Thursday, September 30, 2010

Brahmas announce Lawrence signing

Former ECHL scoring threat joins
2010-11 roster

Vegas Wranglers (The Texas Brahmas announced third-year pro Matt Lawrence as the 15th member of the 2010-11 roster on Wednesday afternoon. Lawrence, 27, spent the last two seasons with the LasECHL).

If you attended Making the Cut last Saturday morning, you probably saw Lawrence getting in a little ice time with the prospects before leaving with Brian Matte, Matt Pierce, Troy Schwab and goalie Wayne Savage to attend the Oklahoma City Barons (AHL) training camp. This is Lawrence's second trip to an AHL camp - last season he trained with the Binghampton Senators.

I spoke with Brahmas Assistant Coach Ron Vogel about Lawrence and he sounded pretty excited about having him on board. Head Coach Dan Wildfong also expressed confidence in Lawrence's ability to make an impact this season.

"In the recruiting process, we triple check every player we are interested in acquiring and Mick continued to have great things reported," Wildfong said. "Based on this, we have high expectations for him this season and believe he will impress both the Oklahoma organization and us."

Lawrence with Dan Wildfong on Saturday

Lawrence, 27, spent his first two pro seasons with the Las Vegas Wranglers (ECHL). During his rookie year in 2008-09, he registered 34 points (16 G, 18 A) and 85 penalty minutes in 38 regular season games played. He added three goals and 27 PIM in 13 post-season contests.

Last season, the Port Coquitlam, BC native tallied 52 points (23 G, 29 A) and 104 penalty minutes in 64 regular season games and added four points (1 G, 3 A) and 4 PIM in five post-season games.

Lawrence played two seasons of junior hockey beginning in 2002-03, when he signed with the Trail Smoke Eaters (BCHL) where he he put up an impressive 95 points (39 G, 56 A) and 173 PIM in 56 games played. The following season, Lawrence joined the River City Lancers (USHL) and tallied 64 points (26 G, 38 A) and 127 PIM in 58 regular season games and another three points (2 G, 1 A) in three playoff games.

In 2004-05, Lawrence began his collegiate career at the University of Nebraska-Omaha (NCAA). Lawrence would play four seasons for the Mavericks, scoring 102 points (51 G, 51 A) and 240 PIM in 146 games. During his senior year, he led the team in goals (21) and was second in points (40).

For you fight fans, here are a couple of videos courtesy of YouTube showing the 5' 10", 205 pound forward doing some damage:

Photo Credits: Top/Stephen Sylvanie; Bottom/Robert Keith

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Making the Cut 2010

Day Three: The final cut

The Texas Brahmas' Making the Cut 2010 prospect camp ended on Sunday evening and after three days of hard work on and off the ice, coaches Dan Wildfong, Ron Vogel and Derrell Upton had some tough choices to make.

In the end, three attendees were extended CHL training camp contracts and will join the rest of the players at the NYTEX Sports Centre on October 4th for the official start of the 2010-11 Brahmas training camp. Forwards Ryan Joseph (#4, Team White), Aaron Spotts (#15, Team White) and defenseman Bryan Brunton (#8, Team Black) were the final selections.

Brahmas head coach Dan Wildfong was very enthusiastic about this year's camp and agreed with many observers, that the skill set and the overall quality of attendee was outstanding.

Brahmas head coach Dan Wildfong

"You know, out of the four years of doing this, it was definitely one of the best camps," Wildfong said. "We tried to run the guys to death the first couple days with the drills and then the games were very entertaining...I was really impressed with the talent level."

When asked what was different about the players who attended this year's camp, Wildfong p
ointed out the athleticism and the preparation that was evident throughout the three days.

"I think guys came in really good shape...I usually have about four or five guys quit before the camp's over - I think we've had one guy during all of camp (this time), The commitment level of them coming in shape and being ready to go and paying their own way was outstanding; it was encouraging."

