to see the most improvement this season?

A: I think for me personally, this year I really want to be a complete player. Everybody knows that I’m an offensive player but I also want to show people that I can be a two-way player. I think that’s my biggest thing.

Photo Credit: Las Vegas Wranglers
McLeod headed for Denmark

Brahmas defenseman to play for HvIK Hvidovre

Texas Brahmas fans have lost a giant on the blue line. Kevin McLeod has signed to play next season in Denmark. This comes as no surprise to those who knew of his desire to play in Europe. With Hvidovre Ligahockey in the AL-Bank Ligaen, McLeod gets his shot.

One can't deny the impact McLeod has had on the Brahmas, not just in his scoring threat as well as excellent defensive play, but also in the level of quiet moxy that he brought to the ice.

McLeod played forward in college but was moved to the blue line by Fonger for his rookie season – he adapted well, becoming a versatile offensive defenseman. During his three seasons with the Brahmas, he tallied 114 points (46 G, 68 A, +24) and 201 penalty minutes in 168 games played. This includes 19 power play goals, 29 power play assists and 13 game-winning goals. In the post-season, has scored 20 points (5 G, 15 A, +4) with 40 penalty minutes in 31 games.

He was the top scoring Brahmas defenseman each year. During the 2008-09 season, he was tied with Amarillo's Sam Ftorek for most goals by a defenseman (20) league-wide. He also led all CHL defensemen with 12 power play goals, six game-winning goals and had the best shot percentage at .130.

Last November, McLeod scored his first hat trick in a 4-3 overtime road loss to the Allen Americans. In January, he was called up to the American Hockey League where he saw action in five games with the Springfield Falcons.

It's safe to say that Marv was everything the fans wanted in a player and on the flip side, he felt the same way about the fans.

"The fans are unbelievable. The fan club especially. The treated us very well from day one when we moved in; they had everything at the apartments. They never hesitated if you asked them for something or needed a favor. During the games, the fans were great. They were loud; they were everything you could ask for from a pro hockey fan, basically."

Good luck Marv and happy trails!

Photo Credit: Robert Keith
Brahmas add two more players to roster

Toneys and Hazelwood on board for upcoming season

The Texas Brahmas added to their 2010-11 their roster on Friday as they announced the signing of defenseman Nick Toneys and forward Jeff Hazelwood.

“It’s great to bring in young guys early in the season as we can help them develop,” Brahmas Head Coach Dan Wildfong said regarding his newest signings. “Nick will be a solid addition to our blue line and with Jeff’s offensive reputation, I believe our fans will have a great team to look forward to watching come October.”

Toneys. 27, joins the Brahmas following a season across the pond with the Nottingham Panthers (EIHL) where he posted 10 points (3 G, 7 A) and 82 penalty minutes in 54 games played during the regular season. He added an assist and two PIM during four post-season contests.

Prior to heading overseas, Toneys played a season in the ECHL with the Phoenix Roadrunners and Augusta Lynx and two seasons with the Kalamazoo Wings (UHL) where he was a member of the 2006-07 Colonial Cup Champion team during his rookie season.

As a professional, the 6', 2" 195 pound defenseman has accumulated 30 points (6 G, 24 A) and 192 penalty minutes in 174 games played.

Toneys played two seasons at Michigan Tech and two seasons at St. Norbert College. In 90 NCAA games the newest Brahma defenseman had 20 points (5 G, 15 A) and 48 penalty minutes. He played one season of Junior A hockey with the Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL).

Hazelwood, 24, joins the Brahmas after spending his rookie season with the Las Vegas Wranglers (ECHL). The speedy forward tallied 20 points (8 G, 12 A) and 18 penalty minutes in 53 games played.

Before turning pro, the 6', 185 pound native of Dublin, California was a student athlete at St. Norbert College (2005-07) and Curry College (2007-09). At St. Norbert, Hazelwood tallied 66 points (24 G, 42 A) and 21 penalty minutes in 60 games played. During his time at Curry, he posted 93 points (43 G, 50 A) and was named the ECAC Northeast “Player of the Year” award in 2009.

He played two seasons of Junior A hockey with the Green Bay Gamblers (USHL), Des Moines
Buccaneers (USHL) and the Billings Bulls (NAHL).

