The veteran sniper talks about his days with the Fort Worth Brahmas, his career and his decision to return to the team
Chad Woollard will be a welcome addition to the 2010-11 Brahmas roster - and not just because of his aptitude for scoring. Woollard, 31, was a productive member of the Fort Worth Brahmas for five seasons (2000-05) during which he made a lot of friends among the local hockey fans. He was a CHL All-Star during his final three seasons with the team and remains the Brahmas' all-time leader in games (290), goals (132), points (264), shots (1,029) and game-winning goals (15).
After five seasons with the Quad City Mallards (UHL), Mississippi RiverKings, Muskegon Lumberjacks (IHL) and Corpus Christi IceRays, Woollard has signed on with the Brahmas for the upcoming season.
I spoke with Chad recently about his days with the Fort Worth Brahmas, his career thus far and his decision to return to the team, joining former IceRays teammates Steven Later and Kevin Beech. Here is our conversation.
Q: Let's go back to your second pro season...what were your thoughts about making the jump from the ECHL to the CHL and joining the Fort Worth Brahmas organization?
A: I was really excited you know, when I was coming to Fort Worth - I didn't even know where it was (laughing). I can remember looking at it on the map with my family and I pointed at it and said, wow - it's way down there. I didn't know that hockey was played way down here. But once I got down here, I really enjoyed it. The league was really good. I was glad that they gave me the opportunity to come down.
Q: You had a productive five seasons with the team, but those were really tough times for the organization in regards to the changes in coaching; I think you had four head coaches during that time and the team itself wasn't very successful, and had just the one playoff series (against Memphis). How was that experience for you as a player?
A: It was tough, you know, when you have a bad season and you think, well, we'll bounce back and the next year comes around...like you said, I had four different coaches. When that happens, it's tough to get a core group of guys together. Everything's changing from the top down and it got real frustrating having different guys coming in and out. There was one year where we started the year off with Lonny Bohanos, Brad Lukowich and Bryan Lundbohm and then you know, 20 games into the season, they were all gone - they were called up to the AHL or NHL. It just seemed that we were doomed every year...something always went wrong. It was tough and when it came time to leave, that did play a part in the decision. I wanted a chance to win and I thought that I was getting into a stalemate there and just needed a change.
Q: You went pro in 1999 at the same time as another fellow who was playing over in Bossier-Shreveport. Do you remember your first run-ins with Dan Wildfong on the ice?
A: Yeah, we played each other a hundred times back then. Dan and I for sure had a lot of battles over the years. He was a real feisty player. He played the game real hard and with a lot of grit. I played the exact same way and when you get two guys like that, you kind of butt heads. We battled...we respected each other out there but we battled hard.
Q: After leaving the Brahmas, you went to play for the Quad City Mallards in the UHL where you had what were probably your two best pro seasons. How did it feel to make that change and then have that success with Quad Cities?
A: It was exciting. We were, my family was real excited to move away. My wife had never been away from the Metroplex and we went up there with a fresh state of mind. We enjoyed our time there. The team eventually suspended operations to move to the American Hockey League or I think I would have stayed playing there...we loved it...it was good hockey and it was a good change and I enjoyed my time up there.
Q: Coming back to the CHL in 2007-08 under Kevin McClelland in Mississippi...did you think the league had changed or improved since you played in Fort Worth?
A: I thought it had improved tremendously. I think the one thing that had gotten better over the years was the speed of the game. There used to be a lot more tough guys in the league but nowadays you have to be able to play and you have to be able to skate with their rule changes and everything. I think every year, the league has progressed into a better league. You know, some people make statements about it not being a developmental league, but you see every year more and more guys getting called up to the American Hockey League and back in the day you rarely had any, so I think that speaks to the progress that the league has made.
Q: Getting into the playoffs in 2008, the RiverKings ended up facing a new and improved (and renamed) Texas Brahmas. Playing them during the season and then in the playoffs, what was your take on them compared to what you remembered about the old Fort Worth club?
A: I felt like it was a totally different organization. Some of the same people were still there like Mike Barack, but they were able to bring in a coaching team that established a good nucleus of players and they recruited very well. They had a new team and everyone knew it wasn't the same old Brahmas that I played for. They were tough to play in their rink and they were almost undefeated there I think, during the year. We knew that we had to get that first game at home and we did but we went into their barn and they played their style of hockey and you I think that Dan's teams are very team-oriented and they stick to their systems - that's how they win.
