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Dan Bremner (left) and Michael Harris (right) pose for a portrait in Bird Arena. (FILE)

Hockey: Former Ohio graduate assistants reunite to coach the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs

When Dan Bremner got the call, he had to call Sean Hogan. 

Bremner was midway through his first season as an assistant coach at Ohio. He started receiving calls from Mickey Gray, the president of the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs, in November 2017, and they continued through December.

But one particular call Bremner received was the one that changed his life. He was home in Ontario with his family, and Gray called.

Gray and Bremner had talked before, about two years prior. They spent time together with the Peoria Rivermen, the team that Bremner played his professional hockey with. 

But Gray’s reason for calling this time were different. The Rail Yard Dawgs of the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) were struggling, and Gray needed to make a coaching change. In mid-December, Gray asked Bremner if he could make the nearly 10-hour drive to Roanoke. 

Bremner had to let Hogan know. When he made the call, Hogan understood. At 5 a.m. the next day, Bremner was on his way to Athens to pack his stuff and head to Roanoke, 22 games into his coaching career.

“I loved my time at Ohio, and it was a great time working with coach Hogan and the team,” Bremner said. “Opportunities don’t come up all the time.”

And Bremner was successful: the Rail Yard Dawgs pivoted from a 5-11-2 record before his hiring to a 21-15-2 finish, qualifying for the last seed in the playoffs. But Bremner’s departure left Hogan with only one other graduate assistant: Michael Harris, a former Bobcat captain. 

Harris finished the season with the Bobcats and returned home to Silver Spring, Maryland, unsure of his next step in the hockey coaching world. Bremner reached out to him, asking him if he was interested in coaching for a professional hockey team. 

“I couldn’t just say no,” Harris said. “That’s a huge deal, jumping into professional hockey right outside of graduating from (Ohio).”

So Harris joined Bremner in Roanoke. The duo was coaching together again. 

When the two of them first got to Athens, they clicked almost instantly. They contacted each other to figure out a living situation. Once they knew each other, Bremner and Harris found out they have similar mindsets.

At the end of last season, Bremner talked with his boss about hiring an assistant. He thinks having a second set of eyes watching over the team is valuable, and he wanted someone that could pore over day-to-day decisions with him.

Those decisions aren’t exactly something Hogan and Ohio could prepare Bremner and Harris for. During their time in Athens, they learned to make sure all the behind the scenes things don’t fall on the players. 

And the chemistry built when the two coached at Ohio has continued. They began a seven-month season Monday, where they’ll spend about 10 hours per day together. 

“As far as seeing eye-to-eye as a coaching staff, that’s super important,” Bremner said. 

As a club team, all lot of the non-hockey details fall back on Hogan and his graduate assistants. Moving to the professional level, Harris and Bremner get to focus exclusively on hockey. People such as Gray and other front office people handle the non-hockey stuff.

Professional teams like the Rail Yard Dawgs see a lot of turnover on their rosters. Players get signed, cut, traded and moved up or down levels on a near-daily basis.

But no matter the level of hockey, whether it’s collegiate club or minor professional, the essence of coaching is still the same to Bremner and Harris.

“The preparation and the passion that you’re putting into it is the same,” Bremner said. 

Both Harris and Bremner attribute much of what they learned about coaching from their time at Ohio. They’re the latest in a line of former Bobcat graduate assistants that have left Athens to find better jobs. 

In Hogan’s four full seasons in Athens, his graduate assistants have landed jobs for teams in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, the United States Hockey League, an NCAA Division I program and, of course, the SPHL.

“We’re really proud of that track record,” Hogan said. “We develop assistant coaches here really well. They probably all have better jobs than me.” 


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