The Express returned to the Sears Centre for the first time since January 29th last weekend, for a brief two game homestand versus Gwinnett and Cincinnati, before heading to Kalamazoo for a Sunday afternoon tilt. Sadly, there was no home cooking to be had.
Gwinnett Gladiators 4, Chicago Express 3
The Sears Centre faithful, full of dollar beers and hot dogs (that makes for an interesting arena smell), hoped the Express would reward them for their gluttony with a win over the Gladiators from Georgia on Friday night. The Express had five power plays in the first period, including a 5-on-3, but former Blackhawks prospect Joe Palmer turned away all 12 Chicago shots. The Gladiators had a mere 3 SOGs in the first, and the teams headed to the second in a scoreless tie.
Gwinnett finally broke the seal at 14:07 of the second, as Tyler Murovich put a power play goal past Peter Mannino. Just 11 seconds later, Mannino misplayed a puck behind his net, and Nikita Kashirsky tapped in an easy goal with Mannino sprawled out like a dead bug on the ice. Fun! Chicago answered quickly though, as Evan Stephens tallied a power play goal at 14:52, giving the Gladiators a 2-1 lead going into the third. The Express wasted no time in the final frame, as Pierre-Luc Faubert scored his 15th of the year just 46 seconds in to tie the game at two. The beer fueled euphoria was short lived in Hoffman though, as Gwinnett scored two consecutive goals to retake the lead: Brad Miller scored another power play goal for the Gladiators at 4:39, and Murovich scored his second of the game at 12:42, while shorthanded. Maxime Gratchev scored on the wrap around at 13:48 on the power play, but the Express were unable to tie the game late with Mannino pulled. The South Division curse continues – the Express are currently 0-7-2-2 versus our friends south of the Mason-Dixon Line this season. Bleah.
Cincinnati Cyclones 7, Chicago Express 3
The Express looked to bounce back Saturday night versus their old friends, the Cyclones. Both teams headed into the evening even in points, but Cincinnati had two games in hand. Anthony Luciani got the puck rolling for the Cyclones, scoring 4:06 into the game on a 5-on-3 power play. Ryley Grantham, who played for the Gladiators just the night before and was acquired in a trade, tied the game up at 1 off a deflection in front of goaltender Brian Foster. Jonathan Hazen would give the Cyclones a 2-1 lead after one, scoring on a breakaway with 2:59 left in the first. The Express would show signs of life, as defenseman Scott Wietecha scored on a 2-man advantage just 1:03 into the second, tying the game up at 2. Peter Mannino was not at his best this period though, giving up 2 goals on 5 shots – the first scored by Garrett Wilson on the power play off a rebound, the second scored by Matthew Sisca while shorthanded when the puck went off Mannino’s skate and into the back of the net.
The third period was not kind to Chicago either as Joe Devin scored just 3:36 into the period to give the Cyclones a 5-2 lead. Darcy Campbell added a goal for Chicago with 11:13 left, but the rout was already on. Goals by Wilson and Hazen, both their second tallies of the night, gave Cincinnati a 7-3 advantage and with it, sole possession of second place in the North Division. Collectively, the Express gave up three power play goals and two shorthanded goals while outshooting the Cyclones 30-23. That my friends, is full of fail.
Chicago Express 4, Kalamazoo Wings 3
In an effort to salvage the weekend, the Express traveled to Kalamazoo on Sunday, hoping to win there for the first time this season. Tyler Donati began a quick start for the Express, scoring just 5:06 into the game off a one-timer past goaltender Maxime Clermont. K-Zoo came right back, when Harry Young scored a goal from the point just 1:29 later to tie the game at one. Chicago though cemented control of the game with Scott Wietecha scoring on the power play at 9:05 and Mike Embach poking a puck past Clermont with just two seconds left in the first.
Darcy Campbell continued the hot start for Chicago, scoring at 1:54 of the second to give the Express a commanding 4-1 lead. The Wings did not go away quietly though, putting 13 shots on Peter Mannino in the sandwich period, which resulted in a Kalamazoo goal by Nick Sirota at 10:06. Sirota was awarded a penalty shot just 1:16 later, but Mannino made a pad save to deny him his second goal of the game. The Express carried a two goal lead into the third, and the Wings reduced Chicago’s lead to one, as Trent Daavettila scored on the power play at 5:16. Mannino and the Express hung on for dear life though, and escaped Michigan with a 4-3 win over the North Division leading Wings. Kalamazoo outshot Chicago 35-23. This was the 17th consecutive start for Mannino, who, if he hasn’t already, should probably invest in some heating pads.
Express Captain Nathan Lutz and defenseman Darcy Campbell were named the “Silver Skaters” for Chicago. A fan vote was taken on the ECHL website in lieu of an All-Star game this season, and the two top vote getters from each team would be awarded this honor. Additionally, Peter Mannino was named the “Golden Goalie” for the Express. Never mind the fact the poor man is the only goalie for Chicago at this point, but whatever. All three players will wear special jerseys to commemorate this honor at Saturday’s game at the Sears Centre. Congrats Nathan, Darcy and Peter!
The Week Ahead: Friday (2/24) at Kalamazoo Wings, Saturday (2/25) vs. Florida Everblades, Sunday (2/26) vs. Florida Everblades. 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, 64 points (52 GP), 2) Cincinnati Cyclones, 56 points (50 GP), 3) Chicago Express, 54 points (52 GP), 4) Toledo Walleye, 50 points (51 GP). The Express are currently sitting in the tenth spot in the Eastern Conference. The top eight teams in the conference will make the Kelly Cup playoffs. OH NOES EXPRESS – CATCH UP!
Stats-O-Rama: Tyler Donati currently leads the team in points with 59 and is fifth in the ECHL…Chaz Johnson leads the team in goals with 17…Tyler Donati has 45 assists which is second in the ECHL…Nathan Lutz is a +14…Devin DiDiomete is second in the ECHL with 190 penalty minutes…Peter Mannino is the Express goaltending leader with a GAA of 3.21 and a SV% of .892…The Express are fourth in the ECHL and first in the Eastern Conference in PIM with 1,069, averaging 20.6 penalty minutes a game…Chicago is 13/20 in the ECHL in power play percentage (16.9%) and 19/20 on the penalty kill (78.9%)
Recent Transactions: The Express traded defenseman Josh Burrows to the Gwinnett Gladiators for forward Ryley Grantham. Grantham actually played against the Express on Friday, and then donned their uniform on Saturday….Centre Anthony Romano was loaned to the Express for the weekend from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (AHL)…Tom Schaul was signed as an Emergency Backup Goaltender…Currently Drew Paris, Dan Henningson, Blair Riley, Paul Dainton and Bobby Robins are all playing for various teams in the AHL.