NORTH AMERICAN HOCKEY LEAGUE: Jackalopes prepare for alumni game

For 22 years, the Odessa Jackalopes have been able to bring ice hockey to the Permian Basin and this weekend, many of the players from the early years will come back to town and lace up their skates once again for their third annual alumni game.
The game will take place at 4 p.m., Saturday at Ector County Coliseum, prior to the Jackalopes’ season finale against the Amarillo Bulls in North American Hockey League action.
The event was put together by former Jackalope player Dan Lavergne.
“It’s hard to believe that it’s been 22 years since the Permian Basin has been introduced to the sport of hockey,” Lavergne said. “I was one of the fortunate ones to be on those early teams. I’ve been here for almost 22 years and it’s been a good thing.”
This weekend’s alumni game will feature former Jackalope Sami Laine who will be returning to Odessa with his hockey team (“Sami’s Selects”) from Finland to play the Jacks Alumni.
“I think the most exciting thing for this whole weekend is that we have one of the greatest Jackalope players coming over in Sami Laine. I’ve been in touch with him and we’ve been planning this thing for the last nine months. We’re excited to have him come all the way from Finland. We’re going to have a little skills competition after the game. It’ll be an awesome game. We have a lot of guys that are legends.”
Laine is famous for his record five-goal night that included a WPHL record three goals in 97 seconds to help the Jackalopes to a 9-6 win against the Waco Wizards in Odessa’s inaugural season in 1997-98.
Laine was also named the WPHL’s Rookie of the Year for that same season.
Joining Lavergne and Laine will be a number of other former Jackalopes including Donnie Margettie, Paul Fioroni, Nick Lamia, Brian Swiniarski, Shayne Lebreton, current Jackalopes head coach Greg Gatto, Shawn Skiehar, Adam Doyle, Pascal Bedard, Jeff Alcombrack, Billy Pye, John Bossio and Mike Gorman.
“Hopefully the jet lag won’t be too bad but once we have some drinks together, it’ll all be fun on the ice,” Lavergne said.
While Lavergne’s playing days have since ended, he’s noticed a change in the game since hanging up his skates.
“The game has changed quite a bit,” Lavergne said. “When I grew up, there was a lot of clutching and grabbing with your stick. There was a lot of intimidation factor. Now, if you can’t skate, you can’t play anymore. The game has changed quite a lot. It’s fun to watch the skill level of all the kids that will be playing in college and at the professional level. I had success for my size but sometimes I wish I could play with these guys with the way things are going.”
Many of the opponents from their inaugural season (including the Wizards and the WPHL itself) have ceased to exist, the Jackalopes have continued to thrive in a football rich community.
“I think it’s awesome,” Lavergne said. “I’ve been watching these guys play hard every single day and night trying to get college scholarships and it’s just awesome watching their energy level. I’m just happy that hockey is still here. We’ve seen some teams fold over the years and we’re just happy to still have it here in Odessa.
“Odessa is a smaller town. There’s not a whole lot to do here. It’s a football town. But having the Odessa Jackalopes here for 22 years, providing entertainment is great.”
The Jackalopes alumni will be wearing special alumni jerseys that will be auctioned off during and after Odessa’s game against the Bulls.
>>Michael Bauer on Twitter @OAMichaelba