Ice Breakers Weekly Preview 10.24.19
By Jared Tennant
PHOTO: Dee Hannum
Mentor Ice Breakers (0-0-0-0, 0 pts., t-1st place - Eastern Div.) vs. Watertown Wolves (0-0-0-0, 0 pts., t-1st place – Eastern Div.)
The Mentor Ice Breakers are set to begin their second season this weekend with a two-game set on the road against the Watertown Wolves. The series starts on Friday night before wrapping up the following evening.
WHEN/WHERE: Friday, October 25, 7:30 p.m. @ Watertown Municipal Arena (Watertown, NY)
Saturday, October 26, 7:30 p.m. @ Watertown Municipal Arena (Watertown, NY)
LIVE BROADCAST: Watertown Wolves Live
MENTOR ICE BREAKERS NOTES
Heading into their second season, the Ice Breakers have put together a more complete roster with a core of returning players combined with talented newcomers and experienced veterans. Following a 17-35-1-5 showing in its inaugural campaign that resulted in a fifth-place finish in the then-six-team FPHL, Mentor is looking to battle for a postseason spot in the newly formed Eastern Division. Here’s a positional breakdown of the new-look Ice Breakers roster:
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Forwards – Led by last year’s leading scorer Mark Essery, Mentor is anticipating an improved offensive effort after averaging 3.5 goals per game last season, which ranked fifth in the FPHL. Essery, a 27-year-old native of Framingham, Massachusetts, is primed to play another significant role in Mentor’s offense following a 51-point output (23-28-51) in his rookie campaign. Meanwhile, newly-acquired forward Thomas Stuart-Dant may be a rookie to the FPHL, but he’s one of the most experienced players in the league and brings more years of professional hockey than any other player on the Ice Breakers’ roster. The Winnipeg, Manitoba, product spent the last six seasons playing professionally in Europe and in Iceland, racking up 193 points (102-91-193) in 163 contests.
Steven Fowler and Parker Moskal will provide much-needed skill and creativity. Fowler, who celebrated his 22nd birthday in late August, produced at nearly a point-per-game pace after signing with the Ice Breakers early in 2019. He notched a pair of hat tricks and two four-point outings en route to a 15-14-29 scoring line over 31 appearances as a rookie last season. Moskal, the FPHL’s Rookie of the Month for March/April 2019, provided a late spark last spring with 27 points (9-18-27) in 17 games. He gave Ice Breakers fans arguably the most memorable moment of the club’s inaugural season when he netted the game-winning goal on a breakaway in overtime against Danville on March 10 to complete his first career hat trick.
Local product Declan Conway (10-10-20, 35 GP) and Tim Perks (3-4-7, 10 GP) are both capable scorers when healthy, while Kent State graduate Jon Buttitta (6-6-12, 8 GP) will look to build off the success of his first taste of pro hockey with the Ice Breakers earlier this year. Nate Farrington (10-22-32, 53 GP), arguably Mentor’s top faceoff man, is set for his second season in Northeast Ohio, while Richie Pinkowski (1-4-5, 32 GP) and Alex Morrow (6-14-20, 50 GP) are also both back.
Fans can expect exciting play from newcomer Vladislav Polyashov, a 20-year-old Russian who spent four seasons in the Western States Hockey League (Junior A), where he accumulated 153 points (89-64-153) in 168 games. Mentor is still looking to finalize a few of its forward roster spots for the upcoming season as it deals with multiple injuries and has a few unfamiliar faces suiting up this weekend.
Defensemen – Toledo native Brody Duncan headlines the Ice Breakers’ current group of blueliners. Duncan, son of Ice Breakers Head Coach Iain Duncan, was Mentor’s highest-scoring d-man last year with a 5-21-26 line in 43 appearances. Vaughn Clouston (7-12-19, 35 GP), Dzmitry Daniliuk (2-9-11, 46 GP), and Joe Keenan (nine GP) will look to build off experience gained last season with the Ice Breakers.
Mentor has added a couple of new faces on the defensive end in Alfonso Diaz and Stepan Jirovec. Jirovec most recently played for the Wichita Jr. Thunder in the WSHL, while Diaz served as a team captain at Florida Gulf Coast University (ACHA Div. III) last year, picking up 14 points with three goals and 11 assists over 24 games.
