two less than mediocre seasons the New Mexico Renegades seemed to have turned a
corner last year and have now positioned themselves to contend for a division
title as early as this season.
a short stint in Texas, the club was purchased and moved to Rio Rancho, New
Mexico, prior to the 2009-2010 season. Peter Ambroziak guided the team through
their first two campaigns of struggle and left after the 2010-2011 season.
Gershon assumed the head coaching duties last season and with a core of
returning players and a new mindset, really helped turn the program around.
didn't light the league on fire by any means but the new-look Renegades were
certainly ready to play every night and were no longer a pushover.
the first half of the season, the team showed their newfound competitiveness
with a couple of key victories against teams they don't normally contend with.
They beat the Dallas Ice Jets twice and even took a game from the El Paso
Rhinos, the top two teams in their division.
team also played well at the Showcase in Las Vegas, picking up five out of a
possible eight points, which gave them some momentum heading into the holiday
team returned from the break with solid victories over Park City and El Paso
but tailed off in January.
the latter part of the month, the Renegades made their first-ever trip to Idaho
to take on the league-leading Jr. Steelheads for three games and it proved to
be the start of the rough patch.
Renegades were outscored 23-0 over the three game weekend and never quite
recovered the rest of the regular season, going 5-13-0 over their final 18
the sudden rash of losses, the Renegades still wound up with the fourth and
final playoff spot in the Midwest Division, ahead of only the first-year Dallas
of course, meant a first-round meeting with the powerful El Paso Rhinos but for
the first time ever, the Renegades had beaten them in the regular season and
went into the series with hope.
opening game wasn't the way New Mexico had hoped to begin their playoff
history, as it was oddly similar to the Renegades and Rhinos games of old.
Rhinos outplayed the Renegades for 60 minutes and won by a score of 6-0, taking
game one of the three game series.
game two it was like a completely different team took the ice, as the Renegades
matched the Rhinos' notorious physical play and converted on their chances.
being outshot for the second consecutive night, the Renegades came out with a
huge 6-4 win, giving them tons of confidence heading into a decisive third
a scoreless first period in that game, the Renegades seemed to lose steam and
El Paso only got stronger with time. In the end, the Rhinos took the series
with a 5-0 win and sent the Renegades home for the summer.
booted from the playoffs is never an easy pill to swallow but the Renegades had
to have been proud of what they did in El Paso.
went into one of, if not the most hostile environments in the Western States
Hockey League and won game two, at a point in the series where most teams fold.
most successful season in franchise history and first-ever playoff appearance
and win, were both huge steps in the right direction for a team that has been
through a lot.
his coaching abilities well on display in his one season in Rio Rancho, Michael
Gershon was offered and took a job with the Port Huron Fighting Falcons of the
Tier II North American Hockey League, where he will carry on a partnership with
his former squad.
in for Gershon are two men; yes, two.
Cook and John McCreary, who coached together last season with the Texas Jr.
Brahmas, are the new co-head coaches of the New Mexico Renegades.
two business partners come from extensive hockey backgrounds, where they played
and coached at some of the highest levels.
I spoke with the pair a couple of days ago, they both told me they expect no
problems to arise from the joint leadership situation, as they have worked
together in the past and know one another's strengths and weaknesses.
understand that at this level, it's about moving players on to college and that
it's very hard for one person to handle both the on-ice and recruiting duties
that the job entails. So instead of having just a head coach and an assistant,
why not share the job duties and work within your strengths?
the idea and they're sticking to it.
of how it plays out, they are both excited about taking over a franchise that
has finally seen the light.
men saw the Renegades six times last season in division play and felt as though
they were one or two players away from being a really good hockey team. They
both like hardworking teams and remember hearing their players in Texas talk
about how sore they were after a series with the Renegades.
physicality and hardworking mentality is exactly what they will carry on in New
Mexico and they aspire to have the best-conditioned team in the league.
each want to win, there is no question about it but both are more concerned
with moving their players on. They even went as far as to tell me that they'd
rather move their top guys on and lose every game, then hold them down and win
are still a lot of questions to be answered but if the duo can build on last
season's success and prove that "two heads are better than one" their Renegades
will be a true threat.
2010-2011 Renegades were a relatively young group, so many players still have
junior eligibility this season. Two are moving on to college this fall, where
each is expected to have a big impact with their respective squad.
Cole Dodson is off to the University
of Central Oklahoma and defenseman and captain Vince DiTirro is headed to Colorado State University, which is set
to make the jump to Division I hockey for the 2013-2014 season.
