Thursday, 03.30.2017 / 10:12 pm CT
By Alex von Keudell / Photo: Zesty Prints
Looking to snap a five-game losing streak, the Wildcats nearly mustered a dramatic comeback after an abysmal first period, but fell just short and fell 6-5 to the Odessa Jackalopes.
Oddly enough, the Cats actually had a fairly strong start to the game. They controlled the tempo and dominated play behind the Odessa goal line. They registered six of the first seven shots on goal.
However, a weak goal is all it took to deflate the Wildcats’ bench. Zac Herrmann, a defenseman, skated the puck down the left boards and into Wichita Falls territory before slinging a shot on net, clearly meant to simply buy time for his teammates to complete line changes. However, it somehow snuck past Evan Moyse’s blocker to give the Jackalopes a 1-0 lead halfway through the opening period.
The Cats’ momentum was entirely quelled following Herrmann’s goal. Chase Thudium would score by splitting the defense on a breakaway just three minutes later, and Zach Zech would score on a power play blast from the deep slot at 15:43.
Trailing 3-0, the Cats did manage a response on a power play of their own. After several crisp passes, Nick Rosa managed to tuck home his ninth goal of the season to draw to within two. However, Thudium answered with his second goal of the night just 52 seconds later to capitalize off a Wildcats turnover.
Shorthanded to start period two, the Cats fought off a penalty against Ilya Skvortsov, returned to full strength, and scored a goal just 27 seconds after doing so. Steven Tillie received a perfect pass in close quarters from Roman Kinal off an offensive zone faceoff win, and backhanded a shot past Jon Flakne’s blocker to snap a 16-game goalless skid and bring the Wildcats back to within two.
Again, Odessa refused to allow the Cats to gain ground on the scoreboard. Thudium scored a hat trick at 29:36 after Ludwig Stenlund fed him a late pass from below the Wildcats goal line. For the third straight time, the Cats responded after falling behind by three.
Kevin Fees deked past Herrmann in the neutral zone and motored into the Jackalopes zone before centering a pass for CJ Regula. Regula deflected the puck on net, forcing Flakne to kick out his right pad to stop it. After the Jacks’ goaltender made the save, the puck laid loose in the low slot, and Jonathan Waring crashed the net and shoveled it past Flakne to bring the score to 5-3.
The Cats were mired in a two-goal deficit until a gaffe in the neutral zone caused a turnover and a 2-on-1 Jackalopes rush. Zach Zech centered a pass for Connor Stuart, who tapped the puck past Dempsey to give the Jackalopes a 6-3 lead.
The Wildcats roared back four minutes later. Kevin Fees and CJ Walker each scored within a span of 1:09 to bring the score to 6-5 Odessa with 4:17 to play in regulation. Riding high on momentum, it appeared the Cats would tie the game. However, an unfortunate late penalty made things difficult.
Conceding a partial breakaway to Zach Zech, Karim Del Ponte hustled back and held Zech’s arm, leading to a two-minute holding penalty called against the Wildcats defenseman. For the closing two minutes, the Cats were forced to kill a penalty while trailing 6-5, and were unable to complete the comeback.
Moyse was pulled after allowing four goals on nineteen shots. In relief, Jared Dempsey made 30/32 saves in his 10th regulation defeat. Flakne stopped 30/35 for his eighth win. The Wildcats will take on the Jackalopes tomorrow night for the middle game of their three-game road series. The puck drops at the Ector County Coliseum at 7:05 pm CT.