Goaltenders – The men between the pipes should be a strength for the Ice Breakers after the club had issues with goaltenders over the first couple of months of its inaugural season. Derek Moser and John Sellie-Hanson are both back in Mentor after serving as the club’s goaltending tandem for much of last year. Moser was second in the FPHL with four shutouts and was one of two goaltenders to record multiple shutouts. Sellie-Hanson compiled a 5-7-0-1 record serving primarily as a backup.
Joining the fold is former ACHA Division I Player of the Year Austyn Roudebush, who is Adrian College’s all-time leader in goals-against average (1.51), save percentage (.942), and shutouts (17). He led the Bulldogs to their first national championship in 2018, earning tournament MVP honors following a shutdown performance that saw him post a 1.00/.966 slash line with a pair of shutouts over four games. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder has all the tools required to put together a breakout campaign.
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Discipline will be one of the keys to Mentor’s success throughout the season. In 2018-19, the Ice Breakers racked up a league-high 1,595 penalty minutes. They were shorthanded more than any other team, and the heavy workload contributed to a penalty kill unit that was successful on only 78.7 percent of opposing power plays, fifth-best in the FPHL but trailing top clubs like Carolina (87.6 percent) and Watertown (81.8 percent).
After the power-play unit found its groove, it became a strength for the Ice Breakers as they netted the second-most power-play goals in the league (57) and converted on 17.7 percent of their power-play chances, fourth-best among FPHL clubs. Essery paced Mentor with eight goals on the man advantage, while Farrington and Fowler combined for seven. Fowler also chipped in with a team-leading three shorthanded tallies.
WATERTOWN WOLVES NOTES
If preseason play was any indication, the Watertown Wolves are ready to pursue their third Commissioner’s Cup title. With a new head coach at the helm in Paul MacLean, who served as the bench boss in Danville early last season before joining Elmira as an assistant later in the year, the veteran-heavy Wolves swept a pair of exhibition games against Delaware and Elmira by a combined score of 10-2.
The most notable returnee from last year’s edition of the Wolves, who made the playoffs but came up short of the league finals, is player-assistant Tyler Gjurich. The two-time 100-point scorer enters his fourth FPHL season in fourth place on the all-time scoring list with 302 points (157-145-302) over 152 career games. Mentor will have to be aware of the Pennsylvania native whenever he’s on the ice since he racked up 28 points (20-7-27) in 10 games against the Ice Breakers in 2018-19.
Tyler Prendergast and Lane King are both top-tier scorers in the FPHL while Kyle Powell is a former FPHL Defenseman of the Year and one of the league’s most reliable blueliners. Forward Christian Schurmann-Colicchio found the back of the net twice in the Wolves’ preseason game against Delaware after four strong seasons at the ACHA Division II level with Indiana University.
In goal, second-year netminder Blake Scott is back after logging a .918 save percentage in four games with Watertown last year. Other goalies listed on the Wolves’ current roster are Mike Garbacz and Jeremy Pominville. All three players drew playing time during the preseason.
AROUND THE FHL
Four new FPHL clubs will be playing their first games in franchise history this weekend as the Delaware Thunder, Battle Creek Rumble Bees, Columbus River Dragons, and Danbury Hat Tricks open their seasons on Friday evening. Last year, the Elmira Enforcers joined the Ice Breakers as the expansion clubs, but this year's additions have created a 10-team circuit.
Among the notable matchups this weekend is a Commissioner’s Cup Finals rematch between Elmira and Carolina in New York on Friday and Saturday. Columbus will travel to Delaware to battle the Thunder in the inaugural game for both clubs, while Battle Creek plays host to Danville. To round out the weekend’s games, professional hockey will make its return to Danbury as the Hat Tricks take on Port Huron in a two-game set.
Mentor will continue its season-opening five-game road trip with a pair of matchups in Battle Creek against the Rumble Bees next weekend. After that, the Ice Breakers will wrap up a stretch of four consecutive games against Battle Creek with a home-and-home series November 8-9, including the home opener at Mentor Civic Ice Arena.
The Ice Breakers, proud members of the Federal Prospects Hockey League, are in their second season of play. 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.