Weekly Preview 11.26.19
By Jared Tennant
PHOTO: The News Herald
Mentor Ice Breakers (8-3-0-0, 24 pts., 2nd place - Eastern Div.) vs.
Columbus River Dragons (3-5-1-1, 12 pts., 4th place – Western Div.)
The Mentor Ice Breakers will be spending Thanksgiving in Georgia this year. The club is set to travel south for a three-game set against the expansion Columbus River Dragons at the Columbus Civic Center – the largest venue in the FPHL with a capacity of 10,000. The two teams will battle on Wednesday night before finishing out the series on Friday and Saturday.
WHEN/WHERE: Wednesday, November 27, 7:35 p.m. @ Columbus Civic Center (Columbus, GA)
Friday, November 29, 7:35 p.m. @ Columbus Civic Center (Columbus, GA)
Saturday, November 30, 6:05 p.m. @ Columbus Civic Center (Columbus, GA)
LIVE BROADCAST: Columbus River Dragons YouTube channel
FPHL STANDINGS: Click here
MENTOR ICE BREAKERS NOTES
While they’ve suffered two of their three losses on the season over the last two weeks, the Ice Breakers head to Columbus with some solid victories under their belt. After defeating the Danville Dashers—the second-place club in the Western Division—by a 7-4 final, Mentor split a two-game set against the third seed in the same division, the Port Huron Prowlers. The Ice Breakers fell by a 4-2 final on Friday in a contest that saw them struggle for two of three periods before putting together a more complete effort in a 6-3 victory on Saturday.
Overall, the Ice Breakers are off to the kind of hot start they were hoping for heading into the the season. Mentor has yet to lose consecutive games and has won five of its six road matchups, including a 3-1 win over the league-leading Watertown Wolves on opening night.
The club will be tested this weekend against the River Dragons, who have already proven their ability to compete with the top teams in the FPHL. Columbus logged a 4-3 victory over the Elmira Enforcers, last year’s league runner-up, on November 2 before being narrowly edged out by the defending champion Carolina Thunderbirds by the same score last Friday.
STILL ON TOP: Ice Breakers leading scorers F Jon Buttitta (13-12-25) and F Parker Moskal (7-15-22) have maintained their position as the top two scorers in the FPHL heading into this week’s games, although Delaware’s F Ryan Marker (12-10-22) has tied Moskal in points. Buttitta is having a breakout season and paces the league in goals (13), shorthanded goals (three), and points per game (2.3).
Meanwhile, Moskal is tied with Delaware’s F Brandon Contratto (6-15-21) for the lead in assists with 15. Moskal has collected two or more points in seven contests, including a pair of three-point efforts and a four-point outburst.
WORKHORSE: With eight wins and 11 starts under his belt, G Austyn Roudebush has been busy over the first month of the season. He ranks fourth in goals-against average (2.46), fifth in save percentage (.927), and tied for second in shutouts (one). Expect Roudebush to continue to serve as the club’s everyday netminder, even with the recent signing of G Jordan Brant on waivers from the Danbury Hat Tricks.
HOMETOWN HERO: A huge four-point performance in Saturday’s 6-3 win over Port Huron pushed F Declan Conway’s scoring line to 8-10-18 on the season. Conway teams with Moskal and Buttitta on Mentor’s top line, which has combined for 65 points (28-37-65), more than any other trio in the FPHL.
SHORTHANDED SUCCESS: The Ice Breakers potted another goal with a man in the sin bin last Friday, pushing their season total to a league-best six shorthanded tallies. Mentor also has the second-best penalty kill unit in the league with an 88 percent efficiency. It is also the only club in the circuit that has yet to allow a shorthanded goal to the opposition.
KEY TO SUCCESS: When the Ice Breakers score first this season, they have a flawless 7-0-0-0 mark. When the opponent nets the first goal, Mentor has gone a pedestrian 1-3-0-0. Look for the Ice Breakers to come out with energy throughout this week’s games to attempt to secure that crucial opening tally.
FINISHING ON A STRONG NOTE: Last November, Mentor went 4-6-0-0 and found itself in the bottom half of the FPHL standings. This year, the Ice Breakers have already posted a 7-2-0-0 mark in November, a team record for wins in a single month. Mentor will reach double-digit victories in a month for the first time ever if it pulls off a sweep down in Columbus.
COLUMBUS RIVER DRAGONS NOTES
The River Dragons are technically ahead of only the cellar-dwelling Battle Creek Rumble Bees in the Western Division standings, but the club is beginning to establish itself as a team that will be competitive on any given night. Outside of a couple of outliers, Columbus has played in numerous close contests, including five games that were decided by one goal.
Last weekend, Columbus nearly pulled off a three-goal comeback in the third period against Carolina before ultimately coming up just short, falling 4-3. Led by captain F Jay Croop (8-4-12) and FPHL veteran F MJ Graham (6-9-15), the River Dragons are only three points out of second place in their division, meaning just one win could potentially propel them into a tie for the second seed depending on the results of other games slated for this week.
FAMILIAR FACES: Ice Breakers fans may recognize F Yianni Liarakos (1-4-5, 6 GP), a former Watertown Wolf, and F Chase Fallis (1-4-5, 10 GP), a key cog in last year’s Commissioner’s Cup champion Carolina Thunderbirds. F Tim Santopaolo (2-2-4) is another former Wolf who is undersized but possesses a skillset that still allows him to thrive in a physical league like the FPHL.
BETWEEN THE PIPES: Another member of last year’s Watertown Wolves, G Jared Rutledge, was picked up by the River Dragons in the offseason expansion draft. The Chicago native has put up a respectable 4.36/.883 slash line in nine starts as Columbus’ primary goaltender. He has shown the ability to take over games when locked in, as evidenced by back-to-back 50-save games in mid-February against Carolina.
SPECIAL TEAMS OVERVIEW: Columbus has been middle-of-the-road on both of its special-teams units. On the power play, the River Dragons are seventh with a solid 19.5 percent conversion rate. The team’s penalty kill unit is operating at a 77.5 percent clip, which is also ranked seventh in the league.
COLUMBUS THUNDERBIRDS: The River Dragons mirror last year’s edition of the Carolina Thunderbirds in more ways than one. Players like Croop, Fallis, F Jiri Pestuka, and F Seth Gustin were all significant members of the Thunderbirds last season. Columbus also features a front office consisting of several former Carolina staff members.
AROUND THE FPHL
The Battle Creek Rumble Bees continue to search for their first victory after the team was swept on the road against Danbury last weekend. The Rumble Bees played hard in a 4-2 loss on Friday but faltered the following night in a 10-2 blowout. Battle Creek General Manager Adam Stio is currently serving as the club’s interim head coach following the firing of Clint Hagmeier.
Delaware had some strong moments but dropped both of its home matchups against Elmira. The Thunder led 3-0 early in the second frame, but Elmira stormed back to take a 4-3 lead before ultimately claiming a 7-5 victory.
Danville had one of its strongest outings of the young season on Friday in a 2-1 win over Watertown that saw G Jesse Gordichuk stop 32 of 33 Wolves shots and halt Watertown’s eight-game winning streak. The Wolves stormed back on Saturday for a 5-2 win as five different Watertown skaters found the back of the net.
The Ice Breakers will continue their road trip in Danville against the Dashers December 6 and 7. After that, Mentor will take on Battle Creek in a home-and-home series beginning December 13.
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.