24 in 24 Series: Minnesota Magicians
September 2, 2014
The 24 Teams in 24 Days series features a look at all 24 teams in the NAHL for the 2014-15 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season on Friday, September 12th as six NAHL teams take to the ice on Opening Night. 24 in 24 will go in-depth into each NAHL team and will include interviews with all 24 head coaches in the NAHL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the 2014-15 season, including taking a look at their roster and their strengths as a team. It will also take a look back on the 2013-14 season and how each team fared and what they accomplished. Best of all, 24 in 24 is done to provide the fans of the NAHL with an inside look at their favorite team and what to expect.
Head Coach: Tom Upton (1st year)
2013-14 record: 21-31-8, 50 pts. (6th in the South Division)
2013-14 leading scorer: Matt Colford (57 GP, 18 G, 23 A, 41 pts, +5)
2014 Playoffs: Did not qualify
2014-15 Division: Midwest
First regular season game: Wednesday, September 17th vs. Lone Star Brahmas, 10:00am
Home opener: Friday, September 26th vs. Kenai River Brown Bears, 7:15pm
After a fairly solid start to the 2013-14 campaign, one of the NAHL’s newest teams, the Minnesota Magicians, found out how hard staying consistent in the NAHL really is. December hit and the Magicians went from being a hockey team that was two games over .500 to a team that was 10 games below .500 in just over a span of a month. That span included winning just two of 18 games at one point. By the time the Magicians recollected themselves it was too late despite starting to win consistently again in February and March.
As often is the case with team’s coming off challenging first seasons of play, change was in store for the Magicians this summer. Scott Meyer, who served as head coach during the 2013-14 season, was promoted to team President and General Manager. The focus for Meyer was first ensuring the long-term success and vision of the Magicians, running in the day-to-day hockey operations for the Magicians and finding a new head coach.
On May 9th, the Magicians found that coach in former NAHL player Tom Upton. Upton had most recently been an assistant coach with the Cedar Rapids Roughriders in the USHL. In addition to his coaching experience at the junior and collegiate levels, Upton played in the NAHL with the Central Texas Blackhawks, Helena Bighorns, and Mahoning Valley Phantoms. Upton played more than 130 games over the course of a three-year junior hockey career. After his time in the NAHL, Upton played collegiately and was captain at UW-Stevens Point. “It was flattering to be selected to coach in the NAHL because I take a lot of pride in the league,” said Upton. “I had a great experience at a player and when I was coaching at Steven-Point and in the USHL, I always admired the way the league was run and the events were held. Each year the league seems to grow and get better, so I feel honored to be a part of it as a head coach.”
Upton said he relishes the challenge that comes with being a first time head coach in a league like the NAHL. “I am excited about the impact I will get to have on the players. This is a great opportunity here in Richfield and it is a chance to really make an impact. I think there is a lot of room for growth for the organization and some things to build off of last year,” said Upton. “It is a brand new season and our focus is just getting better each day we take to the ice. We want to establish a culture that brings in the right people and the right way to do things, the wins and losses will take care of themselves. It is a process and we want to do it with integrity.”
In building a team for the 2014-15 season, Upton said he wanted a nice mix of players from all levels. “I think you get yourself into trouble when you just focus on one particular group. We wanted to bring in a little something of everything and find players from different areas. You can’t just relegate yourself to midget players or high school players or junior players, you have to have a nice balance of all of it and make sure that you are looking in all geographic areas to find the right components and who may work well together as a group,” said Upton.
The Magicians won’t have a lot of returners to the team from a year ago. On defense, Sam Becker and Tommy Delaney both had solid seasons a year ago and will be looked upon to provide the necessary leadership on and off the ice. The Magicians hope to benefit greatly from the return of leading scorer Matt Colford. Colford led the team in points with 41 last season and was second in goals with 18. He was also one of the few players that was on the positive end in the plus/minus category. Other returners on offense include Kris McKinzie, Jack Murphy, Denis Shevyrin and Tony Uglem. Of that group, Uglem was the most productive with 25 points last season.
The Magicians lost both of their goalies from a season ago as both Atte Tolvanen and Bryan Nies are gone. As of right now, the Magicians have three goalies in the mix for this season. The veteran of the group is Paige Skoog, who the Magicians acquired from the Soo Eagles. Skoog is a Minnesota native and will be entering his third NAHL season. The second goalie in the mix is Chris Amsden from the North Iowa Bulls of the NA3HL. Last season, Amsden led the Bulls to the USA Hockey Tier III Junior National Championship Game and was also named to the NA3HL All-Rookie Team. The last goalie in the mix is a younger, 17-year-old goalie named Jens Ahrens, who played locally for Wayzata High School in suburban Minneapolis. “They are three really good goalies and it offers us the dynamic we were looking for and offers us a healthy competition in goal, which we feel with be a plus for the team,” said Upton.
As for any other new blood on the team, Upton said he still needs a little more time to evaluate, but that they will get their opportunity. “They are here for a reason and they will get the opportunity to make their mark. Everyone is going to push each other and make each other better. There isn’t one specific guy I am going to lean on because I am going to lean on all of them for success,” said Upton. “The only goal I have right now for this group is to come out and have a great first day of practice. That is really it and it is a very simple philosophy. We just want to stay within the culture and make sure that we only concern ourselves with what is next. Of course we want to win games and a Championship, but we have to stay in the present and that will get you to your ultimate goals.”
Next up in the NAHL 24 in 24 series: Minnesota Wilderness, September 3rd