Since entering the league in 2010, Jeremy Law and his Texas Brahmas have carved out a niche as a hard-hitting, in-your-face, style hockey team and have been an absolute nightmare for their Western States Hockey League opponents to play against.
Due to an influx of European talent and the fact that they're now sharing their facility with a Tier II North American Hockey League team by the same name, Law and company have been able to stockpile speed and skill and he says his team will look much different than people are used to seeing.
It's not really that they needed a change or that their style didn't stack up well against opponents, as the Brahmas have always been able to hold their own but with the league now allowing up to ten import players (as long as two are returners) and with the talent he now has access to, Law was happy to adapt his coaching style and build a team he thinks can contend for the Midwest Division title.
Playing in a market that has three WSHL programs, as well as numerous competitive youth clubs, Law will take any advantage he can get, as although Texas is a hockey hotbed of talent, the recruiting battles teams get into may be even tougher than the on-ice encounters and with the El Paso Rhinos coming into the division this season, Law knew he had to pull out all the stops.
With a dearth of returners last season, the Brahmas got off to a rough start, going just 4-11-2 over their first 17 games and falling in an early hole in the division, dropping behind both the Dallas Ice Jets and Snipers, the two local rivals of theirs.
The Brahmas really turned their season around in December however, as they won six of their seven contests in the month, including going a pristine 4-0-0 at the All-League Showcase in Las Vegas, Nevada, which is very tough to do.
Coming out of the holiday break, they were able to carry that momentum into the second half and beat up on some of their divisional opponents, including taking three of four from the Snipers and moving up to second place in the division, behind only the Dallas Ice Jets, who the Brahmas weren't able to best in six tries and finished nearly 40 points behind overall.
One thing about Law's teams, other than their solid fundamental play, is that they know how to turn it up when they need to and they did just that in the playoffs.
They welcomed in the Snipers in the opening round and took care of business with ease, winning by scores of 5-2 and 10-1, before moving on to take on the Ice Jets for the division crown.
The Brahmas couldn't get out of their own way in game one and fell by a score of 4-1, while going scoreless over their eight power play opportunities.
The next night, in a game they could have just mailed in, the Brahmas put forth what may have been their best effort of the season, throwing 41 shots on Ice Jets goaltender Michael Baldwin but ultimately falling by a score of 3-2 on a late power play goal, ending their season in a tough way.
The loss was hard to swallow, especially coming against their bitter rivals but Law had nothing but praise for his young team, which learned how to play the Brahma way as the season went along, gaining confidence and invaluable experience in the process, and he believes it can really help them in year four.
Law says the process of having another organization under the same roof has been seamless, as he was already familiar with NAHL coach Dan Wildfong from his days with the Central Hockey League Brahmas. The two have established a great working relationship with each other, as they both help out at one another's practices and share thoughts and ideas.
With Law at the helm and a number of pieces coming together around him, it looks like a perfect storm may be brewing for the Brahmas, who will attempt and take the Dallas market by storm and surge to the top of the division with their new logo and completely overhauled style.
Players Moving Up:
Law is always looking to move his guys up and actually got four of his players mid-season call-ups to the NAHL last season and will be looking to do more of the same again.
Leading a large group heading off to college is captain Will Barber, who will play at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minnesota and defenseman Reilly Moore, who is off to Becker College in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Blaine Key and Jaren Jones are going to play some ACHA puck together at Texas Tech University, while Evan Davis is headed home to Colorado to join a large contingent of WSHL alumni at Colorado State University.
Last but not least, Kyle Welch will be suiting up for the Pac-8 Champion University of Utah Utes.
Petter Bulling, who led the team with 59 points last season, has signed a contract to play professionally in Sweden and Matt Yost won't be too far away, playing across the border from him in Finland.
Russian forward Danny Kulikov has hooked on with the Soo Eagles of the NAHL and Law thinks he will have an outstanding year at the Tier II level.
Players Coming Back:
Law stressed to me the importance of his team getting off to a much better start this season and with nine returners, who all know his coaching style and what is expected of them, I don't see that being a problem.
Forward Landyn Howze, who has already been appointed team captain, is coming back for his third year in purple and black and his hard work and grit should help lead the way.
Also returning up front are Cole Rose, Colin Edwards, Collin Young and Matt Zaragoza.
Rose is a rugged kid who brings an element of toughness to the roster and he can also drive the net and score. Law said that he wouldn't be surprised to see him earn a call-up to the NAHL team during the season.
Edwards, Young and Zaragoza are all role players that will look to take their game to the next level this season and earn more ice time.
The biggest return on the backend came in the form of Swedish defenseman Jack Norling, who's 32 points were 12th amongst WSHL defenseman last season and Law expects that number to go up, with his shooting and skating abilities.
Also returning to the blue line is Dalton Foster, who put up a respectable 18 points last season and Jimmy Anderson, who is also no stranger to the rough stuff.
In net, Law was happy to get Oliver Eklund back, who entered last season as the his number three netminder, before impressing down the stretch and finishing the season as the top guy in the playoffs.
In all, Law returns a fantastic group in all three areas of the game and it should make for a great core.
Law has eight new imports coming in this season, getting the most out of a new league rule that allows for ten total imports on a roster, as long as two are returners. He jokingly said he's going to look like team Europe, a huge change from his brash, smash mouth brand of hockey.
In all, his roster will include six Swedes, two Russians, a Ukranian, a Czech and a partridge in a pear tree.
He's very excited about forward Tim Ahlin, a friend of defenseman Jack Norling, who comes over for his first year of North American hockey.
He was also happy to nab goaltender Shane Joyce, who impressed at the Brahmas NAHL camp and Law said he was lucky to pick him up, although he does believe he'll get called up during the season. Law knows that he'll lose some guys but understands the name of the game and the ultimate goal he has is moving his players on
With El Paso sliding into the division, Law firmly believes the Midwest becomes one of, if not, the toughest divisions in the entire WSHL.
He thinks that El Paso and the Dallas Ice Jets are two of the top teams at the Tier III level and combined with the Snipers growing stronger and returning a good core and the hard work both Tulsa and Wichita have been putting into recruiting, he feels it will be as competitive, top to bottom, as he's seen.
They'll face each divisional opponent six times, many of which will be home-and-home series or single games against the two other Dallas area teams, which always makes for fun, aggressive hockey.
They'll also travel to two places they've never been before to face two teams they've never seen, as they go to Valencia to take on the Flyers and Salt Lake City to face the Moose.
They'll also welcome in the San Diego Gulls and the Arizona Redhawks, giving them a look at a team from every division.
Law says that if you're used to seeing a rough-and-tumble style out of the Brahmas, that you better be ready to be surprised when they step on the ice, as they'll be chock full of speed and skill but still have enough veterans and size to adapt to any team in the league.
The change in mindset is not necessarily good or bad; I like to think of it as going from the Rolling Stones to Beethoven, both are good, just inherently different.
They will certainly have no trouble putting the puck in the back of the net this season and the rest of the division should be getting in some extra conditioning, as they'll be in for a lot of skating when they face the Brahmas.
Story by Brent Maranto, Western States Hockey League Director of Communications
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