(Photo: Troy Young)
POSTSEASON TICKETS: The Wildcats will announce information for postseason ticket sales as soon as all details have been determined. Fans are encouraged to routinely check the Wildcats website and social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) for updates. Fans may also contact the Wildcats Hockey offices at (940) 716-5587 for more information.
This weekend’s set at the AmericanBank Center marks the final two regular-season meetings between the Wildcats and IceRays, and the sides’ second series in Corpus Christi. These two squads split a two-game set at the Kay Yeager Coliseum when they last squared off in January, with Wichita Falls claiming a 5-4 win on Jan. 22 before Corpus Christi rebounded with a 5-4 victory of its own the following night. Special teams played a large role in both of those contests, with the ‘Cats posting three power-play goals in their 5-4 win, before the ‘Rays’ two-for-two performance on the man-advantage proved the difference in their win the ensuing evening. Kevin Charyszyn leads all Wichita Falls skaters in scoring against Corpus Christi with nine points on five goals and four assists, while Max Reisinger has eight points against the ‘Rays (four goals, four assists). Additionally, defensemen Matt Koch (1-7-8) and Cam Knight (2-6-8) have both recorded at least a point in all six tilts against Corpus Christi this season. Despite dropping that most recent tilt against their counterparts from the Coastal Bend, the red-and-black have a solid mark against the IceRays this season, posting a 4-2-0 record in head-to-head play. Historically speaking, the Wildcats are 28-12-4 against the IceRays, and are 11-7-4 all-time at the AmericanBank Center in Corpus Christi dating back to 2010.
Inspecting the IceRays
Corpus Christi enters Friday’s contest in fourth place with 61 points and a record of 28-20-5, and is looking to build on Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime win over the Lone Star Brahmas which saw the IceRays halt a brief three-game losing skid. The ‘Rays surged out of the blocks in the second half, winning eight of 10 contests from Jan. 9 to Feb. 6, but have slipped slightly since then, posting a 4-7-0 mark in the 11 contests since then. Despite that, Corpus Christi remains a formidable foe on its home ice; the IceRays are 21-5-0 at the AmericanBank Center this season, and have yet to be swept in a weekend set in their building. Offensively, Corpus Christi is led by Wes Michaud, who has 64 points (25 goals, 39 assists) to rank third in the North American Hockey League in scoring, while first-year forward Tanner Lomsnes has enjoyed a breakout year as well, posting 53 points on 22 goals and 31 assists in 50 games played. The ‘Rays have also received major contributions from the blue line from Anthony Cortese, who has 14 goals and 32 assists for 46 points, tied with the Wildcats’ Matt Koch for most points among league defensemen. Cortese (3-5-8) and Michaud (0-8-8) have played well against Wichita Falls this year, while Lomsnes (4-2-6) and Nic LaBurn (2-3-5, four games played) have been strong as well. In net, Andrew Lindgren has spent much of the season as the top netminder, and has been the goaltender of record for the IceRays in seven-straight games and nine of their last 10 tilts. Lindgren is 21-13-3 in 39 games played, with a 2.94 goals against average and .900 save percentage.
Last Time in Corpus Christi
This weekend marks the Wildcats’ second and final regular-season series in Corpus Christi this season, after the ‘Cats and IceRays split the first two games of the season at the AmericanBank Center in October. Wichita Falls took an early 1-0 lead in the first tilt of the weekend on Oct. 30, as Kevin Charyszyn scored on the power play in the first period, but the ‘Rays took control from there, scoring five unanswered goals to take a 5-1 lead at the 12:39 mark of the second period. Charyszyn’s second tally of the game and Evan Okeley’s marker late in the middle frame gave the ‘Cats life in the contest heading into the third, but the IceRays would tack on an insurance goal and hold on for a 7-4 win.
Wichita Falls exacted revenge the next night though, using three goals from defensemen to snag a 3-1 win and earn the weekend split. After a scoreless first period, Jeff Baum and Shane Kuzmeski both scored their first-career goals in the second to give the Wildcats a 2-0 lead. Nathan Bryer would score on the power play late in the frame to cut into the ‘Cats’ advantage, but Cam Knight responded with a power-play goal of his own in the third to help the red-and-black seal the win in a game that they controlled from start to finish, as they outshot the IceRays 45-25 in the contest.
