When the final horn sounded in game six, the Brampton Beast were able to move onto the next round of the playoffs for the first time in the team’s 293-game history across the ECHL and Central League. However, while the celebrating could have for a short time, there’s a long-term goal in mind.
“While it was exciting for us, we know there’s more work to be done,” said Beast President and general manager Cary Kaplan in a phone interview with me this week. “It took some time and we’re a young team, but it’s real satisfaction to get to the next round, but we want more than that.”
The Beast have been a heck of a story to see unfold this season. After finishing at the bottom of their division in their first two ECHL seasons, the team took off with a 31-point increase in the standings, the franchise’s first 40-win season, and turning the heads of many in the league.
Yet, the season could have gotten very shaky had the City of Brampton not stepped up to the plate like they did. In the spring of 2016, the city had pledged to provide the Beast with $1.5M over three years to stay in Brampton and allowed the Beast to stay in Brampton and survive in the minor league hockey landscape.
“We weren’t bluffing, we needed the city’s help to survive,” said Kaplan. “Most teams don’t get to the other side like we did. But the city stepped up and became a partner on and off the ice with us. In addition, this year was the first time in 19 years, in any league, that a Brampton team has had over 3,000 people in average attendance (3,106 for the Beast this season). We have grown 20% in attendance since our first year, which leads the ECHL; and we just had our biggest walk-up ticket sales in the playoffs for game five. We might not be the hottest ticket in town, but more people know about the Beast and the ECHL than they may have a few months ago.”
On the ice, the team was able to stick to their core, while bringing in some veteran presence. The addition of David Pacan and David Vallorani gave the team a bit of a shot in the arm offensively, while also helping guide the ship for the younger players. Pacan, Vallorani, Chris Auger, Brandon Marino, and Brandon MacLean all had 20-goal seasons, while Pacan, Vallorani, and Marino had over 70 points on the year.
But the younger players chipped in, as well, most notably Zachary Fucale, who has honed his game very well after being sent down to the ECHL. Fucale, alongside other Montreal Canadiens prospects in Dalton Thrower, Connor Crisp, and Mathieu Gagnon; have helped provide a balance of youth and experience to the Beast roster, a formula that was scouted out by afar.
“There are teams out there who believe that affiliations drives the core, but we’ve taken a model more like Florida, Allen, and Fort Wayne,” mentioned Kaplan. “Those teams have a core of veterans between 25 and 30 years old who know what it takes to win in this league. It’s important to have that balance so younger guys can see what it takes to win and mold themselves after the veterans. Guys like Luke Pither and Jordan Henry have been here and knows what we expect. Plus, when you bring someone in like David Ling, there’s no one like him in minor league hockey, so there’s plenty of knowledge to take from someone like him.”
It is a balance that head coach Colin Chaulk was a part of in Fort Wayne and helped captain the team to five championship seasons. When the team didn’t make the playoffs last year, it was a big hit to Chaulk who didn’t want his head coaching legacy to be a blemish on his otherwise successful career. So, after Kaplan gave the vote of confidence to Chaulk and assistant coach Peter Goulet, he made sure that this season would be much different that his rookie campaign.
“Last year, we had 74 players come through our system, including 11 goalies,” said Kaplan, “So, Colin and Peter learned from that and knew they had a lot to prove in this season. He was able to get players who would buy-in to his system and we were able to have guys who were loyal to our organization and stick around to help see us through.”
Buying-in may be a term that is overused, but it works in this situation. When there are top prospects from a top-NHL team on your roster, some may be concerned with those players thinking they are too big for the ECHL. In the case of Fucale, a highly touted goalie out of the QMJHL, it could be easy for him to get down and not live up to his former big billing.
“Guys just want to play a major role,” stated Kaplan. “When you get those guys like Fucale, Crisp, Thrower, and Gagnon; they just want to play in a big-time situation and that’s what we’re giving to them. The ECHL, even from a few years ago, has gotten better because other leagues have faded away and all the talent is here. If someone gets sent down and don’t compete, they’ll struggle. Each of those core young players are getting major roles on our team and have responded quite well.”
Last summer, the Beast also made headlines when rapper Lil B, the Based God, gave his blessing to the team. It exposed the team to a nationwide audience in the hockey world and was solid publicity for the team, especially when you consider who Lil B has cursed in the past and how their performance has gone.
“I don’t know if it’s the blessing or guys put on the right suit or tapped on the right piece of wood, but we’re rolling with it right now,” mentioned Kaplan. “The mental game is a big part of hockey and I don’t dismiss anything because it’s helped us so far. We were excited when we got into the playoffs, but the guys still know nothing is finished yet.”
However, there is one habit for many players that is on hold for the rest of the playoffs for the Beast.
“Coach has one rule, doesn’t matter if it’s at home or on the road– no one is allowed to golf during the playoffs,” Kaplan mentioned. “The players asked him, ‘Why can’t we golf?’ and Coach told them, ‘You golf when you lose.’ It’s more of the mental aspect again, but guys have bought in and no one has golfed yet this season.”