(Photo: Troy Young)
TICKETS: Single-game tickets for the first round of the playoffs are now on sale through the Kay Yeager Coliseum box office, and can be purchased in person or by calling (940) 716-5555. Tickets start at just $10 for adults, and $8 for children.
When the Wildcats and Killer Bees meet in the first round of the 2015 Robertson Cup playoffs, it will mark the first-ever postseason meeting between the two teams. Wichita FAlls posted a 5-1-2 record against Rio Grande Valley this season, including a 3-1-0 mark at the Kay Yeager Coliseum. Dating back to last season, the ‘Cats own a 9-4-3 mark in regular-season play against RGV, including a 4-3-1 all-time mark at the KYC. The red-and-black earned four of an available six points when these two teams last met in the regular season on March 19 and 20, posting a 4-0 win in the continuation of a previously-suspended game before dropping the next two contests in overtime and a shootout, respectively, although Wichita Falls did erase a two-goal deficit in both of those tilts to secure a point in each. Austin Beaulieu (3-5-8) and Colin Staub (1-7-8) are tied for the team-lead in scoring against the Killer Bees, with Matt Koch following close behind with seven points on seven assists in eight games played. Nick Farmer has also been solid against RGV, compiling six points on four goals and two assists, a total that includes a pair of game-winning goals. Both Wichita Falls netminders have been solid against RGV this season, with Austin Shaw going 2-1-1 with two shutouts, a 0.99 goals against average and .957 save percentage, while David Zevnik is 3-0-1 with a 2.20 GAA and .912 save percentage against the Bees. For Rio Grande Valley, Stathis Soumelidis (4-3-7) leads the Bees in head-to-head scoring against the ‘Cats, with Parker Wood close behind with a 4-1-5 line, a total that includes a hat-trick recorded in the Bees’ 4-3 shootout win on March 20. In net, Ben Johansson owns a 2-3-0 record, 2.78 GAA and .895 save percentage against the Wildcats; Nick Schmit is 1-2-0 against Wichita Falls, with a 2.68 GAA and .917 save percentage.
The Wildcats are primed for a prolonged postseason run in their seventh trip to the North American Hockey League’s Robertson Cup playoffs, and second in as many seasons. Wichita Falls owns a 7-18-0 all-time record in postseason play and is still on the prowl for the first playoff-series win in franchise history, but this year brings plenty of reasons for optimism. Bolstered by the league’s most potent offense, the ‘Cats finished the regular season with a 39-16-5 mark, which set a new franchise record for most wins in a single season, and also marked the first time in team history that Wichita Falls had recorded consecutive 30-win campaigns. Included in that overall record is a 21-6-1 mark at the Kay Yeager Coliseum, which stands as the team’s best-ever record at the KYC, surpassing the 18-8-1 mark from the 2007-08 campaign; the 21 wins at the KYC also represent a 10-win improvement from the Wildcats’ home record from 2013-14.
Killer Bee Buzz
Rio Grande Valley enters the 2015 Robertson Cup playoffs as the sixth seed in the South Division after finishing the regular season with a 25-25-10 record. The Killer Bees have been one of the division’s stronger teams in the second half of the year, as Rio Grande Valley rebounded from a 10-16-5 record in the first half by going 15-9-5 over the final three months of the campaign. Anthony Croston led the Bees’ attack this season, notching 13 goals and 32 assists for 45 points, with Parker Wood (18 goals, 19 points) and Dallas Gerads (20 goals, 11 assists) posting strong seasons as well. Nick Schmit and Ben Johansson have split time evenly between the pipes this season, appearing in 34 games apiece, although Johansson earned the decision in three of the Killer Bees’ final four tilts. Johansson finished the season with a 15-9-5 record, 2.68 goals against average and .891 save percentage; Schmit closed the campaign at 10-15-5, with a 2.88 GAA and .897 save percentage.
