NAHL 2013-14 Mid-Season Report
January 1, 2014
2013 is over and it is just past the halfway point of the 2013-14 season for most NAHL teams and it is time to take a look back at the first half of the season and reflect. Most clubs will have a little time off during the holidays in the next few weeks and coaches use that time to reflect on what has taken place and what has yet to transpire.
The good news for the majority of the NAHL teams is that most are still in the playoff hunt. Coaches should have a pretty good idea on who has responded on their clubs and how the team chemistry is to date. The next 5-6 weeks typically sees the most player movement leading all the way up to the trade deadline on February 6th.
With all that in mind here is a look at the NAHL mid-season report by division:
Austin Bruins (1st place, 21-10-1, 43 pts.)
To Date: Leading scorer Jay Dickman has cooled off a bit after a hot start, but is still one of the most dominant forwards in the league. Blueliner Josh Bretner is on pace to challenge for the league lead in scoring for defenseman. Rookie Guillaume LeClerc is a candidate for rookie of the year. Forward Luke Dietsch has been hot as of late and the Bruins have a veteran goalie in Nick Lehr that knows how to win at the NAHL level.
Second half success: The majority of games remaining will be at home and if the Bruins can survive a long trip to Alaska and then be successful the final two weeks of the regular season in back-to-back series against Bismarck, then they should at least be set up for home ice in the first round of the playoffs.
Interesting stat: Austin’s penalty kill is second best in the NAHL (91.6%), while their power play is third to last (10.7%)
Aberdeen Wings (2nd place, 20-11-2, 42 pts.)
To date: Goalie Chad Catt had played like an all-star this season and is one of the league’s best goalies. Forward TJ Roo has had a great rookie campaign thus far and Kyle Haak is also on pace to have a career-best season. The Wings also have one of the best defensive combinations in the league in Jake Horton and Dillon Eichstadt. The Wings have flourished under head coach Travis Winter, who took over midway through the season last year. The Wings have had a lot of consistency on special teams this season, which has enabled them to battle for the top spot with both Austin and Bismarck for one of the two top spots in the Central Division.
Second half success: The shocking number for the Wings to focus on the second half of the season is their home vs. road record. It is well documented that the Wings have one of the best home ice advantages at the Odde Ice Center with tremendous fan support, but that has not translated into wins at home. Conversely, their road record is one of the best in the league.
Interesting stat: Goalie Chad Catt leads in the NAHL with a 95.2% save percentage.
Bismarck Bobcats (3rd place, 19-10-3, 41 pts.)
To date: When the Bobcats are clicking are all cylinders they are one of the most dangerous teams in the league. Their 10 regulation losses is one of the lowest totals in the NAHL. Nate Repensky is a creator from the blueline and one of the best defenseman in the league. If the Bobcats can get consistent scoring from Filip Starzynski, Stanislav Dzakhov, Evan Giesler and Tyler Dunagan, they are going to be very hard to beat.
Second half success: A few of the x-factors are going to be newly acquired forward Jacob McDowell to see if he can put the puck in the net. However, the Bobcats will sink or swim because of their veteran goaltender Aaron Nelson. Nelson has proven he can get the Bobcats to the next level and perform in the playoffs, however, the key for coach Layne Sedevie will be trying to find the right balance of playing time for Nelson in order not to wear him out.
Interesting stat: The Bobcats have been to the last five Robertson Cup Tournaments, winning the title in 2010.
Minot Minotauros (4th place, 14-17-3, 31 pts.)
To date: It has been a tale of two seasons for the Minot Minotauros the first half of the season. Minot crept out to a 2-12-2 record to start the season, but worked their way back towards .500 with their most recent stretch of games. Veteran forward Colton Kramer has been a nice addition from the Minnesota Wilderness. Jacob Howie has also been a nice pick up for Minot after starting the season in the NA3HL. The Minotauros also have two goalies in Brandon Wildung and Merrick Madsen that are both capable #1 goalies.
Second half success: In order for the Minotauros to have any type of sustained success, their power play has to be more effective. The Minotauros have the last ranked power play in the league, scoring at less than a 10% rate. If the Minotauros are going to make the playoffs and have success there, they are going to have to find more scoring, as they rank 22nd in the NAHL is goals scored per game.
Interesting stat: Defenseman Jon Lizotte is not only tied for the team lead in game-winning goals (2), but plus/minus as well (+11)
Brookings Blizzard (5th place, 10-17-7, 27 pts.)
To date: After going winless in their first 10 games to start the season, it has been nothing but an uphill climb for the Brookings Blizzard this year. The Blizzard have more wins in December than they did in September and October combined. The addition of veteran goalie Connor Girard has been a shot in the arm for the team, who are now armed with two very capable goalies. Forwards Conor Andrle, Evan Hesse and Nick DeCenzo have been producing and Brandon Parker has been steady on the blues.
Second half success: Fortunately, the Blizzard enter the second half of the season playing their best hockey of the year. However, if the Blizzard are going to contend for a playoff spot they are going to need to get secondary scoring from players like Conrad Sampair, Jared Goudreau and Ryan Sete. Their schedule the rest of the way is favorable with limited travel and eight games against Minot, who sit above them for the final playoff spot.
Interesting stat: The Blizzard are just 2 for 24 in shootouts this season.
Fairbanks Ice Dogs (1st place, 23-10-0, 46 pts.)
To date: The Ice Dogs enter the second half of the season with one of the best records in the league and have been in a dogfight with the Minnesota Wilderness for a good month now. The Ice Dogs are one of only two teams remaining in the NAHL without an overtime or shootout loss, meaning they don’t leave points on the table. The Ice Dogs have had a lot of success against Kenai River, which has bolstered their record. One of the reasons the Ice Dogs are so successful is because of their balanced scoring attack. The Ice Dogs have 10 players with 14 points or more, led by Tayler Munson and Colton Wolter. Goaltender Kevin Aldridge has quietly put together a very good season.
Second half success: The strength of the Ice Dogs team continues to be the team defense. Fairbanks is second in the NAHL in shots allowed per game at just over 23 per contest. They also are first in shots for per game at more than 35 per contest. With averages like those, it is no wonder they are again one of the league’s top teams.
Interesting stat: Of Fairbanks 13 games at the Big Dipper Arena this season, 11 have been sell outs.
Minnesota Wilderness (2nd place, 18-8-5, 41 pts.)
To date: One of the good stories of the year so far is the emergence of the Minnesota Wilderness, who have built themselves into a division contender. After winning just four of their first nine games, the Wilderness rattled off 10 straight wins, which remains an NAHL season high. It is no secret however that the Wilderness are where they are because of goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo. The Finnish netminder has proven to be a worthy MVP candidate as he leads the league in shutouts (8), goals against average (1.35) and is second in save percentage (94.8%). The other reason that Minnesota has had success in their top-ranked penalty kill, which is operating above a 96% clip.
Second half success: Eric Brenk has been a nice addition for the Wilderness after being acquired from Brookings in December. The Wilderness don’t score a lot of goals, but they don’t have to. If they can continue to get balanced scoring from a variety of players like Jakob Romo, Johno May and Billy Exell and continued success from Kaskisuo, they have all the pieces in place to be successful in the second half of the season and into the playoffs.
Interesting stat: Despite having the NAHL’s best penalty kill, the Wilderness are one of three NAHL teams that have yet to score a shorthanded goal.
Coulee Region Chill (3rd place, 19-14-0, 38 pts.)
To date: The Chill got off to a great start and have been a team of streaks since then. Other than that, the Chill have been very consistent in their production. The Chill have very good special teams, but what makes them click is their offense. The Chill are the second highest scoring team in the league, but do not feature a top 10 scorer. It is an example of the depth the team has in its production. A whopping 12 players have already scored in double digits. Mac Jansen, who is tied for 3rd in NAHL goal scoring with 17, is on pace to eclipse the 30-goal mark for the second year in a row.
