It was their first of two meetings this season between the Western Conference opponents as the Ontario Reign came to Des Moines on a cloudy and ominous Friday the 13th. Iowa really needed a win to get back on track early on in 2017-18, and they got exactly that with a 3-0 victory over the Kings affiliate.
The win came as a huge statement for the club follow consecutive losses to start the year and after Luke Kunin’s departure to bigger and better things in St. Paul. Hopefully this is the start to building that identity Lalonde sees Iowa still searching for in the early games of 2017-18.
Niklas Svedberg (1-2-0) got the confidence booster he needed as he stopped all twenty seven shots from the Reign en route to his first shutout of the season and first star honors at the end of the game. Waterloo, Iowa-native, Cal Petersen, gets the loss for Ontario after making 25 stops on 27 Iowa attempts; Ontario moves to 0-2-0 to start their season.
Iowa came out firing in the first, adding previous fourth-liner, and energy guy, Ryan Malone to the first line. Christoph Beetschy moved up to Cal O’Reilly’s right wing as a replacement for Kunin. In the first few minutes, Lalonde’s crew was able to rattle off five shots before things went cold and the ice shifted in favor of Ontario.
The special teams were a large concern in the first two games against Milwaukee and Iowa’s PK was tested nearly seven minutes in as Colton Beck headed to the box for a high-sticking penalty. After a defensive zone win, the first unit was able to force an icing penalty and remained very much in control.
Iowa’s power play continued to struggle, but it was discipline over production that stifled the Wild at the onset. Ontario committed their first penalty on a Michael Mersch slash (15:03). Twenty seven seconds later, Andrew Crescenzi joined him after a hooking penalty. All was set for 1:33 of 5-on-3 action until Iowa’s Alex Grant was whistled for tripping just five seconds into the two-man advantage.
There was a lot of falling down and turnovers in the DZ, but the first period came to a close with things knotted up 0-0; Ontario carrying a slight edge in shots with a count of 13-11.
The second period owes itself to the penalty kill unit. Carson Soucy air-mailed one over the glass on the opposite side of the DZ less than two minutes in. However, the PK stood tall, and Iowa went on the attack. The blueliners were extra aggressive, launching a couple shots near dot level.
A freak play on a Soucy dump-in at 9:58 mark paid dividends for the Wild as they got their first lead of the season. The puck took a fortuitous bounce and came to rest on the back of Petersen’s net. With a good eye and all alone, Wyandotte, Michigan-native Gerald Mayhew was able to gain control in the trapezoid and make a great pass to Landon Ferraro near the crease. Where Ferraro was unable to capitalize, Pat Cannone was able to pick up the scraps and gave Iowa a 1-0 lead and his third goal of the season (Ferraro, Mayhew; 9:58).
Excitement turned into uneasiness after Ryan Murphy was tacked for two minor penalties following an onslaught against Iowa’s fourth line in the defensive zone. One was for a hook, the other an unsportsmanlike conduct by tossing a few too many words towards referee Cameron Voss. However, the penalty killing unit proved up to the task and they killed off all four minutes while creating chaos for the Ontario power play.
Mayhew almost added another assist after a great steal and pass to Mario Lucia. The home crowd didn’t see a goal, but a slash on the Reign’s Jamie Devane put Iowa on the man advantage to end the second.
Iowa controlled the scoreboard 1-0 while Ontario continued to win the SOG battle, 23-17.
With the lead, Lalonde’s group came out with a ton of energy in the third. They quickly closed the shots-on-goal gap and things finally came their way as Albertan and former UMD Bulldog, Carson Soucy, released an absolute bomb to give Iowa the 2-0 lead (Cannone, Menell; 5:58). Menell got the assist following a shot of his own that might have gone across the goal-line itself, but Ontario’s Stephan Falkovsky threw Soucy an absolute gift as his clearing attempt went tape-to-tape.
Chase Lang took a cross-checking penalty about half-way through the third, but the penalty kill continued to stifle and frustrate the Reign’s power play team. At the end of the night, the PK was 6-for-6 on kills and moved to 15-of-17 to start the year (88.2%).
With the goalie pulled and after Christoph Bertschy’s attempt went wide, Colton Beck was able to capitalize on the next go-around and Soucy was there to help with an apple for the first multi-point game of his pro career (Soucy; 19:00). If he and Menell can keep the pace, we might be seeing the beginnings of something special on the organization’s blueline.
Overall, the power play continued to struggle, both in terms of production and keeping the team on the advantage, moving to 0-for-17 to start the season. However, Lalonde said that the power play has been a bit of a hodge-podge with no true number one unit. They’ve done a great job maintaining possession in the zone and getting looks, but the pucks just don’t seem to be going in just yet.
The best part of Iowa’s game through the first three contests has to be their fore-check, especially at with the bottom six guys. Lalonde credits analytics, especially when looking at guys like Colton Beck and Kurtis Gabriel who have been very effective.
With the announcement of Charlie Coyle going on long-term injured reserve with Minnesota, Iowa called up forwards Dante Salituro and Evan Janssen from the ECHL’s Rapid City Rush. With that news, Lalonde let us know in post-game that the roster moves weren’t done, and the Minnesota Wild announced that they’d be calling up Zack Mitchell, Landon Ferraro, and Christoph Bertschy.
There won’t be too much time to celebrate as Iowa loaded the bus promptly after the victory and are already on their way on 80 east towards Illinois where they’ll meet the IceHogs (1-0-0, 2 pts; Chicago Blackhawks) for a Saturday night tilt. It will be the first of twelve meetings between the two this season.