South Division Report: Roster moves pay dividends for Tornado
by Zach Duncan | NAHL.com
Tony Curtale said he hasn’t made many moves in past seasons.
But after a 2-2-3 start, the Texas Tornado head coach felt that changes needed to be made, especially in the goaltending department.
So Curtale was quite busy last week, acquiring three impact players in separate trades in an effort to give his roster a boost.
“I felt we had outplayed every team we had played,” Curtale said. “We had an issue with goaltending, but I felt good with how we’d been playing. We just weren’t getting results.”
The initial aftereffects can’t be argued with. The Tornado spoiled Topeka’s home-opening weekend with a sweep, edging the Roadrunners 3-2 in overtime Friday and claiming a 2-0 victory the next night.
Curtale’s biggest acquisition was goaltender Jimmy Kruger, who was attained from Alexandria in a trade that happened on Friday.
Kruger’s debut in a Tornado sweater couldn’t have gone better, as he stopped all 20 shots he faced for his first NAHL shutout the next day.
“He had an excellent Minnesota high school career, and he’s big and pretty athletic,” Curtale said of Kruger. “We hope he can continue on the line of great goaltenders we’ve had here.”
Kruger wasn’t the only player the Tornado picked up last week. Forwards Nathan Sliwinski (from Wenatchee) and Josh Royston (Kenai River) are a couple of 1990-born veterans who combined to rack up 31 goals in the NAHL last season.
Royston scored Saturday’s first goal almost eight minutes in before Jack Prince cemented the outcome with a tally late in the third period.
Ralfs Freibergs and Tyler Rostenkowski are two defensemen Curtale has been pleased with, but the Tornado’s biggest breakout player this season has been forward Rock Einersen.
No one in the NAHL has registered more points than Einersen’s 17, and his 10 goals trail Fairbanks’ J.T. Osborn by one for the league lead. Einersen scored all three goals in Friday’s win, including the game-winner 42 seconds into overtime.
“He did well for us last year, too, but there’s a difference between rookie good versus veteran good,” Curtale said. “We knew he had a lot of talent. He came in here stronger and he has fantastic skill - Division I (skill) for sure.”
There was one downside to the Tornado’s weekend in Kansas. Captain David Rigatti broke his foot when he blocked a shot, and J.D. Howard went down with a shoulder injury.
Both are expected to miss the next 4-6 weeks, but Curtale doesn’t expect his team to miss a beat.
“We have good leadership in the locker room,” Curtale said. “When one guy goes down, the rest of the team knows it has got to step up.”
AMARILLO BULLS: Through their first nine games, the Bulls have not trailed after the first or second periods, the only NAHL team that can make that claim. Amarillo, which is tied for the division lead with 15 points, has killed off 26 of its last 27 penalties.
CORPUS CHRISTI ICE RAYS: More than 3,000 fans came to the American Bank Center to witness the NAHL’s debut in Corpus Christi. The IceRays responded with a 4-3 victory over Wichita Falls that was capped off by Beau Walker’s clinching goal in the sixth round of a shootout.
NEW MEXICO MUSTANGS: Kevin O’Connor and Jimmy Peplinski scored first-period goals for the Mustangs Friday. New Mexico didn’t find the back of the net after that against Amarillo, but it wasn’t for a lack of opportunities. The Mustangs’ final 49 shots in the series were stopped.
TOPEKA ROADRUNNERS: Michael Hill’s game-tying goal forced overtime Friday in Topeka’s home debut against Texas, but the Roadrunners lost in the extra session, 3-2. Topeka also had three first-period shots bang off pipes in a 2-0 loss Saturday, which was Texas’ first regulation win in Kansas since the team moved to Topeka in 2007, a span of 15 games.
WICHITA FALLS WILDCATS: After scoring three goals in 31 games for the Wildcats last season, Sean Keane matched that total in a 20-minute span with a hat trick in Saturday night’s 8-4 victory over Corpus Christi. Keane, the South Player of the Week, now has a team-high seven goals this season.