Last weekend dropped one more alumni skater from our weekly, and now just five remain at the 25th edition of the IceRays Alumni Report. The United States Hockey League (USHL) heads into postseason play tonight while the American Hockey League (AHL) has one more week of competition before they join the National Hockey League (NHL) in playoff action.
Forward Ryan Garbutt (’09-’10) concluded his fourth season in the NHL with the Dallas Stars and sixth overall since joining the Central Hockey League (CHL) in his lone season with the IceRays. His final point of the year came in the 81st game of the Stars schedule and a 4-0 blanking of the Anaheim Ducks to close out the road schedule. His assist was a direct pass to Vernon Fiddler in the second period on the first and what would become game-winning goal. Garbutt finishes with eight goals and 17 assists for 25 points, and while his point total dipped below last season’s career-high number, he did set a new career-high in assists with 17. A lot of talk has gone around about his future, so the off-season should be interesting to watch for Dallas.
The final week of AHL play rounds out this coming weekend, and the Hershey Bears are still jockeying for positioning in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Right now, they hold the two-seed and the East Division by three points over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins with three games to go. Four points won by the Bears or lost by the Penguins will net them a first-round match with the seven-seed and the East Division crown. Despite their positioning goaltender Pheonix Copley (’10-’11) saw his impressive run come to an end with a 5-1 loss on Saturday night against the St. John’s IceCaps. It’s the first regulation loss in 18 games with the last coming on Nov. 23, 2014 in his previous meeting with the IceCaps. In that winning span, Copley earned a 12-0-3 record and became a fixture for the Bears that included a brief call-up to the Washington Capitals. On the year, Copley owns a 15-4-3 record with a 2.23 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage.
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms are well out of playoff contention and are set on improving some of the younger members of the roster before the season ends. That includes Anthony Stolarz (’11-’12), who was given support by his head coach Terry Murray on Saturday night before getting the start against the Norfolk Admirals. However, fortune favored the road side in their 4-3 overtime loss to Norfolk. Stolarz stopped down 31 of 34 shots in the contest including four of five in overtime. The Phantoms have four games remaining in the 2014-15 season with two of four against the Hershey Bears, which means there is a shot to see Copley and Stolarz go opposite one another in at least one game this week. The first of two starts tonight from the PPL Center in Allentown, Penn.
The Clark Cup Playoffs begin tonight in the USHL, and both former players and one former broadcaster at the Tier I level head into postseason play. All three former IceRays are on teams in the Western Conference Semifinals, and the top-seeded Sioux City Musketeers will look to continue their season-long reign of the Western Conference against the Sioux Falls Stampede. The Musketeers won the season-series 5-2-1 against the Stampede including their last three-straight, and forward Jake Durflinger (’13-’14) owns a goal and four assists against Sioux Falls this season with a team-leading 19 penalty minutes. He ended the year leading Sioux City with 206 penalty minutes and second in the USHL. The first of their five-game set begins tonight.
In the second Western Conference matchup, the Tri-City Storm own home-ice advantage as the two-seed against the Omaha Lancers. The Storm just missed the top-seed by one point with a late-season surge that placed them with wins in three of their last four games, and the Lancers surged from one of their worst starts in recent memory to the potential their team held at the outset of the season. Defenseman Jalen Schulz (’12-’13) just missed career-highs in every category, earning two goals and six assists for eight points through 56 games with 111 penalty minutes and a +5 rating. His plus/minus is the only category he set a new high in, but he missed tying records in games played, assists, and points by one and tied his high in goals set last season. However, his commitment to play NCAA Division I hockey next season shows the strength he has on the blue line. Broadcaster Rob Lippolis (’11-’14) will get his first licks behind the mic at USHL Playoff action and watch the former IceRays against his Lancers. Their first game also begins tonight.
Thanks to wins by the higher-seeded Québec Remparts and the lower-seeded Halifax Mooseheads, Baie-Comeau Drakkar slots against the reigning President Cup Champions (Val-d’Or Foreurs) in the Québec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) Quarterfinals. Despite starting on the road, Baie-Comeau owns a 2-0 series lead thanks to a 3-2 double-overtime win on Friday and a 9-1 blowout win on Saturday. Forward Chad Pietroniro (’11-’12) was held off both the scoreline and away from the penalty box in both games, but Drakkar now has a shot to claim the series at home by winning two of their next three coming on home ice. Three of the four series are led 2-0 by the winning side, and two of those three teams (Baie-Comeau and Halifax) all are the lower seed.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @CollinDSchuck.