Photo Credits: Nick Toneys courtesy of Nottingham Panthers. Jeff Hazelwood courtesy of Las Vegas Wranglers.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

An unofficial history of the Texas Brahmas

Part Five – Ceasing Operations

The Brahmas and the City of Fort Worth were working under a firm deadline of Sunday, April 30th to come to a lease agreement, but that date came and went with no indication that a working arrangement could be reached.

"We thought the city might come back and give us a deal that might help us," Brahmas General Manager Mike Barack said. "But as it turned out, there were substantial increases which made it impossible for us to play."

By Tuesday morning, the writing was on the wall and in the news. The title of Kelly Morris' article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram spelled out the reality of the situation - Brahmas won'’t play in Fort Worth next season.

Asked to comment, Mike Barack said the Brahmas organization would have an official response soon, but would not elaborate. Fort Worth officials on the other hand, went on the record to defend their position.

"The City and the Brahmas have worked together to bring nine seasons of hockey to Fort Worth," Assistant City Manager Joe Paniagua said. "We are disappointed that we could not reach an agreement with the Brahmas organization in time to accommodate dates for a tenth season.

"I didn't know we'’d get to this point", Paniagua went on. "They just didn’t feel comfortable with the amount of money we were asking for. We had very little room to negotiate downward. Our costs were such that we at least needed to get that minimum amount."

"It'’s a very expensive venture," Public Events Director Kirk Slaughter said. "Just to build the ice takes three days. We want to recapture some of the costs in producing the sport. We’'ve tried to accommodate the Brahmas the best we can, but we are in a situation where we need to cover our costs."”

On May 3rd, the Brahmas organization officially made their decision public with the following statement:

The Fort Worth Brahmas have today announced they have received approval from the Central Hockey League to suspend operations for the 2006-2007 season, effective immediately.

Negotiations for a lease agreement with the City of Fort Worth that would allow the Brahmas to play in the Fort Worth Convention Center and the Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum during the 2006-2007 season of play have not been favorable, thus, Brahmas majority owner Stuart Fraser has applied for and received permission from the CHL to suspend the operations. Fraser will continue to own the Brahmas franchise, and although the team will not participate in the 2006-2007 season, the franchise will remain a member in good standing of the Central Hockey League with the clear objective of returning to action in the near and foreseeable future.

“The current lease scenario presented to us by the City of Fort Worth makes it a financial impossibility for us to continue our operations as they currently exist,” Fraser said. “The financial hardships created by significantly increased lease costs combined with limited availability of prime weekend dates for home games made this decision necessary, if unfortunate.”

“Our intention from day one was to play professional hockey and provide affordable family entertainment in the City of Fort Worth,” continued Fraser. “However, at least for the 2006-2007 season, that is no longer a financially feasible option. We intend to aggressively and immediately pursue and consider all available options that will allow the Brahmas to quickly return to active playing status with the Central Hockey League.”

Today’s announcement comes on the heels of nine seasons of play in Fort Worth by the Brahmas. The club’s inaugural season was in 1997-1998, with the first four years of play spent as members of the Western Professional Hockey League (WPHL) prior to the League’s May 2001 merger with the CHL.

“I want to publicly thank our extremely loyal and devoted fan base as well as our committed corporate partners,” Mike Barack said. “We have been very fortunate to have the unwavering support of so many people and businesses over the last nine years.”

Barack went on to say that he believed the Brahmas would be missed in the Fort Worth community.

“Without a doubt, the Brahmas have been proud ambassadors of Fort Worth during our time here. We’ve made hundreds of in-school appearances and executed a phenomenal number of community relations programs across Tarrant County. Additionally, we have made thousands of donations per year to non-profit and charitable organizations throughout the Metroplex. Our efforts to stay active in the community have been constant,” he explained.

Fraser also wanted to go on record with a public commendation of the Brahmas’ front office and the Central Hockey League.

“Our organization has been very fortunate to have so many hard working and dedicated employees. Everyone that has been associated with the Brahmas has put in a tremendous amount of time and energy to benefit this franchise. I would be remiss not to recognize the efforts of all of our staff members that have worked so hard on our behalf over the past nine years, specifically Mike Barack, Naomi DeuFriend, Bill Yates, Jeff Bowerman and Ryan Snider for their many years of outstanding service to the Brahmas,” he stated. “Additionally, I commend the Central Hockey League for their outstanding partnership, guidance and leadership over the years,” Fraser said. “I firmly believe in the CHL model, and have the utmost confidence that the Brahmas will return to action stronger than ever in the near future.”

