Read the full NAHL Weekly Release.
Wins haven’t been easy to come by for the Texas Tornado this season, making its two-game sweep over the Topeka RoadRunners last weekend all the more meaningful.
“We’ve been working towards this outcome for quite awhile,” said Tornado coach-GM Dwight Mullins, whose team improved to 9-22-3 on the season. “We’ve played well, but haven’t earned the win at the end of the night, so to get these two, hard-fought wins will go a long ways as far as regaining some confidence.”
On Friday, the Tornado bested the RoadRunners in a shootout, 3-2. Justin Lee and Ben Van Lare tallied for Texas in regulation, with Gustav Bengtson and Andrew Blazek notching shootout goals. Between the pipes, Thomas Callaghan turned aside 30 shots.
Five different players rang up goals for Texas the next night at it skated to a 5-3 in over Topeka. Adam Mitchell recorded the game-winning goal, with Sam Goodwin and John Bullis each adding two assists. Callaghan picked up the win in net with 26 saves.
“I thought we competed hard physically, and we’ve been able to insert a few guys into our lineup that like to get involved and that’s contagious,” said Mullins.
The Tornado was energized by the return of Bullis. In his first weekend back since missing 13 weeks with an injury, the 20-year-old from Frisco, Texas, responded with spark and enthusiasm.
Blazek, a 19-year-old from Pittsburgh who saw his first weekend of action after being traded from Des Moines of the USHL, also paid immediate dividends.
“Being able to add John and Andrew to our lineup gives us instant impact in terms of speed and grit,” said Mullins. “Both players have added a fresh feel and energy and really give us depth upfront.”
The Tornado is also benefiting from the acquisition of Bengtson. He was picked up in a trade from Cedar Rapids of the USHL at Thanksgiving and has four goals for seven points in 13 games with Texas.
“He’s really added an offensive spark that we were lacking early on in the season,” said Mullins.
Callaghan, 19, also played a big role in Texas’ success last weekend. The New Wilmington, Pa., native has been in net for six of the Tornado’s wins this season and now holds a save percentage over .900.
“You can have a lot of good players, but your goaltender needs to be one of the best every night and we got that last weekend,” said Mullins. “Tommy has continued to work hard at this game and is really maturing into a difference-maker.”
Despite their record and last-place positioning in the league’s South Division standings, the Tornado isn’t done yet. With 24 games left on the schedule – 16 at Dr Pepper StarCenter - there’s still plenty of time for Texas to right the ship.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for the players in our locker room,” said Mullins. “They’re dealing with the adversity and pressure that comes with playing here (with the Tornado) the right way. They’ve continued to work hard and believe they can battle to the playoffs, and that can make us dangerous.
“There’s great parody in this league and you need to take care of the little things that make a difference every night. I think we’ve had to fight through a difficult schedule, and we’ve missed a couple of key personnel that might have changed some of the outcomes early.”
The Tornado’s record hasn’t scared colleges away. Mullins reports that a number of his players are getting significant Division I attention, namely forwards Sean Roadhouse and Tyler Bowman, defenseman Matt Tennyson and Callaghan.
“I expect more names to follow,” said the coach.
With two morale-boosting wins to close out 2007, the Tornado is optimistic, but set on taking its revival one game at a time.
“If we can continue to take steps forward everyday and compete at the level we’re capable of, we can put ourselves in a position to be there in the end,” said Mullins.
AROUND THE NAHL
WINTER TO QUINNIPIAC: Second-year Mahoning Valley forward Miles Winter, 19, has committed to Quinnipiac University (ECACHL) for next season. After 31 games this year, the Horsham, Pa., native has 16 goals for 31 points.
TWO ROADRUNNERS COMMIT: Second-year Topeka forward Corey Jendras, 20, has committed to the University of Connecticut (Atlantic Hockey) for next season, while defenseman Eric Artman, 18, will attend the Air Force Academy (Atlantic Hockey) for 2009-10.
FORMER ‘RUNNER TO BEMIDJI STATE: Former Topeka forward Ben Kinne (2006-07) has committed to Bemidji State University (CHA) for next season. Last year with the RoadRunners, the St. Paul native scored 20 goals for 37 points in 59 games.
FIT TO BE TIED: With six points in three games last week, including a five-assist effort in a 6-4 win over Springfield, North Iowa forward Shea Walters, 19, is now tied with Wichita Falls’ Adam Cardwell, 20, as the league’s top scorer (50 points).
DYNAMIC DUO: St. Louis goaltenders Cal Heeter, 19, and Mike Johnson, 18, continue to impress, backstopping the Bandits to a pair of wins over Wichita Falls last weekend. Heeter made 23 saves in a 5-3 victory on Friday, while Johnson turned aside 26 shots in a 3-1 triumph the next night.
RENEAU ANSWERS CALL: In his first weekend of NAHL action, North Iowa goaltender Zak Reneau, 19, picked up a pair of wins over Springfield, turning aside 66 of 73 shots.
STILL STREAKING: With four more points last weekend, Alexandria forward Luke Nesper, 20, extended his scoring streak to 11 games (23 points).
OFFICIALS RECOGNIZED BY IIHF: One current NAHL official (Craig Hanson) and three former officials (Paul Carnathan, Keith Kaval and Tom Sterns) were appointed by the International Ice Hockey Federation to work IIHF-sanctioned events this season.