Second half success: Like Fairbanks, it is sink or swim with the Chill, who has yet to lose a game in overtime or a shootout. With such a potent offense, the Chill have the ability to break games open at any time. However, as the season goes along and games get tighter and tighter, the battle in net between Blake Cates and Adam Carlson will intensify, but both have had some really bright spots so far this season. Four straight games in Cloquet against the Wilderness in mid-March could determine home ice in the first round.
Interesting stat: The Chill rank 2nd in the NAHL with six shorthanded goals.
Kenai River Brown Bears (4th place, 16-14-3, 35 pts.)
To date: It is literally been a tale of two seasons thus far for Kenai River. Through the first 15 games, the Brown Bears were one of the NAHL’s best, posting a 12-3-0 record, which included an eight-game winning streak. That has been followed by just a handful wins in their last 18 games. A majority of the Brown Bears troubles in the first half can be traced to their neighbors of the North, as they have just one win in 10 tries against Fairbanks. There have been plenty of bright spots however. Forward Alec Butcher leads the league in scoring with 38 points to date and he was named the NAHL’s Forward of the Month for October. Forward Albin Karlsson is second in team scoring and is the team leader in game-winning goals for Kenai River.
Second half success: The Brown Bears have an 11-game homestand coming up in January and February and they have to win the majority of those games. Their final four games after a trip to Texas are against Fairbanks, so the schedule in March will be tough. They also have nine head-to-head games with Wenatchee, which may dictate who makes the playoffs and who doesn’t.
Interesting stat: The Brown Bears have allowed five shorthanded goals so far this season, the second most in the NAHL to date.
Wenatchee Wild (5th place, 15-13-3, 33 pts.)
To date: Armed with one of the youngest teams in the league, the Wenatchee Wild have certainly given their fan base a wild ride through the first half of the season. After jumping out to a respectable 5-3 start, the Wild hit a seven-game winless skid. Following that, they went on a run that saw them get back over .500 and into playoff position. Wenatchee has three of the best rookie forwards in the league in Parker Tuomie, Troy Loggins and Trey Bradley, who are all averaging around a point per game in their first year in the league. They also have depth at goaltending with the addition of veteran Gustaf Johansson to highly scouted rookie Chase Perry.
Second half success: The Wild may be the most intriguing team of the second half and their season could go anywhere. The addition of St. Cloud recruit Brendan Harris from Bismarck is an intriguing one. The Wild make two long trips to Alaska to play both Fairbanks and Kenai River, but finished with 11 of their final 13 games at home including the last nine in a row.
Interesting stat: The Wild ranks 2nd in league attendance averaging 2,762 fans per game.
Minnesota Magicians (6th place, 13-15-6, 32 pts.)
To date: At just under .500, the Magicians are anything, but a last place team. However, thanks to the early performance of the entire Midwest Division, the Magicians closed out of the first half of the season on the outside looking in of the playoffs. Matt Colford and Nicholas Kuchera are both 20-point producers to date, but the production from the blueline has been sparse. Atte Tolvanen has been the go-to guy in goal and has played well despite a .500 record. The Magicians have also seen flashes of great play from the likes of Eetu Karvinen, Will Johnson and Mario Bianchi, but it has not been consistent.
Second half success: The Magicians have to improve their special teams, as they rank towards the bottom of the league in both power play and penalty kill. They also have a tough trip to Alaska coming up and six of their final seven games are away from home. They will have plenty of opportunity to climb the Midwest standings as the majority of their remaining games are against divisional foes.
Interesting stat: The Magicians rank last in the NAHL in shootouts this season as they have scored just once in 22 attempts.
Port Huron Fighting Falcons (1st place 19-6-7, 45 pts.)
To date: The Fighting Falcons have proven in the first half of the season that they are one of the NAHL’s elite. Their six regulation losses are an NAHL low, while their seven losses in overtime/shootout are tied for the league lead, but it has enabled Port Huron to gain valuable points in the standings. The Fighting Falcons success in thanks in large part to a balanced scoring attack and the #1 offense in the league. Port Huron is scoring 3.39 goals per game, which is tops in the NAHL. However, they do not have a scorer on the current roster in the Top 20 in scoring. However, they have 12 players that are in double digit scoring.
