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Bullfrogs Plan to Take Familiar Path to a Championship

Roller Hockey International: Coach Sonier is back, as are some key skaters. Season begins Saturday at the Pond.

May 30, 1996|PAUL McLEOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — If time is the great healer that Grant Sonier says it is, then the Bullfrog coach has had plenty to erase the memory of last summer.

Favored to win their second Roller Hockey International title in 1995, the Bullfrogs instead struggled to the conference finals, where they were upset by San Jose.

It made little difference to the Bullfrogs that San Jose then defeated Montreal for the league title. After setting a league record with 25 victories, the Bullfrogs believed they should have accomplished more.

"A lot of teams in the league thought we should have won it and we didn't," defenseman Darren Perkins said. "We should have won it. We expected to win it."

A new season begins Saturday at the Pond against San Diego, and the Bullfrogs have gone out of their way to keep the team together. The Silver family, which owns the franchise, re-signed most of last year's nucleus for another championship run.

And they supported Sonier's decision to trade Daniel Shank and they put up money to sign a few young ice hockey players who should fit in with Sonier's plans for a quicker club.

"This should be our best team ever," team Chairman Emeritus Maury Silver said.

Last season, the Bullfrogs won their first eight games. It might be harder to get off to a similar start this season.

Many players have been slow to report to camp because their ice hockey teams were in the playoffs. Sonier didn't get back until mid-May because he was touring Europe with a roller hockey all-star team.

Rookie Sean O'Brien and veteran defender Darren Banks will not be available Saturday. O'Brien has been granted permission to stay in Florida to be near his girlfriend's father, who was injured in an automobile accident. Banks is still playing for the Las Vegas Thunder in the International Hockey League playoffs.

Fredrik Jax, who was injured in the off-season, is highly doubtful for the season, team officials said. Also missing will be key defender Jared Bednar, who broke an ankle with the Bullfrogs early last season and never fully recovered.

Savo Mitrovic, who reported late because of a shoulder he injured while playing for Detroit Falcons of the Colonial Hockey League, is ahead of schedule on rehabilitation, but won't make the opener.

Last year's fast start followed six months of preseason preparation and scouting by Sonier, who was working full time for the Bullfrogs. This past winter, Sonier was coaching the Huntington (W.Va.) Blizzard of the East Coast Hockey League. Day-to-day operations of the Bullfrogs were scaled back substantially.

Then there is the case of Shank, whom Silver called "perhaps one of the greatest roller hockey players ever." Shank ranked fifth in league scoring last season, but many of the penalty minutes he accumulated appeared unnecessary and galled Sonier. Shank was traded to Orlando for Glenn Stewart, an all-ECHL player with the Erie (Pa.) Panthers.

Another key veteran who just got into Southern California a few days ago is team captain Victor Gervais. He ranked fourth in league scoring with 78 points.

Returning are Todd Wetzel, who had 15 power play goals a year ago and Rick Judson, who ranked fifth in the league in shooting percentage. Other returning players include goaltender Rob Laurie, forward B.J. MacPherson and defenseman Joe Cook.

"It's a strong league this season," said Laurie, a veteran of all four RHI seasons. "There are a lot of good players out there playing in this league for the first time. There's more talent overall."

Scott Bell, the team's top draft pick, could supply scoring power at forward. He played for the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League. Another newcomer, defenseman Mark DeSantis, once was in the Mighty Ducks' organization.

"Will we have as many wins as we did last year? I don't know," Sonier said. "We'll be a faster, more creative team and we'll have better chemistry. But whether or not we have better stats, no one can predict that."

Sonier's plans beyond this season are anyone's guess. He'd dearly love to win a title before he returns to coaching ice hockey, where he has emerged as a promising coaching prospect.

Sonier guided the Blizzard to within a few points of the playoffs and was rewarded with a two-year contract extension.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Bullfrog Schedule

Noteworthy: League all-star game will be July 8 at the Pond

Radio: All games on KPLS (AM 830)

Tickets: $8-27

For information: (714) 939-7663

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DATE TEAM TIME June 1 San Diego 7:30 p.m. June 8 Denver 7:30 June 11 at Blades 7:30 June 13 at Sacramento 7:30 June 14 at Oakland 7:30 June 16 Blades 6 June 20 San Jose 7:30 June 22 at Oklahoma 5:30 June 26 Oklahoma 7:30 June 27 at San Diego 7:30 June 30 Oakland 6 July 3 at Denver 6 July 6 Denver 7:30 July 12 Blades 7:30 July 14 Sacramento 6 July 17 Oakland 7:30 July 19 at San Jose 7:30 July 21 Vancouver 6 July 23 at San Diego 7:30 July 24 Oklahoma 7:30 July 26 at Oklahoma 5:30 July 28 San Jose 6 July 31 at Denver 6 Aug. 2 at Oakland 7:30 Aug. 6 at Blades 7:30 Aug. 8 at San Jose 7:30 Aug. 10 at Vancouver 7 Aug. 14 San Diego 7:30

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