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BY MIKE PAQUETTE
EASTRIDGE -- What do you get when you cross a last-place team that has energy, drive, and a belief that it can win with a vastly superior team in every way that figures it just has to show up to register two points? In the PHA, you get another victory for the Ice Dogs over the Roadrunners.
Monday (19Feb) night's game was arguably the Roadrunners' worst performance of the season. By not rushing up-ice with their usual zeal, getting caught up in the Dogs' chippy style of play, and standing around in their own end, the Roadrunners had nothing to combat the intense and energetic play of their opponents.
The Ice Dogs came out fast and furious to start the game, getting 10 of their 16 shots on goalie Jeff Howerton in the first period. Buzzing around Howerton, the Dogs capitalized early on some very sloppy Roadrunner work in and around the crease to notch their first goal.
Inspired by that success, their high-energy attack continued. On the other side of the puck, the Roadrunners could not seem to get themselves together enough to challenge the Ice Dogs on defence or to generate a decent counter-attack. With the apparent good fortune of having four or five more players than usual, the 'Runners tied themselves in knots on the bench and on the ice with jumbled, unstable, and ill-timed line changes.
The confusion and lack of effort cost the Roadrunners again later in the first period. Unable to clear their zone, the defencemen could not cover all four of the Ice Dogs swarming around the net. As a result, the 'Runners allowed a second goal--another weak shot along the ice from only a few feet out.
Finding themselves up 2-0 and playing good hockey must have been a real shock to the 1-12-1 Ice Dogs. Unfortunately for them, coincidental roughing penalties with five minutes left in the period destroyed the flow of their game. Up until then, the Dogs had been able to stay out of the penalty box. That would not continue.
Within minutes, the Ice Dogs earned another roughing call. Their quality of play was deteriorating--slower skating, bad passing, and cheap shots. Between that and their penalty, they seemed to be giving the Roadrunners exactly what they would need to turn up their offence, reestablish their smothering defence, and steamroll to victory. But the Roadrunners wouldn't accept the kind offer. Instead, they nullified the power play 30 seconds later with a penalty of their own, then took another to create a 5-on-3 to end the period.
Not much changed for the Roadrunners in the second as they got bogged down in the rough-and-tumble style of the Ice Dogs. The "action" was mostly limited to the neutral zone where each team seemed to be passing the puck to the other over and over again.
Everything was in disarray. Case in point: two power plays for the Dogs and three for the 'Runners amounted to nothing. Somehow, miraculously, the Roadrunners did manage something of rush midway through the period. An errant pass and numerous lucky tips put the puck just outside the Ice Dogs' crease. Michael Paquette swatted at the puck, which hit the sprawling goaltender and trickled across the line. However, that was the best that either team could muster, so for the rest of the second period the humdrum and undisciplined shinny prevailed.
During the second intermission (all 60 seconds of it), many of the Roadrunner forwards looked up at the scoreboard, saw the 2-1 deficit, and knew that somebody had turn things around. The defence was holding--the forwards had to step up. Chris Kamalani decided that he would try to do just that. Early on, Kamalani went to war against a defenceman in front of the Dogs' net, trying to knock in rebounds and loose pucks. The war heated up until the pair was sent off, with the Dog getting an extra two minutes and a misconduct.
Kamalani's intensity was picked up by his linemates who stayed out for the power play, and Andy Harris showed the way. Taking Pat Hughes' outlet pass, Harris hustled up-ice and across the Dogs' blueline. "I waited for the defenceman to commit to blocking the shot, and put it along the ice through his legs," said Harris in a post-game interview. "I guess the goalie never saw it coming."
Having tied it up at 2-2, the Roadrunners felt relieved. So relieved, in fact, that the intensity that had been built up almost entirely dissipated. From that point on, the play was back to the disorder and offensive insipidity of the second period. The Ice Dogs were into their grab-and-slash routine while the Roadrunners were floating up, down, and across the ice. One defenceman characterized it as "lethargic".
Strangely, the Roadrunners' best sequences came during their two shorthanded situations. The penalty-killing forwards spent almost all four minutes attacking the Ice Dog net, cruising around, passing, and shooting pretty much at will--Hughes and Kamalani, then Harris and Paquette, then Jeff Kucera and Jeff McDonnal. Even the defence had some good shorthanded chances and never let the puck anywhere near Howerton (the Ice Dogs registered only two shots on goal the whole period).
Outside of the penalty kills, the teams played equally badly--until there were 30 seconds left.A roughing call sent McDonnal off and, suddenly, the Dogs started playing like they had started the game--fast and furious. The Ice Dogs won the ensuing face-off to Howerton's left and got off a strong shot. Only a fabulous save kept the Roadrunners alive. For the last few seconds, the Dogs pressed and the 'Runners could hardly slow them down. They survived the period, however, still tied at 2-2.
Nothing changed in overtime. The Ice Dogs' power-play unit continued to swarm all around the Roadrunner net until, for the third time, a weak shot along the ice found its way in, this time thanks to a lucky deflection. The Roadrunners' emotional nose-dive, losing in overtime to an inferior team after the euphoria of last Saturday's 6-0 clubbing of the Edge, was steep. Some tried to blame a perceived lack of good positional play; others pointed to the smaller rink as a handicap.
Without a doubt, the 'Runners in general showed a lack of effort, discipline, and willingness to do what was necessary to win. It was apparent in the forechecking, backchecking, break-outs, corner work, and even the line changes. When the pitiable Ice Dogs were playing good hockey, they had success. When they weren't, they were still not worse than the Roadrunners.
The overtime loss counts as a tie for the Roadrunners while the Ice Dogs record their second win of the year (both at the Roadrunners' expense). One point for the tie, coupled with a Puck Pig win over the Rink Rats, leaves the Pigs atop the division. The Rats and 'Runners share the second spot, one point behind.
The Roadrunners will have another shot at first place Monday (4Mar) when they meet the Puck Pigs in Oakland.
Send comments or ideas for future features to : Mike Paquette