SEPTEMBER 4, 2016
The 24 in 24 series features a look at all 24 teams in the NAHL for the 2016-17 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. 24 in 24 looks into each NAHL team and will include video interviews with all 24 head coaches in the NAHL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the season, including taking a look at their strengths as a team and thoughts on the league. It will also take a look back on last season and how each team fared and what they accomplished.
Head Coach: Karlis Zirnis (1st year)
2015-16 record: Did not play in the NAHL
2015-16 leading scorer: Did not play in the NAHL
2016 playoffs: Did not play in the NAHL
2016-17 Division: South
First regular season game: Wednesday, September 21st vs. Northeast Generals
Home opener: Thursday, September 29th vs. Lone Star Brahmas
A new brand of hockey will debut this season as the Shreveport Mudbugs make their entrance in the league. On April 8th, the Mudbugs were officially accepted into the NAHL. Tommy Scott of Encompass Sports Management owns the Mudbugs. Scott, who was the owner of the Mudbugs when it ceased operations in the ‘AA’ professional Central Hockey League in 2011, signed a 12-year lease with the State Fair of Louisiana for use of the Hirsch Coliseum. The team will be the first to call the state of Louisiana home in the 41-year history of the NAHL.
Less than two months after the team was announced, they found their man to be the new head coach as former Mudbugs professional player Karlis Zirnis was named head coach. While the Shreveport community may be unfamiliar with NAHL hockey, Zirnis understands the new era from every angle. In addition to his international coaching experience with the Latvian National Team, Zirnis comes to Shreveport from Nashville, where he coached the Jr. Predators of the NA3HL, the NAHL’s feeder league. He began his hockey career in the NAHL as a member of the Gaylord Grizzlies in 1997.
“I’m familiar with the process and what kind of young men we’re trying to get. It’s a little different, but a better brand of hockey (than Shreveport used to have). These young men are coming up and trying to make it to the big time. We’re going to have some young men who play in the NCAA and eventually play in the NHL,” Zirnis said. “As a first-year team we have a lot of challenges in front of us. Our first priority is making sure we have the right pieces in place to have good chemistry, so we as a staff know each player’s strengths and weaknesses.”
The Mudbugs will make their NAHL debut at the 14th annual NAHL Showcase where they will face Northeast, Janesville, Kenai River and Johnstown. As for the Mudbugs return to Shreveport, they will play their first home game on Thursday, September 29th. The last time the Mudbugs were on home ice was the Spring of 2011 when they captured in the professional CHL Championship in Game 7 of the Miron Cup. “I think starting the season it is important for use to make a good first impression and be playing well from the start. We will be facing some very good competition in the South Division. What stands out the most may the coaches in the division, as they are all very experienced and very good teachers of the game, so we are going to have to make sure we prepared for every game,” said Zirnis.
Zirnis has surrounded himself with a very capable staff. His primary assistant coach is Francis Anzalone, who was the head coach for the NAHL’s Aberdeen Wings last season. In addition, Ken Carroll, one of the greatest goaltenders in WPHL/Central Hockey League history, was named a goalie coach. Carroll will join longtime Mudbugs teammate Jason Campbell on staff as “Soupy” named as the team’s second assistant coach. The duo combined to play 16 seasons for the Mudbugs.
Zirnis said that one of the main goals for his players is to move them onto the NCAA. “I think the league has done a great job of advancing players, so that will be one of our main goals this season. We as a coaching staff want to be sure we are following the lead of the other NAHL head coaches in their commitment towards advancement of their players,” said Zirnis. “I think the other thing that stands out is the level of talent the NAHL has. We are seeing more and more players from not only the United States, but from across the world come to the NAHL because it provides them with a great opportunity for advancement and development.”
Zirnis concluded…“We have to believe in a process and stick to it. We as coaches have to make sure that our number one goal is working to make the players better each day. We have to make sure they are giving their best effort, working hard and are competing. We are going to expect big things from them, on and off the ice,” said Zirnis. “This community has been waiting a long time for the Mudbugs to return, so we not only want to give them something to cheer for on the ice, but also be a part of their community off the ice.”