The final day began with early morning warm-ups and stretching exercises from 5:40 am to 6:10 am, followed by a locker room session before the prospects took to the ice for more drills from 7:10 am to 8:25 am.

A similar routine followed in the afternoon with the players taking to the ice for a final scrimmage at 5:40 pm. Team Black won the contest 4-1.

Following their showers, the players began to line up outside the Brahmas locker room for their turn in Fonger's office and each learned the results of the camp.

Every player I spoke with said he thought the camp was a good experience and appreciated the opportunity to attend.

Bryan Brunton (#8, Team Black)

24-year-old Bryan Brunton, a native of Colorado Springs, Colo. thought that Fonger was "awesome" and thought the overall experience of the camp was well worth the trip to North Richland Hills.

"There were a lot more skilled players here than I anticipated," Brunton said. "It forced me to push myself a lot more, so that was good. It was a really good group of guys. It was interesting, seeing guys getting in scraps on the ice and then come off and be best buds in the locker room."

When asked what his thoughts were on the upcoming training camp, Brunton had no illusions about his chance of making the team, but was enthusiastic about the opportunity.

"I'm just going to try and do my best, show up day in and day out and see what happens...I'm going to take it day by day."

Photos from the final day of Making the Cut can be viewed here

Photo Credits: Robert Keith

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Kevin Fukala (#22) takes on Brandon Bullett (#4) to open this mornings' scrimmage

Making the Cut 2010

Day Two: Showing some heart and hustle

If you were among the very few who made it to NYTEX by 7:00 am, you were treated to a little more than an hour of on-ice entertainment courtesy of the prospects who began their second day of drills during the Making the Cut 2010 camp.

Joining the 31 would-be Brahmas initially, were five members of the 2010-11 roster (who left for the Oklahoma Barons training camp this morning) including goaltender Wayne Savage and forward Matt Pierce.

Evan Romeo (#20) moves the puck up the ice

Initially, the boys looked a little slow but they picked up the pace quickly and looked pretty good. We were even treated to a fight to start the 20-minute scrimmage held after the mornings' drills were finished. I'd call it even, but some may argue that Kevin Fukala (Team White) had an advantage over fellow forward Brandon Bullett (Team Black).

Once again, this group is definitely one of the best we've seen in a MTC camp. Fonger mentioned how pleased he was with their skill set and I wonder if we might see more than two training camp contracts offered (as in the first year).

The evening scrimmage took place at 6:25 pm in front of a small, kind of quiet crowd (sounded like the crowd at the Allen Events Center). The White team quickly dominated the ice and went up 4-0 before the black team mounted a comeback, but eventually fell 5-3.

I only managed a few photos from the first period (photos 171-212) as my daughter was hungry and since it was technically a daddy-daughter date, we took off to Zuroma. Had a chance to say hello to Jason Deitsch and spend a few minutes with the Minard's before leaving the facility.

Photos from Day Two, morning session + evening scrimmage can be viewed here

Photo Credits: Robert Keith

Friday, September 24, 2010

Making the Cut 2010

Day One: One of the better groups we've seen?

31 prospects were on the ice at the NYTEX Sports Centre today for the 2010 Texas Brahmas Making the Cut prospect camp. The group assembled on Thursday evening for a mandatory meeting and meet and greet with Brahmas coaches, other members of the organization and a group of fans, after which the boys headed off for a good night of rest in preparation for their first day of work.

Saturday's session began with warm-ups and stretching exercises at 8:30 am, followed by an hour in the locker room and then nearly two hours of on-ice drills. After a lunch break, during which the players and coaches loaded up on Zuroma pizza, another hour-long session in the locker room ensued. By 1:30 pm, the prospects were back out on the ice for an hour and a half before breaking for the day.

Coaches on the ice included Dan Wildfong, Ron Vogel and Derrell Upton. Also on hand were Athletic Trainer Tom Hart and Equipment Manager Philip Shipp.

