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New-Look Wizards Set to Begin Season

By Kevin Garner

The word "change" does not properly describe what happened to the Waco Wizards over the off-season. There is new ownership, a new coach, new office staff, and a host of new faces filling out the roster. Yet, the goal of this year's Wizards organization is no different. The entire Wizards organization is determined to build on last season's success.

For much of the off-season, the fate of the Waco Wizards lay in limbo. Joe Milano, the original owner of the Wizards, tried unsuccessfully for most of the summer to complete the sell of the team. With the tireless help of members of the WPHL office, Milano struck a deal to keep the Wizards in Waco. New owners Rick Dames, and Stu and Sue Kehoe took over the team late in the summer, and moved quickly to get the pieces into place for the upcoming season.

The first task of the new owners was to replace head coach Todd Lalonde. Lalonde was released from his contract by previous owner Joe Milano and promptly signed with the rival Central Texas Stampede. Thirty-nine years old Kevin Abrams was signed to take over the head coaching duties of the Wizards. Abrams was also named the team's director of hockey operations. Abrams is a career coach who is respected for his ability to relate well with his players. Abrams said that he intends to build that is defensively responsible.

"I believe in a strong defense over offense - not unlike the philosophy of Ken Hitchcock of the Dallas Stars" Abrams stated at the press conference for his introduction.

Abrams wasted no time signing a crucial new member to this year's squad - the equipment manager. Rick Norman was named as the team's new equipment manager. Norman, 53, is a 15 year veteran of the hockey business and hails from Kingston, Ontario. Norman has spent the last six seasons involved with junior and senior hockey in Canada.

Abrams later announced that the team had re-signed last year's player/assistant coach Tony Cimellaro. Cimellaro finished second in team scoring last year, with 82 points (28G, 54A). Also returning from last year's team is forward Ian LaRoucque. LaRoucque struggled early with the Wizards last season, but surged in the season's final months to become an impact second line forward for the team.

In a bold move, Abrams held a joint press conference with former Wizards' coach Todd Lalonde to announce a multi-player trade with the rival Central Texas Stampede. Waco received four players in the deal, while sending five players to the Stampede. Among the players the Wizards received was high-scoring forward Darren Dougan. However, Dougan would not stay a Wizard very long. His rights were traded to Monroe in exchange for the rights of several players shortly after the Wizards acquired him.

On August 23rd, the Wizards organization announced the news that every fan wanted to hear. Abrams announced that the team had signed last year's Rookie of the Year and Goaltender of the year, Kory Cooper. Last season, Cooper posted a 2.77 GAA and .910 save percentage in a Wizard uniform. Cooper has a long history with new Wizards' coach Kevin Abrams.

Just a few short days later, Abrams again announced the return of a key Wizards' player from last year's squad. Abrams announced that Dave MacIntyre would be returning to Waco for another season. MacIntyre scored 28 goals and 18 assists in 60 games with the Wizards last season. MacIntyre also saw action with Long Beach of the IHL late last season.

The last day of August brought another important signing for the Wizards. Abrams announced the signing of high-scoring center Mike Taylor. Taylor played under Abrams in junior hockey and attributes Abrams with much of his development and motivation as a player. Taylor's history with Abrams was a large factor in luring Taylor away from the WCHL. Taylor scored 115 points with Tucson and San Diego of the WCHL last season. Taylor has also spent time in the AHL, IHL, and ECHL over his career.

Among the signings and trades another significant event occurred in Wizards' history. The Wizards organization moved into their new offices located at the HOT Coliseum in Waco. It is the first time the organization has resided in the same building where the team plays its games. The newly completed offices will give the Wizards' staff and fans a central point for work, meetings, and ticket sells.

On the day the team moved into the new offices, head coach Kevin Abrams announced two new additions to the Wizards' roster. Waco acquired forwards Jodi Murphy and Jeff Schachterle from the Tupelo T-Rex for future considerations. Both forwards add size and strength to the Wizards' front lines. Last season, Murphy logged 207 PIMs in 63 games with the T-Rex, while Schachterle chipped in 29 points with Tupelo.

Also returning from last year's squad is forward Eric Preston. Preston scored 31 goals with the Wizards last season and added two more in the playoffs. Preston is currently rehabbing an injury and hopes to be ready for the season opener on October 16.

Head coach Kevin Abrams also announced the signing of three new players along with the return of Preston. Defensemen Al Meola, Kyle Dafoe, and left wing Ben Maidment will be joining the Wizards in camp. Meola spent last season in Europe and was a teammate of Wizards player/assistant coach Tony Cimellaro. Dafoe is a 1997 draft pick of the Carolina Hurricanes and weighs in as the largest Wizard to date. Dafoe is 6'6" and 220 pounds and spend last season with Sudbury of the OHL. Maidment spent last season as captain of the Clarkson University team and played junior hockey under Coach Kevin Abrams at Smith Falls.

Abrams announced the signing of three more players the following day. Wingers Jeff Jubenville and Chris Aishford and defenseman Steve Lafleur will all join the Wizards in camp. Jubenville spent last season with Asheville in the UHL, scoring 12 goals in 35 games. Jeff has also previously played with Tupelo of the WPHL. Aishford spent last season with Clarkson University along with newly signed winger Brian Maidment. Lafluer, 21, comes to the Wizards from the Ontario Hockey League.

The Wizards will open training camp October 1st in Bell County