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Ice Bats Take Playoff Hopes Into Final Week

March 15, 2005 - Central Hockey League (CHL) - Austin Ice Bats News Release

Setting the Stage: The Austin Ice Bats of the Central Hockey League are 28-24-5 on the 2004-05 CHL season, in second place in the league’s Southeast Division. The Ice Bats enter the final week of the regular season tied with Odessa, two points behind Lubbock for the final Southern Conference playoff berth.

After starting the season with home games against all three division opponents, the Ice Bats will finish on the road against the same teams this week. The Bats will travel to play Laredo Wednesday, followed by weekend games at Rio Grande Valley and Corpus Christi.

A look back: The Ice Bats started their season-ending eight-game road swing 2-0-1 against Northern Conference opponents, but last week lost two games to Southeast Division foes. Friday night, Rio Grande Valley goaltender Jeff Levy stopped all 25 shots faced as the Killer Bees shut out the Ice Bats 4-0 at the Dodge Arena.

The Ice Bats took the first six shots on goal and generated early scoring chances on Levy, but the Killer Bees scored twice on their first two shots. Rio Grande defenseman Jason Tessier deflected a shot straight upstairs under the crossbar for the game’s opening score at 7:33. Less than two minutes later, Killer Bees forward Matic Kralj led a two-on-one rush before firing the puck over Austin goalie Matt Barnes’ glove side.

Buoyed by Levy’s 14-save performance in the first, the Killer Bees scored the backbreaker midway through the second period, a shorthanded breakaway goal by Daymen Bencharski. Rio Grande’s Justin Dziama added the final goal 3:39 into the third. The Killer Bees, displaying the kind of defensive play that led them to the playoffs last year, held Austin to 11 shots through the final two periods.

Saturday night, the Laredo Bucks held off the Ice Bats for a 4-3 win, clinching the Southeast Division title for the second straight year. The Bucks wasted no time getting on the scoreboard on an Igor Agarunov deflection 50 seconds into the game. The Ice Bats tied the score at 14:43 of the first period, as Kris Knoblauch jabbed in a second-rebound score for a power play goal. The Bats had failed to score on 27 power play chances over their previous six games going into Saturday.

Laredo retook the lead with 45 seconds left in the opening period on Steve Simoes’ shot from the high slot, then opened a two-goal spread on Brent Cullaton’s goal from the left circle 8:19 into the second. But the Bats forged back on Jared Dumba’s goal from the slot with 65 seconds left in the second period, and pulled even on a coast-to-coast score from defenseman Jeff Alcombrack. Leaving defenders in his wake, Alcombrack ripped down the left wing and backhanded the puck by Laredo goalie David Guerrera at 5:38 of the third.

But the tie evaporated 41 seconds later, with Laredo forward Darryl Lloyd scoring the game winner. The Bats had chances down the stretch to retie the game, but Kelly Smart hit the post with 4-1/2 minutes remaining, and defenseman Jonathan Jolette centered behind an open Mike Olynyk with two minutes left.

Down to the Wire:

The Southern Conference playoff race heads into its final week, with three teams battling for the one remaining wild card slot. The Conference playoff field will be comprised of the two division winners, as well as the next two best teams in the Conference, based on standings points. Amarillo, San Angelo and Laredo have already clinched berths, leaving Lubbock, the Ice Bats and Odessa battling for the final spot. Here’s how the race for the final berth shapes up:

Team: Games Played: Points: Remaining Schedule:

Lubbock

56 63

Wed. @ COL, Fri. vs. COL, Sat. vs. NMX, Sun. @ AMA

Austin

57 61 Wed. @ LAR, Fri. @RGV, Sat. @CRP

Odessa

57 61 Tue. vs. FTW, Fri. vs. NMX, Sat. @ LAR

Rodeo Drive: As the Star of Texas Fair and Rodeo takes over the Travis County Expo Center, the Ice Bats play their final eight regular season games on the road. But this year’s trip isn’t as extensive as those of years past, with the final five games all to be played within the Southeast Division. All-tolled, the trip will encompass just over 3,300 miles over three weeks.

Wounded Wings: Ice Bats defenseman Ryan Leasa remains on 45-day injured reserve, and is expected to miss at least the rest of the regular season.

Player Plaudits: Ice Bats winger John McNabb ranks among the top ten in league scoring, with 35 goals and 35 assists. Center Chris Richards is also in the top 20 (fourth in assists), with 16 goals and 50 assists. Jeff Alcombrack is among the top ten defensemen with 11 goals, 23 assists. Forward Kris Knoblauch is among the top ten rookies, with 18 goals and 20 helpers. Forward Dallas Anderson ranks second in the CHL with 350 penalty minutes.

Potential Bite Victims: Having clinched the division, Laredo now goes for the top overall spot in the conference. At 32-22-3, the Bucks are the team no one wants to face right now, 9-0-1 over their last ten. A defense that ranks only behind Colorado and Bossier-Shreveport, allowing just 2.54 goals per game, is a big factor. Top 15 scorer Jeff Bes leads Laredo with 25 goals and 41 assists. Tough winger James Hiebert has 18 goals and 37 assists to go along with 221 penalty minutes, and Brent Cullaton 20 goals and 28 helpers in 41 games. Cullaton just returned from his third call-up to San Antonio, but in late February, the Bucks lost rookie Adam Paiement to injury, and in March, forwards Lou Dickenson, Petr Taticek and Scott Kelman have all been recalled to the AHL. No matter who’s playing in front of them, Laredo can feel confident in either goalie-- David Guerrera (16-12-2, 2.33 GAA) or Jeremy Symington (16-10-1, 2.49 GAA). The Bucks, 20-6-2 at home, have won six straight games at the Laredo Entertainment Center.

