LAFAYETTE — First-year coach Drew Omicioli introduced his roster Wednesday, two days before the IceGators kick off the 2014-15 season in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The IceGators cut 18 players that were in camp to get their roster down to size. It was the last step of what Omicioli called a “tough” training camp, where he had to evaluate a group of players despite playing in just one exhibition game. Omicioli said he was looking for players who could win a championship, and he thinks he has them.
“I put together what I feel is the right makeup for a championship team,” Omicioli said. “We’ve got to score goals, be tough and physical, and these are the guys that have demonstrated that they’re willing to do this, they’re looking forward to doing this. And everybody’s on the same page that we need to win a championship here in Lafayette.”
Leading the way will be center Shawn McNeil, a year Omicioli’s elder, who will once again serve as the IceGators captain. This season will mark McNeil’s ninth total year with the IceGators and his fifth straight.
McNeil was named the league MVP a year ago when he scored 67 points in 56 games.
“He’s invaluable,” Omicioli said. “Any time that you can get the MVP of the league to be your captain, a guy that everybody respects, he’s somebody that I’ll be leaning on throughout the year.
“He’s a guy that’s going to help us win a championship. Without him, it would make that run a lot more difficult.”
McNeil is still feeling out the relationship between himself and Omicioli, but he said they’re off to a good start.
“I think we see pretty eye-to-eye on most things and he has a pretty good feel for what I can do on and off the ice,” McNeil said.
With the team fully assembled, the IceGators begin their season Friday against the Fayetteville FireAntz, who finished with the Southern Professional Hockey League’s second worst record a year ago (21-30-5).
Omicioli is expecting Fayetteville to try to make up for its disadvantage in skill by being physical.
“I believe we’re more talented than them, but they’re going to probably come out and try to push us around,” Omicioli said. “Based on the lineup that I start, it’ll hopefully be pretty clear to them that that’s not going to happen.”
Bring it on, said left-winger Tyler Barr.
“If they want to play that way, we’ll welcome it with open hands,” Barr said.
Whatever style of game they end up playing, the current crop of IceGators are just excited to get back on the ice, especially after getting bounced early in the playoffs last year.
“We’re just really excited to get going again,” said defenseman Kirk Byczynski. “It’s been six months and after last year, it kind of leaves a bitter taste in my mouth losing the way we did in the playoffs.
“It kind of fueled the fire for us this summer, training harder so we can come back and win a championship here in Lafayette.”