NAHL Report: Express gets on track with pair of wins

Mired in a five-game losing streak, the Southern Minnesota Express came to life last weekend with a pair of tightly contested victories over the Springfield Jr. Blues.

“Getting those wins down there was huge for us,” said Express coach-GM Matt Romaniski, whose team improved to 9-7-3 on the season. “Whenever you can stop a losing streak against a great team like Springfield on the road, that gives your players a great deal of confidence.”

C.J. Willms’ overtime goal lifted the Express to a 2-1 victory on Friday. Teddy Falk notched the other Southern Minnesota goal, while Scott Pederson stood tall between the pipes, making 53 saves.

The next night, Pederson saved the day again, turning aside 45 shots en route to another 2-1 Express triumph. Brian Arrigoni scored the game-winning goal, with Kyle Olson netting the other Southern Minnesota marker. Spencer McMillan assisted on both goals.

“When you play in a very competitive division, every game is a fight,” said Romaniski, whose club sits in third place in the NAHL’s Central Division with 21 points. “It takes everything you have to stay in the top four so winning two games against a team in your division is huge.

“But you can't look at the standings that much right now; you just have to take it one game at a time and hope to be in the top four at the end of the season.”

The Express’ penalty kill was flawless against Springfield last weekend, silencing a potent Jr. Blues power play both nights (0-for-20). Pederson, an Illinois native, was the difference.

“It didn't surprise me because of the week of practice Scott had leading up to the weekend - he looked really sharp,” said Romaniski. “Whenever you have a goalie that played that well (on Friday), confidence usually plays a huge part and you just knew he would come out big on Saturday.”

Willms also came up big, officially putting Southern Minnesota’s losing streak to bed with his overtime tally on Friday.

“That was clutch to say the least,” said Romaniski. “Right before he went on the ice in overtime, he looked at me and said, ‘Coach, I got your goal this shift.’ After he scored he came by the bench with a look like, ‘I told you so.’”

A third-year veteran, Willms, 20, has proved invaluable this season both in terms of offensive production – he’s second in team scoring with 16 points behind Ben Beaudoin – and leadership.

“We're lucky to have a player like C.J.,” said Romaniski. “He’s been the leader of this team, both on and off the ice. He knows the layout of the NAHL and brings a lot of knowledge to the younger guys.”

Romaniski also praised the play of Falk and McMillan, two first-year players who are still working towards a consistent spot in the lineup.

“Those guys had great weekends,” said the coach. “It was nice to see them step up in two tough-played games.”

The Express has been battling consistency this season, losing all four games at the NAHL Showcase Tournament to start the year before winning seven out of eight. Then came the five-game skid leading up to last weekend.

“It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far, so the team was excited to get to Springfield and get a winning streak going again,” said Romaniski.

“Springfield was where we got our first two wins of the season, so we knew we could go down there and win. In my mind, Springfield is one of the top teams in the league, so hopefully we take out of the series that we can play with anybody.”

Romaniski is also encouraged by the interest a number of his players are receiving from Division I programs.

“We preach to our players to go out play as a team, improve weekly - as a team and individually - and reach our ultimate goal of making it to St. Louis (for the national tournament) at the end of the year.

“If we can have success in those areas, hopefully colleges will recognize the talent on this team, and many of our players will have the chance to play college hockey.

“I think if, as a team, we can win and improve in the standings, guys will start getting offers.”

The Express tangles with the Jr. Blues again this weekend, this time in Owatonna, Minn., at Four Seasons Centre.

“As we move forward, we need to do a better job of staying consistent and improving every week,” said Romaniski. “Our ultimate goal is to be playing our best hockey at the end of the season.”

North Division
St. Louis 21 17-4-0 34 .810 91 58
Mahoning Valley 22 14-6-2 30 .682 84 65
Marquette 19 11-8-0 22 .579 73 65
USNTDP 21 10-10-1 21 .500 72 73
Alpena 20 10-9-1 21 .525 62 66
Traverse City 18 8-6-4 20 .556 53 58

South Division
Wichita Falls 22 15- 6-1 31 .705 79 60
Topeka 19 11- 5-3 25 .658 58 42
Fairbanks 21 11- 8-2 24 .571 53 51
Alaska 23 11- 11-1 23 .500 68 86
Texas 21 6- 13-2 14 .333 52 77
Kenai River 22 5- 13-4 14 .318 59 94

Central Division
North Iowa 16 13- 2- 1 27 .844 62 27
Springfield 21 11-8- 2 24 .571 84 70
So. Minnesota 19 9-7-3 21 .553 64 67
Fargo-Moorhead 21 9-11-1 19 .452 75 78
Bismarck 21 8-11-2 18 .429 59 76
Alexandria 17 3-12-2 8 .235 47 82

