(Photo: Troy Young)
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Featuring teams separated by just one point at the top of the South Division standings with only two games remaining, the weekend series between the Wildcats and Brahmas is sure to be a hotly-contested affair. When these two teams last met on Feb. 18 at the Kay Yeager Coliseum, Wichita Falls erased a two-goal gap in the third period to force overtime and earn a point, before eventually succumbing to Lone Star in a shootout. The ‘Cats split their only previous road series with Lone Star at the end of January, bouncing back from a 6-3 defeat on Jan. 30 with a 4-3 victory on Jan. 31, a win that marked the Brahmas’ first regulation loss of the season at the NYTEX Centre in North Richland Hills. Games between the Wildcats and Brahmas have typically been close contests this year, with four of six tilts decided by one goal, and three of the six previous meetings needing overtime or a shootout to determine a winner. Forward Austin Beaulieu leads all Wichita Falls skaters with seven points (four goals, three assists) against Lone Star, while Sebastian Vidmar (three goals, five assists) leads the Brahmas in head-to-head scoring against the ‘Cats. The Wildcats are 3-2-1 in head-to-head competition against their rivals from the Metroplex this season. Dating back to last year, the ‘Cats are 8-5-2 all-time against Lone Star, and are 3-3-1 at the NYTEX Centre.
The Brahmas enter this weekend’s series sitting in first place in the South Division with a record of 38-12-8, and currently hold a one-point lead on the second-place Wildcats. Lone Star recently concluded a five-game road trip by splitting a weekend set against the Wenatchee Wild to finish the road trip with a 3-1-1 mark, posting a 4-1 win on Mar. 21 after a 4-3 defeat the night before. With a record of 23-2-1 at the NYTEX Centre in North Richland Hills, the Brahmas will be eager to return to home ice on Friday. Entering play this weekend, Lone Star averages 4.14 goals-per-game at home as opposed to 2.83 GPG on the road, and is holding opponents under two goals per game (1.96 goals-against-per-game) at the NYTEX Centre. The Brahmas are led on offense by their all-Swede first line that features the league’s leading scorer, Sebastian Vidmar (34-45-79), along with Ludvig Larsson (21-33-54) and Oskar Andren (17-29-46). Lone Star has also received sizeable contributions from first-year skater AJ Vanderbeck, who has 20 goals and 13 assists for 33 points in 54 games. In net, TJ Black and Jake Kupsky have recorded similar numbers as they have split time evenly this season. Black is 20-8-4 with a 2.03 goals-against-average and .914 save percentage in 34 games played, while Kupsky owns an 18-4-4 mark, 2.09 GAA and .913 save percentage.
Last Time in Lone Star
This weekend marks the Wildcats’ second trip to North Richland Hills this season, with the red-and-black splitting their previous series with the Brahmas at the NYTEX Centre on Jan. 30 and 31. Wichita Falls started that weekend in strong fashion, taking a 2-0 lead in the first six minutes of the first period on goals by Jake Townsend and Matt Koch on Jan. 30. However, Lone Star stormed back with four-unanswered tallies, including three in the second period to take a 4-2 lead into the third. Nick Farmer cut into the deficit with a goal early in the period, but the Brahmas pulled away in the closing minutes with two goals in less than 30 seconds to claim a 6-3 win.
Undeterred, the ‘Cats roared out of the gates the next night, taking a 1-0 lead when Austin Beaulieu scored just 15 seconds into the first period on Jan. 31. Second-period strikes from Colin Staub, Alex Falconer and Townsend, combined with a pair of stellar saves by Austin Shaw staked Wichita Falls to a 4-0 edge entering the final frame. After being held in-check for most of the third period, Lone Star began to mount a comeback following a power-play goal for Storm Wahlrab with just over nine minutes remaining. However, the effort would fall just short despite goals from Roman Uchyn and Ludvig Larsson in the game’s waning stages, as the Wildcats claimed the 4-3 win and dealt the Brahmas their first regulation loss of the season at the NYTEX Centre.
Playoff Picture (Read More)
As the regular season enters its final stages, all six playoff spots have been claimed in the South Division after Amarillo’s loss to Wichita Falls on Tuesday clinched postseason berths for the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees and Wenatchee Wild. However, there is still much to be decided in the race for the South Division playoffs. Entering Friday’s contest, the Corpus Christi IceRays have locked up the fourth seed and will have home ice in one of the division’s two play-in series, but all other spots are still in flux. Wenatchee and RGV are one point apart in the fight for fifth and sixth seed. At the top of the division, the Wildcats, Brahmas and RoadRunners are separated by just two points as they battle for the division title. Topeka is the only team out of those three to control its own destiny with regard to the division title, and will win the South Division with a three-game sweep of the Wild. For Wichita Falls to win the division, the ‘Cats must claim one more point than the Brahmas in their weekend series, and also need the RoadRunners to drop at least one point in Wenatchee. In order for Lone Star to win the division, the Brahmas must earn either the same amount or more points than the Wildcats this weekend, while also hoping the ‘Runners do not claim maximum points in their three games.
