Weekly Preview 2.20.20
By Jared Tennant
PHOTO: Barry Booher
Mentor Ice Breakers (14-23-0-3, 45 pts., 4th place - Eastern Div.) vs.
Elmira Enforcers (22-13-2-3, 73 pts., 2nd place – Eastern Div.)
The Mentor Ice Breakers return from a six-game road trip to host the Elmira Enforcers in a two-game series at Mentor Ice Arena. The weekend is packed with promotions, with Friday’s contest being Miracle on Ice Night in addition to a Junior Ice Breakers Kids Club Kids Night. All fans in attendance are invited to a free postgame skate with the players, with skate rentals available for $3.
On Saturday, the Ice Breakers are putting on their second annual Cancer Awareness Night and Teddy Bear Toss. The team will be wearing specialty jerseys that will be auctioned off on the LiveSource app following the game. After the Ice Breakers score their first goal, fans can throw new stuffed animals onto the ice for donation to the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital. After the game, stick around for the Frozen 5k on the ice in support of the Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation. Registration is available online.
Friday, February 21, 7:35 p.m. @ Mentor Ice Arena (Mentor, OH)
Saturday, February 22, 6:30 p.m. @ Mentor Ice Arena (Mentor, OH)
LIVE BROADCAST: Mentor Ice Breakers YouTube channel
FPHL STANDINGS: Click here
MENTOR ICE BREAKERS NOTES
Despite wrapping up a winless road trip last week, the Ice Breakers are beginning to provide some reasons for optimism. Saturday night saw the team put together one of its better performances in recent weeks, coming up just short in a 4-3 loss. Mentor fell behind 3-0 in the opening period before outscoring Port Huron 3-1 the rest of the way thanks to goals by F Steven Fowler, D Jiri Pestuka and D Dominick Horvath.
Horvath’s tally came in the final minute of regulation on the power play with an extra attacker on the ice and was the first of his professional career. The 24-year-old graduated from Mayfield High School and will be playing his first professional hockey games in Northeast Ohio this weekend.
Horvath and other new additions seem to be fitting well on the ice and in the locker room. Following a string of trades and roster moves, it’s now up to the players in place to get the Ice Breakers back on track.
FITTING IN: The signing of F Josh Newberg is already paying dividends for the Ice Breakers. At the age of 32, Newberg is the oldest player on Mentor’s roster. He appeared in his 100th career FPHL game last Saturday and already has a goal and an assist over four outings as an Ice Breaker. Newberg, who broke into the league in 2017, provides a much-needed veteran voice in the locker room and has a 15-28-43 scoring line in his career. He’s no stranger to Elmira hockey, having played a 12-game stint with the ECHL’s Elmira Jackals in 2016. Newberg scored at a point-per-game pace with the Jackals, producing four goals and eight assists.
SETTING RECORDS: With his goal in the third period in Columbus on February 8, F Declan Conway set a new franchise record for points in a single season (52). He has 72 career points and needs only one more to take over as the Ice Breakers’ all-time leading scorer. Conway has cooled off since his torrid start to the season but maintains his place as the FPHL’s third-leading goal-scorer.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: Grabbing an early lead has done wonders for the confidence of this Ice Breakers squad. When Mentor nets the opening goal of the contest, it has posted a solid 12-6-0-0 record. The club has struggled immensely when the opposition strikes first, putting up a 2-17-0-3 mark. It's also worth mentioning that Mentor has gone 11-3-0-1 when it has the lead at the first intermission but has yet to win in 13 tries when trailing after one period.
IRON MAN: With several players missing games for the first time this season on the Ice Breakers’ recent road trip, F Alex Morrow has taken over as the team’s leader in games played, appearing in all 40 contests to date. In his career, Morrow has suited up for 90 games as an Ice Breaker, trailing only F Nate Farrington for the franchise record.
MAGIC NUMBER: The Ice Breakers have seen tremendous success when scoring four goals or more, winning 13 of 14 games. Unfortunately, Mentor has hit that number only twice since the beginning of January. Both games were victories.
