North Iowa rings in December right
by By Brian McDonough | NAHL.com
Read the full NAHL Weekly Release.
With only three wins in the month of November, the North Iowa Outlaws got December off on the right foot with a pair of victories over the Central Division-leading Bismarck Bobcats last weekend.
“It was huge to get two wins against the first-place team,” said Outlaws head coach Jeff Crouse, whose team improved to 13-10-2 on the season. “It was a good all-around effort for us and I’m confident our best hockey is yet to come.”
Jack Paul recorded a goal and two assists as the Outlaws skated to a 4-1 win on Friday. Cory Belisle put home the game-winning marker, and goaltender Keegan Asmundson turned aside 35 shots.
The next night, Joe Harcharik rang up a goal and two assists, including one on Paul’s game-winning goal, as the Outlaws bested the Bobcats, 4-3. Ryan Peltoma added two assists - one on Paul’s goal - and Asmundson made 22 saves to pick up his second win in as many nights.
“Our power play has been getting much better lately,” said Crouse, whose team scored three goals with the man-advantage against the Bobcats. “Also, our overall team defense was much better. Guys were willing to block shots and do the little things it takes to win hockey games.”
As he’s done all season, Paul led the Outlaws’ offensive charge last weekend. The second-year forward from Minnetonka, Minn., now has 13 goals to go along with 14 assists, as well as a plus-18 rating which ranks tied for fourth in the NAHL.
“Jack has been very consistent all year,” said Crouse of the 20-year-old. “He was a little snake-bitten early on around the net and putting the puck away, but lately he’s been scoring some huge goals and is also doing a great job defensively.”
Harcharik is also starting to find his groove. After beginning the season in the USHL, the 20-year-old from Des Moines who is now in his fourth season with the Outlaws has four goals for 13 points this year and six in his last five games.
“He’s been playing well, but has also been a little snake-bitten," said Crouse. "He’s getting his shots and his chances and is now starting to get more comfortable with his linemates. I expect him to have a big second half of the season.”
Asmundson, who makes up half of the Outlaws’ goaltending tandem along with veteran Tommy Callaghan, has also risen to the occasion. The 6-foot-4 keeper from Mayville, N.D., who was sidelined for the better part of a month with a broken finger has won his last three starts.
“He has a ton of potential,” said Crouse of the 18-year-old. “I’m looking for him to stay hot and to keep winning games for us. It also allows Tommy to get some rest; he’s logged a lot of minutes for us this year.”
Crouse has also been impressed with the line of Derek Donohue, Kurt Weston and Joe Harren, which has been nothing short of excellent defensively while providing a spark along with a few points.
“That line has also been contributing offensively lately, which also relieves my top scorers of the pressure that they have to score all the time,” said the coach.
Defensively, Peltoma, Jon Crouse, AJ Knapp, Alex Charette and Bryce Wilcox – all 1988-borns – are starting to deliver solid performances on a consistent basis.
“They keep getting better everyday as a unit,” said Crouse.
Not to mention rookie forwards Matt Leer, who brings an effective physical presence, and Ryan Bohrer, who is back on one of the Outlaws’ top lines after being sidelined at September’s NAHL Showcase Tournament with a broken thumb.
University of Massachusetts recruit Anthony Raiola has also come into his own on the blue line, with fellow first-year defenseman Robbie Anderegg continuing to make strides.
Since losing five in a row, the Outlaws are now winners in four of their last
five games. Crouse credits his team’s improved play in its own end for the recent reversal of fortunes.
“The big key is our play in our defensive zone,” said the coach. “We were having some breakdowns and giving up too many easy goals. We turned our focus to playing solid defense for 60 minutes and that’s been the difference.”
With only seven players back from last season’s Central Division regular-season championship team, the Outlaws, who will host this year’s Robertson Cup Championship Tournament, are confident they have all the ingredients to be a contender.
“We had a lot of turnover on and off the ice here in North Iowa and once it all comes together, I expect bigger and better things this season,” said Crouse, in his first year as North Iowa’s head coach. “I now have all 25 players healthy and expect all 25 to contribute when they’re called upon.
“We need to continue to play great defense and keep working on our special teams and I think things will get even better.”
The Outlaws next five games are against Albert Lea, a team that has only managed two wins this season. Despite the Thunder’s record, North Iowa isn’t planning on taking its foot off the gas as it continues its push up the standings.
