With just 2 days till both the Texas Tornado and the Wichita Falls Wildcats open the season in Blane, Minnesota.
Here's a look at both teams going into the season.
For the Texas Tornado, they hoping to find the mojo back that helped win 3 straight NAHL Robertson Cup Titles from 2004-2006, even if they can get close with a new roster basically starting from scratch after taking the year, then it would be considered a success.
Wichita Falls fells like they can possibly contend for the South Division title and be in the mix for the NAHL Robertson Cup Title this year with several key players coming back, most importantly could be Goalie Phillip Graveline which almost created a South Division Semifinal stunner last year be getting the Topeka Roadrunners to the brink before completing a 4 goal comeback to win the series and advance to the South Division Final.
In some ways, it's going to be like an expansion team for the Tornado. For instance, a totally new roster, theirs no returning players from when the team last took the ice during the 2007-2008 season and a fan base that may wait a little bit into the season to find out what kind of team they will have to get a feel for this season.
But in other ways, not much has changed, for instance Coach Tony Curtale is back with the team which is a great thing for the club as he will demand everything possible out of the players, also the new look Dr. Pepper Arena which allow more fans to pack in the Dr. Pepper Arena to make the building louder and a better home ice advantage then ever before.
Some of the interesting players include Mike Baird who previously played for the Georgetown Raiders last season had a great year with the Georgetown Raiders with the Ontario Junior Hockey League. As a player with experience in Canada, he will be looked as a penitential leader on the defense. He's a hard nose hitter with a physical presence and battle for pucks on the boards.
On offense, it may be scoring by committee as no one as been able take control of the offense during the preseason and may be a bit unpredictable at times, some nights it could be high scoring nights while some times it may only be able to get a couple of goals, most likely (especially early) it may be some low scoring nights for them to be competitive early on in the season.
For instance in the 2nd preseason game against Wichita Falls, the Tornado were down 3-1 when a brawl erupted and after the penalties were sent, the Tornado were able to score a PP Goal with just under 2 minutes left, then after the Tornado went up 3-2, the team pulled the goalie and were able to tie at 3-3 with just 16 seconds left before losing in a shootout to the Wildcats. This gives a hunch that they may have to keep the games low scoring to be competitive and the goalies will have to be strong.
Speaking of goalies, Anthony Sweet and Dan Sullivan have been splitting time during the preseason and may be the same way for the start of the regular season. For Dan Sullivan, he may be asked to play more time during the Fall Showcase to start the games as the one with more experience in junior then Anthony Sweet. With a team full of mysteries, the goaltender position may be the biggest this season.
If theirs one thing that could help out the team this season, it's having head coach Tony Curtale back on the team. During the year off, a lot of fans thought that he would be snatched by someone else but elected to stay.
With 4 league championships as part of the Tornado, he will be sure to get the most of the players to help make this team successful, this should reassure Tornado fans that they want to continue the teams success and get this team back in contention for the NAHL South Division and Robertson Cup Titles sooner rather then later.
Bottom Line: This season could go either way, it could be contending for the Division title or near the bottom of the division. With basically a brand new roster to work with, Curtale is going to need to keep this team together and the defense will most likely be very strong with an inconstancy offense during the preseason. For fans, they ready to see the team back on the ice and looking to be winning ASAP.
Team Website: www.tornadohockey.com
Team Roster: http://nahltexas.stats.pointstreak.com/teamroster.html?teamid=206122
Wichita Falls Wildcats
After an up and down season last where the Wildcats finished 3rd place with just a 24-25-9 record. The team currently looked better as the season went on and despite a difference of 18 wins and 42 points, Wichita Falls almost pulled off a South Division Semifinal upset where they were very resilient.
After going down 2-0 after the first two games in Topeka, a pair of victories at home got the series back at 2-2. Then in game 5, the Wildcats went up 2-0 in the first period and were able to hold on until the 3rd period when the Roadrunners scored 4 goals in 11 minutes to win the game and the series.
