Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, September 1 and 2, saw the Springfield Jr. Blues defeat the NA3HL's Peoria Mustangs in a sound manner. It gave the Jr. Blues a good warmup and showcased the differences between the talent levels of both leagues. The NAHL is a Tier II Junior A league and the NA3HL is a Tier III Junior A League. The NAHL has players of a higher talent level and it certainly showed in both games.
Game 1 of the series was played before a crowd of 1175 fans. The Jr. Blues won 6-0, scoring two goals per period and generally getting the team to act cohesively. Returning forward Brett Skibba opened up the scoring on the Mustangs with a goal at 1:20, assisted by his fellow veteran Mitch Rogge in a show of flair. The newcomers to the team made their presence known as defenseman Jack Sloan scored at 12:49, with Pleasant Plains' own Trevor Stone getting the assist. (Pleasant Plains is a few miles up the road from Springfield to the point where they're almost a suburb. Let's hope that doesn't happen for Plains' sake.) In the second period, Parker Johnson scored at 5:38. And Mitch Rogge followed him up at 7:08 with a goal of his own. By the third period, the Mustangs had switched goalies to try and stop the bleeding. It didn't help as Brett Skibba rang the posts early for his second of the game (I did not write the time down for some reason) and took the Jr. Blues to a 5-0 win. Neither team was able to capitalize on the numerous penalties until 10:58 in the 3rd when Springfield's Hunter Wilhoite scored a power play goal and put the Jr. Blues up 6-0 on the Mustangs.
Game 2 looked to be slightly different for the boys as Peoria took the ice with aggression early in the first period. Defenseman Nikolas Sakellaropolous scored at 5:53 to give the Mustangs an early lead. This would be the only goal for the Mustangs as Springfield answered with twelve goals in the remaining 54 minutes. Jack Sloan scored at 11:48 (Stone assisting), then Brett Skibba showed up again at 12:59 and 13:58 to put the Jr. Blues up 3-1 at the end of the first period. Skibba scored again early in the second to get himself a natural hat trick, followed up less than a minute later by a goal from Nick Anderson to put the Jr. Blues up 5-1. Anderson scored again at 8:58 to increase the score to 6-1. Thanks to proper positioning on the blueline, Theo Tydingco, fired off a beautiful one-timer to make the score 7-1. Tydingco is Springfield's shortest defenseman and thus as a fellow short defenseman I shall cheer for him loudly. Mike Serverson made it 8-1 at 12:18 in the second, followed by a beauty of a wrister from Trevor Stone at 16:12, a solid goal by Mitch Rogge at 18:44, and a 5-hole dribbler from Mike Fazio at 19:41.
Yes, it was 11-1 at the end of the second period. There were twenty minutes left, the Mustangs weren't just on the ropes, they were one with the ropes at that point. Since there's no mercy rule in hockey, I propose another rule: if your team is losing by ten or more goals before the third period starts, you get half-price beer until the concession closes. That seems fair to me. The third period started and the Jr. Blues let up a little on the Mustangs. The only goal of the third period came from Brett Skibba at 5:38 for his fourth of the game. The way he played, I was expecting the dreaded "Ovechtrick." The game ended with the Jr. Blues winning soundly 12-1. Most of the 874 fans left happy. Peoria's fans left pretty quietly. I won't rip them. Their boys played hard but got outclassed. There was no quit in them.
The Jr. Blues showed the difference between Tier II and Tier III talent levels. I shudder to think what the score would be between the Jr. Blues and a USHL team if the difference between Tier I and Tier II is similar to what we saw. The geographical makeup of the team is also rather interesting: 7 players are from California, 8 players are from Illinois, there is one player each from Indiana, Tennessee, Arizona and Ohio. From the "traditional" hockey states, there are two from Wisconsin, one from Minnesota, and one from New York. Finally, we have another foreign player this year, defenseman Alex Baskakov from Ufa, Russia. It amazes me how many players have shown up from the non-traditional markets (i.e., where high school hockey is treated like Texas treats high school football) this season. The boys also seem to be working well together.
This year has a big difference in concessions. Food is provided from the automobile and race-themed Quaker Steak and Lube. Nachos are provided in large buckets, hamburgers, pulled pork sandwiches and hot dogs fill out the rest of the menu. It's pricier than last year's pizza, but not by much. If it took two slices of pizza to fill you up before the game, you just spent the same amount on a pulled pork sandwich which will also fill you up before the game. The nachos will take care of two or three kids. Beer selection at the game was Kraftig, Stag, Coors Light, Corona, Blue Moon, PBR, and Coors. I don't think the beer selection is completely done yet, as I didn't see any Miller Lite, Molson Canadian or Killian's Red.
The next games for the Jr. Blues will be at the Nelson Center in Springfield, Illinois on Friday and Saturday nights at 7pm. Their opponents will be the University of Illinois Fighting Illini. The older players may give the boys a greater challenge this time around, so I'm not expecting to see two blowouts against them. It's free to get in, so bring the kids. Once the regular season starts, tickets will be $10 for adults, kids under 18 will be $5, seniors over 65 will be $5, and veterans get in for $5 as well. (As always, in the interest of full disclosure, I am only a season-ticket holder for the team and do not hold any kind of position within the team staff. I get no remuneration for advertising the games or bringing more people to the games.)
Please come on over and enjoy the best junior hockey in central Illinois. I think you'll find it worth the trip.