Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Insider Preview: Texas Brahmas at Odessa Jackalopes

First meeting since Southern Conference Finals

The Texas Brahmas (5-6-2, 12 points) and the Odessa Jackalopes (11-1-1, 23 points) will meet for the first time since Game 7 of the Southern Conference Semi-Finals on April 25th in which the Brahmas won 8-1 and advanced to the President’s Cup Final. Thursday night’s game at the Ector County Coliseum will also mark the first of four games between the two teams this season.

The Jackalopes have established that the Southern Conference is theirs to lose as the season progresses. Last season, the Jacks started off with a 7-6-0 record after 13 games but eventually won the Southwest Division with a 39-19-6 record and 84 points. They knocked Laredo out of the playoffs in six games and forced a Game 7 against the Brahmas before their season ended at the NYTEX Sports Centre.

With many of the same players in place for the 2009-10 season, the Jacks have everything they need to win the Cup next May. They are confident and they are hungry. They have scored 65 goals in 13 games. They have won eight straight and are 6-0-1 at home.

And then there’s the Texas Brahmas, current league champions, struggling with difficult task of defending the Cup with an ever-changing roster anchored by 10 members of last season’s team. The newest member of that roster is former Bossier-Shreveport forward Mudbug Elias Godoy who joined the team today. In the wake of his signing, rookie Mike Willemsen was placed on waivers.

A win against the Jacks on the road would be a tremendous feat. Yes, that's an understatement. But therein lies the challenge. Can the team come together and find the internal fortitude to make it happen?

There is no lack of talent on this current Brahmas team. There is no lack of heart or hunger. There is no lack of coaching. There is 60 minutes on the clock and what you do with it. And this is only the first game of a tough three night, three game road trip. Rio Grande Valley and Laredo follow on Friday and Saturday nights and the schedule doesn't get any easier after this.

Odessa's three top scorers include Dominic Leveille (F) with 23 points (6 G, 17 A, +4), Sebastien Thinel (F) with 19 points (3 G, 16 A, +3) and Colin Circelli (F) with 17 points (9 G, 8 A, +1). Their leading defensive scorer is Alex Dunn with 15 points (5 G, 10 A, +8).

Their top goons are defensemen Patrick Mbaraga (36 PIM) and Garrett Gruenke (28 PIM).

On special teams, the Jacks have the number one power play with a 32.99 percentage and the number two penalty kill with an 87.34 percentage. They also have three short-handed goals.

The red hot Juha Toivonen (6-0-0) is expected in net for the Jacks. Juha leads all CHL goalies with a 1.84 GAA and a .931 save percentage.

Defenseman JR Bria and forward Brian Swiniarski are both on 30-day injured reserve and are not expected to play as this writing.

The Brahmas top three scorers are AJ Gale (F) with 11 points (7 G, 4 A, 0), Grant Jacobsen with eight points (5 G, 3 A, -2) and Kevin McLeod (D) with eight points (5 G, 3 A, -1). McLeod is also the Brahmas leading defensive scorer.

On special teams, the Brahmas have the league’s worst power play with a 9.09 percentage and the number nine penalty kill with an 82.95 percentage. They lead the league with five short-handed goals.

I'm not sure who will get the start in goal. My bet would be Brett Jaeger (2-4-0) who's had a difficult start but is still the number one. I believe in Joe Palmer (3-2-2) but I think this game needs Jaeger's experience.

Anders Strome is still out on injured reserve (foot). I don't have any information that says he is expected to play at all during this road trip.

The game starts at 7:05pm and can be seen on CHL-TV. You can listen to the game on Internet radio at KFZX-FM here.

Photo Credit: Robert Keith

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