NA Now: Odessa Jackalopes
The NA Now series features a look at all teams in the NAHL for the 2020-21 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. NA Now looks into each NAHL team and will include video segments with all the 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.
Head Coach: Jason Fortier (1st Year)
2019-20 record: 50 GP, 9-39-2, 20 pts. (7th in the South Division)
2019-20 leading scorer: Adam Kolcon (22 Points)
2020-21 Division: South
First regular season game: Friday, October 23rd @ Wichita Falls Warriors
Home opener: Friday, October 30th vs. New Mexico Ice Wolves
Last year was a tumultuous one for the Odessa Jackalopes. After jumping out to a 3-0-1 start, the Jacks began to have trouble finding the back of the net as games started to pile up in the first half of the season. By the time mid-November hit, the team was behind the South leaders and falling to the bottom of the South Division. In the midst of a 22-game losing streak that extended from November 16-January 31, the team made a temporary coaching change on January 10th.
When all was said and done, the Jacks finished at the bottom of the South Division for a second straight season. The team finished last in offense with just 1.46 goals per game and was ranked 24th on defense, allowing 4.06 goals per game.
A major change was imminent and just a month after the season was canceled, the Jackalopes announced they had hired Jason Fortier as the team’s new Head Coach and General Manager of Hockey Operations.
“I am tremendously excited about coaching in the North American Hockey League and particularly for a team with a proud tradition like the Jackalopes,” Fortier said. “We plan to create a culture that will become our identity and put an emphasis on creating the type of on ice product that will bring back the grit and pride to our loyal fans of Odessa, Midland and the entire Permian Basin.”
Fortier brings 11 years of excellence in the junior hockey coaching ranks. During the 2019-20 season, he was the GM and Head Coach of the Coquitlam Express in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL). His team finished 47 wins – 9 losses and won the regular season championship. During the playoffs, his team went undefeated heading into the Division Finals, until the season was ended due to the coronavirus. Over the past two seasons Coach Fortier has placed 31 of his players into Division 1 College hockey and he was named the BCHL Coach of the Year this past season.
“I think my vision of success matched that of what the Odessa ownership and leadership was looking for. The mindset is for us to rebrand, rebuild, and retool. We want to get the Jackalopes back on the map in the NAHL and be a contender again,” said Fortier. “In order to be able to recruit, develop, and advance your players to the next level, you have to have a good foundation, program, and culture. The players need to understand what it takes to be successful. We are going to have high expectations heading into this season.”
“First will be developing our team unity. There is going to be a lot of focus on working together for the greater good of things this year, so our guys are going to all have to be on the same page. We have a pretty good starting nucleus of players. There are still some question marks with guys in some different places, but we went out and tried to find some like-minded players who are more worried about the we than the me,” said Fortier. “We have a group of guys in camp that we are happy about and will be able to provide some leadership. I think once we get through the first week of training camp, we will have a better idea of what we are working with and what role guys will be able to fill. I take pride in having high expectations. We don’t really want to say the word ‘win,’ but rather if you do the process and take care of all the other details, the wins will take care of itself.”
“We haven’t discussed goals yet, but I can tell you we are going to have a Championship mind set and mentality every day, no matter what we are doing. The be all end all isn’t necessarily winning a Championship, it is striving to push for a Championship. We want to show up to every game and believe we can win,” said Fortier. “I want guys that want to get better every day. Where they end up a year from now, 10 years from now, is going to be impacted by what they do this season. We are going to have to push the boundaries of self so that guys go beyond of what they believe they are capable of. I think we are going to be tough to play against and we are going to play fast and hard.”
Next Up: Shreveport Mudbugs