Lone Star Brahmas coach Dan Wildfong and all of the Brahmas players, staff, billet families and fans will get in all the celebrating they can this week.
By Joshua Boyd
Parties and celebrations at the home NYTEX Sports Centre in Richland Hills, Texas, and at local restaurant Zuroma were on the docket for the Brahmas and their extended family.
On May 14, the Brahmas beat the Aston Rebels, 3-0, in Duluth, Minn., for their first North American Hockey League championship. That was the successful end of a journey that lasted nine months and 71 combined regular season and playoff games.
“Our guys were always willing to listen to me. The whole team was trying to get better every day. This was a process, it wasn’t overnight.”
The Brahmas’ Twitter feed read “One Team. One Dream.” They proved that, when the many are more important than any one individual, championships happen.
All season long, the Brahmas were the veritable team without superstars. Lone Star had one player in the top 10 of major statistical categories in the regular season. Goalie Alex Calvaruso, a Colorado College commit, was fourth in goals against average (2.13).
The Brahmas put 35 players on the ice in the regular season, and every player got a chance to work their way into the roster. Roster spots were fluid, and several players phased in and out of the lineup.
“Our depth was very important. We had guys sitting out any given night who could be top four defensemen, or top six forwards,” said Wildfong.
“That is the hardest part of my day, figuring out the lineup. Every player works his tail off, and it crushes me to not put one of them into the lineup, and I know it crushes them.”
The team only made three moves all year. Essentially everyone stayed along for the ride, despite knowing they might be the next guy watching instead of playing.
The Brahmas put 24 players on the ice during the 11 games of the Robertson Cup championship, and had the closest thing to a stable lineup all year. Eighteen of the 24 players skated in nine or more games in the playoffs.
“With a lot of junior teams, there’s often a lot of movement, but not on our team,” said Wildfong. “We spread out the roster spots pretty well, sitting our older guys at times to give our younger guys a shot. In the playoffs, we played mostly our older guys, as this was their last shot.”
The Robertson Cup championship featured the two top regular season teams in the NAHL this year. The Rebels finished first overall with 95 points, and the Brahmas finished second at 90 points.
“I don’t think we breezed by any given team any given night. Going into the playoffs, we didn’t have to change much, because we could play a heavy, physical style or a skill-heavy style,” said Wildfong.
The second season
The Brahmas fought through those 11 playoff games that featured more than their fair share of ups and downs.
After dispatching the Wichita Falls Wildcats in three straight, the Brahmas next faced the Corpus Christ IceRays for the South Division title, and the Cup semifinal berth. The IceRays put up such a fight they held a 2-1 lead and looked to be gunning for an upset.
“We were down 2-1 against Corpus going into our last two games. We had to win [Game 4] in OT to stay in, and we forced Game 5. That game also went into overtime, so we could just as easily been out [of the Robertson Cup finals] as in,” Wildfong added. “We don’t win those games, we’re not talking about a championship.”
Alaska-Anchorage recruit Drake Glover led the Brahmas in playoff scoring with 12 points in 11 games. He was the overtime hero in both Game 4 against Corpus Christi and also in the first Cup semifinal game against the Janesville Jets. Like Game 4 in the quarterfinals, the Brahmas also battled back from being down to the Jets to get the win.
On May 12, the Brahmas defeated Janesville 3-1 for the Cup finals berth.
“I think, throughout the playoffs, it was a steady ‘we know we can do this confidence.’ A little bit of swagger. A positive swagger, not cocky,” Wildfong added. “We knew if we play our game, we’ll get the win. We always had four lines going, and we had different scoring throughout.”
Indeed, 16 of the 17 skaters with nine or more playoff games played scored at least one point. Boston University commit Max Prawdzik commanded the crease for 11 games, registering a .924 save percentage and nine wins.
Prawdzik, Glover and Holy Cross commit Pete Kessel were all named to the All-Tournament team, and Glover was named the Tournament MVP as well. They were all commended for their steadiness by the league, but Wildfong still wouldn’t even single out that All-Tournament trio. Without them, there’s no championship, and the same holds true for the 21 other Brahmas who contributed to the postseason along the way.
“We went in as a team, and we’re going out as a team.”
“We got key goaltending at certain times, and some of our D and some of our forwards stepped up, but I can’t really put it on one guy or group of guys,” he added. “It’s a team effort.”
That team includes some players Wildfong has certainly grown close to, especially the 20-year-old veterans.
“I’ve had some guys for three years, some for two years. We went through a lot together,” he said. “It’s not easy losing those guys. The new guys have to step up, but those are big shoes to fill.”
The celebrations will have to end this week – after all, the Brahmas are holding their first Pre-Draft Camp this weekend in Chicago beginning Friday.
“We’ll have a party for the season’s end,” Wildfong added. “Then it’s off to Chicago looking for our next guys.”
Team photo at the top is courtesy of the Lone Star Brahmas and Rebekah Bing.
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North American Hockey League,NAHL,Lone Star Brahmas,Robertson Cup,Dan Wildfong,USA Junior Hockey