All players under contract for the 2006-07 season or whose CHL rights were held by the Brahmas immediately became free agents.

Central Hockey League President Brad Treliving asserted the league's commitment to assist the Brahmas in finding a new home.

"We knew the challenges they [the Brahmas] had in front of them," Treliving said. "We believe in the market and we want to find another venue in the area. The most important thing is the market will be and can be supportive of the team."

The Brahmas organization also wanted to make it clear that the team was committed to remaining in the area.

"We just need to be appreciated somewhere," Stuart Fraser told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

"We'll look hard in DFW area and hope to find somebody willing to make us a valued tenant. We've already talked to two different venues seriously. What I'd really like to look into is building a new arena that's for us."

On May 23rd, the Brahmas released the following letter from Fraser.

To the loyal fans, sponsors and supporters of the Fort Worth Brahmas:

As you are all aware by now, the Fort Worth Brahmas have suspended operations and will not be playing hockey during the upcoming 2006-2007 CHL season. This is not a scenario that I envisioned, nor one that I wanted. Our organization was eagerly preparing for the Brahmas tenth season and we had every intention of returning to the ice this October. However, the proposed lease presented to us by the City of Fort Worth for the Fort Worth Convention Center/Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum was unacceptable, and, clearly not in our best interests. The Brahmas made every possible effort to renegotiate with the City of Fort Worth, however, those attempts proved to be futile. I do find it difficult to accept that a “few” people made the decision to ignore the economic and social impact the Brahmas have on our City, but anyone that was present at the Fort Worth City Council meeting on the night of May 9, 2006 can now attest to what our organization has been up against.

I, like you, am very disappointed with our suspension of operations. I joined the Brahmas ownership group in 1998, and since then, have been steadfastly committed to the City of Fort Worth and to the loyal hockey fans of Tarrant County. Brahmas home games have not only provided affordable family entertainment in a safe and clean environment, but also attracted approximately 20,000 visitors annually from outside Tarrant County to the City of Fort Worth. More importantly, the Brahmas have been committed to giving back to the Fort Worth community. We have donated more than a $250,000 in cash and nearly $2.5 million of in-kind donations to local non-profit and charitable organizations. Each year, Brahmas players and staff visit over 50 area schools, leading school assemblies in the promotion of reading, eye care safety, positive choices, self-esteem and the prevention of domestic violence. For the past eight summers, the Brahmas have conducted over 250 free inline and street hockey clinics all across the Metroplex as part of our traveling Blacktop Brahmas program. Our two “Cool School” games in January and December of 2004 enabled over 12,000 Fort Worth ISD fourth grade students to attend a Brahmas hockey game free of charge as part of a school curriculum supported field trip. Annually, over 50 charitable organizations and 10,000 families have attended Brahmas hockey games through our Corporate Care Club.

The Brahmas have also worked jointly with selected corporate partners—Coors, Coca-Cola, Radio Shack, Verizon, Verizon Wireless, Southwest Airlines, XTO and Alcon—to help raise money for charities such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of Fort Worth, the Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth, and Prevent Blindness Texas. On February 7, 2006, the Brahmas teamed up with the Fort Worth Police Department for a police/fire department charity game that raised several thousand dollars for the family of fallen Fort Worth police officer Henry Nava. And, on a more personal note, I’ll never forget the special donation made to the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund by our great fans and supporters soon after 9/11. Also, I want to make sure to recognize the members of our Fort Worth Brahmas Booster Club for their constant and unwavering support of our entire organization.

Finally, I want to personally thank each of you that have given so much of your time and energy to support the Brahmas hockey club since the team’s inception in 1997. The enthusiasm and passion for hockey shown by our loyal fans has been overwhelming, and for that I am greatly appreciative. Please know that we are working diligently with the Central Hockey League to establish a new home for the Brahmas within the Fort Worth/Metroplex area for the 2007–2008 CHL season. I am hopeful that we will be able make a positive announcement regarding our Brahmas scenario in the immediate future.


Stuart Fraser
Majority Owner, Fort Worth Brahmas Hockey Club

“What happened was very disappointing, and I think the Fort Worth citizens should be aware of how we were treated,” Fraser said later. “Some of the city staff had decided that setting up for hockey was just a pain in the ass. Well, yeah, hockey is kind of a pain in the ass. But the city is going to learn that if you put all your backing behind minor league basketball, you’ll be losing both teams because (that level of) basketball doesn’t draw and never has.”

