The Evansville IceMen have begun the month of December with two-straight divisional wins, both coming at home, and look to sustain momentum heading into a continued stretch of games with fellow North Division counterparts. Already having played their last four games against aforementioned foes, Evansville (8-14-1) is scheduled to play the next five games within the division.
With a (2-2-0) record in the last four games, Evansville (17) has climbed to within two points of third place in the division behind the Kalamazoo Wings and Ft. Wayne Komets, each currently with 19 points. IceMen Head Coach Rich Kromm recognizes the importance of preparation, and views each divisional matchup as an opportunity to gain ground in the standings.
“Every divisional game is a four-point game,” said Kromm. “There’s two points they’re not going to get, and two points you are going to get, so it’s really important that we are ready.”
The next opportunity for Kromm and the IceMen to gain ground in the North Division is on Wednesday, Dec. 5, when the team travels to Cincinnati to play the Cyclones for the third time in five games. Evansville will also encounter Cincinnati on Saturday, Dec. 8 when the Cyclones visit the Ford Center for the first time. Competing with a team many times in just a few days can be advantageous, said Kromm.
“You get to know their tendencies in a hurry,” he said. “You see what they do on the power play, how they kill penalties, and what their forechecks are like. You can prepare better for a team once you’ve played them a few times.”
The same could be said for the Cyclones in their preparation for the IceMen. However, Evansville has received three players from AHL affiliate Peoria Rivermen since their last matchup with the Cyclones less than a week ago. The IceMen will go into Wednesday’s night matchup in Cincinnati with Right Wingers Cody Beach and Sebastian Wannstrom, as well as Defenseman Brett Ponich, none of which were in the lineup the last time the two teams met.
Beach returned to Evansville on Saturday, Dec. 1 in the 3-2 victory against the Kalamazoo Wings. He played in seven games with the Rivermen before being reassigned to the IceMen. Wannstrom and Ponich will make their IceMen debuts against the Cyclones on Wednesday, Dec. 5.
Another recent acquisition, Forward Dylan Clarke, centers a productive line as of late that consists of Left Winger Josh Beaulieu and Right Winger Dan Gendur. The trio has notched nine points in the last two games (3G, 6A) and was responsible for the game-winning goals in each of those contests. Clarke made his IceMen debut against Cincinnati on Nov. 30, and his versatility has made the surging line work in Evansville, said Kromm.
“That line seemed to initially create some chemistry and started producing (right away),” he said. “We haven’t been a team that has scored a lot of 5-on-5, so to see them start to score together right away is a good sign.”
Along with the importation of three prospects from Peoria and an emerging top line, the IceMen are beginning to get healthy. Defenseman Jesse Perrin made his return to the lineup after being inactive for 14 games. Perrin sustained a lower-body injury on Oct. 26 against the Kalamazoo Wings, and was reactivated on Nov. 28 in Cincinnati. Perrin has played in four games since he made his reversion and has made an immediate impact for Kromm’s defense.
“(Jesse) is very smart at reading the rush and stepping up on guys,” said Kromm. “The physical presence he brings has made a difference for us and his smart defensive play stabilizes our back-end.”
Two more probable returners, Right Winger Trent Vogelhuber and Center Todd Robinson, are likely to be in the lineup on Friday, Dec. 7 when the IceMen host the Toledo Walleye at the Ford Center. Vogelhuber suffered an undisclosed upper-body injury on Nov. 23 against the Trenton Titans and Robinson acquired a lower-body injury on Nov. 18 against the Reading Royals.
Robinson’s reappearance in the IceMen lineup should bring some normality to a power play unit that has gone 2-for-20 in outings in which he did not play. Despite having missed the last seven games, Robinson’s 12 power play assists on the season are second in the ECHL behind Colorado Eagles Forward Chad Costello’s 14. Evansville’s power play unit ranks 10th in the league, and Kromm hopes it only gets better once Robinson returns.
“(Todd) is great at getting the puck to the right people at the right time,” Kromm said. “He’s so patient and he knows how to ease off the pressure. The problem is you rely on one guy for so much, for so long on the power play, that the other guys just aren’t as familiar with it.”
Familiar is what the IceMen have become with close, nail-biting games. Evansville has played in nine games this season decided by one goal, with six of those games coming at home. Overall, the IceMen are (5-3-1) in one-goal games, and (4-2-0) in one-goal games at home. The IceMen will become more familiar with home in December, playing 9 of their 13 games this month, including the two games last weekend, at the Ford Center. For Kromm, winning games at home, whether it be a one-goal game or a blowout, is critical to overall success.
“(Winning) creates excitement in your building,” said Kromm. “The fans want to see the team win and the more you win, the more people are going to come out. It’s to your advantage to play at home in front of your crowd.”