WELCOME BACK: Tonight’s game marks the return of F Mark Essery to Northeast Ohio. The Framingham, Massachusetts, native was traded to Elmira on February 6 in exchange for Horvath and F Jack Chudleigh, who has not reported to Mentor. Essery, who was the Ice Breakers’ leading scorer a season ago with 51 points, has dished out three assists and earned a plus-four rating over six outings since the trade.
ELMIRA ENFORCERS NOTES
Unfortunately for the Ice Breakers, their first matchup against the Enforcers comes at a time when Elmira is playing some of its best hockey of the season. With a healthy roster and several key pieces added over the last month, Elmira is looking to avenge is Commissioner's Cup Finals loss last April.
The Enforcers have won eight of their last nine games, including two-game sweeps of Columbus and Danville. Elmira trailed the Ice Breakers in the Eastern Division over the first couple months of the season, but it’s not difficult to argue that the Enforcers have become the team to beat in the East.
THE BEST TO DO IT: The Enforcers have what has to be considered one of the most dynamic duos in the history of the FPHL. F Ahmed Mahfouz paces the league with more than 800 points and is approaching 400 games played in his career. The Enforcers completed a 5-for-1 swap with Watertown that netted them F Tyler Gjurich, who happens to be the FPHL’s second all-time leading scorer with 427 points. Unsurprisingly, the two forwards are tied atop the league scoring race with 71 points apiece.
LEADING THE WAY: Outside of Mahfouz and Gjurich, the Enforcers possess a deep group of capable scorers. Rookie F Hudson Michaelis (22-26-48) has been one of the most underrated players in the FPHL following a solid 33-game stint in Sweden’s Division 1 last year. F Brandon Tucker (23-16-39) is another forward averaging more than a point per game while F Kyle Stevens (11-25-36) is adding yet another impressive season to his resume.
The defensive duo of D Glen Patterson (7-22-29) and D Cameron Yarwood (7-20-27) have been strong on both ends of the ice while D Dale Deon (4-20-24) adds another offensive talent on the blue line.
IN BETWEEN THE PIPES: It’s tough to find a significant weakness with Elmira’s current roster. G Joe Young (2.83/.925) and G Troy Passingham (3.35/.915) are two of the league’s top netminders. Passingham, who covers a ton of real estate with his 6-foor-5, 215-pound frame, has accounted for 15 of the Enforcers’ 22 wins.
MOVING THEM UP: Former OHLer G Joe Murdaca dominated over four games as an Enforcer before being promoted to the SPHL’s Knoxville Ice Bears. Shortly after, he made the jump to the ECHL, compiling an .889 save percentage in three games with the Adirondack Thunder. At just 21 years of age, the sky is the limit for the Niagara Falls native.
BACK IN THE FOLD: Last year’s FPHL Rookie of the Year is back in Elmira. After 36 games with the Macon Mayhem (SPHL), F Stepan Timofeyev has signed with the Enforcers. With 97 points in 70 career games, a productive weekend could allow the 24-year-old Russian to secure his 100th FPHL point.
AROUND THE FPHL
A former Ice Breaker made headlines this week while helping the rich get richer. F Jon Buttitta was recently waived by the Quad City Storm (SPHL) and has signed with the Carolina Thunderbirds. Mentor traded Buttitta’s rights to Delaware earlier this month in exchange for the rights to D Egor Kostyukov, who was in turn sent to Battle Creek in the deal for D Marc Steele. Because Delaware did not sign, trade or suspend Buttitta within a certain timeframe, he became a free agent and was free to sign with any club.
In the East, Danbury has stretched its winning streak to seven games thanks to a three-game sweep of Carolina and four straight wins over Delaware, which has lost 11 in a row. If the Hat Tricks continue to rack up victories, it doesn’t matter how well Elmira or Watertown play down the stretch. As of now, Danbury is in full control of its own destiny as it searches for a division title in its inaugural campaign.
The Ice Breakers will play host to Port Huron on February 28-29 to close out the month before heading west to Danville for a Sunday matchup against the Dashers on March 1. After that, Mentor will take on Elmira in a two-game road set on March 5-6.
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.