Cardwell, Adam WIC F 22 12 24 36
Graham, Derek MVY F 22 17 17 34
Salazar, Luke WIC F 22 17 16 33
Everett, Grant WIC F 22 10 19 29
Bozoian, Sam STL F 20 11 17 28
Walters, Shea NIO F 16 11 17 28
Peterson, Erik ALP F 20 8 20 28
Warda, Ben STL F 21 7 20 27
O’Kane, Kyle STL F 18 15 11 26
(three players tied with 25)

Moss, Robby NIO 14 846:52 12-1-1 1.56 .946
Merriam, Bryce TPK 16 965:38 8-5-3 1.99 .916
Jarboe, Mike WIC 18 1062:59 12-4-1 2.26 .929
Reichard, Cody FBX 19 1123:30 10-8-0 2.35 .926
Bartus, Garrett MVY 13 770:38 9-1-2 2.49 .919

PLAYER TEAM P GP G Graham, Derek MVY F 22 17
Salazar, Luke WIC F 22 17
O’Kane, Kyle STL F 18 15

Cardwell, Adam WIC F 22 24
(three players tied with 20)

Mobley, Max NIO F 16 +14
Morin, Matt NIO D 16 +14
(three players tied at +13)

North Division: Miles Winter - Mahoning Valley Phantoms
Mahoning Valley forward Miles Winter totaled four goals and three assists last weekend at the Phantoms fashioned a 2-1 record against Traverse City. On Friday, the 19-year-old recorded a goal and an assist in a 6-5 shootout win. The next night, the Horsham, Pa., native assisted on the Phantoms’ lone goal in a 2-1 loss. On Sunday, Winter rang up a hat trick and an assist as Mahoning Valley downed the North Stars, 5-1.

“Miles has really started to do the little things,” said Phantoms coach-GM Bob Mainhardt. “He's got a big-league shot, and he’s starting to fire the puck now and use that big body of his, so we’re expecting big things from him for the rest of the way.”

HONORABLE MENTION: Alpena forward Erik Peterson; U.S Under-17 Team forward Jeremy Morin

Central Division: Scott Pederson - Southern Minnesota Express
Southern Minnesota goaltender Scott Pederson backstopped the Express to a pair of wins over Springfield last weekend, turning aside 98 of 100 shots. On Friday, the 19-year-old made 53 saves in a 2-1 overtime triumph. The next night, the Lake Villa, Ill., native stopped 45 shots in another 2-1 victory over the Jr. Blues.

"Scott stepped up and carried our team on his back,” said Express coach-GM Matt Romaniski. “He’s been improving every week and, the way he played last weekend, I see him only getting better.”

HONORABLE MENTION: Bismarck forward Tye Lewis; Fargo-Moorhead Marc Mihulka and defenseman Michael Benedict; North Iowa forward Shea Walters and goaltender Robby Moss

South Division: Aaron Gens - Topeka RoadRunners
Topeka defenseman Aaron Gens rang up three goals and two assists last weekend as the RoadRunners skated to three wins over Texas. On Thursday, the 20-year-old recorded an assist in a 4-1 victory. The next night, the Baudette, Minn., native scored a goal as Topeka blanked the Tornado, 3-0. On Sunday, Gens tallied two goals and an assist in a 6-1 triumph. He was also a +4 for the weekend.

“Aaron has always been a good defenseman, but this year he’s blossomed into something special,” said RoadRunners coach-GM Scott Langer. “He's an every-night player who will make some Division I program very happy next year."

HONORABLE MENTION: Alaska goaltender Dusan Sidor; Wichita Falls goaltender Mike Jarboe

Thursday, November 15
Texas 1 @ Topeka 4 (TOP: Jendras, GWG, +1)

Friday, November 16
Kenai River 1 @ Alaska 2 (SO) (ALA: Corey, 36 saves)
Bismarck 7 @ Alexandria 1 (BIS: Whited, G, 2A, +3)
North Iowa 4 @ Fargo-Moorhead 3 (NI: Harcharik, 2A, +1)
Alpena 1 @ Marquette 4 (MAR: Aaron Pietila, G, A, +1)
So. Minnesota 2 @ Springfield 1 (OT) (SM: Pederson, 53 saves)
USNTDP 3 @ St. Louis 5 (STL: O’Kane, 2G, GWG, A, +2)
Texas 0 @ Topeka 3 (TOP: Merriam, 15 saves)
Mahoning Valley 6 @ Traverse City 5 (SO) (MV: Winter, 2G, A)
Fairbanks 2 @ Wichita Falls 1 (FBX: Bidwill, GWG, A)

