Read the full NAHL Weekly Release.
Never an easy task picking up points in Alaska, the Wichita Falls Wildcats completed their two-week swing through the Last Frontier with an impressive 5-1 mark.
"I give a lot of credit to any team that can make that trip and come out on the winning end against those the three teams, and we had a great trip in regards to our win-loss record," said Wildcats coach-GM John Bowkus.
With a two-game sweep of Fairbanks the weekend of Oct. 12-13, the Wildcats headed south last week where they fashioned a 3-1 record against the Kenai River Brown Bears (1-1) and the Alaska Avalanche (2-0).
After falling to Kenai River on Tuesday, 5-3, the Wildcats rebounded to win their next three games, starting with a 6-4 triumph over the Brown Bears on Thursday. Luke Salazar notched two goals in that contest, while goaltender Mike Jarboe turned aside 35 shots.
The next night, Wichita Falls doubled up Alaska, 4-2. Sean McKenzie was credited with game-winning goal, while Adam Sponseller chipped in three assists. Jarboe made 23 saves between the pipes.
The Wildcats wrapped up their Alaskan odyssey with a 4-1 win over the Avalanche on Saturday. Salazar struck for two more goals, while Adam Cardwell added a goal and an assist. Kyle McMahon got the start in net and made 22 saves to pick up the victory.
"You find out a lot about the type of team you have on an extended trip like this," said Bowkus, whose team improved to 11-2-1 on the season. "With only a handful of veteran players who have made that trip in the past, I give lots of credit to our first-year guys for the effort they put into our success."
Despite failing to make the playoffs last year, Bowkus, in his first season behind the Wildcats' bench, isn't surprised to see his team sitting atop the NAHL's South Division a month into the 2007-08 campaign.
"We have such good character on this team, from the veterans who are really helping in the development of our younger players to the 23rd-25th guy who knows they have such an important role on this team," said the coach.
"We look like a team and we play like a team. We've bonded well and the guys are playing hard knowing that if anything happens to them, someone on the team has their back. It makes it easier for everyone to do their job out on the ice."
The Wildcats have been paced offensively by their top line of Salazar, Cardwell and Grant Everett. The trio ranks Nos. 1, 2 and 3, respectively, in league scoring and is just as effective away from the puck.
"Everyone talks about the offensive ability of these guys, but not too many notice that they block shots, finish checks and even stick up for each other when they need to," said Bowkus. "They have great chemistry and they're very unselfish when it comes to scoring."
At the other end of the ice, Jarboe, who was acquired in the offseason from Alpena, is making his case as a legitimate college recruit.
"I'm very happy with Mike's play and his character," said Bowkus, who also credits Jarboe for helping the first-year McMahon acclimate to the junior ranks. "He wants to be that go-to guy and he wants to play every game.
"Mike has lots of colleges interested in him right now and I'm hoping he narrows it down here soon."
Now in his fourth season with the Wildcats, Skylur Jameson, the team's second-leading goal-scorer behind Salazar, continues to go about his business without much fanfare.
"He does so much and gets very little accolades for his play," said Bowkus. "He's very skilled, but loves the fact that he's considered a defensive-type player."
The team's smallest defenseman at 5-foot-8, Brett Kaneshiro, another former IceDigger, also takes on an unassuming role and can be counted on in any situation.
"He plays so smart and doesn't get beat anywhere on the ice," said Bowkus.
The Wildcats are also getting a big boost from their newcomers, who are making a seamless jump to junior hockey.
"We have some first-year guys scoring game-winning goals; we have first-year guys killing
penalties; we have first-year guys on the power play," said Bowkus. "I think that tells me most of them are making the transition."
Happy with their fast start out of the gate, the Wildcats know full well complacency isn't an option this early in the season.
"We have to realize that every team is going to keep getting better and better," said Bowkus. "We have to keep playing as a team and we have to improve on all aspects of our game.
"It's a long season and we're still a long ways from our goals."
AROUND THE NAHL...
CENTURY CLUB: North Iowa's 4-2 win over Springfield on Friday marked coach Dave Boitz's 100th career victory behind an NAHL bench. Now in his fourth season with the Outlaws, Boitz guided Alexandria for one year prior to joining North Iowa.
ICEDIGGERS ADD ROSS: In his first game with Alpena since being acquired from St. Louis last week, forward Bryan Ross, 19, recorded an assist in the IceDiggers' 4-2 win over Mahoning Valley on Saturday. "Bryan is the type of player we feel can step in and add scoring to our lineup," said IceDiggers coach-GM Kenny Miller.
GOLDEN GRAHAM: Mahoning Valley's leading scorer, Derek Graham, 19, tallied three goals last weekend as the Phantoms split a pair of games in Alpena. "Because of his offensive ability, a lot of times Derek's defensive side is overlooked," said Phantoms coach-GM Bob Mainhardt. "He's a well-rounded centerman who plays both sides of the puck."
ON THE RIGHT TRACK: Southern Minnesota forward Vince Unklesbay, 20, who was acquired earlier this season from Bismarck, scored a goal and an assist in the Express' 5-4 win over Fargo-Moorhead on Saturday. "Vince has been a huge addition to our team," said Southern Minnesota coach-GM Matt Romaniski.
WALTERS EXTENDS STREAK: North Iowa forward Shea Walters, 19, extended his scoring streak to eight games with three goals and an assist in two wins over Springfield last weekend. "He's not a cookie-cutter player," said Outlaws coach Dave Boitz. "He does things his way and is creative and very explosive."
TYE-BREAKER: Bismarck forward Tye Lewis, 18, who was picked up from North Iowa earlier this season, recorded a hat trick, including the third-period game-winner, in the Bobcats' 5-4 victory over Fargo-Moorhead on Friday.
EXPRESS HIRES MARKETING DIRECTOR: Southern Minnesota has hired Ashley Clark as its marketing director. A 2006 graduate of Central Michigan University, Clark spent the last nine months as an intern with the Memphis Redbirds baseball team, the AAA affiliate of St. Louis Cardinals.