With the 2017-2018 North American Hockey League’s regular season now in its final third, teams are beginning to watch the scoreboard, counting the number of games remaining and points needed to reach the postseason.
The Odessa Jackalopes are no different, the standings of the South Division in everyone’s view on the wall of the locker room, letting the coaching staff and players know exactly where they stand each time they take the ice.
In past seasons, that view has been disappointing as Odessa found itself on the outside of the playoffs looking in, with not enough points and too few games remaining to make up ground, having to play out the string knowing that the season would end with the final buzzer of the regular- season finale.
That won’t be the case this season.
Firmly entrenched in second place in the division with 55 points as they head into a bye week, the Jackalopes are looking at possible playoff matchups, not whether they will be participating.
“We’ve just been going out there and working hard, taking care of what we can do” Odessa’s Matt Brown said. “You can’t go out and get caught up with the stuff the other team is trying to do to get you out of your game, you just have to take care of your responsibilities.
“This team is good and we are looking forward to competing each night.”
The Jackalopes competed this weekend with the Amarillo Bulls, playing three games in three nights. Going into Saturday’s series finale, the teams had split the first two contests with Amarillo winning 4-3 on Thursday before the Jackalopes’ dominating 8-1 victory Friday.
Bulls coach Rocky Russo was so frustrated with his team’s performance Friday that he brought the players back on the ice for a conditioning skate following the loss. That sent a message not just to the Bulls, but the Jackalopes as well.
“We knew that it was going to a much more physical game,” Brown said of Saturday’s game. “We talked about it before the game and Coach (Greg) Gatto told us to be ready for that, too.”
That’s how it was, as well, with Austin O’Rourke, the Bulls’ captain, getting into a scrap with Odessa’s Nick Wilson just 100 seconds into the game.
From that point, both teams started putting opponents on the ice and that physical play lasted through a scoreless first period and well into the second period before O’Rourke, with a nice play out of the left corner, was able to give the Bulls a 1-0 after 40 minutes.
The Jackalopes, however, were confident during the second break, knowing they had chances but had yet to find the net.
That changed very early in the third period when Zac Herrmann corralled a rebound high in the right circle and blasted a slapshot that beat Amarillo goaltender Jason Grande just 31 seconds into the period.
Dylan Johnson then put Odessa (25-14-3-2) in front with a shorthanded goal inside the right post just as the third period turned two minutes old.
“We knew that we were getting chances and just needed to finish,” Gatto said. “Getting Herrmann’s goal early to tie things up was huge and then Johnson’s shorty really picked things up.”
Amarillo tied the game on Trey Bagwell’s penalty shot at the 7:02 mark of the third period, but moments later, Brown would put the Jackalopes up for good when he finished a rush up the ice by putting a shot past Grande at 10:39.
Peyton Frantti capped the scoring with an emptynet marker from 150 away and the Jackalopes skated away with a 4-2 victory.
“It was a good win for us,” Brown said. “A good response.”