The Springfield Jr. Blues have really turned a corner this year in terms of team quality. Last season the Jr. Blues had a hell of a time against the Bandits. The season series is 4-6-0 in favor of the Bandits. Tonight the Jr. Blues managed to beat the Bandits and bring the season series to 5-6-0.
The first period was played very tightly. Both teams kept up their aggression levels on the forecheck and backcheck, but the Bandits would end the first period outshooting the Jr. Blues 17-7. Neither team could take advantage of any of the penalties, either. Springfield's penalty kill unit was successful three times and St. Louis' PK worked for their one infraction. The first period ended with no score on either side.
The second period lit up the scoreboard. Josef Pontasch opened up the scoring for the Jr. Blues with his 24th goal of the year at 1:31. It took St. Louis almost ten minutes to respond when Frank Dichiara answered with a goal at 10:31. At 16:49 one of the fourth-line favorites, Tyler Rehm, tipped in a shot for his sixth goal of the season to break the tie and put Springfield up 2-1. Not to be outdone, Kyle Cook capitalized on a penalty by former Jr. Blue Taylor Wolfe at 18:23 to expand the Jr. Blues' lead to 3-1. Cook's power play goal would be the only successful power play of the game, and was Cook's 30th of the season.
Rehm's tip-in was a textbook example of how a team's big man should play around the crease at the junior level. At 6'4" and 223 pounds, Rehm is often found making sure that no one takes advantage of the rest of the team, a duty shared by Springfield's captain, Stewart Bell. It's fun to watch the grinders play their game. Much like the St. Louis Blues, the Jr. Blues fourth line does everything it can to provide checks, wear down the first line and keep the puck in the opponents' defensive zone. Rehm's physical presence provides the muscle for his linemates Bell and Brett Skibba. He also racks up penalty minutes along with Bell as the primary fighters of the team. Fortunately for both teams, no one decided to drop the gloves tonight. Playoffs are just around the corner for both teams, so no one wants to be the guy who missed a scoring opportunity right now.
The third period of the game got off to an auspicious start at 0:37 with Ethan Nauman scoring his 19th goal of the season. The Bandits took less time after that goal to answer when Joe Kalisz scored at 3:28. For the last five minutes of the third period the Bandits spent most of their time with an empty net. Kalisz scored again at 16:38 bringing the Bandits dangerously close to tying the game. For the rest of the game the Bandits stayed with an extra attacker and kept the Jr. Blues from being able to score any empty-net goals.
Springfield goalie Gabe Antoni blocked 46 of 49 shots by St. Louis. In contrast, St. Louis goalie Tyler Green stopped 24 of 28 shots. The Bandits racked up 24 shots on goal in the third period alone. It was a busy night at the net for Antoni, but he held on for the win.
Total attendance for the night was 1,115.
The next game is March 24th at 7pm at the Nelson Center. It's College Commitment Recognition night for the players and also Billet Recognition Night, honoring the families who spend six to eight months of the year with an extra person added to their family. The billet families do great work in ensuring that the boys get the stability they need to keep playing at high levels. Junior hockey would be much tougher without them.
Tickets are available at the box office next to the front entrance of the Nelson Center. The cost is $8 for adults and $5 for kids and seniors.
ALSO: Playoff tickets are available for the Jr. Blues' first playoff home game on Friday, April 13. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for kids and seniors. They'll have already played two playoff games in Janesville, so let's hope the boys representing Springfield can make their first home game the one that sweeps the Jets out of contention.