With the lack of games in March, can the Wildcats keep up the pace or will the lack of games left compared to 10 and 11 left for Texas and Springfield in the final month of the regular Season? For the Wildcats, they will finish the regular season with just 2 home games left on the final weekend of the regular season against the Topeka Roadrunners.
For the Wildcats to have a strong shot at the post season, the Wildcats will need to contuine to play well and hope that the Tornado and Jr. Blues don't win the games in hand.
For the final month of the regular season, the Wildcats have 4 Road Games left West Division Foes Wenatchee Wild and Kenai River Brown Bears. Then the Regular Season will end with a pair of home games against the South Division Leading Topeka Roadrunners.
From the North American Hockey League Website: http://www.nahl.com/
Not long ago an afterthought when sizing up the South Division Playoff Picture in the North American Hockey League, the Wichita Falls Wildcats are making a case that they are a legitimate contender for a playoff berth.
With a pair of important divisional wins last weekend against the Texas Tornado and six games remaining, the Wildcats trail the 4th place Springfield Jr. Blues by just 3 points in the standings and the 3rd seeded Texas Tornado by just 5 points right now.
"Our spirits are high," said Wildcats head coach Mike Flanagan, whose team improved to 17-29-6 on the season. "We're just going to continue to push ourselves and continue to believe in our abilities."
The Wildcats opened the weekend with a 3-2 victory on Friday. Chris Leone notched the game-winning goal for Wichita Falls, and Ryan Frost added two assists. Between the pipes, goaltender J.P. Musico made 31 saves.
J.T. Osborn rang up a hat trick the next night and Frost (2G 2A), Brian Sheehan (G 3A), Dan Gentzler (4A) and Tyler Lundey (G 3A) all fashioned 4 point games as the Wildcats downed the Tornado, 9-4. Musico made 36 saves in the big win as well.
"Everyone is putting forth strong individual efforts and paying attention to the defensive concept as a team," said Flanagan, whose club has rattled 4 wins in their last 5 games. "We're taking fewer penalties, staying disciplined and playing with a good work ethic. Everyone is having fun and being accountable."
Lundey, for one, stepped up to the forefront last weekend. With 13 goals and 39 points on the season, the 18 year old college hopeful from Middleton, Wisconsin, has been a valuable commodity at both ends of the ice.
"He's our best two way forward," said Flanagan. "He has good speed, he skates well and is accurate shot. He definitely has the potential to play Division 1 Hockey."
So does Sheehan, who's lead the Wildcats offensive charge all season. The 19 year old from St. Louis is tied for 3rd in league scoring with 56 points and 27 goals.
"Brian is one of our best players and a major offensive weapon," praised Flanagan. "He has the ability to score goals on any given night and has shown improvement in other areas," especially defensively. He's a very fierce competitor".
The Wildcats recent surge can also be attributed to the play of Musico. The 19 year old from Orange County, California joined the team in January and has won 5 of his last 7 starts.
"He's played well since his arrival," said Flanagan, who heard good things about Musico's Promist playing Midget Hockey with the L.A. Selects. "He's an athletic goaltender, not always confining to one particular style. "He's always battling and able to compete in all situations."
Flanagan also likes what he has in netminder Kelly Andrew, a 20 year old from Calgary.
"The Competition between him and P.J. in practice is healthy," said the coach of his goalie tandem. "They're supportive of each other and are both important to the success to the team."
Forwards Brandon Stroud and Bryan Kozlowski have shown tremendous versatility throughout the season, and the leadership of Broderic Browne hasn't gone unnoticed, either. With that, the Wildcats are also showing plenty of resilience since the loss of blueliners Zach Ledford, a Bentley University recruit, and Adam Kuhn-both team captain's and impact players-to injury.
"Right now, we have only 5 defensemen on our active roster," but they're all playing well and are truly earning their ice time," said Flanagan. "The guys have stepped up with the opportunities they've been given."
And the opportunity to play in Wichita Falls, which, since joining the league in 2003-04, has been one of the league's premier org., both in terms of player development and local support, is an experience not to be taken for granted, according to Flanagan.
"It's a great Junior Hockey Town," he said. "The fans are very loyal and passionate, it's a fantastic community to live in, and its a great place for junior players to continue their development."
"Likewise, the fans respond well to the work the players do in the community with their visits to schools, local businesses and other events."
And the Wildcats want nothing more than to thank those staunch supporters with a strong finish to the regular season and a still-very-possible invite to the Robertson Cup Playoffs.
"Our focus is to the finish the regular season on a positive note and play our best hockey," said Flanagan. "We were 10, 11 points back of a postseason birth a month ago, and suddenly now we're three points back, so we've made up a lot of ground."