Read the full NAHL Weekly Release.
Losers of four straight games, the Alpena IceDiggers came back to life last weekend with a morale-inspiring two-game sweep over the Motor City Machine.
“Obviously, it was big for us to break out of that slump. That and the fact that every aspect of our game was struggling,” said IceDiggers assistant coach Josh Harrold, whose team improved to 22-15-5 on the season. “It was nice to get back on track.”
Erik Peterson’s third-period goal lifted the IceDiggers to a 5-4 victory on Friday. Peterson also chipped in two assists, and Ryan Timar (goal, assist), Sam Cheraso (goal, assist) and Jay Camper (two assists) each recorded two-point nights. Nick Graves turned aside 20 shots to pick up the win in goal.
The next night, four different players lit the lamp for Alpena as it doubled up the Machine, 4-2. Adam Bristol connected for the game-winning marker, and Graves made 18 saves.
“We played better defensively and, because of that, we created more opportunities offensively,” said Harrold.
And Peterson took advantage. The 20-year-old from Alpena put home a goal and three assists last weekend to lead the team’s offensive charge.
“It was nice to get Erik back on track,” said Harrold of his team’s leading scorer, now in his fourth season with the IceDiggers. “He’s struggled to find his scoring touch recently. Hopefully, it stays around.”
A mainstay between the IceDiggers’ pipes, Graves also rebounded last weekend, picking up his 17th and 18th wins of the season to go along with a 2.59 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage.
“Nick has been good all season, but, like everyone else around here, he’s been struggling lately,” said Harrold of the 20-year-old keeper from Hewitt, Wis. “It was good to see him bounce back, too.”
Veteran defensemen Ryan Sell, Jerrod Hartman and JC Gulch also put forth better efforts last weekend, as did first-year blueliners Jason Souva, Bristol and Scott Eberline.
Offensively, Tyler Pilmore, John Fritsche, Andy Yarber and Jim McCusker have delivered with consistency all season, with Camper and Timar and Cheraso and Jordan Miller working well together on their respective lines. Mike DeGrazia has also proved his worth, connecting for some big goals lately.
The IceDiggers also got a big boost upfront with the recent additions Jon Puskar and Richard Manley, both of whom were acquired from the USHL’s Lincoln Stars. Puskar, who played for Alpena last season, tallied a goal and an assist in his first two games last weekend; Manley picked up an assist.
“These two guys will bring some much-needed leadership and offense to our team, which we’ve struggled with in recent weeks,” said Harrold. “Their arrival should help spark some of our other players, which it seemed to do last weekend.”
Given the strength of the NAHL’s North Division, the IceDiggers knew they’d have a fight on their hands in their quest for a playoff berth. Sitting in third place behind the division-leading Mahoning Valley Phantoms and the second-place Traverse City North Stars, Alpena is taking nothing for granted with 16 games left in its regular season.
“We’re right where we thought we’d be, chasing Mahoning Valley and Traverse City,” said Harrold. “Every game, with the exception of a few, have been decided by one-goal, and we don't see that changing down the stretch. There are no easy games in our division.”
And Harrold likes the character of his team, especially when times get tough. That trait could pay dividends as the postseason nears.
“We have a great dressing room,” he said. “These guys stick together through adversity and we believe that unity we help them achieve their goal of making the playoffs,” he said.
“If we play like a team and are willing to pay the ultimate price shift by shift, game by game, we have a chance to win, just like everybody else.”
The IceDiggers don’t have any players committed to Division I schools just yet, but, with a strong finish and a meaningful playoff run, Harrold is confident that will change.
“We have players who’ve made great improvements this season and we’ve had conversations with a lot of (college) coaches,” said the coach. “A lot of our guys know they’re being watched and some don't know they’re being watched.
“Regardless, we anticipate many of our players to make commitments soon.”
AROUND THE NAHL
ALASKA AVALANCHE: Kyle Pichler picked up two assists in the Avs’ only game of the week, a 4-3 shootout win over Wichita Falls on Tuesday.
ALBERT LEA THUNDER: Niko Kapetanovic and Mikita Feaktsistau scored the Thunder’s only goals as it dropped two games to Alexandria and North Iowa.
ALEXANDRIA BLIZZARD: Goaltender Ryan Leets, a Michigan native who played in last month’s Top Prospects Tournament, has committed to Army (Atlantic Hockey) for next season.
ALPENA ICEDIGGERS: The IceDiggers play 11 of their final 16 regular-season games on the road.
BISMARCK BOBCATS: David Bosner was named the NAHL/GDI Goaltender of the Month for January after posting a perfect 5-0 record, including two 33-save shutouts, to compliment a 1.00 goals-against average and a .967 save percentage in five appearances.
FAIRBANKS ICE DOGS: The Ice Dogs will host the first-ever USA Hockey-sanctioned outdoor junior game this Friday (Feb. 13) against Alaska.
KENAI RIVER BROWN BEARS: Nevada native Kyle Clay struck for two goals, including the game-winner, and two assists in the Brown Bears’ 4-3 triumph over Wichita Falls on Saturday.
MAHONING VALLEY PHANTOMS: Jordan Tibbett backstopped the Phantoms to a pair of wins over Traverse City, allowing only two goals against. “As usual, Jordan was stellar for us between the pipes when we needed big wins,” said head coach Bob Mainhardt.
MARQUETTE RANGERS: Idle last weekend, the Rangers host a three-game set with Mahoning Valley beginning on Thursday. Eleven of Marquette’s final 14 regular-season games are at home.
MOTOR CITY MACHINE: The Machine traded forward Josh Bussell to Mahoning Valley for first-year defenseman Dustin Hopfner, an 19-year-old from East Pointe, Mich.
NORTH IOWA OUTLAWS: Forward Dan Durham, recently acquired from the USHL’s Fargo Force, recorded an assist in his first game win the Outlaws on Saturday (a 7-2 win over Alexandria). The Chicago native is committed to the Air Force Academy.
OWATONNA EXPRESS: Dan Cecka tallied a pair of goals as the Express fell to Bismarck in a shootout on Friday, 4-3. He has 15 points (seven goals) in his first 10 games with the team.
SPRINGFIELD JR. BLUES: Top Prospects Tournament participant Trent Frey, the league’s leading goal-scorer, has committed to Mercyhurst College (Atlantic Hockey) for the 2010-11 season.
ST. LOUIS BANDITS: Goaltender Keith Kinkaid picked up his league-leading 23rd win of the season in the Bandits’ 4-1 victory over Springfield on Sunday (22 saves).
TOPEKA ROADRUNNERS: Travis Stevens, Alec Hagaman and Andy Inderieden scored all three RoadRunners goals as they dropped two games to Springfield.
TRAVERSE CITY NORTH STARS: Phil Wendecker potted the overtime game-winner in the North Stars’ 6-5 victory over Mahoning Valley on Saturday.
TEAM USA: The Under-18 Team captured its third straight first-place finish at the Five Nations Tournament in Sweden, while the Under-17 Team took first place at the Vlad Dzurilla Under-18 Tournament in Slovakia.
WENATCHEE WILD: The Wild acquired forward Mitch Torrel from Albert Lea. The 18-year-old who played in last month’s NAHL Top Prospects Tournament recorded an assist in Wenatchee’s 3-2 overtime win over Fairbanks on Saturday.
WICHITA FALLS WILDCATS: With a 2-1-1 record last week, the Wildcats wrapped up their six-game trip to Alaska with a 2-3-1 mark. Goaltender Phil Graveline picked up two of those wins last week over Kenai River, stopping 82 of 85 shots.