NORTH RICHLAND HILLS, TX – For the final time this season the Brahmas are off to Odessa and judging by the previous team’s meeting, it’s going to be a doozie.
THE OPPOSITION: With four games left in the regular season, the Jacks are still in the midst of a battle for the fourth and final playoff spot with the Corpus Christi IceRays. Odessa just leapfrogged the ‘Rays this past weekend when they swept them down on the beach, thus placing them two points ahead and in the drivers seat. However, the Jackalopes are far from finished, and will attempt to pick up some more wins on their home ice this weekend against the Brahmas.
Who could forget the last time these two teams met? Hundreds of penalty minutes in a line brawl, accompanied by suspensions to a handful of players and head coach Greg Gatto. Gatto has since returned and this weekend both Connor Wood and Matthew Rypien will get back to game action for the first time since the incident. The vibe is that the weekend could go one of two ways; mass fireworks and carryover or a clean sheet, with neither side willing to risk suspensions as the teams inch closer to playoffs.
Due to the suspensions, Odessa was forced to call up some of their affiliate players to fill spots. One of them, Noah Poindexter has been a real bright point for the team since his debut, posting nearly a point-per-game in his lineup appearances. Even with Rypien and Wood returning, Poindexter may have solidified a post in the lineup yet and could be a player to watch this weekend.
While it’s nothing new, the two players who are always must-see are Hampus Sjodahl and Derek Brown. Both have 12 points in 10 games against the Brahmas this year, far and away leading the team. Additionally, Sjodahl has points in 17 of his last 18 games and has made a case for league MVP. It will be tough to beat the leading scorers of the Fairbanks IceDogs but it is hard to fathom where the Jacks would be without their top dog.
THE BRAHMAS: Unsurprising to most the team handled their business in Amarillo, beating the Bulls for the tenth and eleventh times this season. With the Bulls in the rearview mirror, it’s back to the Jacks, a team who the Brahmas have gone 7-3 against this season.
Last weekend’s wins were welcomed from a point perspective as well as a health standpoint. For the first time in a month, the Brahmas did not lose a player to injury and as of now, suspension. Matt Christian, Joey Fallon, and Jakob Romo have all missed extended time now due to three separate injuries and Bud Madej missed this entire past weekend with a lower-body injury. While at least two of them are going to try and return this weekend, it will depend on how they progress through the week.
Even through it all, it’s all systems go for the Brahmas, who haven’t suffered a regulation loss in a month in a half. Saturday, February 20th against Odessa was the last time it took place, and the Brahmas will look to rectify that by picking up two wins this weekend. To further fuel that fire, the last time the boys were in the Permian Basin, they split with the Jacks there as well.
In order to pick up those wins, it’s likely both netminders Conor O’Brien and Corbin Kaczperski will be relied upon. It was a rough holiday season for O’Brien, but he’s since gotten back to his old ways, winning six of his last eight. While that’s been a welcomed sign for Brahmaland, Corbin Kaczperski has held down the fort, winning seven of his last eight, and earning a point even in the loss. Similar to last year, it’s nothing but good problems in the crease right now.
PUCK DROP: Both contests this weekend get underway at 7:05 in the Ector County Coliseum. If you can’t make the trip west, be sure to catch the action with Nick Marek on FastHockey.com.