By Jim Charshafian
The San Antonio Rampage may have played their last game in May, but their head coach, Chuck Weber, has not stopped working. Weber has spent much of his offseason in the film room; learning, studying, and preparing, to make the 2012-13 season as successful as possible.
“We have two goals,” said Weber, “to provide players to the Florida Panthers to help them win a Stanley Cup, and for us to win a Calder Cup. If we do those two things, then we’re doing our job.”
Weber and his assistant coach, Jason Cipolla, were rewarded with contract extensions last week after guiding the Rampage to their best season in franchise history this past year. The team clinched a playoff berth on the final day of the regular season and won their first ever postseason series when they defeated the Chicago Wolves in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
“When we went to San Antonio we understood what was going to be necessary to continue to build the relationship between Florida and San Antonio,” said Weber. “Making the playoffs and having some success was going to be imperative, and I’m really fortunate that the Panthers recognized the hard work Jason and I put into last year. We look forward to coming back and, hopefully, building on the success that we had. We want to continue to develop players for the Panthers while winning games for San Antonio.”
The Rampage head boss headed north after the season ended, visiting family and unwinding in Cincinnati and Niagara Falls. When Weber reconvened with Cipolla, the two, along with Panthers assistant general manager Mike Santos and Panthers director of scouting Scott Luce, reviewed the 2011-12 campaign and started laying out what they wanted the roster for next season’s team to look like. Then in June, Weber headed to Pittsburgh, where the NHL Draft was held, to take part in the NHL Coaches’ Clinic before getting back into the film room.
“I’ve done a lot of talking, getting caught up with former mentors and with other coaches, to talk ‘shop’ a little bit,” he said. “The Coaches’ Clinic was great for that. We also reviewed a lot of film, including the NHL playoffs, looking at [Stanley Cup Finalists] New Jersey and Los Angeles to see what they did to be successful. No one in the coaching world has reinvented the wheel. Everyone just kind of takes different things, tweaks them along the way, and makes them their own.”
Over the first week of July, Weber ran the Panthers’ Development Camp in Florida, where the organization’s brass had the chance to examine how their prospects have progressed.
“From where we were two years ago, when [Panthers general manger Dale Tallon] and Mike first got involved, to where we are now, the difference in skill level is night and day,” said Weber. “It’s great competition for these kids because they get to see where they stack up within the organization and what they need to do to become regulars at the NHL level, which is the ultimate goal. So from that standpoint, I think it was a good measuring stick for them. Whether they’re 18, 19, or 20, whatever the case is, we want them to be prepared for whenever it is their time to turn pro.”
The goal for Weber and the rest of the Panthers’ staff on hand at the camp was to instill what the organization expects from the players who wear their uniform.
“The biggest thing that we’re trying to do at these camps is to create a culture where everyone wants to be a Florida Panther. We’re trying to create those expectations of work ethic, of accountability and of character.”
Weber has high aspirations for next year’s Rampage squad, which will feature many new faces. Several of the Panthers’ highly-touted prospects will don the silver and black and San Antonio’s head coach is looking forward to helping them improve their game.
“Some of the ‘black aces’ who were here at the end of the year and some of the kids who we had in games, the [Drew] Shores, the [Quinton] Howdens, the [Alex] Petrovics, that got a taste of playoff hockey, we’re going to see how they develop. We’re going to be a younger team this year, but it’s exciting because there’s going to be a lot of guys who are hungry to get better every day and those are the situations that are fun to work with.”