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26 in 26: Odessa Jackalopes

September 8, 2019
The 26 in 26 series features a look at all 26 teams in the NAHL for the 2019-20 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. 26 in 26 looks into each NAHL team and will include video interviews with 26 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.
 
Odessa Jackalopes
Head Coach: Todd Watson (1st Year)
2018-19 record: 21-35-4, 46 pts. (6th in the South Division)
2018-19 leading scorer: Joseph Winkelmann (53 pts.)
2019 Playoffs: Did not qualify
2019-20 Division: South
First regular season game: Wednesday, September 18th @ Maine Nordiques
Home opener: Friday, October 4th vs. Corpus Christi IceRays
 
A year after making the postseason in 2017-18, the Odessa Jackalopes got off to a tough start and never really recovered in 2018-19. Finishing in the basement of the South Division with a record of 21-35-4. A combination of being the most penalized team in the league and having one of the worst penalty kill units was a major factor in their season.
 
But a fresh voice behind the bench looks to turn things around in West Texas. Todd Watson was hired as head coach in mid-May as the sixth head coach in the team’s history.
 
“I am incredibly excited to come to Odessa and continue the proud tradition of Jackalopes hockey,” Watson said. “We are going to strive to put forward a product that the people of the Permian Basin can be proud of and position our players to succeed at the next level both on and off the ice.”
 
Watson is no stranger to the NAHL as he was the general manager and head coach of the now defunct Compuware Ambassadors from 2000-2003. He led the team to a Robertson Cup championship in 2002 and was named Coach of the Year that same season. In his final year on the job in 2003, Watson was named the NAHL’s Executive of the Year. He then went on to coach with the Saginaw Spirit and Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League where he won a J. Ross Robertson Cup in 2007 as an assistant coach.
 
Watch: Odessa Jackalopes head coach Todd Watson interview
 
In order for the Jackalopes to return to the postseason, they’re going to have to keep the puck out of their net. Odessa allowed 222 goals last season, an average of 3.7 per game. That ranked 22nd out of the 24 NAHL teams last season, only Brookings and Maryland allowed more goals. 
 
The Jackalopes also struggled to put pucks in the opposing team’s net as no on the 2018-19 roster surpassed the 20-goal plateau. Forward Jared Christy ended up leading the team in goals and points with 17 and 37 respectively, but he only appeared in 39 games before he was traded around the NAHL trade deadline. Joseph Winkelmann provided in offensive spark after being brought in. He registered 12 goals and 30 points in just 21 games in the Permian Basin. 
 
The Jackalopes will have a few returners from last season, Michael Sacco leads all the returners in points from a year ago. He lit the lamp several times while notching 20 assists. Matt Hutton, the former NA3HL product, is back for his second full season in Odessa. He potted a pair of goals and added seven helpers. Jan Blasko looks to get a full season under his belt as the forward had five goals and two assists in 23 games with Odessa. 
 
The Jackalopes also acquired Matt Clark from the Chippewa Steel over the offseason. Clark played in 50 games for the Steel and we their second highest scoring defenseman with four goals and 18 points. 
 
The hiring of Todd Watson hire signals the start of a new era for the Odessa Jackalopes, as they look to take the next step as an organization. A step that includes competing consistently for South Division and Robertson Cup Championships.
 
Next up: Shreveport Mudbugs
 
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