I spoke to Fonger briefly and he seemed pretty enthusiastic about the group and I could see why, although I only saw the afternoon on-ice session. The overall skill level of the attendees seemed higher than in previous camps. Most of the players were in good shape and I didn't see the huffing and puffing and guys looking like they were going to Ralph like we saw last year (even after a belly full of pizza from the Zoo).

I'm looking forward to Saturday morning's on-ice drills and the scrimmage set for approximately 6:25 pm.

Here is the official roster:

Team Black

Matthew Marchel (D) #3
Brandon Bullett (F) #4
Bryan Brunton (D) #8
Robert Short #10
Josh Gaynor (F) #12
Jason Miller (D) #13
Ryan York (F/D) #14
Mark Lebenns (F) #15
Evan Romeo (F) #20
Daniel Morini #25
Jarno Karttunen #26
Stephen Hall (F) #31
Tal Avneri (D) #35
Tim Harris
Nick Wydock (G)

Team White

Ryan Joseph (F) #4
Sean McKenzie #5
Dustin Henning (D) #6
Brendon Contratto #8
Scott Peckford (D) #9
Brad Townsend #11
Kyle Watson (F) #12
Nick Vandenbeld #13
Aaron Spotts (F) #15
Matthew Admire (F/D) #16
Coleman Camp (D) #18
Cory Bounds (F) #19
Kevin Fukala (F) #22
Quinn McIntosh (F) #23
Chris Blake (F) #24
Breton Lindoff (G)

Photos from the afternoon on-ice session can be viewed here

Photo Credits: Robert Keith

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The once and future Brahma

Brahmas officially announce Woollard's return (finally!)

Fans of the Texas Brahmas got a boost in spirit today when the club announced the return of veteran sniper Chad Woollard. Is it the biggest signing we'll see before training camp starts? Maybe not. But there's a tremendous amount of affection for "Woolly" among the old guard of the purple and black faithful who consider him to be one of their favorite players - on and off the ice.

"This is a great opportunity for Woolley and his family to return back to the area they consider home," Head Coach Dan Wildfong said. "He is a fierce competitor who's proven to be an offensive threat in this league. Having played and coached against him, it will be nice to have him on our depth chart this season."

Woollard, who turned 31 on Saturday, was a member of the Corpus Christi IceRays' final roster in 2009-10 where he tallied 64 points (40 G, 24 A, +10) and 72 PIM in 57 games played. He added three points (1 G, 2 A) in two post-season contests against the Brahmas. He also reached 30 goals in 40 games, the second-fastest pace in franchise history.

Maybe the most spectacular goal of his season (and the most painful) came on December 18th at home against the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees. Just 8:34 into the contest, teammate Jason Tessier sent in a slap shot that unfortunately hit Woollard right in the mouth. But the puck deflected past an out-of-position Andy Franck and into the net for the score. Woollard was credited with the goal and Tessier with the assist. Woollard returned later in the game wearing a full shield and with three teeth lost, managed to score another goal in the final minute of the middle frame. Talk about moxie!

IceRays captain Justin Quenneville, who was the center on Woollard’s line, had this to say about his teammate (courtesy of Greg Rajan):

“(Woollard has) the best shot I’ve ever played with,” said IceRays captain Justin Quenneville, who was the center on Woollard’s line. “For me personally, I’ve never played with a guy who is a pure goal scorer and wants to score goals so bad. It’s fun playing with him because it’s easy to look for him and every time, he’s going to be in position to shoot, which makes him hungry to score goals.”

The 6', 3", 210 pound left wing from Durham, Ontario played four seasons of major junior hockey with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Owen Sound Platers and Toronto St. Michael's Majors in the Ontario Hockey League.