With an average output of 4.03 goals per game, the Wildcats finished the regular season as the league’s top offense. Wichita Falls found the net a league-high 242 times to set a new team record for most goals in a single season, surpassing the 220 goals scored during the 2007-08 campaign. The red-and-black spread the offense around this year, as five different Wildcats players reached 50 points and 11 total players posted at least 30 points, setting new high-water marks for most skaters north of 50 and 30 points in a single season, respectively. Additionally, Wichita Falls was one of just two teams out of 24 in the North American Hockey League to finish the season with a different team-leader in goals (Kevin Charyszyn, 27), assists (Matt Koch, 44) and points (Colin Staub, 60). The only other team in the NAHL to conclude the campaign with a different skater leading the team in each of those categories was the Springfield Jr. Blues.
Sixty Points for Staub
When Colin Staub found the net twice in against the Brahmas last Friday, it gave him 60 points on the season (26 goals, 34 assists). Staub is the first player to reach 60 points for Wichita Falls since Brian Sheehan posted 60 on 29 goals and 31 assists in 2009-10. Staub is 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.
Power-Play is Paramount
Success on the power play played a large role in the high-powered Wildcats offense this season. The ‘Cats went 55-for-220 (25.0 percent) on the power play to lead the North American Hockey League in power-play percentage, while also establishing a new team record for best power-play percentage in a season. When Wichita Falls found twine while up a man, it usually meant good things for the red-and-black; the Wildcats went 27-8-2 in games in which they record a power-play marker, as opposed to a 12-7-3 record when being blanked on the man-advantage this year. The red-and-black’s first round series will pit the power play against a penalty kill for Rio Grande Valley that finished at 79.6 percent (199-for-250), 21st in the league. The Wildcats went nine-for-31 (29.0 percent) on the man-advantage against the Killer Bees during the regular season.
Keep ‘Em Quiet on the Kill
The Wildcats have made strides on the penalty kill of late, finishing the season by killing off 28 of their opponent’s 30 power-play opportunities (93.3 percent) over the final seven games of the year. During the regular season, Wichita Falls compiled a 20-4-1 mark when holding its opponent scoreless on the man-advantage, compared to a 19-12-4 record when the ‘Cats opponent tallied a power-play goal. The Wildcats went 29-for-32 (9.4 percent) on the penalty kill against the Killer Bees during the regular season.
From Falls to Falls
Earlier this week, forward Nick Farmer became the latest Wildcats player to commit to play Division I hockey when he announced his commitment to the Niagara University Purple Eagles of the Atlantic Hockey Association. When he next takes the ice, the veteran will become the 11th player with a Division I commitment to skate for the Wildcats this season, marking the highest total of any team in the NAHL. He is also the 70th player in franchise history to make a Division I commitment, and is the first skater in team history to commit to Niagara University.
Shore-‘Cats Secure Championship
The Jersey Shore Wildcats capped off their impressive season in style last weekend, claiming the inaugural North American 3 Eastern Hockey League Championship with a 3-2 victory in double-overtime on Sunday. After assisting on the first Jersey Shore goal of the night, Adam Skutchan scored the championship-clinching goal at 2:17 of the second extra session. Ilya Spektor also scored in the game, and finished the postseason as the Wildcats leading playoff scorer with 12 points (six goals, six assists). With a roster that featured Wichita Falls-natives JaColbie McGowan and Loftin Davoult, Jersey Shore finished the year with a combined record of 46-3-0.
Last weekend, the Wildcats were well-represented in the regional round of the 2015 NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament, with four players from three different schools boasting ties to Wichita Falls.
In the West Regional, defenseman Tucker Poolman (2011-12) turned in a pair of big performances to lift the University of North Dakota into a semi-final matchup against Boston University on April 9. Dressing as a forward, Poolman potted North Dakota’s first goal in a 4-1 win over Quinnipiac in the first round. The next night, Poolman picked up an assist as North Dakota claimed a 4-1 win over St. Cloud State to advance to the “Frozen Four” in Boston.
In the Midwest Regional, defenseman Brad Shumway (2011-12) and the RIT Tigers produced the first big upset of the tournament, knocking off Minnesota State University, Mankato, who had entered the tournament as the top overall seed. Although the Tigers would come up short against Nebraska Omaha in the next round, their win over MSU Mankato marked the first opening-round loss by a No. 1 overall seed since the tournament switched to the current 16-team format.
