Prior to the beginning of last season, Mark Lantz purchased
the Tulsa Rampage franchise, which had been mired in mediocrity for a couple of
seasons and moved it to the colder climate of Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Lantz gave the team a complete makeover, coming up with a new
name, logo, color scheme, coaching staff and adding amenities that hockey
Lantz, who also handles the General Manager duties,
recruited hard throughout the summer, looking to build a true contender in the
Western States Hockey League's Mountain Division.
Along with some exceptional players, Lantz also brought in Jeff Heimel, who had
just finished up a successful season at the helm of the Phoenix Polar
Bears, to become the first head coach in
Cheyenne Stampede history.
Early in Heimel's tenure, the Stampede were a force,
rattling off seven straight wins and picking up at least one point in 10
straight, after dropping their season opener to the Boulder Bison.
They also showed some resiliency early on, rebounding nicely
with a sweep of the Ogden Mustangs after being swept themselves by the Idaho
Through the first month or so of the season, the Stampede
were at the top of their division but admittedly, they hadn't really gotten
into the meat of their schedule yet.
After the sweep of Ogden, who they formed a nice little
rivalry with, the Stampede went on to lose their last eight games of the first
half and headed to Las Vegas for the Showcase in search of offense.
Lantz, always looking to better his team, made a move to
pick up skilled Russian forward Danny
Kulikov from the Phoenix Knights, just days before the mid-season
tournament began. Up to that point, Taylor
Crawford and Ryan Carroll had
been the only real offense to speak of and the elusive Kulikov would be the
first of many roster moves for Cheyenne.
After losing their first two games of the Showcase, Lantz made
yet another deal to bring in a premier forward, this time picking up
Swedish-born Carl Graf from the El
The first-ever deal made while at the Showcase was an odd
one, as Graf merely switched locker rooms after the game, in which his Rhinos
had defeated the Stampede in overtime.
Despite leading the Rhinos in scoring at that point in the season,
Graf never quite fit into Cory Herman's system but Lantz and Heimel were more
than happy to have him.
It didn't take him long to make his presence felt, as Graf tallied
two assists in an overtime loss to Arizona in the Stampede's third game of the
In their final game of the event, it was Kulikov who shined,
notching two key goals in a 5-3 victory over Long Beach, giving his team some
momentum heading into the holiday break.
After beginning the New Year with two losses to Boulder, the
Stampede again bounced back nicely and won four in a row.
Although the Stampede pretty much had the third spot locked
up in the Mountain Division with a couple of months left in the regular season,
the team was still a bit of mystery.
Some nights they looked as though they could contend for the
division crown and on others, they seemed disinterested.
After another sweep at the hands of the Jr. Steelheads, Lantz was again active right up until the
trade deadline. This time he went out and picked up Bobby Watson, who had been one of the final roster cuts in the
North American Hockey League. Lantz and the rest of the league knew Watson
well, as the undersized forward had led the Tulsa Rampage in points during the
Another key addition for Lantz, another guy that paid
dividends immediately, as Cheyenne finished up the regular season by picking up
points in their final six games and clinching the third playoff spot in the Mountain
With some new fire in the lineup, the Stampede made the
short trip to Boulder for their opening round series with the Bison.
Despite only besting their nearby rivals once in six regular
season meetings, a lot of people in and around the league felt as though the
Stampede had a great chance to win the series, due to their rash of roster
moves and recent hot play.
They couldn't have been more wrong however, as the Bison took
it to the Stampede over two games and won the series without much of a fight.
Lantz didn't sugarcoat his answer when asked about the
series that ended the Stampede's season, calling it a, "waste of fuel to make
the 45 minute trip to Boulder."
As much as the loss left a sour taste in Lantz' mouth, he
couldn't help but be excited about what the future holds for his Stampede in
He raved about the city, the arena they call home and the
people that come out in droves to watch his team play.
He loves the dedication of the Cheyenne people and told me
that fans often times would load up the Stampede bus with care packages and
food for long road trips.
