(Photo: Troy Young)
The 2013-14 season proved to be an historic and memorable year, as the Wildcats began the season by celebrating their 10th season in Wichita Falls.
Under the stewardship of Head Coach Paul Baxter, the Wildcats roster featured a solid mix of returning veterans and promising newcomers. Wichita Falls stormed out of the gates at the beginning of the season, posting a 6-1-1 record through the month of September.
The Wildcats continued that strong play throughout the remainder of the first half, as they rode a six-game winning streak to sole possession of first place in the South Division heading into the holiday break. That six-game run was capped off by a road sweep of the Amarillo Bulls on Dec. 20 and 21, the Wildcats’ first-ever two-game sweep of the Bulls.
In the second half, the red-and-black had their share of ups and downs at home, but continued to thrive on the road, earning marquee wins against the Topeka Roadrunners and Amarillo Bulls on their way to finishing the campaign with 19 road wins. That success away from home proved crucial in the club’s playoff push, as Wichita Falls secured its first postseason berth since the 2010-11 campaign.
Although a first-round defeat ended the Wildcats’ season, the year provided multiple historical tidbits. The 2013-14 Wildcats finished with a 31-25-4 record to become the second-winningest team in franchise history, behind the 2007-08 squad that finished 38-18-2. The team’s 19 wins away from home tied the franchise high-water mark in that regard, which was also set during the 2007-08 campaign. Furthermore, 2013-14 saw the ‘Cats set a new club record for fewest goals allowed in a single season (157), as well as most shorthanded goals in a single season (11).
Individually speaking, many Wildcats players had moments to remember throughout the course of the campaign. Defenseman Sam Piazza finished the year with 37 points (11 goals, 26 assists) to set a new single-season record for most points by a Wildcats defenseman. Piazza parlayed his strong season into a Division I commitment to the University of Michigan, making him the first player in team history to commit to the Wolverines. Forward Evan Okeley also made a mid-season Division I commitment, committing to the United States Air Force Academy for the 2015-16 season.
The Wildcats also had three players selected to represent Wichita Falls at the North American Hockey League’s Top Prospect Tournament in February; Piazza led the Wildcats delegation along with forward Kyle Bauman and goalie David Zevnik. Even international competitions featured Wildcats players, as defenseman Kristaps Bazevics represented Latvia at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championships.
The season’s successes were not limited to the ice however. Throughout the year, Wildcats players partnered with organizations such as Christmas in Action and the Wichita Falls Area Food Bank, spent time volunteering in area schools, and were heavily involved in both local and national fundraising efforts.
In November, the ‘Cats and their fans raised over $3,000 in support of the Movember Foundation, and their efforts to fight prostate and testicular cancer, the most money raised by any NAHL franchise. January saw the Wildcats continue their successful partnership with Children’s Miracle Network and United Regional Health Care System through the annual “Jersey off Our Back” night, which raised more than $30,000 for CMN at United Regional.
This year proved to be an eventful one for former Wildcats as well, as two alumni reached the pinnacle of the sport during the 2013-14 season. Zach Trotman, a defenseman for Wichita Falls during the 2008-09 season, made his National Hockey League debut for the Boston Bruins on Dec. 28, 2013, while goaltender Cal Heeter (2006-07) made his first-career NHL start for the Philadelphia Flyers on April 13, 2014. Former Wildcats forward Zach Pochiro (2011-12) also joined the professional ranks this season, as he signed a three-year entry level contract with the St. Louis Blues following a successful two-year stint in the Western Hockey League.
Although the season is over, preparations have already begun for the 2014-15 campaign, with pre-draft camps and the NAHL Entry Draft scheduled for the coming months. Be sure to stay tuned to www.wfwildcatshockey.com to stay current on all the latest news and notes.