ASTON, Pa. -- If you’re familiar with the Amarillo Bulls, then you already know about their scarlet red, navy blue and gold color scheme.
This past weekend, however, the Bulls got a healthy dose of white, orange and black.
The Philadelphia Little Flyers were well-represented at Amarillo’s main prospect camp, held at IceWorks Skating Complex. Twenty-five PLF members - including current EHL, EHL Premier, Midget 18U, Midget 16U and Midget 15U Pure players - took part in the four-day event from Saturday through Tuesday.
“Any time you can have your players compete in something that’s the next level up for them is a good thing.” Little Flyers EHL and EHL Premier head coach Mark Catron said. “Not only do the coaches get a chance to see them and evaluate them, but it allows our players to realize what it’s going to take to play at the next level. There are always veteran players mixed into the camp that they can compare themselves to.”
Players filling up 10 teams were guaranteed four games during camp. One game was played on Saturday, two on Sunday and one more on Monday. Cuts were made on Monday afternoon to get down to six teams and three more games were held Monday evening.
“To have the opportunity to participate in the camp means a lot because not only did I get to showcase my play for the Bulls’ coaches and maybe others, but it also prepared me for the up-and-coming season with the Little Flyers,” EHL defenseman Shane Green said. “Having to play fast-paced games against really good competition gets me back up to speed and puts me in a game environment to make me more prepared for the season rather than just having practices.”
Green racked up six goals and 18 assists in 38 EHL Premier games for the Little Flyers in 2019-20. He earned multiple looks on the EHL team, as well, appearing in four games as a call-up.
Fellow PLF junior players Robbie Seewagen, Logan Downs and reigning EHL Premier Goalie of the Year Tyler Cassidy also shined during Bulls camp. Seewagen and Downs each found the back of the net and Cassidy was strong between the pipes.
“I felt like I matched up well out there and competed,” Green said. “Speed and physicality wasn’t an issue for me and I even managed to get a goal and some assists, which was a plus. Overall it was a great experience.”
The games consisted of three, 17-minute periods with a running clock. One referee patrolled the ice and any penalties called led to a shootout attempt on the offending team.
“It was a good opportunity to see how I compared against the Amarillo returners and to get looks from the coaches,” Patrick O’Connell said. “It’s exciting to know a team like the Bulls are watching and considering you for the future.”
O’Connell, who recorded 19 goals and 74 assists in 40 combined AYHL and NAPHL games last season for the 18U team, spent much of camp skating alongside teammate David Matousek. The pair of forwards showcased their chemistry, making crisp passes back and forth and creating plenty of scoring opportunities.
“It was a lot of fun playing with my teammates,” O’Connell said. “You can use your own chemistry to see how you match up with junior-caliber players. You get a glimpse of what it takes to get to the next level.”
Braedon Dougherty, a defenseman on the 18U Little Flyers team, echoed O’Connell’s sentiment about camp. Although he spent more time on the opposite bench.
“It was a fun experience,” Dougherty said. “Meeting new guys and playing against different guys. I usually don’t play against [my teammates] much but it was fun to defend them because you kind of know what they’re going to do. You pick up their tendencies in practice. I just want to defend properly and make the right plays.”
After cuts on Monday, the games went to a stopped clock and 20-minute periods. Penalized players had to sit for two minutes and special teams were given a chance to show what they could do.
Two All-Star games took place on Tuesday at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Six Little Flyers advanced to play in those games.
“It's a testament to what we're doing here as far as player development goes,” Midget 18U and 15U Pure head coach Dave Dorman said. “The staff that's been brought in, there is buzz and excitement around the organization. It's been a rejuvenated spirit that we're all pretty excited about. To the kids' credit, they are the ones putting in the work and making the commitment and buying into everything we've asked them to do. This is all of that coming to fruition.”
The Bulls’ coaching staff has strong ties to the Little Flyers. Head coach Rocky Russo spent four years as the bench boss of the club's EHL junior team, amassing an impressive 159-34-14-3 record. He also guided his teams to back-to-back regular-season championships, four total EHL South Division championships and was twice named EHL Coach of the Year.
Russo’s assistant coach, George Lewis, spent three seasons with the Little Flyers' junior program as well. Lewis led his EHL team to a 45-10-2 record and advanced to the Frozen Four Finals in his one year as head coach.
Amarillo was 39-10-2-3 and in second place in the South Division standings when the NAHL cancelled the remainder of the 2019-20 season on March 17 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think it’s great that we have a North American league team doing camp in our rink.” Catron said. “It makes it a lot easier for those kids to be seen by coaches that are not in our area but who control the next level for them and I think that’s always important.”
Extra precautions were taken by IceWorks staff and management with concerns surrounding COVID-19. Players, who had to wear masks when they weren’t on the ice, were permitted to enter the building 15 minutes prior to their ice times and were given access to four locker rooms on separate rinks to properly social distance.
All lockers and player benches were also sanitized in between games. IceWorks Pub and Grille was open in a limited capacity to give some parents a chance to watch the action.
“It helps our kids gain valuable experience, to understand what it takes to play at the next level,” Dorman said. “It really is a mindset. It's great to be a part of it. It also gives us an opportunity to watch some of the local kids that we'll be scouting in the years to come.”