Woollard went pro in 1999-00, splitting the season with the Jackson Bandits and the Greensboro Generals of the ECHL. The following season, Woollard signed with the WPHL's Fort Worth Brahmas. Despite a 20-win season for the team, the 21-year-old Woollard tallied 44 points (18 G, 26 A) and 83 PIM in 60 games played. He also had his first of many run-ins with another second-year pro - Dan Wildfong of the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs.

Woollard remained with the Brahmas for the next four seasons, through some of the most difficult years (in terms of success on the ice) in the history of the franchise. Woollard was a standout on those teams and was a stable, physical scoring threat each year. He also established himself as a fan favorite off the ice and maintains friendships to this day with many of the fans he met while playing at the Fort Worth Convention Center and Will Rogers Coliseum.

His most productive season with the Brahmas (and career-best at that time) was his last, in 2004-05. Woollard tallied 75 points (40 G, 35 A) and 127 PIM in 60 regular season games played.

All told, Woollard accounted for 264 points (132 G, 132 A) and 686 PIM in 290 regular season contests with the team. He also saw action in call-ups to the American Hockey League's Utah Grizzlies (2001-02) and St. John's Maple Leafs (2003-04). He remains the Brahmas' franchise leader in games played (290), points (264) and goals (132).

After five seasons that led to just four playoff games (versus Memphis in 2002), Woollard left the CHL in 2005-06. He signed with the United Hockey League's Quad City Mallards with whom he would have two of his best pro seasons. He totaled 158 points (79 G, 79 A) and 231 PIM in 145 regular season games and earned a call-up to the San Antonio Rampage (AHL). The Mallards made the playoffs both seasons, but lost in the first round each time. Woollard would contribute 18 points (11 G, 7 A) and 30 PIM in 12 post-season contests.

In 2007-08, Woollard returned to the CHL, signing with the Mississippi RiverKings. On the team's top line, he tallied 68 points (37 G, 31 A) and 84 PIM. He added two goals in the first round of the 2008 playoffs, in which the RiverKings were knocked out by the Texas Brahmas.

The following season, Woollard signed with the Muskegon Lumberjacks (IHL) where he registered 57 points (33 G, 24 A) and 69 PIM in 50 games during the regular season and six points (2 G, 4 A) and 8 PIM in 10 playoff games.

I'll have an extended interview with Chad in which he talks about his career, his time with the Fort Worth Brahmas and his return to the organization posted in the near future.

Photo Credits: Top/Robert Keith, Bottom/Texas Brahmas

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Making the Cut 2010 starts Friday

Annual prospect camp awards two CHL training camp contracts

The fourth annual Texas Brahmas Making the Cut prospect camp will open this coming weekend.

Last year, 34 athletes attended three days of camp with countless drills and multiple scrimmages as well as several off-ice activities. They were reduced to two finalists who were offered training camp contracts.

This year, prospects will attend an informational meeting on Thursday evening, September 23rd at the NYTEX Sports Centre where coaches Dan Wildfong and Ron Vogel will lay out rules and expectations. Also expected to be on hand will be General Manager Mike Barack, Equipment Manager Phil Shipp, Athletic Trainer Tom Hart.

The camp will begin Friday morning and break Sunday evening when two athletes will be offered official 2010 Texas Brahmas training camp contracts. The Brahmas and all CHL teams are able to officially open training camp Monday, October 4th.

Making the Cut Schedule:

Friday, September 24th

Session One: 10:00am - 11:50 am
Session Two: 1:45pm - 3:20 pm

Saturday, September 25th

Session One: 7:10am - 8:25 am
Session Two: 6:25pm - 7:40 pm

Sunday, September 26th

Session One: 7:10 am - 8:25 am
Session Two: 5:25 pm - 6:35 pm

Two years ago, rookie defenseman Ross Rouleau was on the receiving end of the "Making the Cut" speeches, and after a strong outing, an invitation to the Brahmas official training camp followed. Rouleau became a member of the 2009 Ray Miron President’s Cup Championship team and returned to the blue line for the 2009-10 season. Rouleau will play for the Kalamazoo K-Wings (ECHL) this season.