Second half success: Port Huron’s leading scorer Mitch Maloney is gone so the likes of Zach Badalamenti, Bryan Yim and Logan Lambdin will have to pick up the slack. Jonathan Kopacka and Alex Archibald are part of one of the best defensive combos in the league. The only thing left to be determined is who head coach Michael Gerhson will go to in goal come crunch time because both Alex Blankenburg and Max Milosek are capable #1 goalies.
Interesting stat: Blankenburg’s 10-1 record is the best of any of the regular netminders in the NAHL and he ranks in the Top 5 in goals against average and save percentage.
Johnstown Tomahawks (2nd place, 20-12-2, 42 pts.)
To date: The Tomahawks play has been good enough to get the club into a spot to content for home ice in the NAHL playoffs. However, winning in bunches has proven to be a challenge for the Tomahawks, who haven’t won or lost more than four straight games at any point this season. Their last nine games before the break were a win followed by a loss, but included a big sweep over Michigan. Mitch Hall has emerged into one of the league’s best blueliners as he ranks second in assists for dmen with 20. Brandon Reinholz and Shane Bednard each have been very effective offensively with 13 goals apiece to date. Rookies Matthew Meier and Trevor Recktenwald are also putting together good seasons.
Second half success: If the Tomahawks are going to challenge for a North title and secure home ice in the 1st round of the playoffs, they have to get more scoring from veterans like Omar Mullan and Jordan Watt. Goaltender Alex Okicki will likely be the x-factor in the playoffs and the rest of the season for the Tomahawks. He has the playoff experience necessary to be the difference maker in goal. All but two of Johnstown remaining games are against divisional opponents.
Interest stat: Recktenwald leads the NAHL in shooting percentage at 26.9% this season. He has scored seven goals on 26 shots this year.
Michigan Warriors (3rd place, 15-11-8, 38 pts.)
To date: The Warriors are in contention thanks in large part to a stretch of 13 games in October and November when they didn’t lose a game in regulation and went 8-0-5 in that time frame. Since that point, the Warriors cooled off a bit winning just four out of their next 13 games. Michigan has three, 20-point producers to date in Zack Szajner, Jake Hopfner and Jon Farkas. Goaltending has been by committee as Trevor Gorsuch and Dillon Kelley have each appeared in 17 games this season and have almost identical numbers. Jake Faiella and Ryan Dougherty are two solid defensive defenseman, who lead the team in plus/minus and secure a very strong blueline for the Warriors, which may be their main strength.
Second half success: While the Warriors have been good at home, they have been subpar on the road. That is something that will need to change in the second half and in the playoffs. The Warriors have a sparkling record against Port Huron (5-1-1) this season, which bodes well for the rest of the season and any potential playoff match-ups. Michigan is just 3-4-1 outside the Division, but the good news is it is all North match-ups the rest of the way.
Interesting stat: Michigan has allowed the most shorthanded goals this season in the NAHL with six.
Janesville Jets (4th place, 16-14-1, 33 pts.)
To date: One thing is for sure… the Jets are an exciting team to watch. That is thanks in part to their youthful roster and open style of play. The Jets got off to a rough start on the season going 1-4-1 in their first six games. A tough stretch in October and November left them at the bottom of the Division with a 8-13-1 record, but heading into the second half, the Jets have won eight of their last nine games. The Jets do have some high-end point producers with the likes of Michael Louria, Jordan Himley, Robin Hoglund, Drew Callin and 17-year-old Kyle Patava. In goal, both rookie Logan Halladay and veteran Brock Kautz have each appeared in 16 games, but it has been the 17-year-old Halladay that has been behind the recent Jets resurgence. He was perfect in the month of December and has won his last eight straight starts.
Second half success: It is going to be interesting who Coach Dibble decides to go with in goal come crunch time. Halladay has proven he can get the job done, but Kautz is in his fourth NAHL season and has experience on his side. However, the work load on the goalies this season has been tough as the Jets allow the most shots on goal in the league, allowing more than 35 shots on goal per game. If the Jets can keep their good play up to start January with road series in Port Huron and in Flint against Michigan, then they should have a good chance to make the playoffs.
