Flames program rises out of Jr. Wranglers’ ashes
For more than a decade, Las Vegas residents enjoyed the excitement of hosting a team in the ECHL, and a side benefit to the presence of the Wranglers in Sin City was the organization’s positive impact on youth hockey.
Alas, when the pro Wranglers folded last spring, so too did the Jr. Wranglers.
A dedicated team of parents and coaches has managed to fill the void, however, and the Las Vegas Flames program is up and running this season with the goals of building a foundation and growing towards a successful future.
“We’re in full swing rebuilding the organization,” Flames president Bill Calhoun said during a recent break in the action at Fiesta Ice Arena, the program’s home rink where he spends six or seven days a week, alongside vice president Victor Piccurro, since he’s taken over the Flames. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but this is an exciting time for us.”
Its former president – a local fire captain who passed his duties on to Calhoun this fall due to a work schedule that limited his availability to be around the rink – named the new program.
Calhoun was happy to take over and help shape the Flames while watching his 7-year-old son learn the game.
In their first season, the Flames feature three travel squads: a Mite B team, a Squirt B group and a Bantam A squad.
Calhoun also said the program is currently registering players for an in-house league that will begin in mid-January, with games scheduled for two days a week.
All together, he estimates that there are 60-70 players currently skating in Flames sweaters.
Ken Quinney and Rico Sylvester coach the Bantam team, and Tommy Caputo leads the Squirts. Adam Naglich and Jas Vitale guide the Mite group.
Calhoun expects to add a Pee Wee team next season, and has lined up veteran coach Wally LaCroix to work with that contingent.
The Flames offer much more than just the team structure, though. Former pro Wranglers coaches Mike Madill and Aaron Power put on advanced skills clinics weekly.
What’s more, LaCroix also offers Tuesday skill sessions for younger players, and in-house goalie coach Alex Bjerk is at the rink every Monday and Wednesday to work with the Flames’ netminders.
“We’re just attempting to pick up the pieces that we were dealt after the Jr. Wranglers dissolved and after the old president walked away,” Calhoun said. “It’s still definitely a work in progress, but we’re rebuilding and working really hard.
“We want to get the best coaches we can possibly find and put them on the ice so we can give the kids the best experience and learning environment we can. The kids are slowly starting to hear of all the changes and are interested in coming back to the rink.
“We were in disarray due to the Jr. Wranglers dissolving, which left a lot of questions in everyone’s minds as to what was going to happen. But now that we’re rebuilding the structure, the kids and parents are beginning to see strength in our program, and the it’s getting better every day.”
Calhoun knows that slow and steady progress may be the best thing for the program, so he’s excited about every milestone the Flames reach.
In February, he’s looking forward to their Mite team traveling to Minnesota for the Stillwater Jamboree, and he knows there’ll be much more to get excited about as they complete their first season and look forward to the future.
“We’re attempting to make this the best experience for the child and a fun atmosphere for the whole family,” Calhoun said. “As we rebuild, we’re making sure the kids get the best training possible.”
– Greg Ball