Brampton, ON – On Wednesday evening (March 11), Brampton Beast President and General Manager Cary Kaplan along with Vice Presidents Ken Vezina and Mike Miele spoke to Founders Club members in a State of the Franchise Address.
The purpose of the meeting was to update season ticket holders on a number of hockey and business-related topics, including player transactions, game day productions and the future direction of the franchise, and to receive input and feedback from the members on the current state of hockey operations.
After a brief introduction of the full-time Beast staff, Kaplan began the address with a reiteration of the franchise’s primary objectives; to sell out the Powerade Centre, and to win championships.
Building the Team
While the team president acknowledged that the Beast are currently 20 points out of the playoffs, he then proceeded to explain in detail the decisions and roster moves made by management since the start of the season. Last year the team was very competitive, finishing 6th in the league and making the playoffs before losing to the eventual champions the Allen Americans.
“In the offseason, the Beast management felt it was important to resign two of the standout on and off-ice leaders from last year, Cal Wild and Jason Pitton,” said Kaplan. “Cal and Jason have continued to grow and develop in these leadership roles as captain and alternate captain this season. Andrew Darrigo, Josh McQuade, Grant Rollheiser and Mike MacIsaac, were also character guys and good players from last year who we felt deserved to be resigned.”
To further bolster the roster, the Beast went after top ECHL talents in goaltender Trevor Cann, sniper Chad Painchaud, former ECHL scoring champion Tyler Donati, and Kalamazoo Wings captain Elgin Reid. Additionally, they added three of the most popular Brampton Battalion players of all time, Stephon Thorne, Jason Dale and Phil Oreskovic – local guys with talent who were familiar with Brampton area hockey.
While the team looked good on paper the results didn’t translate on the ice, and the Beast lost their first six games of the year. While a number of factors could have indirectly or directly contributed to this – the lack of any preseason exhibition games, a last-minute merger with the ECHL, a tough opening schedule against veteran ECHL opponents – management was not interested in making excuses. The team continued to look for ways to improve, as evidenced by another wave of transactions coming around the Christmas holidays.
The Beast signed Tyler’s twin brother Justin, also a former ECHL scoring champion, and a player who has put up over 100 points in a single season playing on a line with his brother. Additionally, the Beast signed David Ling, who Pitton described as the best player he had ever played against when the two squared off in the EIHL in 2012-13. Finally, the Beast began an unofficial affiliation with the Montreal Canadiens, who sent Dalton Thrower, their highest drafted player in ECHL, to the Beast for conditioning.
With these impact moves, Beast management hoped for a resurgence from the team back into a playoff position in January. Once again, the results did not translate. Injuries to the key players took their toll, including the loss of star Tyler Donati and defensive pillars Oreskovic and Reid both to eventual retirement. Additionally, McQuade, Corbin, Ekelman and Dale all wound up on the IR forcing the Beast to make further transactions to stay competitive.
One of these less-than-popular moves included the release of fan favourite Andrew Darrigo, which was an incredibly difficult decision for the Beast as Darrigo was second only to Wild in his community work and engagement with the fans. Forward Rob Ricci was also traded to bring in Bobby Hughes and Guy Lebouef, adding both skill and size to the lineup.
In looking towards next season and the future, a number of teams in the ECHL were interested in signing goaltender Ryan Demelo. In order to make the transaction happen, the Beast had to move one of their veteran goaltenders, and hence Rollheiser was traded to Wichita for future considerations. After making the move, which set Cann up to be the starter for the remainder of the season, the Beast suffered an injury to their netminder the very next game, forcing Cann from the lineup and Demelo into the starting position. It was the first time in the Beast’ franchise history that they have lost a goaltender due to injury.
As the team currently stands, Kaplan feels that the Beast have played better in their last 20 games than at the start of the season. This franchise remains committed to winning every game, and to continuously striving to improve and find the right combination of players for a championship season.
Status of an NHL affiliation
One of the main points from Wednesday’s meeting was an update on the status of an affiliation between the Beast and an NHL club. Currently, Beast management are in discussion with several teams, and are working on finding the right fit that benefits both clubs instead of simply choosing an affiliation because of team geography.
Cary hinted that the list is currently around four NHL clubs and that this is something that the Beast were diligently working on for next season.
“What we’re looking for in an affiliate is finding an organization that really cares about their ECHL development,” said Kaplan. “That is the biggest thing. We want them to come out to see their players here, but what we really want is for them to come and notice other guys too. Someone like Mathew Maione, who’s not under contract, but might be the guy they want. You want guys to get that chance. If you’re affiliated and you have five, six guys out there with a bunch of scouts following them, that helps the other 15 guys too.”
Is it the nature of the ECHL that players are coming and going so frequently?
“It’s more that we have had a tough year,” said Kaplan. “We haven’t been able to string enough wins together to keep the team stable. But as we continue to improve and find that mix of quality players that should change next year. We have also played more games than any other former CHL team against ECHL teams, which opened our eyes that these two leagues were not as similar as we though.”
We feel you have done a great job as a franchise of keeping the costs reasonable, having an exciting on-ice product, and making it fun for adults and kids. What is the long term health of the franchise?
“The Beast signed an agreement to be here for a long period of time. We are currently working on naming rights for the building, which would put us in a much better position financially. We committed to a long-term situation here in Brampton and the ECHL merger at the start of the season made a big difference in giving our team more stability so the future looks very bright.”
About the ECHL
Began in 1988-89 with five teams in four states, the ECHL has grown into a coast-to-coast league with 28 teams in 21 states and one Canadian province for its 27th season in 2014-15. There have been 541 players who have gone on to play in the National Hockey League after starting their careers in the ECHL, including 29 who made their NHL debuts in the 2013-14 season. The ECHL has affiliations with 28 of the 30 NHL teams in 2014-15, marking the 18th consecutive season that the league had affiliations with at least 20 teams in the NHL. Further information on the ECHL is available on its website at ECHL.com as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
About the Brampton Beast
The Brampton Beast was founded in January 2013. The Brampton Beast finished in sixth place and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in their inaugural year. The team was recognized as the he Community Relations Franchise of the Year in their first year of operation.