Read the full NAHL Weekly Release.
Wenatchee is certainly wild about its hockey. Just ask the sellout crowd of 4,277 who watched their team take down the West Division-leading Fairbanks Ice Dogs on Saturday, 5-2.
“It was absolutely electric in the rink from start to finish,” said Wild head coach Paul Baxter. “The energy our fans bring to our players has been a huge factor in our team’s success.”
In the victory, which completed a two-game sweep over the Ice Dogs, Adam McKenzie connected for a goal and three assists, including one on Michael Voran’s game-winning marker, and Cam Severson added a pair of goals. Between the pipes, Mac Carruth made 36 saves.
For the expansion Wild, which leads the NAHL in both total (63,700) and average attendance (2,548) through 25 games, celebrating its first packed house in team history was a gratifying moment.
“It was amazing,” said Wild president Bill Stewart. “We’ve had good crowds all season, but it was nice to finally have an official sellout.”
The Wenatchee Valley Medical Center, Saturday’s game-night sponsor, brought over 800 people to Town Toyota Center for the contest. Plenty of group sales also contributed to the success at the turnstiles.
“Our sales staff did an incredible job bringing in groups for the game,” Stewart added. “We had close to 2,000 group tickets sold, and the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center certainly showed its support and we thank them for that.”
What’s more, the Wild presented a check for $25,000 to the Mike Utley Foundation that night. In less than a year, the NAHL club has already helped raise over $100,000 for local churches, schools, outreach programs and other non-profit organizations.
“Bill and the entire staff have put together an excellent game production and script that’s second to none in junior hockey,” praised Baxter. “Combine that with a successful on-ice product and our loyal fans’ exceptional support and it’s a thrilling night for hockey every night the puck is dropped at the TTC.”
The night prior, Nic Dowd’s overtime goal lifted the Wild to a 3-2 triumph. Duncan McKellar (goal, assist), Brandon Burrell (goal, assist) and Junior Cadiz (two assists) all registered two-point nights, and goaltender Mathieu Dugas turned aside 22 shots.
In second place in the West with 56 points, the Wild has rattled off six straight wins while posting an impressive 10-2 mark in February. The sweep over the Ice Dogs solidified the team’s second-place position in the standings, guaranteeing it home-ice advantage in the first round of the Robertson Cup Playoffs.
“Over the last two months, we’ve gotten solid performances from many of our primary offensive scorers as well as our secondary scorers,” said Baxter, whose team is assembling one of the best records in history for an NAHL expansion team. “We feel that when we’re emotionally and mentally ready, we can compete with anybody in the league.”
Baxter also credits Wild associate head coach Ryan McKelvie, who has played a key role in the team’s skill development and conditioning, and goaltending coach Chris Clark for much of the club’s season-long promise.
“Their extensive coaching efforts are yielding strong dividends as we approach the playoffs,” he said.
On the ice, in addition to its capable contingent upfront, the Wild has been aided by some timely offensive contributions from McKenzie, a defenseman. The 19-year-old Air Force recruit from California rang up a goal and four assists against the Ice Dogs and now has points in his last six games (two goals, nine assists).
“Adam is a warrior who’s very gifted from a talent and leadership standpoint,” said Baxter. “Air Force has committed to a fine young man who will be a terrific asset when he enters their program.
“He continues to improve by leaps and bounds from week to week and will be a big key to our success moving forward.”
As will Dugas and Carruth, who have proved to be one of the NAHL’s top goaltending tandems since Day 1. Only 16, Carruth, a Minnesota product, has already committed to the University of Minnesota Duluth. Baxter is confident that Dugas, a 21-year-old from Quebec, will also be an effective college goaltender.
“Mathieu will be a tremendous addition to any top Division I program,” said the coach. “His technical skills, combined with his drive, determination and overall character are attributes that will put him in a great position with whichever program he chooses.
“And Mac continues to improve and mature as he showcases his high-end skills.”
The Wild made a few moves at the recent NAHL/USA Hockey trade deadline to help tighten the screws on its postseason push, most notably the acquisition of Air Force-bound forward Mitch Torrel from the Albert Lea Thunder.
Defensemen Tanner Mort, the youngest player in the league with a May 1993 birth date, and Alex Charette, who was picked up from the North Iowa Outlaws, along with forward Michael DiPuma, have also made their way to Washington.
“All these guys have absolutely helped push our team to a higher level,” said Baxter. “I believe that our team's character and commitment to what it takes to win bodes well for us moving forward.”
