24 in 24 Series: Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees
September 6, 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.
Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees
Joe Coombs (2nd year)
2013-14 record: 35-18-7, 77 pts. (3rd in the South Division)
2013-14 leading scorer: Ben Greiner (60 GP, 22 G, 29 A, 51 pts, +26)
2014 Playoffs: Lost to the Topeka RoadRunners in the South Division Semi-Finals, 3 games to 0
2014-15 Division: South
First regular season game: Wednesday, September 17th vs. Minnesota Wilderness, 10:15am
Home opener: Thursday, October 2nd vs. Odessa Jackalopes, 7:30pm
Despite getting a late start on the season, the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees made the most of their inaugural season in the NAHL last year. The Killer Bees limped out of the gate, winning only two of their first eight games. However, the team started to gain momentum in October and by the end of the season, were on a roll heading into the playoffs, winning 13 of their last 17 games. The Killer Bees met the Topeka RoadRunners in the South Semi-Finals and despite being swept in the three-game set, Rio Grande Valley was competitive with two of the losses coming in overtime.
There were a lot of positives about the season. First and foremost, several Killer Bees players emerged as stars and advanced to the next level of hockey in the NCAA. This included leading scorer Ben Greiner (Bowling Green), defensemen Dylan Abood (Air Force) and Sean Mostrom (Denver) and goaltender Olli Kalkaja (UMass-Lowell). Second, the Killer Bees were one of the best defensive teams in the NAHL. They gave up just 2.02 goals per game, which was third best in the league. They also revitalized their community after it had gone without hockey for several seasons. The rivalries built with the teams in Texas and in the South gave the Killer Bees a feeling of sustainability for many years to come.
“When you are not the last team standing, it always is a little disappointing, but at the same time I thought the season went well given the fact that we got a late start,” said Killer Bees head coach Joe Coombs. “We got our feet wet in regards to the experience of playing in the NAHL, traveling, recruiting and building a team. We learned a lot of lessons that I hope can translate into more success this upcoming season.”
The Killer Bees will have close to a third of their team returning for the 2014-15 season, but five of the top six scorers are gone. Coombs said that in recent times there has been a focus and a premium to move players on. “I think the way things are going right now, the trend is to have a player for a year or two max and then move them on, so not having a lot of returning players isn’t a big deal because I think it is the norm and what is happening in junior hockey in the United States,” said Coombs. “I think our expectation is to build an entirely new hockey team each season. I think for this year, we put a premium on guys who could put the puck in the net. While we were tough to score against last year, our offense struggled to produce and our power play was downright bad. It cost us some hockey games and it was the first thing we wanted to address for this season.”
The Killer Bees will have the benefit of having one of the better goaltenders in the league back between this year in veteran Nick Schmit. Schmit was 4th in the NAHL last season in both goals against average (1.66) and shutouts (6). He never gave up more than four goals in a game last year and with Kalkaja off to the NCAA, he will look to carry the bulk of the load this season. Backing Schmit up this year will be Josh Erickson, who like Schmit is a 20-year-old and with junior hockey experience in Canada.
Forward Anthony Croston is the highest returning scorer, as he registered 37 points a season ago. Other key returners to the line-up include forwards JB Baker (18 points), Dan Kucerovy (11 points) and Adam Morrison. The returning defensemen include Mason Van Tuyl and Kevin Clare. “Anthony is in great shape and I think he is going to have a great year. The rest of the guys returning should also be players that we rely heavily on for leadership on the ice and in the lockerroom. We would like to think there is enough there to start the season to get us going in the right direction,” said Coombs.
As for some of the new faces on the Killer Bees roster, Combs mentioned forward Parker Wood. Wood is a 20-year-old power forward who put up some good numbers playing junior hockey in Canada the past two seasons. Another 20-year-old is Swiss-born forward Lionel Mauron, who will be coming to the United States for the first time to play hockey after having success in the Swiss junior league the last four seasons. Forward Kyle Stephan is from Canada and also had some success playing junior hockey up North. “I think all of these new guys we brought in not only have the experience we were looking for, but provide us with some depth that we sorely needed for this season,” said Coombs. “You look across the league and guys have no problem running 3-4 lines and we want to be able to do that this season.”
Defensively, newcomers include Trevor Abbot, Evan Bell and Ian Spencer. “I think the mix of size and skill we have on the blue line this year,” said Coombs. “I think we will be strong again defensively, but the big thing for us to address was the offensive skill and depth and I think we have done that.” Coombs said that the goal is to be the last team standing at the end of the season. “That is fully our intention, but our focus is to try and peak at the right time and have good habits. We need to be good Monday through Thursday in order to be good during the weekend. Our focus right now is to just get better every day and at the end of the season, be the last team standing. It is a process, but we seem to be getting better since we started practice so I am excited.”
Next up in the NAHL 24 in 24 series: Soo Eagles, September 7th