The Express were riding high going into the week, enjoying a 5 game winning streak, and looking to continue to pile up points. Unfortunately, all three games last week were on the road versus South Division opponents. The Express have never beaten a team from the South. This did not bode well.
South Carolina Stingrays 3, Chicago Express 2
Any hopes of the Express vanquishing the dragon that is the South Division vanished quickly on Friday night, when the Stingrays came out and scored two goals within the first five minutes of the opening period. Joe Pereira struck first for South Carolina at 3:18, followed by Derek Keller just 90 seconds later, off of an odd-man break. Despite outshooting the Stingrays 13-10 in the first, the Express were unable to get a puck past goaltender Philipp Grubauer.
Tyler Donati got the Express to within one 5:07 into the second, scoring on the power play. Peter Mannino was under fire this period, facing 16 South Carolina shots, resulting in Zack Tarkir giving the Stingrays a 3-1 lead on the power play with less than 8 minutes left in the middle frame. The Express pressed in the third, which resulted in Aaron Marvin potting a goal off a scrum in front of Grubauer, with just 7:34 left in the game. Despite outshooting the Stingrays 8-3 in the period, Chicago was unable to get the equalizer and the Stingrays escaped with a win. Thus endeth the five game winning streak. But hey, the Express were 100% (1-for-1) on the power play!
Gwinnett Gladiators 3, Chicago Express 2
Saturday night’s game got off to a spirited start. The Express’ Scott Wietecha and Gwinnett’s David “Please Use Small Letters on My Jersey” Brownschidle had a fight 16:49 into the first period. That was the only fireworks though in the first frame, as no goals were scored and Chicago led an anemic shot total of 8-6 over the Gladiators. Wietecha finally broke the goose eggs in the second, scoring on a one timer past former Blackhawks draft pick Joe Palmer with 4:24 left in the period. Feeling left out, Pat Galivan tied the game at 1, just 1:11 later.
Kyle Ostrow had his first professional fight (aw, they grow up so fast) against the Gladiators’ Brad Miller with just 1:40 left in the second. Things continued to get chippy in the third, but the Express failed to convert on a 5-on-3 early in the period. The game remained tied until Tyler Donati was assessed a cross checking major and game misconduct with just 4:44 left in regulation. Cue the ominous music. Galivan made the Express pay, and scored the go ahead goal with just 2:18 remaining. The Express pulled Mannino to give them a chance to send the game to OT, but Gwinnett’s Joey Haddad iced the game on an empty net tally with 37 ticks left. The Gladiators outshot the Express 26-17 in the contest.
Greenville Road Warriors 7, Chicago Express 6 (OT)
Sunday brought the Express to the final stop on their three game southern swing, and with it their last chance to salvage the weekend. As with most Express games, the contest was a penalty filled affair, with 58 minutes in penalties called between the two clubs. After receiving three power plays in a row to start the game, Greenville cashed in on the third, on a goal by Brendan Connolly. Maxime Gratchev scored just 21 seconds later for the Express to tie the game at one. The Road Warriors took momentum and the lead into the locker room, as Marc-Olivier Vallerand scored with just 2:38 left in the first.
The second period saw two fights, as Drew Akins battled Greenville’s Bretton Cameron at 8:52 and everyone’s favorite penalty machine Devin DiDiomete took on Jason Wilson at 10:22. As for scoring, Cameron gave the Road Warriors a two goal lead at 7:02 of the period, but Chicago came right back, scoring three goals within 2:27. Pierre-Luc Faubert scored on the power play, while Josh Burrows and Chaz Johnson potted goals at even strength, giving the Express a 4-3 lead heading into the third period.
The shelling of both goaltenders, Peter Mannino (making his 14th straight start, yeesh) and Greenville’s Jason Missiaen continued in the third. Within the first four minutes of the period, the Road Warriors’ Wilson and Brandon Wong scored, giving Greenville a 5-4 lead. Chaz Johnson attempted to will his team to victory, scoring two goals at 5:03 and 6:05, giving him a natural hat trick. The Road Warriors would not go away, as Connolly scored his second of the game at 8:38 to tie the game back up at six. From there, the goaltenders took over, and the teams entered OT looking for the second point. It was not to be for the Express, as Jyri “Don’t Call Me Antti” Niemi scored the game winning goal on Mannino, with just 37 seconds left in overtime. Defense was apparently optional in this game, as Greenville edged Chicago in shots, 41-40. The Express take their lone point back to Chicago, for a stretch of seven home games in their next ten.
I’m just going to blame this losing weekend on Cirque Du Soleil. I mean the Blackhawks are blaming Disney on Ice aren’t they?
The Week Ahead: Friday (2/17) vs. Gwinnett Gladiators , Saturday (2/18) vs. Cincinnati Cyclones, Sunday (2/19) at Kalamazoo Wings. Tickets for this weekend’s games can be purchased at the Sears Centre box office or on the Express website.
Current Standings: North Division – 1) Kalamazoo Wings, 59 points (48 GP), 2) Chicago Express, 52 points (49 GP), 3) Cincinnati Cyclones, 51 points (45 GP), 4) Toledo Walleye, 48 points (49 GP). The Express are currently sitting in the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference. The top eight teams in the conference will make the Kelly Cup playoffs
Stats-O-Rama: Tyler Donati currently leads the team in points with 52 and is fifth in the ECHL…Chaz Johnson leads the team in goals with 17…Tyler Donati has 39 assists which is second in the ECHL…Nathan Lutz is a +16…Devin DiDiomete is second in the ECHL with 178 penalty minutes…Peter Mannino is the Express goaltending leader with a GAA of 2.89 and a SV% of .906…The Express are fourth in the ECHL and first in the Eastern Conference in PIM with 1,027 (do we get a prize for breaking 1K?), averaging 21 penalty minutes a game…Chicago is 14/20 in the ECHL in power play percentage (16.2%) and 15/20 on the penalty kill (80%)
Recent Transactions: Goaltender Allen York was assigned from the Express to the Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL), Poor Allen…Greg Ozubku was added and released as an Emergency Backup Goaltender…Matt Horst was signed and released as an Emergency Backup Goaltender (I’m sensing a pattern)….Steven Delisle was put on the 21-day IR and Chad Painchaud was placed on the 7-day IR…Currently Drew Paris, Dan Henningson, Blair Riley, Paul Dainton and Bobby Robins are all playing for various teams in the AHL.