Lights out: Ice Hawks complete sweep
Win or lose, Rochester Ice Hawks coach Nick Fatis went into the 2013-14 season with a roster full of "his" players.
That hasn't always been the case over the last few seasons, and Fatis didn't like the results. So even though this collection of Ice Hawks was far from the most talented team he's assembled in Rochester, Fatis felt good about the players he was putting on the ice.
They were players who truly loved being in Rochester. And they loved putting on the Ice Hawks sweater. "They're 'Ice Hawks' guys, guys who wanted to be here, guys who bought into the system," Fatis said. "Whether you win or lose with a group like this, you feel good about it at the end of the day."
That said, there were plenty of losses this season. In fact, these Ice Hawks had the program's worst regular-season record (22-17-0-3-4) in more than 10 years. There were many times during the struggles that Fatis didn't know if his young team would ever "get it."
But something happened last week in practice. The Ice Hawks had been inching closer and closer to their potential, and they finally reached full speed in their preparation for the opening round of the Minnesota Junior Hockey League playoffs.
"The guys were doing everything they needed to do, and they were doing it at full speed," Fatis said.
That translated to a nearly perfect weekend, a sweep, a bid in the divisional semifinals and a locker room full of smiles.
After Friday night's 5-2 win over the No. 4-seeded Twin Cities Northern Lights, the No. 5-seeded Ice Hawks completed the series sweep with a dominating 8-0 victory Saturday at the Rochester Recreation Center.
While the level of their dominance was surprising, Ice Hawks second-year netminder Corey Grummick wasn't surprised by the end result.
"Pretty much from the opening faceoff Friday, I knew (the Northern Lights) were in trouble," Grummick said. "We have a lot of confidence right now. You could see it right away Friday, and it carried over into (Saturday). I haven't seen us play with that kind of confidence all season."
Fatis said that confidence comes from his young players finally "getting it." There was no fear of failure in anything they did Saturday, and they skated hard through every play.
"I think these kids are just finally seeing what we're capable of when we do things the right way," Fatis said. "That confidence was an amazing thing to see. It's fun to play that well, it really is."
These young Ice Hawks didn't look very young Saturday night, and now they want more.
"I think if we play like that, we can beat anyone," Grummick said.
The victory Saturday was especially sweet for Grummick. It was his first shutout of the season. It also solidified his standing as the team's No. 1 goalie. Grummick recorded 32 saves, including many of the spectacular variety.
In the first period when the game was still in question, Grummick made four big stops on back-to-back Northern Lights power plays. He also made a couple of big stops during a 5-on-3 advantage for the Lights in the second.
"Grummick was outstanding," Fatis said. "He made some big stops."
Grummick said the guys in front of him deserve a great deal of credit.
"It feels great for me since it's my first shutout of the year," Grummick said. "But just for the team to play that way, that's the best. The defense was great (Saturday)."
The Ice Hawks blew the game open early and never let up. They scored four times in the opening period, and the two second-period tallies put the game out of reach. The Ice Hawks finished with a 42-32 edge in shots on goal.
"The guys skated through every play, through every check," Fatis said. "Coach (Eric) Hofmann said to me during the game, 'Man, every bounce has gone our way.' I think that's kind of what happens when you play well and play with confidence. You make bounces go your way."
Tim LaFleur had a big game for the Ice Hawks. He finished with four assists and drew the praise of his head coach. "He did the little things well," Fatis said. "His improvement has been amazing."
Trey McMillen also was fantastic Saturday. He scored twice and added an assist. Team captain Josiah Habighorst added three assists, while Drew Cleereman had a goal and an assist. Dylan Durham, Vinnie Susi, Dan Trageser, Justyn Sweet and Jake Kelly also scored for the Ice Hawks.
The Ice Hawks now will wait to find out their opponent for the Bush Cup semifinals. They will play either the top-seeded Dells Ducks or the No. 2-seeded Maple Grove Energy.
"I'm excited to have another week of practice with these guys," Fatis said. "I'm really proud of them. They could have given up on the season at a couple points, but they never did. This is the result of that."