Lantz has worked hard to put the Stampede on the map and it
seems that he has found his spot in Cheyenne.
As much as he likes the situation in Cheyenne, Lantz is a competitor
in every sense of the word. He was and probably still is fuming after the sweep
in Boulder to end the season and it wound up being one of the key factors in
his decision to relieve Jeff Heimel of his coaching duties.
He explained to me that it wasn't just the series defeat in
which his team fell, "flat on their faces" that helped Lantz make his decision
but that it was also based on a handful of other things that transpired
throughout the year.
The Stampede's coaching search did not last long however, as
Lantz brought in a long-time junior hockey veteran in Marty Quarters.
Quarters has seemingly been everywhere in junior hockey,
having coached in the NORPAC, NAHL and USHL, amongst others. His most recent
gig was as the Recruiting Director for the prestigious Hill Academy in Toronto,
Although he loved the job, where he also was also able to
remain a scout for the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL and London Knights of the
Ontario Hockey League, Quarters did not like being far away from his wife and
kids in Montana.
He jumped at the chance to be closer to home, while also
joining a great up and coming organization in Cheyenne.
Lantz likes that he can trust Quarters a bit more, as he has
a proven track record, having been around the block a few times. He doesn't
have to be as hands-on with him and can relax a bit, although if you've ever
met Lantz, you know he doesn't do much relaxing.
Since the duo have been together, Cheyenne's camps have been
full with players eager to don a Stampede uniform.
A new franchise is back in Tulsa this season and it's definitely
a location that can work but Lantz feels the Stampede are a perfect fit in
Cheyenne and I couldn't agree with him more.
Players Moving Up:
Lantz and Quarters both strongly believe that junior hockey
is not all about the victories. Instead, they are more concerned with molding
their players into better young men and also pushing them on to college.
Moving on to play college hockey is the captain and leading
scorer from last season's squad, Taylor
Crawford, who will join a large group of WSHL players at St. Mary's
University in Winona, Minnesota. Goaltender Michael Porter will also play collegiately but at the ACHA club
level for Colorado State University.
From last season's squad, two players will actually be
playing professional hockey in the fall. Goaltender Vladislav Kornienko will play in the Moscow City Elite League,
while defenseman Tobias Pehrson will
play professionally in Stockholm, Sweden.
Lantz also mentioned to me that forward Sean Sayers is working talking with a few teams in the Western
Hockey League, while a "handful" of other Stampede players made North American
Hockey League main camps, before returning to Cheyenne for the upcoming season.
A big reason for Lantz and Quarters' high expectations for
the upcoming season, is the large group of forwards returning to the team.
The smallish Ryan
Carroll will play his second season with the Stampede, after a rookie
season in which he averaged exactly a point per game.
Heath Lantz will
also return to the team but it won't be back until October, after inuring
himself during the Aberdeen Wings (NAHL) main camp, in which he looked on track
to make the team. Both his father and Quarters feel that Heath is due for an
offensive breakthrough this season.
The two Fairbanks boys, Andrew
Baggen and Dorran Masters also
return, providing grit and leadership to the team once more. Masters is also
one of the most feared fighters in the entire league.
Another guy coming back that helps in the grit category,
while also chipping in with a decent amount of offense is Wayne Hoffman, who put up a respectable 24 points last season.
A solid supporting cast of "youngsters" will also return, as
Levi Shryack, Denver Lloyd and Austin
Krantz round out a great group of returning forwards.
Lantz and Quarters have also been recruiting vigorously and
they've already signed a sparkling class of fresh faces.
Swiss-born forward Kevin
Rossett possesses the top-end skill that the Stampede lose with Crawford heading
to college and is expected to make an immediate impact.
comes over from the Yellowstone Quake of the NORPAC, where he amassed 55 points
in 42 games last season.
Three promising rookies also make the jump from high-level
youth hockey, as Trevor Zakrajsek
makes his way to Cheyenne from Seattle, Ryan
Demyen comes by way of Pittsburgh and a local kid, Wyoming native Thayne Trumbull, will all compete for a
spot on one of the top three forward lines.
