ECHL: Icemen Weekend Recap – Divisional Dubs

Andrew Fielder for Inside The RInk

Following a win on the road in Atlanta on Tuesday and a shutout loss at home on Wednesday night, the Jacksonville Icemen battled it out with a pair of divisional opponents this weekend. The team’s had a rather rocky time on home ice in the month of November, only picking up a win in one of the previous seven games at home. After a Thanksgiving Day trade that sent a top-scoring forward to Indy further blended an already shaken-up roster, the Icemen needed to respond with urgency and begin righting the ship. Friday and Saturday’s home games saw the team take on two in-conference divisional rivals for an opportunity to shake the demons that have been plaguing them in their own building. With some genuine Jacksonville Icemen tenacity, the group was able to grind out two critical wins on home turf and pick up three of the four available points on the board in the standings.

Scorecard Snapshot:

vs. Florida Everblades 11/24: 1-2 W (OT)
It took an extra period to do it, but the Icemen battled the in-state rival Florida Everblades for a win Friday night. The Icemen’s defense was on display as the Everblades out-shot the Icemen in every period, finishing the night having 34 shots to Jacksonville’s 15. Still, Icemen goaltender Matt Vernon was unforgiving in the crease, working hard to limit rebound chances. Vernon, backstopping the team on the first night of the back-to-back homestand, stopped 33 of 34 shots, finishing the night with a.970 save percentage. The offensive chances the Icemen were able to produce were high-quality chances, with one in particular coming on a shorthanded break. Drawing a penalty on the play, Craig Martin had a chance to put the Icemen on the board in the first period with the Icemen’s first penalty shot since December 26th, 2020. 

Though Martin’s efforts fell short, defenseman Jacob Panetta scored his second goal of the season, unassisted, for the Icemen’s only goal in regulation. Rookie skater Riley Fidler-Schultz nabbed the game-winner with 2:17 left to play in overtime. The overtime-winning goal is the second goal of the year for RFS as well, with assists coming from Christopher Brown and fellow rookie Logan Cockerill.

Vs. Savannah Ghost Pirates 11/25: 1-4 W
A far-from-lifeless contest with the Savannah Ghost Pirates resulted in a 4-1 win Saturday evening. The teams went into the third period still tied at zero, but spent the first 40 minutes of action trading paint along the boards. Physical play kept the teams plenty active, but both squads were unable to capitalize on their scoring chances in the first two periods. Jacksonville struggled to win puck battles along the boards and spent a lot of their time playing pucks in transition, unable to capitalize on solid scoring chances until the final frame of action.

In just 25 seconds, Jacksonville made it a 2-0 game when both Chris Grando and Craig Martin would register goals at 5:05 and 5:27 into the last period of play. Grando’s goal was his third of the season and was assisted by Dominick Mersch and defenseman Jeff Solow. Solow is currently with the team on loan from the Birmingham Bulls of the SPHL, as injuries and roster moves have the team working with a limited number of options on defense. Martin received help on his second goal of the season from defensemen Jacob Panetta and Ivan Chukarov. 

With the floodgates opened, Ivan Chukarov tacked on the third Icemen goal of the evening 12:52 into the period. Chukarov’s goal came with assists from Jacob Panetta and Chris Grando. Grando was the sole forward amongst the three Icemen players that had a two-point night Saturday; Panetta and Chukarov, the defensemen, joining him. Savannah found the back of the net just over two minutes later with a goal from blueliner Elijah Vilio to make the score 3-1. The Ghost Pirates pulled goaltender Kaden Fulcher with over three minutes remaining in the game, opting to use the extra skater in an attempt to close the gap. The empty net provided the Icemen with the 4-1 goal from forward Garrett Van Wyhe to lock in the second win in as many nights for the team on home ice.

How It Stands:

The Icemen moved to 7-6-2 on the season after picking up a pair of wins at home on Friday and Saturday. They currently sit in fourth place in the South division and eighth place in the Eastern Conference with 16 points. It’s a steep hill to climb to catch up to the division-leading Greenville Swamp Rabbits, who are now 14-2 on the year and possess 28 points in the standings. If the team can put together a string of wins here at the end of the month and into December, there is the potential to slim the gap and leapfrog into second place. There are, however, 57 more games left on the schedule, and a lot can change in the league in a short span of time. The Icemen by no means should be pushing the panic button, and home wins are a big step in the right direction when it comes to remaining in contention down the line.

Where the team can stand to improve remains on special teams. Friday night, the team got the man advantage twice and failed to score both times. That luck was mirrored on Saturday when the team went 0-for-3 against Savannah. Chances have come for Jacksonville’s powerplay unit, but the habit of endless cycling in an attempt to find an open lane often leaves scoring chances paralyzed. The penalty kill is coming together, however, and the team is 15th in the league with a 79.5% penalty kill effectiveness. The team looked much more in control on the PK during the weekend’s divisional match-ups, managing to hold both the Everblades and Ghost Pirates scoreless when they were skating with the extra man. In 5-on-5 play, the team could stand to play a bit more aggressively in one-on-one opportunities. The Icemen can press the play to the outside well but often end up on the losing side of puck battles. 

Icemen goaltender Matt Vernon. Credit: Andrew Willis/ITR

Goaltending continues to be the one thing the Icemen do well. Goalies Matt Vernon and Michael Houser have shared the bulk of the workload this season, with each netminder both picking up six starts. Houser looked solid in his Saturday night showdown versus Savannah, and with the win, he moved to 2-3-1 in net on the season. Matt Vernon’s numbers through his six first starts with the club are good enough to earn him 8th place amongst the league’s top goaltenders. His 4-2 record sees him boasting a .916 save percentage and a 2.33 goals-against average, placing him at the top of the Icemen’s goaltending group. Vernon has looked comfortable in the Icemen crease through his first 360 minutes between the pipes, and the team should feel confident in relying upon his skill moving forward.

The Icemen will be back in action on Wednesday, November 29th, against the Orlando Solar Bears. It’s the last of three games at home for the Icemen before the team begins a five-game road trip to start the month of December.

Andrew Willis

Andrew Willis is a freelance hockey reporter covering the ECHL's Jacksonville Icemen for Inside The Rink and the Vancouver Canucks for The Canuck Way. His work has been featured on Hockey of Tomorrow and The Daily Faceoff, and can be found on Twitter/X @FromTheDrewLine.

2 thoughts on “ECHL: Icemen Weekend Recap – Divisional Dubs

  1. Nice article! Just a small correction, we have Friday 12/1 against the Solar
    Bears and 1/2 against the Lions before leaving on the road trip.

    1. Thank you, Thomas. That is what’s stated at the end there, that the game Wednesday is the first of three home games before the team heads to the road. More so a stylistic choice to write that it’s how the month gets going for the team, as the home stand wraps up and the road trip begins in the early days of December. Thank you for reading! Go Icemen!

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