The Brahmas' assistant coach talks about the past season, changes in the off-season and the challenges of recruiting new players
Preparing for his third season as the Assistant Coach of the Texas Brahmas, Ron Vogel is anything but complacent. On the contrary, Vogel and head coach Dan Wildfong are putting in long hours recruiting new players as well as making decisions on which members of the team to re-sign for the 2010-11 campaign. Through the successes of the 2008-09 season and the challenges of last season, Vogel has found that there's always something new to learn.
I sat down with Ronnie recently at his office in the NYTEX Sports Centre. Here is our conversation.
Q: What's your reaction to the departure of Brett Jaeger?
A: It’s a big loss for us as a team and an organization. He’s definitely a solid net minder. It’s going to be tough to replace a guy with his character and his work ethic, but there are a lot of players out there and we’ll find the best replacement. We really appreciate what he’s done for us the last three years. He did everything we expected him to. For him to get this opportunity to experience the other side of the pond, you know, get over to Europe and experience that, it’s a great opportunity for a player. Personally, I did it in my career…It's a great experience; something that you can enjoy over there and see how it fits. It’s definitely a different style of game over there. It does come, not as a surprise, but its tough when you lose a guy like that.
Q: The Brahmas are now in the position of finding a number one as well as a back-up goalie. How is the process going?
A: There are a lot of good goalies out there and its now filtering to which one is going to best fit our system. You know with Jaegs, there was a lot of comfort...knowing what to expect from him day in and day out on the ice. We’re looking for the best player to fit into our team, to our systems and to our chemistry, like we do with every other player. We’re looking for strong character and that attitude to win. It’s tough to draw between the lines but we’ve contacted a lot of people and we’ll do our work and get the best replacement in here.
Q: Of the players you've been talking to, is it difficult to make a decision?
A: I’m very picky because I expect a lot from our goaltenders. Jaegs and I had a good relationship and I expected a lot from him, but I also had somebody to run things off and that was good.
Q: Is there any concern about bringing in somebody completely new to the Brahmas?
A: You don’t know how people will adjust to our team, our systems and this league – we’ll probably grab a goalie from another league and you just don’t know how they’ll make that transition.
Q: The Brahmas have seen at least a couple of players come in from another AA league and fail to make the transition, ultimately choosing to return to their old league. Is it a gamble that they are going to make it here?
A: It is...you can look through year-to-year statistics and the top end guys will have consistent years throughout their career and then you have those guys who will have hot and cold seasons. It’s tough to know what kind of season any guy you’re going to bring over from another league is going to have. Some guys are hungry and want to prove that they belong in this league and that they can do everything that they did in the previous season and some guys just can’t make that transition. Sometimes they don’t think our league is as good as it is - you know coming over from the ECHL or coming back from Europe or anything like that. Some people just don’t realize how good our league is.
Q: The CHL has lost two teams during the off-season - Amarillo and Corpus Christi, where you played during the 2006-07 season. What are your thoughts on seeing the departure of these clubs?
A: It’s always disappointing. The league has lost some good franchises here and there throughout the years. It’s tough when you’ve got strong franchises that, with the way the economy is, can’t cut it right now. The junior level seems to be the way some of them want to go. Its tough to lose those teams but with the IHL coming in, there’s a chance for our league to grow and its going to be a new challenge not only for the league getting everything figured out, but seeing how the two leagues match up because now you get to play each other...its going to be interesting.
Q: You've has some experience playing in the IHL...
for Rockford. It’s a talented league. I know the rules are going to change a little bit for both leagues to make it work for both of them but it’s definitely good hockey. Anywhere at the AA minor is good hockey whether its the A: Yeah, I played in Port Huron and Kalamazoo for a little bit and I played previously in the UHLECHL, CHL, IHL or in Europe – it’s all comparable; there are just certain differences between them.
