The Lone Star Brahmas went into the NAHL Showcase Tournament in Blaine, MN with what looked to be a daunting task. The Brahmas’ schedule included four teams who had made post season appearances last year. Both Kenai River and Austin were eliminated in their divisional semi-finals while Port Huron and Fairbanks made it as far as their divisional finals with the Ice Dogs falling one game short of the Robertson Cup Tournament.
Strength of Schedule in the Showcase was not in the Brahmas favor as their opponents currently hold a 19-2-1 record good for a combined .886 winning percentage. The next closest to Lone Star in Strength of Schedule was the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees with an opponents winning percentage of .778.
Kenai River was the Brahmas opening opponent on Wednesday morning. Lone Star got out front on a first period powerplay goal only to see the Brown Bears tie it up then score two in the second for a 3-1 lead. The teams traded goals in the third for the final 4 – 2 Kenai River win.
On Thursday the Brahmas staked the Austin Bruins to a three goal lead in the first period. The Brahmas first goal came early in the second, but Austin added two more. Lone Star had the only goal of the third period which was too little, too late as they lost 5 – 3.
Things were looking up for the Brahmas on Friday afternoon as they held a 2 – 1 lead over Port Huron entering the third period. However, the Brahmas spent nearly eight minutes of the third period on the penalty kill as all four whistles in the period went against them. Port Huron took advantage of the gassed defense scoring three goals including an empty netter at 19:34 to ice the 4 – 2 win.
Saturday evening saw the Brahmas skate to a scoreless first period tie with Fairbanks. The Ice Dogs opened things up in the second with two goals before the midpoint of the period. The Brahmas scored at 16:28 to pull within one, but two late period tallies by the Ice Dogs put Lone Star in a deep hole. Both teams had two goals in the third resulting in the Fairbanks 6 – 3 victory.
Penalties were a big problem for the Brahmas especially against Port Huron and Fairbanks. Port Huron had nine powerplay opportunities while Fairbanks had eight. Although the Lone Star penalty kill was strong all tournament allowing only 3 goals on 25 times short handed, it led to fatigued defenders and greatly reduced scoring chances.
The difficulties started for the Brahmas long before they boarded the bus for the 1,000 mile road trip to Blaine. Things were completely up in the air until the last possible second for the franchise who competed in the league as the Texas Tornado during the 2012/13 season. Consolidated Sports Holdings, the franchise’s previous ownership group had drug their heels pushing the sale of the team out to July 27. The late date left new Head Coach Dan Wildfong little time to pull together a team.
CSH, also the owners of the Amarillo, Bulls failed to communicate with players on the Tornado roster, tenders or draft picks until July 20 leading many of them to seek roster spots elsewhere. Multiple veterans, who had made clear their intentions to return, moved on due to the manner in which CSH handled the sale of the team. None of the players drafted and only two of the tendered players made it to Main Camp.
The actions of CSH point directly to why an ownership group should never be allowed to own two teams within the same league and especially the same division. Their delay of the sale and lack of communication to players only served to benefit the Amarillo franchise. If their actions were intentional or simply coincidental are open for debate. The fact that it handcuffed Wildfong in his efforts to build a team is not.
The Brahmas staff had to assemble a roster without the benefit of multiple tryout camps which every other team enjoyed. The Brahmas conducted their main camp Aug 23rd through 25th and then moved almost immediately into training camp just one week before their preseason series with the Odessa Jackalopes. Lone Star managed a split of the series with Odessa then just one week later accomplished the same in their regular season opening weekend against Rio Grande Valley.
The team has shown the ability to win games, but they are relatively young and have had little time to gel as a unit. There were periods during the Showcase when they played fairly even with four of the top teams in the league. Penalties and new team mistakes however, combined to undue their efforts. Given the hand that he was dealt by CSH, Wildfong has put together a core unit to build around. His defense has played much better than the scores have indicated. A few tweaks up front and more time together as a team should get them moving in the right direction and in the post season hunt come the end of the season.
The Brahmas will travel to the Gulf Coast this weekend to face Corpus Christi. The Icerays have had their own struggles early in the season setting at the same 1 – 4 – 1 record as the Brahmas. The weekend series will give Lone Star a chance to right the ship and get back into the win column.