(Photo: Troy Young)
When the Wildcats and Bulls meet in the first round of the 2014 Robertson Cup playoffs, it will be the first-ever postseason meeting between the two teams. Amarillo scored first in all eight head-to-head tilts during the regular season, but the Wildcats mounted comebacks on a few occasions, posting a 3-4-1 record against the Bulls this year. Notably, all three of those wins for the red-and-black came in Amarillo, including a weekend sweep on Dec. 20 and 21 which marked the ‘Cats first ever two-game sweep over the Bulls. Wichita Falls earned a weekend split the last time these two squads squared off, losing a close 3-1 contest on March 21, before bouncing back to register a 3-2 shootout win on March 22. Nick Farmer leads the Wildcats in scoring against the Bulls with a 3-2–5 line in eight games played, while Josh Haverstrom has four points on a goal and three assists in eight games against Amarillo. On the other side, both Mike Davis (two goals, four assists) and Cody Gylling (one goal, five assists) have registered six points in eight games against the Wildcats. In net, David Zevnik is 3-3-0 with a 2.29 goals against average and .930 save percentage against the Bulls for Wichita Falls, while Collin Delia is 3-1-0 with a 1.47 GAA and .951 save percentage against the Wildcats for Amarillo.
This season marks the sixth time in franchise history the Wildcats have appeared in the North American Hockey League playoffs. Wichita Falls owns a 7-15-0 all-time record in postseason play. The Wildcats have forced Game 5 on three occasions, including their two most recent playoff ventures in 2011 and 2009, both of which came against the Topeka Roadrunners. The ‘Cats have not advanced out of the first round in their 10-year history, but this year there is reason for optimism despite being the fourth seed in the South Division. The Wildcats finished the regular season at 31-25-4, marking the second-most wins in a regular season in team history, and the first 30-win season since 2007-8 when Wichita Falls finished with a 38-18-2 record. Additionally, the red-and-black finished the regular season with 19 road wins, the third-highest total in the league.
A Battle with the Bulls
The Bulls enter round of the 2014 Robertson Cup playoffs fresh off a sweep of the Odessa Jackalopes that helped them clinch the South Division regular-season title. Amarillo finished the season with a record of 40-14-6 and 86 points, and averaged 3.45 goals per game, second-most in the league. The Amarillo attack is led by Mike Davis, who finished the season as the league’s third-highest scorer with a line of 28-35–63, and Tyler Gernhofer, whose 31 goals scored led the league. In net, Collin Delia and Paul Berrafato have split time fairly evenly, although Delia boasts better numbers on the year. Delia finished the season with a 22-7-0 record, 1.60 goals against average and .937 save percentage in 31 games played, while Berrafato racked up an 18-7-6 mark, with a 2.12 GAA and .921 save percentage in 34 games played.
Amarillo in the Playoffs
This season marks the fourth-straight year the Bulls have participated in the postseason. Last season, Amarillo bested Corpus Christi in four games in the first round, before sweeping the Texas Tornado in the Division Finals to reach the Robertson Cup. The Bulls finished with a 3-1 record in round-robin play to cap off their run and claim their first Robertson Cup title. Amarillo has never failed to progress past the Division stage of the playoffs, and owns a 26-9-2 all-time record in the postseason dating back to 2010-11. The Bulls roster features multiple players who were part of the championship-winning 2013 squad, including forward Mike Davis, who has nine goals and two assists in 21 career postseason games, defenseman Joe Grabowski, and goaltenders Collin Delia and Paul Berrafato.
Wildcats Playoff Notables
In the team’s five previous postseason appearances, 49 different players have recorded at least one point for the Wildcats. Six different skaters (Brett Hartung, Sean McKenzie, Chris Ochoa, Ryan Frost, Chad Hudson and Chad Costello) are tied for the franchise record for playoff points with six, although Costello owns the franchise high-water mark for postseason goals with five in just three playoff games played. Skylur Jameson’s 12 postseason games played stands as the most of any player in Wildcats history, while Chris Ochoa holds the record for most game-winning goals in the postseason with two. Phillip Graveline has the best postseason goals against average (1.99) and save percentage (.940) in Wildcats history, both of which were recorded in 2009 against the Topeka Roadrunners.
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.
About the Robertson Cup
The Robertson Cup is awarded to the national playoff champion of the North American Hockey League. The oldest junior hockey trophy in the United States, the Robertson Cup is named in honor of Chuck Robertson, a pioneer of junior hockey in the NAHL, and the owner of the Paddock Pools Saints when they won a record seven-straight NAHL championships from 1976-83.
Fans may follow the weekend’s action in a variety of ways. Video streaming is available on FASTHockey.com, with an audio-only broadcast available by visiting our Ustream channel. Fans can also follow along on Twitter (@WFWildcats) for score updates throughout the contest.