By Denis J. Puska
AMARILLO, TX – New faces and turnover of players is part of a normal occurrence in junior hockey. This year, there are plenty of new faces both on the ice and behind the bench of the Amarillo Bulls.
Only six players are returning from last year’s team that captured their third straight South Division Regular Season Title. There also a change behind the bench with Jon Rogger taking over as Head Coach replacing Dennis Williams who has moved on to the USHL and the Bloomington Thunder. Another change takes place in the Assistant Coach role as Mike Watt comes in to replace Harry Mahood who moved on with Williams to the Thunder.
Watt, who played 157 games in the National Hockey League with several teams, said it always takes a little time for everyone to fit in and get to know one another.
“I think after the first week the players will start to get a better feel for one another on the ice,” Watt said. “They’ll know more about which way the guys shoot or which ones are playmakers, gritty guys that like to be in on the fore check and defenseman that can move the puck.”
Watt who stepped on the Amarillo Civic Center Ice for the first time Monday morning, said the first day went extremely well.
“We have a great group of players so things are going to be very competitive,” said Watt. “We are strong on defense, speedy forwards up front who can put the puck in the net and some toughness. The dynamics of the team is good.”
Watt played junior hockey with the Stratford Cullitons of the Midwestern Junior B Hockey League before moving on to a terrific college career at Michigan State University. He said coming back to junior hockey and getting on the ice with the players brought back memories of when he was their age.
“It certainly takes me back to my days in Stratford with the Billet families and two-a-days, the off-ice and training camp atmosphere,” he said.
Among the new faces at the Bulls Training Camp are two players that were tendered by the team during last season. Forward Connor Wood who hails from Buford, Georgia collected six goals and 15 assists for 21 points in 35 games for the TPH Thunder in the Tier I Elite League. Wood said it’s great to be in the Texas Panhandle.
“It’s an honor to come to an organization that has had so much success in the past like Amarillo,” Wood said. “It was great going to Main Camp and battling for a job, but the work doesn’t stop there once you get picked to come to Amarillo.”
Wood is quite recognizable with his long flowing blonde hair as well as his hard nose style of play. That toughness made the decision easy for the Bulls Coaching Staff to Tender him.
“The hair is my trade mark people see me like that so there is no way I can cut it,” said Wood with a smile. “People hate to play against me because I battle and compete hard on the ice. It’s the way I have always been.”
Another new player on the roster is Elijiah Barriga who Bulls fans will remember appearing in four games during the regular season notching a goal on home ice. Barriga, a native of West Covina, California, notched 13 goals and 31 assists for 44 points and 83 penalty minutes for the Anaheim Jr. Ducks.
“It’s exciting to be here in Amarillo and start training camp,” Barriga said. “I got a chance to play here last December and that really helped me a lot and taught me more how to play Bulls hockey. The fans are terrific here and so is the coaching staff. I can wait for the season to start.”
It’s been a busy summer for Barriga who took part in a camp put on by the USHL’s Bloomington Thunder and then headed to Michigan for the Bulls Main Camp. Barriga said he said the extra ice time helped his skating and fitness level.
The Amarillo Bulls Training Camp continues all week with two sessions a day at the Budweiser Bull Pen in the Amarillo Civic Center. Fans are encouraged to come down at either 10 am or at 4 pm and see the players on the ice.
In 32 days the Amarillo Bulls will face off the home portion of their schedule against the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees at the Budweiser Bull Pen in the Amarillo Civic Center. The best way to catch all of the action is to purchase Full or Partial Season Tickets or even 10 Game Flex Packs. For further information on prices and various options, call the Bulls Office at 806-242-1122 or visit 301 South Polk in the Amarillo Building.