By: Collin Schuck – IceRays Staff
Jan. 5, 2016
It’s back to the ol’ grind now that we’ve eclipsed the New Year and all forms of hockey return from their winter slumbers. The 14th edition of the IceRays Alumni Report, Vol. II doesn’t bring good tidings for goaltenders at any level, however there were a number of firsts in collegiate play with one alumnus moving teams in Major Juniors as well as two alumni teams earning championships in holiday tournaments.
Neither American Hockey League (AHL) goaltender has found success crossing into the New Year regardless of what side of the crossover the games came. The final game of December for Chicago Wolves goaltender Pheonix Copley (’10-’11) evened out his record for his busy December last Wednesday. The Wolves dropped 5-2 to the Rockford IceHogs, and for the first time this season the North Pole, Alaska native didn’t finish a game. After 22:16 minutes in net, Copley allowed three goals on 16 shots, which caused Chicago head coach John Anderson to pull the plug on their starter. He played ten games in December but dropped his final two, falling to 5-5-0 on the month and 8-8-1 on the season. From a saves perspective, Copley had a season-best .919 percentage and still held teams to three goals or less in all ten outings.
Further east, back-to-back overtime losses dampened entry into 2016 for netminder Anthony Stolarz (’11-’12), and both falters came away from the PPL Center. Last Tuesday, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms lost a difficult game to the Binghamton Senators in New York State, falling 2-1 in a shootout in a tight goaltending matchup. The 21-year-old saved 39 of 40 shots in 64:51 minutes, however a goal by Sens forward Matt Puempel in the third and final round of the shootout sank the Phantoms in one of their last games of 2015. In their first game of the New Year, the Phantoms fell 4-3 in overtime to the Portland Pirates on Saturday night in Maine despite coming back in the second period to force the extra period. Stolarz turned aside 28 of 32 shots in his second-straight overtime loss, moving his save percentage to .931 on the week. The game on Tuesday finishes a more difficult December at 5-3-1, and despite his goals-against average only at 2.28 in those nine games, he allowed four goals in three games and now has allowed four in four of his last six games.
New Year’s Eve wasn’t just for counting down in the ECHL. The evening leading up to the turn of the year brought more production for defenseman Phil Pietroniro (’11-’13) of the Utah Grizzlies. In the first of three-straight games crossing into 2016, the 21-year-old opened the game with his second goal of the season en route to a 6-3 win over the Alaska Aces from Anchorage. After a lull through November, the first-year defenseman ended 2015 with three points over his last four games including his first two goals heading into the rest of their three-game set against Alaska. Pietroniro now has six points on the season and ranks fourth among defenseman on the team in points.
The Florida College Classic saw an interesting twist early last week with powerhouse teams faltering to either lower ranked or non-ranked opponents, and both opponents had former IceRays hands in the results. Ohio State University took on fourth-ranked Boston College on Monday and in comeback fashion took down the Golden Eagles 3-2 in regulation with three-unanswered goals to finish the contest. Forward Matt Weis (’11-’12) earned an assist on the Buckeyes’ first goal of the game that spurred the comeback starting early in the second period. Thanks to a loss by top-ranked Providence College, the Buckeyes took on ninth-ranked Cornell for the championship, and it did not go the Big Red’s way. Ohio State thumped Cornell 8-0 in that game, scoring half of those goals in the second period alone. Weis followed up with an assist on the game’s first goal and scored the game’s final goal in the third period. That goal came against goaltender Hayden Stewart (’12-’13), who made his 2015-16 season debut in 35:33 minutes of relief in the second and third periods. The sophomore allowed four goals on 15 shots in a difficult way to enter the season. The good news is that Stewart is second in line behind Mitch Gillam and could see more time if the impressive netminder falters. On the other side of the puck, Weis’ three-point set gets him to six goals and six assists for 12 points, ranking third in goals and fourth in points.
