Preview: IceRays @ Topeka RoadRunners (Game 18)

 

Offense Breaks Through
A much needed offensive outbreak was in store for the Rays last night, who scored more goals in yesterday’s game than they had in the previous four contests combined. They walked the talk last night and proved they were as hungry as they said they were to put the puck in the net. More importantly, they proved they were tired of losing.

The initial seven minutes were troublesome, as they struggled to clear their own zone and were under siege for extended periods of time. After Topeka converted that pressure into a goal, the Rays completely turned the tables. They were borderline dominant for the rest of the game, tallying four unanswered goals and outshooting Topeka 26-19 in the final two periods.


The Matchup
Expect to see the Danish keeper Emil Gransøe back in net, as he is the unquestioned starter in Topeka and was given a rest yesterday. Though Connor Murphy did bounce back after the first period, Gransøe seems like a no-brainer for tonight. As for Corpus Christi, it’s less black and white. Chad Veltri’s had two strong back-to-back showings, but Jake Acton hasn’t played since his debut on October 27th.

Oddly enough, yesterday’s result is almost a carbon copy of this season’s first meeting between these teams. Back on September 15th, the Rays defeated Topeka 4-1 with an empty-net goal at the end to seal it. The RoadRunners even managed the exact same number of total shots, with 28.

Sadly, what followed that season opener was a 6-1 crumbling the next day, before the IceRays hopped on the bus to go to Blaine, MN for the Showcase. Concerning as this might seem, eight of the players who were a part of that group are no longer around, and the Rays will have more to play for now with the return home on the horizon. They still will have to prove they are a different team from the one that was bounced 6-1 on September 16th, because bottom of the standings or not, no team wants to be swept on home ice.


Monkeys off the Backs
Yesterday was not only important for the team’s morale, but for a pair of individual players as well. CJ Regula, who has played every game and has been vital to the team’s faceoff and penalty-killing success, was finally rewarded with his first goal as an IceRay. Immediately thereafter, it was apparent in his strides how much confidence he had gained, and he became an even more effective two-way player as the game wore on.

Though Rylee St. Onge had only played half as many games, he was likely just as frustrated as Regula. He is a goal-scorer by trade. He had set up teammates for scores twice, he’d hit the post, he’d been robbed, he’d missed the net by centimeters, but he hadn’t scored. While his goal yesterday was an empty-netter at the end, there’s no question it will cause him to loosen up the grip on his stick a bit and the thought of scoring his first with the team will no longer be tormenting his brain.


The Home Stretch
Tonight marks the end of a ten-game journey that has seen this team undergo roster changes, suffer injuries, suffer disheartening defeats, spend inordinate amounts of time on the road, and still manage to hold together and hover around the .500 plateau. Should the IceRays win tonight, they will have gone .500 on their longest road stretch in junior franchise history, which is an accomplishment in and of itself. Tonight will end the longest chapter of the story that will be the 2017-18 season, and with more encouraging chapters yet to come, the IceRays can put an exclamation mark on the final sentence before turning the page.