Ice Bats Bid Goodbye to "Bat Cave"
Fri., Feb. 24th, 7:35pm, vs. Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees, at Dodge Arena, Hidalgo, Texas
Sat., Feb. 25th, 7:30pm, vs. Odessa Jackalopes, at Travis County Expo Center, Austin, Texas
Setting the Stage: The Austin Ice Bats of the Central Hockey League are 25-23-3 on their 10th-Anniversary 2005-06 season. After posting a torrid 11-1-1 record to begin 2006, the Ice Bats are 4-5 over their last nine outings. But that's been enough for the Bats to maintain second place in the CHL's Southeast Division race, and hold the third of four playoff positions in the Southern Conference.
After a blowout win over Corpus Christi on Tuesday, the Ice Bats are two points ahead of Amarillo and four points ahead of Rio Grande Valley in the Conference. The Bats will play a key Conference game Friday at Rio Grande Valley, then will play their final game ever at the Travis County Expo Center, Saturday against Odessa.
A look back: The Ice Bats lost to the league's top two teams last week but also downed Corpus Christi twice, earning a 2-2 mark over their last four games. Last Friday, the Colorado Eagles opened up a close game with four unanswered goals in the second and third periods en route to a 6-2 win at the Travis County Expo Center.
Colorado opened up a 2-0 first period lead on a multiple rebound goal from Fraser Filipic and a Scott Polaski goal, scored off a turnover deep in the Ice Bats zone. Bats forward Aaron Davis cut the lead in half, scoring a power play goal with just two seconds left in the period.
But the Eagles opened up the game with goals 22 seconds apart midway through the second, scored by Filipic and Sean Robertson. Nick Parillo's shorthanded breakaway goal midway through the third and Polaski's second score at 14:05 put it away. Austin forward Julian Smith tipped home Jonathan Jolette's shot for a power play goal with 1:31 remaining, but it was too little, too late.
Polaski led scoring with four points, while Filipic and Parillo had three points each. The game turned a little nasty down the stretch, with four altercations over the final seven minutes.
Last Saturday, Ice Bats goalie Miguel Beaudry made 42 saves for his second shutout of Corpus Christi this season, a 3-0 win at the AmericanBank Center. The game was billed as "Guaranteed Fight Night," and the teams obliged late in the first period. It wasn't much of a bout though, as Austin winger Britt Dougherty pulled Caleb Moffat's jersey over his head and tattooed the Rayz forward. The Rayz outshot the Bats, 19-8 in the first, but Beaudry stopped all 19 shots faced.
Ice Bats winger Mike Tucciarone took over early in the second period. At 3:43, Tucciarone drove from the wing to the slot, waited for Corpus goalie Scott Reid to commit, swerved behind Reid and centered for an easy Jason Kenyon score. Just over three minutes later, Tucciarone jumped on a rebound near the left post and flipped it to the shelf for a 2-0 lead.
The Ice Bats weathered a Corpus rush over the final five minutes of the second period, and six minutes into the third, killed a full two-minute five-on-three Corpus power play.
With 4:47 left to play, power was lost to the main arena lighting at the AmericanBank Center. During the ensuing delay, Dougherty and Corpus Christi forward Shawn Legault exchanged words, then fought as stunned teammates looked on. Both were given game misconduct penalties. After a 17-minute delay, play resumed and the Ice Bats put the game away on Drew Otten's empty-net goal with 41 seconds left.
Last Sunday, Laredo's Chris Grenville scored two goals and an assist as the Bucks held off the Ice Bats, 5-3 in a close game at the Travis County Expo Center. Laredo opened up a 9-0 shot advantage and a 2-0 lead on bang-bang goals by Adam Rivet and Grenville in the first period. Bats goalie Matt Barnes replaced Miguel Beaudry at the 5:41 mark, and the Bats trimmed the lead on a breakaway goal by John McNabb late in the first.
The Bats tied the game late in the second, when winger Dan Carney flipped the puck on net from above the right circle, and it bounced behind Bucks goalie Dov Grumet-Morris.
Laredo reopened a two-goal lead on scores two minutes apart by James Hiebert and Grenville early in the third. Grenville tipped a pass behind Austin defenseman Julius Halfkenny and raced in for the eventual winner at 8:12. McNabb scored his second goal on a rebound at 11:10, and the Bats had a chance to tie it up on a power play in the final two minutes. But Laredo's Brent Cullaton gathered up a puck tipped to center, and scored an empty net goal with 67 seconds remaining. Cullaton added two assists.