Photo Credit: Robert Keith

Monday, September 13, 2010

Later (bottom right) takes down A.J. Gale in a scramble for the puck

Size matters

Brahmas add intimidating Later to the Blue Line

The Texas Brahmas have announced the signing of former Corpus Christi IceRays defenseman Steven Later to the 2010-11 roster.

At 6-foot-4 and 228 pounds, Later brings additional size and toughness to a overhauled defensive corps that now includes Jim Burichin (6', 0" 185 lbs), Nick Toneys (6', 2" 195 lbs), Kevin Kraus (6', 2" 205 lbs) and Nathan Saunders (6', 3" 228 lbs). Entering his sixth pro season, later also exhibits an offensive prowess and has shown that he can make good decisions with the puck; something that attracted the attention of IceRays head coach Brent Hughes.

“When Steven first came in here, I expected - not knowing him or having seen him play - a totally different game with him being 6-foot-4, 200-some pounds and (having) a bunch of penalty minutes,” Hughes said. “When he came in, he really brought to my attention how offensive he really was and his skill level was so high. He definitely handles the puck with confidence and makes things happen.

Hughes also credits Later with ability to speak his mind to his fellow players, whether he's firing them up for the game or providing constructive criticism.

"He’s one of the biggest talkers in the dressing room,” Hughes said. “He gets guys ready and speaks what he thinks. Some guys like it and some guys don’t. It’s straight up how it is and how he feels...he gets guys ready to play and tells guys when things aren’t going well. In practice, he yips and yaps and gets excitement out there. He brings a lot to a hockey team that way.”

Last season, Later tallied 25 points (12 G, 13 A, +11) and 122 penalty minutes in 33 regular season contests. This included 12 points (6 G, 6 A) on the power play (he added another power play goal and a power play assist in two post-season appearances). He was also second on the team with a .152 shot percentage.

Later, a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba was sidelined after the first eight games of the season due to an infection that developed after sustaining a cut in the October 30th game against Odessa. He missed two weeks and then returned for a two-game road series against the Arizona Sundogs, during which he earned a total of 34 penalty minutes, including two fighting majors, a roughing double-minor and two unsportsmanlike conduct calls - you know, a typical weekend at Tim's Toyota Center. In mid-November, he suffered a setback that hospitalized him for a week and kept him from the game until January 8th.

Here's Greg Rajan's take on Later:

"Of all the players I've seen with the IceRays during the past seven years, few were more entertaining to watch than Later," Rajan said. "The big guy can do it all: Defend, hit, fight, and make those ridiculous spinarama moves inside the blue line without losing the puck. Frankly, he really has no business playing in the CHL given his skill set, but for whatever reason, he's in Double-A hockey...This is a smart signing by Dan Wildfong. When he's on his game and healthy, Later is easily one of the top five defensemen in the CHL. Few guys can do what he does."

“He’s unbelievable,” Chad Woollard said. Woollard, a former Fort Worth Brahma, was Later’s teammate with the IceRays and the Muskegon Lumberjacks (IHL) in 2008-09. “I don’t know why he’s even at this level — he should be at the American League at least. He’s big, he can skate, he’s tough and has got the hands of a forward."

Woollard also shared a typical anecdote about Later and his fun side.

“We were in Muskegon, he gets a penalty and it’s a short referee,” Woollard recalled. “(Later) skates to the penalty box, stops in front of the penalty box and gets on his knees to talk to the referee and gets kicked out of the game. I’ve never seen anything like that, a guy getting on his knees to talk to a short ref. It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.”

Brahmas head coach Dan Wildfong will be a good fit for his new cast of blue liners.

"Steven is a great competitor who has proven to be a top end defensive competitor as well as an offensive threat. With his skills, we have great expectations in his ability to win battles night after night for the Brahmas," Wildfong said.