With three players’ college plans already sealed in Carruth, McKenzie and Torrel, Baxter expects more good news on the Division I commitment front.
Burrell, Cadiz, Dowd, Dugas, Zach Ledford, McKellar, Evan Mosey, Severson, Voran and DJ Vandercook are all on scouts’ radars, and, with 17 1990-borns or younger on the Wild’s roster, plenty more are sure to be granted opportunities down the road.
“We’ve received great feedback from numerous programs on many of our players,” said Baxter. “We’re very encouraged that a lot of our guys will become college athletes.”
AROUND THE NAHL
ALASKA AVALANCHE: Tyler Currier registered a five-point night (goal, four assists) in the Avalanche’s 6-4 win over Wichita Falls on Friday.
ALBERT LEA THUNDER: The Thunder’s 5-4 overtime win over Bismarck on Saturday snapped a 23-game losing streak.
ALEXANDRIA BLIZZARD: Jerry Freismuth put home a goal and two assists as the Blizzard dropped three games to Springfield.
ALPENA ICEDIGGERS: Ice Diggers’ leading scorer Erik Peterson connected for a goal and three assists in Alpena’s 6-3 win over Traverse City on Friday.
BISMARCK BOBCATS: Tim Serratore potted three goals and an assist as the Bobcats split a two-game set with Albert Lea. “It’s always nice to see a first-year player have a breakout weekend,” said head coach Byron Pool. “Hopefully, it will be a sign of things to come for Tim.”
FAIRBANKS ICE DOGS: Steve Zierke notched a goal and two assists as the Ice Dogs lost a pair of games to Wenatchee.
KENAI RIVER BROWN BEARS: Ryan Lemke and Nick Simson each collected a goal and an assist in the Brown Bears’ 5-4 shootout loss to Topeka on Thursday.
MAHONING VALLEY PHANTOMS: Nick Kenney put home four goals and two assists in the Phantoms’ two-game sweep over Motor City, including a hat trick in Friday’s 8-4 triumph. “Our line (of Kenney, Jordy Trottier and Nick Shkreli) spent an extra hour last week reviewing game tape,” said Kenney. “Watching the tape helped me be more patient out there; it gave us a lot to work on and we worked it out well.”
MARQUETTE RANGERS: Goaltender Kevin Kissaw turned aside all 35 shots as the Rangers blanked Traverse City, 5-0, in their only game of the week on Thursday. “Kevin was the reason we were able to win,” said Rangers head coach Kenny Miller. “Even though the score was 5-0, he made a ton of big saves to keep us in the game early.”
MOTOR CITY MACHINE: Tufts University-bound defenseman Trevor John registered three assists as the Machine dropped two games to Mahoning Valley.
NORTH IOWA OUTLAWS: With 25 goals on the season, Brandon Brodhag is one away from matching the team’s one-year-old single-season record set by Bryant Skarda. “What Brandon brings to this team each weekend is a consistent approach and it’s paid off with not only all his goals, but the other offensive chances he either sets up up or generates,” said head coach Jeff Crouse. “Everyone in the league knows how potent he is.”
OWATONNA EXPRESS: Cory Thorson struck for three goals and an assist as the Express split a pair of games with North Iowa.
SPRINGFIELD JR. BLUES: Goaltender C.J. Groh backstopped the Jr. Blues to a pair of wins in his two starts against Alexandria, turning aside 40 of 43 shots.
ST. LOUIS BANDITS: Soren Jonzzen and Anthony Schooley scored the Bandits goals in their 2-1 win over the U.S. Under-17 Team on Friday.
TOPEKA ROADRUNNERS: Matt Hartmann and Edgars Lipsbergs both fashioned two-goal, three-assist weekends in the RoadRunners’ three-game sweep over Kenai River.
TRAVERSE CITY NORTH STARS: Lake Superior State University recruit Kyle Jean figured in every North Stars goal in their 3-1 triumph over Alpena on Saturday (two goals, assist).
TEAM USA: The U.S. National Team Development Program will no longer play a full season schedule in the NAHL starting in 2009-10.
WENATCHEE WILD: The Wild allowed only four goals against in its two-game sweep over Fairbanks. "We were fully aware that, to be successful against them, we'd have to be very strong defensively," said head coach Paul Baxter.
WICHITA FALLS WILDCATS: Third-year forward Brett Hartung, from Tallahassee, Fla., has committed to Bentley University (Atlantic Hockey) for next season.