AMARILLO, TX – The Amarillo Bulls Coaching Staff continue to focus towards a couple of big areas as the second half of the season rolls on. Head Coach Matt Nicholson knows the team needs to make up ground in a hurry in hopes of hunting down a playoff spot in the South Division and look towards building to next season.
The Bulls made several roster moves late Monday afternoon that were aimed at helping both areas. The first, was the arrival of defenseman Jake Houston from the United States Hockey League’s Cedar Rapids Roughriders. Houston had two assists in six games with the Roughriders. He is expected to be in the line-up this weekend.
Amarillo Bulls Head coach Matt Nicholson said when the team lost Jake will be a huge contributor down the stretch.
“I think Jake has come back a better player from picking up a few tips and playing at a different level,” said Nicholson. “To get him back was huge for us. He wanted to come back and we were the only team on his radar.”
“Jake is a Division I player who still doesn’t have an NCAA College Commitment yet, and we hope he gets one before the end of the season. If he doesn’t, we would love to have him back next year.”
In other transactions, the Bulls traded defenseman Keenan Sabatini to the Springfield Jr. Blues in exchange for forward Coale Norris and a 2015-16 Tender. In 28 games with the Bulls the Armada, Michigan native notched three goals and three assists for six points. Norris, who hails from Oxford, Michigan picked up four goals and four assists for eight points in 32 games.
Matt Nicholson said with the additions of both Jake Houston and Jeff Solow that it would be better to go with seven defenseman instead of eight.
“Keenan has struggled a bit lately and the production offensively dried up,” said Nicholson. “Sometimes it’s the nature of the business and you have to move on players and other times it’s about a fresh start for the player involved. We wish him nothing but the best with his new team.”
Nicholson said Norris is from a strong Oakland Grizzlies program in the Tier I Elite League.
“His father is a long time pro who played in the National Hockey League so he has some bloodlines there,” he said. “He led the Grizzlies in scoring last year so that also go towards another need we are trying to fill and that is scoring.”
Forward Trent Dillinger was traded to the Wichita Falls Wildcats for a 2015-2016 Tender. Dillinger arrived in January of 2015 to the Bulls and quickly was a fan favorite for his hard-nose style of play. In 55 games with the Bulls (combined season stats), the Gillette Wyoming native had eight goals and 11 assists for 19 points.
Nicholson said that Dillinger gets an opportunity to play for a high level team in the Wichita Falls Wildcats.
“My assumption is that Wichita Falls is looking to get bigger and strong to gear up for a long run in the playoffs and Trent fills that void for them,” he said. “We are taken back from the phone call we got from Wichita Falls because we had no intensions of moving him. Trent has been a leader in the locker room since day one. You need guys like that on your roster but at the same time you also have to look out for the best interests of not only our team but for Trent as well.”
In the last move of the day the Bulls transferred goaltender Jacob Weatherly to the NA3HL St. Louis Jr Blues program. Weatherly, a native of Castle Rock, Colorado was originally tendered by the Bulls during the 2013-14 season. In 40 games with Bulls over the course of two seasons (2014-15, 2015-16), he had a 9-22-3 mark with a 4.17 GAA and a .881 Save Percentage.
Matt Nicholson said this move will give Weatherly an opportunity to play.
“We felt coming into this season that Anton was established as the No. 1 goaltender,” he said. “I know it was challenging for Jacob to play the back-up role and not getting a lot of time. We felt that sending him to the NA3HL St. Louis Jr. Blues that he would have an opportunity to get some starts. He has aspirations beyond junior hockey, and still has a year left of eligibility so this will help with that.”
The Bulls have added goaltender Brian Baker as a back-up goaltender to Anton Martinsson. Baker a native of Pittsburgh, PA spent part of his season with the Kenai River Brown Bears.
“With the timing of the Weatherly trade, we decided to bring Brian in because it didn’t cost us any assets so it worked out well that way,” Nicholson said. “Brian is a high character kid who has persevered through a lot of adversity. He still has aspirations to play at an NCAA Level and I think he will be a good compliment to Anton Martinsson.”
The Amarillo Bulls return to action this weekend when they visit the Corpus Christi IceRays at American Bank Center. The schedule for those two games has been altered due to an issue with the ice cooling system. The two teams will first face one another on Saturday at approximately 7:45 pm, while the second one is set for Sunday at 2:30 pm.
Fans can tune into the action on CBS Sports Radio 1440, online at www.amarillobulls.com and on PPV with Fast Hockey beginning with the Wayland Baptist University Warm Up Show 20 minutes before the puck is dropped.
The Amarillo Bulls are back on home ice to start a six game home stand on Friday, Feb. 5 and Saturday, Feb. 6 when they host the Topeka RoadRunners for the first time this season at the Budweiser Bull Pen in the Amarillo Civic Center. The face-off for both games is set for 7 pm.
Tickets are available at the Bulls Office located at 301 South Polk or by calling 806-242-1122. Additionally, tickets can also be picked up at the Civic Center Box Office, all United Supermarkets or online at www.panhandletickets.com.