MOLINE, Ill. — There was a big storm this weekend in the Quad Cities, but it wasn’t the hockey team. The snowstorm seemed to only help the Storm, but once the weather had passed, things went downhill quicker than a kid on a Flex Flyer saucer. At the halfway point of the season, this weekend was a big one for the home team in regards to the standings, but they didn’t gain much in the way of much-needed ground.
The mood was set rather early in the weekend, and that mood was aggressive. Just five seconds after the puck dropped to start the weekend, Skyler Smutek and Lucas Bombardier dropped the gloves. Smutek was sent to the locker room to get patched up after being cut by his visor, and before he returned, Austin Hervey had also dropped the gloves. Throughout the game, and the weekend, the teams played physical contests. Though there weren’t any bone-jarring checks or open ice hits to rattle your grandmother’s teeth, extra-curricular shoving post-whistle was a large part of the menu all three days.
The Storm’s penalty kill unit was having an off night on Friday, allowing two goals on five chances. Even after this weekend, the unit is still ranked second in the league. Quad City only had three chances while on the man advantage and converted on one of them. Through the first half of the season, the Storm have seen the inside of the penalty box more than any other team. The fact that they can still claim the silver medal on the penalty kill speaks volumes about the team’s ability, but it’s hard to win games when down a man so often.
After Saturday’s contest, coach Dave Pszenyczny said, “I wish we wouldn’t have to go on the penalty kill so much, but unfortunately they kind of have it out for us right now. And it’s hard for them, they have to make split second decisions.”
The Storm are guilty of inconsistent play quite often, even in the span of one period vacillating from one extreme to the other. On Saturday, the Storm came out on fire for the first period, and then appeared to forget how to play defense the first minute of the second period. Two goals occurred in the first minute, coming only 33 seconds apart — barely enough time for the PA to announce the tying goal before Knoxville began celebrating the go-ahead goal.
Saturday’s penalty kill unit was back in top form, as no goals came on the man advantage for Knoxville. The lone power play goal for QC came while two Ice Bears were in the box towards the end of the second period, and it was perhaps the second-most important goal for the Storm that night. It was the goal that would eventually send the teams to overtime, and then a shoot-out.
Goaltender Peter Di Salvo played huge on Friday and Saturday, coming up with great saves, stopping breakaway chances, and a penalty shot in overtime Saturday night. He bailed the defense out on occasion, such as when a bad pinch led to an uncontested breakaway. During overtime, the Storm couldn’t get anything set up in the offensive zone, as Knoxville was dominating.
The Storm left it all on the ice during Saturday’s contest, because they hardly showed up on Sunday. Pszenyczny elected to start Cory Simons, who played 19 games for the FHL’s Port Huron Prowlers this season, with Knoxville giving the nod to Alex Murray, who went 2-3-1 with .877 save percentage this season with the Fayetteville Marksmen. The Storm left Simons out to dry after the first period.
That old inconsistency came back to bite Quad City. The first period of the rubber match was a good period for both teams; QC went into their locker room with a 1-0 lead, but Knoxville had the lead in shots on goal. Simons was tested pretty well early on, as QC had trouble clearing their zone a few times. The Storm didn’t look terrible, but Knoxville did appear to be the better team by a margin.
The second period was a scoring clinic; in the first 15 minutes, Knoxville scored four unanswered goals. Pszenyczny pulled Simons after the fourth goal, but it wasn’t a punishment for the goaltender.
“I thought he played well for us. Me pulling him, the decision wasn’t based on his performance, it was the five guys in front of him. Gotta send a message to my team somehow,” said Pszenyczny.
After Simons was pulled, the Storm did play better — for a brief time. Pulling the goalie is always a make or break move, and it did spark the team for a moment. Mitchell Mueller scored off a face-off 41 seconds after Simons was replaced by Di Salvo, but Knoxville answered back 30 seconds later. The visitors would score three more times in the following period, as the Storm continued to offer no defensive support to Di Salvo. Quad City had seven chances on the power play on the night, but failed to capitalize on those advantages. The Storm penalty kill unit had a 50% success rate, allowing two out of power-play goals.
As Pszenyczny said Sunday, “it’s just embarrassing. Guys didn’t show up.”
Quad City will travel to Peoria this coming weekend, as the World’s Toughest Rodeo comes to town for their annual show at the TaxSlayer Center. With Peoria leading the Cold War on 74 7-1-1, the Storm can’t let past mistakes bog them down Friday and Saturday. What’s Pszenyczny’s plan for the coming week before the short drive down?
“Well, we got a lot of skating coming up this week.”
Be sure to follow @SinBinStorm on Twitter for game updates and news about the Storm. Puck drop in Peoria is set for 7:15 both nights.