NORTH RICHLAND HILLS, TX — The calendar has barely turned to September, but the Brahmas have been in town and training for two full weeks already. Head Coach Dan Wildfong has certainly been putting the team through their paces to make sure they’re ready to go on Saturday night in their first appearance as the 2017-18 Lone Star Brahmas.
The team features a few — but not many — familiar names, and almost all of those are forwards. Returning from last year’s Robertson Cup-winning team are forwards Julian Biondo, Austin O’Rourke, Aidan Spellacy, Justin Addamo, Frankie Trazzera, Trevor Zenas, and Andy Willis. Defenseman Kimball Johnson is also returning, although he was on Long Term Injured Reserve for the entirety of last season.
That means that the majority of the team is brand new, which isn’t uncommon for the Brahmas. Lone Star tends to ice older teams, which results in a higher turnover rate as players age out, often moving on to play in the NCAA. With nearly all of last season’s squad aging out or playing this year in the USHL, the Brahmas need to find the right group of players to give them the best chance at repeating as NAHL champions.
In order to do that, the Brahmas are carrying 31 players on the training camp roster, leaving them with options as they build their optimal team. Wildfong and Assistant Coach Justin Hale will need to get that cut down, and the upcoming preseason games should be a good opportunity for them to assess their players.
Part of the key to the Brahmas’ success this season lies in replacing key offensive producers — the top eight scorers from last season have all moved on, leaving plenty of opportunity for returners and newcomers alike to step up.
In addition to increased production from the returning players, the Brahmas will be looking to some seasoned junior veterans to bring their game to the NAHL level. Former BCHL forwards Jared Domin (21-23–44) and Michael Montambault (8-19–27) should be looking to make an impact on the scoresheet right away, and defenseman Kyle Hallbauer (15-29–44) out of the OJHL will be someone to watch as well.
There’s also plenty of young talent on the team. Bowling Green State commit Chase Pletzke, who played with the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies last season — the same organization that produced Julian Biondo and Blake Evennou — is a highly-skilled forward who shouldn’t have trouble finding twine in his first junior season. Local products Owen Farris and Will Stromp are much in the same boat.
As far as goaltending goes, the Brahmas have options there as well. Mitchell Gibson, Benjamin Beck, and Ajay Fernandez have all shown well during training camp, and Wildfong will undoubtedly make sure that all three get time in net during the next three preseason games.
The Brahmas will face the Shreveport Mudbugs, led by Karlis Zirnis on Saturday night. Zirnis took the Mudbugs to the playoffs in their first year back in the league, and the organization will be looking to take another step forward in their second.
On Tuesday, September 5th, the Topeka RoadRunners will be in town. The RoadRunners had a disappointing year by all accounts in 2016-17 and will be focused on improving their results this season.
Puck drop for both games at NYTEX Sports Centre will be at 7:30 PM. Tuesday’s game features a $2 Walk-Up Ticket Special that is not offered online, so make sure you get to the box office that night!
In addition, the Brahmas are hosting a Fill The Net drive to assist in Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. Please help us make an impact and bring water, diapers, toiletries, new socks, and new underwear! A collection spot has been set up in the lobby.
As always, keep up with the Brahmas on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. If you can’t join us at the rink, both home preseason games will be streamed on Hockey TV.