by Randy Beard
Evansvile Courier & Press
When the Dayton Gems slipped out of Swonder Ice Arena with a 2-1 victory last Saturday, it put a damper on what had been a feel-good week for the Evansville IceMen.
Rich Kromm's squad had won three in a row and was battling the Gems for second place in the Turner Division of the Central Hockey League. But despite a 37-27 edge in shots, including a 15-3 domination in the third period, the IceMen managed to get the puck past Dayton goaltender Jeff Jakaitis just once in 60 minutes. It came on a power-play goal by Mark Cody at 16:38 of the second period.
"It was a tough stretch (of games)," said Kromm, whose team plays host to the Gems again tonight at 7:35 at Swonder. "We had the game at Mississippi and then came right back for three games at home. I was pretty happy with the overall play for the balance of those four hockey games. I thought the guys competed hard, and we should have had a better result on Saturday night.
IF YOU GO.What: Central Hockey League, Dayton Gems (7-2-1) at Evansville IceMen (6-5-1).
When/Where: Tonight, 7:30 at Swonder Ice Arena.
Tickets: $8.50, $10.50, $12.50 and $14.50.
"We had plenty of opportunities but we couldn't get the puck by their goaltender. He's been very good."
In the eight games he's started for the Gems, Jakaitis is 5-2-1 with a 2.49 goals against average and a .934 saves percentage.
But at the moment, the IceMen may have an even hotter goaltender. Matt Lundin was named the CHL's goaltender of the week on Monday. The 24-year-old Lundin, who was given the night off against the Gems last Saturday after securing three wins in four days, is also 5-2-1 on the season. Surrendering just five goals last week, he improved his goals against average to 2.63 and has a .919 saves percentage.
"It's really unexpected because there are a lot of good teams and a lot of good goalies in the league, but it's definitely appreciated," said Lundin of the honor. "I've got a good team in front of me, so I didn't have to make too many big saves.
"I think we have a good chance of being one of the top teams in the league as long as we keep playing well and playing hard. We're getting better every day."
With the Gems (7-2-1) back in town, this may be as close to a must-win game in the division as the IceMen (6-5-1) could ask for this early in the season.
"That game the other night was for second place," said Kromm. "They got the win, so we have to get a little bounce back revenge."
The IceMen already have one of the more productive attacks in the Turner Division. Their 43 goals scored through 12 games trails only Rapid City (47) and is fourth-best in the CHL.
Playmaker Niklas Lindberg is third in the league with 19 points — just two points out of first — with four goals and 15 assists. After that, it's the committee approach with Damian Surma, Brian Bicek and Mario Larocque having each scored six goals with Bo Cheesman and Joe Grimaldi right on their heels with five goals.
"It's huge when you've got all three lines chipping in," said Lindberg of Sweden. "It's making it hard for the other teams. If you only have one line scoring, they know they only have to shut one line down. But so far everyone is scoring right now."
Surma, who has the team's only hat trick, said the balance is nice to have.
"Usually it's a couple of guys running away with it, but we're getting goals from a lot of guys, including from our D (defensemen)," said Surma. "Right now everybody has got a green light and we're going, going and going. It says a lot about the guys we have here and the system we play."