The 2014-15 season opened with high hopes for the Wichita Falls Wildcats, with first-year head coach John LaFontaine at the helm of a roster stocked full of reliable returners and talented newcomers.
As the season unfolded, Wichita Falls treated fans to a fast-paced offensive style that would carry the ‘Cats to a team-record 39 wins and a second-consecutive playoff berth, while resetting numerous team and individual records along the way.
The Wildcats found their stride early, closing September with four-straight wins and a home sweep of the Topeka RoadRunners. The twin triumphs against Topeka established a theme which proved central to the red-and-black’s successes throughout the year, as they turned the Kay Yeager Coliseum into a fortress.
Beginning with an 8-5 triumph over the Odessa Jackalopes on Oct. 17, the ‘Cats rattled off 11 wins in succession at the KYC, setting a new team record for longest home winning streak. Although the undefeated run at home came to an end in early January, Wichita Falls dominated home ice for the remainder of the season. The Wildcats finished with a 21-6-1 record at the KYC, which marked a 10-win improvement from 2013-14 and set a new club record for wins at the KYC in a single season.
Regardless of locale, the red-and-black’s record-setting offense and potent power play proved key to much of their success. Wichita Falls scored a league-high 242 goals this year, smashing the previous team record of 220 goals set in 2007-08, and finished the season as the only team in the league to average over 4.00 goals per game. Fifty-five of those 242 tallies came via the power play, which finished the year at a league-best 25.0 percent, and also set a new franchise record for highest power-play percentage.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Wildcats power play was the consistency with which it operated. At one point, the ‘Cats recorded a power-play goal in 13 straight games from Oct. 30 to Dec. 12, compiling an 11-2-0 record over that span. In total, Wichita Falls recorded a man-advantage marker in 37 of 60 games, and never went more than four games without finding the net on the power play.
As the regular season wound to a close, the red-and-black found themselves locked in a tight race with the Lone Star Brahmas and Topeka for the South Division title. Although the ‘Cats came up just short in their hunt for regular-season supremacy, they carried the momentum from their final push into a first-round matchup against the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees in the Robertson Cup playoffs.
Wichita Falls swept the Killer Bees in the best-of-three South Division play-in round, using a pair a comeback wins to record the organization’s first-ever playoff series victory, and set up a matchup with the RoadRunners in the ensuing round. The Wildcats would battle bravely against their rivals from the Kansas capital in the Division Semifinal, but ultimately had their season cut short as they succumbed to Topeka in four games.
Still, the campaign proved to be one of the team’s most memorable. The 2014-15 Wildcats set new team records for wins (39), wins at the KYC (21) and goals (242), and also established new high-water marks for power-play percentage (25.0 percent) and fewest penalty minutes (858).
Individually speaking, several Wildcat skaters wrote themselves into the team recordbooks in 2014-15. After posting 14 goals and 28 assists for 42 points in his third season in Wichita Falls, defenseman Jake Townsend leaves as the franchise record-holder in multiple categories, including: most career goals by a defenseman (25), most career points by a defenseman (79), most career power-play goals by a defenseman (6), and most regular-season games played in a career by a defenseman (170).
Fellow defenseman Matt Koch also carved his place in Wildcats history in 2014-15, posting 51 points (seven goals, 44 assists) to tie for the league-lead in scoring among defensemen and shatter the franchise record for single-season points by a defenseman. Koch also set new team high-water marks for assists in a single season by a defenseman (44); career assists by a defenseman (61); most power-play assists by a defenseman in a single season (18); most power-play assists by a defenseman in a career (21); best career plus-minus (plus-36). He will also leave Wichita Falls with the second-most career points by a Wildcats defenseman (68).
Koch was tabbed as the 2015 North American Hockey League Defenseman of the Year for his efforts, making him the first Wildcat to receive a year-end award as the top performer at his position, but he was not the only post-season honoree for Wichita Falls. Defenseman Cam Knight was selected to the 2014-15 All-NAHL Rookie First Team, and forward Austin Beaulieu tabbed for the 2014-15 All-NAHL Rookie Second Team; both players were also named to the 2014-15 South Division All-Rookie Team. The Wildcats’ front office garnered accolades as well, as Team President and General Manager Paul Baxter earned South Division GM of the Year honors.
This season proved to be the organization’s most successful in terms of player advancement as well. Throughout the year, a team-record 12 different players with Division I commitments dressed for Wichita Falls, more than any other NAHL team. That total was highlighted by midseason commitments for Townsend, Colin Staub and Nick Farmer, as well as rookie goaltender Austin Shaw’s commitment to Princeton University in November. Shaw also made headlines in April when he was listed among the top draft-eligible goaltenders in the 2015 National Hockey League Central Scouting Service Final Rankings, released in preparation for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
The ‘Cats also had five players selected to participate in the NAHL Top Prospect Tournament in February. Farmer and Townsend represented the Wildcats on Team South along with Tommy Apap and Max Reisinger, while Beaulieu was tabbed to compete for the NAHL Selects team, comprised solely of players eligible for the forthcoming NHL Draft. Even international competitions featured Wildcats players, as Reisinger also represented Austria at the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation Ice Hockey U20 World Championships.
The season’s successes were not limited to the ice however, as the ‘Cats teamed with local organizations such as Partners in Education and the Wichita Falls Area Food Bank to support the community throughout the year.
In November, the Wildcats partnered with the WFAFB for the first-ever “Hockey Heals Hunger” campaign. The initiative was a resounding success thanks to the support of Wildcats fans, as the team collected 1,104 pounds of food to be distributed to North Texas families in need during the holiday season.
After following up their food drive with the Wildcats Hockey Toy Drive to benefit Pediatrics at United Regional Health Care System, January saw the ‘Cats continue their successful partnership with United Regional and Children’s Miracle Network. Thanks in part to a revamped auction, Wichita Falls raised $36,007 for CMN at United Regional through the annual “Jersey Off Our Back” fundraiser, representing an increase of over $5,000 from last year’s total.
The 2014-15 campaign also saw Wildcats alumni reach new levels of success. Forward Dan Sexton (2005-06) represented the United States at the 2015 IIHF World Championships in May, helping the Americans claim the bronze medal. Elsewhere, Chad Costello (2004-05) posted a season for the recordbooks with the Allen Americans of the ECHL. Costello compiled an astounding 125 points (41 goals, 84 assists) to lead the league in scoring, and was rewarded for his efforts with the 2014-15 Professional Hockey Players’ Association – ECHL Most Valuable Player Award Presented by BioSteel Sports.
Although the season is over, preparations are already underway for the 2015-16 campaign, with tryout camps and the NAHL Entry Draft scheduled for the coming weeks. Season tickets for the upcoming season are on sale now, and can be purchased by calling (940) 716-5587. Stay updated on the latest team news and notes by connecting with the Wildcats on Facebook (WFWildcats), Twitter (@WFWildcats), Instagram (WFWildcats) and on YouTube (Wichita Falls Wildcats).