ICE BREAKERS WEEKEND PREVIEW: NEW YORK ROAD TRIP
By Jared Tennant
PHOTO: Dee Hannum
Mentor Ice Breakers (6-16-0-0, 18 pts., 6th place) @ Watertown Wolves (12-8-2-0, 40 pts., 2nd place)
Mentor Ice Breakers (6-16-0-0, 18 pts., 6th place) @ Elmira Enforcers (11-9-0-3, 36 pts. 3rd place)
Coming off a dramatic 5-4 win over the Port Huron Prowlers, the Mentor Ice Breakers will battle the FHL’s two New York teams this weekend. Mentor is set to take on the Watertown Wolves on Friday evening before traveling to Elmira to battle the Enforcers on Saturday.
WHEN/WHERE: Friday, January 4, 7:30 p.m. @ Watertown Municipal Arena (Watertown, NY)
Saturday, January 5, 7:05 p.m. @ First Arena (Elmira, NY)
LIVE BROADCAST: TFMSports.com
|Port Huron Prowlers|
|Mentor Ice Breakers|
MENTOR ICE BREAKERS NOTES
On multiple occasions, the Ice Breakers have shown they can give any team in the FHL a run for its money. They have logged shutout wins over Watertown and the Carolina Thunderbirds, and have beaten every team in the league outside of Elmira. Now, Mentor needs to find a way to bring the same energy and consistent effort night in and night out.
The Ice Breakers are still missing a couple of key scorers in Gordy Bonnel and Declan Conway, but multiple players stepped up against Port Huron on New Year’s Eve. Vaughn Clouston registered the first multi-point game of his career, collecting two goals and a pair of assists against the Prowlers, while Patrick Porkka, Thomas McKinnon, and Matt Kadolph all netted goals.
The win over Port Huron snapped a five-game losing streak and sent the Ice Breakers into the new year on a positive note. It was also encouraging to see so many significant offensive contributions up and down the Ice Breakers’ roster. Clouston and several others were able to step up and showed that even on a night when Mentor’s top six scorers failed to find the back of the net, the Ice Breakers can still come out on top in an offensive battle.
With three assists on New Year’s Eve, defenseman Brody Duncan (1-10-11) became the third Ice Breaker to reach double-digit assists. Duncan and Thomas Devesvre are the two highest-scoring blueliners on Mentor’s roster, closely followed by Northern Ireland native Thomas McKinnon (3-6-9).
The Ice Breakers have logged plenty of notable wins this season, including shutout victories over Carolina and Watertown, but they haven’t always been able to bring the same consistent effort every night. This weekend, Mentor will have an opportunity to put together a winning streak for the first time since it won back-to-back games against Carolina and Watertown on November 22 and 24.
Forward Steven Fowler will join the Ice Breakers this weekend after being signed on Thursday. At 21 years old, Fowler will be the youngest player on Mentor’s roster. The 6-foot, 185-pound forward comes to Mentor after appearing in seven games with LN91 in Sweden’s Division 2 earlier this season, scoring five goals and dishing out three assists.
WATERTOWN WOLVES NOTES
If it wasn’t for the emergence of Carolina, Watertown might be regarded as the best team in the FHL at this point in the season. Though they lost Brandon Wahlin (6-21-27 in 14 GP) to an SPHL call-up, the Wolves have some of the most impressive talent in the league. Tyler Gjurich continues to pace the FHL with 24 goals and 18 assists for a total of 42 points in his 22 appearances. Gavin Yates, last year’s postseason MVP, is not far behind with a 15-21-36 scoring line. It’s not hard to argue that Gjurich and Yates together make up the most talented duo in the FHL.
The Wolves have had some mixed results this year, but they’ve managed to hold on to second place. Watertown has won its last three after sweeping Port Huron in a two-game series at home and taking down Elmira 4-3 in a shootout on New Year’s Eve.