Meanwhile, back at the Fort Worth Convention Center, the Brahmas were made to feel they couldn't move out fast enough.

“They wanted a timetable for us to get out immediately…as fast as we could leave...they were happy once they knew that we were suspending and not playing’” Barack said. “The faster we could get out, the better and they definitely put pressure on to get things out of the locker room.”

When Kirk Slaughter brought Fort Worth Flyers head coach Sidney Moncrief in to show off the locker room while Brahmas staffers were still cleaning it out, it was evident that the team was no longer welcome.

Mike Barack began the painful process of downsizing his staff until only three people remained; himself, assistant general manager Ryan Snider and their administrative assistant. They rented a storage and warehouse space at a business park in East Fort Worth and moved everything there from the convention center and their offices on Lake Street, terminating the lease where they had worked for the past 10 years.

Snider stayed on through the summer before joining the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League as their director of hockey business operations. Executive Vice-President Bill Yates was hired as the assistant general manager of the Corpus Christi Rayz. Vice-President of Communications Jeff Bowerman went on to become the Sports Information Director for Texas Women’s university.

Refunds were processed to those who had purchased season tickets and the team’s used hockey equipment was sold, mostly to the local area’s adult hockey players.

Coming Up: Blue Line

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Kraus to join Brahmas

Rookie defenseman coming off second consecutive Canadian National Junior A hockey championship win

The Vernon Vipers (BCHL) announced on Friday that defenseman Kevin Kraus will be joining the Brahmas for his rookie season.

The 6', 2" 205 pound native of Garden Grove, California captained the Vipers to their second straight Royal Bank Cup National Junior A hockey title in May.

After considering his options, which included playing in Europe, Kraus, with the help of Vipers coaches Mark Ferner and Jason Williamson (who made some calls on his behalf) decided to begin his professional career in North Richland Hills.

“Texas was the best place for me and felt I could contribute most there," Kraus said. "I owe a lot to my coaches for their help and I'm very thankful...I'm excited to go there and have a new experience and play pro hockey."

Kraus played 36 games with the Kamloops Blazers (WHL) in 2006-07, tallying three assists and 57 penalty minutes. The following season, he was traded to the Tri-City Americans where he notched five points (1 G, 4 A) and 27 penalty minutes before joining the Vipers for the remaining 18 games of the season, adding four assists and 17 PIM.

In 2008-09, Kraus tallied 19 points (1 G, 18 A) and 81 penalty minutes in 55 games played. This past season, he increased his scoring output to 27 points (5 G, 22 A) with 70 PIM in 56 games played.

In April, the Vipers won the Fred Page Cup Championship (British Columbia Hockey League Champions) following a 4-2 series win over the Powell River Kings. They went on to sweep the Grand Prairie Storm in four games to win the Doyle Cup (winner of the Best-of-7 series between the BCHL and AJHL playoff champions) and finished the post-season by winning their second consecutive RBC Cup (National Junior A championship) with an 8-1 victory over the Dauphin Kings.

Kraus has yet to met Dan Wildfong yet, but says he got a good vibe from talking with him on the phone.

“We talked and I got pretty comfortable with him and felt it was going to be a good fit. They haven’t seen me play, but in that league it’s a lot of word of mouth."

As far as describing himself as a player, Kraus puts it like this:

“I’m more of a steady, stay-at-home, physical defenseman, but I’m capable of adding some offense too. I’m going in there pretty confident having had two good years with the Vipers.”

Kraus is currently visiting family in Everett, Washington but will return to Vernon to assist coach Ferner with his off-season hockey camps and work on his physical conditioning before reporting to the Brahmas' training camp in September.

Asked how he feels about moving to the Lone Star State, Krause revealed another love besides hockey.

"My parents lived in Texas for a bit and they said I will love it and there is good BBQ there which I'm looking forward to!”

By the way, Kraus isn't the only hockey player in the family. His older brother Tim just completed his second pro season with the Ontario Reign (ECHL).

Here are a couple of really good profiles on Kraus from last year found on YouTube:

Photo Credit: Vernon Vipers

Thursday, July 15, 2010

An unofficial history of the Texas Brahmas

Part Four - Negotiations

The Brahmas were struggling to reach a new lease agreement with the City Of Fort Worth that would allow the team to play its 10th season in the Fort Worth Convention Center and Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum.

