NORTH AMERICAN HOCKEY LEAGUE: Jackalopes prepare for long stint on road

The Jackalopes have returned from a break in their schedule but what now lies ahead is their longest stretch of road games on the calendar.

Last week, Odessa closed out 2020 and welcomed 2021 with a home series against Shreveport.

That was series was the last to take place at Ector County Coliseum until the end of the month.

The coliseum will be transformed into a venue for the annual SandHills Stock Show and Rodeo, which will take place Friday though Jan. 16.

Meanwhile, Odessa will be on the road for six games facing the likes of New Mexico, Lone Star and Amarillo.

The Jackalopes’ next home game will take place Jan. 29 against Wichita Falls.

While the rodeo is in town, the Jackalopes will be practicing at the ice rink at Music City Mall and head coach Jason Fortier says he and his players don’t mind the long road trip or the temporary change of venue.

“When the rodeo comes to town, there’s a sense of excitement too for the guys,” Fortier said. “You change it up a little bit. We go over to the mall (and practice) and they take good care of us over there.

“Our guys are excited to come watch the rodeo. It’s a great thing to share a good building with other great events because our players get a chance to be spectators and see the different events, whether it’s a rodeo or a concert.”

>> NEW MEXICO: The Jackalopes’ road stretch will begin with a two-game series against the New Mexico Ice Wolves on Sunday and Monday at the NYTEX Sports Centre in North Richland Hills where the Lone Star Brahmas play.

The series will take place there due to COVID restrictions from the state of New Mexico.

It’ll be the first meeting this year between the teams.

Odessa currently sits in third place in the North American Hockey League South Division standings with a record of 7-8-2 with 16 points.

New Mexico is in sixth at 3-11-1—16 .

“We’ve watched about three or four different games,” Fortier said. “They’re a good team on the power play. They make a lot of good passes. They’re struggling a little bit right now but they’re trying to find their identity. They’re trying to find their consistency.

“It’s up to us to outwork them but also be respectful of what we’re trying to accomplish and where we’re going to put them in position where we can let our skills play with their weaknesses.”

The Ice Wolves are coming off a series sweep by Amarillo last week on the road.

After their series against New Mexico, the Jackalopes will return to North Richland Hills to face Lone Star in a two-game series before facing Amarillo on the road the following week.

“I think it’s nice to get out on the road trip,” Fortier said. “Having a few road trips in a row, it’s always good to be with your teammates. It’s a different change of pace. It’s a different element of your mindset sometimes.”

>> IMPROVEMENTS: Despite going 1-2 in last week’s series against Shreveport, the Jackalopes are in a better position so far this season than they were at this point last year.

Last year’s team finished last in the division. Odessa finds itself still in playoff position as the Jackalopes are one point and three points ahead of fourth-place Amarillo and fifth-place Wichita Falls.

The team’s goals remain sky high.

“Odessa last season was a last placed team,” Fortier said. “This year, we’re winning more games and that’s great but I didn’t take this job (just) to be competitive.

“I came here to win a championship. We’re here to win every night and that’s the mindset when we go into the locker room.”