Sunday, 05.15.2016 / 3:30 pm CT
By Alex von Keudell
The best season in the history of the Wichita Falls Wildcats came to an end heartbreakingly on Sunday afternoon, as they were defeated in the Robertson Cup Championship game by the Fairbanks Ice Dogs by a final of 2-0.
Both teams began the tilt feeling each other out more than anything else. They had not played each other all season, and they both knew their opponents would be their greatest challenge yet. A left-post clink by Liam Stirtzinger was as close as either team would come to finding twine in the first 20 minutes. Goaltenders Justin Kapelmaster and Gavin Nieto both backed up the hype surrounding them, backstopping their teams to 10 and 7 saves, respectively.
Neither side budged an inch in the second period. Two teams who have been so defensively sound all season continued to frustrate one another, preventing any high quality scoring chances. The Wildcats had some dominant surges in the middle period, forcing Nieto to make a few challenging stops, but the Brown commit stood his ground.
Garrett Van Wyhe ended with the puck on his stick right in front of the net after an errant Fairbanks breakout pass hobbled right into his wheelhouse. He just couldn’t find a way to tuck it past Nieto, who sprawled out to make the stop. Ice Dogs’ Head Coach Trevor Stewart began to mix his strategies a bit to spark some offense, but the up-tempo pace favored the Wildcats, who became level in shots at 18 apiece after two periods. A late slash by Clay Cross would give the Cats their first power play to start the third.
A power play which had dominated the entire season and postseason was stymied by the tight checking and tremendous penalty killing by the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Killing the Wildcats’ power play sparked some life back into the Fairbanks players. They surged to five unanswered shots and continued to challenge Kapelmaster from all over the ice.
Finally, 49 minutes and 6 seconds into the game, Fairbanks found an opening. Reggie Lutz sniped a shot right off a faceoff immediately after the Wildcats had iced the puck. The Ice Dogs rode their momentum into the very next shift, and Josef Ingman ripped a bullet off the crossbar and in after being fed a nice cross-ice pass just 47 seconds after Lutz’s goal. The stunned Wildcats kept their heads up, but Fairbanks’ depth and their goaltending proved to be too much for the Cats to make up the deficit. They would pull Kapelmaster for a sixth attacker, but failed to convert, falling in the Robertson Cup Championship by a final of 2-0.
Both goaltenders played their hearts out, as was expected. Kapelmaster was given his first playoff defeat despite stopping 29 of 31 shots. Nieto would earn a 28-save shutout, which would mark the first time all season the Wildcats were kept off the scoreboard for an entire game.
The Wildcats would like to thank everyone around the team who made this momentous season possible. Wildcats Owners Alex Shnayderman and Roy Davoult, General Manager and President Paul Baxter, Head Coach John LaFontaine, Assistant Coach Josh Nelson, Director of Broadcasting Alex von Keudell, Ice Programs Coordinator and Sales Director Debi Fleetwood, Athletic Trainer Brian Deatherage, photographers Cody Wooten and Tracey Koby, every one of our volunteers, off-ice officials, our booster club, our billet families, the parents of our players and most importantly, our fans. Season tickets for the 2016-2017 season are now available, and can be purchased by calling the Wildcats Office at (940) 716-5587. The schedule is expected to be released shortly.