BY: COLLIN SCHUCK
MARCH 24, 2015
As the playoffs loom in the North American Hockey League (NAHL), playoffs at the NCAA and junior levels narrow the focus in the 22nd edition of the IceRays Alumni Report. The NCAA Division III Tournament claims the last two alumni teams in the field while the NCAA Division I Tournament slates only one alumni squad in the field of 16 teams.
Make it now five-straight wins for Hershey Bears goaltender Pheonix Copley (’10-’11) and gone without a regulation loss in 14-straight American Hockey League games thanks to a difficult 4-3 overtime win against the Portland Pirates on Saturday night. The North Pole, Alaska, native faced a season-high 45 shots against a Pirates team fighting for a playoff berth, and he was able to turn aside 42 of 45 shots to force overtime before Tim Kennedy sealed the overtime winner. For that matter, the contest wasn’t any easier for his counterpart, Mike McKenna, who was able to stop 39 of 43 shots. Since the outset of December, Copley owns a 11-0-3 record with a 2.42 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage, which is one of the best stretches for an AHL goalie this season.
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms also ran into a playoff contender in the Worcester Sharks on Saturday evening, but netminder Anthony Stolarz (’11-’12) came up on the losing end of a 6-1 scoreline. With Rob Zepp getting the full night off, the Jackson, N.J., native was forced to wade through an offensive rout, allowing three goals in the first period and six in total. The six goals allowed is the highest of the season and his save percentage of .800 is the lowest since Dec. 31 in a 6-2 loss to Binghamton, during which he stopped 16 of 21 shots in 32:32 minutes. The loss drops Stolarz to 9-12-3 and moves his goal-against to 3.18 with 13 games remaining in the season.
The NCAA Division I Tournament bracket has been set, and only one alumni team has made the 16-team field into the Big Dance. The University of Denver moved their way into the tournament with a third-place finish in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) Tournament last weekend. The Pioneers missed out on the NCHC Championship game with a 6-3 loss to the eventual tournament-winning University of Miami (OH) Red Hawks while being outscored two-to-one in each period played. Their luck turned around the following night in the third-place game, winning 5-1 over the former top-ranked University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux. Sophomore Emil Romig (’12-’13) broke through with the final goal of the afternoon with just 2:10 left in the third period. He’ll head to the tournament with four goal and three assists in tow against Boston College on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. with coverage on ESPN 2.
Mercyhurst University came short of a bid into the tournament last weekend at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y., after falling in the Atlantic Hockey Association (AHA) Championship. The Lakers earned their spot in the final after just barely getting by Robert Morris University 4-3 in overtime last Friday night thanks to the game-winner from Zac Frischmon. The AHA Championship game wasn’t as close as the semifinal: a 5-1 loss to Rochester Institute of Technology. Mychal Monteith (’10-‘12) closes his junior season with one goal and one assist through 14 games played heading into his final season of collegiate play.
The Big Ten Tournament at Joe Louis Arena found some of its expected suspects in the eventual title game, but Ohio State University held their own as a five-seed, advancing to the semifinal round after taking down fourth-seeded Penn State University 3-1 on Friday night. The Buckeyes held the lead early and throughout the game to help build momentum for their meeting with top-seeded University of Minnesota the following night, but they were held off the scoreline to the Big Ten Champions in a 3-0 defeat and the conclusion of the 2014-15 season. Forward Matt Weis (’11-’12) proved to be a strong asset in his freshman season, finishing fourth on the team in scoring and highest among rookies with eight goals and 14 assists for 22 points.
Last weekend spelled the end of the 2014-15 season for all alumni at the NCAA Division III level as both teams carrying former players bowed out in the quarterfinals. The first to go down on Saturday was fourth-ranked SUNY Oswego, who was taken out by second-ranked Adrian College 5-4 on the road. The Lakers held a 2-1 after the first period, but three-straight goals by the Bulldogs crossing through the third period was enough to outpace the SUNYAC at-large bid. The junior season for forward Brandon Adams (’11-’12) comes to a close with the loss, finishing with seven goals and three assists for 10 points in 25 games. His success in the SUNYAC Tournament helped the Lakers into the big dance, but he’ll have to wait for his first NCAA Championship in his final season.
Almost 30 minutes following the end of SUNY Oswego’s season, top-ranked Norwich University also slid out of contention for the title, falling 4-3 in overtime to eighth-ranked Amherst College on the road. The game remained even through all three periods, and late in the third period the Cadets scored to nudge ahead before Amherst tied the game with 13 seconds left in regulation and ultimately sunk Norwich just over eight minutes into the extra period. Forward Dmitry Ermakov (’11-’12) closed out his sophomore season with one goal and one assist through six games played.
We jump to the United States Hockey League (USHL), and while his name hasn’t been called as of late, forward Jake Durflinger (’13-’14) freshened his numbers with an assist in each of his last two games in back-to-back wins with Sioux City. Friday’s 6-3 win over Sioux Falls was a barnburner in the first period, where Durflinger directly fed Sam Kurker to put the Musketeers temporarily up 2-1. The following evening was an even better result for the playoff-bound Musketeers, silencing the Madison Capitols 6-0 on the road and placing another assist for the Walnut Creek, Calif., native in the second period. His assists broke a 15-game point drought since his goal on Jan. 25 against Green Bay, and during that span he has added 101 penalty minutes to his first USHL season total to mount him above 200 minutes for the year.
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) has rounded off their 2014-15 regular season, and defenseman Phil Pietroniro (’11-’13) of the Victoriaville Tigers finished his last season with a bang, dropping four assists in two games last weekend in dual losses. The Tigers fell 4-3 in overtime on Friday to Shawinigan on a last-second winner from Samuel Girard but came back down 3-0 to start the third period and force the extra frame. While killing off a late penalty, Pietroniro helped in the development of a Félix Lauzon shorthanded goal to tie the game, 3-3. The next night, the result came 8-5 in favor of Drummondville while the Quebec-rooted defenseman contributed in three of his team’s five goals with helpers. He ended the season with five points in three games and in 70 games played this season owns five goals and 42 assists for 47 points. His Tigers slot last in the East Division with a 27-34-3-4 record but enter the President Cup Playoffs as the last team in, taking on the best team in the QMJHL this season: Rimouski Océanic.
Read the IceRays Alumni Report every Tuesday on www.GoIceRays.com and hear the audio version on the IceRays Broadcast Network.
Collin Schuck is the Director of Broadcasting & Media Relations for the Corpus Christi IceRays. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter at @CollinDSchuck.