The Evansville IceMen, Columbus' ECHL affiliate, are off to a 4-1-0 start and quickly putting last season's last-place finish in the rear-view mirror.
Replacing Rich Kromm at the helm after Evansville finished the 2012-13 season with a putrid 25-40-7 record, new Head Coach Jeff Pyle rebuilt the IceMen roster with youth, size and speed. Thus far, Pyle's approach has paid dividends.
The IceMen started the season with three straight victories for the first time in franchise history, a year after needing 13 games to win three. Then after a lackluster home loss on Friday, Evansville bounced back with a come-from-behind victory on Sunday.
The current IceMen roster features one player who is under contract to Columbus, along with three players who have been sent down by AHL Springfield. Following are updates about the four affiliate players in Evansville, as well as a few IceMen-contracted players who are worth keeping an eye on...
• Rookie Peter Sakaris (SPR) is off to a slow start statistically, with just 1 assist in 5 games. He has generally played rather well, however, and has proven to be surprisingly physical despite his diminutive size. (Sakaris is listed at just 5'9" and 172 lbs.) He is getting consistent minutes, including some time on the power play. But to start lighting up the scoresheet, Sakaris must be more aggressive with the puck - he only has 6 shots on goal all season.
• Rookie Mike Seidel (EVN) leads the IceMen with 5 points. Seidel is small (5'10" and 180 lbs) but speedy, and has shown a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He simply does not lose races to loose pucks.
• Second-year pro Matt Lowry (EVN) is second on the team with 4 points and has a team-best +3 rating. Lowry began the season as the "tenth forward" (ECHL teams only dress three full lines along with one spare forward or defenseman), but has quickly played his way into a more prominent role.
• Third-year pro Nathan Moon (EVN), who was under contract to Springfield last season, is tied with Seidel and Lowry for the team lead with 2 goals. Moon is also second on the team in shots on goal, with 16.
• Rookie Thomas Larkin (CBJ), who played 4 years at Colgate University before turning pro at the end of last season and joining Springfield for 7 games, has 3 points (all assists) and 12 shots on goal (most among IceMen defensemen). Larkin also has a team-high 19 penalty minutes, including a fighting major and a roughing double-minor thanks to a fight that was stopped prematurely when the opposing player (who instigated the altercation) realized that Larkin had a considerable size advantage and chose to "turtle."
• Third-year pro Joe Lavin (SPR) has perhaps been Evansville's best all-around defenseman in the early going. Lavin is the only IceMen blueliner with a goal, his 3 points have him tied with Larkin for the team lead among defensemen, and he has played a physical style without sacrificing discipline. Both responsible defensively and dangerous offensively, Lavin has been a top-notch first-unit penalty killer (he's only been on the ice for one power-play goal against) and the team's power-play quarterback in Pyle's four-forwards man-advantage system.
• Second-year pro Mike Clemente (SPR) has been outstanding in net, with a perfect 4-0-0 record and one shutout. Clemente is second in the league in Goals-Against Average (1.00) and third in Save Percentage (.952), and was honored as ECHL Goaltender of the Week for the second week of the season. Given the fact that Evansville is scoring just 2.00 goals per game (worst in the ECHL's 13-team Eastern Conference), Clemente is the single biggest reason the IceMen are 4-1-0.
• Former Blue Jackets netminder Allen York (EVN) has only been in uniform for 2 of Evansville's 5 games, thanks to a pair of AHL call-ups. York served as Clemente's backup for the season opener, spent the second weekend of the season (missing 2 ECHL games) with the AHL's Charlotte Checkers, returned to the IceMen to make his lone in-game appearance on Friday, then returned to the AHL with the Texason Saturday. In his only start for Evansville, York was lit up to the tune of 7 goals in an ugly 7-0 loss to Cincinnati. However, in 2 AHL starts, York is 1-0-1 with a 0.48 GAA and .982 SV%. When (if) he returns to the IceMen, he is not likely to have another game as bad as his ECHL season debut.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
IceMen Maniac is Michael Shockley, a.k.a. "Shocker" to IceMen fans
Michael provides JacketsCannon.com with monthly IceMen updates
He is also the Webmaster and Senior Writer for IceMenManiacs.com