Renegades are still trying to hook on with NAHL teams but one has already
signed an offer, as forward Matt Uvodich,
who played two seasons in Rio Rancho, will reconnect with Gershon in Port
and McCreary are lucky, in the fact that they won't have to rebuild much of
their offense, with a solid core returning.
most dynamic of the bunch is Kenny
Orlando, who led the team with 49 points in 44 games last season.
is a big-time playmaker, who has terrific hands and vision. He's also a stud in
the shootout. He will also inherit the captaincy, vacated with DiTirro heading
Zach Hagmaier has been working out in
New Mexico all summer and looks stronger than ever according to the coaching
staff. He's a grinder that also possesses a good amount of skill.
Steven Buna also returns and he's a kid
that Cook and McCreary are very excited about. He held a limited role last
season but has improved dramatically and they both feel he can have a breakout
Cody Miller was with the Renegades for
their first two seasons in the league but missed out on all of the success last
season, playing in the Great Lakes Junior Hockey League where he had a big
offensive year. He now returns to help continue to build the momentum gained
since he's been gone.
list of new faces to the forward group is long but Cook and McCreary are
ecstatic with the addition of Dakota
a big kid with a huge shot that split time with the EJHL and Empire squads for
the East Coast Eagles last season. The two coaches saw him at a camp for the
Corpus Christi Rays' of the NAHL and figured at least one team in Tier II
hockey would pick him up. Suffice it to say, they were pleasantly surprised
when he signed with the Renegades after not making the cut with the Rays.
Luc Fournier comes over from the
Chicago Hitmen of the NA3HL, where he's a proven role player, who can hit,
skate and chip in offensively.
Tanner Doty headlines a group of
youngsters that will have to work to be in the lineup each night. He turned
heads with a great showing at the Renegades camp last week.
three defenseman have been signed thus far, which would be concerning to some
but not to Cook and McCreary.
reason it doesn't bother them is because they expect a few kids to return to
the team if they don't make an NAHL team this month. They also are being more
selective than in years past, in regards to the players they choose.
told me that they could have 10 defenseman signed by now but are choosing the
right players for the team, not just the players who have the money to play.
Eric Hewitt is a kid out of Michigan
that the two are very high on. They characterize him as a "beautiful" skater,
who gets better under pressure, in terms of his reads and confidence.
Orlando's good friend, Mike Martelli
comes to New Mexico from Pennsylvania and is described as a steady, solid
last of the three signed defenseman is an interesting one.
Ross Phipps grew up playing goaltender
and it wasn't until last season that he began skating out. While playing for
the Kalkaska Roughnecks of
the GLJHL last year, he made the move and split time between forward and
defense. Cook and McCreary tell me that he recently attended a NAHL camp as a
goaltender and did pretty well for himself.
love what the kid brings to the table and also take comfort in the fact that
they won't need a third netminder, with Phipps assuming the role of emergency
already mentioned Phipps, who has the third spot locked down but the strength
of this team will be in net.
Joey MacConnell returns to New Mexico
after just missing the cut with a couple of teams in Canada this summer. His
numbers weren't great last year but neither was the defense in front of him. He
is line to be the number one guy and should have some help in front of him this
it's not for certain yet, the two coaches are awaiting Eric Messer's return as well.
played the most of any New Mexico goaltender last season and had the best
all-around numbers. He's still looking to land in the NAHL but if he doesn't,
he should return to the Renegades and fight for the top spot.
and McCreary feel that if Messer returns, they'll have one of the best one-two
punches in goal in the entire league. If he makes the NAHL, which they hope he
does, they have a handful of solid backups they feel comfortable offering a
see the New Mexico Renegades almost as a mirror image of the Arizona Redhawks.
both came into the league the same year, struggled their first two seasons and
finally broke through last year.
would have guessed, that this season they'd play in the same division?
Renegades move from the Midwest Division, along with the El Paso Rhinos, to the
new Mountain Division.
join the two Arizona teams as well as the Cheyenne Stampede and Boulder Bison
in a division that may be the deepest in the entire league.
and McCreary like the new set-up, in terms of both travel and overall
competition and feel as though this season will be the best in WSHL history.
enough, the Renegades are also the only team in the league that will play a
home-and-home series with a team not in their division, as they'll play three
at the Dallas Snipers and also welcome them to Rio Rancho for three.
will also travel to Salt Lake City to face the Moose and play three at home
against the Wichita Jr. Thunder, including their second annual outdoor game on
Saturday February 9.
all, both Cook and McCreary are very excited to take the reins of a team that
is chomping at the bit to prove themselves.
Renegades are no longer a joke and you better be on your game when they come to
Brent Maranto is the DIrector of Communications for the Western States Hockey League