Watertown’s special teams units have been dominant, trailing only Carolina in the league rankings. The Wolves are killing off 85 percent of their opponents’ power plays while converting on 22 percent of their own opportunities on the man advantage. Gjurich and Anton Lennartsson have been leading the way with six power-play goals apiece.
Defenseman Kyle Powell is the fifth-highest scorer on Watertown’s roster, but he has yet to find the back of the net. Powell has 17 assists this year and is tied with0 Christian Whitcomb (1-16-17) as the highest-scoring Wolves d-man.
The Ice Breakers and Wolves are already quite familiar with each other, having met six times already. Watertown had the clear upper hand early in the season, logging three consecutive wins over Mentor, each by three goals or more. However, when an improved Ice Breakers roster hosted the Wolves at Mentor Civic Ice Arena on November 30, Mentor dominated en route to a 7-0 blowout win.
The very next day, Watertown overcame a 5-2 deficit and scored six goals in an 8-5 win. The season series continued the following weekend when a controversial finish gave the Wolves a narrow 6-5 win. The Ice Breakers had overcome a 4-1 deficit to tie the game in the third period and seemed to have the momentum in their favor. In the final 30 seconds of regulation, Lennartsson cross-checked an Ice Breakers player into the boards from behind before the Wolves scooped up the loose puck and fired it on net. Lennartsson buried the ensuing rebound to give Watertown a dramatic win and send the Ice Breakers home shaking their heads.
ELMIRA ENFORCERS NOTES
The Ice Breakers have yet to figure out the Enforcers, a team that has been hot as of late but is still sitting in third place. Elmira has won its first three meetings against the Ice Breakers, including a pair of wins in Mentor on December 21 and 22. The Ice Breakers’ biggest issue has been figuring out the Enforcers’ talented goaltending tandem of Troy Passingham (2.91/.920) and Ryan Mulder (2.01/.922). Mentor has scored only six goals in three matchups with the Enforcers.
Mulder was recently lost to an SPHL call-up, but Passingham remains a workhorse for Elmira. Kent Nusbaum, a 23-year-old Michigan product, was signed by the Enforcers to take Mulder’s roster spot. Nusbaum was listed on five different ECHL rosters last season, but according to Elite Prospects, he hasn’t garnered significant playing time anywhere since appearing in 29 games with three different teams in the GMHL (Junior A).
Forward Sean Reynolds leads Elmira in scoring with 29 points (12-17-29), while the FHL’s all-time leading scorer, Ahmed Mahfouz, has 24 points (8-16-24) despite being limited to 13 games due to injuries and suspensions.
The Enforcers are usually not a team that will win with an onslaught of goals. Instead, Elmira’s strong defensive play and reliable goaltending frustrates opponents and puts it in a position to win most games. Losing Mulder hurts, but Passingham’s play keeps the Enforcers’ goaltending situation in good hands.
Elmira will take on Carolina at home the night before it hosts Mentor for a game in which Enforcers owner Robbie Nichols has guaranteed a victory. It’s a bold move for an Elmira team that has lost a staggering seven games in regulation to the Thunderbirds, but it goes to show the level of confidence that Nichols has in his team.
AROUND THE FHL
The Danville Dashers have now lost a season-high eight games in a row, and things aren’t getting easier any time soon. Danville’s next four are against Port Huron and Carolina before they travel to Mentor Civic Ice Arena on January 18 and 19. The Dashers fired head coach Paul MacLean last month, but it didn’t do much for a club that simply gives up too many goals to win.
Meanwhile, Carolina is riding high with a franchise-record 11-game winning streak that began on December 7 in a 2-1 victory over Elmira. The Thunderbirds are a team that is clicking on all cylinders right now, and it’s going to take a special effort for any club to take them down.
Next weekend the Ice Breakers will play a home-and-home against Port Huron, starting on Friday, January 11, at the Mentor Civic Ice Arena. After that, Mentor will host Danville in a two-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.