Friday, December 9, 2011

Express down Wings in a shootout thriller

 Kyle Ostrow scores the game-winning shootout goal (photo by Chicago Express)

It wasn't looking so good for the Chicago Express as they headed into the third period Friday night, down 4-2 to the Kalamazoo Wings. A few minutes into the third period, Eric Kattelus made it 5-2. The clock was ticking.

After two power play goals in the first 20 minutes, the Express looked to have stalled out in the latter half of the second period. They were finding it tough to carry pucks through the offensive zone, and shots from the blue line were immediately blocked by Wings players on the defensive. Worst of all, Express goaltender Allen York wasn't getting a lot of help.

But the crowd of 3,090 in the Sears Centre Arena got loud in the third, and the Express seemed to respond in turn. "Nothing out of the ordinary was said during the second intermission, we just knew that we had to step it up for the final 20," Express defenseman Scott Wietecha said after the game. "We were confident that if we went out, played hard and stuck to our style of play, we'd have a chance to climb back into it."

Wietecha (a Capitals development and rookie camp attendee) started it off for the Express in the third, getting a fluky goal from nearly center ice. He blasted the puck to the net, and goaltender Maxime Clermont got just a piece of it, sending the puck tipping off the top of his glove and into the net.

It was Wietecha's first professional goal, and judging by his delayed jubilant reaction, he didn't immediately know that he'd scored. "I didn't know it went in at first, but was pretty pumped when I realized I finally got my first one out of the way," Wietecha said.

The goal also set off the Express comeback.

By the time Wietecha scored, the Express had been down 5-2, and with Wietecha making it 5-3, the Express had about 16 minutes to make it a game.

They did. Wietecha's goal included, the Express scored three unanswered goals to tie the game and send it to overtime. Two goals were against starter Maxime Clermont, but just after Mike Embach made the score 5-4, Clermont lost his mask in a scrum and appeared to be cut in the face. Bleeding from his forehead, Clermont left the game and watched the rest of the action from the bench while back-up Riley Gill took over in the Kalamazoo crease.

Gill surrendered a goal to Chad Painchaud, his second of the night, and the Express had the game tied at 5-5, sending it to overtime.

Overtime was largely uneventful until 1:46 to go, when Painchaud took a costly hooking penalty to put the Express shorthanded for the remainder of overtime.

Your best penalty killer is often your goaltender, and Allen York was brilliant while the Wings had several quality scoring chances during their power play.

Scoreless through five minutes of extra time, the game went to a shootout. Kyle Ostrow scored in the fifth round of the shootout to finally get the Express the 6-5 victory.

One to watch: Mike Embach
I could barely take my eyes off Embach whenever he got on the ice. He had very fancy footwork and deked like Datsyuk, but a lot of times when he was carrying the puck, his moves were too fancy for his own teammates, and he'd end up sending a blind pass to no one. While he was busy dancing into the offensive zone, it seemed like he lost track of where his teammates were, and even where he was, and several times, he'd turn it over to the opposing defense by the time he got to the top of the circles.

Even so, watching his moves through two periods, I knew it was a matter of time before Embach put one in the net, and he did about seven minutes into the third. Embach needs some time in the pro leagues (he comes from four years at Ferris State) to really get his hockey sense under control while he's weaving around the D so that his passes can be on point and he can get farther into the zone. But the 23-year-old undrafted forward is a fun player to watch and might end up getting somewhere, even if it's only as far as the AHL.

Development camps and preparing for a pro career
Since I got to ask Scott Wietecha some questions, I had to ask about his experience at  Capitals camps this summer and how they helped him start his pro career. He had very positive things to say about his time in Washington.
"I definitely think that being at the Caps camps better prepared me for my first year pro. It has given me confidence coming into the season. I learned a lot from the coaches and the players that were there. Skating with Caps players and seeing how they prepared for the season was definitely beneficial. In Washington, I better learned from the coaches and staff what it takes to make a professional hockey player and picked up things on the ice too. It was a great experience."

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