After a two-game sweep of the Central Division powerhouse Janesville Jets, the Jr. Blues hoped to capitalize on the momentum from that series and bring their record up from 7-9-1 on the season against the 10-6-2 Topeka Roadrunners. Well, that didn't happen tonight. The Roadrunners beat the Jr. Blues 4-2. Actually, it might be safer to say that the Jr. Blues beat themselves by piling on the penalties and allowing the Roadrunners to score four goals on Imperial, MO's own Tyler Parks.
The 1st period came and went with some timid play by the Jr. Blues leading to spending most of the period in Springfield's zone. How can you tell? Easy. Topeka outshot Springfield 18 to 3. Yes, you read that right. Ethan Nauman spent two minutes in the Jr. Blues' penalty box for hooking at 8:31 and Topeka's Trace Strahle found himself with a slashing call at 18:32. The period ended with neither team scoring.
Period number two opened up with a slashing call on Mike Parnell and the Roadrunners made good on this chance when Robbie Davis scored at 0:58. Gage Hough of the Roadrunners wound up in the box with a head contact penalty at 1:31, but the Jr. Blues couldn't return the favor with the early penalty. About five minutes later, Kyle Cook lands a hooking penalty at 6:34 and Topeka thankfully matched it at 7:08 when Ryan White sat down for two for slashing. This gave Mike Williams the opportunity to even the score with a 4-on-4 goal at 8:07. Ben Bahe took a good shot in at 18:08 and put the Roadrunners back up by one. The teams went into the second intermission with Topeka leading two to one. Springfield led the period in shots 15 to 9.
The third period went fine until about ten minutes in. The Jr. Blues managed to ward off a penalty by Brett Skibba at 7:09, but the team just did not want to communicate well at around the ten minute mark. At 11:02, the Roadrunners scored from the blueline when Trace Strahle fired off a perfect shot past three Jr. Blues defenders... all of whom were lined up neatly one behind the other and moving tenatively toward Strahle. A sudden charge by any of the defenders could have caused the shot to miss, but the miscommunication wound up confusing the Springfield side. At 13:59, a chase for the puck wound up with a Roadrunner player face down on the ice and Jr. Blues captain Stewart Bell fighting Topeka's Kyle Sharkey. Bell won the battle, but lost the war as he received a deliberate injury match penalty, a checking from behind major, and a fighting major. Bell was ejected from the game and Springfield had to play through a major penalty for all but one minute of the rest of the game. This allowed Ryan White to score at 15:38 with little chance of the Jr. Blues getting enough goals to go to overtime. The Roadrunners now lead 4 to 1. Despite this, Jr. Blues veteran forward Kyle Cook took matters into his own hands and managed a beautiful breakaway short-handed goal at 16:22. From there, though, the Roadrunners stifled any offense by Springfield and the game wound up in another loss for the Jr. Blues. Topeka dominated the shooting again, this time 20 shots to Springfield's 3.
I was really surprised to see how timid and tentative the Jr. Blues played for the first and third periods. Topeka is a strong and resilient team. They are also a beatable team, as the Jr. Blues beat them a few times last year. There just wasn't enough energy for the home team in the first and last periods. The Jr. Blues are doing the little things right most of the time. There were a few communication mixups that left you scratching your head as a few passes that should have been easy found themselves intercepted. If there are visual cues being given off, it's giving an extra half-stride to some of the Roadrunners, as they found themselves in the right place at the right time for those passes.
I saw two bright spots for the team besides Kyle Cook's last-minute goal: defenseman Ben Kramer and forward Dominic Valencia. Kramer had two great charges deep into Topeka's zone during line changes that resulted in shots on goal. Instead of just dumping the puck into the zone on a line change, he applied pressure and kept Topeka players swarming him the entire time of his drives. Valencia managed to skate against the flow of the game for two good breakaways in the second and third periods. With luck, the Jr. Blues will be able to build on these two players and start their winning streak back up. They have to find their aggressive side again. Stewart Bell cannot be the only purveyor of ill humor on the team. That's too much for one player to do on his own.
The Jr. Blues play Topeka again November 5 at the Nelson Center in Springfield. The promotion for the 5th is Jr. Blues mug night. The first 500 fans receive a Jr. blues coffee mug. Need coffee? Got 8 bucks? Come in to Springfield tomorrow night! The puck drops at 7pm, gate opens at 6pm. And for those of you on Twitter, watch me "race" the Jr. Blues' Twitter account (@Jr_Blues) to see who puts up the game info first. I'll be trying to remember the #bloozocky tag for the games as well. Until next time, Let's Go Blues!