On Tuesday, 11 different Ice Bats scored points in a 7-2 home throttling of Corpus Christi. Jeff Neufeld scored two goals and an assist to earn top star honors.
The Ice Bats sprinted to a 3-0 first period lead. Neufeld split defenders and scored just 18 seconds into the contest, and Gerald Tallaire's multiple rebound goal and an odd-man rush score by Julian Smith followed. Corpus Christi's Caleb Moffat scored 4:24 into the second period, but Austin forward Dan Carney roofed a shot 19 seconds later for a goal. The Ice Bats then put the afterburners on, getting unanswered goals from Aaron Davis, Neufeld and Drew Otten in a four-minute span late in the second period.
In addition to Neufeld, Tallaire also collected three points, and Austin goalie Miguel Beaudry stopped 32 of 34 shots faced. Dating back to last season with New Mexico, Beaudry has now allowed just four total goals in winning five straight starts against the Rayz.
Arrivals: Goaltender Miroslav Kopriva is expected to be assigned to the Ice Bats from the team's AHL Houston affiliate in time for this weekend's action. Kopriva, 7-2 with a 2.00 goals-against average in nine Ice Bats appearances earlier this season, also played well in Houston, upping his AHL record to 4-2 with a 2.86 GAA in seven outings. The return of Aeros top goalie Josh Harding from injury precipitates Kopriva's return to Austin.
Player Plaudits: Winger John McNabb ranks in the top 20 in league scoring with 24 goals and 31 assists. Forward Aaron Davis (40 points) is second on the team in scoring. And Mike Tucciarone is third among all rookie scorers with 37 points, ranking second among first-year players in goals (22). Aaron Schneekloth and Darryl McArthur rank among the top 15 defensemen with 29 points each. Goalie Miguel Beaudry is 9-6-1 with a 2.65 GAA since joining the Ice Bats.
Potential Bite Victims: Rio Grande Valley dropped seven straight games on the road, eight straight overall to slip to third behind Austin. But five of those games came at either Colorado or Laredo, and the Killer Bees have somewhat righted the ship, going 2-2-1 over their last five. Now 22-21-5, the Bees look to charge up the standings again. Rio Grande has no gaudy offensive numbers, but they are up to 5th in the CHL on defense (3.08 goals allowed per game), and they're balanced. Winger Trevor Weisgerber leads the team with 16 goals, 31 assists, and All-Star Daymen Bencharski has 19 goals, 21 helpers. Veteran Dwayne Hay has 39 points, and obtained at the trade deadline from Fort Worth, Bret DeCecco (5 points in six games with Rio Grande) adds scoring punch. Goalie Evan Lindsay (17-15-3, 2.78 GAA) seems to be hitting his stride. Rio Grande Valley is 14-8-2 at home.
If the Ice Bats are to beat Odessa, they'll have to cool off one of the league's hottest teams. The Jackalopes have won eight of their last nine games, including the last four, and at 29-14-5, have a 12-point lead in the Southwest. Always sound defensively, the Jacks rank 3rd in that category (2.85 average goals allowed) and 1st on the penalty kill (87%). And while their power play is just 13th overall (14.8%), they've scored 7 power play goals on 15 chances (46.7%) in three games against the Ice Bats. Sebastien Thinel (30 goals, 40 assists) ranks 3rd in league scoring, and Dominic Leveille (20 goals, 43 assists, 11 power play goals) is 2nd among rookies. Veteran Matt Cressman (24 goals, 18 assists) seems to have found the fountain of youth, while forward John Kozoriz also has 42 points. Goalie Mike Gorman is 4th in the league at 21-10-2 with a 2.42 GAA, and his .930 save percentage ranks 2nd. 11-11-4 as a road team, Odessa hosts Amarillo before becoming the final opponent to visit the Bat Cave.
The Series: The Ice Bats are 14-14-2 lifetime against Rio Grande Valley, 4-3-1 this year heading into the season's final meeting. The Ice Bats are 1-1-1 in Hidalgo this year. The first five games in this year's series were high-scoring runaways, with the winner averaging seven goals. The last three meetings have produced two overtime games and a shootout, with the Bats getting the last laugh, 2-1 in a shootout January 14th in Austin.
The Bats are 14-6-3 lifetime against Odessa, but have dropped all three meetings this year. The Bats lost 3-1 November 13th at the Bat Cave, then 7-2 and 5-4 decisions at Odessa.
