This one had all the markings of another lackluster finish for the Odessa Jackalopes, who trailed by four goals against Wichita Falls entering the third period Friday night at the Ector County Coliseum.
Then Lawrence Cornellier scored for the Jackalopes near the midway point of the final 20 minutes and suddenly there was some energy in the old building.
With less than five minutes to go, the energy grew as Odessa’s Matt Volonnino scored to cut the Wildcats lead in half. Teammate Taylor Portner found the net just more than two minutes later and suddenly it was very loud, with momentum clearly skating with the Jackalopes.
Enter Wichita Falls’ Conor O’Neil.
Taking a puck in the left circle, he got Jackalopes goaltender Nick Deery down on the ice and then wristed the puck past him with 1:55 to play.
It proved to be the game winner when Portner netted his second of the night just 25 seconds later to pull Odessa within one, but that was as close as it would get in Wichita Falls’ 5-4 victory.
The loss dropped Odessa to 6-34-2, while Wichita Falls improved to 16-22-3, five points behind Corpus Christi for the final playoff spot in the North American Hockey League’s South Division.
The teams will play the final game of a three-game series at 7:05 tonight at the Coliseum.
“It was a good finish,” Cornellier said. “We need to carry that over to the start (tonight).
“We had a tough start.”
The Jackalopes’ puck-handling woes put them in a hole early in the first period when a turnover in the right corner quickly found the stick of the Wildcats’ Matt Robinson behind the Odessa net.
He quickly fed the puck out front to Vosejpka, who was all alone in front of the right post and he quickly flipped it past Deery just 5:35 into the game.
Just after the midway point of the first period, another turnover — a failed pass at the right point of the Jackalopes’ zone — was pounced on by Wichita Falls’ Colin Staub.
He looked up, spotted O’Neil racing down the slot and fed him the puck for the easy redirect inside the left post with 9:05 remaining before the first break.
“The first two goals against, we gave them: lost control of the puck and turned over; lost control of the puck and turned it over,” Jackalopes coach Paul Gillis said. “That puts us down early and we have a hard time recovering.
“We had to get that first goal. We had some chances early and we didn’t put them in. We need to get a goal in a reasonable amount of time to settle in.”