We sat down with NorCal Mustangs coach Mario Sousa and team captain Travis Hawkins at the Silvercreek Sports Complex Rollin Ice rinks for a pre-season chat. If you’ve never visited Rollin Ice then you should know it’s the absolute Cadillac of inline hockey facilities. Rollin Ice’s three rinks have full height glass boards, the floors are in fabulous condition, and even the locker rooms smell fresh. It is kept shiny and spotless. There is an expansive pro shop and a top class restaurant. Our interview with the Mustang’s leaders was conducted on the indoor terrace of the Rollin Ice’s on-site High Five restaurant.
The Mustangs are in a highly competitive region. The northern California inline hockey scene is arguably the best in the country. In hockey crazy San Jose there are three elite inline teams – Mustangs, Riot and Pirates. All three of these top teams share the same facilities at Silver Creek. Their players play in leagues or on traveling teams together. They often co-rent the rinks for informal pickup games. Yet amongst all this mixing and proximity, the Mustangs have an identity of their own. They’ve carved out their own niche and philosophy.
“Our approach is system oriented” states coach Mario Sousa “Its unity, family and sticking to a system. Our guys stick together, unity is what we preach”. Sousa knows his hockey. As a native of Ontario, Canada he has grown up playing hockey and was a goalie himself. He understands the importance of team cohesion and what it takes to win. He puts emphasis on goal tending and is always searching for the best. “Goal tending was a struggle last year” said Mario “But we’ve been looking at upto seven possible goalies for the coming season”. Although their play is systematic, the Mustangs aren’t afraid to be aggressive. “We say be physical” states captain Travis Hawkins “But don’t go to the box”.
I had a chance to watch the Mustangs practice several times over the autumn. The practices are highly organized and purposeful. The players are put through both skill and conditioning drills. Conditioning is lead by defenseman Shaun Hickey (who is just completed P90X twice in the past 180 days). This is smart preparation considering they’re looking at playing the national finalist Pirates several times this season. “Its always tough with the Pirates. But we like it, it makes us strive” says Travis Hawkins with a smile . Also new in the league is the Ripon Savage which already has an early season win against East Bay Jawz. “I know the Savage” remarks Travis, “They’re a bunch of good, hardworking guys.”
The Mustangs minor league has many new faces this season. Again, the management of the minors has a systematic approach. “We’re going with a less experienced team this year by bringing on new talent to our team” says Sousa. “We’ve brought some minors up from last year, but they are not starting jobs as of yet”. Among the minor moving up is Lucas Hart who has played for the Mustangs minor team for the last two seasons, he should contribute right away. Matt Bianco played for the Mustangs minor team last year, but spent his first season with the Pirates minors before coming over last year. Lastly, Jody McAlpine starting goaltender for the Mustangs minors last year is coming up to join the Elite squad full time. They’re also taking a step back and developing a new coach. Right now David James, the assistant coach of the elites, is now the head coach for the minors.
The Mustangs season opener is December 6th against the Ripon Savage at the Siver Creek Sportsplex. The Mustangs have the potential of making it to the top nationally this year and we all look forward to an exciting and action filled season!
Also tune into Today in the AIHL Pacific North at www.mustangsradio.net for news, interviews and videos by Doug Wallace and Coach Mario Sousa.
-Written by Petrie Quigley, Fast Puck Editor