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McNabb's scoring touch paying off for Wildcatters

by Brian Compton

One of the many reasons for the Texas Wildcatters’ early season success is veteran forward John McNabb. The 29-year-old has racked up 15 points (nine goals, six assists) in the first 10 games of the season.
Each year, Texas Wildcatters coach Malcolm Cameron likes to take his team on a preseason journey that he believes will help bring it closer together.

In 2002, he took the Cincinnati Cyclones to Europe. Last season, he and the Wildcatters spent more than a week in southwestern Florida.

This October, the Wildcatters were in Alaska, doing all types of team-building exercises, from bowling to sightseeing.

Ten games into the 2007-08 campaign, it’s become pretty clear – and painfully obvious to the majority of the South Division – that Cameron’s exercises have paid off. Texas is off to an 8-1-1 start, outscoring its opponents 41-24 along the way.

“We went to Alaska for a week, and then we flew right to Atlanta to play Augusta and Charlotte to start the season,” said Cameron, now in his second season in Texas after spending the previous two with the Long Beach Ice Dogs. “I think all those days on the road really brings your team together. The guys are pretty tight. I think our chemistry right now is something that I wouldn’t have expected to see until maybe late December.”

One of the many reasons for the Wildcatters’ early season success is veteran forward John McNabb. The 29-year-old – who spent the past three years with the Austin Ice Bats in the Central Hockey League – has racked up 15 points (nine goals, six assists) in the first 10 games of the season.

The Calgary native is pleased to be back in the ECHL, where he hasn’t played since splitting the 2003-04 season between Long Beach and Florida. He finished with 29 goals, 30 assists and 94 penalty minutes.

“It’s a change of pace,” McNabb said. “It’s a little bit quicker. It’s a little bit of a challenge. It’s a little different from the Central League, but the leagues are pretty much comparable. The first lines are, anyway, that’s for sure.”

Cameron reached a deal with McNabb late in the summer after speaking with one of the latter’s former coaches – new Dayton coach Bill McDonald. Cameron was told McNabb still possessed that competitive drive and was worth taking a chance on. So far, the signing has certainly paid dividends for the Wildcatters.

“John has been great,” Cameron said. “After three years in the Central Hockey League, not a lot of people maybe were ready to take a chance on him back in our league, especially because his stats were a little bit down last year. Bill told me he’s still got the fire and he still can score goals and he’s still ready to compete every night.”

McNabb has settled into his new home, which, lucky for him, is near his new home. The 6-foot-1 left wing recently purchased a house in Austin and was fortunate enough to land a deal with Texas. As far as the Wildcatters go, McNabb couldn’t be happier with the way things are going both on the ice and in the locker room.

“It makes it fun to go to work when you get along with all of your teammates – and you’re winning,” McNabb said. “The atmosphere is always going to be good. Practices are good. I’m just really happy to be here.”

Cameron raved about McNabb’s attitude, as the veteran has brought much more than the impressive numbers that he’s delivered through the team’s first 10 games. The Texas coach says McNabb – a nine-year veteran – has established himself as a leader in Beaumont.

“You see his stats this year – and they’re great – but it’s all the other things that he’s doing,” Cameron said. “He’s playing physical, he’s back-checking hard. He’s blocking shots … all the things that sometimes you don’t get out of your veteran players at our level. He’s doing it all. He’s really stepped up and been a good leader. He’s our most senior guy in terms of pro experience.”

Combine that with some solid defensive play and some stellar goaltending from the duo of veteran Peter Aubry and rookie/Minnesota Wild prospect Anton Khudobin, and it’s made for a fantastic start in Texas. Cameron hopes the attitude his team has brought to the table to start the season will continue in the coming months.

“They’re really enjoying the success that we’re having,” Cameron said. “What’s got to motivate them is the fear of it stopping. That’s something I see in our guys even in practice right now. They’re so competitive. They’re pushing each other every day in practice and that’s a great thing. Obviously you can’t win them all, but I like the attitude that we have. We have a fear of losing and stopping this good feeling that we have. As long as we continue to have that attitude, we’re going to be successful.”

They’re going to need to in order to keep pace in the South Division, which is stockpiled with talent. Despite their remarkable start, the Wildcatters currently find themselves tied with the Gwinnett Gladiators for the division lead with 17 points. Gwinnett, too, is off to an 8-1-1 start.

“They’re a pretty good club,” McNabb said of Gwinnett. “They’re a little bit chippier than us. We’re a little bit more of a hard-working, finesse team. They’ve got a good squad and they’re the real deal, that’s for sure.”

Around the ECHL -- South Carolina rookie Josh Johnson was named the Goaltender of the Week after going 2-0-0 with a 2.40 goals-against average, which catapulted the Stingrays into third place in the South Division. South Carolina also signed rookie forward Trent Campbell, who had been playing in France. … The Columbia Inferno acquired forward Liam Huculak from the Idaho Steelheads in exchange for future considerations. … The Augusta Lynx sent goaltender Dave McKee to the Phoenix Roadrunners for defenseman Nick Toneys and future considerations. … Chris Blight of the Reading Royals was named the Player of the Week after notching eight points (six goals, two assists) in four games, three of which were victories. Reading currently sits in second place in the North Division at 8-5-0. … Stockton Thunder forward Jesse Bennefield was suspended for three games by the ECHL after being handed a Physical Abuse of Officials game misconduct penalty (Rule 41, Category III). Bennefield was set to complete his suspension last night at Victoria.


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