North Division Report: Springfield rebounds after shaky start
by Lance-Michael Correia | NAHL.com
The Springfield Jr. Blues haven’t changed their game - the game has come to them.
Since starting the season 0-6, the Jr. Blues have ascended the NAHL North Division standings, winning six of eight games since a league Showcase drought in mid-September.
Springfield claimed two of three games last weekend against visiting Janesville and presently sits in a third-place tie in the division.
“To be honest, we’re playing the exact same game, going about our business the exact same way,” said Jr. Blues head coach Andy Maher. “We had a few unfortunate results at the Showcase. We played very well Thursday, Friday and Saturday, we just couldn’t get the puck to go in. We felt we actually should have come away from it 3-1.
“Now, we’re still plugging away and finally getting those pucks to go in, and, as a result, we’ve won some hockey games.”
The Jr. Blues began to right the proverbial ship with a three-game sweep over the Michigan Warriors at McMorran Arena on Sept. 24-26. Ethan Nauman struck for the shootout session game-winner in the finale.
After splitting a home-and-home series with perennial junior powerhouse St. Louis in the interim, Springfield bounced back from last Friday’s opening 4-1 setback with subsequent 5-2 and 4-1 victories over the Jets.
“The key for us has been puck management,” Maher explained. “Coming through the neutral zone, getting the soft chips - we aren’t the kind of team that looks to get into a run-and-gun kind of game. We get the puck in deep and go hard.”
Nauman, who also logged Sunday’s game-winner, is tops among Blues skaters with 20 points over 14 outings. His 13 assists are second in the NAHL. The Mosinee, Wis. product has seven points in his last five contests.
“Ethan’s a very good skater, possesses great speed, and has tremendous skill,” Maher opined. “But his biggest asset is his hockey sense. He finds himself in the soft spots, puts himself where he needs to be, and goes places and does things that other players at this level aren’t always willing to.”
Red Bank, N.J., native Jack Callahan, a Quinnipiac University (Atlantic Hockey) recruit, anchors the Springfield blue line, but his offensive contributions have also been a key ingredient in the Blues’ resurgence.
“Without a doubt,” added Maher. “Jack’s one of our captains, our leaders, and he brings top-end game every single night. He has dynamic offensive ability, and can play both ends of the rink at a high level.”
Maher and his Jr. Blues will take their show on the road for nine of their next 11 games, beginning with a three-game weekend set against Traverse City at Centre ICE Arena this weekend. Trips to Chicago, St. Louis and Port Huron follow.
Maher says he knows the value of each intradivisional showdown in the new standing-room-only, eight-team North.
“I think what it does is make every game against the North teams just that much more important to win,” said the coach. “There really isn’t a lot of room for error with so many quality teams. So far, I think we’re above .500, so we’ll just try to keep building on that.”
JANESVILLE JETS: When Traverse City visits on Oct. 23, it’ll mark a long-awaited return to the Janesville Ice Arena for the Jets. With road trips to Springfield and Motor City and this weekend’s clean slate wedged between homestands, first-place Janesville will spend the next two weekends in familiar confines.
MICHIGAN WARRIORS: The first-year Warriors scored their first road victory with a 1-0 shutout of Chicago on Friday, and completed the club’s first sweep with a thrilling 6-5 shootout win the following night at West Meadows. Seven different Warriors scored over the course of the weekend, including Scott Henegar’s lone shootout tally on Saturday.
MOTOR CITY METAL JACKETS: After enjoying a weekend respite from game action, the Jackets will spend the rest of October in an unofficial Southeastern Michigan round robin with geographic rivals Port Huron and Flint-based Michigan. Even after being idle over the weekend, Motor City winger Cody Wydo is still third in the league with nine goals.
PORT HURON FIGHTING FALCONS: The club recently unveiled an important member of their starting lineup: “Shootsy,” the team’s avian mascot. Sponsored by area restaurateur Casey Harris, the character has skated at the Falcons’ two home series.
ST. LOUIS BANDITS: The team’s annual Hockey for Life charity game is scheduled for Nov. 13. The event, which benefits the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Foundation in its quest to outfit all cruisers with camera systems, will feature a St. Louis Blues Alumni game, followed by the Bandits-Motor City showdown. Iraq war veteran Joe Haman, an officer in the city’s Fifth District, will serve as guest of honor.
TRAVERSE CITY NORTH STARS: The North Stars scored a pair of goals in a span of just 44 seconds and added an empty-netter in the final seconds to escape Port Huron with a 5-3 victory on Saturday, completing a sweep in the club’s first-ever visit to McMorran Arena. Michael Szmatula scored three goals and assisted on another en route to North Division Player of the Week honors.