Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Veteran Brahmas enforcer more than just a fighter

Roger Maxwell entering 15th pro season tonight

When the Texas Brahmas took the ice at the NYTEX Sports Centre for their first pre-season game last Friday night, one player stood out among the rest. Roger Maxwell, at 6' 2", 240 pounds and wearing the number 49 sweater, was no doubt a player to watch.

Those who observed Maxwell during the Brahmas' week-long training camp thought he seemed a little out of place. Here was someone who was playing pro hockey when most of the young men competing for a spot on the 2010-11 roster were just starting to play the sport. He didn't appear to be in the best of shape, and in fact, might have passed for a member of one of the adult leagues who play their games in the mixed-use sports complex. But the more they watched, the more they reconsidered those initial thoughts.

When the puck dropped to start the game between the Brahmas and their cross-town rivals, the Allen Americans, it soon became evident why Maxwell was there. The Brahmas, who were bullied throughout the 2009-10 season, lacked an effective enforcer. Defenseman Nathan Saunders, who last filled the role and contributed to the team's 2009 Ray Miron President's Cup Championship win, had returned to Canada shortly thereafter to play in the Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey (LNAH) - where Roger Maxwell had spent the previous five seasons.

It wasn't long before things got chippy between the Brahmas and the Americans. Last season, the inaugural year for the expansion Americans, fights broke out so often that it seemed odd for the two clubs to get through one or two periods, let alone an entire game without a skirmish. In fact, one battle in December took place during pre-game warm-ups, resulting in two players from each team being suspended for a combined 12 games.

With Maxwell on the ice as a deterrent, the young Americans played nice for most of the first period. Meanwhile, referee Ryan Hersey seemed to be taking an interest in Maxwell, but given the popularity of Hersey in these parts, the presumed "soft calls" only riled fans and cemented the enforcers' instant popularity.

When Maxwell delivered a powerful check on Allen Defenseman Mark Hinz with just over a minute left in the frame, Hinz' fellow blue liner Ryan McGill did a little enforcing of his own, but failed to deliver a knockout. Showing they could hold their own, three other Brahmas did battle in the second period while Maxwell fought defenseman Todd Orlando midway though the third period.

The following night, in the only altercation of the game, Maxwell mixed it up with Allen winger Liam Huculak. In addition to his talent for fighting, Maxwell showed he could hold his own on offense and skated as many shifts as any of his younger counterparts in each game. The Brahmas won both contests.

After all was said and done, Maxwell was able to accomplish something 10 other participants in training camp didn't - he made enough of an impression on Brahmas Head Coach Dan Wildfong to earn a spot on the team’s 2010-11 roster. Tonight, the 34-year-old Brampton, Ontario native will suit up for the first game of his 15th pro season when the Brahmas open the regular season on the road against the Americans.

Maxwell brings more to the Brahmas than just his physical presense and boxing skills; he also brings character, a strong work ethic and most importantly - knowledge of what it takes to win at the pro level. A veteran of over 650 games played in seven North American leagues, he was a member of two AHL Calder Cup championship teams, the 1996-97 Hershey Bears and 1998-99 Providence Bruins.

Despite what many would think, Maxwell is not a one-dimensional player - he's worked hard on all aspects of his game throughout his career and lists Wendel Clark, Randy McKay and Peter Laviolette as some of his biggest influences.

"I am a guy who has always worked on my game," Maxwell said in an interview last year with The Western Star. "I have had coaches who emphasized being a better player. Probably one of the best coaches I played for was (former Atlanta Thrashers head coach) Bob Hartley who emphasized that every day... like as tough guys, we never had a Sunday off, he always made us practice and work on our skill because the game has changed."

Another big influence on Maxwell was Kevin Kaminski, the current head coach of the Mississippi RiverKings. The two were teammates for part of the 1999-00 season with the Providence Bruins (AHL) and Kaminski later coached Maxwell with the Long Beach Ice Dogs (WCHL) in 2003-04.

"Killer was a good guy to play for, and it was the first time that I've ever played for a guy that I've actually played with, so it was a different aspect," Maxwell said in a 1996 interview with Adam Waugh. "Killer is another guy who definitely has my respect...just looking at his name says it all. When he was younger, Killer was never drafted, yet he still worked his way all the way up to the NHL. I've learned a lot from Killer about controlling my emotions. He was really great for my career, and he taught me a lot."

Maxwell will have an opportunity to get together with Kaminski later in the season when the Brahmas travel to Mississippi for a two-game series against the RiverKings. In the meantime, the veteran winger is taking things one day at a time and is proud to say he is playing hockey again this season.

Photo Credits: Robert Keith

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