T.J. Powers came away with two goals and an assist as the Fresno Monsters took a 4-1 victory over the Wichita Falls Wildcats at Kay Yeager Coliseum Friday night. It was the first ever meeting between the North American Hockey League teams.
A team in their inaugural season with the NAHL, Fresno brought a familiar face with them on their first trip to Wichita Falls. Monsters assistant coach Mike Perkins was an assistant for the then Wichita Falls Rustlers when hockey first made it's way to the city in 2002.
Perkins and Fresno head coach Eric Ballard evidently had the team prepared to make the homecoming a successful one.
With free tickets being distributed for "Pack the House Night", a crowd of 5,465 saw the night begin on a good note for the Wildcats when Mikhail Sentyurin scored his 11th goal of the season 2:52 into the game. Ryan Frost and Chris Leone would record assists on the goal.
It was downhill from there for the Wildcats.
Powers would score the first of his two goals of the night on an unassisted effort at the 12:11 mark of the first period. Fresno would then take a 2-1 lead with just under three minutes left before the first intermission when Walker Hyland found the back of the net with assists from Powers and Matthew Coleman.
The second period would be scoring free, with Wildcats goalie Eric Garavaglia stopping all 15 Fresno shots while the Monsters Luis Puig stopped Wichita Falls eight shots on goal. The period still ended with a bang when Wildcat Jason McAloon and Monster Brett Blomgren traded blows in the final seconds leading to both players receiving a major.
Some controversy would surround the Monsters third goal, Powers second of the game. At the 3:02 mark of the third period, Powers was credited with a goal although the puck appeared to hit the post and never reach the net.
Wildcats head coach Mark LeRose protested, but officials allowed the goal to give Fresno a 3-1 advantage. A frustrated Garavaglia broke his stick over the post when the official goal was given.
The Wildcats pulled the goalie in the waning seconds of the game, leading to an empty net goal by Coleman to bring the final score to 4-1.
After a hot start to the beginning of the season, Wichita Falls is fighting to stay above .500 with a record of 16-15-3 and have lost five of their last six games.
Fresno improves to 13-17-3 on the season as they try to catch Kenai River and work their way out of fifth place in the six team West Division. Friday's win snaps a five game losing streak for the Monsters.
The two teams meet again Saturday night at Kay Yeager Coliseum. The Wildcats will be at full strength with the return of forward Sean Keane who missed Friday's game due to a one game suspension. The puck drops at 7:05 p.m.
In the NAHL South:
Things have been shaken up in the division since the new year began. The Topeka RoadRunners followed a 3-2 New Years Day victory over the Amarillo Bulls with taking the first two of a three game series against the Corpus Christi Ice Rays. The 7-1 and 6-3 wins bolted Topeka into first place, leaping over both the Bulls and the Texas Tornado.
The New Mexico Mustangs helped Topeka with their cause with an upset over second place Amarillo on Friday. The last place Mustangs took a 5-2 victory for their ninth win of the season.
Texas is idle this weekend, not taking the ice again until a January 11 meeting with Fresno.
Current NAHL South standings:
- Topeka RoadRunners, 22-8-2 (46 points)
- Amarillo Bulls, 21-6-3 (45 points)
- Texas Tornado, 20-7-5 (45 points)
- Wichita Falls Wildcats, 16-15-3 (35 points)
- Corpus Christi Ice Rays, 13-19-2 (28 points)
- New Mexico Mustangs, 9-20-3 (21 points)