by Larry Ham
KRL has always been a big supporter of local sports teams, and many of us here are hockey fans. Fresno is lucky to have it’s own hockey team, the Fresno Monsters. We took some time to interview their Head Coach/General Manager Bryce Dale.
Larry: Hockey has a huge tradition in Fresno. How do the Monsters fit into that tradition?
Bryce: The Monsters fit into that tradition by carrying the torch to grow ice hockey in the Central Valley. After the Falcons departure, the Monsters were born and have carried the responsibility of growing hockey and maintaining the winning tradition here in Fresno that we have experienced for so many years.
Larry: Minor league hockey is so confusing to figure out, with the Canadian major Juniors, the AHL, ECHL, etc. What ages are the Monsters’ players, and what level would the Monsters be considered to be in? Can they be drafted by NHL or other minor league teams?
Bryce: Currently, all of our players that are under the age of 18 years are eligible for the NHL Entry Draft. Since we are Junior ‘A’ hockey, the ages of our players range from 16-21. Junior ‘A’ hockey is the highest level of amateur hockey in the United States that is a developmental level for players to play in the NCAA. About 99% of the players in the NHL have played junior hockey at some point in their career, which means that you are watching the stars of tomorrow here today in Fresno.
Larry: Tell us about this year’s team. Who are the players to watch?
Bryce:This year’s team has been strong and led us to a record of 29-4-1, good for first place in the Western Division. We have many players to watch; however, our 20-year-old players have been our leaders this year and have built on our winning culture that we have experienced in Fresno for over 5 years.
Larry: The ultimate dream for every young player is to make it to the NHL. There are so many NHL players from the US now, is that a reasonable goal for the Monsters’ players?
Bryce:Playing in the NHL is a reasonable goal for our players because players that make it to Junior ‘A’ hockey are in the top 5% of their talent pool. Since we are a new organization, we have not yet experienced an NHL draft pick on our team. Many Junior ‘A’ franchises in Canada and the United States have been in existence for over 30 years.
Larry: Do the Monsters players have jobs outside of Hockey? Do they live with local families? How does all of that work?
Bryce:Some of our players hold part time jobs and our players live with local families here in Fresno, much like a foreign exchange student. Our housing coordinator, Debbie Welcker, does an amazing job of making sure our players are taken care of off of the ice. Debbie has the most important job in the organization and we would not be where we are today without her.
Larry: How does the future look for hockey in Fresno? What’s the status of a new facility for the Monsters home games?
Bryce:The future looks bright for the Monsters and the process for the facility is moving along smoothly. We hope to make an announcement sooner rather than later about the future home of ice hockey here in Fresno as we know that much anticipation is building up towards the excitement of a new facility.
Larry: And of course, I have to ask this… what’s your opinion on fighting in hockey? The debate seems to have cooled in recent years.
Bryce:Fighting has been a part of the game for many years, but it is starting to phase itself out. It has always been a part of the game when I was a player and wasn’t much of an issue because it kept players honest. The most important thing is to teach players at a young age in all contact sports to respect their opponent and be aware of what is going on in the game to reduce their risk of being injured.
Larry: Why should people reading this article go see the Monsters?
Bryce:We are quick, we are fast, and we play with a blue-collar mentality that has been the fabric of our community here in the Central Valley. Our fans will enjoy our game day experience and be amazed at the athletic ability that it takes to play such a difficult sport on a 1/4” thick piece of steel at over 25 miles per hour. The sport of ice hockey is the most exciting sport to watch between whistles and the fans will enjoy the product that we put on the ice.
Larry: Do you have any special events coming up yet this season?
Bryce:We will have Fire Awareness Day on February 13 as we take on the Ontario Avalanche here at Gateway Ice Center at 5:30 p.m.
Larry: Anything else you would like to add?