Read the full NAHL Weekly Release.
After completing a two-game sweep of the Southern Minnesota Express last weekend, the Springfield Jr. Blues find themselves all alone in second place in the NAHL's Central Division standings.
"This is already turning out to be a very tight and competitive division where any team is capable of winning on any given night," said Jr. Blues coach Chris Wyler, whose team upped its record to 9-7-1 on the season. "These divisional games are extremely important and you have to take advantage of these opportunities to make some ground up in the standings."
Trailing 4-2 entering the third period on Friday, the Jr. Blues rallied to a 6-5 triumph highlighted by Kyle Greco's hat trick in the final stanza. Steve Mohler added two goals – one in the third-period comeback - and two assists in the victory, while goaltender Phil Cook turned aside 20 shots.
On Saturday, Mohler struck for two more goals, including the game-winner, as Springfield doubled up the Express, 6-3. Jared Rickord chipped in a goal and two assists, and Cook stopped 27 shots between the pipes.
"I thought we executed our systems well as a whole and, for the most part, limited our mistakes," said Wyler. "We really felt that we played five-out-of-six solid periods of hockey in the two-game set, which is something we've been struggling with this season."
After winning the NAHL Showcase Tournament with a perfect 4-0 record, the Jr. Blues have been plagued by inconsistency, failing to win back-to-back games before its sweep of the Express last weekend.
"We had a very strong start the season, but, as a team, we didn't handle the success very well," said Wyler. "We realized that we needed to refocus what our goals were and not to hang our hat on what we accomplished at the Showcase. But it's a long season and there are always peaks and valleys."
One Jr. Blue who has avoided any semblance of a slump is Greco, whose heroics in the third period on Friday drew plenty of praise from his coach.
"He had one of the best periods of hockey he's played for us as a Jr. Blue," Wyler said of the 19-year-old from Illinois. "He's been one of our most consistent players all year and a tremendous asset to the team. I can't say enough about Kyle's play so far this season."
With four goals and two assists last weekend, Mohler didn't disappoint, either. Returning to the lineup after missing the previous 13 games with mononucleosis, the 20-year-old from Anaheim, Calif., now has five goals for eight points in only four games this season.
"Steve has the ability to be a difference-maker in a game," said Wyler. "He has great on-ice awareness and vision. Combine that with his natural goal-scoring ability and he's a guy we need in the lineup every night."
In addition to Greco, a number of Jr. Blues veterans have been producing plenty of offense, among them Cory Patterson, Matt Larke, Matt Globke and Jon Gaffney.
Defensively, Taylor Kennedy has impressed on the penalty-killing unit, while Tim Niedzielak, Rich Zobak and Dan Weiss have also been solid in their own end.
Rickord, a first-year forward from Illinois who has seven goals for 18 points, and rookie defenseman Darren Rowe, another California native who leads the team in scoring with 21 points in four goals, have wasted no time making an impact in the NAHL.
Until last weekend, the Jr. Blues have been rotating Cook and Ales Sila in the crease. It was Cook's play the past couple of weeks that earned him the opportunity to start both games last weekend, according to Wyler.
"He's been very consistent and has given us a chance to win every night and, as a coach, that's all you can ask for," said the coach.
With an emphasis on consistent efforts, the Jr. Blues are hoping to ride their recent wave of success into next weekend when South Division giant Wichita Falls rolls into Springfield for a two-game set.
"I don't think as a coach you're ever satisfied, but putting things in to perspective, I think we're where we thought we'd be at this point in the season," said Wyler. "Our goal and main focus as a team is to get better each week and for the most part we have been.
"Sometimes you have to take a step back to take two steps forward. Consistency is what we're really trying to achieve at this point in the season."
AROUND THE NAHL
MAROON SIGNS WITH FLYERS: 2007 NAHL Most Valuable Player Pat Maroon (St. Louis, 2005-07) has signed with the Philadelphia Flyers. The 19-year-old was selected by Philadelphia in the sixth round (161st overall) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
ON THE BOARD: First-year Mahoning Valley forward Nick Kenney, 19, potted his first two goals of the season in the Phantoms' 5-3 win over division-leading St. Louis on Friday. "Nick has been working real hard," Phantoms coach-GM Bob Mainhardt said. "We're really proud of him, he deserved that. I was just real happy to see his hard work come to fruition."
MIGHTY MOSS: North Iowa goaltender Robby Moss, 20, continued his brilliance between the pipes last weekend, recording a pair of shutouts against Fargo-Moorhead (52 saves). "Robby is playing great this season," said Outlaws coach Dave Boitz. "He's the goaltender we knew he was and playing to his potential."
ALL NATURAL: Wichita Falls forward Grant Everett, 20, struck for a natural hat trick in the Wildcats' 6-3 win over Texas on Saturday. "Grant is one of the best corner men in the league," said Wildcats coach-GM John Bowkus. "He wins every battle and is now finding his scoring touch around the net."
HAPPY CAMPER: Miami University forward Carter Camper (Cleveland Jr. Barons, 2004-06) was named the CCHA Rookie of the Month for October. The 19-year-old from Rocky River, Ohio scored three goals and five assists in six games for the month to tie for the CCHA scoring lead.
BIG BEN AGAIN: For the second week in a row, University of Maine junior goaltender Ben Bishop (Texas, 2004-05) was named the Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week after making 26 saves in a 1-1 tie with No. 5-ranked Boston College on Friday night.
STEPHENSON SHINES: Traverse City goaltender Brandon Stephenson, 19, turned aside 75 shots in a two-game split with the U.S. Under-18 Team, including a 34-save performance in the North Stars' 4-1 victory on Friday.