DES MOINES, Iowa - If Iowa was going to be making the postseason this year, it was going to take a hell of a streak, but instead Iowa continues the streak in the wrong direction - dropping their eighth straight in the loss to the Tucson Roadrunners (Arizona). It was a hell of an effort by the guys, but - almost literally - a last second miscue provided the dagger for the club.
Steve Michalek (11-6-6; 3.14 GAA/.907 SV%) got the nod from Derek Lalonde in the second half of the back-to-back. The former member of the Harvard Crimson stopped 23 of 27 shots in the loss. Stacy, Minn. native Hunter Miska (20-8-0; 2.53 GAA/.904 SV%) got the start in net for Tucson, stopping 24 of Iowa’s 27 shots on net to earn the win.
“We’re just a fragile team,” Lalonde said following the loss, “...finding ways lose close games, hoping not to lose in the end. Those third and fourth goals was our d-zone - we panicked, duplication (while defending), it was hard to watch....It’s just so frustrating to be so fragile right now after being such a confident, competent team only just three weeks ago.”
In Need of a Jump
With the way things ended last night, Iowa was in need of a solid first ten minutes, and a solid first ten they had. Plenty of back-and-forth between the two sides as chances were limited with even fewer pucks being thrown onto the net.
Following a rough outing, Viktor Lööv got the scratch, and Iowa’s defense corps took Tucson to task in their own end to start the game. With the feeling that nothing was going to come easy tonight, Iowa got their first real opportunity as Vanya Lodnia proved too much for Lane Pederson who had no recourse but to force an interference call as the young winger was looking to break out.
As Dave Cunniff had done all season, the Wild went with the 4F1D approach with Sam Anas playing the second defender. When Anas and Justin Kloos are sharing the same ice, fans know that they’re going to see some production before the night is over.
Just seconds into the power play, Anas was along the half boards and threw it on net. Miska was able to kick the puck back out, but Kloos was there in the slot to send it back on net. Kyle Rau was battling down low in the crease as he does on the PP and got the put-away for Iowa to get the scoring started (Kloos, Anas; PP - 10:54).
Following a tilt that had a rather unimpressive result between Kurtis Gabriel and Pierre-Cédric Labrie, the ice seemed to slant in Tucson’s favor. Despite the great defense from the dots down, Roadrunner leading scorer Carter Camper lofted a puck from the blueline that snuck by Michalek’s glove and in for the game-tying goal (Garland, Lööke; 14:55).
Despite the set-back, Iowa remained dialed in, and Gerry Fitzgerald has continued to show a lot of promise on his ATO out of Bemidji State. As the Baby Genius showed some awareness by covering the blueline for a pinching Carson Soucy, he moved a puck to Ryan White, who got it back to Fitzgerald at the point.
The puck then moved across the blueline to Brennan Menell who let off a blast the made Gerry Mayhew turn his back. Maybe there’s some luck with both Gerry’s on the ice as Menell’s shot popped the net and gave Iowa the lead once again (Fitzgerald, White; 17:20).
Iowa appeared to hold all of the momentum - also thanks to a Ryan MacInnis delay-of-game penalty - as the first period horn sounded with Iowa up by one.
With all of the momentum to close out the first, it felt as if Iowa was keen to avoid another open to the second like last night as the offense came to a bit of a standstill. The Wild went through long stretches without quality chances and didn’t do themselves any favors by being whistled for three penalties after a clean first.
Derek Lalonde has talked plenty about winning the first ten minutes, and with a lot of defensive zone time, it appeared Iowa was doing well in that regard. Biding their time, it was the back half of the period where the chances started to build and the Wild looked to regain momentum.
One that stands out the most was the ping of his post that rang throughout the arena from a Zach Palmquist blast on the man-advantage. Cal O’Reilly had a decent look of his own, but couldn’t quite get the puck to settle well on the blade of his stick.
Though Palmquist was later whistled for a weak hold on Mike Sislo to end the period, the momentum still felt to be swinging in the favor of the home side despite no scoring to be had in the second frame.
A fragile one goal lead and starting the period on the penalty kill had all the markings for a heartbreak and with one second remaining on the kill, that’s exactly what happened.
Miska was tapping his stick on the ice as MacInnis took a dump-in off the body and got it to Michael Bunting who blasted one past Michalek for the game-tying goal (MacInnis, Capobianco; PP - 1:06). Only Bunting wasn’t done, as he beat Stevie, five-hole, after receiving a pass from Conor Garland who was positioned below the goal-line (Garland, Kempe; 1:46).
As the air left the arena with clouds of the Grand Rapids collapse looming, Iowa needed a break badly. Thankfully, Colton Beck was able to provide the relief less than a minute later as he took a pass from Louie Belpedio and charged it into the Tucson zone. Rookie Dysin Mayo had the positioning and the stick to take away a centering pass, but Beck saw the opening to beat Miska and get Iowa back on the right track (Belpedio; 2:26).
To call the rest of the period “tense” would be a tremendous understatement as Michalek made a ton of key saves while the Wild were unable to get anything past Miska, despite a solid offensive effort.
In the end, it was a missed check by Carson Soucy on Lawson Crouse that led to the deciding goal. With the big man down on the ice, Crouse had room to work and was able to find rookie Lane Pederson who was able to beat Michalek with 36.3 seconds remaining on the clock on what was a well fought third.
The loss made it eight straight, and also the end of Iowa’s playoff hopes this season.
It’s been easy to point the finger at youth, and while it appeared in the moment that Soucy made the costly error that led to Iowa’s eighth straight loss, there were other opportunities to clear the zone before the error.
“We blew up a d-zone (situation),” Lalonde explained in post, “but we had a couple of easy chances to have some poise, to be connected, and get out of our zone prior to that breakdown.”
This season has been a strange one, and the final goal tonight proved to just show the microcosm of the season: solid play in the middle, strong sprint, but ultimately coming up short in the waning moments. Not much else to say, really.
Iowa will be back in action Tuesday night against the Cleveland Monsters (Columbus) at Wells Fargo Arena.