With the Muskegon Lumberjacks in 2008-09, Later tallied 29 points (6 G, 23 A) and 296 penalty minutes in 59 regular season games played. He also contributed four points (2 G, 2 A) and 32 penalty minutes in the playoffs.

Later, who celebrated his 26th birthday on Sunday, played three seasons of Junior hockey in the Western Hockey League with the Saskatoon Blades, Prince George Cougars and the Brandon Wheat Kings.

The highlight of his Junior career certainly took place during the 2004-05 season with the Wheat Kings. Later was no less than a wild man, putting up 63 points (14 G, 49 A) and 220 penalty minutes in 70 regular season games. During the post-season, Later added another 21 points (6 G, 15 A) and 84 penalty minutes.

Later went pro in the 2005-06 season where he played 40 games with the Pensacola Ice Pilots (ECHL), contributing 21 points (7 G, 14 A) and 176 penalty minutes. He was called up to the Toronto Marlies (AHL) for 11 games, where he saw limited shifts but managed an assist and six penalty minutes.

In 2006-07, a complete change in scenery took Later to the Alaska Aces (ECHL) where he tallied 17 points (7 G, 10 A) and 152 penalty minutes. In 2007-08, Later split the season between the ECHL's Bakersfield Condors and Reading Royals combining for a total of 27 points (9 G, 18 A) and 198 penalty minutes. He added two assists and 44 penalty minutes in six post-season contests with the Royals.

OK, some totals from Later's five pro seasons: 120 points (41 G, 79 A) and 950(!) penalty minutes in 237 regular season contests. Six points (3 G, 3 A) and 82 penalty minutes in 17 post-season contests.

Here are a couple of fight videos from Later's time in the ECHL and the IHL, courtesy of YouTube:

Photo Credits: Top/Robert Keith; Bottom/Corpus Christi IceRays

Mucho credit also to uber-blogger Greg Rajan, from whom I farmed quotes about Later from Brent Hughes and Chad Woollard

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

CHL owner/players ratify CBA

Two-year agreement sets salary cap, number of players, vet rule

CHL team owners have voted in favor of a proposed new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), reaching an agreement with the Professional Hockey Players’ Association (PHPA) on a two-year deal. The ratification by the league’s owners occurred on September 3rd through voting from the member teams along with a majority of the players ratifying the agreement on behalf of the PHPA.

The new CBA will take place immediately and will run through the 2011-12 season establishing financial regulations for the players along with maintaining numerous player oriented programs. Among those programs are off-ice medical insurance, a Career Enhancement Program and free counseling services for players.

"Having the ability to reach this agreement and continue to operate under stable labor/management relations was an opportunity that could not be overlooked," PHPA executive director Larry Landon said in a statement. "Both sides worked tirelessly to come to terms on an agreement, which built upon the existing framework negotiated in the inaugural CBA."

Under the terms of the agreement, CHL teams will work with a salary cap approximate to $11,000 per week ( about $1,000 less than it would have been in the IHL). The $11,000 figure isn't fixed since there are allowances teams can take advantage of to pay their players.

For example, teams can have two players deemed off-season employees, and they can be paid outside of the salary cap. Team can also get a credit against their highest paid player, so that only half his salary counts against the cap.

CHL teams can carry 19 players on their active rosters and dress 18 for games.

Teams can have five veteran players (with 301 or more games on their record) at the beginning of the season, though that number can actually be ballooned to eight if you include goaltenders (who don't count) and an extra veteran who can be added if he was on the roster in 2009-10.

“We are pleased to finalize this Agreement with the PHPA, utilizing the previous CBA as our base,” CHL Commissioner Duane Lewis said. “These processes take time and patience, and the efforts made by both sides to get to this point are much appreciated. We look forward to the upcoming season in the CHL, and know that the fans will enjoy what this year has to offer.”

Image Credit: Central Hockey League