The Texas Tornado (2-1-1, 5 pts, #4 South) have spent the past two weeks in preparation for home opening weekend this Friday, September 30th and Saturday, October 1st at the Dr Pepper Arena in Frisco. Puck drop for both games is 7:30pm. Texas has been off since returning home from the Combat Hockey/NAHL Showcase and will face their toughest test of the infant season as they face-off against defending national champion Fairbanks Ice Dogs this weekend.
While Texas looked good in its first regular season action, Fairbanks has played 8 games already on the young season and compiled an impressive 6-0-2 mark, good enough for 14 points and first place in the West Division. Perhaps most impressive about Fairbanks' early mark is their 4-0-2 mark away from their home confines. As is the case in any hockey league, the ability to win consistently on the road defines any great team.
More on the Tornado after the jump...With the lack of games this past weekend, and the stage already set for the home opener against the defending national champions this weekend, I wanted to take this time to do a South Division Team Preview. Seeing as how the NAHL features a predominantly division-laden regular season schedule, it is important to delve into the division foes.
Amarillo Bulls (3-0-1, 7pts, #1 South)
First off, we are owned by the same parent company. No matter. A heated 4-game, first-round playoff match-up this past season put all those good feelings to rest. Amarillo won that series 3-1. Texas played Amarillo 8 times last season and the teams played to an even 3-3-2 record. With another 8 games slated for this season, this is a rivalry that should only begin to intensify. The first match-up is in Frisco on Friday, November 19th. Early season players to watch for Amarillo include TJ Sarcona (6pts in 4GP) and Joe Kozlak (5pts in 4GP).
Corpus Christi Ice Rays (3-2-0, 5pts, #2 South)
Texas liked playing Corpus in 2010-2011, to the tune of a 10-2 record. The two teams met in the pre-season this year with the Tornado claiming a 6-0 victory. (Recap Here) The teams are slated for 12 more meetings this year and the Tornado are looking to continue their recent success against the Ice Rays. Top Ice Rays player to watch is Matthew Weis (5 pts in 5GP).
Topeka Roadrunners (2-3-1, 5pts, #3 South)
As much as Texas enjoyed playing Corpus, they disliked playing Topeka, finishing last season with a 2-5-1 record against the Roadrunners. That's not as discouraging as it might seem as all teams had trouble knocking of the Roadrunners last season, as they finished the regular season in the #1 overall spot with 89 points and a record of 43-12-3. Topeka outscored opponents by 91 goals throughout the year and fell just short of lifting the Robertson Cup as hosts this past season. Two players to keep an eye on for the Roadrunners include Ryan White (7pts in 6GP) and Brian Christie (6pts in 6GP). The Tornado and Topeka face each other 6 times this season, with the first match-up slated for October 15th in Frisco.
Wichita Falls Wildcats (2-4-0, 4pts, #5 South)
The Tornado had some decent success against the Wildcats last season, posting a 6-2-0 record. These teams also met in the pre-season in Wichita with the Tornado securing a 5-1 victory on the back of a Jack Prince hat trick. (Recap Here) Texas and Wichita Falls will play 6 times again this season, with the first game on the road in Wichita on October 14th. Top Wildcats include Tanner Fahlstedt (5pts in 6GP) and Dennis Kravchenko (5pts in 6GP).
New Mexico Mustangs (1-3-0, 2pts, #6 South)
Texas and New Mexico faced-off 8 times last season, with the Tornado claiming a 6-0-2 record in those games. The Mustangs finished last season one game under .500 at 26-27-5 and bowed out in the first round of the playoffs to Topeka. They have started slowly this season, and like the Tornado, had the past weekend off to re-group after the showcase. These teams will meet 10 times this season with the first game set-up for next weekend, October 7th in Frisco. Top Mustang is Jimmy Peplinski (4pts in 4GP).
Odessa Jackalopes (0-3-2, 2pts, #7 South)
This will be Odessa's first year in the NAHL after the organization left the CHL behind this past season. It is a completely different team as they switch from professional to amateur and they are off to a rough start at 0-3-2. Texas will face Odessa 7 times this season with the first match-up in the soon-to-be cross-state rivalry slated for November 23rd in Frisco. Top Odessa player so far this season is Sheldon Taylor (3pts in 5GP).
As mentioned previously, all of these teams will have at least 50% roster turnover each year so its hard to predict what teams will look like until 8-10 games into the season.
Don't forget to come check out the Texas Tornado Home Opener this Friday, September 30th at 7:30 at the Dr Pepper Arena against defending Robertson Cup Champion Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Texas and Fairbanks also square off on Saturday at 7:30 in Frisco. Friday night is magnetic schedule night (First 1,500 Fans) and Saturday is rally towel night (First 1,500 Fans). Tickets start as low as $10 WITH FOOD in Ike's Family Zone.
I can be reached directly at Nick@TornadoHockey.com