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  • The drive for five: Iowa wins, 4-2 over Grand Rapids


    Another night, another well fought win for the Iowa Wild who have now won their fifth straight contest and move to fourth in the standings with a few other Central Division match ups set to be played out tomorrow. Grand Rapids had a lot of fight in them, literally and figuratively, and the tone has definitely been set for their next nine meetings over the course of this 2017-18 campaign.

    Steve Michalek (3-0-0; 2.00 GAA/.938 SV%) got the start in net for Iowa and earned his third straight win to start the season making 28 saves on 30 attempts from Grand Rapids. He is sporting a mustache for Movember, but let us know afterwards that it won’t be sticking around should he continue his winning ways.

    Tom McCollum (3-5-0; 3.33 GAA/.893 SV%) was the starter for Grand Rapids on the other end of the ice, and Jared Coreau was a last minute scratch. The Sanborn, New York-native made 23 saves on 27 attempts and was tacked with the loss for the defending Calder Cup champs.

    First Period

    It was an eventful first, even if the scoreboard didn’t say so. Iowa once again did a great job with the neutral zone pressure, forcing Grand Rapids to play chip and chase to little effect.

    Both teams got some real grade A opportunities on breakaways, but the netminders on both sides of the ice were able to stand tall, stopping any and all of the breakaway opportunities thrown at them.

    Iowa opened the scoring on the evening, and it was an absolute beauty. Zack Mitchell chipped one in from the red line, and Iowa’s below-the-net offense went to work. Christoph Bertschy reached the puck first, taking on two Grand Rapids defenders, but was able to keep the puck outside of both of them to get a pass back to Pat Cannone on McCollum’s right post.

    The Bayport, New York-native took the veteran approach, opting to get the puck to a crashing Mitchell with the near-side closed off. Mitchell had a wide open net as the puck went tic-tac-toe for his fifth of the season and the lead for Iowa.

    Michalek was magnificent, stopping two breakaway opportunities thrown at him; one coming with way too much space for Griffins centerman, Dominic Turgeon.

    Things got tense with about 6:00 to play in the first period, there was a lot of traffic in front of Michalek’s net with a rogue puck floating around. It took nearly a minute of play for a stoppage, but after a review with the video ref, Brett Iverson was able to determine it was a no goal.

    The first came to an end with no penalties and the Wild holding a 1-0 lead. Grand Rapids did lead the shots, 8-7, but Iowa kept Grand Rapids at bay as the puck only spent roughly 7:30 in the Wild defensive zone.

    Second Period

    Iowa continued to keep up the pressure, and by the end of the period, they claimed the shots-on-goal battle after launching 11 shots on McCollum to the Griffins’ 9.

    The first ten of the minutes passed with little fanfare. Both sides traded penalties as one interference call on Alex Grant was negated by an interference penalty on Evgeny Svechnikov about a minute and a half later.

    Iowa was able to cycle through both power play units in about thirty seconds, but nothing came of their man advantage.

    With almost thirteen minutes gone in the second, Iowa was able to extend their lead. Kyle Rau was able to get the puck out of the zone and to Ryan Murphy at the red line who was able to make the zone entry.

    Grand Rapids defenseman Dan Renouf gave Murphy room to work, and the six year pro was able to hit a crashing Rau who tipped it up and in over McCollum to double the lead for the Wild (Rau; 12:57).

    The energy built up by the Wild faithful was short-lived, however. Sixteen seconds later, Svechnikov was able to get a Holmstrom pass below Michalek’s net. The Russian boxed out Carson Soucy to make a centering pass to Turner Elson in the slot who beat Michalek blocker side to cut Iowa’s lead in half (Svechnikov, Holmstrom; 13:15).

    But Iowa had an answer.

    A minute and a half later, Rau left a dump pass near the blue line for Landon Ferraro who made the veteran move to take the puck into the slot. The Trail, B.C., native released an absolute snipe to move the Wild’s lead back to two with a 3-1 lead (Rau, O’Reilly; 14:45).

    After the goal, Grand Rapids started playing with some unharnessed tenacity. However, it was effective in that Iowa was unable to get any decent zone entries in the final five minutes of play.

    Third Period

    At the start of the third, the Griffins set the tone for what might be a very physical meeting the next time these two meet. But Iowa didn’t back off, continuing to show an intensity they’ve found over the last few games.

    Iowa’s penalty kill had been dominant during their win streak, but, as in life, all good things must come to an end as Bertschy headed to the box on a high-sticking call.

    It wasn’t the cleanest of goals, and Derek Lalonde had a lot to say to Brett Iverson, but Tyler Bertuzzi was able to put a dent in Iowa’s 90 percent PK success near Michalek’s crease. The Hartford-native might have had a case after a bump from a screening Eric Tangradi, but the goal stood and Iowa’s lead was once again reduced to one (Street, Lorito; PP - 8:34).

    Tensions were high, and each time was trading blows with one another, but Iowa found another answer to let the crowd have a collective sigh of relief...after some jubilation of course.

    With just under a minute to play, it was Bertschy’s turn to light the lamp. A Brennan Menell pass from his own blue line hit Bertschy as Dylan McIlrath fell to the ice, giving Iowa’s Swiss winger a lot of room to work. It didn’t take much finesse as he buried a shot, far side, top shelf for the dagger.

    The game was all but over, but McIlrath decided to take a shot at Rau. Nick Seeler took exception to the blow, deciding to drop the gloves for an early trip to the locker room.

    McIlrath landed a blow to Seeler’s face that you could hear all the way in the press box, but the Eden Prairie-native looked unfazed as the zebras stepped in. It would be Grand Rapids’ final win of the night as Iowa skated off with two points in their fifth straight victory.

    Final Thoughts:

    Number of the night: 3. Zack Mitchell, Kyle Rau, and Christoph Bertschy all contributed a goal and an assist towards earning multi-point night respectively. After retroactively receiving an assist from the Rockford game, Mitchell now has four multi-point points in the last five games; 11 points (5G/6A).

    Rau has been in and out of injury to start the season, but now has two multi-pointers of his own in the five game stretch; 5 pts (2G/3A). Same can be said for Bertschy; 4 pts (2G/2A).

    In coach’s words: The defense has really been stepping their game up. Though Michalek needed to make a few key saves to keep Iowa on top, the d-corps frustrated the Griffins’ attack, forcing them to give up the puck and play chip-and-chase. Iowa netminder talked about how effective Grand Rapids is down low, but the Iowa defenders seemed to be all over the loose pucks in deep.

    “I think we’ve been getting, structurally, a lot better” coach said in post game. “Our neutral zone play, our tracking, our gaps, our d-zone coverage; being aggressive on the puck, being aggressive away from the puck. We’re getting better in our structure and eliminating time in space...when you get all those things together, that’s what you look like.”

    And a great look it was.

    Coach was also very candid about Kurtis Gabriel’s situation as he suffered a laceration following a check on Robbie Russo. The Newmarket, Ont., native went to the hospital during the game and coach said that he was a bit shook the incident.

    But Gabriel is a tough guy, as we all know. Surely he’ll be back as soon as the doctors and the injury allow him.

    Iowa has a few days off before preparing for another trip to Rockford on Wednesday for yet another meeting with the Chicago-affiliate (8-7-0, 16 pts). They’ll play four games in seven days in their upcoming stretch.


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