“We know the fans are getting excited to see the team take the ice next season,” said Smoke GM Garth Melvin. “So we’re excited to introduce them to some of the faces they’re going to see when they come to the arena.”
Kansas City’s new head coach will be a familiar face for fans of the SHL’s minor league. Randy Bergner was the coach of the Omaha Ashcats, former affiliate of the Seattle Sailors. Under Bergner’s leadership, the Ashcats finished with a 38-21-1 record, best in the league. They were stunned in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual champion Utah Owls. Omaha will be Kansas City’s affiliate this coming season, and Bergner is excited to remain in the area and receive a promotion.
“When Garth called me and asked me to come in for an interview, I thought they were maybe looking at me to coach Omaha,” said Bergner. “That sounded pretty great to me, because I’d enjoyed my time there and I wanted to stay. But after we’d talked for a bit, I realized he was looking at me for the top job. Even better!”
Bergner hopes to instill in the Smoke the same team-first spirit he oversaw with the Ashcats. “We didn’t have a big star to build around in Omaha, so we focused on building a tight, cohesive unit,” Bergner told reporters. “And that’s what I expect to do here. That Three Musketeers all-for-one-and-one-for-all attitude, that’s what we’re shooting for.” The coach credited his assistant, Rex Claymore, with helping to create that spirit in Omaha; Claymore will join Bergner in KC.
Joining Bergner and Claymore at the press conference was the Smoke’s first official player: defenseman Jon Rogers. The 22-year-old graduated from Minnesota State-Bemidji and went to training camp with Seattle on a professional tryout agreement, but failed to make the team. He spent the season in the KHL instead, putting up 3 goals and 6 assists, but the British Columbia native was eager for an opportunity to return to North America. Rogers is considered a stay-home blueliner who’s not afraid to scrap.
“I saw Jon in camp last season and I was impressed,” said Bergner. “It was a numbers game when he got cut, but I definitely took his name down. I felt he was a guy who could play at this level if he got a chance. So when I got hired here, he was my first call. After my wife, I mean.”
“I’m really grateful I made that much of an impression,” said Rogers. “I’m honored to be the first official player for this franchise. This is a terrific opportunity, and I hope I can make my career here.”
Melvin said that the coaches and player will spend the offseason visiting schools, shopping centers, and bars in the Kansas City area, meeting the locals and educating them about the Smoke and the SHL. “We know the fans here might not be totally tuned in to hockey yet,” said Melvin. “So we want to get out into the community, let ’em know we’re here, and get’ em fired up for the season to come.”