Season in Review: Dallas Snipers
Team: Dallas Snipers
Regular season: 21-23-2, 44 points, 4th in Midwest Division
Playoffs: Knocked out in divisional semi-finals by El Paso Rhinos
They haven’t enjoyed the same amount of success as the rival Dallas Ice Jets, who also entered the WSHL prior to the 2011-2012 season but the Dallas Snipers have improved upon their record every year, despite having a different coach, with different ideas and strategies, each time.
With Aaron Davis on board and ready to tackle his second season as the Snipers’ bench boss, after a fantastic year one in which he guided Dallas to a franchise-best 21-23-2 record, the Snipers seem poised to take it up another notch and continue to carve out a niche as a hard-nosed hockey team that is a nightmare to play against.
A former Central Hockey League stud, Davis took over after Travis Clayton stepped down, another CHL veteran that did a good job of instilling a sense of pride in his team and helping them tripling their win total from the 2011-2012 season.
What Davis did that Clayton couldn’t however, was bring in a handful of high-level import players and other key additions, adding players like Emil Melin and Alexander Lenbohm to a core of veterans that included forwards Shane Bonds, Aaron Krominga and Justin Becton and defensemen Luke Grignano and Trent Williams, all of whom play a blue-collar style, which is needed in the physical Midwest Division.
The Snipers started strong out of the gate, outscoring the Wichita Jr. Thunder 26-2 and sweeping them clean over a three-game set but then ran into the rival Texas Brahmas, who they dropped two straight games to in late September.
The month of October began with a home series against the El Paso Rhinos and despite dropping all three games to the eventual Thorne Cup Champions, the Snipers did pretty well for themselves, keeping each game close against a team that had previously dismantled them.
Bouncing back nicely, the Snipers then rattled off six straight victories, having their way with the Tulsa Jr. Oilers and Wichita Jr. Thunder and picking up some good habits along the way, including cutting down on penalties and playing a more structured style.
Over their next seven games however, the Snipers fell back down to earth a bit, going winless and dropping games to the rival Ice Jets, who they had just began to play tighter, as well as the Long Beach Bombers and Texas Brahmas.
In their last game before the showcase however, the Snipers picked up their biggest win in quite some time, as Alex Bebriss-Fedotovs, a veteran goaltender that had recently returned to the team, stopped all 60 shots he faced and helped the Snipers pick up their first-ever win over the Ice Jets, winning 1-0 in a lengthy shootout.
Although they only went on to go 1-2-1 while at the all-league showcase in Las Vegas, Nevada, that win over the Ice Jets gave the Snipers some momentum moving forward and proved that they could beat anyone in the league when on top of their game.
After dropping two of three on the road in Colorado to open 2014, the Snipers then continued their great play against their two local rivals, beating the Texas Brahmas 3-2 and then taking two more from the Ice Jets, with their offense taken to a new level with the addition of Estonian forward Konstantin Ljubobratets, who took some of the pressure off Bonds, Melin and Lenbohm.
With a playoff berth clinched for the second straight year, the Snipers then dropped two of three at home to the Ontario Avalanche but rebounded with another dominant sweep of the Tulsa Jr. Oilers.
After splitting a home-and-home series with Texas, the Snipers then welcomed in the Colorado Jr. Eagles and once again dropped two of three, with goaltending issues beginning to arise, as Bebriss-Fedotovs was now gone and both Emil Eriksson and deadline addition Steffen Muller had been up and down.
As fate would have it, the Snipers finished up the regular season with a three-game set in El Paso against the Rhinos, the same team they were already set to face in the opening round of the playoffs.
Even with nothing to play for, the series quickly became chippy and the Rhinos dominated, winning 16-1 on Friday and 12-0 on Sunday but the Snipers did play well and actually held a first period lead in the middle game, which they wound up dropping 4-1.
Just one week later, the Snipers made the 12-hour trek west to El Paso to face the Rhinos with a lot more on the line but the Thorne Cup hosts showed no mercy, winning 7-1 and 3-1 in a tighter series than the scores might indicate and knocking Dallas out of the playoffs.
Simply put, the Snipers ran into a buzz saw in the opening round of the playoffs and a team that nobody was able to even come close to. They put together a terrific first season under Davis, upping their win total yet again and consistently beating teams like the Ice Jets and Brahmas for the first time ever, another big step for a program that notched only five wins two years ago.
With a number of his top players aging out after last season, Davis will have some work to do to build his roster back up but he still has a couple of key veterans up front, in forwards Justin Becton and Zach Lawson, two guys that know how to play a Snipers brand of hockey and put it all on the line. He has also already announced the signing of a top goaltender from north of the border but with three-year players like Bonds, Krominga and Williams now gone, the Snipers will have a new look in the fall.
The Midwest Division will also look a bit different this upcoming season, as the Snipers lose a local rival, in the Texas Brahmas, who are no longer apart of the league but gain a new one, in the Texas Attack, who will play out of the same arena as the Ice Jets, who also stick around. The El Paso Rhinos, Tulsa Jr. Oilers and Wichita Jr. Thunder are the other three returners and two new squads jump into the fold, as the Springfield Express (formerly the New Mexico Renegades) come over from the Mountain Division and the Oklahoma City Jr. Blazers will begin their inaugural season.
If Davis can pick up another good batch of imports and build off what he was able to do last season, the Snipers should be right back in the thick of things again.
Story by Brent Maranto does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Western States Hockey League as a whole
Photo courtesy of Sofie Kitterod