After a low season was full of strangers, the players and coaches of Odessa Jackalopes don’t take anything for granted.
For them, getting back on the ice has been a return to normal, and the Jackalopes want to enter the 2020-21 season with that energy.
There is no doubt that there is a ton of excitement, said first-year Jackalopes head coach and hockey operations general manager Jason Fortier. The boys are anxiously waiting for that first game.
Last year, the North American Hockey League season ended prematurely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Jackalopes returned to the ice two weeks ago for preseason games against Lone Star and New Mexico.
It sure is exciting, said Jackalope’s right-wing Fletcher Anderson. The exciting level is now through the roof and were excited to play for the Jackalopes.
Odessa kicks off its season with a road series against Wichita Falls and plays in the first season, starting with a 7:05 PM game on Saturday at the Kay Yeager Coliseum.
They close the weekend with a 3:05 pm match on Sunday.
The Jackalopes will then return for their home opener against New Mexico at 7:15 pm on Oct. 30 at Ector County Coliseum.
Defender Evan Orr, who was named team captain, was one of many players worried about what this season would be like because of the pandemic.
There’s always a little bit of scare, Orr said. Safety is a top priority in everything that is going on. But if we do our part, we can play as much as possible.
Anderson was a bit more optimistic about playing a season.
I don’t think there was any doubt, but we knew it would work out on its own and we were really lucky to be able to play here in October, Anderson said.
Fortier, hired in April, was only able to come from Canada last week to see his team in person.
Now that he had some time to meet everyone, he said it is going well.
Our boys are doing very well, Fortier said. Our staff does a good job of making sure our protocols are in place and making sure we wore our masks and keep our bubble protected from outsiders. Things are going well so far and we can only knock on wood that it will go ahead.
Fortier, who comes in with 11 years of experience coaching junior hockey, got to know his new location well.
As staff, we hung out and got to know each other, Fortier said. We have communicated a lot. I haven’t had a lot of time to see many things as I’m in the office 14 hours a day, but I’m not going to complain about that.
The Jackalopes are looking to break last year’s 9-39-1-1 record, with Odessa finishing last in the NAHL South Division.
There’s no question we have some guys who can play, Fortier said. We have a good speed. We have many good defenders.
He added that he doesn’t expect too many high-scoring games as the Jackalopes want to emphasize their defense.
Defending will be a priority, Fortier said. Went to defend with passion and defend with a lot of structure and detail. That leads to insult and opportunities. We hoped that within our group, guys would come and add more offense to their game when needed.
In terms of addressing the weakness of his teams, Fortier said they have to work on everything.
At this point, we were really fixated on making sure it was about techniques and habits so that our day-to-day activities can be done, Fortier said. We also did some faceoff stuff and made sure our guys were on the same page, communicating. It’s a game of things, but I was happy with it.
Michael Bauer is a sports reporter for the Odessa American. He can be reached at [email protected] at 432-333-7772 or on Twitter.
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