PREVIEW: ICERAYS @ ROADRUNNERS (GAME #1)

CORPUS CHRISTI ICERAYS

at

TOPEKA ROADRUNNERS

Friday, September 18 at 7:05 P.M.

Game #1 • Series: 0-0 • Road Game #1 • NAHL Game #9
Landon Arena, Kansas ExpoCentre • Topeka, Kansas
Radio: SportsRadio Corpus Christi (KSIX 1230AM) • Mobile: TuneIn Radio

Video: FASTHockey.com • Twitter: @goicerays

Coverage begins at 6:40 p.m. with Countdown To Faceoff
 

Tonight’s Game: The IceRays open the 2015-16 campaign against the Topeka RoadRunners from Landon Arena in the Kansas ExpoCentre. This is the third-straight year the IceRays have opened the year in Topeka.

Head-To-Head: Tonight’s meeting is the first of eight, the most between these two teams in franchise history. The IceRays earned a 1-2-1 record against the RoadRunners in their four-game season series, winning on Oct. 17 in a 4-3 overtime victory at home. Historically, the IceRays have not faired well against Topeka, owning a 2-17-3 record over the past five seasons. Their lone wins: Feb. 1, 2013 (3-2 SOW @ TOP) and Oct. 17, 2015 (4-3 OTW at home).

Out of the Gates: The IceRays own a 2-2-1 record in season openers since becoming a junior franchise in 2010. In those five games, the IceRays have been outscored 14-13, saw two overtime games (1-1 record), and had one shutout against them (Sep. 15, 2010 @ TC). Every game was separated by just a goal. Over the last two seasons against Topeka, the IceRays have yet to record a win on opening night, going 0-1-1 and being outscored 6-4. Last season, the IceRays lost both games in their opening weekend 4-3 (OT) and 5-2 in Topeka.

Historic Year: Last season was a historic year for the IceRays, finishing with their best record in franchise history at 31-24-5 and 4th in the South Division. It was their second +.500 season and first since the 2012-13 playoff team. In the South Division Quarterfinals, the IceRays fell in consecutive 3-2 losses to the Wenatchee Wild (one in overtime), dropping to 1-4-1 in playoff games. Top scorers Wes Michaud (Colorado College) and Tanner Lomsnes (Niagara University) signed commitments to NCAA Division I programs, and the trio of Joe Chitwood, Matt Colford, and Connor Kelly all committed to Saint John’s University (NCAA Division III).

Breaking It Down: This season’s roster consists of 24 players, including nine players with NAHL experience. The IceRays carry 14 forwards, eight defensemen, and two goaltenders broken down further into 20 American-born players, three Canadian-born, and one international skater. By year, seven players are in their last year of junior eligibility, eight were born in 1996, six have a 1997 birth year, and three were born in 1998. The team has flexibility under the league-maximum 25-man roster to acquire more skaters prior to the October 1 cut deadline.

Back To The Bend: The IceRays bring back seven players who saw time during the 2014-15 season, including: forward Ryan Cusin, who finished fourth on the roster in assists (31) and points (47) last year; forward Nathan Bryer, who led the 2014-15 squad in overtime game-winning goals (3); forward Brad LeLievre, a NAHL journeyman who played his 150th NAHL game on Mar. 21, 2015 in Odessa; forward Mason Krueger, one of the most improved players through last season and a solid middle line center; defenseman Trevor Heuser, one of three alternate captains on the 2014-15 roster that can earn his 100th NAHL game this season; defenseman Keenan Spillum, the youngest returning skater in his second NAHL season; and Regen Cavanagh, who played six games last year as an affiliate and joins the roster as a full-time member.

Dangerous Duo: Both goaltenders are fresh faces to the IceRays organization and hope to provide stability in an area of need. Graham Hunt, a 20-year-old American, played with Johnson in Swan Valley last season and was drafted with the team’s first available pick (49th overall, 3rd Round) in the 2015 NAHL Draft. He finished third in the MJHL in save percentage (.915) and was named a MJHL 2nd Team All-Star. He is considered to be a strong force in net by scouts. Prior to IceRays Main Camp in July, Dryden McKay was acquired by the team from the Springfield Jr. Blues to fill the second netminder opening. The 17-year-old finished eighth in save percentage (.917) in his rookie season while helping the Jr. Blues to a 4-2-0 record against South Division rival Topeka RoadRunners and compiling a sub-2.20 goals-against average and plus-.940 save percentage.

Turning Pro: On Sunday, former IceRays defenseman Phil Pietroniro (’11-’13) signed an entry-level contract with the Utah Grizzlies, the ECHL affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks. In three seasons of QMJHL play, the Quebec native earned 17 goals and 58 assists for 75 points with 180 penalty minutes and a -11 rating through 166 regular season games. In 61 games over parts of two seasons with the IceRays, Pietroniro recorded eight goals and 13 assists for 21 points with 97 penalty minutes and a -6 rating. He becomes the fourth former player and third since becoming a NAHL franchise to earn an affiliated professional contract, joining forward Ryan Garbutt (CHI) and goaltenders Pheonix Copley (STL) and Anthony Stolarz (PHI).

