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Jacks open 2015-16 season Sat. at Amarillo

Saturday’s matchup: The Odessa Jackalopes drop the puck on the 2015-16 season against the Amarillo Bulls at the Amarillo Civic Center Saturday night. It is the 42nd matchup between the two teams since Odessa joined North American Hockey League in 2011 and the first time these two teams have faced one another in a season opener. Amarillo and Odessa will play 12 times this year with the series split evenly at Ector Country Coliseum and the Amarillo Civic Center.

Mean Dean: Rookie goaltender Dean Shatzer, 19, gets his first NAHL start in his first game. The Dartmouth Big Green commit (NCAA Div. I) played last year at Culver Military Academy in Indiana where he posted a 1.79 GAA and a .935 SVS% in 21 games. In last Saturday’s pre-season game against the Bulls, Shatzer held Amarillo scoreless in a period and half of work before being relieved by Joe Morgan.

Boss Man: In 2015-16, Greg Gatto returns for his second full season as the Head Coach and General Manager of the Odessa Jackalopes. Gatto began his playing in 1990 in the Western Hockey League. In four years, Gatto played for four different teams (Portland Winter Hawks, Regina Pats, Spokane Chiefs and Brandon Wheat Kings). He attended the University of Lethbridge in Alberta from 1994-1996, winning a National Championship in 1994. Gatto played in England from 1997-2000 for the Basingstoke, London, and Manchester before coming stateside to play for the Colorado Gold Kings. After two seasons in San Antonio, the Jacks signed Gatto in 2002-03. Gatto had 37 points in 64 games and was chosen captain by coach Don McKee. Gatto finished off the 2013-14 season as interim coach of the Jack posting a 2-7-1 record and was given the job on a full-time basis in May of 2014.

Veteran Bunch: After beginning the 2014-15 season 4-4 record the Odessa Jackalopes won only eleven more games in 2015, ending the season with a 15-45 record for the second consecutive year. This season head coach Greg Gatto switched his approach, veering away from youth and instead for sustained success through a veteran team. The Jackalopes return nine players from last years team including forwards Hampus Sjodahl (34 points), Eric Carreras (26 points), Zach Zech (25 points), Ryan MacKellar (14 points) and Taylor Gatto (2 points), along with defensemen Andrew McLean (21 points), Dakota Menslage (21 points), Daniel Kiraly (9 points) and Nate Werhane (18 games).

Next Stop, the State of Hockey: After Saturday’s opener the Jackalopes will take next weekend off, before heading north to Blain, Minnesota for the North American Hockey League Showcase. The Jacks play four games in Minnesota with matchups against the Minnesota Wilderness, Janesville Jets, Bismark Bobcats and Springfield Blues.

About Last Saturday: The Odessa Jackalopes used a first period goal by third-year Jack’ Andrew McLean to take an early lead and held onto the one goal advantage until under a minute left in the third period when Johan Lundgren tied the game for the Bulls with 42 seconds to go. After a physical 3 on 3 overtime that saw no game winner the two teams headed to a shootout where Zach Main snuck a quick wrister past Bulls goaltender Anton Martinnson and Joe Morgan shut the door on any Amarillo response. The game saw two separate fights and multiple penalties. If last Saturday was any indication, this Saturday should be a very physical contest.

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