In the East Regional, Rudy Junda, Evan Cowley and the Denver University Pioneers opened their tournament run with a 5-2 win over Boston College. However the Pioneers could not replicate the result the next night against Providence College, succumbing to a late power-play goal and a pair of empty-net goals in a 4-1 defeat.
Year-by-Year Playoff Summaries
In the team’s first year, the Wildcats qualified for the postseason as the fourth seed in the South Division with a 28-21-7 record and 63 points, two more than the Springfield Jr. Blues. Wichita Falls wound up being swept away by the Texas Tornado in the franchise’s first ever playoff appearance though, losing 9-5 in Game 1, 8-6 in Game 2 and finally, 7-3 in Game 3. Chad Costello led the Wildcats in points in the series, notching five goals and an assist over the three games.
Wichita Falls once again finished in fourth in the South Division in 2005-06, setting up a rematch of the previous year’s first-round matchup against the Texas Tornado, who had claimed their second-straight division title. The Wildcats stumbled to a 6-1 defeat in Game 1 of the first round, but rebounded to win the next two games to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series. However, the Tornado would battle back to win Game 4, 4-2, before clinching the series victory at home with a 4-0 win in Game 5. Chris Ochoa led the Wildcats in points over the five-game series, posting three goals and an assist.
After missing the playoffs in 2006-07, the Wildcats returned to the postseason with high hopes in the spring of 2008. The red-and-black posted their best regular-season record that year, going 38-18-2 to earn the third seed in the South Division, and a first-round meeting with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Wichita Falls earned a split in the first two games in Alaska, bouncing back from a 4-0 loss in Game 1 to claim a 3-1 win in Game 2, and returned home with sights set on sealing the series. However, the Ice Dogs registered wins in Games 3 and 4, 3-1 and 6-3 respectively, to take the series in four games and dash the Wildcats’ hopes. Five different Wichita Falls skaters tied for the team-lead in playoff scoring with two points, including Kyle Delaurell, who had two goals in four games.
Wichita Falls returned to the playoffs in 2008-09 as the third seed in the South Division, and tangled with the Topeka Roadrunners in the first round. The Wildcats dropped Games 1 and 2 on the road, but returned home and evened the series thanks to a 2-1 overtime win in Game 3, and a 4-1 triumph in Game 4. In Game 5, the ‘Cats opened up a 2-0 lead in the first period, but the Roadrunners scored four unanswered goals in the third to win the game and the series. Chad Hudson (4-2–6) and Brett Hartung (3-3–6) tied for the team-lead in postseason scoring.
In 2010-11, the Wildcats entered the postseason as the South Division’s fourth seed, earning them a first-round encounter with the Topeka Roadrunners. After losing Game 1, the Wildcats evened the series with a 1-0 road win in Game 2, before returning home for the next two games. Topeka claimed a 5-2 win in Game 3, but Wichita Falls rebounded for a dramatic, 4-3 overtime victory to once again level the series. The teams returned to Topeka for what turned out to be an enthralling Game 5 that featured three tie scores and multiple lead changes, however it was the Roadrunners who came out on top in the game and the series thanks to a late third-period goal. Ryan Frost paced the Wildcats postseason attack, posting six points (four goals, two assists) in the five-game series.
Following a two-year absence from the postseason, Wichita Falls returned to the Robertson Cup playoffs in 2013-14 with a first-round matchup against the rival Amarillo Bulls. Backed by home-ice advantage, the Bulls claimed Game 1 by a score of 4-2, setting up a pivotal Game 2 the next night. Wichita Falls would erase a three-goal deficit in that game, but four-unanswered goals for Amarillo helped secure a 7-4 win. Returning home for Game 3 down two games in the series, the Wildcats hopes received an early boost when Nick Farmer scored in the game’s opening minute. However, Amarillo would erase two one-goal Wildcat leads before an early third-period tally by Kyle Gattelaro helped the Bulls claim a 3-2 win on the night, and 3-0 victory in the series. Ben Kucera led Wichita Falls in playoff scoring with three points (one goal, two assists), while six other skaters recorded two points in the series.