AMARILLO, TX – The next step…
For players in the North American Hockey League it’s the progression from junior on to either college or perhaps professional. For Assistant Coaches and Head Coaches there is also that same progression onward to the next level.
Bulls Assistant Coach Rocky Russo, who has been a mainstay in the North American Hockey League the last eight years including the last three years with the Amarillo Bulls is getting his opportunity to move on to the next phase of his career. Russo has accepted a Head Coaching position with the Philly Little Flyers of the Eastern Hockey League. That program should be quite familiar to Amarillo Bulls’ fans as it has produced John Rey and Mike Davis.
“It’s a bitter sweet moment for me as for the past three years since the inception of this program in Amarillo to be honored to work with CSH and Mr. Bill Yuill and Mr. Gary Gelinas and to be able to learn from a coach with the reputation of Dennis Williams,” said Russo. “I have had the privilege to do so. It’s now an opportunity for me to step out and be a Head Coach. I am certainly excited about that. I have learned a lot from Dennis over the course of the last three years and working for guys such as jeff Brown in St. Louis and Bob Mainhart in Youngstown. I got a good feel for what being a Head Coach is all about. I am looking forward to my opportunity.”
Russo and Head Coach Dennis Williams formed quite a formidable team in three years in the Texas Panhandle with 126 victories, three consecutive trips to the National Tournament and the final moment of winning the Robertson Cup in May. It was Russo’s eighth trip to the tournament and he finally got to hoist the trophy.
“I’ve been an assistant coach for eight years in the North American Hockey League and I am one of the biggest proponents and supporters of it,” Russo explained. “The professionalism of the league, the ability to move players on to the next level is just absolutely fantastic. I was fortunate to be part of the success of the programs that I was involved with. It’s been a great experience for me to build towards becoming a head coach. I am excited to move on to the EHL but thankful of the opportunities I have had in the NAHL.”
Bulls Head Coach Dennis Williams is thrilled for Russo to get an opportunity to be a Head Coach.
“Like any coach that has the aspirations of being a Head Coach and to run his own program, this is a great opportunity to go to a program that we got players from like John Rey and Mike Davis,” Williams said. “Knowing them well out there, and the former coach that stepped aside Steve Washco who was one of my assistants at Neumann, it’s an exciting time or Rocky. We wish him the very best of luck, we know he will do very well out there. He is a great recruiter, and coach. He will continue to stay apart of us and help us in a scouting manner and continue to keep an eye on kids for us in the East Coast.
“It’s one of those things that you hate to lose guys like that and I have worked with Rocky for three years. He was very loyal and dedicated to us. Like we are moving players on here we are also moving coaches on too. It’s an excellent opportunity and we will miss him, but we will keep track of him.”
Not only did Dennis Williams and Rocky Russo become an instant hit behind the bench with their success, but they two have become great lifelong friends. Williams said when he first hired Rocky he was looking for somebody that he could work with on and off the ice.
“I remember the conversation with him, we didn’t’ talk about x’s and o’s at all or the systems side of the game,” he said. “I was looking for a support staff of somebody who can come in and help recruit and build a program. I wanted to have somebody that I wanted to go out and have dinner with at the end of the work day. It’s been terrific to go to the office every day over the last three years with a friend like him and not look at it like a job or a business. I didn’t know him at the beginning but here we are three years later he will continue to be a great friend to me and my family.”
Russo said working a long side Dennis allowed him to learn how to handle every aspect of a Head Coaching position.
“Dennis has not only become a great mentor but an absolute terrific friend,” said Russo. “His family has been there for me since day one when I moved here to Amarillo. It’s been quite a ride with the Amarillo Bulls to build this program with Dennis. I have learned too many things to mention when it comes to coaching. I’ve learned how to handle your players, make adjustments, every aspect of the job.”
Head Coach Dennis Williams said he hopes to name a new Assistant Coach in about a week.
The 2013 Robertson Cup Champion Amarillo Bulls may have a different look behind the bench, but the tradition of winning hockey games, and moving players and coaches on to the next level that has become a hallmark of success in the North American Hockey League will continue on.
(Nathan can be reached at email@example.com)