Game Preview: Jackalopes vs. RoadRunners

Today’s Matchup: The Odessa Jackalopes look to complete a home-opening weekend sweep over the Topeka RoadRunners with a victory Saturday night. The Jacks and ‘Runners will meet up eight more time this season after Saturday with two more matchups in Odessa and six in Topeka. Last night’s home-opening win moved the Jacks above .500 in home openers, 3-2-0, since joining the NAHL in 2011.

About last game: The Odessa Jackalopes used two first period goals and a home crowd to beat the Topeka RoadRunners, 3-1, Friday. Niagara University commits Derek Brown, and Oliver Celec each scored their first goal of the season to power Odessa past the Topeka. In the first, Celec (1) followed up a Hampus Sjodahl offensive rush and shoveled home a loose puck past RoadRunners goaltender Tyler Johnson at 8:28 to give Odessa the first lead. The Jacks then pushed their advantage up to two when Matthew Rypien tow-dragged his way toward the net, and muscled a backhand shot on the cage that was initially saved until Eric Carreras followed up the play and berried the loose puck in the back of the net to make it 2-0. Topeka’s Japanese sniper Yu Hikosaka (4) cut the Odessa lead in half on the power play at the 16:07 mark of the second but Jacks third year vet Derek Brown (1) pushed the Jacks lead back up to two with a late tally at 19:20 of the second to give Odessa a 3-1 lead. In the third, Topeka again cut into the Odessa advantage but any comeback was squandered when Sjodahl (2) scored an open net tally at 19:20 to give the Jacks their first win against a South Division opponent this year.

River’ Dam: Jacks goaltender Gunner Rivers, 20, has been sensational since being traded from Lone Star to Odessa in mid September. In three games, Rivers is 3-0-0 with a 1.68 GAA and a .937 SV%. Before joining the NAHL in 2015, Rivers spent the last year in the Central Canadian Hockey League, in 44 games the right-handed catching goaltender had a 2.74 GAA and .913 SV%. Both Rivers’ father and uncle played in the NHL.  His uncle, Jamie Rivers was drafted in the third round of the 1993 NHL draft by the St. Louis Blues and appeared in 454 NHL games totaling 66 points (17 goals/ 49 assists) and 385 PIM with the Blues, Islanders, Senators, Bruins, Red Wings and Coyotes.

What can Brown do for you? Third-year Jacks forward Derek Brown finally broke through to net his first goal of the season Friday, which turned out to be the game winner in a 4-2 victory of Topeka. Brown had one game-winning goal in all of 2014-15 while exploding for 49 points (21 goals/28 assists) in 59 games. Brown who is committed to play at Niagara Univ. (NCAA Div. 1) in 2015-16 now has seven points on the year (one goal/six assists) in seven games.

Buy or Celec? Odessa Jackalopes’ Swedish sniper Oliver Celec hadn’t scored a goal with the Jacks in six games before Friday night’s win but that all changed at the 8:28 mark of the first period when he back-handed in his first goal of the season. Celec now has three points on the year (1 goal/two assists) in seven games with a +2 rating. Last year while playing in Sweeden with the Malmo Redhawks J20, Celec had 13 points (seven goals/six assists) in 41 games. Celec is committed to play at Niagara Univ. (NCAA Div. 1) in 2016-17.

Shooters Touch: Jacks forward Eric Carreras scored his third goal of the season on Friday and now is tied for third on the team in points (5) and tied for first in goals. Odessa acquired the Westchester, PA forward from Lone Star in a trade last season. After being acquired from Brahamas in 2015, he tallied nine points (three goals, six assists) in 16 games. In 2013-14, Carreras appeared 36 games with the Philadelphia Jr. Flyers (T1EHL) racking up 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) in 36 games.

Assistant Bench Boss: The Jacks have a new assistant coach… at least for the weekend. Dino Caputo who was instrumental in the Jacks recruitment of Canadian forward’s Gray Marr and Matthew Rypien joins coach/best friend Greg Gatto on the bench for the weekend while visiting from Lethbridge, AB, CAN. Caputo runs a highly acclaimed hockey school in Alberta while also helping the Jacks on the side. While a player Caputo played five years of juniors with the Victoria Cougars, Prince George Spruce Kings and the Trail Smoke Eaters and three   years at the Univ. of Lethbridge (AB, CAN).

Jackalopes Broadcast: Join the voice of the Jacks Nick Nollenberger live for every game on the Jacks’ flagship station Classic Rock 102 and the Classic Rock 102 app. All games can also be watched live on fasthockey.com.