First Time for Everything
On October 10th, following a captain-less opening weekend, the Rampage announced the leadership group for the young season. You can revisit our predictions here. As it turned out, Jordan Nolan got the nod for the first time in his career.
When asked about his expanded role, Nolan responded, “… I think it’s a huge honor. I mean, I wasn’t expecting that. I’ve never really been in that position before. So now that I’m an older guy, and to have these young guys kind of look up to me and kind of show them how to be a pro on and off the ice, I think it’s a pretty big responsibility. But, you know I’m happy to have it, and I think we have pretty good supporting staff with the other guys, the other veterans, so it’s been good so far.”
Those other guys include Jake Dotchkin, Niko Mikkola, Austin Poganski, and Nathan Walker.
The weekend series opened up on Friday night with a familiar cast and crew for Blues fans. The team’s affiliate from just two seasons ago, the Chicago Wolves (now the Vegas Golden Knights’ affiliate), came to town for a back to back series. The game featured your favorite goaltender’s favorite goaltender, Garret Sparks ( Jordan Binnington quipped in an interview from Toronto that Sparks was his favorite Leaf’s goalie) facing off against Ville Husso.
Just five minutes into the first period, the Rampage went down to 5 on three as Jake Dotchkin, and Andreas Borgman took minors only 25 seconds apart. The Rampage PK stood tall and closed the door. Then just five minutes later, as Jake Wallman was breaking free into the offensive zone, he was tripped on an aggressive play by Sparks. Wallman took a dangerous tumble headfirst into the boards but would finish out the night. Just one minute into the resulting PP, Nathan Walker broke free on a feed from Klim Kostin and ripped one home. The goal set a career-high three-game goal streak as the Rampage’s special teams continued to hum. Walker then had a beautiful look short-handed, following a slashing penalty to Mike Vecchione late in the first. He beat Sparks from the half-boards but couldn’t solve to post.
The penalties kept pouring in as the game opened up even more in the second. Austin Poganski drew a slash in the offensive zone at 2:03. On the resulting PP Derrick Pouliot tried to feed Walker yet again but had his pass chopped down by a Wolves’ stick. Pouliot made an outstanding play to stifle the clear and ripped it home. Rampage lead 2-0 on two PPG. The Rampage would take back to back penalties again in the second and go five on 3, yet again. The Wolves had two good looks but missed the net completely both times. The Wolves started to push hard towards the end of the period. After a questionable icing call, Ville stood on his head, making an incredible glove save. Tanner Kaspick took a slash with a minute left, setting up a big third period.
For much of the third period, the Rampage played shut down hockey. The frustration was starting to set in for Chicago, and the game began to get chippy. Evan Polei had been flying around the ice most of the game and finding himself in numerous scrums. Things reached a boiling point with Chicago’s Jermaine Loewen 6:30 into the period. Loewen would take the early advantage in the scrap. He tagged Polei three or four times and knocked the helmet from his head. Polei then freed his left arm from his jersey and went on to unload on Loewen’s face even after Loewen had stopped swinging. Chicago pulled the goalie with roughly three minutes left to play, which set up Nathan Walker to grab the empty netter. His second goal for the night.
In the end, Husso gets the shutout. The penalty kill remains undefeated and puts up a perfect 6/6 on the night. Nathan Walker leads the team in scoring.
If the game Friday night was a firefight, then Saturday’s tilt was a war of attrition. Chicago went with Garret Sparks between the pipes again, and Adam Wilcox saw his first action in a Rampage sweater. Both teams played pretty gassed from the night before, but the Wolves seemed determined for a different result.
All pressing aside, the first two periods came and went without much to report. A rivalry seemed to be brewing as nearly every play ended in a scrum, but everyone’s gloves stayed on. Both goaltenders played solid though it was more defense than anything.
Then at 6:45 of the third period, Gage Quinney stripped Ryan Olsen of the puck and fed Lucas Elvenes. Elvenes snapped a wrister past Wilcox and broke the scoreless tie. Four minutes later, Nick Lappin evened the score. He found the rebound of a point shot from Jake Wallman and banged it home past Garret Sparks.
3-on-3 Overtime ended after 5 minutes of back and forth action with no one able to solve the goaltending. The ensuing shoot out found Gage Quinney sneaking a backhander over Wilcox’s shoulder and under the crossbar. Sparks stopped all three Rampage shooters, and the Wolves handed them their first loss of the season.
The Rampage continued their active play, and aggressive forecheck. Mikkola and Borgman, who had an awesome weekend last week, were quiet, but Evan Polei brought the physicality in their stead. Nathan Walker continues to run over the opposition and could see some NHL time this season. The only problem I see with his game so far is that he tends to try and do it all himself, occasionally holding on to the puck too long or missing simple plays opting to work for the highlight reel. The special teams continue to hum, although the powerplay was held scoreless for the first time this season Saturday night. The Penalty Kill continues to shut down opponents and remains at an outstanding 100% going 18/18 through the first four games. Ville Husso remains undefeated, and the Rampage have points in all four games with a record of 3-0-1.
A Look Ahead
The Rampage will play their first away games this weekend, as they travel to take on the Tuscon Roadrunners again for another back to back series. Tuscon currently sits at 2-1-0 through three games played.