Read the full NAHL Weekly Release.
For a team battling inconsistency through the early part of the season, the Springfield Jr. Blues are slowly but surely starting to find their groove.
The surging Jr. Blues have picked up points in their last five contests (eight), including three last weekend against the St. Louis Bandits.
“Anytime you play a team as good as St. Louis and can get three of four points, you have to be happy with that,” said Jr. Blues head coach Andy Maher, whose team improved to 10-8-4 on the season. “Our division (South) is so tough week-in and week-out that there’s no time to let points slip away.”
The Jr. Blues opened the weekend with a 4-2 victory on Friday. Kevin O’Donnell rang up two goals in the win, and Ross Anderson connected for the game-winning marker and an assist. Between the pipes, goaltender C.J. Groh turned back 22 shots.
Anderson struck again the next night in regulation as Springfield dropped a 2-1 decision to the Bandits in a shootout. Groh made 27 saves in regulation and overtime and two of five in the shootout.
“I feel like every weekend we’re getting better,” said Maher. “It may only be in one area or another, but as long as we continue to improve, that’s all we can expect as a staff.”
The weekend also generated a lot of buzz around town, as the team welcomed over 1,000 a night in attendance, including over 1,500 on Saturday.
“One thing we can always count on here in Springfield is crazy fan support,” said Maher. “The guys like playing here and it’s pretty fun when the Nelson Center gets rocking.”
Nick Curry, a second-year forward with the Jr. Blues, agrees that playing in Illinois’ capital city makes for the ideal junior hockey experience.
“It’s a blast, from the team to the city itself,” said the 20-year-old from Bettendorf, Iowa. “We have great fans and a lot of support from the community. Playing in Springfield has just been a great experience.”
And it should only get better this season once the Jr. Blues get well. The team has been without the services of a few key players recently because of injuries, including Trent Frey, Randy Cure, Kyle Forte and Ethan Scherer, all of whom are expected back in the lineup in the coming weeks.
“We’re looking forward to getting a healthy team back sometime in the near future,” said Maher.
Others players have stepped to the forefront in the meantime. Hailing from River Falls, Wis. - the same town Frey, an NAHL All-Rookie Team selection a year ago and a Mercyhurst College (Atlantic Hockey) recruit, calls home - Anderson has been a welcome addition. With five points in his last three games, he now has four goals for 10 points on the season.
“That little town in Wisconsin is producing some good hockey players for us,” said Maher. “Ross has been very good for us all year and we think he’s just scratching the surface on how good he could be.”
Maher is also confident with his main man between the pipes in Groh. With his efforts last weekend, the University of Alabama-Huntsville (College Hockey America)-bound goaltender evened his record to 6-6-4 to compliment a 2.66 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage.
“C.J. was solid again for us last weekend, especially on Saturday,” said the coach. “When he’s at his best, we feel he’s as good as anyone in the league.”
Speaking of good, the Jr. Blues also sport one of the best offensive combos in the NAHL in Curry and Jared Rickord. The pair ranks Nos. 3-4 in league scoring, with Curry at 30 points (nine goals) and Rickord at 27 (10).
Both players have their college plans sealed as well, with Rickord, a 20-year-old from Skokie, Ill., off to Bentley University (Atlantic Hockey) and Curry recently giving the nod to the University of Massachusetts-Lowell (Hockey East).
“There’s good chemistry between the two of them,” said Maher. “They always know where the other is at and, if we’re going to have any success this year, we need those two guys to continue to produce for us.”
With Cure also headed to Mercyhurst, the Jr. Blues have five players with Division I commitments. Maher is confident that number will balloon with continued success.
“It's our goal to move on as many kids as we can, and we’re extremely proud of all of our guys who move on to play Division I hockey,” he said. “We expect there to be at least a few more D-I commitments before the end of the year.”
In the meantime, the Jr. Blues know they have a battle on their hands in the five-team South Division, where one team will be looking from the outside in come the postseason.
“Our main focus is to continue to improve every week, Monday through Thursday, and continue to get points Friday through Sunday,” said Maher. “We have to play hard every night or we won't make the playoffs, and that’s not acceptable.”
AROUND THE NAHL
ALASKA AVALANCHE: Goaltender Landon Peterson (Oregon, Wis.) made all 27 saves in the Avs’ 3-0 victory over Kenai River on Friday to pick up his second shutout of the season.