Interesting stat: The Jets are 15 for 26 in shootouts this season, which equals a 57.7% mark, the second best in the NAHL this season.
Springfield Jr. Blues (5th place-tie, 14-14-4, 32 pts.)
To date: Springfield jumped out a very good 7-3-1 start, but have struggled somewhat since as they have hovered around the .500 mark since mid-November. The Jr. Blues lost their leading scorer Patrick Curry in early December and are 1-3 since his departure. The Jr. Blues are one of just four teams in the NAHL without a 20-point producer on their active roster. However, the Jr. Blues are a disciplined team, with the second least penalty minutes per game, which has led to a very effective power play, which ranks fourth in the NAHL at 18.5%. One of the major bright spots for Springfield this season has been goaltender Stefanos Lekkas, who at just 17-years-old, has been the workhorse in goal. Lekkas has started 12 of the last 14 games for the Jr. Blues and he ranks in the top 10 in both goals against average and save percentage.
Second half success: Springfield is capable of being a playoff team and have last year’s success in the final weeks of the regular season to prove it. 16 of Springfield’s 28 remaining games are at home, which is good since they have been much better at the Nelson Center than on the road. Springfield is going to need to get production out of players like Max Kalter, Trevor Stone, Mike Severson and Davis DeKorte, along with getting more production from the blueline, which has been a challenge this season.
Interesting stat: With 692 saves this season, Lekkas ranks second among all NAHL goaltenders in saves this season.
Soo Eagles (5th place-tie, 13-14-6 pts.)
To date: After losing so many key pieces from their North Division Championship team from last season, the Eagles knew they were rebuilding this year, but thanks to some recent good play at the end of the first half of the season, the Eagles are just a point out of a playoff spot heading into the second half of the season. 18-year-old Mike Sabatini has been having an all-star type season, leading the team in scoring with 22 points to date. Team captain Ryan Urso has had a solid season on the blueline and the Eagles also have received decent production from AJ Jarosz and Bruno Birzitis. The Eagles have also benefitted from recent additions Nick Belger and Scott Cuthrell, who have seen a rise in their production since joining the Eagles. Regular goalies Colin Brennan and Paige Skoog are both injured so Landon Trutt and Nathan Klebe have filled in admirably with better numbers.
Second half success: The Eagles need to get healthy and then head coach Bruno Bragagnolo is going to have to make some hard decisions in regards to the goaltending. The Eagles have lost just once in regulation in their last eight games, so they will want to continue that momentum to begin the second half. The schedule sets up favorably to start January with five straight games at home and then five straight games against Janesville, who are in the 4th and final playoff spot, just one point ahead of the Eagles.
Interesting stat: The Eagles are one of only two NAHL teams that has yet to allow a shorthanded goal this season.
Amarillo Bulls (1st place, 22-10-2, 46 pts.)
To date: After a slow start, the defending Robertson Cup Champion Amarillo Bulls jumped out to a 20-4-1 record through 25 games, by winning 19 of 21 games in a two month span. The accolades and awards were plentiful as Tyler Gernhofer was named an the NAHL’s Forward of the Month in November and goalie Colin Delia was named the NAHL’s Goaltender of the Month in October. Gernhofer, who leads the NAHL in goals with 21, hasn’t scored a goal in his last eight games. Coincidentally in that time, the Bulls hit the longest winless skid since their arrival in the NAHL. The Bulls uncharacteristically dropped seven straight games, which took them out of the South Division lead, but two wins before New Year’s put them back on top.
Second half success: Fortunately for Amarillo, the skid was temporary, as they have too many proven weapons to not challenge for another title. The Bulls have four players that have 30 points or more and that means the offense is always going to be a factor for opponents in the second half. The Bulls do a have a favorable schedule the rest of the way, including 12 home games and two more series against Wichita Falls to gain points.
Interesting stat: Besides having scored the most points to date, the Bulls are also the NAHL’s most penalized team, averaging over 25 minutes per game.
Wichita Falls Wildcats (2nd place, 21-10-3, 45 pts.)
