ROANOKE, Va. — There is new enthusiasm in the Star City this season, as the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs have former Peoria Rivermen captain Dan Bremner for his first full season in charge of the Dawg Pound.
Bremner, working as an assistant coach at Ohio University at the beginning of last season before being tasked with turning around the second-year SPHL franchise after a disappointing inaugural season in 2016-17 and a 5-11-2 start to last season under previous coach Sam Ftorek.
The rookie SPHL coach took the ice and immediately instilled the intensity Bremner was known of as a player, and the team reaped immediate benefits under a coach who, as a player, grinded for both Jerome Bechard and Jean-Guy Trudel. The Dawgs under Bremner went 21-15-2, including a team-record eight-game winning streak in February.
Ironically, for Bremner, it was his former team which proved the Dawgs’ downfall last season. Bremner went 1-3-0 against Peoria over the final four games of the regular season. Still, Roanoke was able to qualify for the playoffs, drawing the Rivermen in the league’s fledgling Challenge Round playoff format. The Dawgs managed to play the Rivermen competitively but ultimately fell in a two-game sweep.
Over the summer months, Bremner heavily recruited his former teammates and brought in a quartet of forwards – Jordan Carvalho, Cody Dion, Michael Economos, and Jeff Jones. Bremner’s efforts earned him a two-year contract extension over the summer and now the pressure is on the rookie bench boss to deliver.
Nuts and Bolts
Last Season Record: 26-26-4, 56 points
League Finish: Eighth in SPHL
Playoff Finish: Lost to Peoria in the first round
Goals Scored per Game: 3.04, eighth
Goals Allowed per Game: 3.48, eighth
Power Play: 17.0%, sixth
Penalty Kill: 81.5%, T-sixth
Welcome to Peoria East, y’all! There is no doubt the Rail Yard Dawgs, from the top on down, resembles their rivals out west. The franchise’s first hire after being created was to bring on former Peoria staffer Mickey Gray to run the team’s front office. Now, with Bremner as head coach and recruits Carvalho, Dion, Economos, and Jones on board over the offseason, there is a clear Peoria vibe to the franchise.
“If you want to make this team, you’ll have to be mean.” Bremner played with the mentality of a junkyard dog throughout his SPHL career. Over the summer, Bremner dropped the proverbial gloves to his recruits with his above statement. This year’s edition of the Rail Yard Dawgs is going to be a bigger, badder bunch or Bremner will find others who will.
Can I get a DEFENSE from the congregation? Bremner has been able to vastly improve the team’s forward lines, but last season’s team was eighth in goals allowed and suffered on the penalty kill. Having Brad Barone, last year’s SPHL Goalie of the Year, back is a boost, but how will the retooled defense perform as the season progresses? If training camp is any indication, the blue line will be under Bremner’s microscope.
“Everything was a new experience and everything was a learning curve for me. It was exciting and it was fun.” – Bremner on preparing on his first full season as coach.
The “Twin Towers” line of Dion and Colin Murray – both 6’4″ – flanking 59-point-scorer (and 5’11”) Steve Mele. Look for Mele to have plenty of options in the offensive zone with a pair of big bodies grinding down low. Also, this threesome is expected to anchor the primary powerplay unit on special teams.
Brian Rowland – The second-year defenseman out of Norwich (VT) University has had a very strong training camp. The Dawgs blueline needs to see improvement and Rowland will factor in greatly if the defensive unit is to improve this season.
Dillan Fox – One of the highly-touted former Mississippi RiverKings players after the folding of the franchise, Fox has legitimate game-changing ability. Last season, Fox had a breakout year with 34 points in 32 games before moving up to ECHL Reading and sticking with the Royals all the way into the postseason.
Gone but Not Forgotten
Nick Schneider – Last year’s captain was a fan favorite and a solid offensive-minded blueliner. His 31 assists and leadership in the locker room are two holes which need to be filled this season.
Phil Bronner – Another great locker room guy, Bronner was traded to the Quad City Storm during training camp. A physical, grinding forward, Bronner scored seven goals and 16 assists last season on the Dawgs’ checking line last season.
Joe Sova – Perhaps the most effective all-around blueliner in Roanoke last season, Sova’s 6’3″ frame and 29 points are going to be missed in front of Barone’s crease.
Sin Bin Swami Sez
The Swami is going to have to clamp on a few extra emeralds on the ol’ turban. The Dawgs have solid goaltending in Barone and perhaps the deepest set of forwards in the league. The ceiling is high on Bremner’s bunch, but if the defense doesn’t pan out the floor is conversely low. The Rail Yard Dawgs will be feast-or-famine, so I’ll play this prediction straight down the middle. Look for the Dawgs to win 30-33 games this season and plant themselves firmly in the middle of the SPHL pack. The Dawgs will make their first appearance in the semifinals come April before bowing out. Look out in the 19-20 season, though. Roanoke is a season away from being an elite SPHL team.
What do you think? Let us know how you think the Dawgs will do!