But sharing the convention center arena with a new professional basketball franchise was adding to a strain on relations between the city and the Brahmas.

In March of 2005, the National Basketball Association announced that four Southwest cities, including Fort Worth, had been approved for National Basketball Development League franchises for the 2005-06 season. The teams would be owned and operated by Southwest Basketball LLC, led by former Indiana Pacers general manager David Kahn.

Kahn originally wanted to play at the Will Rogers Coliseum but local investors convinced him that playing downtown would be a better option. Besides, the coliseum only had five days available when no other events were booked. Kahn met with Stuart Fraser in New York in 2004, but Fraser assured him that bringing a basketball team into the convention center would be a mistake.

“Stuart said it was a terrible idea,” Barack said. “All it was going to do was hurt everybody. It would hurt the Brahmas, it would hurt them and it’s not a good idea.”

The City of Fort Worth, represented by director of public events Kirk Slaughter, on the other hand thought it was a great idea, no doubt swayed by the promise that a minor league basketball team could draw 4,000 to 4,500 fans to each of its 23 home games. This despite two recent failed attempts to bring basketball to the convention center. But Slaughter was optimistic because of the NBA affiliation.

The Flyers and the Brahmas seasons would overlap - the Brahmas season stretched from October to March, while the Flyers season would begin at the end of November and finish in April. The Brahmas, who had been a tenant of the city for nine years, knew that sharing the arena with the Flyers would mean that the team would be competing for the already limited number of available weekend dates that were crucial to the teams’ financial well-being.

But the city believed that a compromise was necessary; that the Brahmas would lose some premium dates in fairness to the Flyers. If minor league basketball could bring in as many fans as the Brahmas, it would be a win-win for the convention center and the City of Fort Worth as a whole given the additional revenue that the fans would bring to the area.

The Brahmas attendance averaged about 4,200 per game in the previous three seasons, with an increase of about 400 per game during the 2004-05 season due to the National Hockey League strike which brought hockey starved Dallas Stars fans to Fort Worth.

As it was the Brahmas were seeing fewer and fewer weekend dates in each of the previous three seasons. During the 2002-03 season, 30 of their 32 home games were scheduled for either Friday, Saturday or Sunday. That was reduced to 27 weekend dates in 2003-04 and 24 in 2004-05.

Kenneth Barr, who served as the Mayor of Fort Worth from May 1996-May 2003, was retained by the Brahmas as a consultant for their lease negotiations. Barr represented the Brahmas in several lease meetings with the City of Fort Worth and Fort Worth Convention Center decision makers.

During the 2005-06 season, the Brahmas were asked to share advertising space and to work with a home ice schedule that only promised 20 weekend dates. The increase in the number of weeknight dates was a killer for the Brahmas who benefited from the turnout of families and that just didn’t happen on work and school nights. The city temporarily reduced the team’s rent from $195,000 to $170,000, but it made little difference to the teams’ bottom line.

As a result of the new schedule, the Brahmas saw their attendance fall to an average of 3,801, down by 800 from the previous season. At the time, the Brahmas relied solely on three areas of revenue in order to maintain its business operations. This included ticket sales (season, group, and individual game), corporate sponsorships (advertising with the team and at the Fort Worth Convention Center) and merchandise sales. The team estimated that the reduced number of premium dates had cost the team between $80,000 and $100,000 in revenue. For a franchise operating on a paper thin profit margin, that was intolerable.

It was clear that the number of weekend dates available in coming seasons would continue to decrease. Competition with rodeo and cutting horse events for arena space, not to mention

The Fort Worth Flyers meanwhile, posted a 28-20 record in their inaugural season and advanced to the D-league finals, only to lose in a 119 to 108 match against the Albuquerque Thunderbirds, but they fell far short of putting bodies in seats. The team’s average “drop count” attendance in its first season was 762, according to the city of Fort Worth.

“We kept thinking that they’d see the light at the end of the tunnel in that, you know, it’s not a good idea; they’re not drawing fans, their operation was bad, the dates were not helping anybody and we kept pressing it thinking that the basketball team might go away,” Barack said.

But scheduling was just one of the issues that the Brahmas were dealing with. The city asked the Brahmas for a $210,000 minimum guarantee for the 2006-07 season, which was a $40,000 increase from the previous season. The Brahmas reportedly countered with a guarantee in the neighborhood of $190,000.

