The Jacksonville Icemen hosted the Greenville Swamp Rabbits on Sunday Night for game two of round one of the 2023 Kelly Cup Playoffs. The round one series began Friday night in Jacksonville with a 4-1 loss to the visiting Swamp Rabbits. The Icemen hoped for a better showing than Friday’s game one performance. Friday’s game was one in which the Icemen had difficulties getting anything going offensively, often turning over the puck. Forward Ben Hawerchuk and defenseman Victor Hadfield returned to the lineup for Jacksonville, while Greenville iced the same team from game one. Charles Williams of the Icemen and Ryan Bednard of the Swamp Rabbits would return in goal.
The Icemen controlled much of the first period from the start of the action. The Icemen struggled Friday with retaining control of the puck and getting set up offensively. Those difficulties were nonexistent in game two as the Icemen dominated the Swamp Rabbits in their end. Putting up 14 shots to the Swamp Rabbits’ four in the first period of hockey, the Icemen were able to move the puck well and get structured in the offensive zone. The powerplay would get an early opportunity after a stick from Greenville defenseman Tyler Inamoto caught Icemen forward Craig Martin late up high but would be unsuccessful trying to convert. It didn’t come without effort, though, as the Icemen found ways to move into the offensive zone and cycle the puck to the net. Both teams set the tone for a night of heavy hits, but it would be Jacksonville forward Cristiano DiGiacinto setting the standard early with some momentous body shots.
Greenville would come out of the gate hot to start the second. The Swamp Rabbits would get on the board fifteen seconds into the period on a goal from centerman Josh McKechney. McKechney’s goal would be the only one scored in the second period, both teams electing to play a more defensive style of hockey. Although there was no shortage of powerplay time for the Icemen, the theme of struggling on the man advantage would continue throughout the night. Still, the team in the second period looked vastly different from the team that played Friday. Jacksonville maintained control of the puck for much of the middle frame and found ways to keep pushing the play in the Greenville end. Despite the work the Icemen did to keep driving the play, Greenville managed to hold them to just seven shots on goal in the period. Where the first period brought offense, the second period brought bigger hits and more post-whistle scrums. While offense took a backseat, physicality took the wheel.
The Icemen didn’t hit the brakes entering the third period down a goal. With 19:17 left to play forward, Ben Tardif would net the equalizer on a shot from the slot. With the game tied up, the Icemen would turn the pressure on. Speed and aggression is how the Icemen continued to drive the puck deep in the Swamp Rabbit’s zone and generate offensive chances. Jacksonville and Greenville played deep in their respective offensive zones for much of the evening, trying to set things up from behind the net. Jacksonville looked good through the transition, shutting Greenville down at the blue line and quickly getting the puck moving in the right direction. Where neutral zone mishaps haunted the Icemen Friday, the team looked more composed and faster to move in on the forecheck. Both goalies would see plenty of chaos in the goal crease throughout the night, but Icemen goalie Charles Williams stayed strong in net throughout the third period. Tardif’s early-period marker would be the only goal scored in the final period, moving the game into overtime.
Did I hear someone say free hockey? With a full three periods in the books and the winner left undecided, the game would get not one but two overtime periods of hockey. Hard hits and quick feet may have been how each team approached regulation, but the game took on a more disciplined tone in overtime. Both teams came out at the start of OT with a more measured tempo, sizing up the other before driving offensively. Neither team would get very many solid scoring chances. Still, it would be Icemen goaltender Charles Williams getting help from defenseman Tim Theocharidis to keep the Icemen in it after a wild sequence on the goal line.
It only took four minutes and eighteen seconds into the second overtime period for the Icemen to score the game-winner. Brendan Harris, a recent return to the Jacksonville roster, would find a way to sneak the puck in past Bednard on a sharp-angle shot. Assisting on the OT winner were Jacob Friend and Craig Martin, also recent returns to the Icemen lineup.
With the series now tied at one game a piece, the Jacksonville Icemen will head to Greenville for games three, four, and five. The Icemen looked like a team hungry for a win tonight, having an edge to their game that was absent in game one. Dominating in the puck possession department, the team skated hard and fast and found ways to open up space to work with. What little time Greenville had in their offensive zone was mostly spent trying to set things up rather than being able to enter the zone and cycle the puck without resistance easily. The Icemen made it difficult for the Swamp Rabbits to find breathing room. They smothered the puck and played the body well enough to slow Greenville down and command the game’s pace. Tonight’s game saw a more composed, complete style of play from the Icemen. It was a testament to turning things around quickly when it’s needed. The Icemen must build on that as they head into Greenville and try to take a series lead.
Game three begins Tuesday, April 25 at 7:05 pm ET. A full schedule of the action can be found below.
Game 4 – Friday, April 28 at 7:05 pm ET at Greenville
Game 5 – Saturday, April 29 at 7:05 pm ET at Greenville
Game 6 – Tuesday, May 2 at 7 pm ET at Jacksonville (If Necessary)
Game 7 –Wednesday, May 3 at 7 pm ET at Jacksonville (If Necessary)