ICE BREAKERS PREVIEW VS. WATERTOWN WOLVES
By Jared Tennant
PHOTO: The News Herald
Mentor Ice Breakers (11-28-0-2, 35 pts., 6th place) vs. Watertown Wolves (17-20-3-1, 58 pts., 3rd place)
The Mentor Ice Breakers battle the Watertown Wolves for the first time since January 4 this weekend in a three-game series. The Ice Breakers and Wolves became quite familiar with one another when the two clubs faced off in five of Mentor’s first six home games.
WHEN/WHERE: Friday, March 1, 7:30 p.m. @ Watertown Municipal Arena (Watertown, NY)
Saturday, March 2, 7:35 p.m. @ Mentor Civic Ice Arena (Mentor, OH)
Sunday, March 3, 4:35 p.m. @ Mentor Civic Ice Arena (Mentor, OH)
LIVE BROADCAST: TFMSports.com
Port Huron Prowlers
Mentor Ice Breakers
MENTOR ICE BREAKERS NOTES
With the Danville Dashers drawing a tough matchup against the Elmira Enforcers this weekend, the Ice Breakers will have another shot to catch the Dashers in the FHL standings. Mentor has only one win in six tries against Watertown, but the Wolves have yet to see the current iteration of the Ice Breakers roster, which is healthier than it has been for most of the season.
Players like Tim Perks, Tommy Mahoney, Ryan Koresky, and Joseph Keenan were not on Mentor’s active roster the last time the Ice Breakers took on the Wolves in early January. Forward Steven Fowler (6-6-12, 17 GP) suited up in his first North American professional game that night in Watertown, which saw the Ice Breakers fall, 7-2. Additionally, Declan Conway has returned from a lengthy absence due to an upper-body injury that kept him out of the lineup for nearly two months. The Wolves should see a much-improved Ice Breakers roster this weekend.
For much of the season, defensive issues have plagued Mentor. However, it appears the Ice Breakers have experienced a bit of a defensive resurgence over the last couple of weeks. Against Carolina’s league-leading offense, Mentor allowed only three goals but fell by a 3-1 final on February 15. The following evening, the Ice Breakers held the Thunderbirds to just one goal through two periods of play before Carolina took control in the final period of a 4-1 Mentor loss.
Last weekend against Danville, the Ice Breakers opened the series with a 6-2 victory, highlighted by a strong performance from netminder John Sellie-Hanson, who stopped 21 of 23 shots. The following evening in Danville, Derek Moser stopped all 32 shots he faced en route to his fourth shutout of the year, tying Carolina’s Christian Pavlas for most in the FHL. Despite a 5-2 loss in the series finale against the Dashers, it’s becoming clear that the Ice Breakers are committed to improving their defensive play.
Forward Patrick Porkka (12-12-24) is riding a four-game point streak with a pair of goals and three assists during that stretch. On the season, Porkka is tied with Brett Oldaker (10-14-24) as the Ice Breakers’ third-leading scorer. Defenseman Ryan Koresky has come out of nowhere with three goals over his last three appearances, including the lone tally in Mentor’s 1-0 win over Danville last weekend. Koresky is a 37-year-old who played collegiately at SUNY-Oswego from 2003 to 2007 but had never appeared in a pro contest until this season.
Over the last week, the Ice Breakers have lost a pair of key blueliners in Brody Duncan (5-16-21) and Thomas McKinnon (5-9-14). Duncan is three games into an eight-game suspension as a result of his actions against Carolina on February 16. McKinnon, 22, suffered an upper-body injury in the same game and was placed on season-ending injured reserve. The loss of both players resulted in the re-signing of defenseman Joseph Keenan and has forced a couple of forwards into defensive roles.
WATERTOWN WOLVES NOTES
The defending Commissioner’s Cup champions have rebounded from an 11-game losing streak earlier this year to win five of their last seven, including a pair of regulation wins over first-place Carolina. The Wolves have received a massive offensive boost in the form of forward Yianni Liarakos, a former Port Huron Prowler who was traded to Watertown for goaltender Cody Karpinski. Liarakos has five goals and three assists over six appearances since joining the Wolves. He played against the Ice Breakers three times while with Port Huron, scoring four goals and dishing out an assist.
Forward Tyler Gjurich is having a season that lives up to his own lofty standards with 36 goals and 36 assists for 72 points, putting him at the top of the FHL scoring race. Gjurich will be priority number one for the Ice Breakers this weekend, as the 26-year-old has a crazy 16-5-21 scoring line over six outings against Mentor, including a five-goal, one-assist performance on November 9 at Mentor Civic Ice Arena.
Defenseman Kyle Powell is another player to look out for with five goals and 35 assists over 41 outings. The four-year FHL veteran netted the game-winning overtime goal in the Wolves’ 4-3 win over Elmira on February 16. In just 17 games, Lane King (9-16-25) has accumulated the fifth-most points on Watertown’s roster. He’s averaging 1.5 points per game and will play against the Ice Breakers for the first time this weekend.
Watertown’s goaltending situation seemed to be in trouble during the month of January, and even more so when the team traded both Cody Porter and Karpinski. Fortunately for Watertown, the signing of former SPHL netminder Jared Rutledge has paid off in a big way. The Chicago, Illinois, product and former Michigan Wolverine has a 4.20 goals-against average to go along with a .908 save percentage over 12 appearances. Those numbers don’t stand out on paper, but a closer look reveals that Rutledge has carried Watertown to victory on multiple occasions. Last Friday, he stopped 52 of 55 shots in a win over Carolina. Back on February 10, he was largely responsible for the end of the Thunderbirds’ FHL-record 24-game winning streak when he turned away 45 of 47 attempts, a performance that came following a combined 107 saves over his previous two games. Despite a heavy workload, Rutledge has thrived after being put into a difficult situation with a struggling Wolves team.
Watertown will most likely qualify for the Commissioner’s Cup playoffs this spring, but nothing is guaranteed. The Wolves hold a two-point lead over Port Huron for the third seed, which will be coveted by both the Wolves and Prowlers, as the third-place team will avoid a tough first-round matchup against Carolina. In order to get into the playoff conversation, the Ice Breakers will need to start by logging multiple wins against a Watertown club that has proven to be playoff-caliber.
AROUND THE FHL
For the first time this season, the Elmira Enforcers took down the Carolina Thunderbirds. Prior to the Enforcers’ 3-2 overtime victory over the Thunderbirds on Sunday night, Elmira had dropped its first six games against Carolina, with every loss coming by two goals or fewer. Forward Stepan Timofeyev proved to be the hero as the Enforcers celebrated the big win in front of 3,255 of their hometown fans.
For Carolina, it was the team’s second loss in its last three games. That wouldn’t be notable in most cases, but with a 37-5-0-2 record, the Thunderbirds are not accustomed to losing. Carolina will look to get back to its winning ways this weekend with a pair of home games against Port Huron.
The Enforcers lost netminder Cody Porter to an SPHL call-up, but forward Sean Reynolds has returned to the team following a 13-game stint with the SPHL’s Macon Mayhem that saw him score three goals and collect three assists. Danville forward Alex Basey, who is currently serving a two-game suspension for his actions against the Ice Breakers last Saturday night, has been loaned to the Quad City Storm.
The Ice Breakers will take on Danville once again next weekend, beginning Friday, March 8, at David S. Palmer Arena. After playing a pair of games in Eastern Illinois, the two clubs will travel to Mentor to wrap up the three-game series on Sunday afternoon. After that, the Ice Breakers will travel to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for a two-game matchup against the Thunderbirds March 15-16.
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.