When Duston Fender heard the news that the Rogue Valley had been awarded an expansion franchise to began play in the Northern Pacific Hockey League this season, he was understandably excited.

When Duston Fender heard the news that the Rogue Valley had been awarded an expansion franchise to began play in the Northern Pacific Hockey League this season, he was understandably excited.

A three-year veteran of the North Medford High program, Fender was the second player to sign on with the new team last summer.

"I wanted to play in my hometown in front of friends and family," he said.

Things quickly went sour for Fender, however. A natural forward, Fender found himself spending more and more time on the blue line as coaches Brad Ouldhouse and Kevin Schwartz tried to compensate for a lack of natural defensemen. Fender scored five goals and had 12 points in 17 games. But as the team's losses mounted, so did his frustration. In mid-October, he asked to be traded or released. The team agreed and dealt he and Bobby Reiber to Eugene the next day in exchange for Clayton Lewis and Tom Blake.

"I didn't see that much progress and I didn't feel like it would be benefitting me personally," Fender said. "Some of the players weren't giving it their all. I felt I'd have a lot more opportunities."

From the outset, few families had been bigger supporters of the team than the Fenders. Duston's father, Rocky, helped with construction of the team's locker room and served as a volunteer off-ice official. Rocky and Robin, Duston Fender's mom, also served as host family for several players from outside of the area. But the desire to see the team win — or at least make progress — took it's toll.

"I got pretty frustrated with the management and coaching," Rocky Fender said. "My whole problem with Kevin was that he never coached at this level. You can't expect the players to improve if you don't have the coaches to teach them."

Rocky Fender estimated he will spend between $7-$8,000 this year on player fees, equipment and other hockey related items for Duston.

"When you're paying this kind of money as a parent, you want to get the best bang for your buck," he said.

"You're investing hoping that they (player) will get picked up by a Tier I or II team. It's very competitive out there. You have to look at it like getting an education," Rocky Fender said. "It's not the players I had a problem with. It was a lot of frustration with the management and coaching levels."

"It comes down to coaching. They need to get tight on these kids. They're too lax. You have to earn the respect of the kids. There's a time to be their friend and a time to be their coaches.

"(Duston) didn't want to waste the whole year. It was hard to say goodbye."

Fender has two goals and an assist in six games — all victories — with a Eugene team that figures to contend for a playoff spot.

"Some of the coaches here have more experience," Duston Fender said. "It has a lot to do with coaching. They've been coaching juniors before."

As for the Wranglers?

"Once they get their first win, I can see things getting better," he said. "I would love to see that team succeed."

Reach Mark Vinson at 776-4499, or e-mail mvinson@mailtribune.com