Q: If you look at the map of the United States and overlay it with the "New" CHL cities and then add the ECHL cities, you have a blueprint for a nationwide AA league. Do you think that's something that we may see in the future...a single AA developmental league?
A: It would be tough...I think our league has some rules and guidelines that help make our franchises successful…the same with the ECHL. Hockey-wise I think it’s all comparable but I think on the management side a lot of things would have to change in either direction and I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon. But if it did happen, it would be neat to see how it would turn out.
Q: You played in the NAHL for the Texas Tornado. What are your thoughts on the recent growth in that league and the development of its players to make the jump to the next level?
A: It’s different hockey from the junior to the pro level. Very few players from that level make the transition right to pro without going to the college level first. It’s definitely good hockey, it’s exciting. I don’t know on a business side how it helps ownerships or how it hurts them to be honest, but it’s good. Its staying strong, especially in the South. We’ll see how Amarillo and Corpus can do in a different kind of hockey market. It’s good to see hockey staying strong one way or the other. Kids are getting developed, getting to see parts of the U.S. and North America since they put a NAHL team in B.C. there – Dawson’s Creek. I think it’s good; it’s good for hockey all around…colleges are always recruiting players and looking for the next big thing to come out of those leagues. I know they’re still moving kids on to D1 and D3 and kids are getting that opportunity to develop.
Q: Looking back on your experiences as a coach, from the successes and winning a championship in your first season to the challenges of the past season, what have you learned?
A: The first year I came in and it was a great opportunity. I felt it was my time to leave the game and get my experience at the coaching level. Working alongside Dan, I knew I was going to get the right experience. He’s a great mentor and he’s been showing me the ropes. Last year, we didn’t accomplish our goal of winning the championship but I don’t think it was a negative season. I felt it was a learning experience and you’ve got to take those experiences and learn from them whether good or bad, whatever happens. You take the experiences and you learn from them. It was a challenge that I accepted all year long and it was something that I knew we would come through - and we came up short of our goal. I think that as a coach, I’m going to be learning every day. If you’re not learning, you shouldn’t be coaching. It’s a great game and you can always learn new things. Just from my first year to my second, we got to implement some systems that definitely helped. Last season was a different experience but one that we’ll take the positives out of.
Q: Considering the challenges faced during the past season, the Brahmas still had a great run. I don't think anyone expected the boys to take the first two games in Odessa and who knows what would have happened if you had all of your players healthy...
A: Yeah, you know, the injuries – we don’t like to make excuses here because it’s just not the way we do it. It’s not the Brahmas’ style to make an excuse, but injuries definitely did affect us through the course of the season and in the playoffs. We brought in two great amateurs who played well for us but, given that, you’re playing two amateurs 15-20 minutes a game and it’s tough playing against a team like Odessa. They’ve got a ton of talent and they’ve got great coaches there. They had a lot of success during the regular season, so they had that confidence. After we took the two game lead, they came back. In Game Six, we had a lead going into the third…our guys battled hard and it’s tough when injuries do become a factor. That’s part of hockey and its part of the challenge in making adjustments. I thought it was a positive season. Still, I thought we could’ve had a little bit more to give.
Q: I know it's still early - we've got over three months left until opening night, but how excited are you about the coming season?
A: We’re definitely excited to re-establish our team – our identity this year. I know we’re looking to bring back a solid core group of guys that we’ve had here, but we’re also looking to make some changes. We’re excited for some of these recruits that we’ve got coming in. You know, these are the dog days. A lot of calling, a lot of, you know, trying to get players to our program. It’s tough but it's enjoyable because when you do get the guy you’re after, you’re excited. We’re ready to start as soon as possible because we’d like to see these guys in action. We’d like to see what they have to offer and help develop these players for the next level. Coaching hockey is the fun part in the regular season and the playoffs but these are the days where it’s a grind for coaches to get the players they want in, but once you do, you’re excited for the opportunity to see them play and show them off to the fans.
Photo Credit: Robert Keith