By: Collin Schuck – IceRays Staff
Dec. 22, 2015
The IceRays are gone for the holidays, the North American Hockey League (NAHL) wraps up play prior to Christmas, and we take a breather before the rush of the second half of the 2015-16 season hits starting next week. In the meantime, there’s plenty of players with IceRays ties contesting into this week though most are also finishing up before the festivities on Friday. Thus, in the 12th edition of the IceRays Alumni Report, Vol. II, fewer NCAA programs remain in the fold though the same can’t necessarily be said in junior and professional hockey, especially in the American Hockey League (AHL) and the United States Hockey League (USHL).
We’re 22 days into December, and Chicago Wolves goaltender Pheonix Copley (’10-’11) is averaging about one game every three days after a four-game week heading into Christmas week. The hectic schedule continued last Tuesday in Milwaukee to round out the Wolves’ four-game road trip, but the Wolves fell to the Admirals 2-1 thanks to an early third period goal. Then, the Wolves played three-straight games at Allstate Arena starting two nights later with a big performance by the netminder in a 4-3 shootout win over the Texas Stars, during which Copley saved a season-high 37 shots. Continuing on the every other day trend, Saturday night put the Wolves back in an overtime bout, and once again they came away with a 4-3 win, this time over the Rockford IceHogs. Another 34 saves for Copley helped the home side to the victory despite two goals allowed in the third period. Finally, last night, the Wolves and Copley finished their lat game before the holidays without a one-goal difference, taking down the Manitoba Moose 4-1 with another 23 saves on 24 chances. The netminder helped to take his final three-straight games before Christmas and three of four in total. In the process, Copley saved 114 of 123 shots for a .927 save percentage along with a 2.18 goals-against average in his busy week. It’s worth noting also that he has played in eight of the ten games on the Wolves’ December schedule with three games left before the New Year.
In the Eastern Conference, there was a bit of reprieve for Lehigh Valley Phantoms netminder Anthony Stolarz (’11-’12), who only played one game last week following six-straight starts. On Friday evening, the Phantoms were back at home against the Hershey Bears in an explosive 6-4 win at the PPL Center. The Bears scored three goals on eight shots in the first period, but after that the 21-year-old settled down and locked down the net as the Phantoms came back to win. Stolarz tossed aside 21 of 25 shots in the victory. He has had a December to write home about, going 5-2-0 in seven games, and while his goals-against and save percentage have risen in his last three games, he still remains as one of the elite AHL goaltenders this season.
The Utah Grizzlies are having a strong 2015-16 campaign in the ECHL, sitting first place in the West Division and second in the Western Conference thanks to seven wins in their last ten games. It’s a pretty good year to make a professional debut, and that’s what defenseman Phil Pietroniro (’11-’13) must be thinking heading into the holidays. After coming back from an injury keeping him out for two weeks, the 21-year-old earned his fourth assist of the season during Utah’s 6-3 win over the Colorado Eagles on Saturday. The helper was with the fifth goal for the Grizzlies coming just beyond midway through the third period. Pietroniro now has 21 games under his belt and also earned a +4 rating over his four-game week.
Very few NCAA Division I programs continued play into the beginning of winter break, but the University of Alabama-Huntsville played two more games last weekend against Colorado College, splitting the two-game set at home. And in the process defenseman Frank Misuraca (’11-’12) picked up an assist in Saturday’s 2-1 win on the game-winning goal early in the third period. In 18 games this season, Misuraca has picked up four points with three coming as assists while the Chargers have struggled to string together wins, going 4-12-2 thus far with their next game coming on New Year’s Day against perennial powerhouse North Dakota.
Another of those programs keeping busy the weekend before Christmas was sixth-ranked University of Nebraska-Omaha, who hosted Arizona State University for the first time in program history though didn’t share a warm welcome. The Mavericks swept the Sun Devils in back-to-back games, and Saturday’s 6-0 win was special for one young player. Defenseman Jalen Schulz (’12-’13) earned his first collegiate point with a secondary assist on the game’s third tally. The Minnesotan has been a healthy scratch for a majority of the season, but in his seventh game a point broke through, taking advantage of a golden opportunity just in time for the holidays.
There were even fewer programs playing in NCAA Division III hockey. Just two teams played last weekend: Northland College and Concordia College. The Cobbers had trouble with Northland in the two-game home set, falling 5-2 on Friday and earning a 5-5 draw the following night. Forward Jon Grebosky (’11-’13) has stepped up as the team production leader in just his second season, and a four-point weekend continues that trend. On Friday, the Pennsylvanian assisted the first of two third-period goals after falling down 5-0 after two frames. In their rebound game the next night, Grebosky scored the Cobbers’ first goal of the night under three minutes in and earned assists on the first goal in both the second and third periods to rack up a game-high three points. In his final game of 2015, Grebosky is averaging almost a point-per-game with ten markers in 11 contests while moving back to first on the team in production.
The USHL has also slowed things down like the NAHL has heading into the holiday season with only 16 games in two days last weekend. Though only playing one of those 16 games, forward Jake Durflinger (’13-’14) ended a three-game goal drought on Saturday night to help his Bloomington Thunder to a 4-1 win against the Chicago Steel at home. His goal was an insurance marker in the final seven minutes of the game to move the Thunder up 3-1 and give him his seventh goal of the season. Production has cooled down in December, but he’s scored almost half of his season goal total in just five games, getting three on the month before the holiday break.
The streak has now moved to four games for forward Ronnie Hein (’13-’14) with another weekend of back-to-back point production, this time coming on the road. The Waterloo Black Hawks split their two-game weekend against the Youngstown Phantoms, and in Friday’s 5-4 regulation loss the 18-year-old helped to draw within one in the dying seconds of the game though the equalizer couldn’t be found. There was better luck the next night in a 4-3 shootout win for both the Black Hawks and Hein, who scored his fifth goal of the year just 30 seconds into the second period as well as the first of two goals in the three-round shootout. Hein now has five points in four games to bump his point total to 21 through 24 games.
We wouldn’t forget about the three Canadian junior leagues up north of the border, and the Western Hockey League (WHL) specifically will take a short break from their hectic schedule for the holidays. Heading into that break, however, forward Landon Quinney (’14-’15) earned a couple of points for the Moose Jaw Warriors on Friday and Saturday, both of them assists. Friday’s 2-1 loss to the Kamloops Blazers was close, and the 18-year-old earned the only assist of the Warriors’ only goal that came way back in the first period. The next night’s result was better: a 4-3 win over the Regina Pats and in comeback fashion no less. Quinney was part of that surge from behind, grabbing the only assist of Moose Jaw’s first of two goals in the third period to force the extra frame. Quinney is quietly having a good first season in Major Junior play, racking up ten points through 33 games and resting third on the team among rookies in points.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @CollinDSchuck.