Good afternoon! Today, I bring to you the first in a four-part series about the Checkers new South Division teams. Just as I did last season when the Checkers joined the Midwest division, I put together a quick interview of some of the outstanding blogs and their top-notch writers to bring Checkers fans an insiders look at the new teams we are going to face more regularly.
Before I get to the Rampage interview, a couple of interesting tidbits:
- The Checkers have announced they will be playing one preseason game, on the road, in Norfolk on October 6. As this is the ONLY opportunity to drive to a Checkers game before early November, I’m planning to make the trip to Virginia. Who’s with me?
- There are multiple reports that the NHLPA and NHL have agreed to a special waiver period. Beginning now, and ending on September 15, veteran players on two-way contracts can be assigned/loaned to their AHL squads. They would have to be reassigned to their NHL squad three days before the NHL season starts in order to avoid waivers. The list of players in Charlotte this would affect includes Nic Blanchard, Brett Sutter, Marc-Andre Gragnani and Jerome Samson.
- Here’s an article about the Flyers plans to send their younger players to the AHL should an NHL lockout happen. I have yet to find any statements from the Hurricanes about their plans for players such as Jeff Skinner, Justin Faulk and others who are eligible to play in the AHL without clearing waivers or being affected by veteran limits.
Today’s interview is with Nathan over at Runnin’ With the Herd. You can follow him on Twitter at @RampageNate. He runs a great site, and was a wonderful source of information last year when the Hurricanes and Panthers made a big trade involving Jon Matsumoto, AJ Jenks and Evgenii Dadanov.
Chasing Checkers – Can you tell me a bit about hockey in San Antonio?
Runnin’ with the Herd – Hockey has grown exponentially in the five seasons I have lived here. In my first season (07-08), we averaged roughly 4500 per game. Every year, the average has increased, topping out this past season with a franchise record 7100+ per game. It is difficult competing with football here and the attendance takes a noticable upward swing after the first of the year. But the passion is definitely here and growing every season. The Spurs also own the Rampage so the relationship with regards to the ATT Center is flawless. Spurs Sports & Entertainment (SSE) has invested a lot of time and money into the Rampage and have a huge interest in seeing the franchise succeed both on and off the ice.
CC – How is the relationship between San Antonio and Florida?
RWTH – The relationship is night and day compared to the first time these two teams were partnered up. The first go-round, the Rampage were a complete afterthought with no concern for player development or team success. Dale Tallon and Mike Santos have made a concerted effort to improve the team in both offseasons and during the season last year as I’m sure you are well aware. The addition of Matsumoto was probably the biggest acquisition of this franchise’s history.This summer, Santos was very active in free agency for the Rampage, signing JF Jacques, Jon Rheault, and Andre Deveaux.
The Rampage have had a pretty non-descript history. I tend to look at their history in three phases. The first Florida affiliation, the Phoenix era, and the new Florida partnership. The first era saw very little success out of it’s players at the AHL level. Jay Bouwmeester played here briefly, as did Nathan Horton (Boston). Other than that, there is very little to really speak of. The Phoenix era brought us some better players. Keith Yandle, Oliver Ekmann-Larsson, Mikkel Boedker and Kyle Turris are probably the biggest names to play in San Antonio. We’ve seen a couple of veterans play here briefly before being bought out or moving on as well. Steven Reinprecht, Petr Prucha, and Anders Eriksson are a couple of examples.
CC – What can you tell me about this year’s Rampage team?
RWTH – This year’s squad will look completely different from last season. Gone are Matsumoto (WOR), Bill Thomas (LE), Bracken Kearns (WOR), Mark Cullen (KHL), and Sean Sullivan (LE). The first four named were the Rampage’s top four scorers. Also, Michal Repik (35 pts in 55 games) and d-man Roman Derlyuk, who scored the OT winner in game five vs. CHI, are off to Europe as well.
The majority of the defense returns, however, including young hotshot Alex Petrovic, who came in and made an immediate impact in the playoffs. Both goalies return as well. Dov Grumet-Morris carried the team while #1 goalie prospect Jakob Markstrom was in the NHL or injured. Once Markstrom returned, he was fantastic down the stretch.
Some players to watch, along with Petrovic and Markstrom, are forwards Quinton Howden and Casey Wellman and defenseman Colby Robak.
CC – What can you tell a new South Division team about life in the newly named division?
RWTH – The fans of every team in Texas are passionate and fairly knowledgeable. The travel, once here, isn’t too bad. No more than three hour bus ride for the Texas teams. The OKC trip will be a bear. Long trip, older building, and empty seats all around. OKC has awesome fans. Unfortunately, they are all stuck on the Blazers and have a hard time supporting the Barons.
Our biggest rival, in my opinion is Texas. Houston, though, isn’t far behind. And OKC is quickly becoming a good rivalry as well. I think being geographically separated from every other team helps perpetuate these rivalries and makes them much stronger.
CC – If I was to attend a game in San Antonio, could I order Sweet Tea? Are there any unique to Texas delicacies I could try at the arena? Some say Texas is a part of “The South”… what is your opinion?
I despise sweet tea so I can’t even tell you if it’s an option. I do know that you will need to clarify when ordering at a restaurant unlike NC, so I would assume it’s the same at the stadium. The arena food is standard fare. Hot dogs, nachos, pizza. There is a BBQ place open for weekend games and it’s ok. There is also a Taco Cabana, but ordering anything other than a margarita is a huge gamble. Texas is part of the south only by geography. I feel Texas is Texas. And this is coming from a Michigan boy through and through.
CC Editor’s note: I too, dislike sweet tea, probably because I wasn’t raised in the South. As for Texas, your brisket has NOTHING on North Carolina barbecue!
CC – Other than yourself, of course, is there anyone else my readers should follow to keep up with one of our newest division foes?
RWTH – The Rampage PBP guy, Dan Weiss, is awesome. He can be found at @SARampage_Voice on twitter. If you are a fan of schadenfreude, just follow me on game nights. But leave the kids at home. I tend to get a little NC-17 on game nights.
CC – What prompted you to start your blog about the Rampage?
RWTH – When I first started this project, it was because of the lack of media coverage in San Antonio for the Rampage. It is getting better, but is still not good enough. Dan has been a godsend for this organization and team has really made a concerted effort to improve communication with the fans. The media is still oblivious, but the fans (I think) are finally starting to accept it. I just hope that my blog and twitter feed help keep the fans informed. I’ve gotten some positive feedback and that really keeps me motivated to keep going. I love the die-hard fans here (well most of them), and doing “Runnin with the Herd” has been a complete privilege.