Q: After that you went to the IHL for a season with Muskegon and then went down to play for Brent Hughes in Corpus Christi. It was a shame what happened with the organization after the season ended and how it all came about. Do you think that if they hadn't folded and gone the NAHL route, that you would have stayed down there?
A: Yeah, I think I would've. We really enjoyed our time down there. They were another great organization and I think that they just ran into problems with the city and everything. They had a great owner in Mr. Lange and they ran the club tremendously well. Unfortunately, we lost to the Brahmas again in the playoffs; it's kind of ironic. But I enjoyed my time there...we were intending on going back.
Q: That final squad was a very talented group of guys and I truly thought they were the most underrated team in the league last season that caught a lot of bad breaks during the year and lost a lot of one-point games. How did you feel about the guys you were playing with?
A: We had a great team...we had a great bunch of guys and I think we were underrated. We caught a lot of teams by surprise. I remember a game where Rapid City came in and everyone was talking about what a hot team they were and how they were a contender and we beat them 5-1 on home ice. I think that's kind of when we realized that we had a good team here too. We didn't really have any superstars but I think we had a real solid team and if it wasn't for one stretch there where we went almost a month without a number one goalie. We had goalies coming in and out and that's tough to do at this level. But we battled through it and made a run for the playoffs and I'd say we did a pretty good job.
Q: I know that Fonger was on the phone to a number of Corpus Christi players after the team folded. Tell me about your recruitment and your decision to return to the Brahmas.
A: Well, when I heard that the team was going to close up shop, I didn't really know what I was going to do. I hadn't really put any thought into it and then Dan called me and we kind of just started our conversation there. The more I started thinking about it, you know, I talked to my wife about it and obviously, we lived here for six years and have a house here and we thought, you know it would be great to come back. I don't know how much more time I have left and I'm still looking for that elusive championship and with the teams that Dan puts together - even if we didn't live here - that with that chance to win, this would be one of the top places that we'd want to go right now.
Q: It looks like you'll have a bit of a reunion of sorts with Steven Later and Kevin Beech and maybe somebody else (unnamed at this time). Is that comforting to know you'll be back together with some guys that you've played together with recently?
A: Yeah, you know me and Later are really good buddies. We go back to Muskegon and we went down to Corpus Christi together. I asked Dan if he'd be interested in Later and he said he was and he got on the phone and started calling him and it wasn't too long before we got that deal done. He's going to be a great asset to this organization...he's a heart and soul guy. He had a rough year last year with injuries, but he might be one of the top five defensemen in this league. With Beecher, you're getting a number one goalie. He was coming off a pretty serious surgery last season and he still played unbelievably for us. I think you couldn't ask for two better guys to play for the Brahmas.
Q: Later certainly has the size, the physicality and the talent as a two-way defenseman and he's poised for a breakout season. But there's another element to him as a teammate. He's known for his humor and he's a great guy to be around, but he's also a motivator and a locker room leader...
A: He's a great guy; one of the funniest guys I've ever met but you know, when we get in that locker room he puts the onus on himself, even with the older guys, to take responsibility when things aren't going well and try and be the leader and definitely guys will follow him. He's not afraid to put guys in their place but he's also a guy who can take the criticism too. When he makes a mistake, he's first to admit he was wrong. He's an all-around great leader and I think he's definitely captain material as he gets older.
Q: During your time with the Brahmas in the past, you made a lot of friends here and have kept in touch via Facebook and other means over the years. Is that also comforting, knowing that you have so many of the old Brahmas faithful from your days with the team out there supporting you as well?
A: Yeah, it's exciting. I was at the fan club picnic and saw a lot of familiar faces and that just goes to show how much hockey has grown down here; that people have followed the team for that long, especially after the team went dark for that one year. It's going to be exciting. There's a lot of familiar faces and there will be a lot of new faces that I look forward to meeting this season.
Photo Credits: Top two/Texas Brahmas; Third/Muskegon Lumberjacks; Bottom: Robert Keith