November has been unforgiving for the Jacksonville Icemen, and the trend continued Friday night as the team took on the Greenville Swamp Rabbits. Jacksonville came into the game Friday evening looking to rebound after a second 3-2 overtime loss at the hands of the South Carolina Stingrays Wednesday evening. Greenville entered the Friday night showdown looking to extend their win streak to three games, as the team defeated the Atlanta Gladiators and Savannah Ghost Pirates earlier in the week. The Icemen found ways to come alive, but the effort would still be fruitless in the end.
Things got off to a physical start in the first period of hockey. The Swamp Rabbits and the Icemen held nothing back when it came to laying on the body and establishing a strong presence on the ice. Icemen goaltender Matt Vernon put on a show, making a few key saves in the first period, but a Swamp Rabbits shot still found a way to get past him. The 1-0 tally for Greenville came with 3:43 remaining in the period and came off the stick of forward Jake Smith on a Swamp Rabbits powerplay.
Just 2:41 into the middle frame, the Swamp Rabbits would make it a 2-0 game. Defenseman Max Martin found an open seam on a pass from Jake Smith and fired it past Matt Vernon to give Greenville their second goal of the game. The Icemen refused to go out without a fight and defenseman Garrett Cockerill gave the team some energy to feed off of, drawing a roughing minor 7:39 into the period. His rowdy skirmish with Greenville forward Nick Prkusic proved successful in waking the team up, with Brendan Harris netting home a fantastic chance with 10:35 left to go in the second. Drawing the game closer with the 2-1 tally, the action would transform into a back-and-forth contest.
The Swamp Rabbits responded quickly with a goal from forward Josh McKechney to make it a 3-1 game, but the Icemen’s own response wouldn’t come too much later. Forward Matheson Iacopelli scored his sixth goal of the season just over a minute later to once again move the Icemen within one. It remained a 3-2 game until the dying seconds of the period when Greenville would find the net again on a shot from defenseman Wyatte Wylie to return the Swamp Rabbits to a two goal lead.
Chances would come in the third period for the Icemen but the team would fail to capitalize on all of them. Jacksonville received three powerplay chances in the final frame of hockey, though they struggled to get the special teams set-up in a timely manner. Although the team found a way to attack in bursts, it would be the Swamp Rabbits that scored the only goal of the third period. Forward Ethan Somoza put away the empty net goal with just 13 seconds remaining to give Greenville the 5-3 win.
Not So Special Teams:
With the exception of the first period, when shots were tied 14-14, the Icemen found ways to outshoot Greenville. Jacksonville ended the night with shots 31-41 in their favor. In net, Matt Vernon found ways to stop the bleeding while he stopped 26 of the 30 shots he faced. It was a solid effort from a team that’s experienced quite the onslaught of roster shake-ups early in the season. The troublesome aspect of the game remains the special teams units.
Greenville gave up five powerplay opportunities to the Icemen, and Jacksonville could not find a way to convert on any of those chances. Near the halfway mark of the third period, the Icemen had close to six minutes of uninterrupted powerplay time and still struggled to get the puck into the offensive zone and get set up. Once an offensive zone presence was established, the team did well to move the puck down low and make the crease a rather inhospitable place for Swamp Rabbits goaltender Ryan Bednard. However, the time it took the Icemen to get things in place in their offensive end wasted valuable time with the man advantage. In contrast, Jacksonville allowed Greenville four extra-man chances, and they scored on two of them. With plenty of chances to pull the game even, and take the lead, the missed opportunities on the powerplay are haunting.
When Garrett Cockerill ignited the team with his altercation with Greenville’s Nick Prkusic, the team looked as if they had the momentum shifting in the right direction. Although Greenville found a way to score the 3-2 goal during the midst of the wide-open action that came afterward, the team didn’t lose any steam.
If the Icemen capitalize on any of those extra powerplay chances in the third, the energy shifts entirely in their favor.
Not just the energy, but perhaps the end result would have been more favorable as well.
Now 10 points back of the first place Swamp Rabbits, the Icemen have some fine-tuning to do. The team has only won one game in their last seven contests. A large majority of those games could have otherwise turned out differently if the powerplay units produced points. By no means are opposing teams dealing blow-out losses to Jacksonville. The largest goal margin the Icemen have beat by is only three goals. The inability to consistently defend on the penalty kill and take advantage of the extra man is arguably the biggest self-imposed setback the team faces. In order to stand a fighting chance in the ECHL’s South Division, they will need to figure out ways to prevent leaving goals, and wins, on the table.
The Icemen have a chance to regain some ground when they take on the Swamp Rabbits for a second time this weekend on Saturday, November 18th.