NORTH AMERICAN HOCKEY LEAGUE: Jackalopes look to make most of extra games

The final home series for the Odessa Jackalopes was supposed to take place nearly two weeks ago. Instead, the team got a few games added late in this season after the North American Hockey League season was extended.

For the Odessa players and coaching staff, they’re excited for the additional games.

“It’s nice,” Jackalopes assistant coach Nate Skidmore said. “It’s bonus hockey. Our guys are embracing it. Some of them are thinking about going home but the more hockey they get to play in a COVID year is a blessing. They have to keep that mindset here to finish the season strong.”

The Jackalopes concluded their final home series of the season with this past weekend’s games against Wichita Falls, falling 3-2 in overtime in both games.

Odessa will face Wichita Falls on the road this Friday and Saturday before finishing up the regular season with a series at Amarillo on May 14-15.

The Jackalopes faced Amarillo on the road Monday, losing 3-2 putting them at 12-33-4-3 overall for the season with 31 points.

However, despite the setback, Jackalopes forward Fletcher Anderson was happy to be able to play in front of his team’s home crowd at Ector County Coliseum for one last weekend.

“It was awesome,” Anderson said. “Coming down to West Texas, it’s great seeing people embracing hockey. It was the last home series but it was great to get another series at home in front of our fans.”

Anderson, who is a native from Thunder Bay, Ontario in Canada, recently committed to playing hockey at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point at the NCAA Division III level. He’s been the leading goal-scorer for the Jackalopes this season, putting the puck in the net 13 times with 16 assists. For him, the added games are an opportunity to end the year on a positive note for the Jackalopes.

“For the younger guys, it gives them a chance to get ready for next year,” he said. “It gives them more experience and it gives the older guys one last chance to play hockey in this COVID year.

Skidmore said the extra games on the schedule do not change anything as far as the team’s routine practice goes.

“It doesn’t change too much because we’re already in a routine,” Skidmore said. “We just keep the routine going and stay focused in the present moment. We can’t look too far into the future. We’ve done a good job all year long of not doing that but the more that we can stay focused on the now, the better.”

Odessa goaltender Cooper Black is also eager to finish the season on a high note.

“(The extra games) are awesome,” Black said. “We kind of missed out because of COVID so it’s just pretty cool that we have more of a chance to show the scouts what we can do. Any more hockey, I’m down for. I’m just excited to have more games.”

In recent weeks, Odessa has shown signs of life in games, coming back in a 3-2 win over New Mexico on April 23 before finishing the sweep the following night, winning 4-3.

The team fought back from a two-goal deficit against the Warriors in last Friday’s game.

“You’ve seen us come together as a team in these last few games and I think if we cut the season off, we wouldn’t be able to show how much we’ve improved,” Black said. “Coach Fortier and Skidmore have done a great job of teaching us how to play. We’re young but when we play well, we play really well.”

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