(Photo: Troy Young)
The Wildcats and Jackalopes meet for the third of eight scheduled meetings, and the first of four contests at the Ector County Coliseum, when they face off on Tuesday morning. Odessa claimed a 4-3 win in the first matchup of the year at the Kay Yeager Coliseum on Sept. 13, before Wichita Falls exacted revenge with an 8-5 triumph on Oct. 17. The Wildcats have spread the offense around against the Jacks this year, with 14 different skaters recording at least one point against Odessa thus far. Nikita Litviak leads the pack with three goals against the Jacks, while Alex Falconer and Max Reisinger both have three points (two goals, one assist) against Odessa. Dating back to 2011, the ‘Cats have compiled a 21-11-0 record against the Jackalopes, including a 9-4-0 mark at the Ector County Coliseum. Colin Staub leads all active Wildcats in scoring against Odessa, with a 7-12-19 line in 22 games played against the Jacks.
Onward to Odessa
The Jackalopes enter Tuesday’s tilt sitting at the bottom of the South Division standings with 12 points and a record of 5-13-2, having just dropped three of four points to the Amarillo Bulls. The Jackalopes managed a point with an overtime loss on Saturday, before the Bulls bullied their way to a 6-1 over Odessa on Sunday. The Jacks have swooned since a strong September, posting a 1-9-2 record over their past 12 contests, but still boast a potent offensive threat. Forwards Kenny Hausinger (10-15-25) and Derek Brown (7-15-22) are leading the way for Odessa on offense, and have both tallied two goals and three assists against the Wildcats this year. With a league-high 90 goals against, the Jackalopes recently made moves to bolster their goaltending, trading for Forbes Ploszaj, who has gone 0-4-0 with a 4.44 goals against average and a .860 save percentage since being acquired from Wenatchee in October.
Back to School, Back to School
The Wildcats hit the ice Tuesday for a rare, weekday morning faceoff, as Odessa hosts “School Day with Slapjack” at the Ector County Coliseum. The Jackalopes will be hosting elementary school classes from around the area, and incorporating educational content into that day’s game production. Including games at the annual league showcase, Tuesday’s contest will mark the fifth of 13 mid-week games Wichita Falls will play this year; the ‘Cats have a 2-2-0 record in their first four weekday games.
Veteran defenseman Jake Townsend made Wildcats history recently. Now in his third campaign in Wichita Falls, Townsend skated in his 117th game in a Wildcats sweater when the ‘Cats rolled over the Topeka Roadrunners, 5-1, on Sept 27, making him the franchise’s all-time leader in games played by a defenseman. Townsend, who has played in 126 games and counting to this point, claimed the record from Chris Nutini, who played 116 games on the Wildcats blue line from 2005-07. Additionally, with seven points (1-6-7) in 16 games played thus far, Townsend has equaled the franchise record for most career points by a defenseman, tying Brett Morrell’s (2006-08) career mark of 44 points.
Along with Jake Townsend, a pair of other Wildcats veterans recently reached memorable milestones. With four wins thus far in 2014-15, second-year goaltender David Zevnik now has 23 career wins, tying him for the third-most career wins in franchise history. Third-year forward Colin Staub recently surpassed the 75-point plateau with an assist against Amarillo on Nov. 8, making him just the ninth skater in franchise history to surpass that mark.
Surging Special Teams
The ‘Cats recent success can be attributed in part to a spike in productivity on special teams over the past six games. Counting this past weekend’s contests, Wichita Falls is now 11-for-36 (30.6%) on the power play in its last seven games. That recent surge has seen the Wildcats power play conversion rate soar from 11.4% on Oct. 10 to the current 21.1% success rate, taking them from 21st to sixth in the league. The penalty kill has improved drastically as well, with the ‘Cats killing off 96.4% of opposing power plays (27-of-28) over their past seven games to improve from 17th to fifth in the league. Dating back further, the Wildcats’ penalty kill has negated 50 of 54 opposing power plays (92.6%) since Sept. 19. At 108.4%, Wichita Falls currently boasts the second-best combined special teams (power play percentage + penalty kill percentage) in the NAHL.
This past weekend was one of firsts for Wildcats alumni in the collegiate ranks. Former Wildcats forward Kyle Bauman (2012-14) notched the first point of his career on Saturday night, picking up an assist in Bemidji State University’s loss to Michigan Tech. Elsewhere on Saturday, defenseman Sam Piazza (2012-14) also registered the first point of his college career, posting a helper in Michigan’s win over AIC. Also getting on the scoresheet this weekend were Tyler Ledford and Ben Kucera, who both had assists in a 3-3 tie for the Air Force Academy against Robert Morris University.
The Wildcats will return to the Kay Yeager Coliseum on Friday, Nov. 21 to host the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees on Hockey Heals Hunger Night. Any fan that brings five (5) non-perishable food items for donation to the Wichita Falls Area Food Back will receive free admission to that night’s game.
(NOTE: Due to Tuesday's contest, there will no Wildcats Weekly presented by Armored Roofing this week. Wildcats Weekly will return next week.)