24 teams in 24 days: Wichita Falls Wildcats
September 12, 2013
The 24 Teams in 24 Days series features a look at all 24 teams in the NAHL for the 2013-14 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season on Friday, September 13th as eight NAHL teams take to the ice on Opening Night. 24 in 24 will go in-depth into each NAHL team and will include interviews with all 24 head coaches in the NAHL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the 2013-14 season, including taking a look at their roster and their strengths as a team. It will also take a look back on the 2012-13 season and how each team fared and what they accomplished. Best of all, 24 in 24 is done to provide the fans of the NAHL with an inside look at their favorite team and what to expect.
Wichita Falls Wildcats
Head Coach: Paul Baxter
2012-13 record: 26-30-4, 56 pts. (5th in the South Division)
2012-13 leading scorer: Eliot Grauer (58 GP, 20G, 27A, 47 Pts, +10)
2013 Playoffs: Did not qualify
2013-14 Division: South
First regular season game and home opener: Friday, September 13th vs. Odessa Jackalopes, 7:05pm
Admittedly, Wildcats head coach Paul Baxter was not satisfied with the outcome of what happened during the 2012-13 season. “We didn’t meet our expectations last year,” said Baxter. “I think on the positive side, we brought in some players last year that the team will ultimately reap the benefits from this season, but last year was a learning and development process for many of them.”
That was evident from the start of the 2012-13 season for the Wildcats, as they struggled out of the gate to find some consistency and an identity. The Wildcats won just three of their first 11 games and posted a 10-18-2 record through the first half of the season. However, the players that Baxter referred to started to get it and the Wildcats played much better hockey the second half of the season, putting together two separate five-game winning streaks. By the end of the regular season, the Wildcats were right in the middle of the hunt for the fourth and final playoff spot, but fell a few wins and points short of Corpus Christi.
The Wildcats can hang their hat on the fact they were competitive and in the playoff mix the majority of the season. They also had a very good year in terms of the development and advancement of their players. Eight of the Wildcats players secured NCAA commitments last year and seven of those were NCAA Division I commitments.
That included goaltender Evan Cowley, who not only made a Division I commitment to the University of Denver, but was also drafted by the Florida Panthers in the 2013 NHL Draft earlier this summer. “I had a wonderful experience playing in the NAHL and more specifically, Wichita Falls. We had such a support system from the coaches, to the staff, to the fans,” said Cowley. “I think the NAHL has a great ability to find and develop players with hidden talents, or talents that have gone overlooked by others. It is a great league for players to work hard, develop and then get noticed and recognized.”
Cowley was one of the constants for the Wildcats last season and even though he has departed for the NCAA, the team still has a dozen players back from last year’s club, something that Baxter is banking on for success in the 2013-14 season. “I think with 11 to 12 returning players to the team this season, that bodes well for our chances on the ice and leadership on the club throughout the entire season,” said Baxter. “I think the group of returning and new players we have this season has a lot of skill, great vision of the ice and are going to be high character guys with a determination to win.”
Both goaltenders will be new to the NAHL, but not new to winning. “I am encouraged about both our goalies because both are highly skilled and both know how to win,” said Baxter. One of the goaltenders in 19-year-old David Zevnik, who led St. Thomas Academy to the Minnesota Class A State Championship last season and who also was also named as the winner of the 2013 Frank Brimsek Award, presented to the state's top senior boys goalie. The other netminder is 18-year-old Chase Munroe, who backstopped the Indiana Jr. Ice to two straight NAPHL Championships at both the 16U and 18U levels the past two seasons. He was selected to the All-NAPHL 18U 2nd Team last season.
Leading the way on defense will be five returning blueliners. Those returners include Kristaps Bazevics, Sam Piazza, Marshall Tema, Jake Townsend and Dan Vaysberg. Of the top 10 scorers last season on the Wildcats roster, none of them were defensemen, so Baxter hopes that this veteran group can change that with a year of NAHL experience under their belts. “I think our defense will be a nice combination of size and skill, and they will be able to play at both ends of the ice and lead by example,” said Baxter.
Up front, the Wildcats return three very good centers in Kyle Bauman, Ben Kucera and Tyler Ledford. All of them had 20 points or more last season and Bauman led the team in goals in 2012-13 with 26. Ledford had 35 points, including 26 assists, which was second highest on the team and Kucera had 20 points. Along the wings the Wildcats return four veterans in Colin Staub, Will Vosejpka, Nick Farmer and Rudy Junda. All four proved last year they could put up points and Baxter expects big things. “I expect all of our veterans to take on a leadership role. We expect that they are going to set a great example of how to play the game on the ice and live the right way off the ice,” said Baxter.
As for any of the new faces that will be on the roster, Baxter said he has liked what has seen so far out of all of them and in particular rookie forwards Evan Okeley and Max Reisinger. In addition, the Wildcats will have one of the youngest players in the league on the roster in 16-year-old defenseman Jack Kelly, who is a Texas native. The other new faces include forwards Zach Foesch, Jordan Jancze, Calvin Miska and Stan Sojka, and defensemen Andrew Kerr, Matt Koch and Josh Owings.
“I simply want us to get better as a team every day. We are exited about where we are headed and we have a group of players that is motivated,” said Baxter. “We want to be champions this season, both on and off the ice.”