Firebirds Also Round Out Hockey Operations Staff for Inaugural Season Appointing Athletic and Training Staff
The Coachella Valley Firebirds (@Firebirds), the 32nd American Hockey League franchise and affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Seattle Kraken (@SeattleKraken), have finalized their coaching roster for the inaugural season with the hiring of Stu Bickel as assistant coach and Erik Elenz as video analyst. The team has also built out their hockey operations staff with the addition of Brian Garcia, Brett Bernstein, Colin Zulianello, Mike Donoghue, Shawn Thorns, and Justin Broy.
“We are excited to add Stu and Erik to our coaching staff,” Firebirds head coach Dan Bylsma stated. “Stu brings a wealth of knowledge and playing experience to the Valley. He will play a key role in developing our team’s defensive game. Erik’s video expertise at the NCAA and international levels will make him a tremendous asset to our organization. I am looking forward to collaborating with my coaching staff as we head into the opening of the season.”
Stu Bickel joins the Firebirds coaching staff after serving as the assistant coach for the AHL’s Springfield Thunderbirds for the 2021-2022 season. Bickel previously served as head coach and assistant manager for the Minnesota Magicians in the North American Hockey League. A native of Minnesota, Bickel also worked as an assistant coach at his alma mater, the University of Minnesota from 2018-2020. As a player, Bickel skated in 76 NHL games from 2011-2015 for the New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild. The defenseman/winger completed over 10 AHL seasons with several different teams scoring 12 goals, 42 assists, and racked up 919 penalty minutes in 310 games.
Erik Elenz most recently spent two seasons as director of video for the University of Vermont Men’s Ice Hockey team. Elenz was named to the Team Germany coaching staff for the 2022 IIHF World Championships in Helsinki, Finland. Elenz graduated from the University of Vermont in 2022.
Brian Garcia will serve as head equipment manager for the Firebirds. Garcia, known around hockey circles as “Elvis”, has been involved in professional hockey for 20 seasons, dating back to his debut role in 2001-2002 with the WCHL’s Long Beach Ice Dogs. The Southern California-native previously served as head equipment manager for the AHL’s Texas Stars from 2008-09 until 2020-21. Garcia worked his 1,000th professional hockey game on November 18, 2018.
Brett Bernstein joins the Firebirds as the head athletic trainer, a position he previously held with the AHL’s San Diego Gulls. Bernstein was a seasonal athletic training intern with the Los Angeles Chargers during the 2020-21 season. Prior to his time in the NFL, Bernstein spent two years at Michigan State University as a graduate assistant athletic trainer for men’s soccer, tennis, and football programs. Bernstein earned a master’s degree in kinesiology from Michigan State University and a bachelor’s degree in athletic training from Pennsylvania State University, while also assisting as an athletic training student for the men’s hockey program. The Melrose Park, Pennsylvania-native is a Certified Athletic Trainer through the NATA’s Board of Certification, a Corrective Exercise Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and is Graston Technique certified.
Colin Zulianello will take on the role of goaltending coach. Zulianello most recently served as goaltending coach for Lakehead University in his native Thunder Bay, Ontario. Zulianello spent three seasons as the goaltending coach for the AHL’s Stockton Heat. From 2001 to 2005, Zulianello, a goaltender himself, played in four AHL games and 122 ECHL games after attending and playing hockey at Colorado College.
Mike Donoghue will be the Firebird’s head strength and conditioning coach. Donoghue spent the last three seasons with the NHL’s Florida Panthers in the same role after spending the previous campaign with the organization’s AHL affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds. Donoghue attended Springfield College where he was a member of the men’s lacrosse team.
Shawn Thorns will take on the role of assistant equipment manager, working under Brian Garcia. Thorns comes to the Firebirds from the ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits, where he was the team’s head equipment manager since the 2018-19 season. Before his time in Greenville, the Charleston, South Carolina-native spent time with the SPHL’s Macon Mayhem and was an assistant equipment manager with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays from 2013 to 2017.
Justin Broy voyages to the Valley to become the team’s assistant athletic trainer, working under Brett Bernstein. Broy was previously the head athletic trainer for the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints. A 2021 graduate of the University of Southern Maine, Broy interned with Boston College’s ice hockey program.