Topeka Strong: The RoadRunners finished the 2014-15 campaign with a 39-15-6 record and second place in the South Division. After holding the top of the South Division, the RoadRunners slipped to second in the last month of the year and secured a first-round bye. In the South Division Semifinals, Topeka rolled to a 3-1 series win over the Wichita Falls Wildcats but fell in the South Division Finals 3-1 to the Brahmas in four games. NAHL Goaltender of the Year Matej Tomek was drafted in the 3rd Round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers, joining former IceRays goaltender Anthony Stolarz in the organization.

Staying Power: Topeka returns 11 players from its 2014-15 roster that took them to second place in the South Division. Most completed the full year in Topeka like: forward Carlos Fornaris, who leads returning players with 28 points and a commitment to NCAA Division I program RPI; forward Cam Strong, who notched 27 points and a +16 rating in 56 games; forward Dominic Lutz, who also reached double-digit points (18); forward JB Baker, a NAHL journeyman on his third team since 2012-13 including Rio Grande Valley; forward Yo Hikosaka, a complete Topeka product after playing at the NA3HL level earning a roster spot in 2013-14; forward Beau Dommer, a 20-year-old with 12 points in 40 games last season; defenseman Tyler Hayes, another NAHL veteran with a +15 rating last year; defenseman Ryan O’Connor, who played most of last season in Topeka following a short stint with Coulee Region; forward Luka Maver, a big 18-year-old Slovenian with 44 NAHL games under his belt; defenseman Jack Kelly, a Texas native with 26 games played last season, and defenseman Seth Kamrass, brother of assistant coach Josh Kamrass of the RoadRunners.

Youngblood Net: After a veteran tandem in net dominated the South Division, two younger netminders join the RoadRunners staff to tend the pipes. Topeka goes back to Slovakia to bring in favorite to take the starting job Vladimir Cibulka an 18-year-old netminder with experience with the Slovakia U18 National Team, playing a combined six games last season between the U18 World Junior Championships and International Junior play. He also appeared with HK Ruzinov 99 Bratislava U18. With him is American Tyler Johnson, who comes from a storied Compuware U18 program in the HPHL. Johnson played 12 games last season and finished with a 3.50 goals-against average and a .813 save percentage. He did appear in one game for the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). He was drafted in the 7th Round (127th overall) in the 2014 OHL Priority Selection Draft.

Ahead Of The Curve: The RoadRunners began their 2015-16 campaign as the first game for the entire NAHL on Friday, taking down the Wichita Falls Wildcats 4-3 at home but faltering 6-2 the following night to split the weekend series. The series marks the earliest games for each team in their junior franchise histories. Returning forward Luka Maver led the way with three points (two goals, one assist) including the team’s first goal of the year on a shorthanded play Friday night. Four other players recorded two-point weekends: forward Ryan O’Connor (goal, assist), forward Andrew Hart (goal, assist), Max Harper (goal, assist), and Cam Strong (two assists). Slovakian goaltender Vladimir Cibulka earned the win on Friday, stopping 28 of 31 shots, while American net minder Tyler Johnson picked up the loss on Saturday, saving 25 of 31 shots.

Playing Like Pros: The NAHL instituted two rule changes that will effect play after regulation. To follow the NHL and USA Hockey models making changes, the NAHL also shifted its overtime to 3-on-3 for five minutes in order to dilute the chances of shootouts in the regular season. The shootout format has also changed, reducing from a best-of-five to a best-of-three, a format the NHL currently uses. The additional bonus to both format changes allow games to end at a faster rate when going into extra play.

All New South: The South Division saw a shift in landscape with the departure of the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees to the East Division as the Aston Rebels and the Wenatchee Wild to the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL). That brings the number of teams to six with the top-four earning spots in the 2016 Robertson Cup Playoffs. The IceRays will now play all five teams at least eight times with 12 games against Amarillo, Odessa, and Wichita Falls. Against current division teams, the IceRays went 21-16-3 including 17-10-1 against their 12-game opponents and 10-2-0 against Odessa.

Shifting Landscape: The rapid movement of teams this off-season has seen a new development in the NAHL. The biggest change is the adoption of the East Division, consisting of the Aston Rebels (formerly Rio Grande Valley), Johnstown Tomahawks, New Jersey Titans (formerly Soo Eagles), and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights (expansion). With those moving teams plus the loss of Keystone and Michigan, the NAHL merged the North Division with the Midwest Division and moved one of its members to balance the divisions. The Central Division has added the Minnesota Magicians (former Midwest) and the new Midwest Division now has Fairbanks, Coulee Region, Minnesota Wilderness, Kenai River, Janesville (former North Division), and Springfield (former North Division).

South Division Standings:
Amarillo Bulls (1-0-0, 2 PTS)
Wichita Falls Wildcats (1-1-0, 2 PTS)
Topeka RoadRunners (1-1-0, 2 PTS)
Corpus Christi IceRays (0-0-0, 0 PTS)

Lone Star Brahmas (0-0-0, 0 PTS)
Odessa Jackalopes (0-1-0, 0 PTS)

Next Game: The IceRays finish their weekend series on Sunday, September 20 at 6:05 p.m. from Landon Arena. Coverage begins at 5:50 p.m. on SportsRadio Corpus Christi (KSIX 1230AM) and www.FASTHockey.com.