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South Division Report: Amarillo taking early success in stride

 October 21, 2010
by Zach Duncan, NAHL.com

 Dennis Williamsis a firm believer in keeping everything on an even keel.

So though his Amarillo Bulls are fresh off an impressive two-game sweep of the Topeka RoadRunners and are tied for the NAHL South lead, don’t expect them to be overconfident.

“It’s a long season, and we’ll have some highs and lows,” said Williams, who came to the Bulls after coaching at Bowling Green State University. “Whatever gets thrown at us, we just have to keep going.”

Saturday night was a perfect example of maintaining composure through adversity.

After the Bulls’ 4-2 victory on Friday in which Dan Sherer scored twice – including the game-winner with 7:15 left to go – Topeka surged ahead 4-1 the next night.

But the Bulls didn’t panic. When Michael Erickson scored with one second remaining in the second period, Amarillo was reenergized despite trailing by two goals.

“It gave us some life,” Williams said. “In the locker room, we talked about how we’ve scored two goals in a lot of periods this year. We weren’t going to change our game plan.”

Terrence Johnson and Chris Cass responded by finding the back of the net in the final 20 minutes, and Johnson notched the difference-maker in the seventh round of the shootout.

The Bulls are third in the NAHL in scoring, averaging 4.15 goals a game. But there isn’t anyone from Amarillo in the top 15 of the league’s scoring leaders.

Impressive depth is the reason for that. Ten players have recorded at least eight points, led by Zack Smoot (six goals, eight assists) and Cody Freeman (seven goals, five assists).

In fact, there’s not a single player on Amarillo’s current roster with a plus-minus rating in the red.

“All four lines are contributing,” said Williams. “I can’t tell you who our No. 1 line is right now. We’ve strived on 5-on-5 hockey.”

The defense, led by captainDerek Hills, Luke Jenkins andKarl Beckman, has also hunkered down, allowing only 26.42 shots per game.

Williams said Amarillo has a good mix of veterans and junior hockey newcomers. Eight Bulls played last season with the Albert Lea Thunder, the team that relocated to Texas during the offseason.

One of those was Smoot, who Williams said is a fast skater and good puckhandler who’ss elevated his game up a notch since the preseason.

Another is goaltender Nikifor Szczerba, who played in 13 games for the Thunder in 2009-10.

“I thought at camp, he looked a little out of shape and his conditioning was suspect,” Williams said. “Now he’s getting in workouts after games, going hard on a bike.

“And more and more guys are doing that. We had 12 guys doing a squat workout after Saturday’s game, and that was a tough battle. That’s really nice to see.”

The hard work has paid off for Szczerba, who is sporting a 9-1-1 record with a 2.17 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage.

And it’a paid off for the Bulls, who will look to keep the momentum rolling Friday at home against Wichita Falls.