“Character Win.” “Clutch Victory.”
MACON, GA – These terms took on their true meaning in the Macon Centroplex last night. After a disastrous weekend in the Cajundome, the Louisiana IceGators looked to be a team in disarray.
The Gators fought through a first period which found them in a 2-0 hole, scoring three unanswered goals over the next two frames to earn a much-needed 3-2 victory on the road. Friday night’s dominating, come-from-behind victory was one that the IceGators needed to have. Should the team manage to turn their season around, we’re going to come back to this game as this year’s turning point.
The IceGators came out with plenty of jump in the first period, and Jake Hauswirth appeared to punch in a goal early in the first period. However, the puck was slapped out of the net by a Macon defender and referee Lucas Martin – without a clear view – waved off the goal after the Macon player slapped the puck down the length of the ice. Nick Grasso would capitalize on a power play goal following a Mike Kavanagh roughing penalty to officially open the scoring. Later in the opening frame Dan Gentzler would get past Brad Bourke deep in the neutral zone, receive a long stretch pass from Travis Howe, and beat IceGators goalie Adam Courchaine on the resulting breakaway to give Macon a 2-0 lead. Louisiana would get 15 shots on Macon goalie Garrett Bartus, but was unable to solve the netminder in the opening frame.
Rather than coming out flat after getting no breaks and giving up a pair of early goals in the first period, the IceGators proceeded to play some of the best hockey so far this season. Defenseman Nick Kuqali started the comeback with a goal -his first of the season – from the top of the right circle 3:32 into the second period. Jeremy Boyer set a well-placed screen on Bartus as Kuqali’s shot beat Bartus on his glove side. Tyler Barr and Luke Sandler were credited with the assists on the Kuqali goal. A few moments later, at the 8:26 mark of the second period, Geordie Wudrick did what he does best, scoring his eighth goal of the season, and fourth in as many games, by tapping in the rebound off of a Dylan Hood shot. The Gators dominated the second period, as the Mayhem were out-shot in the middle frame, 18-8.
The Gators continued to build on their momentum, and the Mayhem began to show signs of frustration as the final frame took on a chippier tone. Early in the period, Macon had a chance to retake the lead after a Jeremy Boyer hooking penalty, but the Mayhem would get caught with too many men on the ice.
After a Shawn Skelly slashing call – and a scrap between Luke Sandler (Sorry, Macon scorekeeper…it wasn’t Jake Hauswirth) and Josh Ranalli – the IceGators’ hard work would finally pay off. Blake Hietala would score (on the power play!) after grabbing the rebound from a Brad Bourke shot, then fighting off a pair of Macon defenders and flipping the puck past Bartus with a shot from his knees. Hietala’s goal, his first in nine games, proved to be the game winner.
Macon never seriously threatened afterward, spending most of the game’s remainder in the penalty box. Adam Courchaine shook off the first period rust in his first game action since returning from his ECHL call-up with the Norfolk Admirals, making 18 saves on 20 Mayhem shots, Despite the loss, Macon goaltender Bartus played a solid game in net with 41 saves on 44 IceGator shots.
The IceGators head west to Southaven, Mississippi today to play the Mississippi RiverKings for the third time this season at 7:05. The Gators have defeated the RiverKings in both previous meetings. Both games were low-scoring affairs: Louisiana defeated Mississippi, 2-0 on opening night in Southaven and 1-0 (after a SPHL-record 15-round shootout) two weeks ago in the Cajundome.
TSB’s Three Stars
★ – Geordie Wudrick, Forward, IceGators: Goal, 8 Shots, +1 +/-
★★ – Nick Kuqali, Defense, IceGators: Goal, +2 +/-
★★★ – Jake Trask, Forward, Macon Mayhem: 2 Assists
Around the SPHL
Knoxville Ice Bears 4, Mississippi RiverKings 2
Knoxville’s Corey Fulton scores his third game-winning goal in a row as the Ice Bears take down the league-leading RiverKings.
Peoria Rivermen 3, Huntsville Havoc 2
The Rivermen retake the SPHL’s top spot with goalie David Jacobson’s first win since coming to Peoria in the wake of Kyle Rank’s concussion and Francois Brassard’s departure.
Pensacola Ice Flyers 4, Columbus Cottonmouths 2
Columbus netminder Shannon Szabados’ goalless streak ended at 110:36, then allowed three more third-period goals as the Snakes drop their first game in coach Jerome Bechard’s six-game suspension.
Knoxville (9-14-3) at Fayetteville (13-7-2), 7:05 ET
Louisiana (8-11-3) at Mississippi (13-6-3), 7:05 CT
Columbus (9-10-4) at Pensacola (14-7-1), 7:05 CT
Huntsville (14-9-1) at Peoria (14-5-2), 7:05 CT