Preview: IceRays @ Amarillo Bulls (Game 9)
The Stretch Begins
It is difficult to gauge how well the IceRays have fared on the road this early in the season. Two games were played in Topeka before their four-day neutral spell in Blaine, MN. By most accounts, showcase games are not truly regarded as road games since the crowd is mostly impartial to the outcome. The small sample size they have is not the most telling. In Topeka, the first game was won 4-1, and the next was lost 6-1. In short, they had two periods to remember, two middling periods, and two periods to forget throughout the season-opening weekend.
Long stretches of road series are usually beneficial to teams in the long haul, but the Rays cannot afford to allow their deficit in the South division to pile on them. Early as it may be, every game for the rest of the regular season will be played against a divisional opponent, which means every two points lost is a rival’s gain. Despite the long road ahead, IceRays Head Coach Brad Flynn has reinforced the importance of taking the challenge one day at a time:
The Amarillo Bulls have rebranded. As is the case with most junior teams, their roster overhaul was enormous over the offseason. The juiciest news surrounding them, however, has been the addition of Head Coach Rocky Russo. An Assistant Coach in Amarillo when the Bulls won the Robertson Cup in 2013, Russo already has a legacy in Bomb City. His players have been known to adopt his rigid style, as demonstrated by Amarillo’s division-leading 128 penalty minutes in just seven games.
Tonight’s matchup will not be an ideal one for an IceRays team still searching to find itself, but it could give them exactly the type of adversity they need to become more cohesive. Given Amarillo’s tendency for taking more penalties than the average team, an IceRays power play poised to have a fresh look will need to play a bigger role than it did last weekend against Odessa. If the man-advantage is the biggest x-factor for the Rays tonight, the four new faces on their roster are surely a close second.
Four new IceRays will join the mix this weekend, each of whom brings unique assets to the table.
Pavel Koreshkov – A skilled Russian center who played top-six minutes for Russia’s U17 national team. Koreshkov spent the bulk of last season with CSKA Moskva U17, scoring 29 points in 32 games and leading them to the Russia U17 finals. At just 17 years of age, he is the youngest player on the IceRays roster.
Rylee St. Onge – A veteran of Canadian junior hockey and natural goal-scorer, St. Onge has scored 18+ goals in each of the last four seasons. He has spent the last two years with the Markham Royals of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, where he’s scored 88 points in 105 games. At 19, the Canadian winger promises to bring a goal-scoring touch to a team in need of it.
Michal Steinocher – Another 17-year-old, Steinocher is a 6’7,” 215-pound defenseman from the Czech Republic. Last season, he played 40 games for the Flint Firebirds in the Ontario Hockey League, which is widely considered to be the best junior hockey league in the world. Big, sturdy, and mobile for his size, Steinocher is slated to be an impactful addition on the back end.
Jovan Zimmerman – A veteran of the South Division, Zimmerman joins the Icerays after playing parts of last season with the Wichita Falls Wildcats and the Amarillo Bulls. He is a versatile defenseman with a heavy and much-needed left-handed shot from the blue line. Zimmerman plays a 200-foot game and can be effective in all three zones.
It’s no secret that the close decisions have not gone in the IceRays’ favor thus far. In three of their last four contests, their opponents scored a game-changing goal in the closing five minutes of regulation. All four of those games were decided by a single non-empty-net score. As a result, it has felt as though precious points have simply been stolen away from the Rays of late. The start of an extensive road sequence and the addition of four new players could well be the scenery change the Rays need to flip their fortunes around and get some bounces to go their way. Hockey is, in fact, a game of inches, and the line between winning and losing can be so fine that it can be crossed at any given time.