A few NCAA Division III teams went back to play following a lengthy winter break with multiple tournaments on New Year’s weekend. A pair of defenseman at Plattsburgh State started off 2016 with a point last Saturday as part of a 3-0 win over Colby College to sweep the W.B. Mason Winter Classic in Plattsburgh. Defenseman Ryan Chiasson (’12-’13) scored the game’s first goal (and the game-winner) just 1:16 into the second period, and the tally was also his first-career collegiate goal. Later in the frame, defenseman Chris Taff (’11-’13) picked up an assist on the game’s second goal for his fifth helper of the season. The Cardinals are still one of the powerhouses in Division III play, moving to second in the nation behind St. Norbert. Chiasson now has nine games under his belt, and Taff improves to six points in seven games.
Just before the end of the year, the United States Hockey League (USHL) returned to action much like the NAHL did the week leading up to New Year’s Day. In his first game back with the Bloomington Thunder, forward Jake Durflinger (’13-’14) made a stamp in the team’s 3-0 blanking of the Sioux Falls Stampede on the road. It may have been late in the game, but the 18-year-old’s tally was an empty net goal in the final two minutes to grab his eighth goal on the year. Though he didn’t get any more points in his next two games, Durflinger moves to 15 points through 25 games and his on-pace to set a career-high in points.
It doesn’t seem to matter what year he’s in; forward Ronnie Hein (’13-’14) finds ways to produce points and continue his strong 2015-16 campaign. In two of three games last week, the 18-year-old put up at least one point to warm up just shy of a streak. On New Year’s Eve, the Waterloo Black Hawks edged out the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders in a shootout thanks to Hein. He scored the game-tying goal in the third period to send the game into overtime then scored the only goal of the shootout during the opening round. Two days later, the Black Hawks had a more comfortable victory over the Fargo Force with a 3-1 win, and once again the Chelsea, Mich., native helped with scoring by finding Niko Hildenbrand with the game’s opening goal. With those two points, Hein improves to 23 points through 27 games and sits second on the team and tied for 18th in the USHL in points.
The Tri-City Storm has leveled off heading into the New Year though their trend shows signs of dipping back below a .500 record, dropping three of their last four games with two coming in extra hockey. One of those games, their final contest of 2015, was a heartbreaking 4-3 overtime loss to the Green Bay Gamblers last Tuesday. After being down 3-0 heading into the third period, the Storm rumbled back with three-straight in the final frame to force overtime, and forward Nico Sturm (’13-’14) found Carson Meyer to tie the game with 4:48 remaining in the game. The Austrian now owns 18 points through 29 games this season with now 37 penalty minutes thanks to a fight on Saturday night.
Just hours before the end of 2015, one more point stretched across for center Chad Pietroniro (’11-’12) on the same night his brother earned his second goal of the year. His point wasn’t a goal but helped to get Eric Leger the second goal for Baie-Comeau Drakkar in their eventual 4-3 shootout loss to Sagueneens Chicoutimi, which also included five goals in the first period combined. After one more game on Sunday, the 19-year-old was then traded to Sherbrooke Phoenix along with a 2016 2nd Round Pick and 2017 3rd Round pick for Vincent Deslauriers, Mikael Sabourin, and a 2016 12th Round Pick. Sherbrooke is now his third team in parts of three seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).
The Western Hockey League (WHL) picked up right where they left off following the holiday break and jumped back into the thick of a rigorous schedule. The Moose Jaw Warriors are hanging on to third place in the East Division and the final automatic playoff spot by just three points, and a recent slide doesn’t help their positioning. In their closest loss, a 6-5 dropping by the Brandon Wheat Kings, forward Landon Quinney (’14-’15) earned his first multi-point game of his Major Junior career, picking up two assists last Tuesday on the game’s first goal and Moose Jaw’s fourth goal of five. With those points, the 17-year-old is now third among rookies on the team with 12 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 email@example.com or on Twitter at @CollinDSchuck.