(Photo: Cody Wooten)
WICHITA FALLS, Texas – Two goals from Evan Okeley and a pair of shorthanded tallies carried the Wichita Falls Wildcats past the Odessa Jackalopes, 5-4, at the Kay Yeager Coliseum on Friday night.
In addition to Okeley’s goals, Matt Koch, Colin Staub and Nikita Litviak also found twine for the red-and-black, with Litviak’s goal standing as his first-career game-winning tally. Max Reisinger also had a strong night for the ‘Cats with two assists in the win, while Cam Knight, Nick Farmer, Paul Soubry and Shane Kuzmeski each tacked on a helper as well. Austin Shaw started in net for the Wildcats, making 30 saves on the way to his 19th win of the year.
Odessa controlled the opening stages of the first frame, outshooting the ‘Cats 6-1 through the first seven minutes or so, but after Shaw made a series of strong saves, it was Wichita Falls who found the net first.
An outlet pass from the defensive zone by Knight landed on the stick of Reisinger, who gained the zone, skating from right to left across the blue line as he did so. At the top of the circle, Reisinger unleashed a shot that went wide of the cage, but trampolined off the back wall to a waiting Okeley on the back door, who slammed it home. The goal, Okeley’s eight of the season, came at 13:41 of the period.
Barely two minutes later, the Wildcats doubled their lead on their first power-play opportunity of the night. After winning the faceoff, the red-and-black swung the puck around the boards from the left-wing wall to the right half-wall where Reisinger collected. The Austrian fed a pass to Koch at the point, who hesitated briefly before sending a skipping shot along the ice towards the net that evaded Tanner Creel to break a 0-for-6 run on the man advantage for Wichita Falls.
The Jackalopes came flying out of the locker room following the intermission, and cut into the Wildcats’ lead just 14 seconds into the frame when Matt Beranek outmuscled a defenseman in front to sweep home a loose puck to make it 2-1.
Wichita Falls reclaimed its two-goal edge later in the frame, and did so on a shorthanded tally.
With Knight in the box for tripping, Kuzmeski cleared the puck ahead to Soubry as the Jackalopes’ last defenseman lost his footing at the blue line. Soubry then jabbed it forward for Okeley to skate onto unimpeded and rip past Creel from above the hashmarks for his second of the game to make it 3-1.
Odessa fought back in the latter stages of the stanza though, and tied the game with two goals in 50 seconds inside the period’s last four minutes.
First, Andrew McLean scored on a slapshot from the blue line on the power play after the ‘Cats were unable to clear the zone, making it 3-2 at 16:06 of the frame. Then, moments later Derek Brown leveled the score, as he found room behind Shaw with a backhand effort from below the right circle to make it 3-3.
Both teams came out full of intent in the third period, trading multiple quality looks, but the game remained tied until the 12:13 mark of the frame when the Wildcats capitalized on another shorthanded chance.
With Jake Townsend in the penalty box for hooking, the puck pinballed free into the neutral zone for Staub to rush onto. Staub raced in on Creel on a clean break, faked a shot, and then slipped an effort through Creel’s five-hole to give the Wildcats a 4-3 lead.
The advantage was short-lived though, as Brown picked up his second of the night in front of the net to level the score right as a Jackalopes power play expired.
Just 34 seconds later, the ‘Cats took the lead for good after some mayhem in the offensive zone that saw multiple skaters have a chance at potting the game-winning goal. Eventually, the disc fell to the stick of Litviak, who muscled his shot through traffic and past Creel. The goal marks his seventh of the season, and fifth against Odessa.
The Jacks pushed forward in the final minutes, and had a chance to tie the game when Kenny Hausinger rang a shot of the post, but Wichita Falls managed to hold on for the 5-4 win.
The Wildcats and Jackalopes will conclude their two-game set when they reconvene at the KYC on Saturday. Puck drop is slated for 7:05 p.m., with all fans invited to take advantage of our 2-for-$20 ticket special in honor of Valentine’s Day. Fans that cannot make it to the game may follow all the action on FASTHockey.com, with an audio-only broadcast available via YouTube.
Single-game tickets for the 2014-15 Wildcats season are on sale now at the Kay Yeager Coliseum box office. Stay updated on the latest team news and notes by connecting with the Wildcats on Facebook (WFWildcats), Twitter (@WFWildcats), Instagram (WFWildcats) and on YouTube (Wichita Falls Wildcats).
Wichita Falls – Evan Okeley (Max Reisinger, Cam Knight) 13:41
Wichita Falls – Matt Koch (power play) (Max Reisinger) 15:45
Odessa – Matt Beranek (Dakoda Menslage, Zach Zech) 0:14
Wichita Falls – Evan Okeley (shorthanded) (Paul Soubry, Shane Kuzmeski) 6:25
Odessa – Andrew McLean (power play) (Dakoda Menslage, Hampus Sjodahl) 16:06
Odessa – Derek Brown (Kenny Hausinger, Razmuz Waxin-Engback) 16:56
Wichita Falls – Colin Staub (shorthanded) (Nick Farmer) 12:13
Odessa – Derek Brown (Daniel Kiraly, Kenny Hausinger) 14:03
Wichita Falls – Nikita Litviak (unassisted) 14:37