There was a cohesive feeling heading into the Amarillo series that it would be the weekend when fortunes would turn for the IceRays. It was the beginning of a ten-game road stanza, four additions were made to the roster, and a hunger to make up for lost points surrounded the group. By taking all four points available in last weekend’s series, the Rays have pulled themselves to within three points of second place.
As usual, the South division promises to be extremely competitive. Five of the six teams are within three points of each other 1/6 of the way through the season. Unfortunately for the Rays, the one team which isn’t is the one they lace up against this weekend.
The Shreveport Mudbugs are the only team in the South so far to have separated itself from the rest of the pack. At 8-2-0, they lead the division by five points and are tied for the second-highest goal differential in the NAHL (Northeast Generals). Their penalty kill is second only to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, clocking in at a remarkable 92% rate.
Goaltending has probably been the greatest factor to their early success. Shreveport’s two net-minders have a combined 1.38 goals against average and a .940 save percentage, and they’ve yet to allow more than three goals in a game. Fortunately for Corpus Christi, they have a hot hand to ride of their own in Chad Veltri, who is coming off a First Star of the Week performance. We could well be in store for a full-scale goaltending battle this weekend.
Havrila Joins the Mix
The IceRays have made another acquisition. Slovakian center Matúš Havrila arrived in Shreveport on Wednesday and will debut this weekend against the Mudbugs. Known as a 200-foot player, Havrila will likely be assigned to many critical faceoffs and is expected to log a fair amount of time on the penalty kill.
Faceoff specialists can never be in overabundance. The Rays have been hoping to improve their ability to cleanly win draws, which is a department Havrila (5’10,” 200) promises to impact. Though he cracked the Omaha Lancers’ 25-man roster, he was released just days ago after playing his first USHL game. Last season, Havrila scored 41 points (23 G, 18 A) in 44 games while playing for Team Slovakia’s U18 team. He also represented his country at the U18 World Junior Championships. He will sport the #18.
IceRays Captain Brendan Miller was suspended for a hit to the head he delivered during the Amarillo series, though accounts differ as to whether the decision was warranted. The ruling seems to be more of a precautionary measure than actual discipline against Miller, but regardless, the Rays will lose a vital and versatile forward for the Shreveport series.
The suspension means that Miller will miss just his seventh game in three seasons as an IceRay. With such a large void opening on the left side, opportunity will knock this weekend for a number of younger players to establish themselves.