It’s a numbers game now for the Odessa Jackalopes.
Just one game into the second half of the Central Hockey League season, the Jackalopes are the top squad in the league by winning 80.3 percent of their games so far.
They are the only team with more than 50 points (53) and hold a seven-point lead over the Allen Americans (46) in the CHL’s Southern Conference.
While the conference title and the No. 1 seed throughout the playoffs would be nice, just qualifying for the postseason is the first goal. Should the Jackalopes continue to win at their current pace, along with the the Southern Conference teams playing at their same levels, they would be qualified for the postseason before Valentine’s Day.
With 31 games left to play in the regular season, the Jackalopes have the possiblity of adding 62 points in the standings by going undefeated. If they win 80 percent of their games, that would be 49 points (102 overall) — and falling to 70 percent would give them 43 (86 overall).
That means Corpus Christi (29 points) and Amarillo (32 points) would both have to go undefeated the rest of the way in order to catch the Jackalopes. Arizona (23 points), which already has lost three times this season to Odessa, could not catch the Jackalopes, even with a perfect second half if the Jacks stay on their pace.
Corpus Christi and Arizona have been less than perfect this season against the Jackalopes, going a combined 0-7.
Nothing is a given, but Jackalopes head coach Paul Gillis has this year’s team completely focused on the task at hand, which for the Jackalopes isn’t just making the playoffs, it’s reaching the Ray Miron President’s Cup Finals and bringing the chalice back to the Permian Basin.
Everyone has bought into the system and understands their roles, which makes the team that much more dangerous to opponents. Odessa is comfortable playing with a lead and understands what it takes to battle back in tight games.
The veteran leadership steps up time and again, on and off the ice, to keep the players in the correct mindset — never too high after a victory and never too low after a loss — while reinforcing the idea of unfinished business after last year’s Game 7 loss to the Texas Brahmas in the Southern Conference Finals.
>> EXPENDABLE: The trading of Paul Kelly and J.R. Bria for center Troy Ofukany from the Wichita Thunder to the Jackalopes on Tuesday caught fans by surprise, but the effort from a pair of players on the roster made the duo expendable.
Kelly was brought in when Brian Swiniarski injured his knee late last season and was expected to miss the remainder of 2008-09 season. However, he recovered in time for the playoffs and has shown no ill effects this season, making Kelly the odd-man out for time on the ice in regular shifts.
Bria, who played five games before getting hurt, has been cleared to play for some time but hasn’t been able to crack the lineup because of the play of Michael Grenzy, a solid, stay-at-home defenseman who is physical and can take care of the puck in his own zone.
In Ofukany, the Jackalopes are getting a player who scored 30-plus points last year in his rookie season as a professional and is the gritty, work-hard-on-defense player Gillis likes in his lineup.