Comments From the Coach:
On Last Week: "It would have been nice to get a point or two out of playing the top teams, but that's why they're the top teams. I thought we played well against Colorado, but they were opportunistic and buried their chances, and we didn't. But it wasn't like we were dominated territorially. The Laredo game was close in the third, and we kind of shot ourselves in the foot defensively. We got caught chasing the puck a bit and they made us pay, as good teams do."
"But we won the games we had to win. Tuesday, we were hungry for points. Corpus Christi was missing a couple of guys, and everything seemed to go our way right from the get-go. We got a hell of a goal right off the bat that maybe demoralized them a bit, and we just kept rolling. It wasn't an overly physical game, so maybe we were able to save some energy for this weekend."
On This Week: "There's not that many chances left to play within the Conference, so we need to take advantage of the opportunity. Rio Grande is a very good team. They play well in their rink, and they come at you hard. They'll have a burr in their bum too after their last loss to Odessa. We just want to continue to try to play consistent. Worst case scenario, we leave still two points up on them, but we'd like to get the win."
"The last game at the Expo will be a little weird for me, because I've been the visiting coach as much as I've been the home coach there. I first came to the arena in 1997, so it's been close to ten years coming here and coaching. I like the dressing room, it's a good work area for me. But hopefully we can go out on a winning note, and start making some good memories at our new place."
Cave, Sweet Cave: Including this season's 18-10-1 mark, the Ice Bats are 208-97-22 in ten years of play at the Travis County Expo Center. Earlier this month, the Ice Bats announced they will vacate the Expo Center after Saturday's game, and move to Chaparral Ice Center, located on I-35 South between Howard Lane and Wells Branch Parkway. The Ice Bats will begin play at Chaparral Ice during the 2006 President's Cup Playoffs, should the team qualify for post-season play.
Because of the unavailability of the Expo Center, the Ice Bats played four playoff games at Chaparral Ice in 2003, hosting New Mexico and Laredo en route to the President's Cup Finals. After the conclusion of this season, permanent seating will be installed to bring the building's capacity to close to 2,000 fans, with other improvements to include a renovated club area upstairs overlooking the ice and an expanded concession area downstairs. In addition to a raucous, energetic environment for fans, Chaparral Ice will give the Ice Bats greater scheduling flexibility, a superior location, and the ability to provide corporate partners the year-round display of their message. Chaparral Ice will remain the team's home arena until construction is complete on a new facility, currently under study.
For Saturday's Expo Center swan song, free team photos will go to 5,000 fans, as well as free cheerstix, courtesy of Farmers Insurance. Austin legends "Soulhat" will perform after the game as part of the "Bud True Music Concert Series." And there will also be a post-game charity auction of the team's game-worn "Texas Longhorn" jerseys.
Following Saturday's game, the Ice Bats do have two more regular season "home games," to be played March 17th and 18th at the Bell County Expo Center in Belton.
Tickets for Ice Bats home games are on sale now through the Ice Bats office at 927-PUCK, or at any Texas Box Office location, including all Austin-area HEB stores. For on-line orders, fans may visit www.TexasBoxOffice.com or www.GetTix.Net. To charge by phone, fans may call the Ice Bats ticket office at 927-PUCK, Texas Box Office at (512) 477-6060, or Get Tix at 1-866-4-Get Tix.
Individual game tickets range in price from $11 to $35, depending on section, with discounted rates for groups of 15 or more. In addition to individual game tickets and group outings, season tickets and corporate partnerships are currently available for the upcoming season, with full-season, half-season and 10-game ticket packages on sale now. Fans may call the Ice Bats ticket office at (512) 927-PUCK, or log onto the team's website at www.icebats.com for more information.
In the Air: Once again, all Ice Bats away games will be broadcast on ESPN Radio, 1530 on the AM dial. The station will broadcast all road games during the 2005-06 regular season and CHL Playoffs. The games will also be available on-line, through the station website at www.espnaustin.com. The Bud Light Warm-up Show begins 20 minutes prior to game time. Ice Bats VP of Broadcasting, Media/PR Glen Norman will handle play-by-play duties for an eighth straight season.
Bats in Cyberspace: Bats fans can learn the latest about their team by logging on to www.icebats.com. Home or away, Bats fans can also follow the action with real-time scoring on the website, courtesy of Pointstreak.com. Fans will be able to access a game box score in real-time, as well as those of all other CHL games being played.
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