To date: The Wildcats are in 1st place at the break for a variety of reasons, but one major one is that they are just as good (if not better) on the road than they are at home. The Wildcats have been known to get off to fast starts and this year was no exception to that. After a perfect NAHL Showcase, Wichita Falls jumped out to a 10-2-3 record after 15 games. After a small skid in November, it was right back to winning in December. Scoring has been by committee and the Wildcats have plenty of talent and depth. Forwards like Tyler Ledford, Kyle Bauman, Will Vosejpka, Ben Kucera, Colin Staub and Nick Farmer have all contributed. Goaltending has also been a huge plus with both David Zevnik and Chase Munroe enjoying very good rookie seasons.
Second half success: After returning with a series at Topeka, Wichita Falls has a nine-game homestand in January and into February. If they can be successful during that homestand, a division title may be well within reach. However, plenty of games against Amarillo and Topeka remain, so the Wildcats will need to keep their foot on the gas pedal.
Interesting stat: The Wildcats lead in the NAHL in shorthanded goals with 10, four more than the next closest team.
Topeka RoadRunners (3rd place, 19-11-4, 42 pts.)
To date: Offensive depth and the arrival of a #1 goaltender has enable the RoadRunners again to be a part of the conversation of teams that will contend for the South title. One of the remarkable things about Topeka is their ability to bounce back and avoid the big slides that others have gone through. Conversely their longest win streak is just four games. Tyler Poulsen, Jake Kamrass and Jasen Fernsler are just three of the remarkable 13 players with double digit points. The RoadRunners have also found a #1 goalie in PJ Bridges, who arrived in late October and has been phenomenal since then. Bridges ranks second in the NAHL in goals against average (1.38), shutouts (4) and ranks third in save percentage (94.7%).
Second half success: If the RoadRunners can navigate a month long stretch of road games in February, then the schedule is set up well for March, which includes a six game homestand. The final weekend of the year is a two game set in Wichita Falls, which could be for a chance at a division title for both clubs. It is very likely that if the RoadRunners end up with home ice in the first round of the playoffs, they will be able to go far. The question remains however, do they have enough to have sustained success in the playoffs in order to content and win a Robertson Cup?
Interesting stat: The RoadRunners have the top two individual penalty minute leaders in the league with defenseman Clint Garris (105 mins) and forward Brandon Vuic (104 mins).
Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees (4th place, 17-10-7, 41 pts.)
To date: The Killer Bees are positioned well after the first half of the season and are nine points clear of 5th place Corpus Christi. The Killer Bees don’t give up a lot defensively, but they also are challenged in creating a lot of offense. The Killer Bees are blessed with some high-end offensive talent with the likes of Ben Greiner (30 pts.), Evan Schmidbauer (22 pts.) Tyler Bruneteau (19 pts.) and Anthony Croston (18 pts.). After that, the production falls off dramatically, especially from the defensive side. Of the 81 goals the Killer Bees have scored to date, only six have come from defensemen. Both goalies (Olli Kalkaja and Nick Schmit) have played well thus far with goals against averages in the sub 2.00 range and save percentages above 91%. The Killer Bees are tied for the league lead in overtime/shootout losses with seven.
Second half success: If Rio Grande Valley can win their remaining games against Corpus Christi (nine games), then it is very likely they will make the playoffs. However, head coach Joe Coombs and group will be looking for home ice, which means the remaining series against Amarillo and Topeka will be big. Surprisingly enough, the Killer Bees are done playing Wichita Falls in the regular season. Right now, Kalkaja and Schmit are battling for the #1 goaltending spot. If the Killer Bees can get through a tough road swing to start January, they have a seven-game homestand in February to gain some more ground.
Interesting stat: Forward Ben Greiner leads the NAHL in shots on goal with 149 so far this season.
Corpus Christi IceRays (5th place, 13-16-6, 32 pts.)
