Weekly Preview 2.13.20
By Jared Tennant
PHOTO: Barry Booher
Mentor Ice Breakers (14-21-0-3, 45 pts., 4th place - Eastern Div.) vs.
Port Huron Prowlers (19-12-4-0, 65 pts., 2nd place – Western Div.)
The Mentor Ice Breakers and Port Huron Prowlers meet for the second time in the month of February this weekend with a two-game set at McMorran Place. The series marks the final weekend of the Ice Breakers’ current six-game road trip that began January 31 against the Prowlers.
Friday, February 14, 7:30 p.m. @ McMorran Place (Port Huron, MI)
Saturday, February 15, 6:00 p.m. @ McMorran Place (Port Huron, MI)
LIVE BROADCAST: ebw.tv
FPHL STANDINGS: Click here
MENTOR ICE BREAKERS NOTES
The year 2020 has not been kind to the Ice Breakers. With just one win since January 3—and that over a depleted Battle Creek team—Mentor has been going through as tough a stretch as it has seen during its two seasons of existence. Prior to recent weeks, the Ice Breakers were competitive in nearly every game, something the team and head coach Iain Duncan could take pride in. Over the last two weeks, though, that simply hasn’t been the case.
Mentor has been outscored 26-6 in its last three outings amidst some of its worst defensive efforts of the season. Unsurprisingly, the team has made several moves to improve its fortunes, including the additions of F Josh Newburg, D Marc Steele, D Dominick Horvath, F Blake Erquiaga and F Jack Chudleigh. The new faces along with the remaining core will look to right the ship this weekend against a Port Huron team that has taken five of six matchups against the Ice Breakers this year.
SHORING UP THE DEFENSE: Steele fits the mold of a player the Ice Breakers have sought after all season: a big-bodied, stay-at-home defenseman who can make life easier on a goaltender. His nine assists prove he can also contribute on the offensive end, something that’s coveted for a club that has scored at least four goals in only two games in 2020.
Horvath is a second-year pro with SPHL experience who should feel right at home in Northeast Ohio. The 24-year-old graduated from Mayfield High School, located 15 miles southwest of Mentor Ice Arena.
ADDING DEPTH: Meanwhile, the signing of Newburg went under the radar but has already paid dividends as the veteran of 98 FPHL games scored in Columbus last weekend. Newburg is on his fourth FPHL team and has a 15-27-42 career line. He was a member of last year’s Watertown Wolves playoff team and appeared in six games as a Danbury Hat Trick at the beginning of this season.
Chudleigh is only 23 and is still finding his way in the FPHL, going pointless in seven games with Elmira. He has experience playing professionally in Sweden last year and logged a 41-point season with the Bradford Bulls in the GMHL in 2017-18. Chudleigh could prove to be a valuable offensive weapon once he becomes acclimated to the league.
Erquiaga has played two games as an Ice Breaker and already dropped the gloves in last weekend’s series in Columbus. The Tallahassee, Florida, native played four years at Augustana College (ACHA II) and provides another big body with a 6-foot, 250-pound frame.
STEPS IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION: To put it bluntly, last Saturday’s first-period performance against Columbus was a disaster. Coming off a 10-1 loss the night before, the Ice Breakers allowed five goals in the opening frame. However, the team was able to regroup from a couple of bad weeks to put together one of their best stretches of play in quite a while, outscoring the River Dragons 2-1 the rest of the way and looking more like the Ice Breakers team that led the Eastern Division through the end of November.
It’s only two periods in what turned out to be a 7-3 loss, but it’s a start. Ideally, the new additions combined with the talent that remains on the roster can turn the season around as the Ice Breakers approach a stretch that will see them play seven of eight games at home from February 21 through March 8.
IN THE NEWS: Earlier this week, The News-Herald detailed the current state of the Ice Breakers franchise as well as the future of the club. The article also provides additional insight into the decisions to move four home games out of Mentor Ice Arena.
LOOKING AHEAD: The Ice Breakers are still positioned to qualify for the Commissioner’s Cup playoffs, which would bring playoff professional hockey to Mentor Ice Arena for the first time ever. The Ice Breakers hold a 21-point lead over Delaware for the fourth and final postseason spot in the East, and the Thunder have dropped nine games in a row.
ALUMNI UPDATE: G Austyn Roudebush has settled into an all-FPHL goaltending duo alongside former Carolina Thunderbird G Henry Dill with the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs. Roudebush has a 1-1-1 record through five appearances, compiling a 2.53 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage. He logged a shutout in a 1-0 win over the Macon Mayhem on January 31.
PORT HURON PROWLERS NOTES
The Prowlers have been one of the more consistent teams in the FPHL, and it has resulted in possession of the second seed in the Western Division. Port Huron relies on its veteran core and an abundance of offensive talent while enjoying the effects of two shutdown netminders in G Cory Simons (2.54/.926) and G Blake Scott (2.46/.939).
The Prowlers are coming off a 6-3 loss against Elmira, but they won four straight heading into the defeat, including a two-game sweep of the Ice Breakers. Port Huron has posted a 5-1-0-0 mark against Mentor, with the lone Ice Breakers win coming on November 23 at Mentor Ice Arena in a game that saw F Declan Conway tie a career high with four points (two goals, two assists).
MAKING MOVES: The Prowlers improved their roster this week by acquiring F Brandon Contratto from Battle Creek. Contratto is a dynamic talent who will fit right in with Port Huron’s top scorers. The Michigan product, who attended Ice Breakers training camp last season, will remain in his native state while playing for a team with a legitimate shot at the Commissioner’s Cup.
VETERANS ALL AROUND: Port Huron has a reputation for being a team with a ton of household FPHL names. That’s certainly the case this season as players like F Matt Graham, F Dalton Jay, F Zachary Zulkanycz, F Justin Portillo and F Jonathon Juliano currently wear Prowlers red. Graham leads the team with 56 points (17-39-56), with Jay (23-25-48) close behind.
SOPHOMORE LEAP: F Austin Fetterly first signed with the Prowlers during the 2016-17 season. Until last year, Fetterly was a solid FPHL player but didn’t stand out on the scoresheet. The Port Huron native has turned a corner this year, though, scoring at a point-per-game pace with a 15-23-38 line in 35 games. Fetterly has been a thorn in Mentor’s side, logging three multi-point games against the Ice Breakers.
AROUND THE FPHL
The Eastern Division could soon become a two-team race as Danbury and Elmira continue to rack up victories. The Enforcers trail the Hat Tricks by 11 points but have won six consecutive games, including nine out of their last 10. Meanwhile, the Hat Tricks remain the division leaders and have claimed five wins in a row.
In the West, Carolina is dealing with a bit of adversity as injuries and call-ups begin to pile up. The Thunderbirds recently lost G Patrik Polivka with what is suspected to be a season-ending injury. Polivka was hurt on a noncontact play in Carolina’s 4-3 shootout win over the Ice Breakers on January 26. The Thunderbirds signed four players this week: G Daniel Vecka, F Gleb Krivoshapkin, D Ramil Talipov and D Mike Baker. Baker won a championship ring last season with the Thunderbirds.
The Ice Breakers will return to Northeast Ohio for the first time since late January with a two-gamer against Elmira on February 21-22. After that, the club will play host to Port Huron February 28-29 to close out the month.
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.