The Lone Star Brahmas will hit the NyTex Sports Centre ice Friday September 13th to open their NAHL season against the visiting Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees. The weekend series will kick-off the inaugural seasons for two relocated franchises moving into markets vacated by CHL minor pro programs.
NyTex Sports Centre once again becomes the home of arguably the most successful franchise in NAHL history. The Texas Tornado joined the NAHL as an expansion team in 1999 playing out of what was then known as Blue Line Ice Complex before moving to Frisco, Texas for the 2003/04 season. Success came to the franchise immediately as they took the division title in their first season and made it to the finals before losing to the Danville Wings. In the 13 year history of the franchise they have won seven Division Titles, five Robertson Cup National Championships and have never failed to reach post season play.
Dan Wildfong takes over as Head Coach of the Lone Star Brahmas after compiling a fairly impressive record of his own. Following four seasons at Colgate University he moved on to an eight year professional career scoring 494 points and amassing 1,970 PIM’s. Over the past six seasons Wildfong led the CHL version of the Brahmas to the playoff each season winning the Ray Miron Presidents Cup in 2009.
Just a week after suffering defeat in the Robertson Cup National Championship game the Wenatchee Wild announced their move to Hidalgo, Texas to fill the void left when the CHL version of the Bees folded. The Killer Bees tabbed USHL Assistant Coach Joe Coombs as their new bench boss. Coombs a native of Brantford, Ontario played four seasons in the OHL before moving on to a five year pro career. The past three seasons he has been the Assistant Coach of the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the USHL which won the Clark Cup Championship in 2011 and 2013.
Both teams will come into the weekend series with a lot of questions. With the franchise moves rosters of both teams saw a lot of shuffling so many new faces will be stepping onto NAHL ice for the first time.
Lone Star Brahmas
The Brahmas roster returns nine veterans from last year’s Texas Tornado team. Veteran Forwards Cam Brown, AJ Duggan, Leo Lumm and Mitch McPherson. They are joined by rookies Brandon Anderson, Alex Dagnal, Jordan Deckard, Gordie Helmuth, Matt Lison, Connor Millard, RJ Salvato, Liam Stirtzinger, Ryan Watson and Will White. The rookies have made their presence felt early in the two preseason games against the Odessa Jackalopes. White had two goals, Lison had a goal and two assists and Stirtzinger had the first ever Lone Star goal while Dagnal contributed two assists.
The strength of the team early may well be on defense. Five of the nine defensemen played regularly last season with all five veterans logging 39 or more games. Veteran Defensemen Nick Blasé, Donovan Gardiner, Anthony Mousseau, Mitchell Mueller and Alexey Solovyev. Rookie Defensemen are Johan Steen, Austin Thielges and Ayrton Valente. Blasé and Mueller play a physical game on the back end while Gardiner and Solovyev bring speed and breakout ability. Mousseau put up 17 points last season to lead the returning blue-liners. Steen showed offensive ability in the two preseason games against the Jackalopes with a Goal and two Assists.
In net the Brahmas have three players fighting for the starting goalie role. All three are rookies in the NAHL and will be looking to their defense for support as they develop. Goalies Sean Keating, Jacob Nehama and Mattias Soderqvist all showed the ability to win games in this league against Odessa.
Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees
The NAHL South Division has long been regarded as the toughest division in the league known not only for the physical play, but also producing championships. Seven of the last ten Robertson Cup National Champions have come from the South Division. Coombs obviously did his homework on the NAHL South before taking the position with the Killer Bees. In remarks to the Rio Grande Valley Monitor Coombs said, “We want kids that hate to lose and want to battle. If that means hitting somebody or blocking a shot or, quite frankly, losing their teeth because they had to get in a fight then that’s what’s going to happen.”
Rio Grande will come into NyTex with a team that looks to be well suited to back up Coombs remarks. Of the 25 skaters on the current Killer Bees roster only eight are shorter than six feet tall or less than 190 pounds. 15 spots on the roster are held by players who have reached 20 years of age with two more who turn 20 before the end of the year. Coombs is building around six NAHL veterans as he enters the season split evenly between the offense and defense.
Veteran Forwards Tyler Bruneteau, Nathan Flynn and Evan Schmidbauer make the move from Wenatchee with the team. They will be joined by rookies Cole Anderson, Cam Ashley, Jan Blasko, Will Clark, Anthony Croston, Dak Dice, Trent Dillinger, Ben Greiner, Austin Hoff, Aleksi Luhtalampi, Rob Marsanic, Adam Morrison, Sami Pokka and Nick Szopinski. Schmidbauer led the returning vets in both scoring with 22 points and PIMs with 107 last season.
On the backend Dylan Abood is the only returning Wild veteran. Other NAHL veterans with the team are Ian Janco (Fresno) and Dylan Rosen (Springfield/Odessa). Newcomers include Luke Bafia, Austin Carroll, Perry Holcombe, Sven Jung and Connor Pelkey. Pelkey who put up 26 points in the EJHL and Jung who had 23 points with the Notre Dame Argos in the SMHL will be looked to for some scoring punch from the blue-line.
In goal, Rio Grande has two rookies in Olli Kalkaja from Finland and Ryan Mulka who spent last season with Detroit Catholic Central. The 20 year old Kalkaja is expected to capture the starting job going into the season.
Tickets for both games are available at the NyTex Sports Centre Box Office or by calling the Lone Star Brahmas Sales Office at 817-336-4423.