NORTH AMERICAN HOCKEY LEAGUE: Jackalopes look to break out of rough stretch

It has been a rough road for the Odessa Jackalopes as the calendar turned to 2021.

The team suffered another sweep at NAHL South Division Lone Star over the weekend and head coach Jason Fortier is looking for a way to snap the slide.

Even with the difficult set of games in recent weeks, Fortier said during his weekly press conference Wednesday that he feels his team is getting closer to finding a breakthrough.

“We’re pretty much in every game, which is great, but we’re looking for that leadership to step up and those key players that really want to be impact guys to step up and perform,” Fortier said. “We’re not far off but we’re still searching for answers.”

Making things a little more complicated is the reshuffling of the lineups and a few new additions to the team over the course of the last two weeks. Among the new additions include defenseman Jimmy Rayhill, forward Charles-Edward Tardiff and Jack Musa, joining his older brother Joey.

Fortier spoke highly of what each of them brings to the team individually while also recognizing that it’s going to take some time for each of them to get settled in.

“Systematically, they’re not going to understand everything,” he added. “We’re coming in and trying to teach maybe something a little bit new for a lot of the players.”

Fortier added that he has learned a lot about the level of competition during his tenure so far in Odessa. He said that facing teams in his division has opened up his mind to what his vision for the Jackalopes is.

“I would say that the South Division is the hardest division I would say from just scouting and watching. That’s why I chose to come here,” he said. “It’s a type of division that when you leave here, you’re ready to go to college and there isn’t that huge transition phase when you step into the lineup.”

Up next for the Jackalopes is their third straight road series in as many weeks as the team takes on the Amarillo Bulls for a two-game series starting Friday.

The big point of emphasis for Fortier is his team getting off to a better start. This will be the first meeting between the two teams since Nov. 28, a game that Odessa won 4-3.

“We have to establish a good forecheck and be aggressive right off the hop is key for us and we want to have the guys buy into that right away,” Fortier said. “We always talk about the first five minutes and making sure that the defense is turning their feet and that we’re finishing checks.”

>> ROAD TRIPS: Because of the recently completed SandHills Stock Show and Rodeo at the Ector County Coliseum, the Jackalopes have not a played a home game since Jan. 2. Fortier said that even though it’s been a while since the team played at home, it presents an opportunity to continue to develop both on and off the ice.

“Being on the road as a hockey player and staying at a hotel makes a big difference because you get that time with the players,” Fortier said. “The guys have a little bit more time to watch video and build relationships and I think there’s some positives that come out of that.”

>> SILVER LININGS: Fortier added that his team was starting to get things figured out together when it comes to everything from puck possession and getting the most out of practices. He also mentioned the goaltending as another area that has shown encouraging signs.

“They’re still doing their job,” Fortier said. “They’ve got to win a few games for us when it’s close but I couldn’t sit here and be critical of them.

“We have three guys that are here that are all extremely good and we believe in all of them and that’s something that we’re happy about as a team.”

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