In all, the Stampede are very happy with the group of
forwards they have going into the season. They have assembled a solid mix of
veterans and rookies, skill and grit and overall competitors.
If this group can do what Lantz and Quarters expect of them,
there will be no need to make mid-season trades for offense.
The Stampede blue line got a huge return in defenseman Reilly Moore, who many believe is one
of the most skilled in the entire league.
He led all Cheyenne defenseman last year with 30 points and
if he focuses more on the game and less on the chatter, I feel he could almost
double that number.
Also returning his hulking defenseman Matt Broman, who is a serviceable defenseman who can also play as a
checking line forward, if needed.
New faces will be needed to round out the top six and the
Stampede believe they have a few that are more than capable.
Ian Johnson and Tyler Elkins are two guys with previous
junior hockey experience who should step right in and hold down a roster spot.
Johnson comes over from the Missoula Maulers of the AWHL, while Elkins is
another former Yellowstone Quake. Both make very few mistakes and seem to be on
top of their game when you don't notice them at all.
Swedish defenseman Dario
Trupina was one of the final cuts in an NAHL main camp and the big body landed
in Cheyenne. He is expected, along with Moore, to provide a good amount of
offense from the back end.
Lastly, Josh Greenaker
moves up from the Cleveland Jr. Barons 18AAA program and should fit right in
with the solid group of d-men.
In all, a lot of new faces will hold down the Cheyenne blue
line this fall and it will be interesting to see how they gel as a group.
The only real soft spot for the Stampede over the entirety
of the 2011-2012 season was in between the pipes and so far this offseason, it
still seems to be a question mark.
The Stampede went through five different netminders last
year, with mixed reviews on most and only Kornienko, who has since moved
on, getting the majority of the starts.
This season, the only returner is Cacy Wilfer, who won eight games with less than stellar numbers
A kid they have extremely high hopes for is Daniel Cepila, who played for the
Czech Republic's U16 national team last season. He's very young but Lantz and
Quarters think he has the skill to be a good one.
The third spot is still up for grabs and just like many
other teams around the WSHL, the Stampede hope that a guy rises to the top to
take the reins and hold onto them for the entire season.
The Stampede will remain in the Mountain Division this fall
but will be joined by a new group of foes.
Gone are the two Utah teams and the Idaho Jr. Steelheads,
which I'm sure doesn't upset Cheyenne at all. Coming in are the two Arizona
teams (Phoenix Knights and Arizona Redhawks) and the two southwest teams (El
Paso Rhino and New Mexico Renegades.)
The Boulder Bison will stick around as well, where they'll continue
a competitive geographical rivalry with the Stampede.
Lantz feels that top to bottom, the new Mountain Division
could be the toughest in all of the WSHL, telling me that the division will be
separated by just a few points and will be an "absolute dog fight."
Aside from their divisional schedule, the Stampede will also
play a weekend of home games against the
Salt Lake City Moose and Texas Brahmas.
They'll make out of division road trips to Ogden, Utah, where
they'll certainly continue a heated rivalry with the Mustangs and to Tulsa,
Oklahoma, to play a series that will pit the former Tulsa franchise against the
The schedule shouldn't be too tough for the Stampede,
especially with a lighter intra-division travel load and they now have better
depth, which will come in handy over long weekends on the road.
Lantz has found a coach with experience, whom he trusts to
make decisions on and off the ice, who also shares his passion for the game,
which is hard to match.
He and Quarters have brought back an impressive group of
both forwards and defenseman and have worked hard to pull in a fantastic crop
of rookies as well. The only real question is in the crease but even if it
doesn't work out right away, you know Lantz will be on the phone looking to
better his team.
Between Lantz' dedication to winning, an improved coaching
staff and the support of the rowdy Stampede fans, I see Cheyenne making a move;
possibly even stampeding up the standings this season.
Brent Maranto is the Director of Communications for the Western States Hockey League