(Check out Part I
and Part II
of the Rampage 2013-14 Season Recap and continue on for the third and final part, which looks ahead to next season and the talent returning to the Rampage.)
When Tom Rowe took over as head coach for the Rampage in November, he knew there needed to be a change – not a holistic, large-scale transformation – but some fundamental tweaks to the attitude and work ethic in the locker room, things that would help to maximize the potential of the personnel on his roster. He knew the talent he had could produce more and have more success than it had up to that point, so he pushed his players to their limits, holding them accountable for their work. In doing so, Rowe walked the fine line between eliciting a higher level of competition and doing more harm than good.
“I probably started getting on the guys a little too much, and it sort of backfired,” Rowe said, noting he thought he came down too hard on the team during the challenging stretch in March. “I’ve always emphasized accountability, and that won’t change, but my delivery is going to be more controlled and composed.”
The idea to change his approach came from feedback in two days of exit interviews with the team at the conclusion of the season. Rowe said the players liked the intensity and the fast pace of practices, but thought there were times they thought he went too hard.
“Today’s generation just doesn’t respond to someone in their face,” he said. “They want to know how to do something, but they also want to know why we’re doing it that way. Going forward, that’s going to be my approach. It’s not my personality, and it’s something I’m going to have to really work on, but that is how we’ll transition into a playoff team – give them more responsibility and more freedom, but without letting them run wild.”
Some of the principles Rowe worked to instill in the team upon his arrival – particularly the accountability factor he often alludes to – began to surface in the locker room before the season came to a close.
“A couple times I started walking in to talk to the guys about a certain situation and Greg Zanon or Greg Rallo would already be saying the same exact thing,” Rowe recalls. “It was nice to see them start to coach themselves, which as a coach you always want to hear that, and they started to do that on the bench.”
While that’s reflective of the team beginning to buy into Rowe’s philosophies, it’s also indicative of the strong leadership in the Rampage locker room, particularly in captain Greg Rallo, who has been with the organization since the 2011-12 season and wore the captain’s “C” for the first time in his professional career this season.
“I’ve been around for a while, and I’ve been around a lot of captains, and he’s the best captain I’ve ever met, by far,” said Rowe. “He lives his life the right way on and off the ice. He’s a great family guy. He’s a guy I leaned on heavily.”
That leadership, combined with talent returning at every position gives the Rampage a solid foundation to build upon entering next season. Bobby Butler and Vincent Trocheck, San Antonio's top contributors from the 2013-14 season, would likely be assigned to the Rampage if they don't make the Florida's roster. Trocheck tallied 42 points in 55 games as a rookie, and Quinton Howden is coming off his most successful of his three seasons at the pro level, which earned him an extended stretch with the Panthers near the end of the season.
Other young players also impressed Rowe and the coaching staff, particularly John McFarland, whose speed and power set him apart on the ice. McFarland played 20 games with San Antonio’s ECHL affiliate, the Cincinnati Cyclones, at the beginning of the season, and after a December 13th recall, continued to get stronger as the year progressed. He finished with 10 goals and 14 assists for the Rampage, but 13 of those 24 points came in the final 22 games of the season.
“He has NHL skills, and there’s no reason why he can’t play there,” Rowe said. “He’s a guy I was absolutely thrilled with.”
Third-year pro Garrett Wilson, who finished with 14 goals and 16 assists, is another young player Rowe was impressed with – he thinks with a strong summer and improvement in his fitness, Wilson can make the Panthers next season.
On the back end, Rowe said Jonathan Racine was a pleasant surprise.
“He knew how to play in his own end of the ice, which is unusual for a young guy that age,” Rowe said of the rookie defenseman. “Plus, he’s tough as nails, and that’s what is going to get him to the NHL.”
The production and potential of guys like McFarland, Wilson and Racine, among others, should pave the way to a strong campaign in 2014-15.
“The talent is definitely here,” said Rallo. “We’re instilling the right culture and making sure guys know what work habits they need to bring into this summer. They know what’s expected of them and what’s going to be expected of this team moving forward – that losing is no longer going to be an option. We didn’t finish the way we wanted to this year, so we need to take everything we learned and make sure next year is a winning season, get into the playoffs and stay there.”