ALBERT LEA THUNDER: Forward Niko Kapetanovic (North Prairie, Wis.) tallied both Thunder goals in its 5-2 loss to Alexandria on Saturday.
ALEXANDRIA BLIZZARD: Alexandria’s leading scorer Kyle Clay (Henderson, Nev.) connected for a goal and two assists in the Blizzard’s two-game sweep over Albert Lea.
ALPENA ICEDIGGERS: Forward Ryan Timar (Novi, Mich.), an Air Force recruit, tallied three goals in a two-game split with Motor City, including the game-winner in the IceDiggers’ 3-2 triumph on Saturday. “Ryan was a huge spark in a much-needed win for us,” said head coach Jack Fritsche.
BISMARCK BOBCATS: Goaltender Ryan Massa (Littleton, Colo.) backstopped the Bobcats to a pair of wins over Albert Lea, including a 33-save shutout on Sunday (4-0). “It was really nice to see Ryan come back strong after not playing in close to a month,” said head coach Byron Pool. “He looked really sharp and on top of his game.”
FAIRBANKS ICE DOGS: Forward James Saintey (Rosemount, Minn.) potted two goals and two assists as the Ice Dogs split a two-game series with Texas.
JANESVILLE JETS: Forward Derek Jacobson (Sioux City, Iowa) rang up a goal and an assist as the Jets went 0-1-1 against Traverse City.
KENAI RIVER BROWN BEARS: Defenseman Braden Kinnebrew (Anchorage) and forward Brad Fusaro (Soldotna) scored the Brown Bears’ goals in their 5-2 loss to Alaska on Saturday.
MARQUETTE RANGERS: After stopping all 14 shots in relief in a 4-3 overtime victory over North Iowa on Friday, goaltender Lukas Hafner (Toledo, Ohio) made 33 saves in the Rangers’ 6-2 win over the Outlaws the next night. “Lukas came in Friday and gave us a chance to win, and then on Saturday he settled in and made several key saves and was a big reason we won,” said head coach Kenny Miller.
MOTOR CITY METAL JACKETS: Forward Steve Brancheau (River Rouge, Mich.) struck for a goal and two assists, including one on Cody Wydo’s (Allen Park, Mich.) game-winner, in the Metal Jackets’ 5-4 victory over Alpena on Friday.
NORTH IOWA OUTLAWS: Forward Markus Gander (Italy) connected for two goals and an assist as the Outlaws finished with an 0-1-1 mark against Marquette.
OWATONNA EXPRESS: Defenseman Jake Suter (Oregon, Wis.) and forward Jake Youso (International Falls, Minn.), a University of Minnesota recruit, each picked up two assists in the Express’ 4-3 shootout win over Bismarck on Friday. Suter also scored in the shootout.
SPRINGFIELD JR. BLUES: Head coach Andy Maher likes what he sees out of his first-year players. “All of our rookies have gotten off to good starts and all of them have room for improvement, so that’s exciting for us,” he said.
ST. LOUIS BANDITS: Goaltender Tyler Bruggeman (Mankato, Minn.) made 16 saves in regulation and overtime and three of five in the shootout as the Bandits picked up a victory over Springfield on Saturday.
TEXAS TORNADO: Forward Shay Cizmar (Burton, Ohio), who started the season with Fairbanks, notched two goals and an assist in Texas’ 6-2 victory over the Ice Dogs on Friday.
TOPEKA ROADRUNNERS: Forward Erik Higby (New Braunfels, Texas) put home two goals, including the game-winner in a 4-3 victory on Saturday, as the RoadRunners skated to a 1-0-1 mark against Wichita Falls.
TRAVERSE CITY NORTH STARS: Forward Doug Clifford collected three goals and an assist as the North Stars celebrated a two-game sweep over Janesville. “Doug always seems to be at his best when we’re in close, hard-fought games like we had last weekend,” said head coach Anthony Palumbo. “He was a major contributor to our success.”
WENATCHEE WILD: Second-year defenseman Brandon Burrell (Brooklyn Park, Minn.) has committed to St. Cloud State University (WCHA) for next season.
WICHITA FALLS WILDCATS: Forward Tyler Lundey (Middleton, Wis.) netted a pair of goals and an assist as the Wildcats fashioned a 1-1 record against Topeka.