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

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