The 2013-14 San Antonio Rampage season could be summed up in a couple ways – a rollercoaster might be one of them. There were the struggles of a two-win month in December. There was the high of the best Rodeo Road Trip in franchise history. And there was the low of a sluggish finish as the Rampage limped to the finish line, ending the season with a 30-37-3-6 record and on the outside of the playoff race.
The ability to adapt to change and play the cards you’re dealt is another way to tell the tale of the Rampage’s season. The team worked through a coaching change in early November and a flurry of roster moves that largely changed the complexion of the roster in March.
To an extent, success could also sum up the 2013-14 Rampage season. Players in the American Hockey League are constantly working toward a goal of playing in the best hockey league in the world, and 13 players that donned a Rampage jersey this season also had the opportunity to compete with the Florida Panthers. Some made their mark at the NHL level – Quinton Howden tallied four goals and two assists in 16 games that began with a March 12th recall and Vincent Trocheck, who was recalled on March 5, recorded five goals and three assists in 20 games. Three Rampage players – Trocheck, Garrett Wilson and Jonathan Racine – made their NHL debuts in 2014.
“Guys are going to get an opportunity to go to the NHL and that’s what you want for them,” said Rampage captain Greg Rallo. “As a fan, it’s difficult sometimes for them, but for the guys here, their end game is that they’re trying to get to the NHL, so when they get their chance, it’s good for them.”
The Silver and Black began the season with a roster that featured 3,793 AHL games and 1,524 National Hockey League games. In addition to 16 returning players from the 2012-13 season, San Antonio added five rookies to the roster, including Trocheck, Florida’s third round (64th overall) pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and one of the best prospects in the Panthers’ system.
On November 6th, the Rampage were thrown a curveball as the Panthers decided to part ways with head coach Kevin Dineen and promoted then-San Antonio coach Peter Horachek to be the interim bench boss for Florida. That left a coaching vacancy in the Alamo City, which was filled by Tom Rowe, who had NHL coaching experience as the assistant with the Carolina Hurricanes and had served as a head coach for the AHL’s Albany and Lowell franchises.
Having never been in a situation where he was taking over a team that already had systems and philosophies in place 11 games into the season, Rowe initially sat back and observed, looking at the way the staff interacted with the players and the way they worked with each other on and off the ice.
“I wanted to see what kind of skill we had,” he said, adding that he took this observe-and-see approach for about 10 games. “I stayed off them and once I got a feel for it and I knew their habits weren’t what they needed to be from the compete level more than anything, that’s when I started getting more animated and involved and pushing what I thought we needed to push.”
The month of December was an uphill battle for the Rampage, and the Silver and Black finished 2-8-0-2, a record that Rowe believes was partially a byproduct of change and the transition.
“They were getting used to me,” he said. “I was starting to push guys hard and hold them accountable. My style is a lot different than Pete’s style was, so I think that affected some guys and not in a real positive way, because I was barking at some guys and getting on them a bit and trying to see who could handle it and who couldn’t. It was definitely a transition.”
There was a lot of positivity to come out of the transition too, as some players responded by taking their game to a new level, particularly Howden. Rowe said it took the Oakbank, MB native a little while to adjust, but that once he put everything together, he was one of the team’s best forechecking players, leading all the way up to his time with Florida.
“[Tom] goes about things a little different,” says Rallo. “He’s more vocal. He demands things are done in a more strict way on the ice, so I think for some of the young guys it was a bit of a culture change for them. Some of them weren’t too used to being yelled at, but moving forward I think it’s going to help them in their career.”
The team started to turn the corner in January, finishing 5-3-3-1 while converting at a 29.3 percent clip on the power play, the best month the Rampage would have all season with the man advantage.
(Click here for Part II
of the 2013-14 season recap, detailing the most successful Rodeo Road Trip in franchise history and how a flurry of roster moves in March would derail San Antonio’s playoff hopes.)