HIDALGO, TX – Thirty-five days, nine games.
That’s how long the winning streak has lasted for the Amarillo Bulls in the North American Hockey League. The Bulls had not tasted defeat since the Showcase in Blaine, Minnesota on September 21.
The longest win streak to date in the league came to an end on Saturday night at the hands of the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees 4-1. The loss, which was their first to a South Division opponent, dropped the Bulls record to 10-3-1 and kept them in a third place tie with the Killer Bees in the South Division. The Bulls missed an opportunity to gain ground on the opposition as both the Wichita Falls Wildcats and the Topeka RoadRunners lost their games.
Tyler Gernhofer netted the lone Bulls’ goal in the third period that tied the game 1-1, but a go- ahead-goal 35 seconds later and another late one in the final five minutes was too much for the visitors to overcome. Killer Bees netminder Ollie Kalkaja made some keys saves down the stretch to keep his team in front.
“We didn’t do a very good job at moving the goaltender (Ollie Kalkaja) from side-to-side or generating traffic in front,” said Bulls Head Coach Dennis Williams. “He is a big goalie and you have to make him move. Most of our shots were right into his chest.”
It was a first period filled with delays due to problems with the glass. It caused both teams to have difficulty getting any type of flow going. The Bulls had a fast start to the contest and a couple of early scoring chances that were denied by Ollie Kalkaja. The Killer Bees outshot the Bulls 6-3.
The Bulls fell behind early in the second period on a poor clear out of their zone. The Killer Bees were able to capitalize with a play in front of the net. Amarillo again took the play in the middle stanza and out-chanced the Killer Bees. Tyler Gernhofer was sent in on a breakaway but fired his shot wide. Roman Ammirato also had a couple of opportunities, including one at the close of the stanza. The Amarillo Bulls outshot the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees 10-4 in the period.
A quick start to the third period pulled the Bulls even. Tyler Gernhofer scored off a feed from Cameron Cooper at the 1:35 mark. The play was set up by a faceoff win by the Bulls as they were allowed to keep the play inside the Rio Grande Valley zone. Thirty five seconds later, the Killer Bees took the lead for good on a 2-on-1 break. Amarillo continued to battle hard and nearly tied the game on a couple of solid opportunities.
With less than five minutes remaining in the third, the Bulls surrendered a third goal when the Killer Bees scored on a turnover. Rio Grande Valley rounded out the scoring with an empty net goal in the final 90 seconds.
One area Bulls’ players have been known for the first three years has been to do what it takes to be prepared academically for the next level. In the morning of game day, fourteen Bulls’ players were up early taking their ACT exam at a local Hidalgo School. Williams said he is proud of the guys who signed up to take the exam.
“It’s what we have to do here in Amarillo, and I don’t know how many teams make it mandatory for their players to do this,” he said. “We had 14 guys who needed to re-take it and they all signed their names up. They are trying to improve themselves to get a Division I scholarship. My hats off to those kids because it’s not easy to be on a road trip like this and get up at 6 am for breakfast. They have to get on the bus by 7:15 am to go take the exam. For some players, that is the difference from getting a scholarship or getting into a school. It bumps their scores up a little bit so they get academic aid over the course of four years.”
Despite getting outshot 9-6 in the final stanza, the Amarillo Bulls had the final advantage over the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees 19-17. There were just four power plays with each team going 0 for 2.
It’s back on home ice next weekend for the Amarillo Bulls as they host the Topeka Road Runners on Friday and Saturday at the Budweiser Bull Pen in the Amarillo Civic Center. The face-off for both games is set for 7 pm. On Friday it’s an opportunity to support the United Way, while Saturday it’s Panhandle Spirit Night. Tickets are available at the Bulls Office located at 301 South Polk, Civic Center Box Office and all Panhandle Ticket Outlets including United Supermarkets. For further information on the Amarillo Bulls including Group Rates, please call the Bulls Office at 806-242-1122.