(Photo: Troy Young)
HIDALGO, Texas – The Wichita Falls Wildcats (38-14-4) picked up three of four available points against the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees (23-24-10) in a de facto doubleheader at State Farm Arena on Thursday, moving into second place in the South Division in the process.
Wichita Falls claimed a 4-0 victory in the completion of the game that was suspended due to unplayable ice conditions on Dec. 13, before the Wildcats erased a two-goal deficit to earn a point in a 3-2 overtime loss in the regularly-scheduled contest.
Austin Beaulieu led the way on offense for the red-and-black with three points on a goal and two assists over the two tilts. Tommy Apap also had a strong performance with a pair of tallies, while Colin Staub (two assists), Evan Okeley (two assists) and Nikita Litviak (one goal, one assist) also had multi-point nights.
Austin Albrecht and Jake Townsend both added a goal apiece to their respective tallies, while Matt Koch and Cam Knight each chipped in with an assist as well. In net, Austin Shaw turned away 41 shots over the two contests.
The Wildcats entered game one of the evening’s action holding a 3-0 lead thanks to goals by Albrecht, Apap and Litviak scored on Dec. 13 prior to that game being halted due to unplayable ice conditions.
Not content to rest on their laurels, the ‘Cats tacked on an insurance marker in the third period.
Beaulieu made a strong play to protect the puck on the right-wing wall in the offensive zone, then swung the disk to Staub behind the cage before going to the net. Staub saw Beaulieu sneaking into the slot and centered for the Florida-born winger, whose shot beat Nick Schmit to make it 4-0.
As the Killer Bees tried in vain to mount a late charge, Shaw was on-hand to make a string of solid saves to preserve his third shutout of the season, as Wichita Falls coasted to a 4-0 win.
In the first period of game two of the evening, the red-and-black had the first high-quality look of the contest when Litviak’s shot from the right hashmarks was saved, but Rio Grande Valley would take the lead on the game’s first power play.
After the Wildcats had killed of the first 90 seconds of the penalty, the disc landed on the stick of Gavin Cummings at the blue line. Wichita Falls could not close down the shot quickly enough, allowing Cummings time to sneak a shot through traffic for a 1-0 lead for the Killer Bees.
The Bees doubled their edge with a short-handed tally by Stathis Soumelidis in the second, but the ‘Cats responded quickly, cutting into the deficit with a shot from the point.
The puck was played up to Knight above the right-wing circle, who quickly fed a lateral pass to Koch at the left point. From the top of the left circle, Koch toe-dragged around a man and sent a wrister towards the net, where Apap managed to get a stick to it to deflect the puck home.
Wichita Falls was held in check for the majority of the third period, but the Wildcats managed to create a chance on the power play late on, and that was all they needed.
With time ticking away on the man-advantage, Beaulieu managed to rush through the defense into the offensive zone. His shot was turned away by Ben Johansson in the RGV net, but the winger collected the loose disc and worked it to the middle of the blue line for Townsend. The defenseman settled the puck quickly, then teed up a blistering slapshot that beat Johansson at 18:27 of the third to send the game to overtime, tied at two-apiece.
Wichita Falls had the better of the play in the extra session, with Okeley having a good chance denied by a sprawling Johansson, but Rio Grande Valley would pick up the winning tally on a transition rush, as Kevin Clare’s follow-up attempt caromed off a body and in to give the Bees a 3-2 win.
The Wildcats and Killer Bees will square off again on Saturday when they conclude their regular-season series at State Farm Arena. Puck drop is slated for 7:30 p.m. Fans who will not be in attendance may follow all the action on FASTHockey.com, or by tuning into an audio-only broadcast available via YouTube.
Stay updated on the latest team news and notes, including postseason ticketing information, by connecting with the Wildcats on Facebook (WFWildcats), Twitter (@WFWildcats), Instagram (WFWildcats) and YouTube (Wichita Falls Wildcats).
NOTES: The win in game one of the night’s action marked the Wildcats’ 38th victory of the season, equaling a franchise record for most wins in a single season (2007-08)…With his goal in game one, Austin Beaulieu became the second Wildcats skater this season to reach the 50-point plateau, joining Colin Staub…Austin Shaw’s shutout in game one stands as the goaltender’s third of the season tying him with Mike Jarboe (07-08) and Evan Cowley (12-13) for the second-most shutouts in a single season by a Wildcats goaltender.
Scoring Summary – Game 1
Wichita Falls – Austin Albrecht (power play) (Jonathan Lazarus, Evan Okeley) 15:00
Wichita Falls – Tommy Apap (power play) (Austin Beaulieu, Colin Staub) 2:12
Wichita Falls – Nikita Litviak (Evan Okeley) 11:18
Wichita Falls – Austin Beaulieu (Colin Staub, Nikita Litviak) 10:06
Scoring Summary – Game 2
Rio Grande Valley – Gavin Cummings (power play) (Dallas Gerads, Stathis Soumelidis) 10:23
Rio Grande Valley – Stathis Soumelidis (shorthanded) (unassisted) 5:43
Wichita Falls – Tommy Apap (Matt Koch, Cam Knight) 10:43
Wichita Falls – Jake Townsend (power play) (Austin Beaulieu, Nikita Litviak) 18:27
Rio Grande Valley – Kevin Clare (Cam Bleck, Elliot Lorraine) 2:19