Read the full NAHL Weekly Release.
Mired in a five-game losing streak, the Southern Minnesota Express came to life last weekend with a pair of tightly contested victories over the Springfield Jr. Blues.
“Getting those wins down there was huge for us,” said Express coach-GM Matt Romaniski, whose team improved to 9-7-3 on the season. “Whenever you can stop a losing streak against a great team like Springfield on the road, that gives your players a great deal of confidence.”
C.J. Willms’ overtime goal lifted the Express to a 2-1 victory on Friday. Teddy Falk notched the other Southern Minnesota goal, while Scott Pederson stood tall between the pipes, making 53 saves.
The next night, Pederson saved the day again, turning aside 45 shots en route to another 2-1 Express triumph. Brian Arrigoni scored the game-winning goal, with Kyle Olson netting the other Southern Minnesota marker. Spencer McMillan assisted on both goals.
“When you play in a very competitive division, every game is a fight,” said Romaniski, whose club sits in third place in the NAHL’s Central Division with 21 points. “It takes everything you have to stay in the top four so winning two games against a team in your division is huge.
“But you can't look at the standings that much right now; you just have to take it one game at a time and hope to be in the top four at the end of the season.”
The Express’ penalty kill was flawless against Springfield last weekend, silencing a potent Jr. Blues power play both nights (0-for-20). Pederson, an Illinois native, was the difference.
“It didn't surprise me because of the week of practice Scott had leading up to the weekend - he looked really sharp,” said Romaniski. “Whenever you have a goalie that played that well (on Friday), confidence usually plays a huge part and you just knew he would come out big on Saturday.”
Willms also came up big, officially putting Southern Minnesota’s losing streak to bed with his overtime tally on Friday.
“That was clutch to say the least,” said Romaniski. “Right before he went on the ice in overtime, he looked at me and said, ‘Coach, I got your goal this shift.’ After he scored he came by the bench with a look like, ‘I told you so.’”
A third-year veteran, Willms, 20, has proved invaluable this season both in terms of offensive production – he’s second in team scoring with 16 points behind Ben Beaudoin – and leadership.
“We're lucky to have a player like C.J.,” said Romaniski. “He’s been the leader of this team, both on and off the ice. He knows the layout of the NAHL and brings a lot of knowledge to the younger guys.”
Romaniski also praised the play of Falk and McMillan, two first-year players who are still working towards a consistent spot in the lineup.
“Those guys had great weekends,” said the coach. “It was nice to see them step up in two tough-played games.”
The Express has been battling consistency this season, losing all four games at the NAHL Showcase Tournament to start the year before winning seven out of eight. Then came the five-game skid leading up to last weekend.
“It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far, so the team was excited to get to Springfield and get a winning streak going again,” said Romaniski.
“Springfield was where we got our first two wins of the season, so we knew we could go down there and win. In my mind, Springfield is one of the top teams in the league, so hopefully we take out of the series that we can play with anybody.”
Romaniski is also encouraged by the interest a number of his players are receiving from Division I programs.
“We preach to our players to go out play as a team, improve weekly - as a team and individually - and reach our ultimate goal of making it to St. Louis (for the national tournament) at the end of the year.
“If we can have success in those areas, hopefully colleges will recognize the talent on this team, and many of our players will have the chance to play college hockey.
“I think if, as a team, we can win and improve in the standings, guys will start getting offers.”
The Express tangles with the Jr. Blues again this weekend, this time in Owatonna, Minn., at Four Seasons Centre.
“As we move forward, we need to do a better job of staying consistent and improving every week,” said Romaniski. “Our ultimate goal is to be playing our best hockey at the end of the season.”
AROUND THE NAHL
EXPRESS NAMES ASSISTANT COACH: Southern Minnesota named Dan Peters as an assistant coach. A former standout defenseman at Colorado College (WCHA) from 1996-2000, the St. Paul, Minn., native ended his professional career in 2005.
WORLD JUNIOR BOUND: North Iowa forward Krystian Dziubinski (Poland), Topeka forward Dariusz Gruszka (Poland) and Springfield defenseman Klemen Sodrznik (Slovenia) will compete for their respective countries in next month’s World Junior Championship.
PETERSON KEEPS ROLLING: Alpena forward Erik Peterson, 19, continues to lead the IceDiggers’ offensive charge with two more goals last weekend in a two-game split with Marquette. “Erik has been a force all year,” said IceDiggers coach-GM Kenny Miller. “He deserves the success he’s having.”
MORE FROM MORIN: U.S. National Under-17 Team forward Jeremy Morin, 16, posted two goals and two assists last weekend in a two-game split at North Division-leading St. Louis. “Jeremy had a great weekend for us,” said U.S. coach Ron Rolston. “He’s been an offensive force all season and his three points were a key in our win on Saturday night (7-3).”
LINE OF FIRE: North Iowa’s line of Shea Walters, 19, Max Mobley, 20, and Bryant Skarda, 20, factored in five of the nine goals scored by the Outlaws last weekend in a two-game sweep of Fargo-Moorhead. “They played really well and moved the puck which created chances,” said Outlaws coach Dave Boitz.
AVALANCHE STREAKING: Alaska has rolled of five wins in row, thanks in part to goaltender Dusan Sidor’s 39-save performance in a 6-3 win over Kenai River on Saturday. “He was really on his game that night,” Avalanche coach-GM Jamie Smith said of the 20-year-old.
BOBCATS HEATING UP: Bismarck has now won three games in a row after a two-game sweep of Alexandria last weekend. Tye Lewis, 18, contributed three goals and an assist (he was also a plus-3) in the victories.
JETS PICK UP NIEDZIELAK: Fargo-Moorhead acquired second-year-defenseman Tim Niedzielak, 19, from Springfield. The Chicago native has a goal for four points after 15 games this season. “Tim is a big, physical defenseman who blocks shots and when he’s on the ice, other teams are aware of it,” said Jets coach Chad Johnson.