The Wildcats snapped their four-game losing streak in convincing fashion, taking six points out of Odessa this weekend. The boys in black picked up a 6-2 victory on Thursday, held on in a 5-4 decision Friday, then won the finale in a shootout on Saturday 4-3.
After dropping four in a row, the Wildcats bounced back nicely to kick things off, winning 6-2 on Thursday. Matt Robinson and Tyler Ledford each connected for a pair of goals in the win.
The Jackalopes got on the board first with defenseman Matthew Montemurro finding the back of the net for an early 1-0 lead. The 'Cats got outshot in the opening period, but Matt Robinson evened things up on the scoreboard off an assist from Rudy Junda to knot things at a goal apiece. The offense kept rolling in the second period as Ben Kucera and Tyler Ledford each scored before Odessa cut the lead back to one with a tally from Steven Haydon.
Any nervousness among Wildcats fans was quashed quickly in the third period as Robinson and Ledford each tallied their second of the night, with a Colin Staub powerplay goal sandwiched in between for the 6-2 win. Evan Cowley stopped 29 of 31 Odessa shots, and was named first star. Second went to Ledford with his pair of goals and an assist, and the third went to Kyle Bauman, who had an assist on Staub's goal.
Friday's game looked like more of the same early, but the Wildcats had to thwart a late comeback attempt in a 5-4 victory. Conor O'Neil was credited with two goals (after earlier being awarded the hat trick), while Colin Staub had three points.
The Wildcats extended their streak to seven unanswered goals, starting with Will Vosejpka picking up the first one 5:35 into the game as the line of Junda-Vosejpka-Robinson continued its hot streak. Conor O'Neil scored his first of the night five minutes later and the 'Cats led 2-0 through twenty minutes.
The team kept on rolling in the second as Staub scored his second powerplay goal in as many games (originally credited to O'Neil, leading to the previous reports of a hat trick in the third period), followed by Tyler Ledford deftly redirecting Jake Townsend's shot for a 4-0 score. At the other end, Evan Cowley was solid in net, with the defense limiting him to facing only 15 shots, all of which he stopped successfully.
The third period wasn't as nice to the 'Cats as the Jackalopes made a game of it in the final five minutes. Leading scorer Lawrence Cornellier got them on the board with just under twelve minutes to play, followed by two goals in under two minutes as Matt Volonnino and Taylor Portner cut a four-goal deficit down to a single goal. O'Neil struck only a minute later to give the 'Cats a two goal cushion. That goal would prove to be important: with the net empty and an extra attacker, Taylor Portner scored again with 1:30 left to make it a 5-4 game. Fortunately, the Wildcats held the Jacks off the board in the final 90 seconds to take home the two points.
It appeared that the offense would continue hard and heavy on Saturday as the teams battled to a 2-2 tie through the opening twenty minutes. Josh Racek made it a 1-0 Odessa lead just under eight minutes in before George Pagonis waltzed in on a breakaway and evened things up. Just over a minute later, Mike Mezzano regained the lead for Odessa, followed almost exactly a minute later by a Will Vosejpka goal for a 2-2 game.
The second period remained tied until the final moments when Eliot Grauer unleashed a wrister from the slot on the powerplay for a 3-2 lead. It looked like the lead would hold as Cooper Cook came up with several huge saves in the third on a few breakaways and odd-man rushes, including stopping Jimmy Peplinski on two shots in a span of about a quarter of a second. But Peplinski wouldn't let the opportunity pass him by a second time, scoring off his own rebound with 5:22 to play to make it a 3-3 game.
With the final five minutes and overtime going scoreless, the game went to a shootout. Both Cook and Odessa netminder Nick Deery matched up shooter-for shooter: each stopped the first three shooters, allowed a goal on the fourth, stopped the fifth, gave up a goal on the sixth, and stopped the seventh. It wasn't until shooter number eight that the tie was finally broken: Colin Staub scored for the Wildcats, while Cook shut down Matt Volonnino's wrister with the glove hand to take home the victory and a weekend sweep.
The Wildcats return home for the remainder of February, starting with two games against Amarillo this weekend. The 'Cats take on the Jacks three more times this season: twice in Wichita Falls on February 22-23, and once in Odessa on March 13.
WEEKEND NOTES: The Wildcats scored a powerplay goal each night, extending their streak to four games with a goal on the man advantage... Conor O'Neil missed Saturday's game with an upper body injury... Evan Cowley was out Saturday and will be out this coming weekend as he travels to Sweden to represent the USA U18 team at the Five Nations Tournament. The Wildcats called up goalie Michael Baldwin from the Dallas Ice Jets to take his place Saturday.
NAHL SOUTH DIVISION NOTES: Topeka and Corpus Christi split their weekend series up in Kansas. The IceRays took a shootout win on Friday before losing 3-1 Saturday... In the battle for the top of the division, Amarillo regained first place by sweeping Texas.
SOUTH DIVISION PLAYOFF PICTURE: Amarillo and Texas are separated by three points in first and second place, respectively. The Tornado have played five more games than the Bulls... Topeka trails second place by seven points, and have played two fewer than Texas... The battle for fourth place is a hotly-contested one: The Wildcats now trail the IceRays by only three points and have played one less game. The two teams face each other twice in March in what is likely to be an important matchup in the battle for the final playoff spot... Odessa is closest to elimination: any eight points either picked up by Corpus Christi or lost out on by the Jackalopes will result in their elimination from the playoffs.
WF vs. CC DOWN THE STRETCH:
|5-1-0||HEAD TO HEAD||1-2-3|
|4 (2h, 2a)||vs. AMA||6 (4h, 2a)|
|0||vs. TXT||2 (2a)|
|6 (4h, 2a)||vs. TPK||0|
|3 (2h, 1a)||vs. ODS||6 (4h, 2a)|
|2 (in CC)||vs. EACH OTHER||2 (in CC)|