The Wildcats' extended their winning streak to three games with a sweep of the Odessa Jackalopes over the weekend, taking home victories of 6-2 and 9-3 on Friday and Saturday respectively. Five different players had multi-point games on Friday, while Sami Salminen had a hat trick on Saturday.
Friday started off surprisingly slowly as neither team managed any scoring in the opening period, but the Wildcats brought the heat in the second, starting with defenseman Chris Knudson picking up his second goal of the season for a 1-0 lead for the 'Cats. Exactly ten minutes later, Colin Staub knocked one home to extend the lead to 2-0. The final five minutes of the second kept the official scorers busy as even after the Staub goal, each team would add one more– Odessa got on the board with Anthony Olguin scoring 13 seconds later, followed by the Wildcats regaining a two-goal lead as Salminen scored his first on the weekend with 1:07 left in the middle frame.
The momentum of the late scoring kept rolling into the early part of the third as Ben Kucera and Matt Robinson each scored for a 5-1 lead. The Jackalopes got one back as leading scorer Lawrence Cornellier got in on a shorthanded breakaway and cut the Jackalopes' deficit back to four goals, but Nick Farmer added a redirection on the power play late for his second of the season, capping off a 6-2 win. Evan Cowley stopped 19 of 21 shots in net for the Wildcats. At the other end, Nick Deery was pelted with 47 shots, making 41 saves.
Five power play goals helped the Wildcats to their 9-3 victory on Saturday. Odessa got on the board first as Lawrence Cornellier put them up 1-0 only four minutes into the game. The lead would be their only one of the weekend, and short-lived to boot. Will Vosejpka tied the game a minute and a half later, followed by a pair of Salminen power play goals for a 3-1 lead.
Odessa kept it interesting to start the second, as the period began remarkably similarly to the opener: this time it was Anthony Olguin capitalizing just over four minutes in, making it a 3-2 game, followed a minute later by Wildcats’ captain Patrick Yudez getting it back, his first goal since returning from injury a week ago. Tyler Ledford added a power play goal less than two minutes later for a 5-2 lead, and an end to the night for Odessa netminder Phil Heinle. He faced 30 shots (over a shot per minute), making 25 saves. The goaltending change and a fight between Colin Staub and Johan Sjoden sparked the Jackalopes briefly, as Cornellier struck for his third goal of the weekend, but the offense would end there for them. Cooper Cook came in to replace Cowley (who shut down 9 of 12 shots faced), and the Wichita Falls defense only let four shots get on Cook the rest of the game, all of which he stopped. At the offensive end, the onslaught continued as George Pagonis and Kyle Bauman scored 39 seconds apart, and the Wildcats led 7-3 through 40 minutes.
While it would be easy to just sit back on a four-goal cushion, the Wildcats kept pushing for more, outshooting the Jackalopes 16-2 in the third, and getting Bauman's second of the night only four minutes into the period, followed by Salminen's hat trick goal midway through the final frame for the 9-3 final. The 9 goals are the most scored by the Wildcats since they hung 9 on the board in a 9-4 win over Texas on February 27, 2010, and their 52 shots on goal are the first time they have broken the half-century mark in the 2012-13 season.
The Wildcats will try to continue their hot streak with four games coming up this week: two at home against Corpus Christi, two on the road in Topeka.
WEEKEND NOTES: The Wildcats were active on the transaction wire this week, trading forward Corey Schafer to Johnstown for defenseman Kristaps Bazevics. Bazevics made his debut Saturday. Released were defenseman Robson Cramer and forward Oliver Janzen, while defenseman Brian LeBlanc was acquired from the USHL's Chicago Steel. He was a +6 with an assist in his first weekend with the Wildcats… Tyler Ledford had the team's first Gordie Howe Hat Trick of the season (a goal, an assist, and a fighting major in the same game) on Saturday. The last player to have one with the Wildcats was Tanner Fahlstedt in 2011… Cooper Cook's relief appearance in net was his first game since December 1… The five power play goals on Saturday tie a team record set on 11/28/10 when the Wildcats scored 5 goals with the man advantage in an 8-6 loss to New Mexico.
NAHL SOUTH NOTES: Typical of Topeka lately, they split their weekend series out in Amarillo, winning 4-3 in a shootout on Friday and losing 7-2 on Saturday… The Wildcats' southerly neighbors, the Texas Tornado, did the 'Cats some good, sweeping the Corpus Christi IceRays in a two-game weekend series. The Wildcats now trail the fourth place IceRays by 7 points with the start of a pivotal two-game set coming tomorrow.
BACK TO BACK?: Last week Conor O’Neil did indeed win the NAHL South Division Star of the week honors, as well as KFDX 3 Sports’ Athlete of the week. Could Sami Salminen be in the running for it this week? Keep an eye out at NAHL.com!