An insider's opinion on the new Texas Brahmas
The first thing that stood out to me at the Brahmas training camp this week was the lack of Brahmas there, and by that I obviously mean the players we've grown accustomed to over the past few seasons. No Cameron, no Jacobsen, no Skworchinski. No Kinnunen, no McLeod, no Jaeger. There are just five players on the training camp roster who have previously played for Wildfong's Brahmas - Minard, Deitsch, Pierce, Gale and Saunders.
This off-season marked what was the first major (and I mean major) overhaul of the team since Fonger built his first roster in the summer of 2007, and you can't help but be impressed. Were there concerns about what the roster was going to look like? Sure, just like any other off-season. And the Brahmas organization did a good job of keeping the lid on a lot of the players they were bringing in, rather than laying all their cards on the table early like some teams have.
At every position, Fonger and Ronnie have recruited some fantastic players. The final cuts next week will no doubt be difficult but I have to say, I'm extremely enthusiastic about the season (more so than usual) because of this roster.
OK, so I did a double take when I saw Roger Maxwell on the ice. That's a big dude. I wondered how this 34-year-old veteran winger was invited to camp...once I heard about the situation, it made sense to me (we're not going to discuss it here). At first I wondered what role Maxwell could possibly play besides the obvious - a pretty intimidating enforcer. Even then, I wondered how much fight he had left in him. By today, I was a Maxwell supporter. Look at this man's stats over the last dozen years...talk about perseverance. Maxwell began playing hockey at the age of seven as an alternative to other things that might take a young man's attention growing up in Buffalo. Read this interview from 2006 in which Maxwell says "Personally, after this year, I'm thinking about retiring, but why quit? I like what I do, and I still get paid well..." Maxwell is expected to play both pre-season games against the Americans...bring it, Straub!
In goal, we didn't get to see Wayne Savage, who remained at the Oklahoma City Barons (AHL) camp all week - he's on his way back today. He's said to be an impressive backstopper...I expect we'll get a chance to see him in action this weekend. Kevin Beech looked great and Scott Campbell has proven to be a real contender for a final roster spot. Beech is the obvious number one...it'll be interesting to see who takes the second spot. Nice to see the boys have the opportunity to work with Andy Moog...I'm sure they're still talking about it.
On defense, it was obviously good to see Minzy back on the ice. He received medical clearance on Monday morning and I expect he'll remain as team captain and make the final cut. Or does he? I don't want to say it, but there's the sentimental decision and the smart decision. Personally, I think Minzy is both, but there's some promising young defensemen battling for a spot on the blue line. I think Minzy's leadership in the locker room and on the ice will be essential with this new group of Brahmas.
Nathan Saunders apparently hasn't reported to NYTEX yet...'nuff said on that. Steven Later, a terrific two-way defenseman's a lock as far as I'm concerned...the rest of the boys - Kraus, Kennedy, Burichin, Gallagher, Toneys and Krischuk give Fonger some good choices to build his new D corps.
Jesse Dudas showed up today (although his equipment didn't) and I consider him a lock as well, considering his talent and his pedigree. Fresh out of the Philadelphia Flyers camp and the Adirondack Phantoms camp, Dudas is this season's Joe Palmer. He'll contribute to the Brahmas' success this season, probably see some call-ups, and probably be a Phantom next season.
Offensively, the Brahmas are in as good a shape as they've ever been. Deitsch, Woollard, Hogeboom, Schwab, Pierce, Lawrence, Gale...yeah, we're good. The rest of the forwards - Allen, Train, Beeman, Henningson, McLeod, Wild, Hazelwood...all solid player with tremendous potential...again, some difficult decisions ahead for Fonger and Vogel.
You can view my photos from the camp here and here.
So the Americans roll into town tomorrow for the first of two pre-season games. This one will be good (duh). If have something better to do, so be it. If you don't, NYTEX is the place to be. As I like to say - It's not just hockey. It's the Brahmas - Be there, be loud, believe!
Photo Credits: Robert Keith