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There’s plenty of Rampage news to sort through since our last installment, especially with all the latest free agent comings and goings, but perhaps none more important than the changes to the coaching staff. Peter Horachek becomes the eighth head coach in Rampage history, while Chuck Weber slides into his new role as Director of Hockey Operations and Associate Head Coach, and Jason Cipolla joins the Florida Panthers coaching staff. Horachek has over 20 years of professional coaching experience, and spent the past nine seasons as either an assistant or associate coach with the Nashville Predators, one of the model franchises in the NHL when it comes to player development. The Predators advanced to the playoffs in seven out of the nine seasons with Horachek on the bench as a member of Barry Trotz’s staff, and won 40 games or more for seven consecutive seasons. Horachek also has nine years of head coaching experience in the ECHL, Colonial Hockey League, IHL, and the AHL, and his clubs made the playoffs in every season with the exception of his first year, which included a Turner Cup Championship with the Orlando Solar Bears called by former Rampage broadcaster and now Spurs personality Andrew Monaco. If you watch Andrew’s introductory video with Pete, you immediately come away impressed with his personality and the respect that he commands, and most importantly his desire to bring a winning team to San Antonio. Horachek’s name has been in the mix for several NHL head coaching jobs over the past few years, and I think he’s anxious to get back to leading a team after serving in a supporting role for as long as he has. As an added bonus, Pete and Chuck have a very good history of working together, as the two guided benches in both Trenton and Milwaukee, while Chuck also got his coaching start as a video coach in Orlando with that Solar Bears club that won a championship under Pete’s direction. Weber’s new role also allows him to capitalize further on one of his biggest strengths, which is recruiting. While the Panthers will continue to sign several players to NHL two-way contracts, Chuck will focus on AHL and even ECHL players that might be “under the radar” and could flourish in the Rampage system. These low-risk, high-reward players include guys like Jared Gomes and Jack Combs who both enjoyed success last season. All in all, while it’s a change in dynamic, the combination of Horachek and Weber should be viewed as nothing but a positive development for the Rampage and the Panthers young prospects that will begin their careers in San Antonio…
…Free agency in the NHL kicked off over the holiday weekend, and the Panthers stuck to a plan of signing quality depth players that will hopefully contribute at both the NHL and AHL levels. The biggest addition was the re-acquisition of center Jon Matsumoto, who helped the Rampage not only clinch their first playoff berth in four seasons a year ago, but also guided the franchise to its first ever playoff series win following that thrilling double overtime victory in Game 5 in Chicago. Matsumoto is coming off a down year after collecting just 15 goals and 33 points in 65 games between Worcester and Chicago, but the Rampage are banking that a return trip to San Antonio will mean a return to form for the seven-year veteran. Matsumoto had 26 points in 35 games for the Rampage after being acquired in late January 2012, and he was arguably one of the most dynamic playmakers and scorers to ever wear a San Antonio sweater. This was no further evident than in the postseason when he led the Silver & Black with 13 points in 10 games, including a four-point effort in the Rampage’s first playoff game and 5-4 overtime win against Chicago at the AT&T Center. The Wright-Matsumoto-Shore line was one of the best for the Rampage that spring, and Jon’s addition will be a benefit to the likes of young centers like Nick Bjugstad and Vincent Trocheck. The Panthers also brought back defenseman Mike Mottau, who hopped on with the Rampage during the NHL lockout and collected seven points in 16 games before signing with Toronto, and signed former Ottawa center Jesse Winchester and Washington winger Joey Crabb, and former Tampa Bay defenseman Matt Gilroy who have all spent time in the AHL. Along with the re-signing of restricted free agent Eric Selleck and newcomer Bobby Butler, there will be some strong competition for the depth positions in Florida, but those who don’t make the big club figure to be vital pieces to the Rampage’s season.
…Finally, one Rampage favorite who will not return is three-year captain Nolan Yonkman. Yonkman was an unrestricted free agent after this past season, and Sunday signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Anaheim Ducks. Nolan’s contributions and his impact on the Rampage were felt far beyond the ice and the locker room. His involvement in the San Antonio community, in particular the Face-Off Against Kids Cancer program, went above and beyond what was expected of any player to walk through these halls, and we were fortunate to have him serve as an ambassador for both the team and for hockey in South Texas. I will forever remember standing with Nolan at Yadira Medrano’s rosary ceremony following her passing from cancer after a year in our Face-Off Against Kids Cancer program, and the realization we both came upon at that particular moment at the impact that our efforts could have in a child’s life. Nolan took it upon himself to stay in touch with Yadira’s family through what was clearly a difficult time, and there’s no doubt in my mind that his presence and support helped ease their pain. I believe everyone who is a Rampage hockey fan is grateful for having the chance to get to know Nolan while he was here, and we wish him nothing but success moving forward in his hockey career.
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Week 1: June 22, 2013