The Wichita Falls Wildcats begin their quest for the 2015 Robertson Cup when they host the Odessa Jackalopes on Saturday, Sept. 13 at 7:05 p.m. at the Kay Yeager Coliseum. All tickets for Saturday's contest are free for Pack the House Night, and can be obtained by visiting the KYC box office.
Saturday’s contest marks the first of eight meetings between the Wildcats and Jackalopes this season. Wichita Falls posted an 8-2-0 record against Odessa last year, including a season-opening sweep that saw the ‘Cats outscore the Jacks 10-2 over the two tilts. Dating back to 2011-12, the Wildcats own a 20-9-0 record against the Jackalopes. Colin Staub leads all current Wichita Falls skaters in points against Odessa, with 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 20 games played against the Jacks, while Nick Farmer has a 6-9-15 line in 22 games.
Gettin’ Jiggy with the Jacks
The Jackalopes are sporting a new head coach and revamped roster in 2014-15, as they look to move on from a 15-40-5 mark last year. Greg Gatto is back behind the bench full-time after a successful stint as an interim head coach at the end of last season. Odessa’s roster features six players with Division I-commitments, including defenseman Jesse Junttila, who was acquired from the Janesville Jets in the off-season. Last year’s leading scorer Alex Alger returns for a second season after posting 12 goals and 16 assists for 28 points in his rookie campaign, and will have his sights set on improving a Jackalopes offense that scored the fewest goals (123) of any NAHL team last year.
Season Opening Salvo
This year marks the second-consecutive year that the Wildcats will open the season at the Kay Yeager Coliseum. In last year’s debut, Wichita Falls posted a 4-0 win against the Jackalopes behind goals from Kyle Bauman (2), Will Vosejpka and returning forward Max Reisinger, marking the fourth time in the last five seasons the ‘Cats have claimed a victory in their home-opener. All time, the Wildcats own a 5-4 record in home-openers, and a 6-4 mark in season-openers overall.
A Closer Look at Coach LaFontaine
Saturday’s contest will be the first at the helm of the Wildcats for new head coach John LaFontaine, marking the end of a seven-year absence from junior hockey. LaFontaine spent the last seven years as the head coach of the Bantam (14U) team at Shattuck St. Mary’s School in Faribault, Minn., winning the 2014 Tier I Youth 14U National Championship in his final season with the Sabres. Prior to his time in Minnesota, LaFontaine spent seven seasons at the helm of the Bozeman Icedogs from 2000 to 2007, winning the 2002 Borne Cup and earning Coach of the Year honors twice (2000-01, 2005-06). LaFontaine also has experience at the collegiate level, having spent two seasons as an assistant for Lake Superior State University.
Returners Ready to Roll
Eight players from the last year’s team are back for the new campaign, including four forwards, two defensemen and both netminders from the 2013-14 squad. Up front, veterans Colin Staub (13-18-31 in 58 games played) and Nick Farmer (12-14-26 in 56 GP) are returning for a third year in Wichita Falls after they each posted improved point totals last season, while second-year skaters Evan Okeley (4-13-17 in 53 GP) and Max Reisinger (8-6-14 in 48 GP) are both eager to take on expanded roles in 2014-15. On the blue line, Jake Townsend returns for his hat-trick season with the ‘Cats, one year removed from setting new career-highs in goals (8), assists (16) and points (24). Matt Koch also returns on defense for the Wildcats, looking to improve on a solid rookie season that saw him tally 17 assists in 56 games. In net, Chase Munroe (12-12-2, 2.39 GAA, .905 Sv%) and David Zevnik (19-13-1, 2.46 GAA, .910 Sv%) are both back after strong first years at the junior level.
Staking out the Showcase
Following Saturday’s tilt with the Jackalopes, the Wildcats will travel to Blaine, Minn., for the 12th Annual North American Hockey League Showcase, where they fill face a grueling four-game gauntlet. On Wed., Sept. 17 Wichita Falls will square off against last year’s Robertson Cup champions, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, before a meeting with the Minnesota Magicians the next day. The ‘Cats will then conclude their showcase slate against a pair of teams that made the playoffs in 2013-14, taking on the Minnesota Wilderness on Sept. 19, followed by the Michigan Warriors on Sept. 20. The Wildcats have had good success at the league showcase in their history, posting 24-11-5 record dating back to 2004-05.
The season-opening roster for the 2014-15 Wildcats features seven players with commitments to Division I schools, the most of any team in the North American Hockey League. Four of the seven players are committed to the Air Force Academy, including forwards Evan Okeley (committed for 2015-16), Kevin Charyszyn (2016-17) and Erich Jaeger (2016-17), and defenseman Matt Koch (2015-16). Rounding out the cast of commits are forwards Austin Beaulieu (University of Alabama Huntsville) and Dan LaFontaine (Canisius College), and blue-liner Cam Knight (UAH).