24 Teams in 24 Days: Amarillo Bulls
The ‘24 in 24’ series features an in-depth look into all 24 NAHL teams, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season on Saturday, September 8th.
‘24 in 24’ will go in-depth into each NAHL team and will include interview with all 24 NAHL head coaches as they prognosticate and break down their outlook for the upcoming season.
The Amarillo Bulls can look back at the 2011-12 season and reflect on the fact that it will go down as one of the most successful seasons, not only in team history, but in league history as well. The Bulls set a new league record with 99 points in a 60-game regular season. They also finished with 46 regular season wins, just two shy of the league record of 48. They won their second consecutive South Division Playoff title along with making their second consecutive Robertson Cup Tournament appearance.
The Bulls also led the NAHL with 13 NCAA commitments last season. Finally, the Bulls increased their average attendance more than 500 fans (or 32%) per game over the previous season and were one of eight NAHL teams last season to average over 2,000 fans at their home games. For their efforts the Bulls were named the 2011-12 NAHL Organization of the Year.
“I think success starts with the players and the commitment of our ownership,” said Bulls head coach Dennis Williams. “We have some great players who buy into the development process and who have also become outstanding citizens in the community. We also have ownership who believes in us and gives us the resources to have a successful program.” Williams also credits a lot of the success to assistant coach Rocky Russo, who plays a big part in the recruitment of players.
However, despite being the NAHL’s top team during the regular season and then winning the South, the Robertson Cup proved to be elusive for the Bulls for the second straight season. The Bulls fell to the St. Louis Bandits in the National Semi-Finals, 3-2 and for the second straight season fell one game short of playing for the Robertson Cup National Championship.
“Losing to St. Louis in the Semi-Finals was a tough pill to swallow because essentially the same thing happened the year before against Michigan. When you get down to something like the Robertson Cup Semi-Finals it is a one-game, winner-take-all scenario and St. Louis did what they needed to win that game. At that point, regular season records don’t matter,” said Williams. “Once the initial shock and disappointment wore off we were able to take and step back and evaluate the season as a whole. We had 13 NCAA commitments and had a fantastic year on the ice and in the community and that’s what it is all about, so we feel really good about what happened last season.”
Because of all the NCAA commitments, the Bulls will have plenty of new faces on the roster. “We lost over half our team, so when we were recruiting the one word that kept coming up was grit,” said Williams. “I basically look for three things… hockey knowledge, speed and size. I want guys who can win those 50/50 puck battles,” said Williams. “It is going to be tough again this year because of the competition of the South Division, so to start the season we will just take it game by game and see what we have.”
The 2012-13 roster is led by captain and 2011-12 NAHL Defenseman of the Year, John Rey. Rey led the NAHL last year in plus/minus at +64 and led all NAHL defenseman in points with 51. Another returning veteran on the blueline this year will be Geoff Fortman, who was a +45 last year as a rookie. Other veterans returning are forwards TJ Sarcona and Clint Carlisle, who both put up good point totals last season. Sarcona was second on the team last year in scoring with 58 points.
To start the season, the two new players who may have the biggest impact are the two new goaltenders in Paul Berrafato and Colin Delia. Berrafato played for the Muskegon Lumberjacks the past two season in the USHL and Delia comes to the Bulls after playing for the Orange County Hockey Club 18U team team in the North American Prospects Hockey League (PHL) last season. It will be their job to replace the work done by departed goaltenders Gregg Gruehl and Mike Taffe, who are both headed to the NCAA.
With all the success, there is really only one more bridge to cross for the Bulls and Williams and that is success at the Robertson Cup resulting in a National Championship. “I think when you are in the playoffs leading to the Robertson Cup, it is a five game series, so if you lose one, it’s not the end of the world. However in that one game, winner-take-all situation, you have to be a little bit more on edge and intense because there is such finality to it and I think it starts with me and then trickles down,” said Williams.
Next up in the NAHL 24 Teams in 24 Days series, the Aberdeen Wings.