Thursday, 01.26.2017 / 9:12 am CT
By Alex von Keudell
Going to Shreveport for the first time in franchise history, the Wildcats look to cease their four-game losing skid and return to the winning trail. In order to do so, however, they’ll need to take down a team they’ve yet to defeat this season which is battling for the same spot in the standings.
Three Down, Six to Go
In three matchups thus far, the Cats have not found a formula for taking down the new kids on the block. First-time observers would never guess that this was Shreveport’s inaugural NAHL season. They’ve got speed, skill, depth, and experience, all of which they have used to defeat the Cats in three matchups. However, plenty of time remains to exact retribution. The Wildcats will take on the Mudbugs six more times this season, more than any other opponent sans Corpus Christi. Four of those games will be on the road, where the Cats have been a dominant 11-2-2 this season. Both teams will battle for the highly coveted second place spot in the division, which would grant them four players eligible for the top prospects tournament at the end of February. The third place team will send either two or three. The standings will be frozen on February 5th.
Not only have the Cats fared much better on the road than they have at home this season, they actually own the best road record in the entire league. They’ve taken a whopping 80% of all road points available to them in 15 games, and have the second best away power play in the NAHL which is clicking at a lethal 31.5% rate. In 2015-2016, the Cats were virtually invincible at the KYC. Now, more than halfway through this season, they’ve yet to lose an away game by more than a goal. Should the Cats continue to battle in visiting rinks the way they have been, the road-heavy second half to the campaign ought to bode well for them.
Bendorf Acquired by USHL’s Tri-City Storm
There’s no tiptoeing around it: this is a blow. Jonathan Bendorf was a young up-and-coming star for the Wildcats who provided consistent scoring and was a positive influence to the team on and off the ice. He was the Wildcats’ first draft choice in the offseason and lived up to the expectations surrounding him in his first year of eligibility. He was indispensable to the Cats’ 31.5% road power play, having led them with 13 power play points. He’s expected to play for the Storm this weekend against the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. His departure will open a void on the left side of the ice, which will provide opportunity for the likes of Blake Ripley, Kevin Fees, Matt Hanewall and Jeff Skinner to take on a larger role. While Bendorf’s presence may not be replaced, per se, these players have all shown they can step up and pick up the slack.
Wyatt Mathews Here to Stay?
The timing here seems strangely fortunate. Mathews arrives, Bendorf leaves, and the Cats are back to a 23-man roster. Last Saturday night against the Brahmas, AP defenseman Wyatt Mathews played his first game as a Wildcat all season. You’d never know it. He looked comfortable all night and did not appear fazed by the increase in speed. Through 32 games with his Missoula Jr. Bruins team in the NA3HL this season, Mathews was a top-two defenseman who scored at a point-per-game pace and logged an impressive +17 rating. He and former Wildcat Austin Azzinnaro formed the Bruins’ top defensive pair. Coach Nelson is confident Mathews is ready to take on a similar role at the next level. With the trade deadline drawing near, this weekend’s games against Shreveport will be more than just a battle for second place. There’s a good chance that if the offense struggles, we’ll see Coach Nelson move a defenseman and try to bring in a high-scoring forward to fill the Bendorf void. This weekend’s games, and perhaps next, will determine the makeup of the Wildcats’ roster for the postseason.