Josh Bretner’s goal in the sixth round of a shootout gave the New Mexico Mustangs a 4-3 victory over the Wichita Falls Wildcats on Friday. The Wildcats loss at Kay Yeager Coliseum opens a three game series between the North American Hockey League teams.
Despite sitting in last place through most of the 2011-12 campaign, New Mexico has done well against the Wildcats this season. With the overtime loss, Wichita Falls is now 2-5-1 against the Mustangs and has officially fallen behind them into last place in the NAHL South.
Powerplay goals would help make the difference in the game. Wichita Falls would come up empty on four chances with an extra man, while the Mustangs went 2-for-4 with both goals giving them the lead.
Adam Chapie would open the scoring 10:23 into the first period with the first of the two powerplay goals. Tate Rusk picked up the assist on Chapie’s 28th goal of the season to give New Mexico a 1-0 lead.
Wildcats’ goalie Matt Leon and Mustangs’ goalie Jake Stafford kept the score 1-0 until deep in the second period when a small piece of history even the score.
Playing in his first game for the Wildcats, Jake Townsend bounced one off the post for his first NAHL goal to knot the score 1-1 with 4:09 left in the middle period. Ben Kucera and Renato Engler provided assists on the Colorado native initial goal. The score would remain tied going into the second intermission.
Wichita Falls couldn’t take advantage of their own powerplay opportunities, but a New Mexico powerplay turned into a Wildcats lead early in the third period.
Brennan Parker would snag the puck and net his ninth goal of the season to give the Wildcats a 2-1 lead at the 6:49 mark. The goal was almost disallowed when the net came off the posts, but after some discussion by officials was put on the board. George Pagonis would pick up an assist on the goal.
The slim lead would be short lived, with Bill Kent providing the answer for New Mexico with an assist from Chapie. The 10th goal of the season for the Manlius, New York native tied the score 2-2 with 10:50 left in regulation.
The Mustangs would recapture the lead 3:06 later on their second powerplay goal of the game. Mike Chen would get the assist on Jayson Angus’ 16th goal of the season, but it wasn’t enough to drive the final nail in the coffin.
With 38 seconds left in regulation, Zach Pochiro turned in his 13th goal of the season with assists from Tyler Hope and Matt Purmal. The goal sent things to overtime where the teams played five scoreless minutes and headed to a shootout.
Cody Walsh gave New Mexico a 1-0 shootout advantage in the third round, but was immediately answered by Pagonis. After Bretner found the back of the net to begin the sixth round, Stafford rejected Engler to give the Mustangs the win.
Stafford recorded 38 saves on 41 Wildcats shots to improve to 9-10-1 overall on the season. The Frisco, Texas native is 9-9-1 since going to the Mustangs from the Texas Tornado.
Leon stopped 29-of-32 shots to fall to 13-10-2 on the season. Leon has now dropped two straight after three consecutive wins.
Wichita Falls drops to 17-27-5, but does pick up one point with the overtime loss.
New Mexico improves to 18-29-3 with the second straight shootout victory.
Both Wichita Falls and New Mexico are still mathematically in the hunt for the final playoff spot in the NAHL South, but both teams will need a lot of help. The Wildcats and Mustangs have 39 points in the standings, putting them two behind the fifth place Odessa Jackalopes and nine behind the fourth place Corpus Christi IceRays.
Corpus Christi lost to Odessa 4-1 on Friday.
Saturday night at Kay Yeager Coliseum is the Wildcats annual “Jersey Off Our Back” auction. Players will wear special jerseys to be auctioned off for the benefit of Children’s Miracle Network.
The puck drops for Game 2 between the Wildcats and the Mustangs at 7:25 p.m.