NORTH AMERICAN HOCKEY LEAGUE: Jackalopes look to capitalize off shootout win

Michael Bauer, Odessa American, Texas
·5 min read

Apr. 7—The Odessa Jackalopes' luck in shootouts finally turned in their favor after Saturday's 2-1 win over Wichita Falls in North American Hockey League action at Ector County Coliseum.

It was only the second time this season that the Jackalopes had won a contest in a shootout, with the other one also coming against the Warriors in the opening game of the season back on Oct. 24, 2020.

After that, Odessa came finished on the wrong side of a shootout three times:

>> a 3-2 loss to Lone Star on March 12.

>> a 4-3 defeat to New Mexico on Feb. 6.

>> a 2-1 setback to Amarillo on Jan. 22.

After Saturday's result, which gave the Jackalopes a split in the weekend's two-game series, head coach Jason Fortier and his players were able to breathe easier.

"To finally win a one-goal game it felt pretty good," Fortier said. "Anytime that you get to a shootout, all logic goes out the window.

"You rely on the goaltender and whatever player goes in to shoot. When they score, you're pretty ecstatic and it's an emotional roller coaster."

Despite coming up short a couple of times this season, Fortier knows there's plenty of exhilaration that comes with shootouts.

"Even on the wrong side of them, I still enjoy that concept," Fortier said. "Like, maybe you get outplayed but you get a chance to win. It's 50-50 and it's pretty exciting."

The Jackalopes now sit at 10-28-2-3 with 25 points in the NAHL South Division standings. Wichita Falls (22-12-1-5) remains safely in playoff position at fourth with 50 points, 20 ahead of fifth place New Mexico.

>> BETTER FRIDAY?: The series with Wichita Falls began on a low note for the Jackalopes, losing to the Warriors 5-0 last Friday.

However, despite the lopsided result, Fortier said there were still plenty of positives from Friday's game.

"I think we played maybe better on Friday," Fortier said. "We had a better game on Friday. We just didn't get a lot of breaks from a phenomenal first period."

In the first period on Friday, Odessa outshot Wichita Falls 12-7.

However, a few unlucky plays saw the Jackalopes staring at a 3-0 deficit in just a matter of seven minutes and the Warriors wouldn't look back.

Yet with the amount of opportunities Odessa had in the opening period, it could have been a different story.

"We could've been up four or five goals," Fortier said. "It was just one of those periods that I was proud of the guys.

"Then we had some bad luck and bad goals. Once we were down 3-0, it was pretty disheartening."

Wichita Falls ended up outshooting Odessa 35-22 Friday.

Saturday's contest saw the Warriors outshoot the Jackalopes 32-13 but Wichita Falls only had a goal from Owen Baumgartner on the power play in the second period (equalizing after Odessa's Liam O'Hare's first-period goal) to show for it.

Jackalopes goaltender Noah Rupprecht would finish with 31 saves and didn't allow a single goal from the Warriors during the shootout.

"The boys played pretty hard," Fortier said. "We had a couple of good moments but weren't consistent enough.

"Our goaltender was phenomenal. That was the major reason that we were able to get that win and close it out."

>> GOALIE STRENGTH: The NAHL South Division has been well-represented when it comes to the top goaltenders in the league.

Five goaltenders currently rank in the top 10 this season.

Those include Shreveport's Cole Hudson (at third), Lone Star's Graham Burke (sixth), Amarillo's duo of Cal Sandquist (seventh) along with Andrew Takacs (ninth) and Wichita Falls' Owen Bartoszkiewicz (eighth).

Bartoszkiewicz has posted a 16-8-1-3 record this season and has recorded 818 saves, allowing 67 goals and has a save percentage of .918. His goals-against average is 2.37.

>> END IN SIGHT: The Jackalopes are on the final stretch of the season with only seven games remaining on the calendar.

While they may be out of a playoff spot, Fortier says they're hopeful of passing New Mexico in the division standings as Odessa remains five points behind the Ice Wolves (13-26-2-2, 30 points).

The Jackalopes travel to first-place Shreveport for the final time this season.

The Mudbugs have already clinched a spot in the playoffs and sit at 29-7-2-3 with 63 points.

Both Friday and Saturday game times are slated for a 7:11 p.m. start time at George's Pond Hirsch Coliseum.

"We're basically running a marathon and the banner's been ripped off 10 about runners before us," Fortier said. "We still have to find a way to keep our motivation and our feet moving. We have a goal to catch New Mexico.

However, the Jackalopes are also looking at next year.

"Guys are competing for opportunities to be scouted," Fortier said. "It's our goal as coaches to create a foundation that they can believe in and feel like it has a chance for success and I think we're doing that.

"Now it's finishing what we've started. It may not have gone as we've planned but there's a ton of positives to build on."