Spotlighting Special Teams
Special teams have played a large role in the previous six meetings between the Wildcats and IceRays this season, with both teams enjoying success on the power play. Wichita Falls enters this weekend’s series 11-for-29 (37.9 percent) on the man advantage against Corpus Christi, including a 5-for-10 performance on the power play when these sides last met in January. On the other side of the ice, the ‘Rays are 8-for-23 (34.8 percent) in power-play situations against the Wildcats, and recently went 4-for-6 over two games against the red-and-black at the KYC in January. In fact, both teams have found the net on the man-advantage in each of the previous six head-to-head meetings except one, when Wichita Falls held Corpus Christi scoreless on the power play on Oct. 31, a 3-1 win for the ‘Cats. The red-and-black will have their hands full this weekend however, as the IceRays have killed of 15 of the last 17 penalties against them.
After a wild weekend around the division last week, the race for the South Division title has been blown wide-open. Four-point weekends for the Wildcats and Lone Star Brahmas combined with the Topeka RoadRunners only claiming one of four available points against the Amarillo Bulls has led to a new leader atop the division standings. The Brahmas currently sit in first with a two-point advantage over the ‘Runners, while the Wildcats are just four points out of first place with two games in hand on Lone Star, and one game in hand on Topeka. Whoever claims the South Division title will likely have to do so on the road, as all three teams battling for the top spot finish the season with road-heavy slates. The RoadRunners conclude their campaigns with five of their last seven away from home, while the Brahmas finish with four of their last six on the road and the ‘Cats close their campaign with eight-consecutive road games. For Wichita Falls, that total includes the completion of the game suspended due to unplayable ice conditions on Dec. 13 in Rio Grande Valley. Of the three teams still in contention, Topeka arguably has the easiest remaining schedule; only three of the ‘Runners remaining tilts are against opponents who are currently over .500, while all remaining opponents for the Wildcats and Lone Star currently own a .500 record or better.
Details Confirmed for Completion of Suspended Game
The Wichita Falls Wildcats and Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees, along with the North American Hockey League, recently confirmed details for the completion of the game between the Wildcats and Killer Bees from Dec. 13 that was suspended due to unplayable ice conditions with the Wildcats leading 3-0 and 6:04 remaining in the second period. The two teams will resume the game at 6:30 p.m. on March 19 from the point when play was suspended, and will play the contest to its completion as normal. To accommodate the completion of the suspended contest, puck drop for the game originally scheduled for March 19 will now take place at 7:45 p.m., rather than 7:30 p.m. as originally scheduled.
Playoff season is underway throughout the collegiate ranks, and multiple Wildcats alumni currently plying their trade in the Atlantic Hockey Association enjoyed strong starts to their postseason runs last weekend.
The United States Air Force Academy hosted American International College in a first-round playoff match-up and swept the Yellow Jackets by scores of 6-1 and 10-3. Tyler Ledford (2012-14) recorded five points on five assists over the two games, while Ben Kucera (2012-14) registered three points (one goal, two assists) and Will Vosejpka (2012-14) notched an assist in the sweep as well. The Falcons will square off against the RIT Tigers in an AHA quarterfinal matchup slated to begin on Friday, March 13.
Elsewhere in Atlantic Hockey, Brian Sheehan (2009-10) and the Sacred Heart Pioneers won their first postseason series since 2010 with a two-game sweep of the Army Black Knights. Sheehan, who is concluding his senior year at Sacred Heart, notched a goal in the Pioneers’ 5-2 win on Saturday to help them clinch the first-round matchup. Sacred Heart will travel to Canisius College for a quarterfinal matchup beginning Friday, March 13.
Several other Wildcats alumni will begin their postseason journeys this upcoming weekend across multiple conferences.
In the Western Collegiate Hockey Associations (WCHA), Kyle Bauman (2012-14) and the Bemidji State Beavers will host the Ferris State Bulldogs in a best-of-three playoff series, while Sami Salminen (2012-13) and the Northern Michigan Wildcats are due to travel to Bowling Green to take on the Falcons.
In the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, multiple former Wichita Falls skaters will take the ice to open the playoffs this weekend. Tucker Poolman (2011-12) and the University of North Dakota will host Colorado College in a best-of-three quarterfinal series beginning March 13, while Evan Cowley (2012-13) and Rudy Junda (2012-14) will begin their postseason run when the Denver Pioneers host the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs in a quarterfinal matchup.