Saturday, November 17
Kenai River 3 @ Alaska 6 (ALA: Young, G, 3A, +3)
Bismarck 4 @ Alexandria 3 (SO) (BIS: Taurence, SOG, 2A, +1)
North Iowa 5 @ Fargo-Moorhead 1 (NI: Walters, G, 3A, +3)
Alpena 2 @ Marquette 1 (ALP: Pellegrino, 32 saves)
Southern Minnesota 2 @ Springfield 1 (SM: McMillan, 2A, +2)
Texas 1 @ Topeka 6 (TOP: Hartmann, G, GWG, A, +1)
Mahoning Valley 1 @ Traverse City 2 (TC: Paliafito, 31 saves)
USNTDP 7 @ St. Louis 3 (USA: Valek, 2G, A, +3)
Fairbanks 0 @ Wichita Falls 2 (WF: Jarboe, 24 saves)

Sunday, November 18
Mahoning Valley 5 @ Traverse City 1 (MV: Winter-Boeckman, G, A)


EXPRESS NAMES ASSISTANT COACH: Southern Minnesota named Dan Peters as an assistant coach. A former standout defenseman at Colorado College (WCHA) from 1996-2000, the St. Paul, Minn., native ended his professional career in 2005.

WORLD JUNIOR BOUND: North Iowa forward Krystian Dziubinski (Poland), Topeka forward Dariusz Gruszka (Poland) and Springfield defenseman Klemen Sodrznik (Slovenia) will compete for their respective countries in next month’s World Junior Championship.

PETERSON KEEPS ROLLING: Alpena forward Erik Peterson, 19, continues to lead the IceDiggers’ offensive charge with two more goals last weekend in a two-game split with Marquette. “Erik has been a force all year,” said IceDiggers coach-GM Kenny Miller. “He deserves the success he’s having.”

MORE FROM MORIN: U.S. National Under-17 Team forward Jeremy Morin, 16, posted two goals and two assists last weekend in a two-game split at North Division-leading St. Louis. “Jeremy had a great weekend for us,” said U.S. coach Ron Rolston. “He’s been an offensive force all season and his three points were a key in our win on Saturday night (7-3).”

LINE OF FIRE: North Iowa’s line of Shea Walters, 19, Max Mobley, 20, and Bryant Skarda, 20, factored in five of the nine goals scored by the Outlaws last weekend in a two-game sweep of Fargo-Moorhead. “They played really well and moved the puck which created chances,” said Outlaws coach Dave Boitz.

AVALANCHE STREAKING: Alaska has rolled off five wins in row, thanks in part to goaltender Dusan Sidor’s 39-save performance in a 6-3 win over Kenai River on Saturday. “He was really on his game that night,” Avalanche coach-GM Jamie Smith said of the 20-year-old.

BOBCATS HEATING UP: Bismarck has now won three games in a row after a two-game sweep of Alexandria last weekend. Tye Lewis, 18, contributed three goals and an assist (he was also a plus-3) in the victories.

JETS PICK UP NIEDZIELAK: Fargo-Moorhead acquired second-year-defenseman Tim Niedzielak, 19, from Springfield. The Chicago native has a goal for four points after 15 games this season. “Tim is a big, physical defenseman who blocks shots and when he’s on the ice, other teams are aware of it,” said Jets coach Chad Johnson.

JARBOE IMPRESSES: Wichita Falls goaltender Mike Jarboe, 19, stopped 48 of 50 shots in a two-game split with Fairbanks last weekend, including a perfect 24-save performance in the Wildcats’ 2-0 win on Saturday. “Mike continues to be one of the premier goalies in this league and the way he competes every game is a great influence on our whole team,” said Wildcats coach-GM John Bowkus.

Tuesday, November 20
Mahoning Valley @ USNTDP, 7:30 pm

Wednesday, November 21
Fairbanks @ Texas, 7:30 pm
Alpena @ Traverse City, 7:05 pm

Friday, November 23
Bismarck @ Alexandria, 7:00 pm
Alaska @ Kenai River, 7:00 pm
Traverse City @ Mahoning Valley, 7:15 pm
Fargo-Moorhead @ North Iowa, 7:30 pm
Springfield @ Southern Minnesota, 7:00 pm
Fairbanks @ Texas, 7:30 pm
Wichita Falls @ Topeka, 7:05 pm
Marquette @ USNTDP, 7:30 pm

Saturday, November 24
Alexandria @ Bismarck, 7:05 pm
Alaska @ Kenai River, 7:00 pm
Traverse City @ Mahoning Valley, 7:15 pm
Fargo-Moorhead @ North Iowa, 7:30 pm
Springfield @ Southern Minnesota, 7:00 pm
Fairbanks @ Texas, 7:30 pm
Wichita Falls @ Topeka, 7:05 pm
Marquette @ USNTDP, 7:00 pm

Sunday, November 25
Alaska @ Kenai River, 3:00 pm
Alpena @ USNTDP, 3:00 pm

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