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
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
"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