For Wichita Falls, the offense needs to improve the most, scoring just 163 goals last year was the worst offense in the South Division and was among the worst scoring offenses with the likes of the Motor City Metal Jackets who scored just 134 and Albert Lea who scored just 112 goals and won only 4 games last year. Some of the forwards that are coming back include Sean McKenzie and Adam Kahn who scored 19 goals and of the returning forwards was the best score who only played 37 games last season.
Goaltender is where the Wildcats have the best strength. Phillip Graveline who almost helped in a near upset is back who despite a 3.22 GAA last season, should have a much better offense to get more goal support and should be more relaxed and is looking for a shot a championship in his final junior season. Brian Phillips is going to be the back up whose going to have an uphill battle to get to start some nights with Graveline's great season.
In an interview with the league website earlier in the offseason said that with the new talent. Their main goal is to win the South Division Title and be in the mix for the NAHL Robertson Cup Title. Some of the other contending teams this season like defending 3 time Champion St. Louis Bandits, the Wenatchee Wild who won the West Division Championship and last year's Robertson Cup Runner up and the 2010 Robertson Cup Host team.
Also the Bismarck Bobcats are looking to get back after winning the Central Division, the central has the making to be the most competivie this year with an Albert Lea team that's hoping to put last year's diaster behind them and Alexandria who has a lot of new players that have look very promising in the preseason.
Head Coach John Bowkus who liked what he saw that gave a couple of players walk on contracts for the team training camp back in August.
Here's the story from the NAHL League Website: www.nahl.com/news/story.cfm?id=1052
Bottom Line: If the Wichita Falls Wildcats can get everything together starting with goaltender Phillip Graveline, look for a team that could give the South Division a new champion and can become a league force. This is the first time ever that the Wichita Falls Wildcats can steal the attention from the Texas Tornado across the State and across the league.
Wichita Falls Wildcats Website: www.wfwildcatshockey.com
Wichita Falls Wildcats Roster: http://nahlwichita.pointstreaksites.com/view/nahlwichita/get-to-know-your-team/roster-61
NAHL Division Predictions
1. Traverse City North Stars
2. Marquette Rangers
3. Alpena Ice Diggers
4. Janesville Jets
5. Motor City Metal Jackets
1. Bismarck Bobcats
2. North Iowa Outlaws
3. Albert Lea Thunder
4. Alexandria Blizzard
5. Owatonna Express
1. Wichita Falls Wildcats
2. St. Louis Bandits
3. Texas Tornado
4. Springfield Jr. Blues
5. Topeka Roadrunners
1. Wenatchee Wild
2. Alaska Avalanche
3. Fairbanks Ice Dogs
4. Kenai River Brown Bears
Dallas Stars Training Camp
With the Dallas Stars Training Camp now underway in Frisco, the schedule is now on the team website. Starting out, the players are divided into 2 groups of players and with most of the practices and scrimmages open to the public. Stars fans will get a look at the team that's ready to redeem themselves after an injury plagued year and with some new faces like Jamie Benn looking to start the season on the roster.
Unlike in previous years, the team will use both the Dallas Stars Practice Rink and the Dr. Pepper Arena so both groups can hit the ice at the same time and a majority of the scrimmages will be at the Dr. Pepper Arena so more fans can view the games.
Training Camp Info: http://stars.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=497949
AHL Preseason Schedule
As we get close to the start of the American Hockey League (AHL) season starting up, Saturday night will begin the preseason with a pair of games between the Binghamton Senators and the W/B-Scranton Penguins.
Another interesting event to take a look at is the Toronto Marlies and the Hamilton Bulldogs heading to Edinburgh, Scotland to play the Belfast Giants and the Edinburgh Capitals of the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) in Great Britain to play in a preseason tournament.
As for the Texas Teams, most of the games will be against each other and for the Texas Stars, a match against the Dallas Stars at the Cedar Park Center in Austin on September 30 to end the preseason before the regular season starts on October 2.
AHL Preseason Schedule: www.theahl.com/news/league/index.html?article_id=10418
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