Bobcats organization starting to see the fruits of its labor
Eight years ago, Ron Filion started the Arizona Bobcats youth hockey program in Phoenix with a dream of developing top hockey talent, but with plenty more questions than answers.
The former West Coast Hockey League and East Coast Hockey League player and coach, now the Bobcats director of hockey, had big aspirations and a patient approach, and it appears that outlook is finally starting to pay off.
Alumni from the Bobcats’ first team in 2007 are making waves at the professional, college and top junior levels, and while that is a great measuring stick for their success, Filion is equally excited that this year is the program’s first offering a complete progression of teams, from Mites to 18U AAA.
“It is important to understand that for almost nine years, we only had two or three teams to work with – therefore there was a requirement for lots of patience and hard work from the parents, players and our coaching staff,” said Filion. “We could have never done it without the parents’ trust, because every new birth-year group had to go through a tough first year.”
Nine members of the Bobcats’ original 2007 AAA team are playing in high-profile locales.
Brendan Lemieux, originally drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in 2014 before being traded to the Winnipeg Jets, is playing for the Windsor Spitfires in the Ontario Hockey League. Auston Matthews has split time between the ZCS Lions of the Swiss National League A and the U.S. National Junior Team, which he helped to a bronze medal at the World Junior Hockey Championships in January.
Christian Cakebread has committed to the University of North Dakota and is playing for the Vernon Vipers of the British Columbia Hockey League this season, joined by Luca Leone with the Coquitlam Express. Jake Durflinger started the season with the United States Hockey League’s Sioux City Musketeers before moving to the Bloomington Thunder. Phil Knies is also playing for Sioux City.
Matt Jones (pictured) and Matteo Pietroniro are skating for the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and Chad Pietroniro is with the Sherbrooke Phoenix in the QMJHL. Steve Owre (Medicine Hat Tigers), Landon Quinney (Moose Jaw Warriors), Keith Anderson (Victoria Royals), Blake Bargar (Moose Jaw Warriors), Sean Mallonee (Everett Silvertips) and Brandon Watts (Moose Jaw) are playing in the Western Hockey League.
“It is an amazing feeling seeing so many guys from our Bobcats program playing at high levels,” Durflinger said. “I am extremely proud to have played with these guys and to be an alumni of such a great program. Seeing more and more kids advance and play in juniors, college and professionally after they move on from the Bobcats just shows how well Ron and his staff prepare their players.”
Ben Baker (Minnesota Magicians), Dylan Dix (Corpus Christi IceRays), Jake Garman (Corpus Christi), Michael Mahan (Minnesota Wilderness), Rourke Russell (Wichita Falls Wildcats), Keenan Spillum (Corpus Christi) and Carter Wade (Odessa Jackalopes) are playing in the North American Hockey League. Zach Funk is with the Nanaimo Buccaneers of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League and Jeremy Briscoe is playing for the New Jersey Rockets in the Eastern Hockey League.
Filion and Matthews – the latter projected to be the top pick in the 2016 NHL draft – said they believe that the successes achieved by Bobcats alumni has motivated the program’s current players, and will continue to do so.
“I believe we have installed a strong pride of ownership amongst our older players, and they are happy to give back,” Filion said. “It was nice to see the organization cheer on Matthews at the World Juniors and Cakebread for his first game with the BCHL.”
Added Matthews: “I believe the Bobcats program will only continue to grow and get better. All the alumni players that have moved on to higher levels are great role models for younger kids in Arizona who have dreams of playing at a high level.”
— Greg Ball