“Albert Lea has been playing much better hockey lately and we can’t take them for granted,” said Crouse. “Sometimes you look at the standings and put things in cruise control. You can’t do that in this league and if we come out and play the way we’re capable of playing, I expect very good things to happen.”
And that includes the college front. With two players already committed to Division I schools – Raiola and forward John O’Neill (University of Minnesota Duluth) – Crouse says a number of other players are receiving significant interest, including forwards Brandon Brodhag, Alex Carlson, Travis Peckskamp, Harcharik and Paul; Crouse and Peltoma; and Callaghan.
“With us hosting the national tournament, I expect that there’ll be other players on my team that’ll get good, solid looks as well,” said the coach.
AROUND THE NAHL
ALASKA AVALANCHE: Zach Smith scored all three of the Avalanche’s goals last weekend as it dropped two games to Fairbanks.
ALBERT LEA THUNDER: Mitch Torrel recorded a hat trick in the Thunder’s 5-1 win over Alexandria on Saturday. He leads the team with nine goals.
ALEXANDRIA BLIZZARD: Brandon Bahnemann scored both goals in the Blizzard’s 2-1 victor over Albert Lea on Friday. He leads the team with 12 goals.
ALPENA ICEDIGGERS: Ryan Temar potted the game-winning goal and an assist in the IceDiggers’ 3-2 win over Traverse City on Friday.
BISMARCK BOBCATS: Cody Keefer notched his team-leading 13th and 14th goals of the season in Bismarck’s 5-2 win over Albert Lea on Sunday.
FAIRBANKS ICE DOGS: Phil Cook was named the GDI/NAHL Goaltender of the Month for November after posting a 7-0 record to go along with a 1.85 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage.
KENAI RIVER BROWN BEARS: Brown Bears’ leading scorer Ryan Lemke struck for three goals last weekend as Kenai River lost three games to Topeka. He now has 16 goals on the season.
MAHONING VALLEY PHANTOMS: Idle last weekend, the Phantoms will take on the U.S. Under-17 Team for a pair of games on Friday and Saturday. “We’re pretty banged up right now, so this time off couldn’t come at a better time,” said head coach Bob Mainhardt. “It’ll give our guys a chance to rest up, heal up and lick their wounds a little bit so they can get back on track.”
MARQUETTE RANGERS: Over 375 stuffed animals were collected after the Rangers’ first-ever “Teddy Bear Toss” held on Friday during their game against the U.S. Under-17 Team. The animals will be distributed to various pediatric units at Marquette General Health Systems.
MOTOR CITY MACHINE: The Machine acquired forward Adam Sponseller from Wichita Falls for Anthony Iaquinto. A Michigan native, Sponseller tallied 17 goals for 41 points for the Wildcats last year.
NORTH IOWA OUTLAWS: Goaltender Keegan Asmundson backstopped the Outlaws to a pair wins over Bismarck, allowing only four goals against. “As a rookie goaltender, it’s hard to get in a rhythm when you’re not playing every game, but Keegan has quickly adapted and been very consistent in net for us,” said head coach Jeff Crouse.
OWATONNA EXPRESS: Owatonna’s leading scorer Stephen Carew recorded a goal and two assists in a pair of losses to St. Louis.
SPRINGFIELD JR. BLUES: Trent Frey scored his league-leading 19th goal of the season in Springfield’s 4-3 loss to Wichita Falls on Friday.
ST. LOUIS BANDITS: Soren Jonzzon notched two goals and two assists in the Bandits’ two-game sweep over Owatonna. The California native now has points in his last six games (six goals, three assists).
TOPEKA ROADRUNNERS: Edgars Lipsbergs was named to the Latvian National Junior Team that will participate at the World Junior Championship, which begins later this month.
TRAVERSE CITY NORTH STARS: Goaltender Brandon Stephenson made 26 saves in the North Stars’ 3-1 victory over Alpena on Saturday. He now has eight wins on the season, matching his total from last year.
TEAM USA: Thirteen graduates were named the U.S. National Junior Team that will participate at the 2009 World Junior Championship, which begins later this month.
WENATCHEE WILD: The Wild doesn’t play NAHL competition again until 2009, when Fairbanks visits Wenatchee for a two-game set on Jan 2-3.
WICHITA FALLS WILDCATS: Air Force recruit Kyle Delaurell added four more assists to his team-leading point total (32) in a two-game sweep over Springfield. His 23 helpers rank third in the NAHL.