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Preseason Preview With O’Rourke And Biondo

Photo courtesy of Rebekah Bing: Julian Biondo, Austin O'Rourke and Aidan Spellacy celebrate the Lone Star Brahmas NAHL Robertson Cup Championship.

 

Believe it or not the dog days of summer are a busy time of the year for the Lone Star Brahmas.

Main Camp wrapped up with the All-Star game on July 30th after the coaching staff whittled down over 120 players to two teams of players looking to make the cut. Next on the list is Training Camp which opens August 20 just 26 days prior to the Brahma’s season opener in Shreveport. Throw in a couple of preseason games and you have a rather hectic off season.

To get you up to speed on the rapidly approaching campaign, JrHockeyDigest.com caught up with two important cogs from last season’s Robertson Cup Championship team and guys who quite possibly could be wearing letters on their chest in 2017/18.

Austin O’Rourke and Julian Biondo made their presence felt down the stretch last season. O’Rourke put up 4G-1A including a game winner in the playoffs while Biondo earned the respect of his team Captains earning the 2017 JrHockeyDigest.com Brahmas Warrior Award.

Lone Star has quickly built a reputation for moving players on to NCAA programs and this past season was no exception. Thirteen players from last year’s championship squad signed commitments leaving the coaching staff to once again reload the team. Eleven of the Brahmas’ top 12 scorers from last season are gone along with much of the defensive core.

”It’s tough to lose that many guys, but on the other hand it’s great for those guys to succeed and move on,” said O’Rourke. “Overall I think it will just take us coming together and playing the way Dan wants us to. He puts us in good positions to win games and that should lead us to playoffs and hopefully back to back.”

Biondo was in agreement. “Last year we only had about seven returners and I believe we had a very successful season. I think it comes down to buying into your roll early in the year and sticking with it. It’s all about trusting the process of the coaches and systems.”

That is exactly what the pair did last season when they were put on a line with Aidan Spellacy. The line quickly became one of the hardest working lines in the NAHL South Division if not the league. Head Coach Dan Wildfong will be looking to all three to provide veteran leadership and help instill the Brahmas Culture in the newcomers.

“We are really going to have to lead by example like our older guys and leaders did for us last year,” said Biondo.

“We are ready,” added O’Rourke. “We were taught by some good leaders last year and are ready to fill those roles. For the junior veterans I think it will be easy to buy in because we were so successful last year.”

“We’ll try to instill confidence and make them feel comfortable as quick as possible.” Biondo explained.

The Lone Star coaching staff has done a lot of work to fill the vacancies through Tenders and the Draft. Many of the NAHL Rookies coming in this season have junior experience playing in Canada and the US. Asked their first impressions of the team coming out of Main Camp O’Rourke and Biondo were pleased with what they saw.

“We have a lot of size and speed.” Noted O’Rourke then adding something that Wildfong preaches. “We are going to be a tough team to play against.”

Biondo was happy about the prospects for the team as well “I really liked everything i saw at main camp, the amount of talent was there, the amount of compete will come as training camp comes around. I saw a lot of good players and I’m excited to see the team together in end of August.”

In addition to moving players on to the next level the Brahmas have built a reputation as a winner on the ice. That culminated with a Robertson Cup championship in May making NYTEX Sports Centre an even more desirable place to play for recruits. “The feeling of winning the Robby Cup was indescribable it was amazing. The bond you have with the team after winning will stick with us forever,” according to Biondo. But now having won it once how do they motivate themselves to push through the grind in pursuit of another championship?

“For me I believe team success brings individual success so if I want to succeed, our team this year needs to make another run at the cup,” said O’Rourke. “At the end of the day winning is way more fun so why not try and do it again.”

“Just having the heart to win is the main thing. You always have to want to win,” added Biondo.

Being defending NAHL champions will place a big targets on Lone Star’s backs with everyone wanting to be the ones to knock off the champs. Austin and Julian believe the team will be up to the challenge.

“From a team perspective I think what makes us successful is the predictability of our game. Everyone in the league now knows we are going to play hard and play with great pace and we do it very well. I think that brings a bit of intimidation,” explained O’Rourke. “Personally I need to bring more scoring if I want to really bring my game to another level.”

With the competition bringing their “A” game against the Brahmas night in and night out There are some steps that Biondo believes they will have to take to be successful. “Always work hard to get better there is always room for improvement,” he said. “You have to think everybody is playing for the same thing to win it all. You have to have it in the back of your head that someone is always working harder trying to get better than you or your team.”

The NAHL South Division is considered by most to be the toughest division in the league year in and year out. That adds legitimacy to players in the division where scouts are concerned and when the staff is recruiting. Over the past 14 seasons a South Division team has played in the championship game 10 times and claimed the Robertson Cup eight times. In Biondo’s opinion that speaks volumes for the players in the South Division. “It is a very tough division to get out of in playoffs.” O’Rourke agreed. “I think scouts know what they are getting out of a south division player. We play the toughest schedule so we are ready to grind it out at the next level.”

The pair know that Brahmaland is another weapon they have in their bag when teams come into NYTEX Sports Centre. Most players say they have never played in front of crowds game in and game out like they will experience at NYTEX. So, how will they prepare the new rookies for their first taste of Brahmaland?

“I am super pumped to play in Brahmaland again it’s the best atmosphere in the league in my opinion. To the rookies I don’t think you can prepare it’s a special feeling to play in front of the crowds we do. So my advice going into it all will be to just embrace it and have fun,” was O’Rourke’s response.

“It’s hard to explain the crowds to any incoming players until you actually play in front of them all, said Biondo. “We have the best fans in the league and I can’t wait to get on the ice and play in front of them again.”

That is a shared sentiment for the Brahma faithful as Brahmaland can’t wait for you and all the new Brahmas to be back on the NYTEX ice either.

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