Saturday night’s contest between the Lone Star Brahmas and Wichita Falls Wildcats got off to a bang when Storm Wahlrab delivered a thunderous hit eliminating Nikita Litviak deep in the Brahmas zone and setting the tone for a physical game.
It was Wichita Falls who got on the board first with 5:49 to go in the period after the puck jumped over Alexey Solovyev’s stick at the near point. Evan Okeley picked it up on the fly and went streaking in on TJ Black who got a piece of it, but it bounced past him and into the net. Jake Townsend was credited with an assist on the play.
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AJ Vanderbeck tied it up at 9:03 of the second after he fished the puck off the end boards and gave it to Cody Wickline in the leftwing circle. Wickline spun and sent a shot on net that Austin Shaw kicked aside, but Vanderbeck who had followed the play sent the rebound over Shaw’s left shoulder. Hunter Stanley continued his hot hand with an assist on the play as well. A hustle play by Hogan Davidson at 17:22 put Lone Star up one. On the play Shaw came out of net to stop a ring around, but he misplayed the puck giving Wickline the opportunity to center it. Davidson got on his horse and blew past Jeff Baum to put the loose puck into the back of the net on the backhand.
The third period was a fast paced end to end game, but neither team could solve the netminders despite several scoring opportunities. With time winding down, Wichita Falls pulled Shaw in favor of the extra attacker. A defensive zone faceoff with just over 16 seconds left resulted in a flurry of activity in Black’s crease with multiple players having a shot at the puck and bodies littering the ice as Brahmas defensemen tried to clear the crease. Black came up big and withstood the barrage to claim the victory and secure the NAHL South Division Crown and lock up home ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Wildcats outshot the Brahmas 20 – 16 on the night and both teams were 0 – 3 with the man advantage.
Elsewhere Around The NAHL South Div
Amarillo – Corpus Christi
The Icerays wanted to go into the playoffs on a high note and came out strong with Nic LaBurn scoring between a pair of Tanner Lomsnes goals to take a three goal lead into the first intermission. Amarillo tried to claw their way back into it in the third but Conner Kelly scored an insurance goal and Luke Pickar made 22 saves for the 4 – 2 win.
Odessa – Rio Grande
The Killer Bees got a little revenge for Friday night. Rio Grande got five goals from four different skaters on the way to a 5 – 2 win. In the second period it was Anthony Croston, Elliot Lorraine and Parker Woods who lit the lamp. Cam Bleck built the lead to four early in the third before Odessa scored twice. Wood finished off the scoring with an empty netter to seal the deal. Nick Schmit faced only 12 shots in the victory.
Topeka – Wenatchee
The Wenatchee Wild have made a statement going into the playoffs as the fifth seed. In the past two weekends they have split with Lone Star and taken two in a row from Topeka. Saturday night Andre Pision got the ball rolling with a first period power play goal. August Von Ungern-Sternberg, Chris Jones and Mike Coyne scored in the second to take a 4 – 1 lead into the final period. The Roadrunners pulled to within one with just under seven minutes to play, but could get no closer. Zach Quinn made 32 saves in the winning effort.
Final NAHL South Division Standings
x – Clinched Playoff Berth
y – Clinched Division Title
With only one game left in the South Division regular season the only question now is will Wichita Falls or Topeka take second place and earn the first round bye along with Lone Star. Topeka holds their fate in their own hands. Win on Sunday and they get a week off to try and right the ship. Lose and they will host Rio Grande in a three game play in series. Wichita Falls on the other hand will be glued to Fasthockey rooting for the Wild to sweep Topeka in regulation. Otherwise the Wildcats who have never made it out of the first round of the playoffs will be the ones who host the Killer Bees for the play in series.