The Springfield Jr. Blues were on the ropes this weekend having lost two of three games to the last-place Chicago Hitmen. The game on October 22 saw both teams switch places, with Chicago rising to 4th place in the 5-team Central Division. The Hitmen also had the Jr. Blues confused and wondering how to beat this team filled with scoring pests. Thankfully, mercifully, the Jr. Blues managed to eke out a win and bring themselves back into 4th place, beating Chicago 5-4 and preventing a series sweep.
Penalties were the highlight of the first part of the first period. Kyle Cook and Vince Lacek threw down at 1:40, earning each a delay of game penalty. Zach Schrotenboer of the Hitmen found himself in the box at 7:04 with a slashing penalty. I noticed at this time that the Jr. Blues players were still leading their teammates too much on passes. This resulted in the puck sailing past a Springfield player by about half a step or so, and the puck often then found itself on the tape of a Chicago player.
Thankfully the first period did have some scoring highlights. Kyle Cook went all grinder in front of the Chicago net to score the first Jr. Blues goal at 14:21 of the first period. Chicago answered in the form of Anthony Annunziato at 17:23, then Zach Schrotenboer gave the Hitmen the lead at 19:11. The first period ended with a listless, almost demoralized Jr. Blues trailing 2-1.
The second period found a little life for the team. Mike Parnell found a point of contention with Alec DeAngelo of the Hitmen and the two proceeded to a bout of fisticuffs at 1:39. Both Parnell and DeAngelo received matching fighting majors and game misconduct penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct. They were both sent off immediately. Shortly thereafter Chicago's Eric Szafranski received a tripping penalty at 3:48 setting up a Springfield power play. Ethan Nauman capitalized on the power play to score at 4:56, tying the game. Penalties by Chicago's Joey Haydock and Springfield Captain Stewart Bell were killed by their respective teams, and the Jr. Blues managed to take the lead at 16:18 when Gavin Tufte fired a shot past Nick Kohn. The second period ended 3-2 in favor of Springfield.
Mike Zajac of the Hitmen opened up the third period with an interference penalty allowing Mike Williams to score a power play goal at 2:12. St. Louis native Dominic Valencia showed off his speed for the Jr. Blues by breaking away from his Hitmen defender and scoring a one-on-one goal at 4:50 to give Springfield a 5-2 lead. Joey Haydock managed a goal past Jr. Blues netminder Connor Girard at 12:53 to close the gap. Then at 14:30 or so a delayed tripping penalty by Zach Schrotenboer led to perhaps my favorite play of the game: the Jr. Blues kept the puck in their possession for the next 30 seconds around their own goal, almost daring the Hitmen to touch it. Girard was pulled for a sixth attacker and the team moved the puck slowly towards the Hitmen's zone. The Jr. Blues were either messing with Chicago or they were testing the endurance of the referee's raised arm. Eventually a Chicago player touched the puck and at 15:14 a tripping penalty was applied to Schrotenboer. The tactic was very good, slowing down the game to take time off the clock, knowing that even a shot by the Hitmen would be whistled dead before the puck could hit an empty net. The Hitmen responded with an empty net of their own, and Schrotenboer came back on the ice to score the final goal of the game at 18:27. The game ended with .3 seconds left after a check on a Hitmen player brought a whistle and some amount of discussion among officials and coaches. The Hitmen seemed to refuse to take center ice for the last face-off at 19:59, and the Jr. Blues all took the ice as their opponents gave up the last face-off. It might have only been .3 seconds, but taking the last face-off is a matter of principle. The Springfield Jr. Blues avoided a sweep and scraped out a 5-4 win. The win also brought the Jr. Blues back into 4th place.
Attendance was abysmally low due to the early start of the game, 4:00pm, and despite a Halloween party for any children attending the game and a post-game skate with the team. Attendance totals showed 205 paid attendees for the game. This should be eclipsed easily in coming weeks as high school football winds down.
Next week find the Jr. Blues heading to Janesville, Wisconsin for a two-game set on the 28th and 29th. The next home series for the Jr. Blues will be November 4 and 5 against the Topeka Roadrunners. Both teams are tough opponents for Springfield, but the Jr. Blues just might find their fortunes reversed in the next two weeks.
Spotted at the game: two different hockey fans wearing Peoria Rivermen jackets. While it's not quite as good as seeing Mike McKenna's #40 New Jersey Devils jersey on Friday night (McKenna played goalie for the Jr. Blues in the 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 seasons) it's nice to see other local teams getting some love.
Also, if you have a few bucks burning a hole in your pocket and you can't make it to an NAHL game in your area, pay feeds are available via fasthockey.com. It's usually around $7 per game, about the price of a regular ticket. Feed quality varies, though, as some teams (like the St. Louis Bandits) don't have great video feeds. Then again, if they had HD video, it probably wouldn't be $7. Anyway, if you've got a need for junior hockey it's a good use of money.