ICE BREAKERS PREVIEW VS. CAROLINA THUNDERBIRDS
By Jared Tennant
PHOTO: Jennifer Bryniarski
Mentor Ice Breakers (13-29-1-4, 45 pts., 6th place) vs. Carolina Thunderbirds (40-5-1-2, 124 pts., 1st place)
The Mentor Ice Breakers will travel to Winston-Salem, North Carolina this weekend for a two-game set against the Carolina Thunderbirds at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex. The Ice Breakers will be looking to pick up some points to close the four-point gap between themselves and the fifth-place Danville Dashers.
WHEN/WHERE: Friday, March 15, 7:35 p.m. @ W-S Fairgrounds Annex (Winston-Salem, NC)
Saturday, March 16, 6:05 p.m. @ W-S Fairgrounds Annex (Winston-Salem, NC)
LIVE BROADCAST: TFMSports.com
Port Huron Prowlers
Mentor Ice Breakers
MENTOR ICE BREAKERS NOTES
The Ice Breakers put together a solid couple of weeks of hockey before faltering in last weekend’s three-game series against Danville, picking up only two points and losing ground on the Dashers in the FHL standings. After a pair of losses in Danville, including an overtime loss, the Ice Breakers were in danger of being swept when the series transitioned to Mentor Civic Ice Arena for the third and final contest. A two-goal rally in the final minute to tie the game coupled with Parker Moskal’s overtime game-winner led Mentor to a dramatic 8-7 victory and salvaged a couple of points from what was otherwise a forgettable weekend.
Moskal has been the Ice Breakers’ most productive player since he was acquired from Elmira, racking up eight goals and seven assists for a total of 15 points in just seven games. The San Diego, California native is averaging a team-high 2.1 points per game and will be facing Carolina for the first time since he netted a goal in his lone appearance with Elmira earlier in the season.
Mark Essery had a four-point series against Danville last weekend, pushing his scoring line to 21-19-40 on the season. He is riding a five-game point streak and seems to be back to his early season form when he was among the FHL’s top scorers. Essery and Gordy Bonnel are two key pieces on the Ice Breakers’ power play unit, combining for 12 goals on the man advantage, which is exactly one-fourth of Mentor’s FHL-leading 48 power-play goals on the season.
After stuffing the stat sheet on Sunday, forward Tommy Mahoney is now scoring at a point-per-game pace since joining the Ice Breakers with a pair of goals and nine helpers over 11 appearances. Mahoney, a former Thunderbird, will be taking on his former team for the third time since being traded to Mentor. Defenseman Brody Duncan made his return from an eight-game suspension last Sunday and logged three assists. Duncan was suspended as a result of his actions in a February 16 matchup against Carolina and leads all Mentor blueliners with 24 points (5-19-24) on the season, although Thomas Devesvre (4-15-19) is not far behind.
Plus-minus has been a stat category that hasn’t been kind to the Ice Breakers, but a couple of recent additions are changing that. Moskal is already a plus-7 while Ryan Koresky is at plus-8 over 10 appearances. Mahoney is at plus-18, although that was carried over from his time with the Thunderbirds, while Matt Kadolph sits at plus-7 through 30 games.
Goaltending coach Sebastian Ragno will be behind the bench this weekend as Ice Breakers Head Coach and General Manager Iain Duncan serves a two-game suspension.
CAROLINA THUNDERBIRDS NOTES
The Thunderbirds are back to their winning ways after a brief lapse in losses to Watertown and Elmira in late February. Carolina has won its last four games, including a pair of impressive wins over the Enforcers. The T-Birds’ last game against Elmira on Sunday afternoon concluded after just one period of play due to an incident involving Enforcers owner Robbie Nichols and the officiating crew.
The Thunderbirds, who are locked in to the number one seed and home ice advantage in the playoffs, still lead the FHL in just about every major category. Carolina’s special teams have been tremendous with a 20.6 percent conversion rate on the power play to go along with a penalty kill unit that is successful 87.6 percent of the time. The Thunderbirds’ offense has netted 206 goals while their stingy defense has allowed only 98.
Forwards Jan Salak (22-44-66) and Josh Pietrantonio (20-46-66) are both top five in the league scoring race and are always dangerous. Carolina has seven players with at least 40 points and newly-acquired forward Ray Boudiette is averaging a point per game throughout his two-year FHL career. Thunderbirds Head Coach Andre Niec suited up for the T-Birds’ most recent game due to a short roster, but it’s unclear if he will be on the ice this weekend. For what it’s worth, Niec is still listed as a player on Carolina’s active roster one day prior to Friday night’s series opener.
Goaltender Christian Pavlas leads FHL netminders in every major category and owns a 1.80 goals-against average to go along with a .931 save percentage. Backup Frankie McClendon hasn’t been quite as good statistically, but he owns a perfect 6-0-0 record over seven appearances. Pavlas’ dominance and McClendon’s ability to get the job done when his number is called has helped offset the call-up of Henry Dill, a Columbus, Ohio native, to the SPHL’s Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs.
As always, Carolina will give the Ice Breakers all they can handle this weekend, especially in on home ice. The Thunderbirds have posted seven straight wins over the Ice Breakers, but Mentor is playing some of its better hockey of the season. The Ice Breakers will have a chance to see just how much they’ve improved this weekend as they take on the most dominant team in the league.
AROUND THE FHL
Elmira owner Robbie Nichols has been fined $25,000 as a result of his actions involving an official last Sunday when his team took on Carolina. Four Enforcers will be suspended for this Friday night’s game against Watertown, including three-game suspensions for backup goalie Nick Niedert and forward Brandon Vuic. Additionally, Elmira Head Coach Brent Clarke is currently suspended indefinitely pending a league review.
Meanwhile, Watertown and Port Huron battled in a back-and-forth series last weekend with both teams getting a win. As a result, the third-place Wolves maintained their three-point lead over the Prowlers. Last Saturday night, Watertown forward Chris Leveille, who has experience playing in the AHL with the Laval Rocket, netted a hat trick with all three goals coming in the first five minutes of the third period as the Wolves claimed a 9-6 win in the type of high-scoring affair that FHL fans have come to know and love.
Watertown’s Tyler Gjurich continues to pace the league with 90 points (42-48-90), eight more than Elmira captain Ahmed Mahfouz (29-53-82), who has appeared in 11 less games than Gjurich. Port Huron’s duo of Dalton Jay (36-42-78) and Matt Robertson (29-43-72) are both on the outside looking in and would need to go on quite a tear in order to upset Gjurich or Mahfouz for the FHL scoring title.
The Ice Breakers will host Port Huron in a pair of games from March 22-23 and finish out the series against the Prowlers on March 24 in Michigan. On Friday March 22, the Lake County Visitors Bureau and Mix 97.1 will join the Ice Breakers for Remarkable Lake County Night. The following evening, it will be the inaugural Ice Breakers Fight Cancer game. From March 29-31, the Ice Breakers will take on Elmira in another three-game series.
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.