At 17-37-3, Rio Grande Valley now takes on the role of spoiler. And they’ve taken to the role well, winning four of their last nine games. The Killer Bees are trying to climb out of the league basement on offense (2.32 goals per game) and defense (3.67 average goals allowed), as well as the penalty kill rankings (77.7%). Forward Bill Newson leads the team in scoring with 18 goals and 31 assists. Forwards Matic Kralj (15 goals, 22 assists) and Joe Guenther (21 goals, 13 assists), along with d-man Jason Tessier (32 points), are the other main scoring threats. And forward Jason Hawes (33 points) has arguably been the best Bee down the stretch. Despite ranking second in league losses, goalie Jeff Levy (16-24-1, 3.06 GAA) is capable of stealing any game in the final week. 11-16-1 as a home team, the Killer Bees wrap up the season with a visit to Corpus Christi and home games against Austin and San Angelo.

Corpus Christi picked the absolute worst time to go into an offensive funk. But the 25-25-7 Rayz scored just 13 goals total in a ten-game winless skid that knocked them from division leaders to out of the playoffs. Once eliminated, the Rayz broke the spell in a 6-3 win at Rio Grande Valley Saturday. Top 12 scorer Jason Baird has 29 goals and 39 assists, and veteran Greg Bullock 17 goals and 49 assists. Unsung Ryan Carter has 18 goals and 29 assists, and is tied for the league lead with five shorthanded goals. Add in veteran Dave Gilmore (45 points), Bernie John (4th among defensemen with 44 points) and rookie Derrick McIver (25 goals), and it’s truly a mystery why the Corpus offense went south and stayed there for the last month. Goaltending has been split by Brent Zelenewich (11-14-7, 2.88 GAA) and Josh Blackburn (14-11, 3.26 GAA). 13-12-3 at home, the Rayz now try to snap an eight-game winless streak at the AmericanBank Center. They’ll host Rio Grande Valley Thursday, then visit San Angelo before returning for the season finale against the Bats.

The Series: The Ice Bats are 13-16-1 lifetime against Laredo in regular season play, 4-6 this season. The Bats are 1-4 this season in Laredo, and have now dropped the last three meetings there by a single goal each.

The Bats are an even 10-10-1 in the two-year series against Rio Grande Valley, 6-3 this year. The Bats had won five straight in the series, but have lost the last two meetings. Austin is 2-2 at the Dodge Arena this season.

Austin is 48-25-5 lifetime against Corpus Christi, 4-4-1 this year. And this year’s series has been a doozy, with three of the games decided in overtime. The Bats are 1-3 in Corpus Christi this year.

Comments From the Coach:

On Last Week: “After a great weekend in the other conference, we were a little flat against the teams in our own division. It’s a little hard to explain. I thought we came out flat at Rio Grande Valley, and they took it to us. We played much better in Laredo, but I still don’t think we’re as mentally sharp as we should be. There’s no substitute for hard work, and I don’t think we worked as hard as we needed to last weekend either.”

On This Week: “We have to push for three out of three, and then you like your chances. Our destiny was in our own hands, and now it’s not-- we need help from other teams. Laredo still has a lot to play for, with first place overall in the conference on the line. And Rio Grande and Corpus have a chance to play the ultimate spoiler, to keep us out of the playoffs, and there’s no doubt they’ll be trying to do that.”

Cave, Sweet Cave: Should the Ice Bats reach the President’s Cup playoffs, home playoff games will return to the Travis County Expo Center.

Individual game tickets are available now through the Ice Bats office at 927-PUCK, on-line at www.GetTix.Net, or at any of a dozen Pinky’s Wireless locations in the Austin area, including Round Rock, Cedar Park, Killeen and San Marcos. Tickets are also available at all Texas Box Office locations, including all Austin-area HEB stores, or on-line at www.TexasBoxOffice.com.

To charge by phone, fans may call the Ice Bats ticket office at 927-PUCK, Get Tix at 1-866-4-Get Tix, or Texas Box Office at (512) 477-6060.

Individual game tickets range in price from $10 to $35, depending on section, with discounted rates for groups of 15 or more. 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 2004-05 regular season and CHL Playoffs. The games will also be available on-line, through the station website at www.espnaustin.com. The Texas Dodge Dealers Warm-up Show begins 20 minutes prior to game time. Ice Bats Director of Broadcasting, Media/PR Glen Norman will handle play-by-play duties for a seventh 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.

In addition, fans may visit the site to vote for their favorite Ice Bats for the Texas Dodge Dealers Post-season Player Awards. Awards will be given in six categories at a to-be-scheduled post-season banquet, based on fan voting.

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The opinions expressed in this release are those of the organization issuing it, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of OurSports Central or its staff.

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