808s and Tie-Break
Should any of the teams in the South Division finish level on points, their final position in the standings will be determined by applying the following tie-breaking procedures: A) Most wins during the regular season, B) Head-to-head competition during the regular season, C) Goal differential in head-to-head competition during the regular season, D) Total goal differential during the regular season, E) Coin flip. If Wichita Falls finishes tied on points with Topeka with an identical number of wins, the Wildcats would own the tie-breaker by virtue of having a 27-25 edge in head-to-head goal differential during the regular season. With two games left to play between the two teams, tiebreakers between the ‘Cats and Brahmas are yet to be settled.
A Historic Win
When the Wildcats closed out their 6-1 victory over the Amarillo Bulls on Tuesday night, they re-wrote a bit of team history in the process. The win marked the 39th triumph of the season for Wichita Falls, setting a new franchise record for most wins in a single season, surpassing the previous mark of 38 wins achieved in 2007-08. The new high-water mark for wins comes on the heels of the ‘Cats breaking the team record for most goals in a single season in their 3-2 win over the Corpus Christi IceRays on Mar. 14, a record that was also set in 2007-08. Wichita Falls enters this weekend with 237 goals scored to its credit this campaign, besting the mark of 220 goals scored set by the 2007-08 squad.
Sights on Sixty
After reaching the 50-point plateau with a goal against the Wenatchee Wild on Mar. 6 and posting six points over his last five games, forward Colin Staub now has his sights set on reaching 60 points. Should Staub pick up two points over the Wildcats’ final contests, he would become the first skater to reach 60 points for Wichita Falls since Brian Sheehan posted 60 on 29 goals and 31 assists in 2009-10. Staub would also be just the ninth skater in team history to register 60 points in a single season, joining: Kevin Huck (24-54-78), Chad Costello (29-34-63) and Kyle Kramer (29-33-62) in 2004-05; Kramer (27-41-68) in 2005-06; Adam Cardwell (32-59-91), Luke Salazar (41-46-87) and Grant Everett (19-50-69) in 2007-08; and Sheehan (29-31-60) in 09-10.
Shaw Rewrites Another Rookie Record
Goaltender Austin Shaw has enjoyed a strong season in his first year of junior hockey. Boasting a record of 26-7-3, the Colorado-native has set a new team record for most wins in a single-season by a Wildcats goaltender in his first season of junior hockey, surpassing Evan Cowley’s mark of 22 wins set during the 2012-13 campaign. This is not the first time Shaw has written himself into the Wildcats record-book this season. Previously, his shutout streak of 106:09 stretching over his first two career appearances set a new franchise record for longest shutout streak to start a career by a Wildcats goaltender, surpassing Eric Gravaglia’s mark of 75:39 to start his career in 2010-11. Shaw needs just one more win to tie the franchise record for most wins in a single season, set by Mike Jarboe (27) during the 2007-08 campaign.
Shore-’Cats Chase Championship (Read More)
While the Wichita Falls Wildcats are striving for a South Division title this weekend, their counter-parts from the Jersey Shore are approaching the final hurdle in the hunt for the North American 3 Eastern Hockey League championship. After winning the Western Conference title with a clean sweep over the Wilkes Barre Miners, the Jersey Shore Wildcats (40-1-0) will face the New Hampshire Fighting Spirit (33-6-2) in a best-of-three series beginning on Friday in Lewiston, Maine. The Shore ‘Cats swept the regular-season series against the Spirit, posting three one-goal wins in the process. Jersey Shore is led on offense by Ilya Spektor, who has nine points in five playoff games, and Alexander Racicot, who recorded 63 points on 30 goals and 33 assists during the regular season.
The Wildcats will be well-represented when the 2015 NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Championship begins on Mar. 27, with four players competing for three different schools boasting ties to Wichita Falls.
In the Midwest Regional, defenseman Brad Shumway (2011-12) and the RIT Tigers will skate against the top-seeded Minnesota State University, Mankato on Mar. 28 at 3 p.m. Central Daylight Time. Shumway and the Tigers earned a berth into the national tournament by defeating Mercyhurst University, 5-1, in the Atlantic Hockey Championship on Mar. 21.
In the West Regional, Tucker Poolman (2011-12) and North Dakota will take on Quinnipiac University on Mar. 27 at 7 p.m. CDT. Poolman, who was drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in 2013, and North Dakota earned an at-large bid to the tournament with a record of 27-9-3.
In the East Regional, a pair of Pioneers will represent Wichita Falls when the University of Denver (23-13-2) takes on the Boston College Eagles on Mar. 28 at 2 p.m. CDT. Evan Cowley (2012-13) and Rudy Junda (2012-14) will be hoping to help Denver exact revenge for a 6-2 loss to BC that eliminated the Pioneers from the national tournament in 2014.
In other alumni news, defenseman Steven Hoshaw (2009-11) has signed a professional contract with the Tulsa Oilers of the ECHL. Hoshaw, who recently completed his collegiate career with the American International College Yellow Jackets, wasted no time picking up his first professional point, notching an assist in Tulsa’s 2-1 win over the Quad-City Mallards on Mar. 18. Hoshaw is in good company in the ECHL, joining fellow-Wildcats alumni Chad Costello (2004-05) of the Allen Americans, Zack Josepher (20006-07) of the Elmira Jackals and Kyle Kraemer (2004-06) of the Colorado Eagles.