The Springfield Jr. Blues returned to the Nelson Center to start 2012 against a non-divisional opponent, the North Division's Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings. This is Kalamazoo's first season back in the NAHL after a long absence. They last fielded an NAHL team (the Jr. Wings, now in Aberdeen, SD) in the 1993-94 season, which also happens to be the Springfield Jr. Blues' inaugural season. The 12-20-2 Jr. Blues were left reeling from last week's losses to Topeka, while the 18-12-1 Jr. K-Wings were coming off of an 8-2 win against the Michigan Warriors. The home team managed to not only come back from a 0-2 deficit after two periods, but also managed to beat the pesky Jr. K-Wings in a six-round shootout.
The first period did not go well for the Jr. Blues as they were unable to score on power plays at 8:00 and 17:17. The Jr. K-Wings did manage to score twice: the first goal was an unassisted goal by Anthony Appleyard at 5:19. His goal came off of a redirected rebound and found an open net before new Jr. Blues goalie Gabe Antoni could scramble to his blocker side. The scoring went dormant until 18:01 when Kalamazoo's Jacob McDowell managed a shorthanded goal in a similar manner. Most of the fans stayed put in their seats, figuring it was going to be one of those nights. Despite the Jr. Blues outshooting the Jr. K-Wings 7-6, they had nothing to to show.
The second period had no scoring, due to the Jr. Blues speeding up a little. The biggest weapon in both teams' arsenals wasn't any nasty slap shots or deft wristers, but the poke check. The major drives to each team's net started with a simple poke check. Springfield went onto the penalty kill twice and was successful both times. Kalamazoo goalie Alex Okicki prevented a successful goal by kicking the net off its moorings during a Springfield drive while the officials were otherwise distracted. He paid for that by being run twice by Tyler Rehm and Guan Wang. The run by Wang caused Okicki to reconsider his ways, as his shoulder and head got driven into the pipes. He was a little groggy after that. Shots on goal were 14-8 in favor of the Jr. Blues.
The third period saw people leaving early. Neither side scored in the first ten minutes and even I was thinking about leaving, having accepted the evening's game to be a loss. I'm glad I didn't; the Jr. Blues decided to even up the game in the last half of the third period. Kyle Cook fought his way through a scrum to get the Jr. Blues' first goal at 10:28, assisted by his blueliners Ben Kramer and Kevin Walters. The fans were treated to a second goal for Springfield by Jordan Johnson at 13:54. Johsnon made his debut for the Jr. Blues last night. Again, it was another scrum goal. The third ended and we were treated to some overtime. The shots for the third were 8-2 in favor of the Jr. K-Wings.
By this point I figured the Jr. Blues weren't going to settle for just the charity point. I was right. They spent about 4:45 of the five-minute overtime in the Jr. K-Wings' zone. How could you tell? The period ended with the Jr. Blues pummeling Okicki with shots. 18-1 was the shot total in favor of the Jr. Blues. Okicki has a good glove, but it seemed like the Jr. Blues were aiming a few shots at the goalie instead of through him.
So, now the dreaded shootout began. The last shootout for the Jr. Blues ended in a loss, so the fans were a little worried. After Kalamazoo's Andrew Graves scored and wasn't answered by Josef Pontasch, the fans got very quiet. Defenseman Kevin Walters evened it up for the Jr. Blues with a five-hole shot and the crowd exploded. Kyle Gattelaro scored for the Jr. K-Wings and was immediately answered by Mike Williams. The sixth and final round of the shootout featured Kalamazoo's Taylor Burden and recent Springfield acquisition Mitch Rogge. Rogge found the spot between Okicki's blocker and body and ended the game in favor of Springfield. The Jr. Blues' record went to 13-20-1 and the Jr. K-Wings went to 18-12-2. The Jr. Blues are now tied for third in the Midwest Division with the Coulee Region Chill.
Attendance was a very nice 1150. The next game in this two-game series is tonight at the Nelson Center in Springfield. The puck drops at 7pm. Tickets are $8.
For the local newspaper's recap, go here. It's nice to see the boys getting regular play in the news.