EVANSVILLE, Ind. – The Evansville IceMen are 17-7-6 after 30 games in their second ECHL season, including an ongoing eight-game point streak (5-0-3) that is the longest current point streak in the league.
These are rather remarkable records, given that the team has already dressed 32 different players while dealing with a dozen call-ups and a host of injuries.
The IceMen have seen 10 different players miss time due to injury, with a total of 79 man-games lost. The latter number will continue to climb, as forward Dylan Clarke is still a few weeks away from returning from hip surgery and forward Andre Bouvet-Morrissette is likely out for the rest of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery.
However, the team’s collective health is finally trending upward. Captain Josh Beaulieu recently returned after missing seven games with hip and shoulder ailments. Defenseman Joe Lavin (16 games due to sports hernia surgery) and forward Patrick Kennedy (10 games due to a concussion) are both expected to return this weekend at Greenville.
Evansville has also recently regained the services of four key players who had been up in the AHL. Due to improved health in Columbus allowing the Blue Jackets to return players to the Springfield Falcons, the IceMen have reacquired the talents of goaltender Mike Clemente, speedy forward Jeremy Langlois and rock-solid defenseman Thomas Larkin. Also, goaltender Allen York has rejoined the IceMen after his third stint this season in the AHL and a holiday trip to Switzerland as part of Team Canada’s Spengler Cup squad.
While Clemente and York were plying their craft elsewhere, rookie Garrett Bartus admirably manned the pipes for the IceMen. Bartus started nine straight games and helped keep the IceMen ship afloat, including a 4-0-3 mark (with his first career shutout) in his last seven starts.
At the other end of the ice, Evansville’s offense has heated up since the weather turned cold. After averaging 2.88 goals per game in October and November, the IceMen have averaged 4.14 goals per contest in December and January. Evansville scored five or more goals in six straight home games in December.
In general, the Ford Center has been quite kind to the IceMen, who are 11-2-3 on the season and unbeaten in regulation in their last seven games at home. That’s particularly good news for a team that will begin an 11-game homestand next week.
But before the IceMen enjoy a full calendar month without a road game, they must first tackle three games in three days this weekend at Greenville. The IceMen (6-5-3 on the road) will look to take advantage of a Road Warriors team that is living up to its name this season – Greenville has a better record on the road (9-7-2) than at home (5-8-1).
So far, Evansville’s recipe for success has been balance. Langlois has perhaps been the team’s most dynamic scoring threat, with 26 points in just 21 games. He is currently tied for second among all ECHL rookies in scoring.
Forward Tom Zanoski, signed as a free agent in late November, has also scored at better than a point-per-game pace, with 19 points in 16 games. He scored a natural hat trick – the first hat trick of his seven-year professional career – in a span of just 4:36 on Dec. 28 against Fort Wayne. Just eight days prior on Dec. 20 at Wheeling, Zanoski also notched a Gordie Howe Hat Trick, which he impressively completed before the midway point of the first period.
In that same game against the Nailers, defenseman Matt Krug also had a Gordie Howe Hat Trick. Krug is enjoying a career year in his fifth pro season, pacing all ECHL defensemen in scoring with 21 points and leading the IceMen with 10 Fighting majors.
Other top offensive contributors for the IceMen have been Nathan Moon (a team-leading 27 points in 28 games), Matt Schepke (24 points in 30 games), rookie Mike Seidel (20 points in 30 games), and Daultan Leveille (19 points and a team-best plus-10 rating in 27 games).
Evansville has also benefitted from assets like Beaulieu (14 points in 22 games after returning from a career-threatening wrist injury that ended his 2012-13 season), Kennedy (11 points in 15 games when healthy), Matt Lowry (15 points in 19 games before earning a promotion to AHL Bridgeport), newcomer Tristan King (seven points in nine games since being assigned to Evansville by the Dallas Stars), and rookie Peter Sakaris (six points in his last eight games after a slow start).
Simply put, the IceMen can get clutch scoring from any player on the roster and do not have one single “top line” that can safely be the defensive focal point for the opposition. Evansville is winning with incredible depth, as proven by the team’s continued success despite all of the recent roster turmoil.
Undoubtedly, more adversity will present itself as the season chugs along. So far, though, coach Jeff Pyle’s IceMen have shown that they can overcome whatever obstacles they may find in their pursuit of a Kelly Cup championship.