The new lease would also add fees that the Brahmas hadn’t had to pay in past years. In effect, staffers said the city should no longer have to absorb some costs — for creating the ice and erecting the “boards” that outline the playing surface and carry advertising — that are peculiar to hockey.

It takes approximately $212,000 for the city to cover its costs of putting the Brahmas on the ice, according to Kirk Slaughter, public events director for the Convention Center and Will Rogers.

"It’s a very expensive venture," Slaughter said. "Just to build the ice takes three days. We want to recapture some of the costs in producing the sport. We’ve tried to accommodate the Brahmas the best we can, but we are in a situation where we need to cover our costs.”

In addition to the higher rent, the city asked for $102,000 up front, which was equal to almost half the lease price, to be placed in escrow and released to the Brahmas only at the end of the season.

Slaughter said that the city asked for the $102,000 up front by April 28th because of fears that the team might go out of business or move during the season, which was ridiculous, given the long relationship between the Brahmas and the City of Fort Worth.

The city also disputed the economic impact that the Brahmas organization provided to the Fort Worth area.

Their case is backed up by figures from the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau, which estimated that fans from other Central Hockey League teams spent about $1 million in the city each season.

In addition, the team had donated $250,000 in cash and $2.5 million in free tickets and gear over the years to charities such as the Lena Pope Home, Christ’s Haven for Children, and John Peter Smith hospital. Not to mention the community programs that the organization offered at no charge to area youth, such as Blacktop Brahmas, their annual summer series of free inline hockey clinics featuring a traveling hockey rink which made an average of 30 stops throughout the Tarrant County area. Other programs included Grades for Blades, an incentive program that rewards academic achievement with game tickets, and Healthy Goals, a co-sponsorship with Harris Methodist Hospital that sends players into local schools and focuses on teaching the importance of being prepared to make good decisions.

But perhaps the biggest insult was the addition of a no-contact clause in the lease agreement which said that no member of the Brahmas organization at any level was permitted to speak with “any elected official of the City of Fort Worth.” Any contact by the Brahmas with a city council member would automatically terminate the contract.

When negotiations with Slaughter and convention center personnel stalled, Barack started lobbying council members.

“My job is to represent the Brahmas here and I didn’t feel like we were being heard by the staff, so I contacted some of the council members,” Barack said.

According to the Fort Worth weekly, Barack called and e-mailed Wendy Davis, whose district contains the convention center, and Chuck Silcox, who was then the mayor pro tem. On March 21, Davis responded to Barack that she was trying to get better information from city staffers, but “you do not have to keep e-mailing me every day.” Silcox aide Sandi Breaux e-mailed the convention center staff to report that Barack had contacted the councilman’s office eight times between April 5 and April 13.

“They were slowly but surely eating up more weekend dates, not just for us but for them and then they came up with this crazy lottery idea in which we would go into a room and select dates and we just said that’s outrageous,” Barack said.

“I went to him (Mayor Moncrief) personally and asked how we could make things better,” said Fraser. “He said we should win more games. It was kind of insulting, because it was almost as if he had no idea how our business works and how we are important to this community. I just got the feeling that he viewed us as a tenant and nothing more.”

Moncrief’s point couldn’t be fully dismissed though. Years of losing is bad PR for any city and from the city’s standpoint, the perception was that a team with a winning record would be drawing more fans which would in turn sell more hot dogs, cokes and parking spaces. This may or may not have translated to more preference in scheduling. Regardless, the City of Fort Worth was more interested in attracting conventions and with the new Omni hotel being built next to the convention center, the concerns of a less than successful minor league hockey team, despite the team’s history of

It probably didn’t help that the Brahmas had an out of town owner either.

Despite all the bad blood, Barack always thought the longstanding relationship between the Brahmas and the City of Fort Worth would prevail and that a deal could be made.

“We believed that with the history of our consistency, with the history of our payment structure, so on and so forth, we’d be able to work something out and press the lease negotiations to go in our favor,” Barack said. “It was a combination of a continuation of a culmination of negative and really poor business options that they were presenting us which made it impossible to proceed.”

In the end, that wasn’t so and the decision to suspend operations was on the table. With the reduced number of premium dates, the Brahmas would see what would amount to a permanent reduction from all of its revenue sources.

Next up: Ceasing Operations