The Admirals won 4-1 against the Rockford IceHogs Friday night to move into a first place tie in the Midwest Division. Kevin Fiala scored his first two professional goals on North American ice as Marek Mazanec earned his sixth consecutive win in net for the Admirals.
“It’s a huge game for us,” said Joe Piskula. “We were playing for first place and we knew it was going to be a battle. Both teams played well I thought. They’re fast, they played fast and sometimes that is going to work in their favor. Tonight we just got the job done.”
When the Admirals second power-play in the first period ended they were caught tired and flatfooted. Cody Bass, fresh out of the box, received a clearance from Klas Dahlbeck and was off to the races. Ian White was the last man back for the Ads but was gassed and allowed Bass to get inside position to whip his backhander in on goal. Marek Mazanec threw a blocker to the puck but it got through for Bass’ first goal of the season.
In the second period the Admirals equalized on Kevin Fiala’s first pro goal in North America. The native of Switzerland snuck behind the IceHogs defense and Mark Van Guilder hit him on a stretch pass that sent him in on goal all alone. Fiala pulled a backhander that flew over the glove of Michael Leighton and in, top shelf, for the goal. Jonathan Diaby was credited with the secondary assist on the marker to notch his first career point in pro hockey, as well.
Zach Budish’s fifth goal of the season came moments after Fiala’s tally to give the Admirals their first lead of the night. Joe Piskula made a great pass as he was smothered by Matt Carey and Ville Pokka that fell over to Budish breaking down the middle of the faceoff circles. The shot torched through Leighton to make it 2-1 after two period of play.
Fiala would tag the IceHogs again in the third period. Ian White’s point shot on the power-play deflected off of Fiala’s stick before ricocheting in front of Leighton. Fiala was quick enough and free enough in space to stab the puck into the open net to score his second of the night before the veteran netminder could react.
“His two goals are really his game right now,” said Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason. “He’s a little bit behind. The game is quick for him and today was a really heavy game. He’s not used to playing that. That’s why he’s here playing for us preparing him to play for the Nashville Predators.”
Rockford decided to pull Leighton for the extra attacker with 3:09 remaining. Fiala was fighting for his hat trick big but missed out – as did Mazanec on a goalie goal that was knifed down by a high stick in neutral ice. The tally would eventually fall to Viktor Stalberg on the empty netter for his fourth goal with the Admirals this season.
“I was sure it’s in,” smiled Marek Mazanec after the game as he described his empty net bid. “Because it was a perfect shot and when the guy hit it I was like no way. It’s so lucky, but we won the game and it’s another assist so it’s good.”
How about a shoutout to Mazanec’s overall night in net? His only goal allowed came on a bad break at the end of an Admiral penalty kill and from that point out he was lights out. He stopped twenty-three shots to pick up his sixth straight win for the Admirals. He also picked up his fourth assist of the season on the empty net tally.
Ramblings: Tonight’s scratches for the Admirals were Miikka Salomaki (upper body), Rich Clune (right leg), Jimmy Oligny (right knee), and Johan Alm (left wrist). All are expected to miss the weekend’s next two games. The Admirals and IceHogs are now tied for the Midwest Division lead at 58 points each but the tie-break sees the Admirals currently atop the division and third in conference.
Thoughts on tonight’s game? Is this a statement win for the Admirals? Will the first goals for Fiala take some weight off his shoulders? More of the same tomorrow?