24 in 24 Series: Wichita Falls Wildcats
September 7, 2016
The 24 in 24 series features a look at all 24 teams in the NAHL for the 2016-17 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. 24 in 24 looks into each NAHL team and will include video interviews with all 24 head coaches in the NAHL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the season, including taking a look at their strengths as a team and thoughts on the league. It will also take a look back on last season and how each team fared and what they accomplished.
Wichita Falls Wildcats
Head Coach: Tony Curtale (1st year)
2015-16 record: 44-11-5, 93 pts. (1st in the South Division)
2015-16 leading scorer: Austin Albrecht (60 points)
2016 Playoffs: Won the South Division. Lost in the Robertson Cup Championship Game to Fairbanks, 2-0.
2016-17 Division: South
First regular season game: Friday, September 9th vs. Amarillo Bulls
Home opener: Friday, September 9th vs. Amarillo Bulls
It was a record-breaking season and one to remember last year for the Wichita Falls Wildcats. On the ice, the Wildcats won a team-record 44 games and won their first ever South Division regular season title. Their 44 wins and 93 points were 2nd in the NAHL only to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. The Wildcats also produced the NAHL Rookie of the Year in Adam Goodsir, the NAHL Coach of the Year in John LaFontaine, had two players on All-Rookie Teams and two more players on the NAHL All-South Division Team. To top the season off, a total of 13 players from the 2015-16 Wildcats team are committed to play college hockey at NCAA schools.
The success for the Wildcats and LaFontaine didn’t go unnoticed as in mid-July, Lafontaine accepted the head coaching position for the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks. After a week-long coaching search, the Wildcats found their new man and familiar face in former Texas Tornado and Springfield Jr. Blues head coach Tony Curtale, who is the winningest head coach in NAHL history. Curtale has seven Robertson Cup Championships to his credit and he has also won NAHL Executive of the Year and Coach of the Year titles. His career record in the regular season alone as an NAHL head coach entering this season is 557-211-62.
With only three players back from last years Robertson Cup Runner-Up team and South Division Champions, Curtale said that the club had to basically start over in building a team for this season. “We were basically starting over because three returning players isn’t a lot of experience. We are just trying to implement our systems and get ourselves ready for the start of a new season, because we start very early so we have to be ready to go right off the bat,” Curtale said.
The Wildcats will open the season with four home games prior to the NAHL Showcase against Amarillo and Corpus Christi. After that, they face some tough challenges at the NAHL Showcase, which includes a rematch of the Robertson Cup Championship Game against Fairbanks and other games against Springfield, Bismarck and Aston. If there is one coach who can handle the rigors of the South Division and the tough competition, it is Curtale, who was the trailblazer of putting the first junior hockey team in the South back in 1999 that since has seen the division grow and expand to what it is today. “The South Division is notorious for being very tough and all the games are difficult. It is exciting for the fans because it tends to be really fast and physical hockey,” said Curtale.
Curtale said that even after winning the Robertson Cup a total of seven times, one of the biggest priorities remains committing his players to NCAA programs. “With the league having record-breaking commitment totals, it is a good time to be playing in the NAHL. It just shows the continued growth of the NAHL and United States junior hockey in general,” said Curtale. “I think a perfect example is to take a look at what the NAHL Showcase has become. It is a now a place where you not only see every NHL and NCAA team represented, but we also get to see the NAHL players of the future with the addition of the other leagues there like the NAPHL. It makes for a great event and something that has become the signature of the league.”
Curtale, who will be entering his 18th season coaching in the NAHL said that one of the best things about the league is the opportunity it provides players. “It is one of the few places that a player does not have to pay to play and where finances isn’t holding a player back. That is a credit to the sustainability of the league, its committed owners and the model. It is hard to find all that in junior hockey in North America.
Curtale continued… “I’m very excited to be back in the NAHL. Wichita Falls has always been one of my favorite places in the league. I couldn’t be more thrilled to continue the winning traditions in Wichita Falls and to bring a championship to this city,” said Curtale. “I think our goals as an organization remain the same. We want to make sure we are developing and advancing our players to the NCAA Division I level and we want to win the Robertson Cup Championship and because the first Wichita Falls team to accomplish that feat. We want to play hard until the final buzzer and be a puck pursuit team that is going to be very offensive.”
Next up in the 24 in 24 series: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights