ICE BREAKERS PREVIEW VS. CAROLINA THUNDERBIRDS
By Jared Tennant
Photo: Dee Hannum
Mentor Ice Breakers (5-13-0-0, 15 pts., 6th place) vs. Carolina Thunderbirds (15-3-0-1, 46 pts., 1st place)
The Mentor Ice Breakers won’t have much time to get over their post-Christmas blues. Northeast Ohio’s expansion FHL franchise is back in action at home this Wednesday, December 26th, taking on the Carolina Thunderbirds before the two clubs travel to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to wrap up the three-game series on Friday and Saturday.
WHEN/WHERE: Wednesday, December 26, 7:35 p.m. @ Mentor Civic Ice Arena
Friday, December 28, 7:35 p.m. @ Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex
Saturday, December 29, 6:05 p.m. @ Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex
LIVE BROADCAST: TFMSports.com
|Port Huron Prowlers|
|Mentor Ice Breakers|
MENTOR ICE BREAKERS NOTES
The Mentor Ice Breakers have a chance to quickly recover from last weekend’s disappointing series against the Elmira Enforcers in which the Ice Breakers were outscored 8-3 over a pair of games on home ice.
In that series, Elmira’s size and sound defensive play, combined with solid goaltending from Ryan Mulder and Troy Passingham, led to the Enforcers earning six of six possible points against the Ice Breakers.
On paper, this matchup seems rather lopsided. The Thunderbirds have won six consecutive games and have a 14-point lead at the top of the FHL standings. The Ice Breakers, meanwhile, are in last place and currently sit eight points behind the fifth-place Port Huron Prowlers.
Taking a closer look, though, reveals that this series may not be as lopsided as it appears. Carolina has just three regulation losses this season. Two of those have come against Mentor, including a 3-0 shutout loss at home to the Ice Breakers on November 24th.
The Ice Breakers also beat the T-Birds 4-3 at Mentor Civic Ice Arena in that series and lost 6-5 on the road. Taking two of three games from Carolina was a huge step in the right direction, but Mentor has not been able to build on that series and currently finds itself in last place in the six-team FHL.
Forward Gordy Bonnel may be able to play this week, which would be a big boost to the Ice Breakers’ offense after he missed the team’s last game against Elmira due to injury. Bonnel is Mentor’s second-leading scorer with seven goals and 12 assists for a total of 19 points in 14 games. The Maryland native is averaging a team-high 1.4 points-per-game and is arguably Mentor’s most talented playmaker.
No matter what the final score is, leading scorer Mark Essery has been a remarkably consistent force. Essery has 21 points (13-8-21) while appearing in all 18 games for the Ice Breakers. He has at least a point in six of his last seven games, and it’s not difficult to make the case that Essery has been Mentor’s MVP to this point.
Blueliner Thomas Devesvre is starting to stand out among the Ice Breakers’ defensive corps. Devesvre leads all Mentor defensemen with 10 points (2-8-10) and is developing a reputation as a physical force. The Porrentruy, Switzerland, product entertained Ice Breakers fans on Saturday night when he sent an Elmira forward head over heels into the Mentor bench.
Devesvre has found a good balance between getting under the opponent’s skin and providing strong defensive play while still contributing on the offensive end. If you’ve attended an Ice Breakers game this season, you’ve probably noticed that he’s not exactly well liked by the opposing team. That means the 22-year-old Devesvre is doing his job effectively.
Netminder John Sellie-Hanson finally made his debut last weekend and registered several spectacular saves while keeping Mentor in both games against Elmira. The 6-foot, 180-pounder stopped 54 of the 58 shots he faced over the two-game set (.931 save percentage). If Sellie-Hanson can continue to play like he did against the Enforcers, the Ice Breakers will have a reliable one-two punch in net between Sellie-Hanson and Derek Moser (3.34/.905), who has accounted for all five Mentor wins and is tied for the FHL lead in shutouts (three).
As a young team, Mentor has dealt with growing pains and some sloppy play throughout the first half of the season. Luckily for the Ice Breakers, they only need to have a better record than two other FHL clubs in order to qualify for the postseason. But the Ice Breakers need to show significant growth in the coming weeks, and that starts with this week’s series against a deep and talented Carolina team.
CAROLINA THUNDERBIRDS NOTES
It appears the red-hot Thunderbirds have cracked the code on how to win in the FHL. Despite the league’s reputation as a high-scoring circuit in which goaltending isn’t always effective, Carolina has won 15 of its first 19 games with a deep offense that scores just enough to beat teams consistently, and a goaltending corps that is unmatched by any other team.
Christian Pavlas has been dominating between the pipes, outside of a couple of shaky outings against Danville last weekend. Pavlas has a 1.63 goals-against average to go along with a sparkling .940 save percentage, and has won seven of his eight starts. Pavlas was at one point paired with netminder Henry Dill, a Columbus, Ohio, native who has posted a dominant 1.86/.924 slash line in eight games but is currently on loan to the SPHL.
The Thunderbirds were in the middle of the pack in the FHL in terms of goals scored before erupting for 15 goals over two games against Danville. The team is led by 20-point scorers Jan Salak (8-16-24) and Josh Pietrantonio (6-17-23) and features 10 players with double-digit points. Carolina is the best in the FHL at spreading the wealth on offense.
It’s difficult to find a statistic in which the T-Birds haven’t excelled. They have a stifling penalty-kill unit that’s fending off 90 percent of opposing power plays, while scoring on 21 percent of their own power-play chances.
Mentor’s reason to believe it can win the series stems from the fact that it has handed Carolina two of its three regulation losses this year. The Thunderbirds have a 14-1-0-1 mark against the rest of the league, but are currently trailing in the season series with the young Ice Breakers.
AROUND THE FHL
After firing head coach Paul MacLean just 17 games into the season, the Danville Dashers are quickly falling down the FHL rankings after spending the early weeks of the campaign atop the league standings.
The Dashers are still clinging onto the final playoff spot, but that likely won’t be the case for much longer with Elmira beginning to heat up. MacLean’s final game as head coach came at Mentor Civic Ice Arena when his Dashers were shut out by the Ice Breakers, losing a 6-0 decision.
With Port Huron beginning to pick up its play, Danville could soon find itself falling down the FHL standings unless something changes. The Dashers have lost nine of their last 10 games and have been decimated by SPHL call-ups and injuries to key players.
After wrapping up their series in Carolina, the Ice Breakers will return home for their Picture Perfect New Year’s Eve game against Port Huron. The game will be presented by Linda Terdan Photography and will feature giveaways and entertainment throughout the evening.
Mentor will kick off the new year on January 4th and 5th with a pair of road games against the FHL’s New York teams in Watertown and Elmira, respectively.
The Ice Breakers, proud members of the Federal Hockey League, are in their inaugural season. Single-game tickets and ticket packages are available 24/7 online at mentoricebreakers.com/tickets. They can also be purchased at the box office prior to every home game or by calling (440) 290-8502.