As bad as things looked for the Wichita Falls Wildcats on Friday night, that’s how good they looked on Saturday. The North American Hockey League team split a two game series with the Corpus Christi IceRays at Kay Yeager Coliseum this weekend, giving them another Monday out of the NAHL South cellar.
Corpus Christi goalie Anthony Stolarz recorded 42 saves on Friday night as the Wildcats almost doubled the IceRays shots on goal (43-23). Meanwhile, the IceRays made the most of limited opportunities against Wildcats goalie Tyler Green.
The IceRays scored first with 5:38 left in the first period on an unassisted goal by Seth Blair. The sixth goal of the season for the Bismark, North Dakota native would send the teams to the first intermission with Corpus Christi up 1-0.
The Zamboni would hardly be off the ice when Nick Szopinski tied the score at the 1:27 mark of the second period. Jason Eddy would get the assist on the first year Wildcat’s second goal of the season, but that would end the highlights for Wichita Falls on Friday.
Going on a powerplay at the 2:42 mark of the second, the Wildcats looked to take their first lead of the game. Joe Ginley had other plans, regaining the lead for Corpus with an unassisted, shorthanded effort 20 seconds into the powerplay.
Beau Walker would tack on another IceRays goal at the 12:35 mark with an assist from Eric Purcell. Despite having a 35-28 shots on goal advantage, the Wildcats trailed going into the second intermission by a score of 3-1.
Corpus Christi would turn their attention to defense, only putting four shots on goal going into the final minute of play. Wichita Falls peppered Stolarz with 18 shots, but the 6’5″ goalie shut the Wildcats down in the final period to improve to 6-2 on the season.
The Wildcats pulled Green in the final minute of play in favor of an extra attacker. Matthew Weis took advantage of the empty net to score the final goal of the game. Ginley and Danny Fetzer would record assists on the empty net goal and Corpus Christi would take the 4-1 win.
Green falls to 3-9-1 with the loss.
Saturday would start out with a surprise as goalie Matt Leon made his debut for the Wildcats. Last season’s North American 3 Hockey League Most Valuable Player with the Queen City Steam, Leon would jump right into action with his first start for Wichita Falls.
Once the puck dropped, things didn’t look much different from Friday as the IceRays jumped out to a 2-0 lead.
Grabbing a powerplay opportunity just under seven minutes into the game, crisp passing by the IceRays led to the opening goal when Frank Misuraca fed the puck to Weis near the right circle. Weis’ fourth goal of the season gave Corpus a 1-0 lead.
Eight seconds had ticked off the clock when the IceRays extended their lead to 2-0. Eric Purcell would take a quick pass from Beau Walker to net his team leading 11th goal of the season.
With the 1,500 in attendance thinking they had seen this before, the 2-0 score took the teams into the first intermission.
As he has so often this season, Dennis Kravchenko would provide the first spark of life for the Wildcats when he cut the IceRays lead in half at the 13:12 mark of the second period. Tucker Poolman and Chris Pontello would get assists on Kravchenko’s team leading sixth goal of the season.
Luck both literal and symbolic would play a part in the Wildcats tying the game before the end the second period.
Ginley would get a one-on-one with Leon as he snagged the puck and raced down the middle of the ice. The IceRays forward beat the new Wildcats goalie, but the shot deflected off the right post and slid harmlessly to the left side of the ice.
Some luck may have come to the Wildcats all the way from Switzerland as Renato Engler’s sister was in the crowd for Saturday’s game. The visiting Swiss saw her brother knot the score at 2-2 with a shorthanded goal at the 15:44 mark. Chris Pontello and Brad Shumway would record assists.
Like Friday, the Wildcats would dominate shots on goal in the third period (16-6). Unlike Friday, Wichita Falls was trying to put the game away rather than battle from behind.
Tyler Hope would give Wichita Falls their first lead when he scored his second goal of the season from point blank range 11:11 into the final period. Kravchenko and Nathan Chasteen would get the assists on the goal, and the Wildcats would only build on their lead.
One minute and nineteen second later Wichita Falls would increase their lead to 4-2 when Jason Eddy scored his second goal of the season. Zach Pochiro and Brennen Parker would record assists.
Kravchenko would cap the rally he started when he found the back of the net with his seventh goal of the season. Pontello and newcomer Adam Barlow would record assists on the powerplay goal, giving the Wildcats a 5-2 victory.
Leon would make 30 saves on 32 shots on goal to take the win in his Wildcats debut.
Stolarz recorded 35 saves on 40 shots on goal as he fell to 6-3-0 on the season.
Wichita Falls snaps a five game losing streak with Saturday’s win, their first since October 14. The Wildcats are now 4-12-1 on the season.
Corpus Christi come out of the weekend with a 9-6-0 record. Saturday’s loss snaps a six game winning streak for the IceRays.
The two teams do it again November 11-12 when they take the ice at Kay Yeager Coliseum. The puck drops for both games at 7:05 p.m.
Other Wildcats notes:
Along with the additions of Leon and Barlow to the roster, the Wildcats also announced the official release of forwards Cody Williams and Justin Gutierrez.