23 in 23 Series: Shreveport Mudbugs
September 8, 2017
The 23 in 23 series features a look at all 23 teams in the NAHL for the 2017-18 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. 23 in 23 looks into each NAHL team and will include video interviews with 23 coaches in the NAHL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the season, including taking a look at their strengths as a team and thoughts on the league. It will also take a look back on last season and how each team fared and what they accomplished.
Head Coach: Karlis Zirnis (2nd year)
2016-17 record: 35-19-6, 76 pts. (2nd in the South Division)
2016-17 leading scorer: Frankie Melton (58 points)
2017 playoffs: Lost in the South Division Semi-Finals to Corpus Christi, 3 games to 0
2017-18 Division: South
First regular season game: Friday, September 15th vs. Lone Star Brahmas
Home opener: Friday, September 15th vs. Lone Star Brahmas
When you think of expansion teams, no matter the sport, you typically picture a new franchise that has low expectations in Year 1 as they get a feel for the league they are in and the surrounding landscape. However, for the NAHL’s Shreveport Mudbugs, that reality was far from what actually took place in their first year.
The Mudbugs exceeded just about every expectation not only on the ice, but in the community, at the games, at the box office, with corporate partners, which ultimately reenergized a community that was hungry for the return of hockey to the area.
The Mudbugs finished 2nd in the South Division during the regular season and racked up 35 wins in the process, which was 6th best in the NAHL. That set them up with a date with the Corpus Christi IceRays in the South Division Semi-Finals. However, the Mudbugs offense, which was in the top 10 in the NAHL during the regular season, went cold in the series and scored just four goals in the three-game sweep.
“I think we were very happy as an organization and I was happy with what we did on the ice last year. I was proud of the way players were able to grow and develop last season,” said Mudbugs first-year head coach Karlis Zirnis. “I think the way that our players represented themselves in the community and then the way the community responded was one of the most satisfying things for all of us.”
The 2016-17 NAHL awards were laden with Mudbugs representatives. The team won the NAHL Organization of the Year in their first season in the league. The Mudbugs revitalized a passionate hockey community in what is traditionally a non-hockey market in the Southern United States. Owner Tommy Scott, general manager Scott Muscutt, and the rest of the staff focused heavily on community involvement as they had team visits to local hospitals, schools, and also spent time serving meals in the community and assisting with the local youth hockey program. They finished 2nd in overall league-wide attendance with an average of 2,850 fans per game.
Muscutt also won General Manager of the Year honors, while forward and NA3HL grad Frankie Melton won the league's goal-scoring title and defenseman Croix Evingson was named NAHL Defenseman of the Year. Evingson, who was one of seven Mudbugs to make an NCAA commitment during the season, recorded 52 points during the 2016-17 season, which not only led all NAHL defensemen, but was the most points for an NAHL defenseman since the 2010-11 season. In the middle of October, Evingson committed to play NCAA Division I hockey at UMass-Lowell. He was also one of three NAHL players that were selected in the 2017 NHL Draft.
The Mudbugs lost many of their top scorers from a season ago, but will look to players like forward Cam Cook and defenseman Brendon Gysbers to carry the load. “We have a handful of returning players coming back, so we will look to them for some leadership and success in the early going,” said Zirnis. “We are all about the development and advancement of our players. It all starts with that philosophy. After that, I think in order to have success this year in 2017-18, we have to use the momentum from last season and build from that from the very first day of training camp.
“Having those NCAA commitments and seeing Croix Evingson drafted into the NHL is a great representation and example for our supporters that they are seeing the stars of the future play right in their backyard. I think it speaks volumes of the NAHL of not only the number of current NCAA commitments, but also the number of notable alumni that are having success in both the NHL and the NCAA,” said Zirnis.
Zirnis played two seasons for the Mudbugs when they were in the professional ranks from 2006-08 and was a fan favorite as he recorded 83 points in those two seasons. “I still see some of the same fans, which is great. I never thought I would be now coaching here, but it is exciting and it is a fun place to be,” said Zirnis.
Next up in the 23 in 23 series: Springfield Jr. Blues