We are in the doldrums of the off season and for the avid hockey fan waiting for the hockey season to start gets to you this time of year. But what I am feeling is much deeper than that. Call it depressed, sad, miserable, downhearted, dejected, dispirited, blue, let down, disappointed, in a funk, low, well you get the picture.
Change is inevitable in minor pro hockey and turnover happens but to have the apple cart upset so much this year after back to back championships has been really hard to take. I spend so much time talking to the players, coaches, and staff they become friends more than you could imagine. This overwhelming wave of change started at the top of the organization and way before the end of the season. I know both Doug Miller and Mark Miller and they are both great guys who love hockey. I don't pretend to know all of the details related to the ownership change but I will miss them both.
So please indulge me as I take a trip down memory lane with some friends I have made while covering the Allen Americans.
A month or so before the end of the season, equipment manager Kacee Coberly tells me he is hanging it up after the season, moving back to Oklahoma City and taking a more family friendly job outside of hockey. After interviewing Kacee (it is in the archive to the right, Meet Kacee Coberly - Equipment Manager Extraordinaire" dated October 30, 2103) we became friends and talked all of the time. Here is a guy that is 27 years old with 17 years experience working in hockey. I was convinced he was headed to the NHL. I hated to see him leave and really miss him being around but he did what was right for his family.
|Kacee with, wife Roxanne, was CHL "Equipment Manager of the Year"|
Then the season ended with the joy of the championship and within a week many of the players were scattered to the winds. It wasn't long and the rumors started that Richard Matvichuk was a candidate for the coaching job in Missouri and as we all know now he was selected from a candidate pool of over 100. Matty was another person I talked to frequently and he was always willing to chat about hockey, family and life. You can see his enthusiasm and love of the game when you watch him coach and what a motivator. And if you want to get in a "chirping contest" I suggest avoiding Matvichuk. Funny, playful and serious all at the same time. He was the one that gave me the nickname "Barry The Blogger" and I miss him.
|Richard Matvichuk cracking up the defensemen - photo courtesy ScenebyKimberly.com|
Osama Kassab was the head trainer for only one year but was also a friend and he decided to leave hockey and attend Chiropractic College in California.
Player turnover is a way of life in the CHL and it is to be expected. But as the summer has worn on the losses at a personal level have been dramatic. Daniel Tetrault and Ross Rouleau have said they are retiring and the signings elsewhere have increased. Bruce & Whitney Graham decided to return to Nottingham, England where they had so much fun and success in 2012-2013. Their daughter, Harper, would always say "Hi, Barry" whenever she would see me and it was so cute. It was hard saying goodbye to the Graham's the first time but this time was even more difficult.
|Whitney, Harper, Bruce & London Graham|
The exodus has continued with Bryan Pitton to Poland, Garrett Klotz to Indianapolis, Anthony Maiani to Denmark, Mike Berube to England, Kale Kerbashian to Evansville, Trevor Hendrikx to England, Dallas Ehrhardt to Missouri and Brian McMillin to The Netherlands.
The disappointment is not over as it would be a miracle if either Jarret Lukin or Spencer Asuchak return and Alex Lavoie is a longshot. There is still hope Phil Fox and Greger Hanson might come back. To have so much turnover isn't fun especially guys like Berube and Lukin whose heart and soul has been with the Americans. They are all great guys who were willing to answer whatever was asked by, "Barry The Blogger."
Yesterday turned out to be a particularly difficult one for me and it started out with having lunch with Brian McMillin. You know if you have been reading my blog for a while that Brian and Wendy McMillin have become like family to me and my wife Nancy. Maybe it is because we are all from Minnesota or the fact that Brian and I both enjoy fishing and hunting and have done both together in Texas. Nancy and I always kid Brian and Wendy about being the grandkids we don't have. I have met their parents and most of their siblings and they are all great people. So when I sat down with Brian for lunch it was like one of your grandchildren telling you they are moving away. You know in your head it is a great opportunity to see Europe while playing a game they love. It is the perfect time to experience new people, new things, in a new place, before hockey is over and they start a family and new career. It all makes perfect sense in your head but your heart is hurting. No dove hunting in September before training camp starts, no striper fishing trip to Lake Texoma, no bass fishing in private ponds and oh how I will miss those games when Wendy would sit by me when Nancy didn't attend a game. Talk about a woman that knows hockey and is intense. It is a treat (and educational) spending a game sitting next to Wendy McMillin. (If you have never read the story I did about Wendy check it out as it is one of the most popular posts I have ever written. You can find it in the archives dated January 20, 2013, "Wendy McMillin - Hockey Wife and Sports Star.) And like all good grandkids, when I told Brian and Wendy we will be coming to visit them in Europe they said, "That sounds great." haha
|Nancy, Brian, Wendy an me when the McMillin's visited the Heritage Ranch Fan Club|
I had just returned home from lunch yesterday when I received a text message from Tom Manning, Director of Game Operations for the Americans saying it was his last day with the Americans as he was taking a job with UPS. I immediately drove over to The Allen Event Center to say goodbye. Tom is involved and responsible for much of the entertainment you see during games and between periods. He is a creative guy, an entertainer at heart, and always looking for the next great idea. We have had a lot of conversations over years and I know moving on was a tough decision for Tom as he loved his job. But if you work in minor league hockey you can be assured of long hours and you don't get rich. Tom's dad had a career at UPS and I think he is hoping to follow in his dad's footsteps. Tom is another guy with a great and supportive family. I have met his mom, Sandy, who is a big Allen Americans fan. Tom will be missed when I stop by the Allen Americans front office but at least he is still in the area and we will see him during the season when he attends games. And if I know Tom, he will probably make an appearance or two during the season in some prank or skit. Good Luck Tom!
|Tommy Manning celebrates the championship with his mom and sister|
They say bad news comes in threes and after talking to Brian about moving to The Netherlands and Tom Manning about leaving to join UPS the third event of the day was depressing only in the way in came about. I get a call from my lovely wife Nancy and she says she is at the car dealership, has a nail in the side wall of her tire and it can't be repaired and has to be replaced. And then I hear, "Maybe instead of buying a new tire I should just buy a new car." After I quit laughing and determined she wasn't joking I figured out she wanted me to ask Brooklyn Rivera, Ice Angel/Admintrative Assistant for the Americans to call her husband, Eddie, to fix up Nancy with a good deal on a new car. Nancy drives a Toyota Prius and I had told her a few months ago that Brooklyn's husband works for Pat Lobb Toyota so when she needed a new car Eddie will fix her up. Never dreamed it would happen so soon seeing she only has 60,000 miles on her four year old Prius. Bottom line is we met Eddie Rivera at 4:30 and Nancy drove her brand new "Allen Americans" edition Toyota Prius home in just a couple of hours. If you are ever in the market for a new Toyota contact Brooklyn or Eddie Rivera and you will get a heck of a deal. My final piece of advise is don't ever let your wife go to a new car dealership if she has a low tire.
|Eddie & Brooklyn Rivera with daughter Rhema|
|Nancy's new Prius|