Four Jackalopes announce college commitments



Apr. 4, 2013



Mezzano, Portner, Feemster, Inman commit to NCAA D-3 schools.



ODESSA, TX – The Odessa Jackalopes of the North American Hockey League (NAHL) announced Thursday the college commitments of four members of the Jacks’ 2012-13 roster. Woodbury, Minnesota native and outgoing Jackalopes captain Mike Mezzano, will continue his hockey career at Division-3 Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) school, St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota. Joining Mezzano in the MIAC is Wasau, Wisconsin’s John Feemster, who is headed to St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Also making NCAA D-3 commitments Thursday were Jacks forward and Andover, Minnesota native Taylor Portner, a future Wisconsin-River Falls Falcon, and Coventry, Rhode Island native Stephen Inman, who will join the Purple Knights of St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont.

Mezzano, a second-year NAHL veteran who notched four goals and 14 points in 54 games played for Odessa this season, says once he considered all the factors, his decision was made easy. “[St. Mary’s] was the best fit in terms of academics and hockey too…it was just a great fit and it just felt right,” said Mezzano, “I’m just excited to take the next step in my life and my career.” The versatile Mezzano split time between forward and defense this season and credited Jacks Head Coach Paul Gillis and Assistant Coach Matt Cressman for helping flesh out his skill set during the 2012-13 season. “Gilly and Cressy definitely taught me a lot of new things about hockey and taught me to be a true professional,” said Mezzano, “they developed my game in all areas and they’ve done everything they can to make me a better player every day.”

“Mike is a great kid,” said Gillis Wednesday, “He was one of our most consistent guys all year and versatile too…he’s a guy that you knew would have no problem catching on in college.” Cressman echoed those sentiments, adding that St. Mary’s vigorous interest in Mezzano leading up to his commitment likely made Mezzano’s choice simpler. “[St. Mary’s] was really after him and it’s important to know you’re wanted and Mike certainly was,” said Cressman, “He was a big part of our team. He filled a leadership role and his playing in all situations made him really important to us.”

A second-year Jackalope in 2012-13, Portner finished the season ranked second on the team on goals (11) and points (24) and third in penalty minutes (123) in 54 games played. The score-first centerman wrapped up his Jackalopes career with 18 goals and 33 points in 73 career appearances in an Odessa uniform. Portner says there was never any doubt that he’d end up in River Falls. “They pushed really hard for me and they kept at it,” said Portner, “I love the campus, I love the facilities and it was a total no-brainer.” As for Odessa’s role in his commitment, Portner says the Jackalopes were critical to his development as a player. “The organization is so professionally run,” said Portner, adding, “The rink is phenomenal and the fans are unbelievably supportive…I’ve learned so much about hockey here and I will always love Odessa.” According to Cressman, Portner’s growth in Odessa was comprehensive. “Porty really developed here…we broke him of a lot of habits and instilled some others in him and he’ll definitely be missed in our dressing room.”

The lone New England native on the Jackalopes roster this year, Inman was determined to find a home at the college level and is thrilled with his choice. “I really liked the coaches [at St. Michael’s] and everyone I talked to had nothing but good things to say about the school,” said Inman. Despite seeking council from his coaching staff in Odessa, Inman pointed to a somewhat unlikely source as a key figure in his decision to attend St. Mike’s. “One of the biggest assets I had to talk to was (St. Michael’s alumnus) Justin Quenneville, the Head Coach in Corpus Christi,” reported Inman, “He just told me he loves the place and had nothing but positive things to say about how his time there helped him get to where he is today.” Like all of his college-bound teammates, Inman cited Gillis as a key figure in his hockey evolution. “I’ve grown as a hockey player and a man during my time down here (in Odessa),” said Inman, “Coach Gillis is the greatest coach I’ve ever had and it’s the little things he’s taught me that have brought me to the next level.”

Both Gillis and Cressman lauded Inman’s steadiness throughout the season and its contribution to the Jackalopes defensive corps. “Steve is a mature guy,” said Gillis, “We just tried to work on his footwork a bit and simplify a few things, but he was pretty much there when we got him.” Cressman echoed those sentiments. “He was definitely one of the most put-together players we had this season,” said Cressman, “A steady, mature kid that had a lot to work with already…I know he’s really happy with his decision and he’ll do fine at St. Mike’s.”

A rookie d-man coming straight from Wasau West High School in Wisconsin, Feemster got his first taste of NAHL hockey with the Jackalopes in 2012-13, scoring three goals and six points in 33 games played for Odessa. Says Gillis, it took time for Feemster to adjust, but over the course of the season, the offensive-minded blueliner figured things out. “John had an up-and-down year,” said Gillis, “He showed signs of progress towards the end of the year and we wish him well at school.” Cressman agreed, pointing to Feemster’s youth as a major plus for St. Olaf. “Feemer’s a high-IQ guy on the ice and in the classroom and it shows in his game,” said Cressman, “[St. Olaf] is getting a younger guy that will only grow and get better as a hockey player in the next four years.”

Lawrence Cornellier, a three year veteran of the Odessa-Owatonna NAHL franchise and one of the NAHL’s top scorers this season (26G, 32A, 58 PTS), was traded to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs in February of 2013. While Cornellier has yet to make his decision as to a college destination, Gillis and Cressman have no doubt that the Jackalopes all-time leader in NAHL appearances, goals, assists and points, will find a home in Division 1 college hockey. “Corny was our best player this year,” said Gillis, “He has a great attitude, a terrific work ethic. He’s a great teammate.” Cressman agrees. “The kid is exactly what you want in a college player…he has an unbelievable drive to work and he takes care of his business on the ice and in school. I know he’ll end up somewhere and congratulations to whoever gets him because they’ll be getting a great player.”

In addition to Mezzano, Portner, Inman and Feemster, former Jackalopes winger Ryan Doucet, now with the Jamestown Ironmen, made his NCAA D-1 commitment to the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 2012, while still a member of the Jacks. Through two seasons of play in the NAHL, the Jackalopes have seen three alumni make Division 1 commitments and eight more move on to Division 3 schools. 2011-12 Odessa captain Willie Faust just wrapped up his freshman season at the United States Military Academy at West Point (Army) and former Jackalopes goaltending star Connor Hellebuyck (the 2011-12 NAHL Rookie and Goaltender of the Year and a 2012 NHL Draft pick—5th Round, Winnipeg Jets) is currently awaiting a showdown with Yale in the Frozen Four this weekend alongside his UMass-Lowell River Hawk teammates. Meanwhile, Josh Obregon (Johnson & Wales) and Mikko Virtanen (Neumann College) duked it out this season in the D-3 ECAC, Bryan Mitchell (Wisconsin-Stevens Point) will welcome Portner to the NCHA and Mezzano and Feemster look forward to future clashes with former Jack Darren Lapic (Gustavus Adolphus) in the MIAC.

In 2012-13, the Odessa Jackalopes completed their second season as a member of the North American Hockey League and 16th campaign in franchise history. Season ticket packages for the 2013-14 season of Jackalopes hockey are available now starting at just $179. To reserve your seats, contact the Jackalopes’ ticket office today at 432-552-7825 or log on to for more information.

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