To date: A slow start put the IceRays behind the 8-ball early on in the season, but they have appeared to have found their stride. After a slow 1-4 start the IceRays struggled in October and November winning just two games at one point in a stretch of 15 games. However, entering 2014, the Ice Rays have won more games (7) in the past five weeks than they did the first two months of the season. One of the big bright spots for the team who likes to trend with younger players is the play of 16-year-old forward Jake Durflinger, who is second on team scoring with 18 points to date and also leads the club in game-winning goals. Forwards Martin Hojbjerg and Maurin Bouvet have also played well this season and defenseman Grant Hutton is one of the top blueliners in the NAHL. The IceRays may have a battle in goal the rest of the season as 17-year-old Forbes Ploszaj has challenged Ben Myers with his recent play
Second half success: Plain and simple the IceRays have to win. They start 2014 nine points out of the fourth and final playoff spot in the South. 14 home games remain, which is good given the support of the fans, but the IceRays have a very tough stretch of games in January and into February with two series against Rio Grande Valley and others against Fairbanks, Topeka and Amarillo. If the IceRays can navigate that portion of the schedule with some success, then they should be set up to try and make the playoffs, with their last five games being head-to-head against the Killer Bees.
Interesting stat: The IceRays popularity in Corpus Christi continues as they again are the NAHL leaders in attendance, averaging 3,116 fans per game.
Lone Star Brahmas (6th place, 11-21-2, 24 pts.)
To date: The Brahmas got a late start in putting a team together, so the first two months of the season were a reflection of that as Lone Star won just two of their first 12 games. The Brahmas have been a fairly consistent team at home this season, but have struggled on the road, winning just four games away from the NYTEX Sports Centre. Forward Matt Lison is a legitimate offensive threat with 14 goals so far this season. A lot of turnover has not helped the Brahmas, but they do have a good defensive duo in veterans Anthony Mousseau and Alexey Solovyev. The good news for the Brahmas is that thanks to a recent stretch in December, they know they can play with a beat anyone in the division. With the arrival and emergence of new goaltender TJ Black came a rash of wins against Amarillo, Odessa and Rio Grande Valley. The Brahmas have also beaten Topeka on multiple occasions.
Second half success: With 26 games to go, the Brahmas are 17 points out of the final playoff spot so making the post-season has long odds. There will come a point towards the end of January when the Brahmas determine if they are going to push for the playoffs or build towards next season and that may mean moving some veterans for draft picks or tenders. Black has been a real bright spot in goal and that has to continue. Lone Star has to find a way to score more and allow less as they are second to last in goals for at just 2.12 per game and last in goals allowed at 3.56. If they can somehow get through January, the schedule in February and March is somewhat favorable, including an eight-game homestand.
Interesting stat: Lone Star is one of the league’s best teams in the shootout, scoring on 38% of their chances and allowing a shootout goal just 24% of the time.
Odessa Jackalopes (7th place, 10-24-1, 21 pts.)
To date: The rebuilding process and era under new head coach Matt Cressman is continuing to try and find itself in the Permian Basin. The good news for the Jackalopes is that they are likely to double the number of wins they had last season and no matter how you slice it, that is progress. The bad news was that Odessa was plagued by a very tough start to the season, which may have ended their playoff dreams before they could begin. In their first 17 games, the Jackalopes picked up just two wins, which included 15 regulation losses. That lack of points cost Odessa in the South standings. Since that point, they have been a .500 team. The Jackalopes have had very little turnover on their roster, which means those that are there have experienced the ups and downs of a season thus far and are learning from it. Forward Lukas Laub leads the team in scoring and will return to the Jacks in 2014 with the experience of playing for Germany at the World Junior Championships. Miami University recruit Alex Alger has shown flashes of outstanding play this season and goaltender Eric Hancock has put up some respective numbers and is now sharing starting duties with Yoshihiro Kuroiwa.
Second half success: With the playoffs as a longshot for this season, the focus for the Jackalopes will be to become a better team each day and get the players as much experience as possible. 11 of the last 13 games are at home, which means that come February and March, Odessa could be spoiling many teams hopes for a playoff berth or home ice advantage. If the Jackalopes can keep the core of their players back for next season, they should be able to build up their experience this season and make the Jacks a playoff contender again.
Interesting stat: Of the top 11 scorers on the Jackalopes roster, only one (Mathieu Briand) is set to age out of juniors, meaning that the 10 remaining top scorers would be eligible to return next season.