CHESTERFIELD, MO- The Springfield Jr. Blues fell in their season opener to the St. Louis Bandits on Saturday night at Hardee’s IcePlex. Joe Birmingham scored a goal and added an assist, while Ryan Kalisz picked up three assists en route to a 6-2 Bandits victory.
Bandits’ forward, Rance Hughes, opened the scoring with a quick wrist shot that beat Jr. Blues goalie, Connor Girard, at the 2:25 mark of the first period. The two teams would trade chances over the next fifteen minutes until a rash of penalties put the Jr. Blues on the defensive. With Kyle Cook already in the box serving a minor penalty for cross-checking, Kevin Walters and Ethan Nauman were both booked for infractions at the 17:55 mark of the initial frame. The penalties would prove to be costly, as Birmingham once again found his name on the score sheet, this time with a back-door tap in goal on the 5 on 3 powerplay. Birmingham’s goal put the Bandits up 2-0 and that is how the first period would end.
The second period began with Walters still in the box serving the remainder of his cross-checking penalty. Blues captain, Stewart Bell, would soon join him, as he was whistled for tripping at the 0:32 mark of the second. The Blues penalty killers were once again able to stave off the Bandits lethal power play attack and the ship seemed to be righted. “I thought that once we killed of that third 5 on 3 that we would be off and running,” remarked first year Head Coach, Ryan Hardy, “We were lethargic early in the first and we’re never able to get into a rhythm with all the penalties.” Hardy’s prediction proved to be incorrect – or at least put on hold – when Bandits’ forward, Charlie Hemstrom, tallied the Bandits’ third goal at the 3:49 mark of the second with assists from Joe Kalisz and Ryan Stouffer. The Blues’ problems were far from over, as just 58 seconds later, Tyler Rehm was whistled for elbowing and issued a 5-minute major and a game misconduct. Down 3-0 and with a daunting five minutes of penalty time to kill, the Jr. Blues’ prospects were not good. That said, the Blues’ penalty killers continued their stellar effort until the club caught their first bit of good fortune. Bandits’ Rance Hughes and Drew Kariofiles were whistled for infractions less than a minute apart and a five minute 5 on 4 penalty kill turned into a 4 on 3 powerplay. Nine seconds after Kariofiles went to the box, Kevin Walters tallied the Blues’ first goal of the season, with assists from Ben Kramer and Gavin Tufte, to cut the Bandits’ lead to 3-1. The Blues’ powerplay would convert one more time just two minutes later when Shayne McLaughlin’s seeing-eye slapshot gave the Blues’ their second powerplay goal, but more importantly cut the Bandits’ lead to 3-2. The Jr. Blues looked to have momentum on their side as they had – very quickly – made a game of it. The momentum was short-lived, however, as Kalisz found Stephen Bopp alone in the slot just two and a half minutes later to extend the Bandits lead to 4-2. “We needed to capitalize on the momentum of McLaughlin’s goal and we were unable to do that,” said Hardy. “If we were able to pull to 3-3 we were in business,” he continued. “Give the Bandits credit, we cracked the door open and they slammed it shut.”
The third period was largely anticlimactic, especially when compared to the first two. The Bandits added two late goals on their way to a 6-2 victory and first place in the Mid-West division. After the game, Hardy was asked for his assessment of his team’s performance. “We’re going to take a look at the tape and examine several areas where we can improve. Obviously, we made a lot of mistakes tonight, but we have a lot of character in the dressing room and we will learn from this game and get better. We have to shake this one off, learn from it, and prepare for Odessa on Wednesday.”
As Hardy mentioned, the Jr. Blues will face the Odessa Jackalopes at 10:00am on Wednesday, September 14th in the opening game of the NAHL’s Showcase in Blaine, Minnesota.
Tune into Fast Hockey to hear the voice of the Jr. Blues, Mike Hickey, as he covers all the action as the Blues look to pull back to the .500 mark in this young season.