ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — From a canceled season to runners-up in the Southern Professional Hockey League, this is how Mickey Gray sums up the last two years in a single sentence.
“There’s been a lot of downs, a lot of ups, I mean probably roller coaster is the best way to describe it,” Gray said.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rail Yard Dawgs president decided to pull the plug on the 2020-21 season.
“It was both the toughest and the easiest decision,” Gray said “I knew that by making that decision, it was going to allow hockey to continue on in the future. If we had tried to push it or attempted to have a season when we shouldn’t have, that’s when you start putting the long term health of the organization in jeopardy.”
After 18 months off the ice, the Dawgs returned. And for the fourth season, they were under the direction of Dan Bremner, who was hired by Gray in 2017.
“Dan’s a leader. Dan is tough, Dan is accountable. True leadership is shown when things are tough,” Gray said.
Things did get tough when the Dawgs lost 17 of 19 games during the second half of the season. At one point, the team had dropped nine in a row.
“We just kept telling ourselves to stay the process,” Gray said. “I tend to be a pretty blunt person and we were not doing well for awhile. In our organization, we were all accountable and we have to take ownership of what’s ever going on. I certainly gave him my feedback on what I thought and at the end of the day, it is up to him. He takes control of that hockey side.”
Roanoke did turn its season around, grabbing the final spot in the playoffs and upsetting the top two seeds en route to the Dawgs’ first ever appearance in the President’s Cup finals.
Now the goal is for the Dawgs to build off their historic run.
“I know that Dan has got a good relationship with his players. They will go through a brick wall for him. He’s busy securing the core of guys that we can off of the team that was just very successful,” Gray said.
No matter who ends up on the ice next season, it won’t be too long until the rink gets reassembled for opening night on Oct. 21.